Category Archives: Passages & Crossings

Matt on watch during sunset

Passage: Marquesas to Gambiers Part II

We left on a Saturday for our 900-mile passage with the hopes of arriving by Friday.  We had strong winds, big seas, lots of squalls, a few rainbows, a large pod of dolphins and a few birds along the way.  Overall it was a great passage, but there were times, many times, where it just seemed endless!

If you missed Part I of this series, click here to read it.

First 24 Hours of the passage

  • 15 February, departed 11:15am, 797 to destination.  
  • 25-28kts of wind coming N of E
  • 2-2.5-meter seas in short increments making a lumpy ride
  • Avg. Speed 6.4, Max speed 12.6 (surfing down one of these big waves)
  • Travelled 155nm, 642 nm to go

Really choppy sea conditions, making it an uncomfortable ride all day and night.  Good, strong winds during the cloudy day which kept it cool for us while at the helm.  At night we had several squalls with lightening on the horizon (which is frightening). We danced with 2-3 reefs at night depending on the wind conditions.

After a short squall, we were gifted with a pretty rainbow.

Rainbow at sea

Rainbow at sea

Matt at watch just before sunset.  He makes this passage look easy.

Matt on watch during sunset

Matt on watch during sunset

This is a good shot of a rain cloud just over the sunset.

Rain cloud

Rain cloud

Here is a shot of a squall that just missed us – ha ha ha!

Rain cloud on the horizon

Rain cloud on the horizon

48 Hours

  • 16 February, 457 miles to go
  • 25-28kts of wind coming N of E
  • 2-2.4-meter seas in short increments, lumpy ride
  • Avg. speed 6.9, Max sped 12.6 (from day 1)
  • Travelled 340 miles, 185nm sailed in this 24-hour period (WOW)

It was another cloudy and dreary day which brought cool weather.  More squalls all night kept us playing dodge-squall.  We did however have an amazing day covering the miles.  We consider a good or average 24-hour period being 120nm sailed.  That is 5kts an hour which keeps us comfortable and the boat moving.  Today, however, we sailed 185 nm which meant we had maintained a 7.7 speed for a long time.  Of course, our “average speed” above includes the speed from day 1 so it does not reflect our great day today.

Blessed to receive another pretty sunset photo.  Photo doesn’t capture the purple and pink sky, but it was pretty!

Sunset at sea

Sunset at sea

Here is a photo of our radar showing us an upcoming squall. Doesn’t that look like fun to go through?  We actually were able to dodge this squall, but it did bring us some good rain and strong winds.

Radar showing a squall in front of us

Radar showing a squall in front of us

72 hours

  • 17 February, 306 miles to go
  • 25-28kts of wind coming N of E
  • 2-meter seas, starting to calm down, longer increments in between the waves
  • Avg. Speed 6.7, Max Speed 12.6
  • Traveled 488 nm, 148nm sailed in this 24-hour period

Sunshine in between the squalls today.  Bright and cheery.  Winds slowed down in late afternoon and evening making it a lot more comfortable.  Funny how you get addicted to the speed.  When you slow down your desire to get there faster outweighs the uncomfortable ride. 

96 hours

  • 18 February, 173nm miles to go
  • 18-22kts of wind coming N of E but winds are starting to shift more E
  • 1.5-2-meter seas, longer increments (9-10 seconds), little calmer, nicer ride
  • Avg speed 6.5, Max speed 12.6
  • Traveled 623nm, 135nm sailed in this 24-hour period

Sunny day, bright and cheery.  A few squalls at night bringing rain, early morning got a double rainbow

A beautiful double rainbow appeared just after sunrise.

Wowza, double rainbow

Wowza, double rainbow

120 hours

  • 19 February, 25nm miles to go
  • 13-15kts of wind mostly E, we lost the Northerly aspect which is frustrating.
  • 1 meter seas in 9-10 second increments, nice and a lot more comfy
  • Avg. speed 6.4, Max speed 12.6
  • Traveled 773, 150nm sailed in this 24-hour period

Wind shifted to East and East of South which makes us point almost into the wind at a 35-38 degree angle, which is really hard to sail. Most boats can point at 50-60 angle, but our stellar boat can do better.  Its’ just not terribly comfortable sail.  On starboard we can do 30-32, but our current port tack is better at 38-45.

This photo is our wind instrument which shows us the angle/direction of the wind (just barely before the 30), the wind speed “13.0” and our boat speed 6.3.  It also has “—” for depth as it is too deep to measure. Our depth gauge stops reading after 100 meters.

Raymarine Wind Instrument

Raymarine Wind Instrument

124.5 hours

  • 16 February, arrived 1545
  • 8-12kts of wind coming E of S making it incredibly difficult to sail.
  • 1-meter seas
  • Avg. speed 6.4, Max speed 12.6

Had to motor sail most the last 8 hours because the wind was not cooperating and came south of east.   It was such a relief to see land.  The island to the left is Mangareva (main island) and the island to the right is Taravai (where we are headed).

Land a ho!

Land a ho!

Entered the NW pass with no current or swell.  Nice, easy, calm, and wide entrance.  Followed our path from a previous trip here.  6kts of wind speed coming south of east. 

Photo of Taravai as we head toward the pass

Taravai approach

Taravai approach

Photo of Mangareva as we head toward the pass (you can see Mount Duff which we hiked last year).

Mangareva, the main island

Mangareva, the main island

Heading to Baie Onemea (where we anchored with Halcyon and Agape last time we were here).

Total Passage Data

  • Average overall speed 6.4
  • Max Speed 12.6
  • Trip distance 800.2nm
  • Total miles sailed 838.9 (up and down waves, through water)
  • Total miles from Nuku Hiva, Marquesas to Taravai, Gambiers = 969nm
  • Time in Total 124.53 hours

And we rest after a yummy pork chop dinner, cold beer, and admire the sunset

Sunset at Taravai

Sunset at Taravai

What do our gauges tell us on a passage?

Sugar Shack has a lot of amazing technology on board.  It keeps track of everything from current weather conditions, direction of the vessel, auto pilot, and more.

Our B&G chart plotter is what I reference most.  It has many screens, but the two I use are this page and the radar page.  This overview gives you all the data you need to know.  Wind speed (true and apparent), wind direction (true and apparent), boat speed, course, longitude, latitude, steering, and VMG (velocity made good).  Along with lots of other important data.

B&G Chart plotter

B&G Chart plotter

Raymarine wind instruments are located outside in the cock pit (one on port and one on starboard).  They show us a visual of the wind direction, wind speed, boat speed and depth.

Raymarine Wind Instrument

Raymarine Wind Instrument

Raymarine auto pilot head instruments are located outside at the helms (one on port and one on starboard).  They provide a lot of useful information in addition to controlling “auto.”  You can set each square to display the information you want, but we have them set to display AWS (apparent wind speed), depth, SOG (speed over ground), DTW (distance to waypoint), COG (course over ground), and AWA (apparent wind angle).  With autopilot we can set it to “wind vane” where it holds the approximate course but based on the wind angle.  You can plus or minus in increments of  “1” or “10” to change your direction.

Raymarine Auto Pilot

Raymarine Auto Pilot

At the Navigation Station Inside

Inside we have another Raymarine auto pilot set to display different setings.  TWS (true wind speed), AWS (apparent wind speed), SOG (speed over ground), DTW (distance to waypoint), XRE (cross track) and Heading.

Raymarine Auto Pilot Nav Station

Raymarine Auto Pilot Nav Station

VesperMarine is our radar display which shows us what is coming within a 24nm radius.  We can set alarms that beep at us if anything comes within a certain radius (like another boat or squalls).

Vesper Marine Radar

Vesper Marine Radar

We use Navionics on every passage which is on the iPad and shows a map of where we are, where we are going, our boat speed, and approximate arrival date/time to either the waypoint or the final destination.  This photo was taken on day 4.

iPad showing Navionics

iPad showing Navionics

We use Open CPN on Matt’s computer.  I could not possibly tell you all that it does, but it is invaluable to us.  We can overlay our course over maps which show us areas to avoid (bommies, reefs), depths, other vessels (their distance to us, direction, size), etc…

Computer using Open CPN

Computer using Open CPN

We use everything we can to insure a safe passage.  It is a blessing that our boat is so well equipped with top of the line technology to get us safe.

Rain cloud

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.

Weather

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.

Beautiful Sunset behind the dock at Hao

A Putt Putt Passage to Hao

It’s like tearing a band right off – do it quickly so it stings less. After a leisure morning of boat yoga, we said “see ya again” to our friends and began our passage toward Hao.  It is only about 450 nm and should technically only take us 3.5 days if the winds were favorable.  However, the weather was predicted to be very light winds which would extend our passage another 1-1.5 days.

It started out as a really beautiful day, 7-8 knots of wind filling our full main and jib.  We don’t often fly with full sails so when we do it is a truly appreciated.  We put out the fishing rods and settled in at an easy 5 knots of boat speed.

However, we completely lost our wind the next day.  We had glass seas so calm we could see our reflection.  It was a true mirror image.  The photo below was taken while we were under way even though it looks like we are at anchor!

Passage to Hao - Calm Seas

Passage to Hao – Calm Seas

We enjoyed several beautiful sunsets and a full moon each night.  It was so fabulous to wake up for the night shift to a bright and beautiful sky.  You could still see all the stars, but Mr. Moon lit our way.

The next day the wind came back enough for us to raise a sail and shut down the engine for several hours.  Saving a little diesel.  Sweet.  But our last day we ended up motoring the entire day and night.  We did slow down on our last night to time our arrival at sunrise and at slack tide (will explain “slack” tide below).

Hao in the Tuamotus

The image below shows the entire atoll of Hao.  The green circle indicates the pass and the arrow indicates the village.  As you can see, the island is long and skinny with the airport being on the northern end.

The atoll of Hao in the Tuamotus

The atoll of Hao in the Tuamotus

Pass to Hao

The Tuamotus are famous for their “tricky” passes into the atolls and the many bombies (coral heads). All of the islands in the Tuamotu Archipelago are “atolls” and the atolls each have a pass to enter into their lagoons.  An atoll is a ring shaped reef with a lagoon in the middle. The pass to Hao is well marked and fairly wide.  However, you have to enter at slack tide.

“Slack” tide occurs when the ocean is the same level as the lagoon inside the atoll.  That can occur between 1-4 hours before or after high or low tide.  Each pass at each atoll is different. If you enter at the wrong time you can have up to a 20kt current pushing out the wrong way.  If you time it right it will either be 0 or it will be a gentle 3kts pushing you in the direction you want to go.  We thought slack tide was between high and low tide (we had no internet to look it up).  We were lucky though.  When we entered at sunrise, there was only a 3kt current against us.

This is a photo of outgoing tide against a 4 meter marker.  This was probably a 3kt current.

Marker at the Hao Pass with a "slight" current

Marker at the Hao Pass with a “slight” current

With both engines running at 1800 RPM we were traveling about 4.5 kts as we approached the entrance.  When we hit the current, we dropped down to 1 kt of forward motion.  Most boats can only travel between 5-7 kts (on average) so if your current going against you is stronger than that, you will never make the entrance.  We got lucky.  There was a smaller monohulls that had to wait 3 days to get into the lagoon as she could not go faster than the tide.

Entering the Hao Passage at Sunrise

Entering the Hao Passage at Sunrise

The Anchorage at Hao

There is an abandoned marina (previously used by the French Navy) that is often used as a free mooring for cruisers.  When we arrived, three monohulls were tied up to the concrete wall.  We decided the concrete wouldn’t do us any favors so we anchored out in the lagoon (all by ourselves).  The top photo shows the main doc and the bottom image is the abandoned marina.

Dock and Marina at Hao

Dock and Marina at Hao

We’ve enjoyed some gorgeous sunsets in our private lagoon.  The top photo is from land looking out of the lagoon and the bottom is a sunset photo taken from Sugar Shack.

Sunsets at Hao

Sunsets at Hao

Passage Details

Departed Taravai in the Gambiers Archipelago Saturday, 18 May at 1030am

Arrived Hao in the Tuamotus Archipelago on Wednesday, 22 May at 0530am

Miles Traveled 460nm

Max speed 8.7

Average speed 5.0

We had two days of no wind and had to motor, but then we had two days of light wind and were actually able to pull up full sails.