the pacific is not a “puddle” to be “jumped”

I’ve wondered how I was going to write this for a while now… Sure, we arrived in French Polynesia less than a week ago, but we had a ridiculously long crossing to think about it, and at various times it took many different shapes…

The general consensus though is this – you can try to polish a turd, but ultimately it’s still shit no matter how you look at it…. That pretty much sums up our crossing, and I could happily leave it at that so I don’t have to relive it, but I wanted to add our experience to the collection of pacific crossing blogs and let the people out there thinking of doing it in the future know, that yes, it can be a shitty ride!

Ok, lets start at the beginning…. We left from Punta de Mita on the 27th of March, opting to weigh anchor on a thursday night and motor out for a day to the forecast wind, rather than risk a Friday departure – I’m not that superstitious, but it can’t hurt to be careful when about to sail 2800 miles! To be honest, I got a shitty feeling right as we were leaving and if it wasn’t unjustifiable, I would have happily not have left – I had just replaced our anchor bridle hook with a new fancy $60 one, and the damn thing jammed on its first use and wouldn’t let go of the chain – I remember thinking “not a great sign to start the trip with” but put it down to nerves…

one of those rare days we didn't get launched off the floor!

one of those rare days we didn’t get launched off the floor!

We motored out for 18 hours until the wind filled in and started sailing -  first at 4 knots then gaining speed to hit 6′s, thats when we started getting the first of our slaps.  The achilles heel of a cat is the bridge deck (the part of the boat over the water between the 2 hulls) and more importantly the bridge deck clearance which we don’t have enough of, but other than my first trip from SF to Mexico we’ve never had any trouble running with the waves….. well now we did!  It wasn’t too bad, and we dropped the main to slow down a little, holding 4 knots (still 100 mile days) and smoothing the ride out. This carried on for a few hours then the wind dropped and we drifted… for  days…. I’ll do another post after this with the crossing by the numbers and show our daily milages, but around this time 60-70 miles was about it for a 24 hour run…

chillin with bubba

chillin with bubba

Around 10days out we were getting rolled around by swell from 3 directions, and all at about 5 sec intervals, the wind was blowing at  10-15 kts and we were getting wave after wave rolling under us shaking the floor or coming in from the aft quarter and breaking on the inside hull.  Either way it was NOISY and BUMPY inside…  and we were only making 3.5 to 4kts. All boats will flex to some degree, and when you are 25 feet wide, you have to get used to a reasonable amount of movement in the floor under your feet when a wave pushes it up, let me say it takes a hell of a lot to get used to it… And I never did.

At this point I seriously thought about turning back… it was 650 miles back to Cabo san Lucas and less than that to the islands we had passed a week earlier if we needed to get fuel.  It would have been a long slow trip into the wind and waves, but we had the fuel to do it and I was struggling to trust our floating homes’ ability to hold her shit together for 2000 more miles of slams.  I slept on it, crunched the numbers, looked at Ted’s course plan if we did turn and took some photos of the belly with a boathook… It was decided that it wasn’t that bad that we needed to go back, there was no damage, other than my nerves, and the sound of a drum is always louder from the inside – so on we went. We tried everything we could think of – different courses, different sail configurations, speeding up, slowing down and found nothing much helped.  Going faster was easier to steer and made the slamming less frequent, but when it did, it seemed harder and if we were caught side on by one of the 2 directions we weren’t running with, it would roll us bad enough that I slowed us back down rather than risk burying a bow or worse…

Day 16 had us near 9°N and we started getting our first squalls – nothing too bad, winds never really got into the 30′s for long, and they were usually only lasting half an hour or so… Oh yeah, and the autopilot died… great news, now we get to hand steer ALL THE SODDING TIME….

We had these doldrums conditions for about a week, the first few days we would get strong squalls come through giving us our best sailing of the trip, hitting 6′s and 7′s but only for a half hour and then it was back to 3′s and 4′s in a rolly mushy sea.  We motor sailed or motored for most of the week, adding an engine at low rpms to maintain steerage and minimize the slamming that was still plaguing our sleep – probably mine more than anyone elses – it was my stupid idea to cross and it was NOT what the brochure had promised, thats for sure…

Almita testing her sea legs with Ted

Almita testing her sea legs with Ted

We jumped in the water during one calm period a few degrees north of the equator and cleaned all the goose barnacles off the bottom, hoping to regain some speed.  The water was amazingly clear, not that there was anything to see, just more blue in every direction.  In the hour we spent splashing around, we drifted 1.5 miles north, which explained our stupidly slow speeds over ground at the time, heading into a 1.5 knot current will make for long days goin nowhere…

On Day 25 we crossed the equator, Ted being the only shellback on board took on the role of Neptune and led the trials for each of us as we argued our case to be rid of our pollywog status and become shellbacks as well!  I don’t think Alma quite got what was going on, but she seemed happy to be able to leave the inside of the boat for a change!

the captain and Alma in Neptune's court

the captain and Alma in Neptune’s court

It seemed like there was a switch attached to the equator.  As soon as we crossed we got into steadier wind and managed to start holding speeds above 4 and generally into the 5′s.  We covered the last 800 miles in less than a 7 days, normally normal, but for this trip a pleasant change! We still had the slamming to put up with, but would try to run a quieter course over night so people could get some sleep, and regain our lost angles during the day.  The weather forecasts were showing the wind steady around 10-15 kts, but we had it consistent at 25 for most of the week, makes for better speed, but also bigger waves, with some of the swell rolling through over 3M and still too close together to be called organized. But we were getting closer, albeit exhausted from having to hand steer constantly in a messy sea way, and in my case, with totally frazzled nerves from the still constant slams and salon floor jelly impersonations…

Finally, as the sun came up on day 32, the island of Nuku Hiva came into sight.  and as we motored into the bay the feeling of relief that came with it is hard to describe….

landfall in Nuku HIva

landfall in Nuku HIva

I had spent an entire month alternating between kicking myself for wanting to cross and hating myself for putting Sabine and Alma through it.  Every passage report you read talks of steady trade winds, and organized seas, neither one of which we experienced.  It was also a case of exactly the wrong wave period that really knocked us about -a longer period between them would have seen us rolling over them better, and there are definitely improvements that can still be made to Sea Raven to improve the ride, but overall I think I just underestimated how messy it could get out there.

The reality is, we made it, and despite all the banging and crashing there was basically no damage, again, except for my nerves – I’m pretty sure I aged a year out there!  But I can safely say this – NEVER AGAIN!!!!

From here on out we have 5 x 5-600 mile jumps to get us to Fiji, and I will happily fire up an engine to keep us in the 5-6 knot speeds when the wind drops, making it no more than 5 days at a time, touch wood!

eyes as blue as the water

eyes as blue as the water

But first we rest and recover, and there are far worse places to do that!

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20 responses to “the pacific is not a “puddle” to be “jumped”

    • definitely more stressful than the brochure would have you believe! But the islands are beautiful and we’ve only just begun our journey!
      Thanks for reading and commenting too, when I get some more internet time, I’m looking forward to reading through your blog!

  1. Great chronicle of the journey! We’re glad to hear that the journey was safe and that Sea Raven kept herself together. It’s a happy thought to imagine the three of you enjoying the lushness of the South Pacific. Give hugs to the girls for us!
    – Katie and Mark

    • Thanks guys and good to hear from you! Glad its over with and from here out its 4/5 days at sea max until we hit fiji and put the brakes on for a while! How’s the homestead coming along? There were times I would have traded anything to me beamed off the boat with the girls and dropped in the mountains into a cabin, with a woodfire and vege garden!
      hugs shared and returned!!

  2. We THOUGHT of doing it, planned on it, made many purchases for it, and then did more planning. At some point the surf in Mita just told us not to go… Reading this only confirms how happy I am we never did the jump.

    p.s. “puddle jump” – who ever thought of THAT name?

    • great choice!! It took willpower not to turn around about 700 miles out, we figured it had to start getting more organised soon! Yeh right! But we made it, and it IS beautiful here! No cheap tacos and beer though…. ;(

      • To be horrible honest with you – that is a big part of what sealed the deal. When we started attending all the seminars, and they talked about filling fuel jugs with rum we pretty much decided the trip was not for us!

        Oh how I have no shame.

        I’m just sorry your crossing was not fun, it really is promised to be an easy thing! Ugh.

  3. We were part of the P.P.J. last year and this year I wrote a letter to Lat. 38 explaning that what we were told in the P.J. seminars are not necessarily what the real experience is like, and I offered to write my experiences down so they could share them with the people jumping this year. Never heard a word back, I took this as a sign that there is a control issue with Lat. 38 and that they are not really trying to get info. out to help cruisers. I did write to friends in La Cruz and had them pass my info. to people jumping, I wish I could have gotten the info. to you. Please try to make your story available to people jumping next year, and do enjoy the S.P. it is special down here. John Campbell

    • Thanks for your comment John! I don’t think the problem is Latitude as such, but more that none of the seminars seem to be given by anyone who has actually crossed in the last 10 years. Things have changed, and maybe once upon a time the north pacific offered up some nice trade wind sailing, but the majority of people I have spoken to that crossed in the last 2 years are leaning more to our side of the fence… its not that all the info that they are offering up is useless, its that they are sending often inexperienced sailors out in to the pacific with out realistic expectations of what to expect. I’m guessing many couples who crossed would have taken extra crew had they known, I’m sure glad we did! I agree that they should definitely offer up reports that aren’t all rainbows and dolphins.

  4. Rough ride!! Glad you all make it safely!!!! One main thing we will look for in a prospective cat if we get one for ocean crossings is enough bridge deck clearance. Good luck on the rest of your passages to Fiji!!! At least they are a bit shorter :)

    • I’ve been talking to all the cats, and everyone had some slamming. The least seemed to be on a 65 kurt hughes design, with about 3 feet of clearance, but the consensus was that going a little faster helped, but in a confused sea with no auto pilot, that takes a lot of concentration, so we went slower. I’m learning a lot about cat design as we go, and I’m starting to come around to your Catana idea!

      • Hahaha yep :) if only they weren’t so expensive!!! Having the autopilot fail is a huge downfall! Sounds like it was particularly bad conditions though.

  5. Glad you made it! We had the same experience with confused seas and slow boats. 33 days for us last year. Ick. But it’s worth it in the end, and you quickly forget about the pain of the passage when you get to enjoy the beauty of the islands!

    • baguette and brie picnics help, thats for sure! I’m about to go back through your blog from last year to get ideas, hows the trip going for you two? where you playing these days?

  6. We are so glad you guys made it and also kinda, sorta happy we didn’t go! Though picnics with you guys make it more tempting.

    • was a rolly-polly trip thats for sure, missing mexico a bit, but settling in… still waiting for Adamastor to come in to the bay so the girls can hang out and day-dream about Jari

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