THE ARGONAUT April 29 to May 11, 2014 Galapagos to Marquesas

A

CAPTAIN’S LOG Galapagos to the Marquesas’

April 24: Departing The Galapagos – Day 1 – Thursday 0o28s/90o26w

We managed to get under way from the fuel dock at 1200. In leaving Galapagonian waters, I was very cautious in giving a wide birth to hazards, and I transited the waters mostly during the day so I could see as much as possible and avoid unmarked rocks and hazards. Late in the day as we were passing the last reef at a distance I thought would surely be safe, I noticed that the depth sounder was reading 16ft., then 45ft., then 85ft., then 16 ft. again. Could it be the reef? Rocks or mountain tops just under us? Had I missed something? I swung Argo directly south and tried to put some distance between us and the island, although we were already six or more miles off shore. Then I turned on our special, very sophisticated sonar and, low and behold, there it was. I stepped outside to confirm what the sonar showed; we were enveloped in the living biomass of phosphorescent plankton thicker and denser than anything I had ever seen before. It had emerged from the depths at sunset and was about 100 or more feet thick, so thick in fact that it fooled our sonar into thinking it was a solid mass! Outside, the ocean was all aglow as Argo pealed back the water and made its way toward the Marquesas.

Rebecca made a lovely apple bread with walnut-brown sugar crust that evening. It was her best yet. She loves to bake and we are her lucky recipients. 

Dinner that night was sliced sautéed chicken breasts on a green tossed salad. Dessert: sautéed bananas with rum on soy ice cream. Excellent!

April 25 at sea – day 2 – Friday 2o09s/92o41w

Our route to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas is 3168 miles from Baltra. Our goal was to find the South Equatorial Current (SEC) and ride it to the Marquesas. It will increase our speed by as much as 1 knot and save a considerable amount of fuel if I can find it. I thought we could locate the current by heading southwest on a course of 240o True until we reach 3o 37 minutes south of the equator and 95o west of the international dateline (which is roughly midway between the Meridian (Greenwich, England) and the International Date line in the western Pacific). We selected this precise course because it takes advantage of favorable currents along the way and avoids those that are adverse. The equator is by definition located at 0 degrees and the Galapagos are 45 minutes south. Since each degree of latitude is 60 nautical miles and each minute one nautical mile, the Galapagos are therefore 45 nm south of the Equator. Our goal was to be 217 miles south of the Equator and then turn west on a course of about 266o T at which point we should be in the SEC. At 7 knots it will take us about 17 days to make the trip; at 8 knots it will take about 15 days. 

Our first day in the open ocean was very pleasant and we all agreed that if the remainder of the trip would be like this, we would be lucky and content. The sky was clear, the breeze delightful, and sea rolled from our port bow gently under our keel. The swells were large, perhaps eight to ten feet, but they were widely spaced and Argo rose and fell in a pleasant manner. We were in a very favorable current, making over eight knots and burning less than 6 gallons per hour of fuel; sweet!

Rebecca made a very good Indian curried shrimp and rice dish for dinner with fresh peas from the Galapagos, presented with vegan biscuits and honey. Dessert was fresh Galapagonian pineapple.

April 26 at sea- day 3 – Saturday 3o53s/95o13w

The next day was entirely different. A low front was moving south of us and the wind gusted up to 30 knots. The sea boiled as eight to ten foot swells on a short moment slammed into us. The radar showed storms all around us. We had to adjust our course so as to handle the sea state because Argo was sliding sideways off the side of the swells at a serious angle. Everyone was getting nauseated. Bouncing around, in a constant state of motion is no fun and we were also a bit concerned because we didn’t know how long this would last, if it would get worse, and how much extra fuel we might consume. I read one account of a yacht that made this passage having to put up with this sort of sea condition for most of the trip. The thought of that was very depressing. As the day progressed the wind rose, we continued to adjust our heading to accommodate the sea and our speed slowed considerably. It was very unpleasant. We didn’t eat much as the rolling of the boat precluded galley activities, and all anyone wanted to do was stay put and try to sleep through it. Late in the day we saw a clearing ahead. The radar showed that the storms had passed. Shortly after sundown the seas subsided to a much more tolerable state, and we breathed a sigh of relief.

April 27 at sea – day 4 – Sunday 5o18s/97o27w

We awoke to a relatively pleasant day. Swells of seven to eight feet approached from our beam to port quarter. Winds had subsided. We still had not found the current we were seeking, and proceeded southwest. Many people never find a good current. I downloaded a fresh set of weather and current charts off the sat-phone, and they confirmed our course and heading. We were making about 6.5 knots and using 6 g.p.h. of fuel. A Japanese freighter crossed our course about ten miles ahead of us, and we saw a whale spout. About a dozen flying fish and squid litter our decks each day. One wonders how they manage to get up on the boat deck, which is 15 feet above the water line. Rebecca made a lovely tuna, okra and grits dinner. It was tasty! 

April 28 at sea – day 5 – Monday 5o34s/100o15w

As we continued on our southwestern course, we finally began to see our speed increase, indicating that we had found a favorable current and that our predictions about the location of the current was correct. Our speed increased to 8 knots or above and we glided over the swells, which were still in the eight foot range. Later in the afternoon the seas became larger, perhaps in the ten foot range. It is very hard to estimate the size of the swells, but when they continuously range above the tops of our salon windows that have to be big. To me, they are frightening: huge, menacing, mindless, cold, dangerous, desolate, full of creatures with teeth that are hungry; this is no place for human beings. Am I afraid? Of course, you would have to be a fool not to be afraid. But, we have planned well and overcoming the fear and trying to manage the risk is part of the adventure. Also an important part is to understand and live with the natural world: for example; when the sun rises or sets, the sea gets very angry out here. The swells grow larger and closer together. After sunset they lay down somewhat. Later in the evening, the dew point falls and the clouds release their water vapor as rain. Storms dot the radar screen and near them the wind rises. Overnight the sea builds and by morning the storms are mostly gone, but the high seas remain. By evening it sometimes calms down, and then it starts all over again. Another interesting thing to me is that the swells change all the time. You can hit a very unpleasant area for ten or fifteen minutes or even less, and then for some inexplicable reason (at least to me) the sea takes on a different character. The same is true of currents.

On Monday afternoon the seas were high and I became concerned about our fuel bladder becoming unstable. It had done very well in larger seas, but it was beginning to track around and our lines were not as taught as they had formerly been. We had it lashed down pretty well, but still I thought it would be best to get the fuel into our tanks and off the deck, particularly if things deteriorated overnight. We hooked up our Jabsco 20 gal/minute 120 V pump to the bladder and the other end into our port fuel tank. In fifteen minutes we had transferred 300 gallons, and we put the rest into the starboard tank. Argo was rolling all over the place and in the process I pulled a back muscle. I limped around for a while helping Tyler get the final fuel onboard, then he took over and cleaned things up and stowed the equipment. With the fuel bladder and its 3,500 lb. load below decks, Argo rode the waves better. 

That evening Rebecca took my watch and recommend that I stay in bed with a heating pad and Tylenol. That was fine with me. I have learned through experience that the best place to be in bad weather is below decks, in bed, assuming someone competent is at the helm.

For dinner Rebecca made seared tuna with sautéed potatoes and corn. We had ice cream and berries for dessert. 

April 29 at sea – day 6 – Tuesday 5o49s/103o23w

I spent all day in bed watching vacuous TV serials and reading a very interesting book, The Idea Factory. My back was getting better, and Argo was making steady progress. We passed the 1,000 mile milestone (from the Galapagos). Tyler and Rebecca stood all the watches that day. I must say that lying in bed is an excellent way to pass the time; honestly, watching these big waves approaching the boat is not pleasant. While lying in bed you don’t think about it or know what is going on. I prefer that, as long as someone is watching. 

Regarding our watches: we always have someone at the helm. We don’t want to bump into anybody out here! So far we have seen only one freighter and no sailboats. There is nothing and nobody out here. That is a surprise to us; we thought we would encounter at least a few sailboats on the way. Our watch involves an hourly engine room check in which we look over the engine for oil leaks, look at alternator belts, check the shaft and its drip rate and look over the hydraulic system for water cooling and leaks. We periodically check the rudder and autopilot pumps, as well as the stabilizer fin drives too. Of course we check fuel pressures and the fuel level in all tanks. Hourly checks help to assure that if something starts to go wrong we might be able to address it before it becomes an emergency or puts the boat in jeopardy.

April 30 at sea – day 7 – Wednesday 6o05s/105o26w

It was a relatively pleasant day with light clouds, sunshine and blue skies. Seas were moderate, but nothing like the beautiful, loping swells off the coast of Baja that we had pictured in our minds as characteristic of the Pacific. There is nothing nice or loping about these waves, which are large, short period swells. On top of the swells are wind waves of a foot or two. The good news is that they are on our port quarter. Winds are constantly in the mid-teens and the temperature is in the mid-eighties all the time. 

My back was getting better, but I was surprised when Rebecca came into our room early that morning to ask me to get up right away. During his hourly engine room check, Tyler had discovered that our hydraulic sea water pump wasn’t working. The water flow indicator had stopped. If that situation was allowed to persist, our hydraulic oil would overheat and the system would shut down. This was potentially serious. Without hydraulics we have no stabilizers, and in these seas that is very dangerous, so I rushed to the engine room. Tyler had already cleared storage containers away from the sea water pump and was getting ready to shut off the water to the sea strainer. If we had taken in a squid or jelly fish, it could have clogged the through hull intake or strainer and clogged things up. I went to the bridge and moved Argo perpendicular to the swells so as to reduce the need for stabilizers and then turned off the hydraulic pumps. Tyler examined the sea strainer; nothing. He then took the cover off the pump and examined the impeller: it was good too. That was a problem; no identifiable problem was a problem. At any rate, he put it all back together and we turned things on: it worked! We don’t know what was wrong, maybe a squid or something got sucked into the through hull opening and then fell out when we shut things down. It was disturbing. In fact, I am feeling the need to do an engine room check again right now!

May 1 at sea – day 8 – Thursday 6o20s/109o28

At 1200 we completed 7 days underway and made 1,300 miles since Baltra. Rebecca is thawing filet mignons for a mini-celebration of our half-way point, which we will probably reach tomorrow. We set our clocks back one hour, so we are now -7 hours from GMT, which is the same as Denver or Phoenix. Tyler just announced that he found a squid on our fly bridge, about 15 feet above the water line. That one was true champion; the fly bridge is a long way up and an indication of how big these waves are. Rebecca is doing her yoga with Priscilla (on DVD) this morning.

We continued on our course of 266o T as we had been doing for several days. Argo plugs away, clipping along at eight nautical miles an hour. For the last eighteen hours we have been in the South Equatorial Current, which flows east to west at a rate of about 1 knot. For us it is a free ride; we are making eight knots and using only 5.6 gallons per hour of our precious fuel. This is exactly what I had hoped for. We still have wind in the mid-teens blowing at 140o relative, and swells in the 7-8 foot range.

Tonight’s dinner: fried chicken breasts, spinach and couscous with nuts and raisins. Dessert? Of course: ice cream (vegan ice cream) and cherries. 

May 2 at sea – day 9 – Friday 6o36s/112o39w

Today we reached the half-way point, 1550 miles at sea. We have about 7 or 8 days to go to reach Nuku Hiva. Rebecca broke out the filet mignons last night and we had a delicious dinner, sans red wine though: no alcohol while underway. We are all looking forward to a brewskie in Nuku Hiva! Everything has been going well. We thought the shaft drip was too slow or non-existent, so we loosened the collar a bit and readjusted it a couple of times. It was fun; it gave us something different to do. 

I was standing outside trying to cool off from being in the engine room when it dawned on me that we hadn’t seen a thing since leaving the Galapagos: no airplanes, boats, porpoises …na da. We are so far away from anything I don’t know if a plane could rescue us. The sea is full of life though; flying fish and squid litter the decks every morning. Albatross fly about, sometimes convening on a school of fish off in the distance. The waves are so steep at times, a life raft would surely flip over. Well, better to concentrate on something else. Maybe I will watch another episode of Breaking Bad.

May 3 at sea – day 10 – Saturday 6o51s/115o44w

Rebecca’s a champ. I don’t know what I would do without her. Yesterday she took the late shift, i.e., stayed up to midnight when Tyler relieved her, and then up this morning at 0650 to relieve Tyler. She doesn’t sleep well, so despite the fact it was my turn, she got up and let me sleep in. I don’t usually have trouble sleeping. Anyway, now she is doing laundry, will take some private time, and then start lunch. She is always on the move! She never wanted to go on this trip; I think she felt very anxious about it and for good reason I might add. Like climbing a mountain, you have to be crazy to do this. It took a lot of guts for her to come and she is doing very well. Like a friend of ours says about these sorts of adventures: “it’s sort of like fun, but different.” Her fears are justified, but we are well prepared; others have done it and so will we.

When we left The Galapagos we were still having trouble with the water maker; the low pressure pump alarm again. I considered aborting the trip, but thought we could venture out a day or two and see if we could get the thing to work. Same old problem that I thought I fixed by tightening the bolt on the pump (which did help for quite a while). The sea water filter is housed in a clear Lucite container that threads onto a top that is connected to the machine. It was only partially filling with water. I suspected a vacuum leak. This time I taped the threads on the top of the canister with plumbers tape. Since then we have used it almost every day with no problems. Maybe I got it this time. 

The night sky is something to behold here. Of course there is no light whatsoever except the stars, and last night for the first time on this cruise, a new moon. I looked out and almost couldn’t believe my eyes as the silvery light reflected off the waves. The moon hung in the crystal clear, black night sky, surrounded by billions of stars. Seeing the Southern Cross is something of a benchmark in sailing for a Great Lakes fellow like me. It is a wondrous sight to behold. 

Rebecca’s feast tonight; crab cakes with corn bread, pan-fries, and broccoli.

May 4 at sea – day 11 – Sunday 7o07s/115o54w

A beautiful day with 5-7 foot swells on our far port quarter. Wind blowing 13 knots on our stern. We checked out fuel and mileage for yesterday: 179 miles using 130 gal of fuel. .8 GPM, just as I has planned all those months ago in Michigan. We should be in Nuku Hiva next Sunday. We did some yoga today, read a little, wrote in the log, and watched some Breaking Bad episodes.

Dinner tonight: Spaghetti and vegan meat balls, corn, and peaches.

May 5 at sea – day 12 – Monday 7o21s/121o59w

Rebecca says that we have consumed almost all our fresh stores with only apples, potatoes, onions and few other things left. We have plenty of canned and frozen food, so we won’t starve. In fact we probably have enough stored food to last a month or more. 

The ocean is very pleasant this morning; following seas of about two or three feet. It is now 87 degrees with light winds. We are well into our routine. We fill in the ship’s log every hour and do an engine room inspection. Rebecca and I take the 1800 to 2400 and 0700 to 1200 watch, Tyler takes the 0000 to 0700 and fills in from 1200 to 1800 as seems comfortable. At 1200 we measure the distance traveled over the last 24 hours and measure the fuel onboard and our rate of consumption. We use the generators for cooking, making water, laundry, and for AC at night. We usually try to combine a few of these functions and only use our small 13.5 KW generator so as to conserve fuel. We wind up running it about 10 hours a day. It consumes about 1 gal and hour. On a 20 day +/- trip it adds up. At this point it looks like we will have 800 gallons or so to spare when we drop anchor in about six days.

At this point, and surely hope I am not jinxing us, Argo has performed marvelously. She is comfortable, quiet, economical, and roomy enough so everyone has some personal space and quiet time. We also have air conditioning for those muggy nights! She is a perfect boat for our purposes. As I sit in the pilot house, all I can hear is the low drone of our John Deere engine turning the screw at 1245 rpms. The waves make muffled sounds as Argo pushes them aside: that’s it. She moves relentless onward about 180 miles per day.

This evening the seas have subsided to their lowest level on this cruise. I estimate that we have 2-3 foot ocean swells separated by about 8 seconds and almost no wind waves. The sun is bright and beginning to set. It is 85 degrees with a 12 knot following breeze.

Dinner: Sautéed Sea Scallops, Okra, Rice with Edemame and Cashews in Coconut Milk. Excellent.

May 6 at sea – day 13 – Tuesday 7o37s/125o03w

Last night was the most beautiful night imaginable. It was truly sublime; it was the picture in the mind’s eye that we pursue in our dreams. The sea had settled down to the point that we had hardly any motion on the boat. The wind was refreshingly cool, blowing gently from astern. When the sun set and the moon dominated the sky, its silvery glow was so bright it illuminated the periphery of the sky in a blue-black glow, almost like a mini-sun was shining. The clouds were silhouetted with the moon’s metallic light. In the deep space over head there were so many sparkling stars in addition to the Milky Way that the blackness of the canopy seemed even deeper. The Southern Cross to our south reminded us that we are cruising in unaccustomed waters, yet the Big Dipper on the horizon to our north reminded us of home far away. 

This morning the seas were calm and life’s good! 900 miles to go. We’ve been doing about 8 knots all day. The sea life over the last couple of days seems to have diminished. We are now over the Abasyl Plane, which is the name for this area of the ocean. It is almost three miles deep in spots, and the amount of plankton seen at night is very much smaller than we saw earlier. We do not have any squid coming on deck, and the number of birds is way down. For a couple of nights we had birds land on our cockpit and spend the night, much to Tyler’s annoyance, but they are gone now. 

Lunch today was the fancy meal: Rebecca broke out in a new place today, a Syrian dish;

May 7 at sea – day 14 – Wednesday 7o50 S/127o42 W

The sun just came up, Tyler’s off to bed, Rebecca’s sleeping in, and I am witness to the wonder of it all. The sky is cast in pink, the puffy clouds floating in the blue sky are touched with pink, and ocean too has a pink reflection. It is magical. The sea is clam, only a gentle small swell to move Argo rhythmically. The wind is only 5 knots, the temperature is 83. The current here is a little more confused than we have had so far, and likely to remain so for the duration of our voyage. 

Nothing much going on, just moving at about 7.5 knots toward the Marquesas now 700 miles away; the engine hums along, the sound of waves braking on Argo’s bow, and the Brahms Hungarian Dances to start things off this morning. We are making about 180 miles per day and using about 150 gallons of fuel. Last at night we saw lights in the distance; it was a fishing trawler with its nets deployed. It moved across our bow over the next couple of hours and then disappeared over the horizon. I hailed then on the VHF, but no response, which isn’t all that unusual where fishing trawlers are concerned. Seeing it was a bit of a surprise, at first I thought it was a star. We haven’t seen anything since day four, eleven days ago. 

Dinner last evening: lobster stuffed ravioli with broccoli, fresh bread, and for dessert a banana chocolate moose. Wonderful and rich.

 May 8 at sea – day 15 – Thursday 8o05 S/130o39 W

Same-o, same-o: Now we are 530 miles away; about 2/1/2 days to go. Water-maker is giving us problems again, this time a different and as yet undiagnosed problem. When Tyler rises at noon we’ll go look into it. The sky is blue, a high pressure system continues to dominate and the seas all but flat. The ocean is beautifully blue. No marine life or photo plankton to speak of. Sort of like an aquatic desert. The night sky was really cool: clouds had moved in and obscured the moon except for a hole someplace ahead of us. The sea was illuminated with what appeared to be giant silvery spotlight.

 

 

May 9 at sea – day 16 – Friday 8o23 S/134o18 W

We caught a good current and ran about 8 knots or more overnight. 350 miles/ 1.5 days to go. We have enjoyed 12 days of high pressure, virtually perfect weather. However, it’s a little gray this morning: heavy cumulus clouds with some alto-cumulus mixed in. A weak low must be passing south of us. The winds picked up to 16 knots for a while, and the wind waves picked up too. By 1000 it cleared pretty much and things are settling down again. The alto-cumulus are still ahead of us, so there must be an upper level disturbance somewhere around.

 

May 10 at sea – day 17 – Saturday 8o32 S/136o09 W

 

Wouldn’t you know it, bad stuff seems to always happen at night. At 0200 Tyler called from the pilothouse; the water maker failed and the stabilizer alarm was sounding. The seas had been picking up and our ride was indeed rougher. Losing the stabilizers would be a big if not dangerous problem. I shut the unit off and tried to restart it, thinking that might get an unknown gremlin out of the works. That didn’t work. Tyler and I went to the crew’s quarters and removed the lower bunk so that we could access the stabilizer unit. The locking pin was locked in place, which it shouldn’t have been. A problem with the hydraulic system was one that I dreaded since I have the least knowledge and experience with this equipment. We got the manuals out and looked over all the hydraulic system components as best we could. Nothing was leaking and everything looked OK. Finally I called the ABT tech in Ft. Lauderdale, Steve Owens. Ft, Lauderdale was 4 hours behind us, and by this time it was 0800 there. Lucky for us Steve answered the phone. We spent quite a bit of $1.50 a minute phone time troubleshooting the unit. His diagnosis; a bad locking pin assembly. We would need about a half a dozen parts, which will be transported here by Gus and Lyle, our next guests. In the meantime, we can get along on one stabilizer fin. We could have gotten the fin working by removing the locking pin assembly, but this requires an extremely large Allen wrench that I didn’t have onboard.

The rest of the night was pretty nerve racking. The waves were bigger than usual, but Argo rode them well. Tyler and I started working on the water maker again, and although we replaced the low pressure pump with the new one Kathryn brought us in the Galapagos, it didn’t fix the problem. We remained very worried. We were all looking forward to getting into port and out of harm’s way. Only 100 miles to go.

May 11 at sea – day 18 – Sunday 8o46 S/139o05 W

0700 was the start of my watch. I was excited to get up and see landfall at Nuku Hiva. The pictures of it show a fabulously beautiful, exotic place. Unfortunately I was called early to the bridge because the seas had become dangerously large. Apparently the low pressure system that had been forming over the last day or two had intensified. We were only nine miles from port, but we were experiencing huge and nasty seas. The waves were somewhere north of 15 feet, and they were stacked in very short intervals, maybe 6 seconds. Argo was tossed around like a toy; furniture was on the move, things were sliding as she rolled sideways in the storm. With only one stabilizer working, we were all concerned. I turned Argo so as to approach the waves at a 450 angle. We kept that course for about ten minutes. Winds hit 40 knots. Then it began to subside a little. We were 900 off our course and had moved a couple of miles off our rum line to port , but that distance allowed us to turn stern to, and with the lessening of conditions, we made port within the hour and our voyage was safely over. 

Nuku Hiva as immense volcano that rises thousands of feet almost straight up out of the ocean. Its cliffs remind you of El Capitan in Yosemite, but they are hundreds of times larger. Nuku Hiva is one of the most awe inspiring geological sights on the planet. The harbor of Taiohae where we are anchored is situated in the cone of the ancient volcano. The sides of the mountain rise steeply all around us except of a slice of about 200, which is the entrance from the sea. The walls are nearly vertical, and they are covered in tropical plants and lush greenery. The ocean is cerulean blue and clear. The air is warm, the winds calm, and we have reached a paradise, safely.

We traveled 3,168 miles, burned 950 gallons of fuel, and average 7.76 knots. Believe it or not, it all went mostly as planned. Now we are in Taiohae at anchor. It is a little village of 2100 people. There are a couple of little tikki restaurants, a bank of course, grocery store, a church and a few government offices. The bay, which is pretty large, is positioned to allow the ocean swell directly in, so Argo rocks and rolls constantly. We will take an island tour while we are here, and spend a few days doing maintenance and poking around. 

 

ril 29 to May 11

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.