The rain started early this year in the South Pacific. Rainy season normally hits The Society Islands in December. This November, rainy season in French Polynesia has already begun.
About The Tuamotus
The Tuamotu Islands are a French Polynesian archipelago located south and west of The Marquesas and east of the Society Islands. A natural progression for sailors is to visit The Tuamotus after landing in The Marquesas. Since we have a year in French Polynesia, we’ve already visited this area once, before Tahiti, and now again for part of cyclone season.
The motus (islands) are basically big sandbars interspersed with strips of coral. The atolls make nearly circular shapes, surrounding water, known as the lagoon, and creating nice protected anchorages. We visit the atolls with entrances, called passes, where the water between sandbars is wide and deep enough for boats to pass. While there are almost eighty islands, we can probably enter twenty on our sailboat.
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.
Convenience is Key
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.
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.
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.
Our longest passage yet will likely be our longest passage ever if I can choose. I expected the voyage from Panama to Polynesia to be a mix of bad and good. I was correct. Compared to others who did the journey, thirty days at sea from Panama to Polynesia was average. I’m happy it’s over.
Even on a short sail problems inevitably pop up, so with a 3800 mile+ passage, we knew anything could happen! Since we arrived in Nuku Hiva unharmed and with no major boat damage, we count ourselves lucky but the sail from Panama to French Polynesia was far from perfect.
Leaving Panama, we expected to have very little wind, and we were right. The first few days of the passage we crawled and we covered very little ground. In fact, many followers noticed our boat do a big circle on our map tracker. It wasn’t a mistake. With no wind and trying to conserve fuel that early in the trip, that was our actual course that day! Fortunately, that section of Panama was the lightest wind we had on the voyage. Unfortunately, it was the end of the warm weather. We were in hoodies soon after!
Even worse for us with our new lithium batteries and upgraded solar panels was the absolute lack of sun. While we didn’t have much rain and only a couple minor squalls on the trip from Panama to Polynesia, the clouds followed us for weeks! Fortunately we brought a lot of gas for our generator because we used it! We had to run it early and often to keep our battery – and autopilot and chart plotter – running at night. Which leads us to another problem!
We have a big trip ahead of us from Panama to French Polynesia (FP). The sail of over 3000 miles will take us around a month. Can I repeat that? Since we’re not going to The Galapagos, our sail will take about a month. Which is why we’ve spent most of our time prepping for our Pacific crossing. We want to do this right.
I had numerous checklists (I am that type) and our preparations fall into a few categories: making Sava ship-shape, getting everything we need for the passage, and mentally readying ourselves for the longest trip of our lives.
We are leaving today, so we’re done prepping for our Pacific crossing. We’ll see in a few weeks what we did right.
Getting Sava Ship-Shape
We’ve been pretty good about keeping Sava up-to-date, including our most recent lithium battery upgrade. But boats are like houses: something always breaks. Before we set sail, we want to make sure everything is in working shape, and that we have backups of our backups. It’s an important part of prepping for our Pacific crossing.
The spread of a worldwide pandemic has sent everyone scrambling, including we who live on sailboats. For cruisers who needed to be somewhere for hurricane season, Covid-19 has caused havoc. This is why we are social distancing in Antigua on board Sava.
The Caribbean cruising season runs from late October to early July. The rest of the year is hurricane season, when we hunker down or leave our boats somewhere safe and hope for the best. For us, safe is below latitude 12.4, which is why we spent last hurricane season in Grenada.
As the pandemic occurred during cruising season, we are in a state of limbo, scared and trying to take the changes day by day. We have until late June to get our boat somewhere safe or on the hard.