Lessons From our Longest Passage

Land ho!

After taking a few weeks to catch up with the world and clean and fix up ourselves and the boat, we’re reflecting more on our voyage across the Pacific. We learned some lessons from our longest passage, and know what we will do – and not do – again.

Map voyage Passage Panama to Nuku Hiva
Our track from Panama City to Nuku Hiva French Polynesia

Convenience is Key

Cockpit Snacks

Some days, going down below to scrounge up a meal was beyond my capacity. Having a handy cache of nuts, granola bars, crackers, and ginger snaps made life easier on those rough days. We put them in the storage compartment of our cockpit table, where we usually keep sunscreens, and it was very handy.

French Press

Our Aeropress could not cut it in those rolly seas! Fortunately, Brian had the foresight to buy a stainless French press which became part of our morning coffee ritual. We still had to set it in the sink and pour carefully, but it was the best method of safely getting our much-needed morning joe.

No Shoes

One of my favorite things about passages is not wearing shoes! The downside? Since returning to daily shore visits, I’ve sprouted a few blisters, even wearing my trusty Keens.

In addition to no shoes, we were very casual on Sava’s long passage. I thought I’d be in bathing suits the whole time but it was too cold! Instead I wore pajamas plus hoodies, especially after dark. Surprisingly, we still had a full laundry bag when we arrived, but that also included dish towels and bed linens.


I cleared out a lot of cabinets while prepping for the passage and making room for provisions, and found one of my new favorite boat tools. Cooking on the stovetop was relatively stress and accident free with these screw-on potholders that kept pots of boiling water, chili, and more firmly in place. I still had to be careful of putting too much water in the pots, but otherwise, these were a great tool on our passage.

Pots on a marine stove with holders one of the lessons from our long passage
Our pots stayed in place with these adjustable screw pot holders

Messes Happen

Our Bottom Gets Dirty

Another one of the lessons from our longest passage is the hull gets dirty even when you’re not sitting at anchor or in a marina. We had no idea that we’d accumulate so much muck while moving at 5-8 knots! The bottom was covered in sharp barnacles and a layer of grime when we finally arrived in Nuku Hiva. Now we recognize boats newly arrived from crossing the Pacific by the dark line of crud on their boats. Ours was worse on the starboard since we were heeled to that side from practically day one.

Use The Gimbal on the Oven

My biggest mistake on this passage came when I forgot to gimbal the oven. I left it locked in place, meaning every time the boat moved, so did the contents.. If I had turned the gimbal on, the oven would have tilted and remained level as the boat moved.

Our gimbaled stove doing its job

My big mistake caused a BIG MESS! As I was roasting duck confit and squash, the duck fat spilled all over the floor. It smelled great but that was a slippery, greasy floor on an already messy boat! Some Easter supper!

Not using the gimbal was a serious rookie mistake and I still kick myself. I have used it many times, even at anchor, so I have no excuse for forgetting while we were underway.

The duck and squash were great by the way, and we had duck tacos the next day and used what duck fat was left for popcorn topping. Still, I wish I had used the gimbal that day and saved a lot of cleanup.

Duck confit in a can
Duck confit made a mess of the cabin on Easter

Clean Whenever You Can – and if You Can’t, Shut the Door

We had problems on this trip with rough seas and messes. Domino threw up several times early on so we were vigilantly keeping a lookout for cat sick. Our engine bilge also needed constant pumping! I also couldn’t clean out the fridge because there was nowhere to put the contents of it while we were tilted on our side. That led to some interesting messes when we finally stopped and I could clean! At the bottom of the fridge and everything in it was a gloopy red mess which I think was a combo of spilled yogurt and pickled beet juice. That was a mess but it could have been worse after thirty days at sea!

Lessons from our long passage: messy fridge
This is what our fridge looked like when I could finally empty it after 30 days at sea

By far the messiest issue was in the heads/bathrooms. At some point in the past year, our backup head stopped draining. Brian found a corroded v joint in the pipes meaning our shower (floor drain) and sink were draining into each other and not off the boat. That head is on the starboard side, the side we were heeled to for most of the passage. I chose to close the door on that room rather than look at the water pooling on the floor since we couldn’t fix it underway. Out of sight, out of mind.

Entertainment and Communication Tips


We both read a lot on the passage. For the first 21 days, we read downloaded library books, but after that, when they expired, it was reading hard copies we’d accumulated on the boat. When you’re used to only reading on your ipad, you forget you can’t read a proper book in the dark! From scifi novels and thrillers to books about boating and Oceania, reading kept us occupied on the long passage. Take it from me, one of the lessons from our longest passage is to bring lots of reading materials. Either download or hard copies, whatever you prefer.

Satellite Contact

Being able to text message friends and family was really nice. I wished my sister a Happy Birthday, sent my mom regular updates so she would worry less, and we got lots of news and jokes from friends. Weather reports were mostly inaccurate, but Australian jokes from Kate, sports scores from Beau in Canada, and everybody’s positive messages brightened some mostly banal and occasionally uncomfortable days at sea. Once we knew the Iridium wasn’t charging, we switched to the backup Garmin device and Brian could message from an app on his phone.

Netflix Expires

After a few weeks, Netflix shows that you’ve downloaded expire. Generally, this isn’t a problem because you just need to “renew” it. On a long passage without internet, renewing a Netflix download is impossible. Fortunately we had Black Sails on my laptop. But one of our lessons from our long passage was that Netflix is not great if you won’t have internet for a long time. Not that thirty days without internet is common so it really doesn’t matter.

What I Missed

The top thing I wanted when we got to shore was to walk! Thirty days at sea, a lot of them quite rough, meant a lot of sitting or lying down. I tried to walk up and down our 3 steps from the cockpit to the cabin, but that wasn’t always easy and it was repetitive. Since arriving in Marquesas three weeks ago, we have been on several hikes and are loving the freedom to move on land. I thought I would be able to do some simple weight exercises on the boat, but it really was too rolly most of the time.

Land Ho! French Polynesia

Seeing land after 26 days, whenever it was we left Panama in the rearview, was not how I expected. I thought it was going to be revelatory, and our eyes would tear up at this exciting return to civilization! Instead, we didn’t know if we really saw land or our eyes were tricking us when we spotted the Marquesan island through clouds in the distance.

Land ho!
Land ho!

Once we confirmed with each other it wasn’t a mirage, we cheered, and then sailed another two days before anchoring in the dark in Nuku Hiva, and another sleep before we went ashore and found that after thirty days we could still walk on land, talk like normal cruisers, and handle basic tasks.

Hopefully we can take these lessons learned from our longest passage and do better on our next voyages, all of which I hope will be much shorter.

French Polynesia is already one of the favorite places we’ve been on our boat. Yes, it’s more expensive than anywhere we’ve sailed besides The Bahamas, but it is also breathtakingly beautiful and full of kind and friendly people. From the day we bought the boat and began planning our lives aboard, we’ve wanted to come here. It took over three years, and we are happy we came. As our long-stay visa is processing, we get to explore and enjoy all the islands for the next year.

Author: Mel

Living aboard a sailboat, blogging about the places we visit and the adventures we have. Love hiking, cycling, scuba, animals and adventure.

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