The Adventures of a Part Time Professional Gypsy (and her ginormous teddy thing)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

50 Days of Sea

It was too good to be true... 

Thursday, 12 June, 14:57

The boat was about as ready as it would ever be - supplies, spares, repairs, even the crew was ready and that says a lot... we'd never been so ready for anything in all our lives!

We had a last beer with our friends at El Muelle Restaurant, where the boat was anchored (You have to have your last beer at the same place as your first), and then the tide started to change and the wind started to blow... it was finally time to bid main land goodbye for months and venture off across the Pacific.

It had taken us three and a half hours to navigate the canals of Tumaco on the way in, but with perfect conditions, we made it out in less than 20 minutes. 

We were flying at well over 6 knots and were almost free of all coastal waters for a very long time when we heard the roar of an engine behind us - and through our VHF we heard the simple command "Stop!"
The coast guard was coming to board. 

The first officer leapt on board, the second, and then the driver neared to drop off a third and with their 3 times 300 horse power engines, they crashed straight into the bow. Fortunately the bow spread took most of the impact (or so we thought), but there was no way we could set off on our trip in that condition, so we turned around and went back...

...Like I said, our perfect departure was too good to be true...

Karl taking the welder out to repair our boat at our new anchorage in Columbia

In true Colombian niceness, the coastguard paid for all our repairs and made sure that we had everything we needed before we departed again two days later - this time with almost no wind - but man was it good to be in the open ocean again!

Land vanished and we eased into the simplicity of sailing life. We'd worked so hard at getting ready, we really needed the freedom and relaxation that comes with long passages.   

Day 4:  Tuesday, 17 June, 04:32 

The captain came in cussing, looking for a flashlight, and the prognosis could not have been worse - the windvane was gone - GONE! - Not just the rudder or a small connection, but the whole bottom half had vanished. We sat speechless in the cockpit - Karl had the helm and I held a spotlight as we turned the boat about and began a frantic search for a part that may (but probably didn't) float that we had lost any time in the past four hours... we never found it. 

We were still close enough to land to go back but there was no way we would find spare parts or a new auto helm of any sorts in South America. With teeth gritted we made one of the hardest decisions of our lives - we were going to do it anyway!!! 

So much for learning an instrument, art, reading and relaxing... from now on one of us was always going to be at the helm... that's 12 hours each, per day!

DAY 13: Thursday 26 June, 11:35

We finally crossed back to the better hemisphere and the captain found himself in the Southern hemisphere for the first time in his life... unfortunately there was a delay in offering Neptune a sacrifice and it was only after almost everything had gone wrong that Karl offered up a pubic hair. It was the eighth time I'd crossed the equator by boat and still I couldn't see the dividing lines...

Day 18: Tuesday, 1 July

It was a day of celebration as the captain celebrated one year of sailing since his home town of Gavle (Sweden). He had a special breakfast planned - but as he fired up the stove we found ourselves out of propane! 

We were 2356 miles (4363.3 km) away from our destination and we were out of gas... 

Most people would have have given up on hot food and have lived straight off canned goods, but the captain believes in hot meals! - for him the loosing of propane was almost as bad as the loss of the windvane.

We began making fires on board by using little squares of the captains underpants soaked in 98%alcohol/ kerosene/ petrol or diesel (or, a mix - we've become pretty good at matching heat-deliverance with long-burnity). We managed to keep the meal standards high, despite it taking about 2 hours for your average dish (which was normally warm instead of hot - but still good)... Needless to say, we gave up coffee :(

This is what's left  of the captains undies...

Day 19: Wednesday 2 July, 07:06

I woke up and went for a wee over the stern (the bow has better views, but the stern's so very much more convenient) and found a fish on the line. I asked Karl when he put the line out... he hadn't. We pulled her in, sliced her up and feasted on our very own miracle fish - unlike all the others, she came in without a fight, and was the perfect size dorado (some of the dorado in the Pacific are half the size of our boat! And more often than not, the big guys either snap the line or bend our hooks)

Day 21: Friday 4 July

Today the captain (who believes in hot breakfasts only) started eating cereal

Day 23: Sunday 6 July, 12:46

The boat vanished in a cloud of flying squid and within seconds our once white deck was a mortuary of exploded bodies and black ink - 56 corpses were collected that day and dozens more were discovered over the weeks ahead.

Day 24: Monday 7 July

We finally saw our first boat and after much debate and a game of rock - paper - scissors (I never lose), the captain radioed them a friendly "hello" and then tried to buy propane off them - unfortunately they're all about electronic cooking ... It was still nice to know that there was still other human life out there!

Day 28: Friday 11 July, 10:14

It had been a crazy night of squalls and strong currents. We were both nackered but so very happy - at this rate we'd be there in no time!!!

With another big squall moving in, we decided to reduce our sails - a task made rather difficult with our jib no longer furling and the massive waves crashing around us. As the captain tried to bring in the spinnaker pole, we noticed something was very wrong... and when he started bringing in the jib, the whole of our front rigging came in too. 

Both fore stays that held up the mast as well as the sails were completely detached - the only logical reason could be our collision back in Columbia... but we'd never thought of checking the mast head... The sails began flapping around like crazy. As the ocean threw us on a crazy roller coaster ride, we tied everything up and threw in the drift anchor before the next big squall hit.

Both forestays and the jib tied up on starboard where they fell

It took the whole day to bring all the rigging onto the deck and secure it. And when we finally sat down exhausted, doom settled on us like a plague . Our trip was no longer about speed or enjoyment - it was now about survival. We were 1346 nautical miles (2493 km)away from land and at very real danger of loosing our mast. Without a mast we'd have nothing to keep sails up - we'd have no choice but to drift at sea until we finally, hopefully washed up on land somewhere... We had 80 liters of diesel on board - but that wasn't going to get us very far. Especially when the engine didn't work...

We had adjusted to a life of constant steering- we had adjusted to making fires to cook our food - but this was too much - this we could not handle!!! We talked about calling a mayday or plotting a rescue mission. We talked about leaving Yoldia to float off into the abyss. We knew our chances of finding another boat were slim - but we'd be ready for it.

It was the first night we had off the tiller, but neither of us slept - every noise and creak sounded like our mast about to collapse. The seas were still crazy outside and we'd caged ourselves inside as the waves crashed over our cockpit. 

The morning bought with it sunshine and renewed hope. As we ate our cracker cereal (salty crackers with milk and sugar; we were long out of real cereal), we started to believe that we might just make it... The only sail we had left was the main sail and it was in a bit of a state - half the cars that attached it to the mast were destroyed. The rider the main sheet attached to was nearly ripped out of the cockpit and there were several rips in the sail itself... After breakfast reparation began and it took another day and a half to complete.

Day 31: Monday 14 July 

Both of us lacked the motivation to get out of bed. We had worked so hard and now this...

We'd finally raised and reefed the main sail, but instead of moving forward, we found ourselves heaved to - stuck at equilibrium with our sail matching the wind almost exactly and us staying virtually still, unable to steer and take up the course we needed.

We had breakfast and moped around. We tried to formulate new plans; but eventually we just raised the whole main (Expecting the mast to tumble down). And just like that, we started moving - very slowly... but at least we were moving!!!

It was a delicate mission and we were on constant lookout for squalls - this sail was our last hope! 

We were hoping to make 50 miles a day - but found ourselves making 60 or 70. The closer we came to Marquesas the more hope we found and the stronger our right biceps became from steering. I cried more in a few weeks than I think I've cried in the last 10 years - exhaustion, lost hope, aching body... but we crossed the 1000 mile mark and then the 500 mark and it was looking like we could make it!

Under normal conditions, sailing the Pacific would be a dream - the wind, the swell... best of all the sea creatures: very few days past where we weren't visited by dolphins or whales or sharks... Almost every day bought with it a better sunset than the last... Being at the helm for such long periods of time had some rewards at least; weather it be the hundreds of shooting stars or the phosphorescent creatures... On one calm evening with no moon, we had dozens of what looked like mermaids shooting streaks of light around the boat - by far the most mesmerising thing I've seen in my life!

300 miles out the wind began to die and we found ourselves sometimes only making 30 miles with a whole day of steering behind us. We wanted so badly to give up - but unless you jump overboard (something we promised each other we would not do - on a lot of the night watches it really did seem tempting) or do something similarly silly; there's no way out of it!!

And then one day it happened... 

Day 50: Sunday 3 August, 06:03

First light proved that our charts were correct - "LAND HO!!!" - It was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen - land after such a long time at sea!!! I cried (again).

There was no wind, so we fired up the engine (which miraculously worked) and started towards the distant bulge. 

The captain cooked up what would hopefully be our last petrol meal ever - a sweet bread- and as it cooked a giant squall hit! We flew at 6.5 knots (which is more than double our average speed with the rigging disorders). I had to use my whole body on the tiller to keep the boat heading at 265 degrees (The bearing the chart plotter gave me after all three islands surrounding us disappeared in heavy rain). Karl yelled that at least if the mast fell down it would be ready for repair work on arrival - but it held steady... as did the sail (maybe a few more minor rips). The squall was hard work, but it's appreciated in retrospect - it saved us a couple of hours!

We'd had an assortment of birds all through the passage, but now there were thousands of them circling the boat. We could smell the land and it's freshness after the rain. We even thought we could smell baguettes....

We were 8 miles out when breakfast was finally cooked... 

And then we saw a mast... a second... a third... and then the anchorage itself. The only thing better than actually seeing land was dropping that anchor... 14:09... exactly 50 days and 6 minutes after departure (with four time zone changes)

We both collapsed in the cockpit - unable to move - we'd made it - we'd survived... we were there. Hiva Oa looked like the most beautiful place in the world and we hoped that some day we'd find the energy to actually make it ashore and explore it...

Please note the bulging right bicep on the left handed captain.... it's what too much time on the same tack does to you