All posts by Mermaid

Kicked in the Head by the Tail of a Humpback Whale!!!

You read the title correctly, I was almost knocked unconscious by the tail of an enormous wild humpback whale while swimming with a pod yesterday. It was scary, enthralling and disorienting at the same time. I am writing this with a huge bump/egg on the port side of my skull. I seem to be fine and waking up this morning was a success. So now that I have lived to tell the story, I shall begin…

Although we may have to sell some organs once we reach Australia to pay for food, we decided that we should not miss out on the once-in-a-lifetime experience of swimming with wild humpback whales. Vava’u is the only place I know of in the world where they allow people to get in the water with wild humpbacks. We spoke to a bunch of locals and found the best operator and the most highly recommended skipper. We booked with the operation, “Whales in the Wild!” and the skipper Shioni. It was a hefty sum of Pa’anga (money) but we can now say it was completely worth every penny.

We woke at 0600 and were on the dock by 0700. We blasted out of Neiafu at close to 30 knots aboard a 26 foot aluminum dive boat with a big 250hp outboard on the back. The process for finding whales is much like a game of cat and mouse. We blast around the outer islands looking for whale spouts. When we find one we get close and see if it is staying on the surface. Most dive deep and only surface once ever 15 minutes or so. Those are not the best whales to swim with since the interaction is very brief. After a few hours of cat and mouse we were tipped off to a pod of 10 whales about 2 miles from our location. We blasted over to the west side and bobbed around in the rough seas while the pod drew closer. The whales were slapping tails and fins and once in a while one would breach. It was exciting and we got our wetsuits on and prepared to jump in. The skipper maneuvered near the whales and said to jump in. Our hearts were racing as we swam as fast as we could to get close to the whales. We were less than 10 feet from a whale that was surfacing and there were three more directly below us. The enormity of the whales and the volume of their calls, mixed with the bubbles they release was amazing. We shot some great video and tried in vain to keep up with their pace but they were soon gone and we returned to the boat with adrenaline pumping through our veins.

We continued our search for the perfect opportunity to interact with the whales. By 1300 we were off the SW side of Hunga Island. There were a few whales in relatively shallow water, an excellent opportunity to swim with them since they can’t easily dive deep. It was our turn to jump in so Alyssa and I suited up and hung over the edge. He maneuvered close to the path of the whales and we jumped in and swam like hell to get close. As we got close the whales turned over on their backs and did some fin slaps and put on a show for us. Then they swam towards the open ocean and everyone followed….but me. I saw another whale coming my way and stayed put to wait for him. He slowly made his way towards me as my adrenaline was being pumped in on overdrive. I didn’t swim away and I was less than an arm’s length from his enormous eyeball as he swam past me with what seemed a quizzical look. As he was mostly past me I turned away to get a GoPro shot of me with this amazing creature in the background and as I was fumbling with the camera he turned to dive, whipped his tail sideways and then slapped it down right on the side of my head! It was a hard blow that knocked the snorkel off my mask, pushed me under the water and stunned me. The next thing I remember was processing what had just happened and seeing the others screaming “are you OK?!?” I replied yes and was shouting how incredible that just was.

We returned to the boat and swam again a few more times with other whales, had lunch in a beautiful protected cove and most importantly, lived to tell this story.

Here are some pictures from the day. I’ll try and upload a video or two but the internet here is painfully slow.

In other news, our heat exchanger on our main engine is toast [my fault – didn’t know you had to change zincs every month in the tropics!] and it’s leaking coolant into the raw water = not good. So today we’ll pull it apart and make a temporary repair. I am having a new one shipped into Fiji so it should be there when we arrive. Always something isn’t it…

And now, the pictures!!!

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Hawaii to Fanning – Day 3

Night passages are difficult. The wind patterns are inconsistent, squalls are formed, and the seas look exceptionally larger because you don’t see them until they are at your stern rail(and very often are larger because of aforementioned squalls). Last night was no exception. Squall after squall hit us, with winds reaching 32kts and driving rain making cockpit solitude unattainable. The waves increased so we were going more downwind than our course called for, but that’s easy to make up when seas subside or we make it up when we’re motoring through the ITCZ on a B-line for our destination. One wave came over the entire dodger, filling the cockpit halfway with water. In less than 30 seconds, our scuppers drained the flood, but we mistakenly forgot to put our generator (which is fairly weatherproof) into a garbage bag in case the cockpit flooded. It has been rinsed with fresh water and is drying in the sunlight this morning, but I hope that there is no real consequence to our obvious lapse in preparedness.
Just before the squalls started, I was relaxing in my little corner under the dodger and noticed what looked like a dark wet spot on the oversized pillow I was resting on. I touched it and thought it was just a shadow, but a second later, I turned my hand over and the spot was in my palm and about to crawl up my sleeve!!! It was a cockroach!!! Contrary to popular belief, these suckers actually FLY. That’s right, there’s NO DEFENSE in keeping them off your boat in Hawaii. I quickly whip-lashed the nasty roach off me and onto the cockpit floor. I think the wet conditions slowed him down, and my delayed (freaking out) reflexes were able to smash him before he got away. I forgot to mention that yesterday night a large one flew at me from the settee when Lewis was asleep and landed right on the nav table when I was writing in the log! I FREAKED and jumped up, trying to look for something to hit it. Long story short, it’s somewhere in the bilge or our liquor storage area. So far, Lewis has killed one on deck which was hiding under our jacklines which keep us tethered to the boat in heavy weather. Who uses their bare hand to smash a cockroach?! Oh yeah, Lewis. We put poison feeders everywhere inside the boat, but I’m not convinced that it will work. I’m hoping these are just tag-alongs and not newborns. They didn’t seem that small, so wish us luck and we’ll take any home remedy advice as we near Fanning! (Sorry, no boric acid aboard. Another DOH!)

With all of the wind, we made 141nm in the last 24hrs and have 545nm to go. The wind has calmed a bit to a manageable 22kts and we are flying down waves at 6.8kts. It’s much more comfortable than our last two nights have been and thankfully more dry this morning. I’m feeling refreshed like I always do when met with beautiful conditions on a gorgeous morning under full jib sailing 110* off the wind. If only it were always like this…
But as Lewis always quotes, “The sweet would not be so sweet, without the bitter.”

For those of you who have been wondering what out meals have been out here so far, here’s a rundown. The first two days worth of food was mostly pre-made. We always expect to feel too sick to stay below decks the first couple days after a long stay in port.
Premade Broccoli/Bacon/Cheese Quiche
Premade Fried Rice with Orange Chicken
Premade Curried Chicken Salad with craisins and apples
French Toast and Eggs
Chicken Alfredo Pasta with Eggplant Parmesan
Fajita style Chicken Burritos
Pasta Salad with cucumber and tomatoes
Tuna Salad with celery
Deviled Eggs/Egg Salad
Salmon Cakes with Garlic Green Beans and spiced aioli over wild rice
Snacks: Tzasiki, popcorn, hummus, chips/crackers, sunflower seeds, cashew clusters, celery w/peanut butter

Hopefully we catch a fish today for some sushi. Would love to stop opening our precious cans of Costco chicken.

Alyssa

Hawaii to Fanning Atoll – Day 2

It is Day 2 of our passage and we have sailed another 128nm in the past 24 hours with 680nm to go.

The wind and seas have increased (20-28kts, 8-12′ seas) and moved more ENE, allowing us to sail slightly downwind for a more comfortable ride.

Lewis put out one of our last Skabenga lures since we were sailing 6.5kts and within 2 hours we had hooked a monster Mahi! This thing was much bigger than all of the fish we have caught so far, somewhere in the 5-6′ range. Unfortunately, just as Lewis was pulling the fish near the boat, the beast dove down sideways and our metal crimp on the line chafed through the 300lb monofilament, releasing the fish with hook in mouth as he thrashed away. It was probably for the better. As of right now, we don’t have nearly that much space in our freezer for that much fish. Not only was it a monster, but it was gorgeous with bright flashes of yellow, blue and green. We’ll throw a wire leadered cedar plug in the water today in hopes of catching a small tuna for some sushi. I had our GoPro rolling the whole time, so we’ll see how the footage came out! I also took a long GoPro of my morning sunrise shift in the rough seas, for those of you wondering what it’s like. Yes, it’s a little rough, but it’s very peaceful and the beautiful sunrise makes it completely worth every night at sea. Can you tell it’s my favorite shift?

I’m a third of the way through a new-to-me book, Under the Tuscan Sun. A term I learned I thought appropriate for our passage: Festina Tarde, to make haste slowly, used in the Renaissance. It was often depicted by a dolphin entwined with an anchor, a snake with its tail in its mouth, or by the figure of a woman sitting with wings in one hand and a tortoise in the other. Is sailing not making haste slowly? Sure we can push the boat near hull speed every day, but a sail boat going 6.5kts is still very, VERY slow. Taking time to see the ocean, mother nature, and remote islands at our own pace, taking time to watch every sunrise and read a book, is very different than taking a 747 to Australia. A plane will get to our destination months before us, but misses everything in between. I think I like this term.

It’s going to be another relaxing, mellow (but rolly) day at sea for us. A large wave just slapped against our hull and sent a wall of water into the cockpit. I have a perfect spot behind the dodger that almost never gets wet. It’s fascinating to watch the water splash up with the sun behind it, revealing the same bright blue/teal water you dream of in shallow lagoon anchorages. We’re really looking forward to setting up our “fort” in Fanning and camping out for a couple of weeks. All of our toys will be coming out of deep storage, sailing pedal kayak, our new paddleboard, both hammocks for the cockpit, shade for the boat, the dingy, spear fishing gear, dive/snorkel gear, and maybe even the kite board.

We’re expecting to hit the ITCZ around 9N in another day or two where the weather will be inconsistent with many squalls. We’ll sail when we can and motor when we can’t. We have plenty of diesel since filling up in the Big Island, so aren’t afraid to turn on the engine. After the ITCZ, we’re hoping to finally see those “doldrums” of glassy seas people keep talking about. If it really exists, we may simply hang out for a day, watch Waterworld and go for a swim.

In the meantime, I’ll keep my eye out for the smokers. I just watched a cargo ship pass 13nm N of our position.

Festina Tarde,
Alyssa & Lewis

April 28, 2015

18:50z
14 53 N
156 56 W
176T
6.5 Kts
21.1 Kts Wnd
9-12 Ft Seas

Bon Voyage from Oahu – HD Video!

We are finally done provisioning Ellie up and will be sailing out of Oahu tomorrow morning (Wednesday). We made a video so everyone can see how beautiful my girls (Alyssa and Ellie of course) are lookin’ before we put to sea. Tomorrow we sail for the Big Island, a 160 mile overnight run. Once there we’ll patiently wait for favorable wind to sail south. I’m stoked to be putting to sea again. Stay tuned for updates…  Aloha Oahu

A huge mahalo to Spencer of Harbor Sharks for cleaning our prop of barnacles today for no charge – you’re the Man Spencer! Also a special thank you to Danielle, my Mother, for the GoPro that shot this video. 

 

Is a week too long? Maybe, but it’s still Paradise!

Ka Oha from Alyssa!

Nuku Hiva is a major port of entry, so there is everything you need. There are groceries, restaurants, wifi cafes with free high speed internet, bakeries, a hardware store, vehicle traffic, and, more recently, it sounds like a techno club stays open overlooking the bay which is full of about 55 other boats. The first few days were exciting for me. I tend to gravitate towards anchorages like this because I love meeting new people, enjoying cockpit time with fellow cruisers, perusing the overpriced grocery stores to see what the locals buy, waking up at 3:30am to get first pickings at the farmers market, and enjoying a cup of hot tea (yes, even in the tropics) overlooking the dingy pier where the fish market is feeding the sharks. Lewis tends to gravitate towards anchorages off the beaten path where little to no boats are ever seen, the beaches empty of people, the water clear of pollution or city runoff, and our little home perfectly anchored in serenity. The great thing about visiting islands is that it is easy to alternate anchorages of these types so we get the best of both worlds. Moving the boat from place to place is a little (usually a LOT) of work, so we like spending at least 2 or 3 nights in each anchorage so we can actually settle in and enjoy the surroundings without always feeling like you’re on the move. We do wish we had applied for a long-stay visa, increasing from a 3-month allowance to 6, however the perks come with downfalls, such as the cost of provisioning here, and more time spent in French Polynesia means less time spent in the islands after here, such as Tonga, because of hurricane season (and possibly an upcoming El Niño?). So with limited time, we say “if we don’t like it, we up anchor and move!” Which takes us to the current blog post. Is a week too long? I think so. Lewis REALLY thinks so! It would be different if we could vary the days in town on the internet with swimming, snorkeling, diving, fishing, etc, but the water is dirty (and full of aforementioned sharks!), and the fish have ciguatera. There has been very little wind so sailing the boat around the island would be quite frustrating without an engine. Our engine has been having trouble with the raw water pump which cools the engine. It started leaking, which means that the seals are starting to go bad and the seat inside is corroding. With a gear driven pump, that means that saltwater has actually started going into the engine, into the oil, and even coming out of the crank case. The engine could be run if we needed it, but it’s extremely bad for it. I say we hold tight until the part comes (possibly Tuesday). Besides, it is still paradise!!! Last night was a little annoying with the club music echoing across the anchorage that LITERALLY is still playing (it is 7am)!!!!! But let’s hope it was a one-time, Saturday night kind of thing. In the meantime, I’ll eat every last fresh vegetable in this joint, because there are none in the Tuomotos!
The farmers market is right next to the pier and there are two women who grow organic vegetables on the north side of the island. Twice a week they arrive with their finest lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, green beans, bok choy, cucumber, eggplant, and a variety of fruits. When I arrived on Wednesday at 6:45am to see what they had, everything was gone. I guess I was 45 min late since she opens at 6am Wednesdays. Thankfully she took a preorder for her Saturday delivery, but she said she opens a little earlier. 4AM?! Yes, I woke up at 3:30, smothered myself in bugspray, donned a headlamp and made my way over to the docks. Luckily she was just unloading and I got first pickings of everything, even a bunch of cilantro (or to the French, coriander). She only had one! After that I was wide awake so decided to join a couple cruising friends on a walk to the bakery. The bakery also sells out in the first hour, so I gladly picked up a couple French croissants for Lewis’ breakfast. I sat at the wifi café near the docks for a good hour skyping family after that. Just when I was about to head back to the boat, I jumped down to the dingy with my bags full of produce and felt a tickle on my shoulder. I thought it was just my hair but when I turned to look it had to very large antenna and crawled up my arm! I screamed and quickly swatted whatever it was off my arm. I kept looking around trying to find where it went or what it was, but everyone around me (now a very busy fish market) just looked at me like I was crazy! I cowered back into the dingy and started the motor. Thankfully our friends on Pamela were rowing back to their boat at the same time and I stopped to see if they could help check my back and hair to be sure there was nothing still crawling on me. Nope, still nothing. I thanked them and kept on my way to the boat. As I start to plane halfway through the anchorage, I see something very large and dark come out from under the dingy chaps. MONSTER COCKROACH!!!! I whip the dingy around and head back to Pamela, who’s almost back to their boat. “I found it! I found it!” Dennis was happy to help me hit the 3.5” cockroach into a stun and throw him overboard. You don’t want that on your boat! I still shiver thinking about it crawling on my shoulder, and so close to my face! What was that movie where Ashton Kutcher had a cockroach crawl up his neck?
So with a few more days of waiting, I’ll still be walking the markets, hopefully sans cockroach from now on, and we started doing a few boat projects that we never got around to. Lewis installed a digital engine temperature gauge at the nav station so we don’t have to go into the cockpit to monitor it all the time and it is much more accurate. I waxed our fiberglass dodger which looked so shiny compared to the rest of the boat; I kept on waxing and finished the deck topsides (she looks like a dock queen again!). Today I’m helping our friend Bruce on Skabenga by sewing and reinforcing is torn dingy chaps. I love my new sewing machine (it’s a Singer Traditional for those who have been asking). Well, it’s time for breakfast!
Alyssa
May 4, 2014
Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva

Downwind It Is! We crossed the Sea of Cortez to the main land!

We crossed the Sea of Cortez! When we left San Jose del Cabo, we were expecting to have an easy six hour sail up the coast of Baja to stay in Los Frailes, the easternmost point on the Baja peninsula. As soon as we rounded the SE corner of Baja, however, we were met with bashing seas and 20kts on the nose! That was going to be a very uncomfortable and wet ride to an anchorage that didn’t look like it had that much protection… plus… it was going in the wrong direction! North? Who wants to go north in the winter?! So we fell off by about 90 degrees and headed towards Mazatlan. We held this course for about 40 nautical miles, but the seas were getting oh-so-uncomfortable and I needed to make dinner down below. That is extremely difficult to do when the swells were getting so big, we were both getting seasick even while looking out over the horizon. How am I supposed to go down below, while getting thrown around and not have the pot fly off the stove? So we made another change in course and turned further south. With a deep beam reach headed far downwind, we ate like kings (Mac and cheese haha), slept like babies (in 5 hour shifts of course), and sailed towards Isla Isabela, a very small island off the mainland near San Blas, Nayarit.

The second night Lewis took first shift, 8-midnight. When it was his time to sleep, he only got about 2 hours in when I saw a bright light on the dark horizon. At first I thought it was the island lighthouse, but as we got closer I realized it was a cluster of lights. And I mean, MANY LIGHTS. We were slowly (4kts) approaching into a sea full of trawling commercial fishermen whose navigation lights look like Christmas trees. Red on top of two whites on top of a green? They’re going WHICH way?!??? As it turns out, there were about 12 boats trawling (we think nets, less than 50m long) according to our “Pocket Rules of the Road, 2nd Edition” by Ocean Navigator, Professional Mariner according to COLREGS (The International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea). It took us a good 3 hours to navigate directly through them all and then Lewis finally got to bed.

I took an extra long shift since I knew Lewis would have to navigate us into the anchorage as soon as the sun rose and there was enough light to spot submerged pinnacles, well known on this island. We made perfect timing to approach exactly at sunrise. As we enter the south cove, we see that the island is covered in birds (and very smelly bird poop) and everything is rock, including the bottom of the anchorage. There was one boat taking up the very center of the cove with submerged rocks almost on all sides. Plus the huge swell from the last 3 days of wind were wrapping around and making a horrifying breaking noise every 2 minutes on the surrounding cliffs. I’m fed up and so exhausted; I say we keep going another 60 miles to San Blas. Lewis is determined to check out the east side where there are statue-like rock spires sticking out of the water. We drop anchor just south of the one that looks like a turtle head and I pass out for a good 6 hours while Lewis fishes, reads and does a Spanish lesson. We celebrated that evening with crab cakes, thinking that was our last long/overnight passage until we cross the Pacific. Little did we know the wind shifted around 2am, putting us in uncomfortably shallow water with Mr. Turtle Head as our lee shore. Thankfully we were already on anchor watch because you cannot set an anchor when it’s a rock bottom. And the cruising guides both say that these anchorages are nicknamed Anchor Eaters. This is because the anchors can get caught under/around a boulder, especially if you drift because the wind shifts and your chain drags and wraps around all of the pinnacles and coral, all while you’re surrounded by cliffs. It’s much safer to drop your chain and leave the anchor behind than risk losing your boat. Thankfully our anchor came up easily and we are on our way to Mantanchen Bay in San Blas, Nayarit. We’re thinking we might stay for a week. After all, we have sailed about 1037 nautical miles since leaving Ensendada only 3 weeks ago…

Santa Barbara Sunrise

There’s nothing quite like a sunrise after an overnight passage. The seas are remarkably calm and peaceful; it’s difficult to not get a sense of ease at being one with the ocean. It’s 6am on our passage from Morro Bay around Point Arguello and Point Conception, a 20-hour 110 mile voyage known for rough seas as a last farewell to the torrential Northern California waters. But if you time it just right, waiting for that perfect weather window (there is rarely a forecast for Point Conception with less than 20 knots of wind) and time it perfectly to be rounding Point Arguello around midnight when the wind calms and waves relax, it can be glass as it was for us. We have been motoring since 11pm which means we planned just right! And now my morning shift involves a thermos of hot Tevana tea and a gorgeous sunrise over the Santa Barbara Mountains. There is no way to capture the beautiful silhouette, orange skies, dimming city lights, and thin outline of the nearby Santa Cruz Island in a picture. The seas even smell different than a night before. It’s as if the southern California dew has its own thermostat, warming the salt and seaweed to welcome Ellie to forever humid climates. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m so happy to finally push on toward lower latitudes.

Santa Barbara Sunrise 008I started a log for our passages which I fill in every hour (or when I remember) which can be quite tedious. But overall it’s good practice in case your instruments for some reason stop working, you have your coordinates and can use good’ol paper charts. Lewis only loves this chore because he sees the latitude degrees tick down as we near the tropics. There’s something to say about the cold and how much more complicated it makes some things on the boat. For example, a heater requires a generator, which requires gas and breaks the peace in an anchorage to run the loud motor, so does the water heater and blow dryer. Also, nothing dries EVER including your fowlies (fowl weather gear) so it’s freezing to get dressed to go into the freezing cockpit. On the other hand, the water and air is unbelievably clear (when there’s no fog), and the beer is always cold since the fridge doesn’t have to work hard! Lewis and I make a little fun out of it and put on Christmas music while drinking hot apple tea the second night we were anchored in Half Moon Bay. Either way, in cold weather or warmer climates, it’s easy to make Ellie feel like home. Here’s to you, Ellie, keeping us safe, warm and giving us a home, even around Point Conception.

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Provisioning delivered?!

When we first arrived in Sausalito, we saw an organic foods truck delivering tubs and tubs of groceries to one of the many mega yachts around us, and then I remembered, Safeway delivers! And the added bonus, your first delivery is FREE and they give you complimentary 8-pack of paper towels and a case of water. How convenient:) This was the perfect opportunity to provision all of the heavy stuff since the only grocery store in the area is Molly Stones, a frou frou (but AMAZING), expensive specialty foods store. A Safeway is only a 3 mile bike ride away, but who wants to lug a months worth of canned goods, dried beans, cases of beer, and produce, all while making sure three 18-packs of eggs don’t break on folding bikes? We’ve done that before, but no thank you if we don’t have to! We loaded up our virtual shopping cart and it was on the docks at 11am the very next morning. AWESOME! We’re considering doing this in San Diego when we want to provision our favorite foods you can only get in the US.

Here are a couple pics from our shopping spree:

Summer 2013 255 Summer 2013 254 Summer 2013 256 Summer 2013 259

I’m going to start a new section on the website, talking about my galley, provisioning, cooking tips and recipes I learn along the way. Look out in the near future for that!

 

Angel Island

Hey all – sorry we haven’t written this week!  We’ve been having fun and been keeping busy!

I am really going to miss the SF Bay. Although the winds can be torrential through the slot, there is truly something magical about the horizon of the city, the golden gate just peeking out of the dense fog, and the variety of climates and places to visit.

 

We took this picture last winter on our way to SF for new years.
We took this picture last winter on our way to SF for new years. It is by far one of my favorites.

We have visited nearly every corner of the bay after living in Redwood City near the south bay, sailing up the Sacramento River to the Delta, detouring up the Napa River until we didn’t want to test our luck any further, buddy-boating up the Petaluma River to stay in a protected turning basin, and constant visits to Sausalito, Tiburon, Angel Island, Aquatic Park, and South Beach Harbor to watch Giants games. This week, it feels like we’ve been inching our way toward the Golden Gate with excitement, but we’re also making sure we hit all of our favorite stomping grounds. With Lewis’ obsession with boats, we’ve had countless opportunities to visit Angel Island, running our way to the top, hoping to have the breathless 360 degree view to ourselves before the first ferry arrives. We decided Monday to hike up once more and stretch our sea legs. Here’s a couple pics of our last trip to the top.

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360 view, Angel Island

On Tuesday a low pressure system rolled through and the weather was nasty.  It was blowing from the SW so we took shelter at Ayala cove and were glad to be tied to the moorings an extra night.  We hid down below.  Lewis read and the I cooked up a storm to keep the cabin warm.  On Wednesday morning we headed for Sausalito.