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Passage: Marquesas to Gambiers Part I

What is a passage? To me, it is anything overnight. I am not sure why I categorize it that way, but I do. We could do a 65nm (nm=nautical mile) sail during the day and it would not be a passage. But it becomes a passage if we did the same trip at night. Yep, no logic to my thinking. Most cruisers probably consider a passage to be something longer than 24 hours at sea. A “big” passage is anything longer than 5 days at sea. Now, 5 days does not seem that long in the grand scheme of things. But imagine, being at sea for 5 days and 5 nights, with no proof of life (no birds, fish, land, or boats), and being confined to a space that is 47’ long x 25’ wide while it is being tossed around the sea. Five days becomes an eternity.

As you can tell, I am not a fan of long passages. I am prone to sea sickness which prevents me from being on the computer (writing) and limits my time on the kindle, phone or any other electronic device. Which makes the day a bit boring? Lucky for me, I did no get sick on this passage despite the sea’s best attempt to make the boat uncomfortable.

If you were to take an 800-mile road trip (maybe San Antonio to El Paso or San Diego to San Francisco), it would probably take you about 13 hours (avg. speed of 65 mph). Our 800-mile trip took us 5 days and 4 hours to sail. Just a smidge different, right?

Land lubbers (that’s you!) Here is some terminology which might help you understand this blog better.

  • NM = nautical mile which is 10% more than a regular mile. So, 1.1 nautical miles = 1 mile.
  • METERS = We use the metric system on the boat (not imperial). So, when we reference the sea state it will be in meters. A good sea state is >.5 meter or under 1.5’. On this passage we constantly had a sea state of 2+ meters and on some occasions 3 meters (over 9’).
  • KT or kt = knots which is how we measure the speed of the boat and the wind
  • SWELL INCREMENTS: Big seas are not “that” bad if they have large increments in between each swell. A longer increment allows the boat to climb and descend nicely. However, when the increments become short, >6 seconds, then it becomes really uncomfortable, lumpy, bumpy, and bashing.
  • REEF = a reefed main or jib is when we decrease the amount of sail space. For example, in light winds we will have full sail, no reefs. In stronger winds we might go to 1 reef or 2. In really strong winds we will reef up to 3 which means we have the least amount of canvas up before going to bare poles.
  • WINDS. For this passage, the ideal wind direction is North of East. Anything coming from the South will cause us to turn on the motors or tack a bunch of times.  You cannot very well sail into the wind as you need the wind to fill your sails.

Insurance Stipulation

Every boat insurance policy requires a sail plan where you provide the location and schedule of your boat for the policy period. We submitted our sail plan for April 2019-March 2020 to our insurance company in February 2018 (a long time ago). We received approval to be in the Marquesas for cyclone season as it is “out of the zone.” However, we really wanted to get back to the Gambiers which meant we had to travel 900-miles south during cyclone season. So, we had to get approval from our insurance company to ensure we are covered. The reply was that if we had, and could prove, a safe weather window, we were allowed to go. Great! A safe weather window requires the following:

1. North of East winds (we are heading south so we don’t want south winds)
2. Limited or no squalls
3. Average wind speed below 20kts (preferred)
4. Wind Gusts below 35kt
5. Average waves or swell below 3 meters

We would have waited for a safe weather window regardless of insurance requirements, because, duh! But, it is nice to have a company that trusts our judgement to sail our boat in safe conditions.


We look at several weather sources including Predict Wind (which includes 4 sources) and MaxSea. We can pull a weather report every 12 hours which will give us four different models of the wind, rain, clouds, gusts and waves. Our dearest friend and guardian, Donald pulled MaxSea reports for us daily as well.

Passage Day 2, this is what Predict Wind showed for wind. If you look below the map image, there is a color bar which shows the severity of the wind (left to right). Yellow and green are good, whereas red and dark red are strong winds.

Predict Wind Chart

Predict Wind Chart

Passage Day 2, this is what Predict Wind showed for rain. You can zoom in on the black box which shows the details of the wind and barometric pressure

Predict Wind Chart Wind

Predict Wind Chart Rain

Passage Day 2, this is what Predict Wind showed for gusts. Now, it looks horrible with the red and dark red patches, but when you zoom in to the black box with the details you see that the gusts were less than 20kts.

Predict Wind Chart Gusts

Predict Wind Chart Gusts

Passage Day 2, this is what Predict Wind showed us for waves. It looks great with a nice beam (on the side) but when you zoom in you can see that they are 1.8m in 7.1 seconds causing a bumpy ride!

Predict Wind Chart Waves

Predict Wind Chart Waves

Two Days Prior to the Passage

We were anchored in Nuku Hiva which is the northern most island in the Marquesas (which is the northernmost archipelago in French Polynesia). We were heading to the Gambiers which is the southernmost archipelago in French Polynesia. So, first we had to head to the southernmost islands in the Marquesas before starting our big passage to the Gambiers. These first two days are not counted toward our actual passage (of 838nm) as we stopped each night making our way south.  With that said, we were still at sea, moving and transiting toward our destination.

Transit toward Southern Marquesas

Departed from Nuku Hiva, Marquesas to Tahuata, Marquesas
On 13 February, we left at 0500 to begin our 85nm trip to Tahuata. We had big seas with a swell of 2-meters, winds 18-24kts coming North of East. We started out with 1 reef in the main, but added the 2nd reef when winds kept gusting over 25kts. Then the wind shifted directly on to our nose forcing us to motor the last 13nm to the anchorage. We dropped the hook, had dinner and went straight to bed.

Total miles traveled: 85nm
Total time traveled: 14.5 hours

Departed Tahuata, Marquesas to Fatu Hiva, Marqueasas
On 14 February we left Tahuata at 0700. We slept in a bit as we had less than 50nm to sail today. The seas continued to wreak havoc on us at 2+ meters and we had a current pushing us backwards at .5-1.5 nm. Still strong winds at 20kts N of E with gusts up to 28-30kts. We were double reefed (2 reefs) most of the day.

Total miles traveled: 46nm
Total time traveled: 8.5 hours

Tune in on 31 March for the continuation of our passage to the Gambiers.

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