Monthly Archives: April 2015


Tuesday we hiked the road to Omoa. There are two villages on this island and they’re three miles apart as the crow flies or by water but ten miles via the only road, a crazy zigzag of switchbacks and steep rises that somehow carves through and over the jagged volcanic peaks. We knew we wouldn’t make it to Omoa but we had to pursue the required cruisers’ mission of climbing the highest hill and taking a photo of our boat.     

 We set off in the morning and walked the steep road past the turn-off for the waterfall, then kept following the road further up into the mountains. It was unrelentingly steep, so steep that I checked the grade with an app on my phone. Fifteen percent. Some of the switchbacks were up to 18% grade.   

  We could only walk a few hundred feet before resting whenever we found a shady spot. We walked for about two hours taking photos of the majestic scenery as we went. As beautiful as it was, we couldn’t see down into the anchorage yet. Our map hinted at where we might find an overlook into the harbor and it was still quite a way ahead.   

 My legs gave out and I parked myself in the shade while Jack and Tim kept going. Jack is never one to stop before the summit. I ate a granola bar and that revived me enough to make small forays upward, resting whenever I found shade or a place to sit. Eventually the road turned toward the harbor and I could see nearly straight down to some of the boats at anchor. Our boat is anchored nearer the shore so it wasn’t visible from this standpoint nor was Tim’s so I knew the men wouldn’t stop until they got the shot. I was content to stay where I was and sat under a tree to appreciate the view and wait.  

 I waited for an hour. I was just considering leaving a signal cairn and starting down when I looked ahead and saw Jack and Tim about 50 yards above me, collapsed under a tree. I waved and they made their way down to my shady spot. They had not reached the summit but did find a good view of the harbor with all the boats. They were exhausted. We rested for a while longer then started down. Walking down a 15% grade for an hour is nearly as painful as walking up and we rested just as frequently. It was a relief to our knees and feet when we finally got to relatively level ground again. 

We’ve been to some beautiful places before but this island, with its knife-edge volcanic peaks, its steep, green, undulating valleys, its jasmine and gardenia scented breeze, this magical island shoots right to our top five list with a bullet. 


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Shore leave

We’re still in Fatu Hiva, unable to haul up the anchor and leave this enchanting scenery. We’re gradually getting some boat chores done, mostly cleaning and organizing. We transferred diesel from the rest of our jerry jugs to the main tank. Jack sorted out an additional anchor, line and float in case we need a stern anchor on future islands. I scrubbed the galley and cooked. And so it goes. 

        We finally left the boat on Sunday to hike to the Vaiee-Nui waterfall. It was a challenging hike, and more so on legs that hadn’t had a workout in many weeks. A young singlehander from San Francisco joined us and we managed to keep up with him so we’re not in such bad shape for old folks.  

       The ever-changing views of the steep volcanic cliffs had us pointing the camera every which way and bemoaning the fact that you just can’t capture with the lens what it feels like to be surrounded by this otherworldly beauty. Giant blossoms floated down from the trees above us and festooned the trail. The breeze was scented with jasmine and other sweet fragrances. As the path grew steeper through dense woods the way was marked by stone cairns and after a final scramble over slippery rocks we reached the waterfall, a spectacular drop so high we had trouble getting the whole thing in a photo. Tim, our singlehander friend, jumped right into the cold water, then climbed a rock wall opposite the cascade and dove in again and again. We were content to rest on the rocks and dangle our feet.  

      On the way down the mountain we passed a petroglyph. We don’t know if this was the original location or if it had been moved there for convenience. 

  There’s a funny phenomenon that all sailors experience after many days at sea. Our brains come to think that the constantly rolling and pitching deck is level ground, so that when we go ashore the firm unmoving earth feels like it’s moving. We experience what’s called sailor’s lurch, where we suddenly pitch sideways involuntarily as if compensating for ocean waves. It often makes us look drunk. The hike up the mountain was doubly challenging as we lurched this way and that. Most of the way back down I kept leaning to port as if the whole world were tilted the other way and I was trying to stay upright.  

 The day after we arrived we plunked down nearly $40 for a few hours of Internet access so we could download six weeks of email and check into facebook and the blog. It’s tempting to keep spending and stay connected but our budget doesn’t allow for that kind of extravagance so we’re back to the offline life, only able to connect briefly each day using our satellite phone as a data modem. We post on the blog by email, which is how you can read this. The cost of connecting via satellite phone precludes us sending more than the occasionally photo so we’ll upload our beautiful pictures as soon as we get to more reasonably priced Internet access. 

We’re going to have to leave here soon. Our pantry is still well stocked but we don’t have much fresh food left. There is nothing available here and besides we have no local currency and there’s no bank, so we really do have to move on to Hiva Oa. Maybe tomorrow. Or the day after that.

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Exactly three years ago we signed the papers for Escape Velocity and moved aboard. After about a month of sorting ourselves out we cast off the docklines and we’ve been on the move ever since. It’s the gypsy life I’ve always dreamed of, changing the scenery as we please. Sometimes we get anchor glue and stay in a place too long, sometimes we get antsy and move too soon and regret it. Mostly it’s just right. Here in Fatu Hiva we’d like nothing more than to stay anchored in this spot, drinking in the awesome beauty of the bay, and believe me, that’s pretty much all we’ve done so far. 


It’s been two nights since we arrived and we haven’t even left the boat, happy to have the hook down, enchanted by our surroundings. We spent time tidying up the boat and ourselves and Jack did his best to clean the sea life off EV’s bottom. Today we’ll go ashore. 

Unfortunately, Fatu Hiva is not a port of entry and we are technically here illegally. This island is the most windward of the chain and to sail first to a port of entry then come here involves an uncomfortable windward trip. Most boats do that, but many do what we did, come here first then sail to the entry island, in our case Hiva Oa, some 45 miles northwest. The authorities mostly turn a blind eye, and we’re hoping for that too but we don’t want to push it. We will do some hiking today, ready the boat for sea again and move on probably tomorrow. 

There are 13 boats squeezed into this tiny bay, and I see another one standing off waiting for daylight to come inside and anchor. Every one of them has crossed an ocean to get here. Yesterday we met the singlehander anchored behind us; he sailed from Germany around Cape Horn, up through the Gambier Islands south of here before arriving in Fatu Hiva, in a catamaran one foot small than ours. There are boats of all kinds, new and old, monohulls and catamarans, and except for one or two, most are of modest size and far from new and shiny. They are equipped with solar panels, wind generators and steering vanes. Their decks are cluttered with jerry jugs of extra fuel and water, kayaks and paddleboards. Laundry hangs from every possible place and the skippers are often on deck tinkering with this or that needing fixing or adjusting. These are intrepid sailors, more interested in exploring the world than in keeping up with the Joneses and we feel a kinship and mutual respect. There’s an unspoken acknowledgement of what it took to get here. 

When we first left Stuart, Florida, on our new home we joined the community of cruisers who travel the eastern Intercoastal waterway, sailing north for the summer and south before the frost sets in. A year later we left Florida for the Virgin Islands and became Caribbean cruisers. Last year we transited the Panama Canal and sailed to the Galapagos and joined the Pacific cruising community. While we were in Costa Rica and El Salvador this past year we were again with mostly coastal cruisers who sail between Canada or the US west coast down through Mexico and Central America and back up. We met very few boats planning a Pacific crossing. 

Now that we’ve arrived here in French Polynesia we are definitely with a new group of cruisers. You don’t go back to the states from here. The prevailing winds will push us west through Polynesia, Melanesia, to New Zealand, and Australia. While the length of the passage here makes it seem like this is the end of the journey it’s actually the beginning. The wide Pacific and all of its enchanting destinations — Tahiti, Bora Bora, Tonga, Fiji — lie ahead over the horizon, beckoning us. Like the song says, Bali Hai will call you. Come away, come away. 

It took three years to get to the starting line.


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The view from the front porch




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We have arrived in the Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva, Marquesas after 42 days at sea. We opened a bottle of excellent wine (thank you Jeff Grossman.) Our joy knows no bounds. 



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Land Ho!

We have just sighted the peak of Fatu Hiva, just a dark smear on the horizon 25 miles ahead of us. We still have a long way to go, along the southern coast and up the west side to the Bay of Virgins and we still don’t know if we will arrive before dark. Right now we’re in boisterous conditions, wind in the mid-20s, seas in utter 8-ft. confusion. We have our fingers crossed that it settles down soon.  

 I’m a ball of raw emotion. Jack and I just held each other, tears in our eyes. We remember sitting at my kitchen table shortly after we met in 1990, knowing we would spend our lives together and ruminating on what that life would be like. We both wanted to sail around the world — odd, given that we didn’t own a boat, had no experience ocean cruising, lived 400 miles from the sea, and I suffer from motion sickness. The idea took hold, though, and became the focus of our life for the next 22 years. We were both in debt and both working freelance jobs that didn’t pay enough to buy and support a yacht, but we put our heads down and started the journey. It took a long time, first paying off debts, then saving every penny, taking every job we could find. We took classes in sailing and navigation, we got our ham licenses, we sailed on other people’s boats as much as we could. In 1999 we made our first ocean passage with friends, and continued to crew on passages whenever we were invited. 

In the mid-2000s when the economy drooped, our incomes suffered and so did the dream. With flagging energy we turned our focus to exploring our corner of the world on our bikes and to renovating our little row house. Then, in the space of about a year and a half, nine family members died, some unexpectedly and way before their time. In the midst of that, Jack was diagnosed with cancer. We were smacked in the head; life is short. For the next six months, while Jack underwent surgery, chemo and radiation, we took a long hard look at our life. Yes, we had by then a comfortable if modest home, good friends, family close by, a happy life. Should we abandon our dream of sailing into the sunset? Had we outlived it? We decided we hadn’t and once again we put our heads down and continued the journey. 

 Lots of people ask us what the name of our boat means. Escape velocity is the speed a spaceship needs to achieve to escape the gravitational pull of the planet or it falls backwards. Jack and I are children of the space age and we think it accurately expresses the effort it took us to leave what had become a comfortable, normal life. 

We thought we had achieved escape velocity on the day we bought the boat. But last year, gravity sucked us back into orbit when we were dismasted on the way to the Marquesas. We had to summon our will once again to get EV back to safety and work through the rerigging, a process that wasn’t completed for nine months. So now here we are, nearing a landfall ocean cruisers dream about. 

We took a long time getting here, nearly 25 years, plus 42 days at sea. We’re not celebrating until the hook is down, but we’re feeling mighty good right now. 



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What kind of ocean is this?

I just kissed the newly off-watch good night, remembering to step well over the foot and a half high saloon door frame, a real shin barker, out into the very dark world of our cockpit which has an eerie glow courtesy of Escape Velocity’s chart plotter and navigation instruments. It’s a moment that fills me with joy and wonder. To my left the Big Dipper fills the entire starboard side view of the cockpit, so close that I could reach out and touch them, Benetnash, Mizar, Alioth, Megrez, Phad Merak, Dubhe. (I looked it up.) To my right, the port side view is dominated by the magical Southern Cross, Gavrux, Becrux, Acrux, and some other star that gets no ink, all pointing to our path south. Hard to go too far wrong.

It was a boisterous but uneventful night watch until five a.m. I’d noticed this pattern develop where just before dawn the wind and waves get substantially worse but I can’t say if they are due to squalls or not but definitely not welcome in any case. I was dealing with 25 knots of wind but the sea state was amazingly bad. We had the usual crossing pattern with some waves overtaking other waves and at one point we found ourselves down at the bottom, looking up at three steep monsters each going in different directions but surrounding us in a triangle. EV just popped up and over like a cork. What kind of ocean is this?

Luckily we still had our triple reefed night time mainsail up but its a little hard on the nerves especially so close to the end of this marathon 42-day passage to French Polynesia. Yes, you heard it here first. If we’re lucky we may just squeeze into the Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva this evening! Things are looking up, Escapees.


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Mood indigo

The crew is a little glum today. Yesterday we did the time/speed/distance calculations and were excited to see that we would make landfall on Friday afternoon, the perfect time to enter the legendary Bay of Virgins. But just before my watch last night the wind dropped suddenly, and despite our weather predictions of more of the same for the duration, we found ourselves making 3-4 kts instead of the 5-6 kts we’ve been averaging all week. We convinced ourselves it was just a local anomaly but the wind never came back all night and now we can’t see a way to reach our destination by sundown Friday. 

No prudent sailor enters a strange harbor in the dark so that means we will have to sail back and forth outside until daybreak Saturday. I’d been counting down the night watches and now I have to add one more. 

That’s sailing for you. It’s a joy to harness the power of the sun and the wind to get us where we’re going and run our systems, but it’s foolish to think we’re in control. All we can do is maximize the opportunities to move forward and hope for the best. Today will tell the tale.


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The day after my perfect night watch post we finally caught up with the southern trade winds. It’s been glorious to have enough pressure on the sails to cut through the seas and watch the miles tick off toward our destination. But a day later bigger seas also moved in, making the ride at first exhilarating then wearying. We tucked two reefs in the mainsail which didn’t affect our speed too much but did make our motion a little more comfortable. Then the winds built up. 

Sailors say there are three kinds of wind, too much, too little and on the nose. We can honestly say this isn’t any of those. The wind is only averaging 17 kts. but with the steep seas it feels much stronger. Escape Velocity is having no trouble at all rising up over the waves, and the sails are steady and quiet. It’s her crew that are on edge, because the motion is unpredictable and any attempt to move around at all below is dicey at best. Mostly we park ourselves into a corner and read. Meals are grab ‘n’ go, whatever leftovers or snacks are available. Elaborate cooking is out of the question. 

Our wind and wave reports say we will have two nights of this before it moderates just before we approach the islands. My night watch last night was not calm or restful. With the wind mostly from behind there’s no shelter in the cockpit so I stood my watch inside on the settee. Every 15 minutes my alarm reminded me to go outside and do the usual check for ships, course, sail set and so on. During the night the wind ranged from 14 to 20 kts, hardly a tempest, and a normal trade wind strength. But from the noise you would have thought it was a hurricane. 

There were no little 15-minute catnaps and I did the constant time left math — I’m 1/4 done, I’m 1/3 done, I’m 1/2 done — until Jack came to relieve me at 1 am. When I crawled into bed I was still so tense that I fired up my Headspace meditation app and let the guide talk me through an exercise in relaxation. I eventually fell asleep. 

This morning a half hour before my alarm I woke up with my whole body clenched against the movement of the boat in the building seas. When I came up to the bridge deck Jack was braced against the sink trying to make coffee. We looked at our weather info. It’s now a few days old so when we send this post we’ll order up a new wind and wave report and hope for signs of moderation. 

We’re getting so close now we can almost taste it, and I guess EV can to because she’s heading for the barn.


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Bottomless joy

I don’t want to shock anyone but I’m not wearing any pants. In fact I haven’t worn any since March 15th. That was our second day out and we were pooped for the very first time. (For you landlubbers it has nothing to do with poop.)

I was standing in the corner of the cockpit tidying up the lines after a sail change. Jack was in the helm seat, up on a pedestal. A rogue wave boarded our port sugar scoop and hit me full on, knocked me off my feet and shunted me across the cockpit where I wedged under the corner table. Jack got barely a splash and the water quickly disappeared down the scuppers but I was left soaked to the skin in seawater. I sent myself to the shower, clothes and all, and rinsed out the salt, put on a dry T-shirt and hung the wet clothes on the line. Later when my pants were dry I thought why bother? They’ll only get wet again and who wants wet pants? Since then I have not worn pants. During the day it’s warm enough and at night if it’s cool or damp there’s always a sarong or a fleece blanket to drape over my legs. There’s another reason to eschew pants. Getting dressed or pulling up your pants after a pit stop is often a bruising affair. In a sailboat underway you’ve always got to hold on to something to avoid being slammed against the sink, the towel bar, the door jamb, whatever. You can always tell the sailors in a crowd by the telltale bruises on their shins or arms. We call these boat bites. You hang on with one hand and that leaves one hand to pull your pants up and fasten them. It’s always a struggle, so I not only eschew pants, I pooh-pooh them.  

 Just to set your mind at ease, Jack continues to wear pants. And he frequently has to rinse the salt out and hang them to dry. He’s got two pair going most of the time, the ones he’s wearing and the ones drying on the line. Me, I can merrily sit on a wet deck or a cockpit cushion that got doused in a squall and it doesn’t matter. I just dry off and I’m good to go. It’s been five weeks now; I’m pants free and loving it. The skipper says he doesn’t mind.

As we get closer to landfall it occurs to me that I’m going to have to actually get dressed. This is like the days when I often worked from home. There was no need to be presentable. I could spend the day in my pajamas if I wanted. No bra. Heaven. Ok, so sometime next week I’ll have to dress like a grownup and we’ll both have to put shoes on. Tell me, when was the last time you went six weeks without wearing shoes? Or pants?


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