Blue as far as the eye can see. Crossing the Pacific Ocean from the Americas towards French Polynesia is the longest blue-water passage in the world. Over 5000 kilometers of deep sea without the tiniest bit of land in-between lay ahead of me. My shutter-finger is itching for the remote lush landscapes that await me at our destination.
Two trolling lines glide through the wake behind our stern. Attached is a large bubbler and a big pink squid lure. They are meant for the immense fish we’re hoping to catch in the shallow waters of Banderas Bay. I watch the Mexican coastline shrink as we motor out towards the open ocean. The big moment is here. Familiar waters will soon be a distant memory and dreams of picture-perfect paradise islands will occupy our minds aboard sailing vessel Elandria.
The sound of the spinning reel can’t be mistaken. We have a fish on the hook! While the line is being pulled out rapidly, I hurry to the aft-deck where our fishing lines are attached in rod holders to the outside of the railing. Kristian gets to the rod first and starts reeling the line back in. I can tell it’s a big catch by the way the whole rod is bending in a perfect arch towards the waterline.
20 minutes later Kristian has wrestled the fish close enough to see it’s bright yellow colors underneath the water surface. We are fighting a Mahi-Mahi, a giant of its kind, bigger than anything anyone on the boat has ever seen. Its massive flat forehead visualizes occasionally as the fish comes closer to the surface. Then, with a barely audible fling, Kristian holds a slacked straight rod in his hands. The fish was too big for our line, has ripped it apart with one last powerful movement as he came close enough to scent the imminent danger in front of his magnificent bulky head. Whoever is on galley-duty tonight, won’t be throwing fresh fish steaks on the BBQ. That’s for sure.
As my thoughts return to the journey ahead of us, I comprehend that we are already out of the bay and within open waters. The mighty Pacific embraces our comparably tiny floating nutshell in an indigo grip that’s about to last for the next few weeks.
With tired eyes I awake to the first morning on this crossing. A lovely day at sea awaits me. A well-deserved bath in the warm sun, a good read in the gentle ocean swells and maybe some good tunes in the hammock later on in the afternoon. It only takes a few moments for me to realize that I was getting ahead of myself…
Overnight, the boom-vang has sheered off all bolts that connect it to the main mast. Without questioning the questionable damage to a piece of indispensable sailing hardware on the second day at sea, we start dealing with the situation.
Sailing means fixing your boat in tropical destinations.
The above maxim certainly has a lot of truth to it. The open ocean is an unforgiving place to maintain ones floating home to immaculate standards. But then again, there seems to be a clearly negative pattern developing on our specific vessel. The repairs take up most of the day and keep Kent, Kristian and me fairly busy while we’re heading further into the deep blue.
By day 3 we start to settle into our routines and the days become a fairly straightforward stretch of leisure time. I spent most of mine reading another great Jonathan Franzen novel. By the time the sun reaches the last quarter of its daily arch, I have finished my first book since leaving port. It’s the traditional but still most common way of spending time on long crossings amongst cruisers.
In the late afternoon we find ourselves hosting unforeseen visitors on the boat. A bunch of brown boobie birds have decided to take a rest on our bowsprit. Living on the open ocean, they must be happy to have some solid ground under their legs. We let them know where we’re headed and they seem to accept the ride thankfully. We are not so different, the boobies and me, hitching a ride through this great body of water.
Day 4 – 10
The next few days go by rather uneventfully. There is only water, water and more water. Our new friends on the bowsprit stay aboard and don’t seem to be in a hurry to leave. Two low-pressure systems in the north keep blocking the trade winds from reaching us and so we stay on a southerly course, hoping for better luck with the southern trades. The easiest way to keep track of the passing days is to keep an eye on the dinner plate. Pasta Monday, Taco Tuesday, Asian Wednesday, Curry Thursday and a genuine favorite Pizza Friday! A sailor’s joy is simple!
Our feathery friends start to become a hassle. Trying to land on our rigging, they damage the wind instruments, located on top of the main mast. After climbing up the mast a few times to make them move, we decide to keep the whole boat boobie-free. A mission easier said then done! The birds are not easily scared away. It takes quite a bit of salt water pumped right in their face to make them move on. After a while I discover the emergency horn. The air horn gets the job done without harming the birds, while we don’t have to climb the rigging anymore.
A sad end to a peacefully shared journey for so many days!
Today we cross the 1000 nautical miles waypoint. Heidi has prepared some cake for the occasion and we all gather on top of the turtle hatch to take a suiting image for the official boat blog. One of my jobs on board is to deliver one suiting image for Kent’s daily log entries. He uploads these on his website through the satellite phone. Visualizing his entries has become an interesting daily challenge for me.
In this case we’re all supposed to be in the frame, which is the reason we’re gathered on the turtle hatch now. I have setup the camera on a tripod in the cockpit and am shooting towards the bow to frame the whole group in the cockpit’s plastic enclosure. For the first time in my professional work as a photographer, I explore the feature of automatic smile recognition. Instead of running back and forth in-between the turtle hatch and the cockpit, I set up the shot and then let the camera take a whole bunch of images while we all smile as much as the sporadic jokes allow.
The feature works like a charm, but I end up having to photoshop the single best poses from different images together anyway. As electricity is available in plentitude on this boat, that is not a problem for me. I have luckily always enjoyed the alteration of digital images on the computer.
Slowly we make our way through the famed Doldrums. In this area of the Pacific, where southern and northern trade winds clash into each other, winds are mostly light but can then suddenly hit hard as bad weather squalls forms.
Soon we are going through the occasional downpour, accompanied by short heavy winds. We reef down the sails until the winds settle down again. The squalls usually don’t last longer than a few minutes and everything is under control at any time.
Day 18 calls for a big celebration. At 9:17 am we cross the equator at 0 degrees south and 120 degrees west. Celebrating the equator crossing is a wholehearted tradition under sailors. Some tattoo the coordinates of their first crossing accompanied by a turtle afterwards. Others swim naked around the boat or indulge in beauty contests for King Neptune’s joy. We stick to having a creatively decorated turtle cake and Kent and me have a beer together before pouring one can into the ocean to keep his majesty, King Neptune, in our favors.
To also keep us minor beings happy, I make ginormous burgers in homemade buns for the occasion. It turns out to be a great feast and everyone is in best spirits when we go to sleep filled up to the max.
After over two weeks without another fish, we finally get lucky. While Kristian is yet again pulling in line on the big rod, I tend to the hand line to avoid the two from tangling up. To my surprise I find myself pulling in another fish on that line. We must have passed a big school of fish and both hooks caught a fish simultaneously! A few minutes later we pull a decent sized yellow fin tuna on board. One of the tastiest fish around! Howling in the big line takes more time again and at the end we loose an even bigger yellow fin as we are unable to pull him aboard and the fish manages to escape the hook in the last moment.
Even though I’ve been having the latest nightshifts in the last few days, I woke up for the sunrise today. We’re about to make landfall in the Marquesas, the northernmost island chain of French Polynesia. More than three weeks on the open ocean have passed rather quickly. It has been an interesting experience for me and given back some relation to the distances that we are so used to travel within less than a day by airplane nowadays. How big the world must have felt when sailors used to be out at sea for month after month, only to realize after landfall, that they had arrived in a completely different location than intended.
In the last few years modern technology has changed the way people sail around the planet irrevocably. Electronics like radar, AIS and an autopilot are now the norm and people without them are thought of as “hippy sailors” or even “risk takers”. Personally, I have missed the adventure on our trip so far, having access to hot water showers, electricity and numerous luxuries on board. Not very surprised, I therefore took notice of yet more bad news, when Kent informed us that the generator was properly broken to the point of needing immediate repair after arriving in the Marquesas. As most systems on Elandria are designed to function with the additional power supply of the generator, continuing the journey without it is not an option. It has become clear to me, that a high amount of technology on board will always result in a high amount of maintenance. It seems to be about time to find another boat for me.
Shortly after sunrise we drop anchor in Atuona on Hiva Oa. It is the biggest city in the southern Marquesas and a multitude of services are available to cruisers arriving after a few weeks at sea. It’s great to see lush green land again after such a long time at sea. I’m glad to have an abundance of green around again in addition to the infinite blue of the open ocean. The smell of the island alone is so overwhelming, that I wish I could record it. The mountains of Hiva Oa rise high and steep on all sides of the anchorage and are filled with plenty of healthy tropical plants. Even though we’re on the windward side of the island and it’s raining most of the time here, I like this remote country with its kindhearted people straight away.
It doesn’t take long before I “run” into Maria and Maudrice, who have just arrived in the Marquesas on their boat Tua-Lisa themselves. Once more I am surprised and excited about the way things tend to work out when you travel spontaneously and without any plans or schedules.