Galapagos to the Marquesas

Eight words to sum up my crossing from Galapagos to the Marquesas: Long. Void. Hands-free. Are we there yet? Now that I’m safely tethered to land in Fatu Hiva, it’s time to reflect. The problem is there was so much down time, that that’s all I can recollect.  You would think this would make pulling the interesting parts of my journey out of my memory easier; instead it has made them harder to find. Don’t get me wrong, sailing single handed from the Galapagos to the Marquesas is an incredible accomplishment, I want a trophy or something, but the unhindered feel of the passage was unexpected. You would think that in 3000 miles I would have at least one life threatening story!? Maybe I have a death wish, but either way I am sorry to disappoint the readers who are looking for spilled blood.

The scariest part about the whole trip was preparing for it, although the first day out was certainly scary. I had been preparing for worst-case scenarios for months, and it’s all I could think about that first day. I was a wreck. After that initial scare, my biggest hangup was my self-induced solitary confinement. It got lonely, and I quickly realized that sailing with people -- even if they are in another boat -- makes sailing much more fun. An experience that isn't shared somehow isn't living up to its full potential. Like sharing it makes it more real. The lack of others painted the entire journey in a perpetual dream state. My seemingly never-ending routine didn't help with my never-ending dream of sailing to the Marquesas. Pre-departure I was obsessed with creating a daily routine, and I succeeded in spades. It became my worst enemy and my best friend. On one hand I knew it was important to keep myself busy, but on the other hand I was doing the same stuff every day. My routine left me wanting more, and by the end of the trip I didn't seem to have enough media -- the one thing that broke my routine -- to satisfy the remaining miles. I had enough books, and they certainly held my attention for days, but it took longer to enter their reality, where movies injected you directly, like waking from a dream. The further away the movie took place from my current position, the more enjoyable it was. Panache was literally taking me away from everything I knew, and ironically during my trip I was busy escaping Panache. Spending so much time in someone else's story always took a good hour or two to shake myself back into mine.

Staring at land feels more real than anything. It’s not just the sight, but the smell of the soil evaporated in rain hitting sunburnt ground. Closing my eyes, I know I am a stronger person than I was before I left, and I’m ready for what’s before me, for what feels like the real journey.

With trade winds fueling my sails across the pacific, there really wasn't much active sailing during the passage. Adventure was abundant in my many books and movies onboard, but nowhere to be found in my surroundings. I wouldn't call the passage boring, but it certainly had its moments. Most of what happened during the passage was my nonstop internal monologue, so it only makes sense to display the layout of this blog post though tidbits from my daily journal. The entries give insight into my thoughts during the passage, help tell the story of my journey and the collision between expectations and reality.

Before you read on, its important to understand the size of the Pacific Ocean, because I sure didn't. In reality nobody can fully grasp its size, but it doesn't hurt to try. It’s by far the largest body of water on the planet -- so large you could fit the world’s continents inside it with nearly enough room for another Africa. It’s 10,000 miles wide, and less than 1% of it is land. It’s an absolute miracle that people conquered the remote islands of the South Pacific. It was now my turn. I had the luxury of GPS, a Kindle and Oreos, but it still was a long passage that was mentally trying and left me exposed to whatever meteorological event decided to materialize. Thank God nothing substantial did. While crossing was rather “void” of adventure in the hollywood sense of the term, I look back on this fact with a smile.

DAY 1, July 24, 2012

Nervous. I thought I was cold, but I’m just nervous. It seems a little crazy to be sailing into nothingness. Or maybe I should just adjust my chartplotter to display Australia 7,000nm away. It might give me a feeling of sailing towards something ... No, does not work. Looking beyond my bow, I see nothing. It will be at least three long weeks of seeing nothing before I see anything. I will be lucky to see even a boat in that time.
Barfed up my breakfast to shake the feeling of nausea. The omelet tasted better the first time I had it in my mouth.
I’m looking at this passage with too grand a spectrum. I need to hone my tunnel vision: You’re going to the Marquesas, you’re going to the Marquesas. If I think about the complete trip to New Zealand I start to freak out. I could really use one of those hyper-sleep chambers right about now. Just lie down and wake up at your destination. I would read a book to calm my nerves, but I feel too seasick.

I know it’s only the second day, but I’m having to fight the urge to look at my average speed and thus give insight into how long this passage will take. My eagerness on the end of the passage is a bad sign. If my head doesn't lose this woozy feeling, I might have to put myself into a coma. A cartoon-style bonk on the head should do it. The self-induced coma -- a poor man’s hyper-sleep chamber ... minus the chamber.
This feeling is like a delayed reaction from my brain to my body, like carrier pigeons have replaced the light-speed highways of my central nervous system. You would think that after my historical “battle of the doldrums,” my body would be conditioned to a rough sea state, but I am discovering that acclimation is always part of a new passage.
I just saw the most monstrous meteor ever. It was the mother of all meteors. This mammoth meteor shot clear down to the horizon, and for a moment I was sure it would strike the water and create the most menacing tsunami ever. I need to stop watching so many movies. Mmmmmm.

Double down on wind.

The Southern Pacific has been less than inviting these first couple of days. Cutting across the swell with a solid 20 knots rocks the hell out of the boat -- and my stomach. The only place I can lounge without feeling ill is the deck, but I can’t sit on deck without getting drenched from sea spray. Would you rather be seasick or soaking wet in 20 knots of wind? The wind is supposed to start twisting towards the west, making for an easier point of sail, but I should have several more days of this before I can unclench my stomach muscles. On the up side I should have a bitchin’ set of abs by the time I reach the Marquesas.
My body isn't the only thing having a rough time, Panache had its first equipment failure: The solid steel adjustable boom vang decided to snap at the boom end. I would give a shit but I hardly use it, and it’s an easy fix for any welder. In the meantime I can attached the original block-and-tackle vang.
*UPDATE* Second equipment malfunction: The HF radio doesn't want to transmit. This is not good. It’s not a power issue, I’m currently floating at 12.3 volts. This is my lifeline in case of an emergency. It must be a connection issue, but I am too sick to do anything about it right now. Tomorrow.
*UPDATE* Third equipment malfunction: For some reason the navigation lights are drawing 10 amps!? Off they go. Day three and Panache is falling apart. This is encouraging. Can you sell a boat in Tahiti? Will this oatmeal stay in my stomach?
I just had a pretty awesome moment that made me feel a whole lot better about everything, superficial equipment failure aside. I just made a cup of hot cocoa and came on deck to find myself in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. My location didn't surprise me, but the realization that I was finally using Panache as the capable long-distance lifepod did put a grin on my face. Few sailboats (or people for that matter) are ever put to any serious test, with the large majority only being tested for [from?] the comfort of their own slip. Panache, on the other hand, was put to the ultimate test during late 70s when she crossed the Pacific to Australia, and now I am breathing life back into her with my crossing. If feels pretty awesome.

This morning I fixed the HF rig. Turns out the automatic tuner wasn't plugged in all the way. Not sure how it came loose, but I am relieved that I now have a mode of communication. Troubleshooted the nav lights too. The rear nav light is ok, but the red and green bow light has some serious problems. Disconnected it until I can rewire it.
I can feel the SE current. I feel lightning fast. I plan to hug the equator to hang on to this current as long as I can. To get an idea of how strong this current is, I broke down and peeked at my average speed (5.9 knots!), and if I keep it up I will hit Fatu Hiva in 21 days. How fast are you? As fast as cheetah. How fast are you!? As fast as a cheetah! Then let’s see ya do it!

The wind has all but died. I feel guilty running the engine, but I want to keep my average speed. So how about this little thing called the southeast trade winds? Yeah, pretty sure they’re a myth.
Trying to sail wing and wing but the waves are moving faster than the wind making my sails flap around like idiots. Despite the lack of wind, the waves and current are doing an incredible job at keeping pace.
Tried to take a saltwater bath but lost my big white bucket in the process of fetching water. I am a litterbug of bucket proportion. I promoted a large container to bucket. It should work sufficiently for showers until I acquire a new bucket.
Got a gale warning on my barometer, but I am sure this device is conspiring against me. No gale in sight.
Reading about weather patterns and theory makes me paranoid. The advantages to being ignorant.
Tried to forward my position using the Maritime Mobile net, 14.300 USB, and was ousted as a non-licensed user. Yeah, I don't have a license, but I am a single-handed sailor who relies on other people’s knowledge of my position as insurance against worst-case scenarios. Sure, I can transmit if I have an emergency, but what if my emergency renders me unconscious, or what if my radio is damaged? I understand the rules, but I see myself as an exception. I am professional when using the radio, don't break protocol (other than not having a call sign) and only transmit my position on maritime nets. My well being is more important to me than government rules governing light waves. Unfortunately I don't have a call sign to argue. From here on I can only listen. Jumping through the bands I found some coverage of the Olympics. Looks like I found the window after closing the door. 🙂

The age old question, “can pancakes be too fluffy,” has finally been answered. This morning I made some obscenely fluffy pancakes. Never again.
Wind to my back, Seattle weather to the sky. I am finding myself hiding from the elements more the longer I cruise. During the Baja Ha Ha I was in the sun all the time and loved it. I was a tanned traveler by the time I reached Cabo, which is an impressive accomplishment for someone who typically only freckles. Now I am pale with twice the number of freckles. I hide from rain and sun. I am not ashamed. 🙂
Struck my headsail because it was being dramatic. I hope it doesn't report me for sail abuse.

I have sailed half way to Fatu Hiva! ... Latitudinally speaking that is. I still have several days until I reach my actual halfway point.

The concept of time is lost on me. I pay attention to a 24-hour clock: the sun and the tidal effect of the barometric pressure. Did you know that the highs and lows of the pressure tide are so consistent that you can set your local time to them? Well, you can. 10am high, 2pm low, 10pm high, and 2am low. Pretty cool. I’m never wishing for time to move faster or slower so I guess I am keeping my mind active enough to not notice time passing in the first place.
Why haven't I caught a fish yet? I’m sure I’m doing something wrong.
Stood on the bow of Panache for almost an hour straight just looking out at the ocean in front of me. My feet were planted firmly in the deck, adjusting ever so slightly with every push from the endless carpet of waves rocking Panache. Schools of flying fish would disperse in violent wiggles from their tail in fear that I was some hungry predator. I must be following some yellow brick road of flying fish because this happens all day long. Even more impressive was how far these fish could fly. The more girthy ones could travel a hundred feet or more zooming over wave after wave and finally breaking the controlled glide in what looked like a violent fishy cannonball. Now that I think about it I probably spent two hours watching this. Someone should make this scene a screen saver ... or better yet a cable channel.

It seems that Jimmy Cornell was right to instruct sailors in avoiding “an area between 3 - 8 degrees S, and 95 - 108 degrees W,” due to a high frequency of “unsettled weather.” This area “appears to be an extension of the doldrums, with similar characteristics: overcast grey skies, confused swell, frequent squalls, often accompanied by lightning but rarely by rain.” Great, right when I think I was through with crap weather I stumble into more. The weather is quite fresh. Rough, but at least there is ample wind. I am making good time, but have to keep an extra close eye on the weather for fear of a violent gale. I was reading back through some old logs of Panache, and Tony went through a pretty extreme gale where the wind abruptly switched 180 degrees and blew 60 knots. This spring trap ended up ripping the main. I suppose I have enough to worry about, so I stopped reading after coming across this.

DAY 10
*Impending disaster on Panache* After days of hearing (and searching for) a mysterious clicking noise, I finally found the culprit. The mounting brackets for the self steering are not giving the structural support they were designed to provide. The clicking noise is the brackets separating from the boat just slightly and shifting the aluminum tubes in and out of their fittings. Eeeeeek! The backing plates to the mounting brackets are made out of wood and starting to rot. It should be an easy fix to replace them, but the bolts necessary might be difficult to find. The USA seems to be the only place selling reasonable grades of stainless steel. I also don't know how corroded the structural supports are from ionization between the steel bolts and the aluminum tubes and fittings. I can’t lose my self steering; it is THE most important system on the boat.
I jury rigged some lines to pull the whole self steering unit back towards the boat, but I don't know how much it’s actually helping. The clicking noise isn't as loud, but is still present. The thought of hand steering 2,000ish miles doesn't sound appealing.
During my salt water shower today I happened to accidentally scoop up what looked like a baby man-of-war jellyfish and pour it over myself. Note: always look at the contents of your bucket before you dump it over yourself. Surprisingly, the sting wasn't that bad. This makes me suspect it was some lookalike or a baby that has yet to develop strong stingers.
I might lose all self control and eat every Oreo on this boat. It’s an evening ritual I look forward to. Being confined to a 30-foot boat for so long is making me eat out of boredom.
For anyone attempting an offshore passage, the skill of sailing is recommended, but the skill of sleeping on command is required. If you can’t fall asleep on command, the next best skill is insomnia. I am slowly developing the latter.

DAY 11
My coffee went skydiving to the floor this morning. The cabin now smells like coffee all the time. A perfect mistake.
I am a little worried about how my parents are holding up. Since my pirate call sign was discovered, I haven't been checking into the nets or relaying my position to anyone. I hear my father checking into 14.300 looking for me, but I can’t do anything about it. Frustrating. I’m behind a one-way panel of glass. I had so many opportunities in Mexico to get my license, but always convinced myself it wasn't necessary. Our lives are defined by opportunity, even the ones we miss.

DAY 12

Today I reached my halfway point, and my odometer also tripped 5000 miles! Two big milestones. I look over the water and see nothing in the distance but the faint haze of clouds and the endless blue and white of the even more endless Pacific Ocean. I guess my inability to wrap my mind around my position stems from my inability to see farther than the horizon. The outside chance that a ship or some terrestrial echo is just over the horizon is comforting, even if it remains a ghost.

DAY 13
When I’m on deck and a fishing line is in the water, I feel obligated to watch it in the offhand chance that a fish strikes right at that moment. But like watching a boiling pot of water, it never does. Still no fish, but I have lost one lure to some toothy creature and have had several hooks bent back. So the fish are biting, but they are too big for my fishing gear I guess.

DAY 14
Unreasonable fear #398473: running into a submerged shipping container. I think about this surprisingly often. Container ships lose cargo all the time, and some unfortunate boats hit these crates and sink. Terrifying, yes. Potentially lucrative? Double yes! I daydream of stumbling into a container filled with Xboxes or iPads. Yeah, I funded my circumnavigation by selling water-damaged electronics. What if I found drugs? Or a huge bag of money? These thoughts send me down a dark road of money-laundering schemes that is eventually broken by the thought of running into a dead body. No reward in finding a dead body. I met a boat in Chiapas, Mexico that found a dead body floating in the middle of the Tehuantepec. They called the Mexican Navy and stayed with the body for several hours, but the Navy never came. They ended up abandoning it because the Tehuantepec isn’t a place where you want to be hanging out. These things happen, but not to me. Probably a good thing.
Looking at the second hand on the clock in the cabin and realizing it could be counting days.

DAY 15
Ate my last stash of fresh vegetables today. I still have potatoes, onions, squash, cabbage, garlic and ginger, but I don't consider these things vegetables. A vegetable is something green and crispy that you can eat raw, or if you’re lucky, with a dab of ranch dressing. Vegetables should have a snap when you bite into one. I am doing well rationing my fresh produce; however, I completely fumbled my lime management. In the Galapagos I had close to 20 limes. I have used zero, and 90% are dead from mold. This is not my fault. The limes are for fish, and I have caught zero fish. Again not my fault, or at least I’m not ready to admit fault. I am slowly accepting the fact that I am not a lime master.
Being on deck at night with a flashlight is somehow more scary, but don’t interpret this as me being afraid of the dark. I just don't like not being able to see what’s coming.

DAY 16
Things to wiki
  • The FCC
  • The US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade
  • Licensing photography
  • The patent process
  • Alan Turing
  • The nutritional value of an Oreo

DAY 17
Where did the wind go?
The stars above, sails flogging below.
Time can save Panache.

DAY 18
Wind shift. Motoring. Rain. Contemplating landfall options
Fatu Hiva
PRO: Small. Super green. Solid anchorage. Magical. Windward most island in the Marquesas. When in Rome. CON: No internet. Tight timeline. No customs to check into the country. Potential fine for making it your landfall.
Hiva Oa
PRO: I can check into French Polynesia legally. Internet. Burger potential high. CON: I will miss out on Fatu Hiva. The anchorage is rumored to suck eggs and be home to a large shark population. Large as in size or in numbers?
Let the soul searching commence.

DAY 19
No more motoring. Wind has resumed its normal pattern. The overcast weather makes me want to hibernate.
The moon has been so bright and very helpful in identifying brewing squalls at night. The saying “a storm is brewing,” really makes so much sense. Out here I have nothing in terms of a view. So when I see an ominous cloud, I watch it intensely for hours. What is it doing, where is it going, is this a bad cloud or an indifferent one? With nothing else to look at I really can see a storm brew. A process that so much time it normally is not worth anyone. Out here, its one of the few things I have to spare. When the moon isn't present, all I can look for is the black splotches void of stars. Black holes of the weather world.

DAY 20
I bet NASCAR would be entertaining right about now.

DAY 21
After watching The Thomas Crown Affair I decided I need to do two things: The first is obvious, reenact the marble staircase moment. Second, I need to say the line “Do you wanna dance? Or do you wanna dance?” with complete seriousness. I need more heist movies. I need a tuxedo. I need a girlfriend.
Still no fish!

DAY 22
Snails would be embarrassed to travel this slow. Actually, I am moving quite nicely, I am just moving over a very long distance. While wing and wing sailing has been good to me, it does make Panache rock back and forth like a mother. This brain sloshing is getting old. Time to tack for some stable sailing.

DAY 23
If I were transported back in time to El Salvador, with my current experiences intact, I am curious if I would have started the crossing. I know its a pointless thought, but I guess I’m asking myself if I am happy where I am. Yeah. I am happy.
Saw a boat but it didn't respond to my overeager hailing over the VHF. Realized later that the VHF antenna was disconnected. Consulted the GPS for my position and scaled the map to where I can now see individual islands. My perspective is getting crazy.
You know you are completely bored when a month ago you couldn't get 20 minutes into the movie This Means War, and now you find yourself digging through the digital trash to watch it. The worst part, I know the movie is complete shit, but I still enjoyed it.
At the beginning of the passage I thought I would come to some sort of insight I could not come to without going on this passage. I am nearly to Fatu Hiva and I am pulling a blank. I enjoyed myself so I don't feel cheated. The insight idea was more of a plus than a purpose for the trip. Maybe I need to let the journey marinate. Insight cant be forced.

DAY 24, August 18, 2012 [is this the right date?]

Pretty sure I am going to make landfall tomorrow afternoon sometime. That is just a strange idea. I am so close and I haven't been this nervous since the day I left the Galapagos. The worst thing that could happen is for something to go wrong when I am so close.

THE LAST (and longest) 9 HOURS AND 38 MINUTES
I can see land, I can see land, I can see land! If I close my eyes I can smell it too. I see birds other than the long-distance travelers of the bird world, and my legs are developing restless leg syndrome, a syndrome I long discarded as informercial bullshit.
Rounded the island to the windward side, struck the sails and dropped the hook. Fatu Hiva is quite a dramatic landscape to make landfall. The boat has a thick scum line that reaches the rail of either side. Looks like I wasn't the only one to grow a beard during the passage. I would write more about my reaction, but my eyes have more pressing things to look at.

Passage Time: 24 days, 9 hours, 38 minutes
Miles Covered: 3099 Nautical Miles
Engine Hours: 26
Best 24 Hour Run: 154 Nautical Miles
Worst 24 Hour Run: 92 Nautical Miles
Average 24 Hour Run: 127 Nautical Miles
Average Speed: 5.2 knots

Bay of virgins, Fatu Hiva

I said it months ago, and I will say it again: sailing to the Marquesas from the Americas is an endurance race of the mind. Sure there are moments of sailing stimulus, but in the middle of the ocean with the same landscape repeating over and over again, things can get a little dull, almost dreamlike. I am ok in my own skin. I know that now. I also now know that passages and places are just more fun with people (preferably friends). Maybe I can pick up crew, and maybe I can’t; either way I now know I can handle it.

My trip thus far. I feel pretty good about this...

View S/V Panache Trip Tracker in a larger map
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5 Responses to Galapagos to the Marquesas

  1. Steve Lough says:

    WOW !! You DID it.. Thank all the Sea Gods, and Grandmaw Burris, for watching out over you. Now when are you going to get that Ham Radio License.
    The “technician Class” will not be good enough, to use voice on all the Ham Bands. Got to go for the “General CLass”

    Love… Dad..

  2. Woo hoo … you made it! What an amazing accomplishment that very few people can say, “I did that”! Glad to hear all went well and you didn’t go crazy with boredom. Looking forward to hearing about the Marquesas … first glimpse looks beautiful! BTW, we love hearing about another Catalina 30 … if you can sail it there, then we can surely sail ours to the Virgin Islands, Mexico, Panama …

  3. jeff wood says:

    Great read! Glad you made it safely. What an experience!

  4. Shaun says:

    Well done Zachary,
    Thanks for stoking the desire fire, been landlocked in the US for too long and your tale helps, thanks a lot mate!
    Keep chasing the horizon,

  5. Dude, I so loved this post. And then I went back and watched the videos. I’m at work doing one of those silent laughs and I look like an idiot because I’m totally cracking up. So glad you did the “Would you Rather…?” segments. Wondering if you’ll be posting more just for fun. Love the insight into your ocean voyage ramblings.

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