Monthly Archives: October 2015

With regards to balance

It sucks when it blows too hard, but no wind is worse. It’s been a crazy passage with a lot of just about everything. If it weren’t for this nice current pushing us along right now we wouldn’t have any “wind” at all. We’re much more patient now after the 42-day passage from El Salvador to Fatu Hiva but by Friday, oops let’s make that Saturday, at dawn our patience was spent so we fired up the Iron Genny. The starboard Volvo would have to bring it home. The seastate was glassy smooth so we found that we could leave the sails up and motorsail without the usual slatting and banging and it looks better while maintaining our sailor’s pride. 

Marce casually remarked on how my emergency autopilot repair, done in the middle of a blistering squall, unexpectedly held up for the entire trip. I immediately made the zip-your-lips gesture. I mean why tempt the gods this close to our destination? She smiled with that “how quaint” tolerant look…I get that a lot. Approaching the Faihava Passage in Vava’u, the Royal Kingdom of Tonga, M gave me the other look that says “I do not wish to maneuver in tight spaces with the sails up.” Dear Escapees, this bay has to be over a mile wide but I think the fact that our friend’s boat is swimming with the fishes somewhere right around here has us both a little spooked. I knew from past experience that the correct response was “of course, dear.”  

 I pushed the standby button on the autopilot control to turn Escape Velocity up into the wind, but I couldn’t budge the steering wheel. The autopilot wouldn’t let go. I ran inside and switched off the breaker to cut the power to the autopilot but still it wouldn’t release the wheel. We tried steering with the autopilot, adding degrees to the course to turn the boat but the steering was now completely unresponsive. By this time we were pointed right at the rocks where Tim’s boat lay beneath the surface and no way to turn the boat. I’ll never forget the look of terror in Marce’s eyes. 

Once more I tore the mattress off our bed, pillows flying, lifted the heavy hatch, crawled down into engine room at the stern where the steering elves live but my emergency repair still looked good. I could see the AP ram still making small corrections even though the power switch was off. It shouldn’t be moving at all! I decided to worry about that later and set to work removing all the extra nuts holding the bolt onto the steering quadrant while the zombie autopilot kept turning the rudder. It was about at this time I started hearing oh my god, Oh My God, OH…MY…GOD, from out in the cockpit. I decided to focus on regaining control of Escape Velocity first and then, when I go up to see Marce, I’ll have something positive to report. Over the years I’ve found this to be the best approach. On gaining the cockpit I found M transfixed, staring dead ahead, at the rocky coast thinking that we’re about to become another statistic in Tim’s Tonga Triangle. A little intimidating I’ll admit, but we were still a good quarter mile from the rocks. With the motor disconnected we finally had control of the helm again and turned Escape Velocity 180 degrees away from the cliff. Not counting the zombie autopilot everything else had returned to normal, except the pounding of our heart rates. I tried a few maneuvers just to be sure we had complete control before we entered the bay. 

With the sails down we motored past little villages, idyllic anchorages, so much more beautiful than the approach to Tonga, which promised a low meatloaf kind of island devoid of crazy conical volcano mountains that we’ve grown used to in French Polynesia. We still had ten miles to motor but It already felt more like a peaceful meandering river than an ocean bay. 

Finally after squeezing through the narrows the anchorage opened up into a huge protected bay with the 430 ft Mt. Talau to the left, a shipping wharf dead ahead heaped with rusty blue metal containers, a half dozen or so waterfront bars, a Church high on a hill overlooking the village just to keep a lid on things, and fifty or so sailing vessels scattered about on mooring balls almost all waiting for a weather window south. In no time we were cracking cold Hinanos with welcoming friends in EV’s cockpit. Soon a plan to diagnose our autopilot problem was hatched and with that settled we all repaired to a shore-based happy hour. 

Balance is important.   


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Greetings from tomorrow

I don’t know if it’s just me but I bet some of you Escapees also have a little trouble wrapping your brains around this International Dateline business. It’s like, “Hey, what happened to my Thursday?” I mean do I get a mulligan or something? Can I get it back later? Is this Thursday or Friday, or is this passage really taking 9 or 10 days? Is time just a convention, a desperate attempt to carve a little order out of chaos? Well it’s not helping me much. I’m just hanging on, folks.

So as it turns out, our 20 knot winds have abandoned us, leaving us with a nice consistent seven knot breeze wafting over the transom from behind, which leaves us in the 3 to 4 knot speed range, and we’ve begun to do the math shuffle, you know the oh I don’t think we’re going to make it before dark unless we can motor sail at 8.35 knots for twenty three hours. As if!

At the midnight change of watch there was some discussion about sail trim but I don’t think EV could pickup an extra five knots by tweaking the jib so I say slow and steady wins the day. The only question is what day and does somebody owe me another hour of sleep because sometime this dawn we turn the clocks back one hour plus advance it twenty four hours, losing a whole day, a day I might like to keep in my pocket. To make matters more confusing, our world clock tells us that in Pittsburgh it’s now yesterday. Wait, what?

False dawn found us adjacent to a huge French blue push-pin looking thing. They give us very few options for marking things on our electronic chart, and this one is marking our crossing of the dateline. I felt nothing. I went out into the cockpit, nothing in evidence, seven knots from behind, 3.6 knots through the water, course, same as it ever was.

The Kingdom of Tonga is dead ahead somewhere out there in the gibbous moonlight dancing across the big black Pacific. I turned and stepped back into our main saloon thinking of Peggy Lee. If not today, maybe tomorrow or whatever day that’s supposed to be.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The view from the back porch


Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Night and Day

After five of our worst days at sea ever we’re having some of our best days at sea ever. We finally escaped the two troughs and the squash zone that had us slammed by huge waves and pounded by driving rain and now we’re in lovely steady tradewinds, still strong enough to move Escape Velocity at a good clip. We raised more of our mainsail to take advantage of the lighter wind and aside from that, we’ve barely had to touch the sails or the autopilot at all. It’s been like sailing on rails.

The Pacific swell is still a force to be reckoned with, and there are no gourmet meals being cooked or eaten aboard but I had stocked the fridge and freezer with ready-mades so no one is starving. We sure are looking forward to an arrival pizza, though!

During the rainy days we had our water collection rig hooked up and the needle on the tank gauge never deviated from “full” the whole time. Two days ago we ran the watermaker, not because we needed water but because it’s happier when it runs. We still have three quarters of a tank of water with two days to go.

We’ve been talking lately about our Pacific journey so far, our achievements, unexpected joys, our disappointments. We meet cruisers who spend years in the Pacific exploring every little nook and cranny. We knew we couldn’t do everything and made our priority list, most of which we stuck to.

We spent a longer time in the Marquesas than most one-season boats do, visiting all six inhabited islands. Because of a run of bad weather on our way into the Tuamotus we ended up only visiting one atoll, Fakarava, but what a great time we had there! Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Taha’a and Bora Bora all lived up to their reputations.

Our disappointment comes from having to make the tough choice to leave French Polynesia and sail directly to Tonga, missing some of the most legendary islands in this part of the Pacific, places we will probably never see now, Maupiti, Suwarrow, Palmerston, Beveridge Reef, Niue. The two month delay caused by my back injury, and the impending cyclone season meant that if we wanted to see those islands we’d have to sail back to the Marquesas for safety until next Spring, then make our way back across all of French Polynesia before the first new island landfall. And New Zealand would have to wait another year.

If we were twenty years younger we might have made a different decision, and we’re at peace with the choice we made. All of that is to explain why we’re making this unexpectedly long ocean passage. If we had been able to leave Bora Bora in early September we’d’ve had time to hopscotch our way from island to island, making shorter passages and enjoying those magical landfalls.

It is what it is. The sun is shining. We’re sailing to the Kingdom of Tonga. We’ve said goodbye to French pastries and baguettes and we’re looking forward to another country.


Filed under Uncategorized


After our hilarious snafu with the gendarmes that took a day to sort out we finally left Bora Bora just after noon on Tuesday. The passage to Tonga is a little over 1300 miles — our second longest so far — and because of El NiƱo and the fact that we’re a little late to be doing it we’ve hired a weather router, MetBob, for the first time. Bob sent us a detailed voyage forecast showing there were various nasty weather effects along our path but he thought his suggested route might help us avoid most of the unpleasantness from a convergence zone, two troughs and a “squash zone,” an area of higher winds and big waves.

We had about six hours of disappointing light wind at first but by nightfall the wind filled in at 17 kt and with steady rain. In the morning we lost our wind again and motored for the rest of the day, then about 4 am Thursday the wind came back with a vengeance with driving rain and huge seas.

Our solo circumnavigator friend Ron Dicola gave us this advice when we left St. Thomas: if you hear scary noises, slow the boat down, go below, and trust your boat to take care of you. That’s essentially what we’ve done. The main is reefed down to a scrap, our jib is up full but it’s very small, and still we’re making 8 kts, unheard of for slowpoke, over-loaded EV. Inside it feels and sounds like a freight train barreling down a mountain.

The last five days have been miserable with winds 10 kts higher than Bob predicted, which is ok by itself, but a seastate as bad as we’ve been in since a horrible post-hurricane Gulf Stream crossing 15 years ago. All of our energies are focused on staying tucked into safe corners and controlling stress. Moving about is dangerous, cooking is out of the question, cupboard doors fly open and dishes launch across the cabin. The box containing Jack’s dad’s ashes rocketed out of the bookcase down below and up the four steps into the galley. Whoa, flyboy! One particularly horrendous wave hit us so hard on the port side that I watched seawater squirt through the gaskets on all three portholes and with such force that the saloon floor got wet, not to mention the entire port hull. We’ve never seen anything like it. The refrigerator lid came down on Jack’s head and he’s now sporting a plum-sized lump on his left temple. Our jib lazy jacks are a tangled and shredded mess.  

 Two days ago in the middle of a string of nasty squalls the autopilot stopped working. I took the wheel and handsteered while Jack got to work. The pin attaching the AP arm to the quadrant had sheared off. It took Jack about 45 minutes to find a bolt that approximates the size and maker a fix. Two days later it’s still holding, even in these crazy waves.

After we experienced a freak gear failure that sent our whole rig overboard last year I began to worry that everything is fragile and I find myself always bracing for another catastrophe. This past week of misery has an upside in that I’ve regained confidence in our boat. I’ve come to appreciate the strength of the new rig, the ease with which EV recovers from the crazy forces on her hulls, and how safe our boat makes us feel. From inside the saloon we can easily scan the horizon for other boats and check the sails, so while the wind is howling, the rain coming down in sheets and the seas bashing noisily against our sugar scoops and under the bridgedeck, we are dry and safe inside, if not entirely comfortable. When we go outside to look around during our night watches we’re happy to find EV just cooking along, steady as she goes. She’s obviously better at this than we are.


Filed under Uncategorized

Never in doubt

Uh oh, he’s making that pouty put-put-put sound they make with their lips. Kind of an exaggerated exhalation through pursed lips. It’s the sound that means you can kiss this day goodbye and probably the next one too. He says something in French, makes the little tiny gesture by pinching his forefinger and thumb together, mutters “petite problem” and disappears behind the counter. Yes, I know I should speak French, but dear Escapees, I’m not a lot of things that I should be. However I am very good at pantomime and I was sure the last guy understood our comings and goings. My “wife with a bad back-go back to Papeete Hospital for a CAT scan” is one of my most requested party pieces. I would have thought he’d remember me with fondness.

In a few minutes I begin to pace. It’s what I do. I peek through the blinds and see that the tourists off today’s cruise ship, the Princess something-or-other, are stacked-up outside taking snaps of the charming Gendarme office with its white picket fence and now Yours Truly is in their vacation snaps peering out at them through the blinds looking for all the world like a criminal, and I may well be if I can’t straighten this mess out. Finally my gendarme comes out from the inner sanctum flourishing, viola, three forms in triplicate to be filled out still again by Yours Truly and copies which are to be sent to Papeete customs which will require a seventy five cent stamp which can only be bought at the post office which is down the dusty road. This is oh so familiar. I bet they’ll remember me at the post office. This is the fourth time I’ve filled out these forms in triplicate and bought the 75 cent stamp to send my three forms off to the black hole in Papeete, but what has me
worried is that my guy said, with his finger wagging, to come back 24 hours before departure. They can’t do anything in 24 hours. Maybe I should go a day early so I can fill out those forms in triplicate again.

I love the French, really I do. I’ve found them to be, by and large, cheerful, happy and smiling. They love high tech. They’re just not good at it. This all started in Tahiti the first time, where we were instructed to just email customs when we were planning to checkout and voila, the correct forms, in triplicate, would be waiting at our next port of call, which was Bora Bora for us and where it turned out they never heard of us. I don’t feel singled out. Nobody’s forms, in triplicate, made it to Bora Bora. Unfortunately Marce’s back really got worse so when the doctor said you’d better get her back to Papeete Hospital for a CAT scan I immediately checked out that day creating my now famous “wife with a bad back-go back to Papeete Hospital for a CAT scan” routine and of course, filling out the three forms in triplicate, hustling down the dusty road to the post office where for 75 cents they’ll post your three forms in triplicate to Papeete Customs which of course is where we ‘re going.

The good news back in Papeete is that Marce’s wonky back slowly did improve along with our water maker and redesigned masthead. After a few weeks we emailed Papeete customs that we were leaving Tahiti and our intention was to sail back to Bora Bora where we would check out of the country for Tonga. Well, no surprise, back in Bora Bora they never heard of us despite emails, forms in triplicate, dusty roads, stamps, or promises to come back 24 hours before we leave.

When our Kiwi weather guru Bob emailed us that our weather window had finally made an appearance and could we leave on Tuesday, I confess I had my doubts. Hah, this time I thought I’ll bring my secret weapon, Marce, who when pushed, can parlez-vous a little French and she learned from the pursed pouty putt-putt that there were in fact a few small irregularities in our paperwork and voila, just fill out these three forms in triplicate and take them down to the post office, buy a 75 cent stamp and come back tomorrow at ten o’clock. After we have the proper forms you can leave, but first we must know where did you go when you left French Polynesia? It seems the more subtle qualities of my “wife has a bad back-go back to Papeete Hospital for a CAT scan” routine were lost on my last guy and instead of just noting that we moved from one island to another, he’d checked us into French Polynesia again. Our new gendarme paged through our passports and pointed. We have two entry stamps
with no corresponding exit. Because we never left. Marce tried to explain this in halting French while our gendarme kept pointing to the entry stamp from last week. Marce smiled and gave her best Gallic shrug.

Faster than you can say voila, fresh new forms, in triplicate, appeared but I just couldn’t face another form in triplicate so M. took over. Uh oh, more pouty putt-putt and apparently they teach that little thumb and forefinger pinch thing in grammar school because this guy did it just the same way. Soon we were hustled back into the inner sanctum where our guy puzzled over the dates of our visas until Marce produced our temporary resident cards. That solved one of the petite problems but there was still the incorrect stamp in our passports to address. With a conspiratorial wink and a shrug he carefully overwrote “sortie” on the French Polynesian “entree” stamp and changed the dates. He told us if there’s a problem in Tonga with the obvious forgery we are to show them the green copy of our exit application. And with that he sorted our growing stack of forms, “c’est pour moi, c’est pour moi, c’est pour moi, c’est pour moi, c’est pour moi, c’est pour moi, et voila, c’est pour v ous.”  

 Yes. Yes, I know where the post office is.

Anticipating bad news, we checked our email early the next morning and we were gobsmacked to find our exit papers waiting for us.

It was never in doubt.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

German interlude

Bora Bora is a nice place to wait out the weather but this late in the season means happy hour ashore is a little less happy. There are few boats here, as most are already in Tonga, Samoa or Fiji, making their way to New Zealand or Australia for cyclone season. 

The day after we arrived a dinghy full of Germans from the boat on the mooring next to us stopped by and asked Jack if he could help with their SSB radio. They were having trouble receiving email and wondered if he knew anything about it. “I do,” I jumped in, and with that the four men started chuckling. It’s not so common, a woman knowing about radios, their skipper said. I know otherwise, as we hear at least as many female voices on the cruiser nets as men, but apparently these men hadn’t and found the whole idea quite amusing. I offered to take a look later that afternoon, and we told them about happy hour ashore for afterwards. 

We went over to their boat, Incroyable, at four o’clock and while Jack sat in the cockpit with two Gunthers I went below with Arno, the skipper. I checked the settings on the computer but Arno was convinced it was something wrong with the radio itself. “Show me what it does,” I said, and Arno started the send/receive function. Within seconds, the radio connected with the shore station and operated perfectly. 

“It works!” said Arno, and he looked at me with astonishment. I did nothing, of course, but I smiled and held up my index finger. “It’s magic,” I said. It’s the same magic finger I show Jack whenever he’s having issues with his iPhone and hands it over to me to “fix.”

Arno and I joined the Gunthers in the cockpit and we talked for a while. The three men are doctors, and the fourth member of the crew is Arno’s son Julian, who was out kayaking. After a while we went ashore for happy hour and over beers we made plans to take the same short hike Jack did a month ago while I was flat on my back and couldn’t move. 

We dinghied all the way across the bay to Bloody Mary’s where the trail begins. Riding in the dinghy is not too comfortable on my back but Jack took it slow and easy for me. It’s a short, steep hike with a spectacular view at the top over the encircling reef.   


We took turns taking pictures of each other and stepped aside whenever the 4WD tour vehicles spat out their cruise ship passengers for two minutes of selfies before bouncing back down the rutted track.  


Jack led us over the other side of the ridge back down to a small pearl farm and we took the brief tour of the operation. Of all the places we’ve been where they farm oysters we never took a tour. The most interesting fact we learned is that the nuclei they use to seed the oysters come from the shell of a different variety of oyster that grows in — wait for it — the Mississippi River. Those shells are thicker and tougher than the beautiful and delicate ones that produce the Polynesian black pearls. That means they can machine a larger nucleus to get bigger pearls, and the strong nucleus also means the pearls can be drilled without the risk of crumbling. So it turns out that Tahitian black pearls are American at heart!

As always, you exit through the gift shop and while Jack and I admired the lovely jewelry, the doctors considered some pearl souvenirs. In the end the high prices turned them away and Jack and I were glad we made our pearl purchases in the craft tent in Fakarava.  


 We had one more happy hour with the crew of Incroyable before they sailed toward Tonga in less than optimum conditions. Julian has a flight scheduled in ten days and they couldn’t wait any longer. They have a big boat and four on board so we hope they have a reasonable passage. With only two on Escape Velocity we need to wait for better conditions before we venture out. High winds and big seas are too exhausting. 

It’s another goodbye, but we imagine we’ll see the doctors again in New Zealand.  


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The view from the back porch


Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The view of the back porch


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Waiting helps

We waited and waited in Papeete for the weather to ease up, all the while watching the calendar and the impending start of the cyclone season. My back has been good enough for sailing for about a week but we’ve had high winds and choppy seas and we just didn’t want to have a pounding while I’m still not 100%. It looked like Thursday was the day, then Thursday dawned still windy so we deferred to Friday. That worked out well because our friends on Flying Cloud were sailing up to Papeete from the other side of Tahiti and we’d get to spend an evening with them before leaving. 

Jack and I took a last walk to the Papeete market and bought pumpkin and bok choy for a Pacific version of lasagna and I spent the rest of the day cooking while Jack gave the boat a last wash and stowed all the flotsam that ends up strewn around whenever we’re in one place for too long. Meryl and Walter had a boisterous sail around the island and were relieved to tie up across the dock from us. They’re spending the year in French Polynesia and to be out of the cyclone belt they’ll sail east back to the Marquesas. Over dinner Jack and I shared our favorite places on all the islands we visited and gave them tips on best hikes and other activities. It was fun to revisit all those happy memories from our time there and it almost tempted us to change our minds and stay another year, but New Zealand calls us. 

About 3 am we were awakened by high winds and the boats tugging at their dock lines. There wasn’t much sleep after that and when we got up at 5:30 to prepare for departure we looked at each other with trepidation. The wind was 25-30 kts, and that’s inside the protection of the reef so we knew it would be worse outside. We checked the weather again and decided to wait until Saturday. We really backed ourselves into a corner because on Monday a squall line moves over Bora Bora and we need to be safely tied up before then. We decided it was best to thread the needle between the bad weather here on Friday and the bad weather there on Monday. It’ll be Saturday-Sunday for us, and crossed fingers that the forecast doesn’t change. 

By this time Meryl and Walter were on the dock to wave goodbye, and our dockmates on Sunrise were ready to cast off our lines. We announced our decision to wait and there was a collective sigh of relief that we weren’t going to fight our way through nasty weather. Meryl and Walter joined us on EV for coffee and we watched what passes for morning entertainment at Marina de Papeete, the docking of a huge cruise ship directly behind us.  

 Getting an extra night’s sleep before a passage is always a bonus and we took it easy all day, too. We walked Meryl and Walter through the jumble of souvenir vendors that sprouts up when a cruise ship comes in, and made the obligatory ice cream stop.  

 We had a delicious early taco dinner aboard Flying Cloud and got to bed by nine o’clock.  

 Jack and I were awake by 5:30 and we readied Escape Velocity for sea. While I made coffee Jack untied the docklines except for the bow and stern, which he looped around the dock cleats so I’d be able to set us free from the deck. At the ok from Jack at the helm, I pulled both lines aboard and we were moving again for the first time in almost a month.  

 It was calm inside the reef but as soon as we were outside we were hit with 22 kt wind and the usual choppy Tahiti-Moorea seas. Raising sails was crazy bouncy but once we got settled on course we were fine. The wind stayed in the 18-22 kt range almost the whole night and after we cleared Moorea our course took us dead downwind so we sailed wing and wing for hours.  

 By morning the wind moderated a bit but the seas were still confused and uncomfortable for the rest of the way. We picked up a mooring at the Mai Kai Marina a little after noon on Sunday, back to our exact westernmost point, and eager to continue. The rough seas were hard on my back but nothing like the pain I experienced on our trip back to Papeete.

Now we’re with the last few westbound stragglers, waiting for a weather window for Tonga. 


Filed under Uncategorized