Survivalist Cruising at Castaway Island and the Planned Departure for Hawaii

After two amazing weeks at Castaway Island a weather window has opened up and in a few days we have decided we’ll sail north.

The past two weeks have been fun, relaxing and peaceful.  We haven’t pulled the hook since we dropped it upon arrival here.  We have only seen one local boat and they didn’t seem interested in us so did not stop to say Ia Orana.  We spent days scouring the reef for treasure, knocking coconuts down, fishing and kayaking.  Catching fish from the boat became more difficult once the sharks figured out where the action was at.  It became so difficult to pull in a whole fish that once I hooked one I had less than 15-20 seconds to get it onto the boat before the sharks tore it to pieces.  The other day I hooked a 20″ snapper and was fighting to get it in when the sharks went nuts and one big shark took a bite out of him and all I was able to pull in was his head!  Since then I have lost many hooks because I have to reel them in so quick that they snap the line.  It still hasn’t prevented us from eating fresh fish every other day.  We also found an old fish trap on the beach that I converted to a lobster trap, baited with the carcass of a fish I caught and then took it out onto the reef flat and tied it to a rock at low tide.  A couple days later we ventured back out to the reef to gather a bucket full of lobster.  Instead of delicious lobster we had caught a baby shark, a dead fish and two small snapper.  I guess there is a reason that the locals don’t use traps to catch lobster..

We ran out of vegetables a while ago so Alyssa has been cultivating quite the garden in the galley.  She grew sprouts and wheat grass.  She also made yogurt from scratch, which is quite delicious.  We have been quite the survivalist cruisers over the past two weeks (or as Phil, Alyssa’s Uncle,  would call it: Extreme Boondocking); catching and growing our own food.  Between catching fish and making yogurt for protein, husking and shaving coconuts for curry and poisson cru to growing sprouts and wheat grass for live veggies and baking baguettes and foccacia we have all we need here.  It’s cool to be living a part of the simple existence of the early inhabitants of these atolls.  You spend your days procuring and cultivating food, eating delicious fresh meals and then just relaxing.  We have enjoyed it very much.

Alyssa has been sewing up a storm.  She made a great looking canvas cover for the small outboard and fixed some of our older canvas covers.  I’m thinking we may be able to put her new found skills to good use with a new boat card along the lines of “Ellie Canvas Works.”  Ok, we’ll work on the name.

We found another raft while out exploring the reef.  This one had a small plastic dome with solar panels on top.  It looks like it was built to send data.  The raft also has marking from Ecuador on it.  We assume this was an experiment to see where the raft would land.  The markings on top of the dome were a bar code and serial number: DSL+55548  Maybe someone can do some googling and try and find out who is behind it?  I for one am just glad to know that people are sending out unmanned navigational hazards for us to hit while on passage.  Thanks academia!

As for the weather:  There is a high pressure zone to the south of us right now that is causing the trades to blow with force.  We are dancing on our anchor with 20 knots whistling through the rig.  We can hear the roar of the big southern swells mixed with wind waves punishing the windward side of the reef.  In a few days the high pressure will move east and behind it our oh-so-unreliable GRIB files are promising light easterlies.  We are hopeful they are telling the truth and we can glide blissfully up to the Marquesas.  It’s a 4 day sail to Nuku Hiva, the northernmost island in the chain.  On account of Alyssa’s wonderful provisioning in Huahine and our rationing of fuel thus far, we are in good shape to sail past the Marquesas and set a course directly to Hilo, Hawaii if the near-term forecast looks great.  If the weather turns on us we’ll duck into a quiet bay and wait until a better window opens up.  Once we sail north from the Marquesas it’s a 2,000 nm run to Hawaii with no islands in between.  We are estimating the sail will take us about 16-17 days once we leave Nuku Hiva in our wake.

Ellie is ready for another long passage.  I went up the rig yesterday and everything looks great.  We are sure glad we have a Tartan and not a yogurt cup.  I keep finding strength aspects of her build that make me smile and help us sleep well in rough weather.  I have stripped the weather cloths for better windward performance and plan to stow the jerry jugs below (empty diesel and water) and strapped in the cockpit (gasoline).  The yankee is attached and ready for action.  The kayak is stowed away below deck.  We have greased up the primary winches.  We took the paddle off the Monitor windavane and I did some dremel surgery to open up the gap in the stainless tube so that we can tighten the paddle more securely in place.  It has been giving us trouble by moving out of alignment.  The fix was a success and the paddle is now locked in place on the centerline.  I tightened up the steering cables and also took apart the electronic autopilot to inspect it.  It is on it’s last leg and starts to slip when it get’s wet.  Those wheel pilots are POS and should not be relied on for ocean duty.  We have another one on board if this one craps out completely.  Good thing we don’t rely on the wheel pilot for primary steering duty.  That honor is bestowed upon our trusty crew member Monitor who steers a rock-solid course day and night and doesn’t ask for anything.

We plan to ride the SE trades due north from Nuku Hiva on about 141 W until we cross the ITCZ and find the NE trades at about 8N or so.  Once we reach the NE trades we’ll fall off and sail on a course that puts us just north of the Big Island of Hawaii.  We plan to make landfall at Hilo on the North side of the island.

I have mixed emotions about heading for Hawaii but Alyssa could not be more excited.  Just the thought of real grocery stores, farmers markets, starbucks, movie theaters and restaurants has butterflies in her stomach.  I am looking forward to seeing the active volcano and possibly renting a motorcycle and riding for the first time in over a year.  It should be a fun detour and a change of pace to have all the amenities of home.  We are also very excited to visit all our friends and family in CA over the holiday’s.

We leave in three days so there is more to be done in preparation, not to mention the mandatory hammock time.  We’ll write en route.

Lewis & Alyssa

September 28, 2014

Castaway Island, Tuamotus

Castaway Island

We’re still swinging on the hook off the same motu we found upon arrival here.  The wind has put some more east in it’s north so Ellie’s rudder is now floating about 3-4 feet above a beautiful healthy coral head that is loaded with delicious fish!  Sure makes catching dinner easy; all we do is drop a line over the side with a bit of fish on the hook and within a few minutes we pull in a 12 – 18″ snapper or grouper.  We caught two fish the other day and grilled them up.  Alyssa shaved some fresh coconut with a homemade stainless steel shaver I fabricated with my dremel and cooked up a delicious curry!

We’re living like kings out here in the middle of paradise.  The morning usually starts with a kayak peddle down the beach and up some of the false passes that run between the motus.  Then it’s breakfast in the cockpit.  Days have been spent exploring the islands and fishing.  Alyssa has been cooking up a storm and she even baked some fresh baguettes that are quite tasty.  I finally strung my hammock in the cockpit under the bimini and have been spending long lazy afternoons reading.  One book I’m reading is The Coral Island by Ballantyne; it sure is surreal to read his vivid descriptions of the island they are stranded on only to lift my eyes from the pages of the book, take a look around and under the boat, and actually see the scene in real life!

Yesterday we loaded up the dink for an excursion and cruised a mile away to what looked like an abandoned dwelling.  It hasn’t been used in a few years.  The galvanized steel roofing is rusting up and all that was left were tins of corned beef, some jellies for reef walking, an old stove and some fishing traps.  We headed out to the reef’s edge and while beach combing we came upon a strange discovery.  We waked closer to the crashing breakers and caught on a huge dead coral head was a makeshift raft.  It was constructed of bamboo and bound with cotton line.  There were fishing floats in each corner and black netting across the entire top.  It appeared to be a liferaft someone would have made if they were trying to get off a remote island or atoll.  The scene was very eerie and we were looking all around to find any evidence to support our theory that someone used this raft to escape to sea.  All we could find was ripped cloth attached to the raft and strewn about a few hundred yards from the beach.  We did not see any writing or evidence of who made the raft.  If it was someone’s attempt at self rescue we sure hope they made it onto this atoll safely and then to the village on the other side of the island.

The evening on what we have named Castaway Island is enjoyed with Alyssa’s fresh baguettes, French Cheeses, good wine and the sun setting over the motus on the western side of the atoll.  We smile at eachother and the deep contentment and satisfaction we are feeling is shared without having to say a word.

It’s a good life on Castaway Island.  What continues to satisfy me is the realization that we are anchored here in flat calm turquoise water and it’s not costing us a dime above the provisions and fuel we are consuming.  The good life for under $500 a month.  I can’t think of any other place we could live so well for so little.  Anyone for going cruising?

Manuia from Castaway Island!

Lewis & Alyssa

September 19, 2014

p.s. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to those sailors who were devastated by the hurricane that hit the Baja Peninsula in Mexico.  We are wishing the best for those who are trying to salvage their boats and condolences for those who lost their floating homes.  It also saddens us to have learned about the sailors who perished the night of the storm.  We hope that the cruising community in Mexico gets back to the good life in short order.

Anchored in Another Postcard After Two Days at Sea!

A couple weeks ago we were swinging on the hook in Maupiti debating heading NW to the Marshalls, SW to New Zealand or back uphill to Hawaii.  They were all about the same distance away.  If we followed the herd of 300+ Puddle Jumpers and rushed through Tonga, Fiji and on to NZ we were almost guaranteed crowded anchorages and a rough passage to NZ, not to mention the difficulty in getting back to Tonga the following season.  Heading to the Marshalls would have been off the beaten path but coming home for Christmas would have been too expensive and Alyssa was longing for civilization, family and real grocery stores and I could really go for a Cheeseburger in Paradise.  That left the third option on the table: Hawaii, which we chose.  The most difficult part was going to be bashing uphill 600 nm back the way we came, against the prevailing winds and currents.  But once we made it to the eastern Tuamotus we only had to sail a beam reach due north to about 10N and then fall off for the big Island of Hawaii.  Well after a few very rough passages and a couple very nice ones we did it and our easting is complete!

Our two day sail from Toau was about the best we could have asked for.  We covered about 230 nm in two days, not bad when considering we were sailing close hauled most of the time and against the west-setting current.  We had lovely conditions with NNE winds averaging 12-14 knots allowing us to sail close on the wind due east and make 4.0 knots SOG on average.  The seas were behaved as well and were about 1.0 – 1.5 meters on average, which is really nice!  We made way under full sail and enjoyed every moment of it, holding our breath in fear of a heavy blow or big squalls that never materialized.  We glided over the smooth swells under a half moon that lit up the sky but still allowed for viewing shooting stars and admiring the southern cross.  We are both rested and sure hope we have some of those conditions on the way to Hawaii!

After a great two-day sail, a nerve-racking pass, and two hours of carefully threading our way through uncharted coral heads, we dropped the hook in the most amazing setting imaginable.  There is an uninhabited picturesque palm-clad island off the bow.  Turquoise water under the keel with colors tapering lighter as the depth shallows up to the white sand that lines the pristine motus.  Ellie is not rocking and feels like she is tied to a dock.  There is not a single other cruising boat in this entire 15+ mile lagoon.  The only sounds we hear are the roar of the waves crashing on the reef, the lapping of small wind waves on the hull and the sea birds dancing about putting on a ballet for us.  We are once again anchored in a postcard and we have it all to ourselves.

The ability for us to dream is a wonderful part of being alive.  The ability to realize those dreams through intelligence, hard work and perseverance is an incredibly rewarding talent we are fortunate enough to enjoy.  Two weeks ago we imagined being anchored behind a private island all to ourselves with no other boats or people around and today we’re here.  Life is great.

We plan to stay here a month or so before making our way north to Hawaii.  There is no internet or phone on this atoll so we won’t be able to upload any pictures for a while.  Drop us a line via our at-sea email address.  We always love hearing from our friends and family.

Manuia from a motu we have yet to name,
Lewis & Alyssa

unnamed motu, Eastern Tuamotus, FP

Paradise….lost? The Toau Sweat Shop

After a week in Toau we have decided to set sail.  There is a two day weather window opening up and we plan to take advantage of it.  The winds are forecast to average 10 knots out of the NE for a day and then lighten up and become squally.  We still have a full tank of diesel and we are prepared to use it this time!

The past week has been busy.  We were hoping to relax more but each day we have succumbed to the call of indentured servitude to the local family.  When we arrived here we told them we did not have any money (they charge 700 cpf or approx. $9 US per night for use of the moorings).  They said “no problem!  Maybe you can help us out a little bit instead?”  We said “Sure.  No problem.”  We also gave them some gifts: a box of wine, a pineapple from Moorea, some veggies, baguette, etc.  Turns out that their expectations of “a little bit of help” are on the order of migrant laborer status.  We helped them out with everything from preparing the feast for the visiting charter boats to raking the leaves, to gathering fish from the fish traps and then stringing them into bunches of four for the supply ship (all 600 fish!), shaving coconuts, doing their laundry (we did ours as well which was nice), cleaning and doing dishes, filing about 120 liters of water bottles for them with our watermaker, etc.  After about the fourth day of labor I was starting to feel that we were being taken advantage of.  They were very friendly and we found it almost impossible to turn them down when asked for help.  I even rehearsed in my head responses to the next favor she was going to ask of us, “I have work to do on the boat” or “I’m working on the engine today.”  But as soon as she would ask we would lose all control and immediately say “Sure, no problem. We’re happy to help. How high should we jump?!?”  We think that so many cruisers have come through here with unlimited generosity that expectations have risen to unreasonable heights.  We’re glad we could help them out but in aggregate it was a little much.

It was not one-sided though.  We were able to join the feast with the charter boat (that we helped prepare), they baked a pizza one night that we all shared and Alyssa was able to drill holes in some of our pearls.  I think what made the trade so lopsided was that on Sunday we sat around visiting with them and she harped on for three hours about Jesus and we had to sit there in flight attendant mode (all fake smiles and nods) during the whole “lesson.”  That session was far more painful than the manual labor!

Helping Gaston with the fish traps yesterday was a wild experience.  I helped him collect 600 fish from his traps in only two hours.  That is an incredible amount of fish and the fish were about 18″ on average.  My job was to jump in the trap and swim (scare) the fish into a corner.  Then Gaston would hold a big basket (7′ x 4′ x 3′) made of chicken wire against one side of the corner while I swam around the other side.  The fish would then go into a crazed frenzy and swim violently into his basket.  He then tipped the opening of the basket so it was above the water and we both lifted the basket out of the trap and another guy lifted it into the boat.  We repeated this procedure about 40 times between two fish traps until the boat was full to the gunwales.  Then we unloaded the fish at the dock, sorted them and strung them up 4-5 to a bunch.  A few hours later the supply ship, COBIA 3, came into the bay and dropped down a huge container with ice in the bottom.  The fish were loaded into the container, more ice put on top, and then loaded back onto the ship.  Those fish will end up presented nicely on ice in the central market in Papeete tomorrow.  Gaston will be paid the equivalent of $1,500 US for four hours work.  Not a bad system when you have free labor at hand!

Gaston and Valentine are both very friendly and we believe they mean well.  It was nice getting to know them.  That said, I don’t think we’ll be coming back.  It was just too much trying to satisfy their expectations.  We also missed out on some great diving as a result.

We are very excited for our next atoll.  It promises seclusion, privacy and tranquility.  We are both looking forward to spending a few weeks on our own private motu.

We’ll send updates en route.

Manuia from Toau!
Lewis & Alyssa

September 12, 2014
Anse Amyot, Toau Atoll, Tuamotus, FP

Passage Summary – Moorea to Tuamotus: Ass Kicking

We just moored in one of our favorite spots in the Tuamotus after the roughest passage we have had on the voyage thus far.  We left Moorea three days ago with the forecast calling for winds in the mid-teens out of the SE.  The plan was to ride the SE winds on the beam and sail the 230nm on a course of NE to make landfall in the Tuamotus on the second day out.  Not exactly what happened.

We motored from Moorea until we were out of the lee of Tahiti where the SE winds filled in.  The first night was extremely rough with 20 knots just forward of the beam and steep seas throwing huge amounts of water over the boat and filling the cockpit.  The motion of the boat was severe and we both felt sea sick.  The exchange between me and Alyssa went something like:

Lewis: “This sucks. We probably should have just gone when there was no wind and burned the diesel.”
Alyssa: “But then you would have been swearing about burning the fuel.”
Lewis: “Probably. But at least I would have been swearing about it with a beer in my hand instead of barf in my throat.”

The only positive was that we were making 5.5 to 6.0 knots SOG against the prevailing west-setting current and we were generally on course.  That night Alyssa went to pull in the jib furling line to reef the sail and she suffered some severe burns and blisters when the line ripped through her hands.  This was even with sailing gloves on!  Most women would go down for the count after that but she’s tough and salty so I didn’t learn about her injuries until morning.

Alyssa woke me up with a scream: “We got a huge fish!  Get up!”  I crawled out of the bunk and headed to the cockpit.  Alyssa had pulled in a 4 foot mahi!  It was bright yellow and magnificently beautiful.  I went below and grabbed the gaff.  A couple swift shots later and we impaled the giant, bled him out and brought him onboard.  He was heavy so it took both of us to lift him.  I was feeling very seasick so Alyssa went to work on the side deck cutting the huge fillets.  Each side filled up a gallon ziplock.  She tossed it in the fridge and threw the lure out again.  A huge thanks and shout out to Bruce on SKABENGA who helped us make the squid lure that caught the mahi.  We have a great picture of Alyssa and the fish but we won’t have internet for at least a month or so; we’ll upload when we reach “civilization” again.

The second day the wind increased even more and was sustained at 25 knots and gusting higher.  The wind also clocked around more to the east and as a result we were close-hauled into it trying to hold our ground to make our destination.  It was the roughest conditions we have subjected ourselves and Ellie to since we left San Francisco.  This was due in most part to the fact that we were fighting the prevailing winds and current, which it turns out is much harder than originally thought.

After the second day the realization sunk in that there is no way we will make our destination on this tack.  We decided to stick with it and see where we made landfall in the Tuamotus.  The second night we came 10 nm from the NW corner of Kaukura.  I did not want to tango with low-lying atolls at night so we tacked back towards open ocean on a frustrating course that was pretty much aiming right back at Tahiti.  We would spend the next 18 hours close-hauled fighting 25-30 knots of wind and strong squall after squall after squall to cover only 50 nm to windward.  We were only making about 4 knots against the extremely strong west current.  At one point near the SE corner of Kaukura we saw over two knots of current!  After what felt like the 50th tack but was probably only the 6th, we fired up the iron genoa (engine) and pushed hard on the wind against the steep seas and rain.  We were only making 3.5 knots but at least we were making way.  I felt like we were on that movie the Truman Show and there was someone up in a warm booth pushing buttons and f*cking with us.  More wind!  More current!  They are still making way, send huge squalls!   Through all of this we were in endurance mode just trying to hang on and not throw up.  It was not fun at all.  Ellie was being worked hard and she was creaking from all the stresses she was being subjected to, but she is one tough b!tch and she wouldn’t let the conditions beat her.

It took us 285 nm to cover the 230 nm rhumb line distance.  We would have been in yesterday evening but it took us so long to cover the last 50 miles that we made it to the entrance just after dark and decided to take the more prudent route and practice good seamanship by heaving-to for the night.  After spending two days in such rough weather, riding out the night in the lee of this atoll felt like being at anchor.

So the conclusion is that going east against the prevailing conditions is extremely difficult and borderline not possible in our boat.  We did it but given the same weather conditions I would not choose to repeat this passage.  We needed to get out of Moorea [a little complication called expired visas] so we decided to go.  Next time we’ll be more patient and wait until the conditions are more favorable.  In looking at the weather more closely it looks like we were on the edge of a convergence zone where the SE and NE trades meet.  This is why the winds were so strong and it was so squally.  At least we’re getting a better handle on this whole debacle they call weather forecasting.

My bloody mary is getting warm and I smell breakfast so have to run.  We have a busy week planned of doing absolutely nothing.  I’m finally going to string my hammock.

What a passage. What a life.

Cheers from the tired crew of Eleutheria

September 4, 2014

[Undisclosed Atoll], Tuamotus, FP

Eastbound for the Tuamotus

After hiding out in Moorea for almost a week, a weather window has finally opened up and we will be sailing for the Tuamotus this afternoon.  Forecast is calling for 15 knots out of the SE which should allow for a nice beam reach to one of our favorite atolls, about 250 nm away.  

We have been making the most of the past few rainy days.  Alyssa cooked up a storm and we’ll be eating like kings on the passage.  We made some great new friends, Matthew and Anne on CAVALO, who also sailed from San Francisco last year. They shared their kindle library with us and now we can read for the next ten years and not run out of books!  We enjoyed lazy days at the hotel pool and even did the sting rays again.  We hichhiked to the major grocery store for fresh produce (delicious pineapples and we even found avocados!) and met some awesome people from Auckland, NZ who we will definitely have to meet up with if we find ourselves down there.  I also got bored and fabricated some attachment points on our emergency tiller handle so that in the unfortunate event that we lose wheel steering I can just hook up the monitor control lines directly to the tiller.  How’s that for foresight!?

We’re making one final run into the village this morning to buy some fresh produce to share with the islanders in the Tuamotus.  Then we’ll make some final prep and head out the pass.  We’re very excited to be heading to sea again.  I am hesitant to trust the GRIBs completely but they are calling for some good sailing conditions so let’s hope the weather gods cooperate.

Adios Moorea