To prepare for our trip to the Marquesas islands which was about 4,000 NM. (7,200 km) away we filled our diesel and water tanks and went to the supermarket to buy fresh produce like meat, vegetables and fruits. There were other boats that were also sailing to the Marquesas and so everyone was busy doing the same things. We saw cruisers carrying large sacks of potatoes, oranges, etc. and there was even one that had 20 kilos of pumpkin! We didn’t buy that much because you can’t t save the fresh produce that long anyway and you end up throwing the rest of it which is a waste.
We left the mainland of Panama on February 17 and sailed first to the Panamanian archipelago of Las Perlas which was 40 NM. away. When we were 25 NM. from the coast we suddenly saw a flock of pelicans hovering and diving on one spot in the ocean. When we came closer to the pelicans we saw that there were also a lot of dolphins swimming in that same area so we figured that there must be a school of fish the pelicans and dolphins were feeding on. A few minutes later the color of the water changed to red. We first thought it was blood and it looked quite morbid seeing all that blood but when we looked closely we saw that it was krill which were billions of tiny crustaceans that fish and whales feed on.
We anchored at one of the uninhibited islands of Las Perlas and that night when we were in bed we heard a strange sound which was the singing and exhaling of the whales. This went on for half an hour and they were close by but when Erwin looked outside he couldn’t see them because it was too dark.
The next day we anchored at another island in Las Perlas. There was no wind at all so we decided to stay and wait there for a few days until we had wind. At least there we could replenish our fresh produce and refill our water tanks. Since we had to wait anyway, we did the laundry and Erwin did some maintenance on the boat like greased the winches and (again) removed the algae and barnacles at the bottom of the boat. There were other boats waiting just like us so we got together once in a while and helped each other whenever needed.
One day, we had an unexpected guest stay with us for the night because we saw a bat sleeping upside down on our steering wheel. He still slept the whole morning and didn’t even seem to hear us even though we were busy talking and doing all kinds of things in the cockpit. My sister said that it was considered good luck to have a bat nest in your home but our luck was short lived because it dropped dead on the floor a couple of hours later 😩. So it probably separated from the group and came to our boat just to die in peace. Too bad, at least we gave it a proper sea man’s burial ✝️.
After eight days of waiting, there was still not a lot of wind but we decided that it was about time to go and sail off to the longest leg of our journey which was to the Marquesas.
A remarkable day
We anchored up in the afternoon and sailed between the islands of Las Perlas. Because there was a passage that was quite shallow we had to wait until it was high tide before we could pass. The scenery between the islands was beautiful. Once we passed the islands and were in the Gulf of Panama the color of the sea again turned to red. This time we knew right away it was because of the krill. I told Erwin that we might see whales because there was a lot of krill which the whales feed on and two hours later, we saw the whales! 😃 There were four of them and although from a distance we could see them jumping out of the water. The wind weakened so we were just cruising slowly and the sea was calm. An hour after we saw the whales, Erwin noticed something strange swimming and it even jumped out of the water. He first thought it was a moon fish but after a while we realized that we were completely surrounded by hundreds of manta rays. We once saw a film on National Geographic about the manta rays. During mating season they would gather all together and the males would jump more than a meter out of the water to attract and impress the females. We were lucky to be at the right place at the right time because we were right in the middle of this. Every where we looked we could see manta rays jumping out of the water and when they landed it sounded like someone landing flat on his stomach. This went on for a few hours because at night we could still hear them land in the water. It was a dark night because there was no moon but because the water was filled with plankton that illuminated it looked like there were millions of stars in the water. It looked quite magical especially when a group of dolphins swam around our boat that night for an hour. Because of the iluminating plankton the silhouettes of the dolphins would light up bright green on the surface like a light show. This day was truly remarkable because in just a few hours we have seen so much marine life in one place than anywhere else we have been before.
Before we left Las Perlas we checked the wind forecast and saw that there was a doldrum that we had to pass first before we had the easterly trade winds (a doldrum is an area between the Northern and Southern hemisphere usually characterized by having no wind at all). Because there was no wind we couldn’t use our sails and so we floated with the current at an average speed of 1.5 knots (2.7 km an hour). It was hard to believe we were in the Pacific Ocean because the surface was as flat as a mirror. The worst part was that the heat was unbearable because it was more than 30 degrees and there was no wind at all to cool you off. Since the area of the doldrum was about 600 NM. it would take us 16 days instead of 5 to pass the doldrum. That meant consuming more water and food than we calculated. So, taking all these factors into consideration we decided to turn on the engine and motored for 5 days.
They say that when you pass the equator the God of the Sea, Neptune will come on board your ship. There is a tradition that you should offer Neptune something to please him and hopefully he will bless you with a safe journey.
Before we left Holland a friend, Doede Wilkens gave us a symbolic gift and said that we should open it when we were about to pass the equator. The gift was a pancake mix and the intention was for us to bake pancakes once we passed the equator and offer a pancake to Neptune.
When we were approaching the equator we constantly looked at the plotter to check when we were going to pass it. It felt like the countdown on New Year’s Eve and on March 4 at 21.10 h. UTC (16.10 h. local time) our latitude position was 00.00′.000N which meant that we were at the equator. In just a few seconds we left the Northern hemisphere and entered the Southern hemisphere. And according to tradition we offered the God Neptune a drink and a freshly baked pancake and asked him to grant us a safe journey.
Easterly trade winds ???
Most sailing books we read and the cruisers we spoke to who have crossed the Pacific told us that there is always a constant easterly wind that blows 15-20 knots. When we were finally out of the doldrums, we had a bit of wind but it was still not as much as we expected. The average wind speed was about 6-10 knots. We also noticed that the boat’s speed was slower than usual. When Erwin went to the front of the boat to look he saw that there were already a lot of barnacles growing under the boat, and that after just less than two weeks!! We couldn’t believe the barnacles were growing that fast and the worst part was we knew it was going to get worse in the next few weeks. We were already halfway and we still did not pick up the strong easterly winds. When was this going to happen?! It was only after we sailed 2,300 NM. (more than halfway) that it finally came. The winds blew 15-20 knots and although our normal speed was reduced to half because of the barnacles we were finally averaging more than 100 NM. per day. We calculated that at this speed the whole trip would take about five weeks but as the saying goes “don’t count your chicks before they hatch” because after eleven days the wind weakened. 😩 We still needed to sail 600 NM. (1,080 km) and at the rate we were going it was taking us forever.
Provisioning and Fishing
Our fresh produce of meat lasted for three weeks and the vegetables for four weeks. After that, our gourmet dinners were mainly from the canned goods I stocked up when we were in France and Spain. Erwin tried fishing but he only caught one mahi mahi during the whole trip. He also had bait three times but the fish was so big that the fishing line broke every time and one time, even the fishing rod broke in two pieces. We were quite disappointed because during the Atlantic crossing we caught a fish everyday and sometimes even twice a day. We spoke to other cruisers later on and they told us that they hardly caught any fish either.
Last 330 nautical miles
When we still had 330 NM. to go we heard a strange squeaking sound which was getting louder and louder. It was coming from the automatic steering pilot which was breaking down. Erwin tried to repair this but he couldn’t fix it because there was a spare part he needed which we didn’t have. That meant that we had to manually steer the boat until we reached our destination. We alternated every three hours day and night for four days in a row. This was quite tough and tiring because somebody had to stay behind the steering wheel all the time and so your movement was limited. We were really glad when we finally reached our destination.
After forty days (!) we finally arrived at Fatu Hiva, one of the Marquesas islands in French Polynesia. Other boats that left Panama the same day and sailed the same route we did also sailed for forty days. We later found out from other cruisers we met at the Marquesas, who sailed much further south that it took them about thirty days to cross. This was very frustrating to hear.
Our overall experience of the Pacific crossing was not what we expected. We had the strong easterly winds only for two weeks and because we hardly had any wind in combination with the bigger waves, the ride was not pleasant at all. Because of the barnacles that reduced our speed to half, we had to use our water and fuel more sparingly because we had no idea how long the trip would take.
To sum it up – Are we proud we did it? Definitely! It was an achievement not many people have done but if you ask us if it is something we would do again? Not really. We’ve done it and we know how it is. Maybe the next time we will be more lucky and have stronger winds but since the weather is something you can not control we would rather sail shorter distances where we are closer to the shore 😉.