Monday, March 31, 2008

Paying the piper!

I guess all that trade wind sailing and fair breezes had to come at a price! Fortunately not too high a price, so far anyway. Last night we were hit by our first squall just after sunset...only 25 to 30 knots but was forcing to go too far south so we reefed down and eventually took the main down and rolled up the head sail, running with just the staysail all night. It was not a comfortable ride, rolling like a barrel of monkeys, but at least we were making 4 knots or more in the right direction.
At daylight, exhausted from the motion, we stumbled out on the foredeck to get some more canvas on. The wind had eased and we were slowing down. Just as we took the ties off the mainsail, the rain hit us. Now, you have to understand, it's been 100% humidity and warm for 2 weeks now and the rain was very welcome. The timing just wasn't that great! So we got soaked and then wondered if wind was following the rain? So we waited a bit and when nothing happened we raised it, lowered the staysail
and unfurled the jib! So now we are really tired but sailing off to the West again comfortably. Of the other boats in our little radio group, two are working their way through the ITCZ and it is interesting to hear their reports twice a day. Sounds like squalls, lightning, rain and little wind are the order of the day! That is why we carry the extra fuel on get us through the doldrums!
Anyway, it is exciting being here. Some blue sky has appeared so we will see what the day brings. Talked to Don Anderson in Oxnard CA. He does weather reports by radio on the local nets. He advises going as far as 130 degrees West before turning South. The other two boats went down closer to 125 degrees. Too soon to decide...we'll see! Our own personal weather router, JD, is sending us abbreviated versions of where the ITCZ is each day and what the conditions are either side of it. Within
a couple of days, we should be close enough to decide where to dive South and cross it. Sounds like a whole new world on the other side.
Meanwhile the Southern Cross still appears nightly to show us the way!!

Saturday, March 29, 2008


We are both tired tonight! Linda did not respond to the wakeup call for her 11PM watch so I let her sleep. She needed it. And then she came on and did the same for me. It seems to catch up to you in waves (no pun intended)! The fatigue that is! Tonight is very quiet, loping along at a good 6 knots or more, partly due to the N Equatorial current. The wind has been holding steady at 15 knots with gusts to 20 but it is about 4AM and the breeze is going light. Last night was exciting. Tarun,
our friends whom we had slowly been gaining on, were still about 75nm ahead of us and their HF radio had been working off and on for days now. They managed to get us a message through one of the radio nets to say the radio was unreliable and they were hove to (stopped more or less) and drifting due south at 2.3 knots on their longitude line. The plan was for us to catch up to them and travel within VHF radio range (about 20 nm) from then on. So I carried all canvas and Toketie fairly flew through
the night, sometimes hitting 7 knots, heading for where I calculated their position would be in 10 hours. Now it's a big ocean and you have to be within 3 or 4 miles to see another small boat so it was a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. But then, as long as we got within VHF range, we should be able to make contact. Just before daybreak, after an exhilarating night of sailing, we arrived at the DR (estimated) position and tried to raise them on the VHF. No response! That's strange.
I check my DR calculations a third time. Nothing wrong there! They should be close. Now what to do? We do not want to continue further West and pass them so we turn South on the same longitude they last reported and hope that they just drifted farther or faster than expected. Fairly stiff 18 knot breeze blowing but we gybed and moved the headsail pole over to the other side and reefed down to proceed due south along their last known course. After an hour we made radio contact. Brian had been
sleeping and their radio was turned off! They were 4 nm ahead of us. Not bad shooting for a 75 mile run in the dark. Reminded me of Aubrey's famous tour de force when he came up on the frenchie's tail after an all night chase!
Pizza for dinner tonight! Must say we eat well, thanks to the first mate! Chicken peanut satay sauce on rice last night. Turkey lasagne for a few nights before that! Oh well, I'll exercise when I get to French Polynesia. Speaking of which, it looks like we have chosen Fatu Hiva and the famous 'Bay of Virgins' for our first landing. It is not an official port of entry but one of the British boats that went last year sent us an email saying the local gendarme granted them four days their before
going to Hiva Oa and checking in.
And lastly but not leastly! Many Happy Returns to Phoebe who turns 22 tomorrow, and to my father who turns one year younger on the same day! Not to forget my dear older sister who remains forever young and celebrates it the day after! Happy Birthday Phoebe, Pat and dad! I will raise a glass of tang to you! Phoebe we miss having you on board! Mike...spoil her will you! Take care pops and love to mom!

Friday, March 28, 2008

The motion

It is one of the most fascinating aspects of blue water sailing. We are 1000 miles from shore with almost 2000 miles to go before we reach our destination in the Marquesas. We have finally reached the famous NE trade winds! And everything I've heard and read and remember about them is true. Blue skies with fluffy white clouds, a fairly constant wind from more or less the same direction are trademarks. In sailing terms that translates as fewer sail changes and fewer course corrections to the
wind vane self steering system. It is also a very comfortable 15 knots of wind and could reach 20 knots soon we are told. Toketie is a heavy boat, 17 tons, and likes a little wind to reach her stride.
But back to the motion! During the day we fly along either wing and wing, rolling like a drunken sailor, or on a very broad reach, our favourite point of sail at the moment. The swells, averaging 12-15 feet come up behind us and gently raise the stern as they roar past us, like some freight train on its way to distant shores. In doing so Toketie will slew slightly to the side and sometimes surf down the face of the swell. It is exhilarating sailing! But the night is when the motion truly comes
alive. You lie in the berth as if suspended and can feel the forward motion of the boat, the rocking side to side and the slewing down the waves. If you close your eyes, you can imagine you are riding on some magic carpet through the darkness with only the distant stars to orient you.
What a great way to fall asleep!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

10th day at sea

Whoever said, "its the journey, not the destination" obviously never had a long ocean passage on a small sailing ship! Almost makes one consider one of them light displacement go-fast hulls or egads, maybe even a catamaran!! But no, Toketie is everything we hoped she would be and if we won't win any races, there are some advantages to being at the back of the pack. Good weather information from those ahead for one and a more comfortable ride for another!
Batteries low so had to run the engine for the second time. Fridge, radios and navigation are the hungry ones! But without good food, and it's been great, knowing where you are and talking to others, what would be the point? The days melt one into another. The moon now rises at after 1AM so its black as pitch from 9PM on...and I mean black! With some cloud cover and no stars above, it is like being underground in a cave. The winds have increased moderately and it is very comfortable sailing.
It is complicated and takes energy to rig a pole for the headsail so we are now taking long tacks downwind. It is a better angle to the seas and we go faster, if longer on the course!
Alcohol free for ten days now, the shakes have stopped...just kidding...its nice actually and we only have coffee as a treat on weekends due to the work involved in cleaning the darn pot! We drink lots of tea though and tang like stuff with sugar in it. Boat nearby pulled in 2 Dorado's yesterday so we strung a line out..nothing yet!
Anyway, gotta go to work...haha...really...duty calls!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

All at sea!

The odd thump on the hull indicates a wave breaking nearby. It is pitch black out, no moon yet. The stars shimmer above and lend a faint glow to the sky. Just over the horizon a glow remains constant. It is no doubt the big fishing boat that nearly ran over us the other night. Another sailboat reported similar behaviour to them last night. And they have a small orange helicopter on board that buzzed us today, circling Toketie then coming down low around us. No friendly waves, no response to
VHF, just checking us out. During the day today we saw them working with their big poled rig out, a huge operation of some sort. Drift nets? Watching for the high seas cops? Who knows!
Just checked in with the Pacific Seafarer's net. Toketie is on their roll call now so they expect a report including location, course, speed and weather information. This is then passed on to other sources including Yotreps which is a vessel reporting system that anyone can access online. I have been uploading our coordinates directly to the winlink site but if anyone is interested, I am sure Google would help you find the Yotreps postion reporting system and if you then find VA7DXF on the list,
you will see where Toketie is at the last reporting time.
Meanwhile the boobie war continues. Every few hours one or two or more of them circle the boat and attempt a landing, usually at the top of the mast. I can tell why they call them 'boobies'!! We make noise and so far have managed to persuade them to try someone else's boat!
Linda is off watch and catching some well earned zzzz's. Last night we fought with the pole on the foredeck trying to go directly downwind. Not as easy as it should be. And the rolling motion was so uncomfortable that we eventually cracked off 20 degrees or so and are sailing smoother and faster if not directly towards the waypoint. In a few hours, we will gybe and make a more southerly course. The boats ahead of us report 18 knots of wind from the NE so that will be nice when we get to it.
The trade winds have settled in, light but we are not complaining. It is fairly steady and the seas are predictable. All in all, an enjoyable ride at the moment!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Day 7 at sea en route to the Marquesas

After 3 ½ days of light but steady wind, 10-12 knots on average, from the NW to NE, pushing us along on our course, the sea gods have turned their backs on us, leaving us to crawl along at a knot or so. Thankfully, in the right direction and no confused seas to toss us around. The boobies continue to be a challenge, attempting to land on the top of the mast or the wind generator, both vulnerable to their big clumsy feet! The morning and evening radio nets our only communication with the outside
world, along with the occasional email by HAM radio. We have set three hour watch shifts with Linda doing galley duties while I do navigation and most communications. We both do sail changes when necessary and other than that time is spent recording the log, on lookout for ships, inspecting for wear and tear and maintaining the course. Merlin, the wind vane steers our course, but as he only maintains a bearing relative to the wind, we must watch what the wind is doing to stay on track. The first
night out saw the new roller furler line snap near the bow. Fortunately it was long enough to just rewind it on the drum. Then a shackle pin fell out from the bottom of one of the running backstays. Both easily repaired but one must always be watching for little things to come loose. There is a small flotilla of cruising boats within 100 nm of us and we make contact twice a day on the SSB. We record each other's positions and wind and sea conditions. There is surprisingly little free time!
When not on watch or other duty, the primary goal is usually to get some sleep.
Last night, Linda woke me on her watch to report a boat bearing down quickly on our stern. Looked like another sailboat and we thought they were just coming close to say hi. But you never know who is on autopilot and not watching either. When they got within a mile, I took the brake off the shaft and started the engine. We were under sail and drifting at less than 2 knots. No answer on the VHF....strange! Got out the big spotlight and horn and shone it on them as they came within ¼ mile of
our stern, bearing down directly on us. We could see by now it was a large fishing vessel. It veered off at this point and proceeded west, never responding to our radio call. One couldn't help but wonder what their intentions were!
Anyway, no complaints here! Sure beats being in the office! Forecasters report NE trades at about 15 knots to appear soon in our area. That would improve our daily run!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Off like a herd of turtles!

Its 2 in the morning on a Saturday night, four days out and I am on watch. We are loping along between 4 and 5 knots with a fairly steady breeze off our starboard quarter under all canvas. The rising moon is full and glistens on the ocean leaving a path of silver behind us.
After a rather boisterous first night out with huge seas and strong winds throwing us off the coast of Mexico, followed by a full day of complete calm where only the occasional ripple appeared on the surface of the water as a zephyr of wind passed over. We drifted like this for the entire day, having decided to save the fuel for when we might really need it. A red footed booby spent the day preening on the life ring and a beautiful shimmering blue Dorado circled us as if to report back to Neptune
who was passing this way!
We are gradually settling into the rhythm of life at sea. The watch schedule has been set so we both know when we are on duty and when we can grab that precious sleep. The log is maintained on the even hours. Regular contact is made through various maritime radio nets and with our friends on 'Tarun' who are about 90 nm west of us on the same heading. Routine chores are carried out.
The infamous HAM radio guru Don Anderson of 'Summer Passage' out of Oxnard, CA tells us we will find the stronger NE trade winds once we reach 112 degrees of longitude, about 240 nm west of our current location. We shall see!
1538 nm till the first waypoint at 8 degrees N and 128 degrees W. This is the recommended course en route to the Marquesas. Make westing as much as possible N of the equator using the NE trades and then drop due S where the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone or doldrums should be narrower, then take a bearing direct to the Marquesas.
It is a beautiful clear night sky with the Southern Cross visible above the horizon off the port beam.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Toketie to the Marquesas!

Thank you to those who have complained about the lack of detail on the blog....good to know someone is reading it!  Sorry, have had radio problems (all fixed now) and the surf often kept us from going to shore to use an internet cafe.
Had daughter Phoebe on board for three weeks and really enjoyed having her.  Having flown into Mexico direct from Mumbai, India, she had to be re-integrated into Western Society....not sure cruising the Gold Coast of Mexico qualifies but it was lots of fun!
Have been cruising with Brian & Cathy on 'Tarun' who will accompany us on the crossing.  Also have enjoyed the company of Bruce & Jeannie on 'Jabula' who unfortunately will stay behind in Mexico this season.
Looks like Tuesday, March 18 is the big day!  We are busy with final provisioning, fuel, water, lashing things down...etc.... We will go downtown in Manzanillo and do the official paperwork with the Port Captain and the Immigration office to check out of Mexico.  Weather seems favorable and the plan is to head for a position of about 8 degrees North and 128 degrees West before turning South to cross the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone and a direct bearing for the Marquesas.
It is exciting and nerve racking at the same time!  I think it will settle down after a few days at sea.
Will do our best to update the blog along the and power supply gods willing!  Also hope to get our position up on the Winlink Position Reporter site....for anyone who can find this website, its a map that shows our progress.. .....just enter va7dxf or find it on the list!  Should have it up there in the next day or so.
Meanwhile, we are thinking of all of you back there and hope you get some small satisfaction following our journey!
Cheers David & Linda
S/V Toketie

Friday, March 07, 2008

Back in Melaque!

Toketie and crew are back in Melaque after a week or so in Tenacatita.  HF radio back in service after new coupler delivered via friends net via Puerto Vallarta.  Nice to be back in the airwaves.  Stay tuned!!