Our Pacific Ocean Passage was A Piece of Cake
Later, I told Maya that our Pacific Ocean Passage was “a piece of cake”. One of those fresh delicious vanilla cakes frosted with fluffy cream and glazed strawberries- the one you like so much, only this particular piece had a big fat dead cockroach in the middle. Imagine that you are in a pastry shop and you order a piece of strawberry and vanilla cake, but it comes with one condition: you have to eat the whole huge piece. You can’t just have half a slice and say that’s it, I am full. You got to eat the entire big piece of cake, and everything in it, and chew slowly.
We enjoyed the first half of the passage so much. We savored it with delight. Fresh trades 12-18 knots from southeast carrying us on a broad reach, gentle seas, blue sparkling skies, an occasional tuna or a dorado on the hook, calm starry nights, the boat comfortably running with 6-7 knots directly towards destination. From Isabela Island in the Galapagos to Fatu Hiva in French Polynesia, the distance is almost 3000 nautical miles; it should take us not more than a month. And this is the perfect time of the year- the beginning of May, when the winds are constant and light and nothing bad can happen.
It was the perfect sail until we got to the middle. The middle of the vastest ocean on Earth, the middle of our longest non-stop passage. And there, a thousand miles from any land, unexpected, unwanted and unpredicted- the big fat dead cockroach in the form of a gale. Remember the deal? You have to swallow the entire thing.
It started with a couple of days of stronger winds 20 to 28 knots, shifting from southeast and northeast, the seas rising with 4-meter swell, confused square waves, clouds gathering, the boat changing direction, surfing down the huge waves, rocking and rolling. “This is not what we ordered!”, we complained, but there is no going back, no refunds. Day and night and another day and another night, exhausted, we ride the big seas. Then, on the fourteenth day of the passage, at 05:00 a.m. in the morning, 1000 NM to destination, the jib and mainsail fully reefed, a massive gale descends upon us from dark heavy skies- rain and furious winds. Suddenly, 35-40 kt winds sustained for half an hour. With already 4-meter waves and the reefed main up, the boat starts surfing like mad and the autopilot cannot take it. Ivo is hand-steering now, the wind behind us. The sound of an immense profound silence filled with the deaf howling of one hundred invisible powerful dragons. We furl the jib but the waves are huge and sharp, and our speed is very fast to try and heave to (turn the boat towards the wind) in order to drop the main. I am afraid our 38-fooot Leopard catamaran will overturn. A few times, surfing down a giant wave, I think the boat will not make it. I imagine the worst. I remember people telling us to get a sea anchor or a drogue in case of such situation, or at least to have a car tire on a long rope, which when deployed from the stern of the boat will act as a drogue. It will slow down and stabilize the boat, and will prevent uncontrolled surfing. We have none of these.
The wind drops to 30-35 kts for another half an hour and we manage to heave to and take down the mainsail. Now, with just a bit of the jib sticking out we are safe and ride out the rest of the storm. We chew and we swallow the cockroach Bear Grills style- we survive.
More squalls hit us after this with winds up to 30 kts and much shorter duration, but this time we are prepared and everything is under control. We reef early and we tie to our longest ropes the two large and very sturdy plastic beer crates we bought in Galapagos- now empty- and we use them as drogues during the squalls. They perform famously. The boat is steady, the speed slower, we don’t surf anymore.
The weather finally calms down. The next morning, Maya wakes up and looks at the blue skies. “No storms!”, she smiles.
900 NM to destination, winds 10-15 kts from east, 1-meter swell, boat speed 5-6 kts. We sleep, we fiddle with the spinnaker, we fix the hole that opened up in the jib, we make fresh bread and muffins, we resume fishing, we wash the salt off the boat, we read books, we watch films in the evening. It’s back to normal, the way it should be this time of the year in this part of the ocean. We arrived in Fatu Hiva after 23 days at sea, most of which were perfectly beautiful. Yet, the bitter taste of the nasty surprise in the middle remains at the back of the tongue.