The passage began with light headwinds, calm seas, and lots of sunshine. We caught what wind we could, and motored the rest of the time. Progress was slow but morale was good as we thought about how we could be beating into big waves and strong winds. The waxing moon, just past half, eased us gently into our first night back at sea. By late afternoon of the second day we were getting frustrated with the light and fickle winds. We'd had the motor off and on and the sail up and down and had made little progress. Just when we were getting quite grumpy, we had a reprieve: the wind direction improved and a light but steady breeze stayed with us for the night, moving us nicely through the flat seas. We even went over 4 kts at times (normally, that wouldn't excite us much but it's all relative).
For the first few days at sea we have a lot of fresh food, and we have to base our meals on what won't keep. We still have tons of garlic from Fiji, where it was really cheap. From Samoa we were able to get some cheese and sliced pepperoni. The calm conditions, and the about-to-go-bad tomatoes and pineapple, left us only one choice for supper on the second night out: need I say it? We had a small glass of red wine (Château Cardboard) with our pizza and crew morale improved dramatically. We still had lots of tomatoes left, so the next day we had another favourite: spaghetti with garlic bread. On day four I was cutting open an odd-looking mango, only to discover BJ had bought an avocado instead. [I guess I don't know the Samoan words for either mango or avocado! ed.] Hmm, what can we do with an avocado? Guacamole - yippee! We dug out the last bag of somewhat chewy nacho chips (carefully hoarded from New Zealand), melted some cheese on top, and used up more of those tomatoes to make salsa. An unexpected treat. Later in the trip we experimented with putting squash on a pizza instead of tomato sauce. This worked surprisingly well, although tomato sauce is better. Some meals are less successful, for example, my attempt to make split-pea ginger soup. When it got too rough, or too hot to make bread we ate a lot of Fiji Breakfast Crackers.
The days were hot, hot, hot. We don't have a bimini to shade the cockpit while underway, so by mid-day the sun beat down on us relentlessly. The only escape was the cabin, where we could lie in front of our little fan when not on watch. By day 3 necessity insisted that we rig up a small sunshade, which provided some relief, as did a brief shower which allowed us to collect all of 2 cm of water in a bucket. Enough for a bit of a sponge down, anyway. We had a strange reversal of attitude on this trip: usually on passage we don't like to see the sun set as the nights can be dark and scary, but this time, the cool evening breezes were a balm to our overheated bodies.
By day 5, after yet another sail change, Bjarne was grumbling about the lack of roller furling. For most of the day we made good time although beating into the increased wind meant the boat was heeled enough to discourage us from doing much, that is, the incline made us disinclined. We read a lot and I played with my harmonica, which I had forgotten about for quite a while. By night we were motoring again, but at least there was a half-knot current helping us. Happily we were skirting the thunderstorms we could see in the distance.
Both of our self-steering systems had problems on this voyage, fortunately not at the same time. On the first day out we noticed Hellena's control lines were almost completely chafed through – oops, we'd been meaning to shift those lines a while ago. We were lucky the seas were so calm as the job required Bjarne (who has longer arms) to lie on his stomach and reach out about three feet over the stern to move the line around and retie it. Mr. Chekhov took over while Hellena was repaired and all was well. Chekhov was well used this trip as he takes over during the no-wind conditions. I suppose he wasn't used to all of the attention as one night he had a little temper tantrum. The Chief Engineering Officer (CEO) was able to dismantle Chekhov and glue the slipped gear back onto the motor shaft with only a few mild curses about poor design, and some loss of sleep.
An excerpt from the journal on day 6, when the seas were mirror smooth: “BJ was a keen cooker today and made banana pancakes and later some bread. I've been working on some puzzles and took a couple of sextant sights – one still has to be reduced (calculated) because I put having a shower at a higher priority. BJ worked on some photos for the web and I started an email. And so we slowly make our way across the Pacifc.” Amazing how things that are so simple at home take on more significance at sea: bathing is one such activity and was often considered a highlight of a day. Later, smelling better, I finished my calculations by the light of the moon. Its kind of fun to do the fixes the old fashioned way, but I sure do appreciate the GPS.
The night times during these calm periods were often lovely: the seas were sometimes flat enough reflect stars and the bright moon kept all of the scary sea monsters away. One night Bjarne saw an amazing shooting star that blazed through the sky for a long time and then broke into pieces like fireworks. Later in the journey, as the moon waned, we had some beautiful star gazing and enjoyed the phosphorescence that highlighted the breaking waves.
On Day 7 there was much excitement when we were hailed by the folks on Astor, a beautiful wooden 86-foot schooner built in Scotland in 1923. They left Samoa about 3 days after us and had now caught up to us, the scurvy knaves. We had a nice chat on the radio, commiserating about the lack of wind. It seems strange to think of how excited we were to see Astor on the horizon and watch their light through part of the night, until the barnacle-butted scoundrels passed us, that is. When you believe there is no one else around for hundreds or even thousands of miles it provides an amazing sense of elation to learn you are wrong, even if you weren't feeling lonely. Later, at Kiritimati Island, we learned that we had the dubious accomplishment of inspiring them to drink. We had suggested to Astor that if we crossed paths we'd happily provide the rum for a toast. Well our boats didn't actually get within rum-passing distance, but the crew of Astor (whose policy to to run dry during passages) mutinied at the mention of grog so the skipper gave into demands for rum punches. Always interesting to learn what kind of an effect we're having on people.
A less fun bit of excitement that day was the discovery that salt water was getting into the boat. Again the CEO was called into action, whereupon he diagnosed that the anti-siphon vent on the engine cooling water was slowly dripping water. Of course, to determine this he had to empty everything out of the locker and climb into the Pits of Repair. It was a good thing we weren't pitching and heaving all over the place with a cockpit full of fenders, a BBQ, diesel jerry cans, oars, buckets, a jerry of fresh water, scrub brushes, a boat hook, spare line, and a bucket of anchor chain. Luckily he could fit around the scuba tanks and the container of engine oil. Amazing what one can stuff into these lockers. All this to conclude that the leak was slow enough that we'd better not muck with it while at sea.
At this point we were getting creative in our entertainment and discovered moon-doodles . I was trying to photograph the glowing orange ball as it rose over the water, but Freya's rolling, even on the calm seas, was creating doubled images on the digital camera. I decided to go with it and we had a good laugh seeing who could draw the best pictures.
Day 8 had us saying farewell to the speedier Astors, thinking we wouldn't see them again until we reach Christmas Island. The wind picked up a little and, with a bit of sail changing, we made reasonable progress through the somewhat choppy seas, and tried to stay out of the sun. The next day we finally reached halfway based on distance, but as it turns out we were under halfway based on time. Ignorance is bliss and we were hopeful that we would be there sooner. Either way, it's an excuse for a celebration and what better way than with brownies and thick chocolate icing?
The winds continued their fickle on and off again business. We would check each new weather fax with hope to see where the wind might be: it usually just confirmed that the wind was where we weren't. We were pleased, however, to finally see some wildlife. A large patch of jumping fish inspired Bjarne to put out the fishing line. Alas, another story of the one that got away. Later, another enterprising fish managed to eat most of the rubber lure but miss the hook. At sunset dolphins came around. Yippee! Bjarne had been briefly visited by them the night before but this batch stayed a little longer, leisurely swimming back and forth across our bow.
Day 12 (from the journal): “"We are bouncing along in 15-20 kts (some 23 kt gusts) into sloppy seas. There is a current that is not only slowing us down but is throwing us off course significantly. Of course the wind is pretty much from where we want to go – and the current is setting us on a worse course on both tacks, [up to] 30 degrees off our heading! This all started yesterday around supper time.” Things often start just as we're in the middle of cooking. Over the day the wind died again, leaving us to flop around. “BJ put on the morale officer hat this morning, handing out a little chocolate bar to each of us. In the afternoon, I discovered that fried squash seeds are a lot like toasted pumpkin seeds so we munched some with a rum drink. Progress to that point had been very very slow, making less than 1.25 kts toward our goal.” Perhaps the importance of rum becomes more apparent. From then on the current caused us trouble, and the slower we went the more effect it had on our course.
Shortwave radio provided some entertainment on our night watches. We even discovered a one hour program at 0400h every morning from Radio Canada International. We learned that the government was going to be ousted with a non-confidence vote and that the election would be full of all kinds of mud slinging. A shame we have to miss all that. We also learned about a recently vindicated scientist who has spent his life being ridiculed for trying to prove that there are Canadian Moose in New Zealand.
Oddly enough, as we approached the equator the nights became cooler. We've since learned there is an upwelling of deep ocean here and the water is a couple of degrees cooler. I was even wearing my polar fleece jacket (with shorts). Perhaps we have lost our Canadian resiliency. Our first winter home will probably be a tough one – that's OK, we'll fit in with all the other whiny Victorians who complain about the cold.
We went through a phase where every time Bjarne lay down, his rest would be disrupted by a tack, a sail change or the engine being started. Day 14 brought new interruptions. At 1000h, just after BJ crawled into his berth, we were surprised to hear the radio crackle to life with a call from Astor. Ha! We had passed them! Not that we were racing, and never mind that they were now passing us again. It turns out that it takes more diesel to push an 86 foot boat through the water than a 30 foot boat so they had lain becalmed while we were motoring along at the blinding speed of 2.5 kts. They had noticed us on their radar in the night and were able to see our navigation light. Much to my embarrassment, I didn't see their light, which had Bjarne wondering if I had fallen asleep on my watch. Well, that was worth getting up for, says BJ, as he settled himself back into bed. About 10 minutes later a large pod of bottlenose dolphins came by. I briefly wondered if I should tell Bjarne, but then said his name quietly. Up he gets to watch our playful friends whooshing across the bow and and leaping into the air in graceful arcs. That was worth getting up for, too, he opines – much better than a sail change! He finally did get some rest after that.
The next couple of days brought us increased winds, often from where we wanted to go, more changing of sails, and choppier seas. Never mind about that stinking current. Another large pod of dolphins lifted our spirits immensely one evening. As the wind and seas built the air became laden with a salty mist, making everything feel clammy and damp. As noted in the journal, it was “not terrible, not frightening, but unpleasant.” However, we were obviously getting somewhere, as evidenced when Bjarne spotted most of the Big Dipper at 0200h on November 26. It was a good feeling to have a tangible indication that we had indeed travelled far but were on our way home.
Day 17 put us back in the Northern Hemisphere! We crossed the equator at 1138h on November 26; the last time we were in the Northern Hemisphere was on Aug 21, 2004. Bjarne took a sun fix and determined that the GPS was only out by less than 2 miles :-) It was too rough to bake a cake, which is what we did the last time we crossed. We're adaptable. We celebrated with, you guessed it, a bit of rum for us and for Neptune, and a salty snack of cheesies (savouring all 20g between us). I suppose we could have just licked any flat surface on Freya if we'd wanted salt.
On we went, with winds often in the low 20s, 3m seas at times and lots of salt spray. A southerly shift in the wind gave us hope that we actually would arrive before Christmas. On our last afternoon at sea, we were tacking in response to an increase and shift in wind, when I decided we needed some excitement: throwing the winch handle overboard did the trick. Curses all around. The handle did float as advertised, although only stuck up a couple of inches. BJ very quickly deployed the crew overboard pole but by the time we got turned around we only caught one glimpse of the blue and black handle - after that it was out of sight. We made several passes, hindered by the boisterous winds and waves, but had no luck. Drat, drat, drat! I guess we didn't give Neptune enough rum when we crossed the equator.
We carried on, tacking upwind toward the glow of light on the horizon, and then waited off-shore until the morning light allowed us to anchor safely at 0630h (0730 Kiritimati time). A few dolphins welcomed us as we anchored. We learned that we had skipped a day so that it was officially November 30. The International Dateline has a huge detour in it to put all of Kiribati on the same day. Our yellow Q flag was hoisted, along with our Kiribati flag which we had worked on while underway. It's probably a good thing it was a long passage as the flag is quite detailed. It is similar to the BC flag: the bottom half is blue with white waves, and the top half is red with a yellowy-orange frigate bird flying over a rising sun. We had been at sea for 19 days (and a half hour), or 456.5 hrs. During that time, we motored for about one quarter of the time, 118hr 20min (shoot, that means another oil change), and changed the sails 51 times! It was nice to be anchored and a great feeling to have completed this long upwind portion of our journey home.