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!
Overheating and power shutdowns
A few nights in a row, soon after I went to bed for my sleep shift, all the power in the boat shut off. Each time it turned on quickly but we were both on high alert! Our auto pilot, lights, and chart plotters – everything went OFF! That is terrifying. It was only for seconds each time but we couldn’t figure it out. Especially since it was happening on nights we’d charged the battery.
Which Brian realized is the reason!
The generator was over-heating the batteries. Soon after we turned the generator off the batteries would shut down. After that, whenever we needed to run the generator, we opened the battery compartment to allow air flow. Problem temporarily solved. It was a relief when Brian solved this problem because losing power in the middle of the night in the middle of the ocean is pretty nerve-wracking! Since arriving in Polynesia, we’ve already bought and installed small computer fans in the battery compartment.
Wow this device was a huge bust! It charged for maybe a week of the trip and then stopped. We resorted to turning it on a few times a day to ping the map and otherwise used our backup Garmin device to connect to the world. We are seriously disappointed in the performance of Iridium Go.
For about 10 days in the middle of the voyage, the sea state sucked. Some days we couldn’t leave our seats without falling back down or hitting something. I had quite a few bruises!
On those days, we ate granola bars, crackers, and nuts from the snack drawer I created in the cockpit. We drank lots of water and tried to nap. We took turns sleeping wedged on the salon sofa.
A week of these conditions was rough on our bodies and spirits. Bracing ourselves against the unrelenting tilting was one thing, but then the occasional crash! or bang! at unexpected intervals drove home how little power we had over anything around us. After days of the same, it was difficult to stay positive. We got through it and eventually the waves subsided and we were comfortable again. That was the worst part of the passage and I don’t want to repeat it.
Good thing we have a freezer because we caught zero fish! In fact we lost 2 corks and 2 lures early on and just gave up on fishing once it got rough. It wasn’t worth our time. We clearly need some lessons!
Even though we couldn’t catch live fish, fish enjoyed coming on board Sava to die. Our foredeck was littered with mostly flying fish and also some inky squid which we had to peel off and toss back in the water. Many of these got caught in the jib sail which smelled terrible when we finally emptied it.
Our Jib Sail
On Day 20 we lost our jib sail. Fortunately it happened in the morning and we were both out on deck. The clip attaching the top of the sail to the furler broke and down flowed the sail onto the deck and into the sea. We were up on deck reconnecting the main to the mast and watched it all happen live.
The sail is big and heavy, especially when wet, so it took about 20 minutes of wrestling it onboard. We had to wrap one of the halyards around the sail and winch it to get it completely out of the water. Thankfully that didn’t happen at night but it did happen under rough seas. Which is why we wear our life jackets and tether in!
Losing the jib sail was the biggest boat problem on this trip so we think we came out on top. We still had our main and preventer so were able to point pretty well in the right direction with the wind behind the boat. We probably would have gone faster but since we conserved energy at the beginning of the trip, we could run our engine and make up some lost time.
Thirty Days at Sea From Panama to Polynesia: The Good Stuff
Surviving thirty days at sea from Panama to Polynesia makes us experienced old salts! After this, a 1000 mile trip sounds easy, as does cruising the South Pacific with this crossing under our belt. Here are some of the positives from our long voyage across The Pacific.
We Stayed Healthy
Considering we had rough seas for a big chunk of the trip, I didn’t get seasick. No headaches or nausea the entire time. I don’t know if it’s because I was already acclimated to the passage by the time the seas got rough, but feeling good was a nice positive! My worst seasick experiences were in Panama, so I stocked up on Sturgeron but didn’t need it on this voyage.
Besides a few bumps and bruises and Domino getting sick a couple of times, we were very healthy. More sleep would have been good, but no complaints!
Dolphins VISITED US
Our best spottings of marine life came in the first half of our thirty days at sea from Panama to Polynesia. Dolphins visited 3 times, and every time we watched with smiles on our faces. They really do make everything better. One visit was from a huge pod of spinners jumping in the air as they swam past our boat.
Birds roosted on our bow, mostly boobies for a few days near the Galapagos latitudes, and a small bird with no fear of people or cats came into our cockpit. Domino chased it down below and we had to rescue the cute thing before she killed it. Poor thing was not familiar with cats. Probably a sign as to why we couldn’t go to Galapagos!
We had a Buddy Boat
Soon after we left the marina in Panama City, another sailboat appeared behind us. Wildstar became our friends through VHF for the first few days, and then, when they moved ahead of us, on Garmin Text messages. What a pleasure it was to compare wind, weather, and bearings with Bob and Bonnie over our almost 30 days at sea! They tipped us on the anchorage and dinghy dock before we arrived and we finally got to meet them after anchoring. Buddy boats make trips better.
Domino is a salty old sailor who ranks with the best of them and I think she too is glad to have the thirty day passage behind her. She suffered from seasickness and hid in some burrows at the beginning, but by the end she was making frequent visits to the cockpit for food and company, and bobbing along to the rhythm of the waves. She didn’t adjust to the time zone changes, and wanted food all the time, but we put up with her for the snuggles.
I was prepared for a larger mix of weather conditions than we got. Wind was mostly below 20 knots and it only rained a couple of times over the thirty days. The worst part of the trip was the rough waves but the weather was calm.
Disconnecting and relaxing
There’s something to be said for spending almost a month without internet, just you, your partner, your cat and the sea. I’ll repeat, I don’t want to do it again, but I am still glad we did it. We saw some beautiful sunrises and sunsets, went through 4 1/2 time changes, and marveled at the stars at night! I almost downloaded the right amount of books, and read a few hard copies we had on board, Brian played guitar, and we appreciated our lots in life.
Cooking and Eating on the Passage
For the most part, aside from the snack food days, we ate pretty well. Our provisioning planning was solid and we had a lot of variety and could have lasted a lot longer than the trip took us. Because of the rough conditions, I would have liked more precooked meals because we ate all the chili, store-bought Jamaican patties, and gazpacho.
Our produce ration was perfect. We enjoyed a good mix of fresh fruit and still have a few containers of juice and a bag of frozen berries. No scurvy for the Sava crew!
Veggies lasted too. We ate the last eggplant on our final night and still had one squash and a few onions and potatoes which lasted over a month. I did break open some canned mushrooms and a bag of frozen veg, but we could have gone another couple weeks if needed. Thankfully it wasn’t needed!
We gave up drinking alcohol for the passage. It seems safer so as to be alert and ready for any emergency and probably sleep better too. That was easy and we didn’t miss it. The only time we “cheated” was the shot of rum to Neptune when we crossed the Equator. We each had a sip and poured a shot into the sea. Apparently it’s a tradition!
Surprisingly, I also baked on passage. I made bread, bread rolls, focaccia twice because Brian loves it, and a pineapple upside down cake!
How do you cook and bake while the boat is tilted and rolly? My technique was to prepare everything in a bowl in the sink and hold on tight to the counter when we rolled. I did get flour everywhere a few times but it all came out ok!
The pineapple upside-down cake was delicious and a great use of an over-ripe pineapple! If enough people are interested, maybe I’ll do an update to my cooking on a boat post and share some of my passage recipes.
Recap of our Thirty Days at Sea From Panama to Polynesia
We travelled 3900 miles from Panama to Polynesia. It took us just under 30 days, considering we left at 12noon on Weds, April 6 and arrived in Marquesas at 8pm on Thursday, May 5th and Marquesas is 4.5 hours behind Panama. The fastest we’ve heard this season was 27 days, and the slowest was 60! We used about 40 hours of engine time and about 50 gallons of diesel. 6 chocolate bars, 10 bananas, 20 eggs, 9 oranges, and countless granola bars were consumed on our longest voyage.
Happy in French Polynesia
I am glad we did it and thrilled we are in THE SOUTH PACIFIC! Our next few sails should range from 1 – 5 days which compared to this should seem easy. Hopefully. And Oh My God the Marquesas are stunning! We are exploring by land and sea and guess what? There’s a great cruiser community here with some people we haven’t seen since Bonaire, others we met in Panama, and new friends to meet in each bay! After 30 days at sea, we are savoring every minute.
8 thoughts on “Thirty Days at Sea From Panama to Polynesia”
Enjoy reading your entries. It’s like reading an adventure novel based on a true story. Glad you survived the longest stretch without a scratch. Clear Sailing. Love to both. Fred B.
Awesome adventure, way to go and thanks for sharing. Your experiences may encourage us to follow in your wake. I’m glad that you prewarned that your Iridum might be wonky as I would have been pretty worried otherwise. Cheers Sven & T.
Thanks Sven! If we knew now, we would have bought a back up battery and external charger for the iridium go. There wasn’t enough time!
Wow I am seriously impressed y’all. Well done! I already know I don’t have a n ocean crossing in my future – just doing three days along the Thorny Path is more rough water than I want. But I tip my hat to you guys and salute your courage and seamanship!
Honestly Karen I am glad I don’t have to do it again! Other passages may not be easier, but they will at least be shorter.
I am so proud of you guys. I do think you are both a little nuts. Please not again I only cruise on really really big big ships. And they cook for me make my bed do my laundry and entertain me. Well I am really old. Love you. Aunt Joann
Hahaha Aunt Joann. To each his own! Big hugs!
You two ROCK! Yes, literally too. It sounds good and bad, but better than I would have expected. I’m waiting for more photos and info.