Tag Archives: passage

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.

Yellow Fin Tuna

Wicked Passage: Tuamotus to Marquesas

Best laid plans change.  Sugar Shack, along with our friends on Maple, had planned on leaving Makemo for the 5-day passage on 3 November.  We checked several weather reports, routing apps, and guestimator for the slack tide at Makemo.  We were all set and excited to make our way to a new archipelago.  Little did we know that a wicked passage was in our future.

Before we left, I attended the local church service on the morning of our departure.  It was a lovely, old, wooden church with high arching wood slat ceiling.  They had several sea shell chandeliers that added to the ambiance as the breeze rustled through them.  The most amazing thing was the choir which had voices like angels.  I did not understand a single word of the sermon, but felt the presence of God and community.

Church on Makemo Atoll

Church on Makemo Atoll

Leaving the Makemo’s East Pass:

Matt and Daryl (Maple) had been out to the pass several times this morning to check the pass.  We were confident that a 10a departure out of the pass would give us an easy exit.  

$hit happens and weather changes.  A squall rolled in right at the time we needed to raise our anchor.  Both boats decided to wait until the storm passed so as not to encounter strong winds and current out the pass.  At 11a we raised our anchor and motored to the pass.  We did not actually get to the pass until 1145 and everything had changed.  Now, we had 3 kts of wind pushing the boat out and sideways.   It was a wicked pass and one that we hope we don’t ever have to repeat.

Enormous waves were crushing over and down on our bow causing the boat to hobby horse.  It was extremely scary and nerve racking but we made it safely.  Our friends on Maple had a much more difficult time as they have a smaller boat with smaller engines.  It was incredibly difficult to watch them pitch pole every which way.  One time a rogue wave caught their hull and they actually flew a hull like a race boat.  Terrifying, but they too got out safely.  Albeit, with more gray hairs.

Passage Making:

After we got through the weather system, we found the wind at 20kts and were sailing along nicely with 8-9kts of boat speed.  That’s really fast for us and we loved it.  Unfortunately, we left Maple behind and lost sight of them within the first 3 hours.

Starting on a tack at 071 degrees, we had a choice to make.  Go on the east or west side of Rarioia.  We preferred to go on the east side as it is shorter, but might not give us the angle we want with the current wind direction.  The weather models had 2 of them going east and 2 going west.  The west models added 30nm to our destination.  We decided to go east.  We turned 20 degrees to a new heading of 50 degrees which allowed us to barely skirt the Taenga atoll and make our way around Rarioa.

During the night, Matt tacked 3 times to avoid getting to close to shore and avoid the Takume atoll.  Now we are close to the rhumb line and should be able to hold this direction for the rest of the 430 miles.

Morning Day 2

The forecast was way off the mark, but we are not surprised.  It seems to me that the weatherman is the only person that an be wrong so often and still keep a job.  Matt looked at 4 different models for the forecast and not one predicted our current weather.  We had 20kts of true wind and 2-meter seas that were steep, choppy fuckers.  Sugar Shack was making an amazing 8-9 boat speed toward our destination which made our VMG (velocity made good) excellent.  But it did make me feel horrible.  Matt was convinced we would see a 200 nm day.  Would be a big day considering we made 86nm on day 1 and only 60% of that was VMG.  We had one reef in the main and 2 reefs in the jib (slightly reduced sail for my landlubber friends).

I felt wicked the entire day and spent my downtime in the fetal position.  As day turned into night our wind picked up and we were averaging 9-10’s which is a bit too much for a beam reach.  We de-powered the boat by taking in another reef in the main and jib.  Matt said it was “the worst sail trim he has ever seen and we are still doing 10’s.”

Morning Day 3

Another choppy, bumpy, bashing, wicked day at sea.  We continue to see high winds and big seas.  I’m still feeling like crap, but carrying on.  We are seeing a 2.8-3kt current pushing us sideways which is odd.  The arrow in the center shows the current, but it didn’t come out in the photo.  This is one of our instruments that we stare at all day and night.

It shows SOG (speed over ground) at 9.4, boat speed over water which takes into account the current at 8.1, True wind speed at 19.7 and our position.  The boat is rocking and rolling so much that the stupid iPhone would not focus on the instrument.  Ugh!

Instrument showing passage details

Instrument showing passage details

We noticed that the high winds are having an impact on our boat as well.  The sunbrella protective cover on the luff of the jib has torn.  That will have to be taken down and resewn.

Ripped jib edge

Ripped jib edge

As the afternoon approached our boat speed slowed down to 7-8kts which was a bit more reasonable.  The waves were not as angry but still choppy.  We did manage to catch a yellow fin tuna that will feed both of us 3 meals.  He was a little guy but thick.

Yellow Fin Tuna

Yellow Fin Tuna

We had a choice to either changing course and heading to Ua Poa or continuing on to Nuku Hiva.  Ua Poa 25 miles closer and we thought we could arrive at daylight.  Whereas we’d have a night arrival in Nuku Hiva which is never good when you approach an anchorage for the first time.  As we got closer, we decided to continue on to Nuku Hiva.  The wind shifted and forced us to pinch so much that it slowed our boat speed down to a respectable 5-6kts.  We’d arrive either anchorage at night and the Nuku Hiva anchorage is known to be a big wide-open bay.  Much safer to arrive in the darkness.

Arrival – Morning Day 4

What a pleasant surprise arriving to a mountainous island, after spending months in the Tuamotus where the atolls are all flat.  The atolls are only as tall as their largest palm tree.  Of course, it was dark when we arrived so all we could see were the outlines of the mountains in the setting moon.

Moon setting behind the mountains

Moon setting behind the mountains

As we entered the bay at 0100 it was another pleasant surprise to see the many lights on shore.  It looks like a pretty bustling village, Taiohae. 

Village lights pre-dawn

Village lights pre-dawn

I am sure you can imagine my relief to set the hook!  We found a 12-meter spot and dropped the hook onto the muddy bottom.  After opening a few hatches, I set to bed while Matt enjoyed a nice frosty and well-deserved beer.

Wicked, Wicked Passage Details:

  • Passage from Makemo, Tuamotu to Nuka Hiva, Marquesas
  • Miles to destination (as the crow flies) 504 nm
  • Miles Traveled:  549nm (around atolls and a few tacks)
  • Max Speed:  12.2kt
  • Average Speed: 6.5kt
  • Travel Time:  84:57

Despite my many comments on the “wicked passage” we arrived safely with very little damage to Sugar Shack.

Welcome to the Marquesas archipelago.  First stop, Nuku Hiva.

Nuku Hiva Island

Nuku Hiva Island