It took us 36 days, plenty of wind and sail power and just three litres of diesel to cover the 4 044 nm (7 300km) across the Pacific Ocean from Panama to the Marquesas. On weighing Moondust’s anchor at 06:15 on Easter Saturday at the southern end of the Panama Canal, the white full moon still hung in the sky to starboard while the sun peeped through warm orange cirrus clouds to port.
We had a pleasant start to the longest passage we will encounter in our circumnavigation (across this first stretch of the Pacific Ocean) with no seasickness on my part, light winds and a beautiful Mackerel on our fishing line!
Pete just started to clean our catch when we hooked a second but unfortunately, with an energetic thrash of its tail, this one slipped out of his hands once on board. Fortunately we caught a third whilst he was still cleaning the first, and this job wasn’t yet done when the wind suddenly picked up to 20 knots and we had to quickly reef the main sail.
Panama lies in a large wind ‘hole’ and is notoriously difficult to sail out of. We were lucky enough to find a good weather window, with light, favourable winds for the first four days, albeit with a 20 hour spell of no wind. However, thanks to a favourable current we kept moving and managed to escape from the Gulf of Panama on our third day at sea. Later, when the wind dropped, we put up our genneker.
Our new IridiumGo was performing flawlessly and provided excellent weather information, from which we decided to sail north around the Galapagos Islands. Once close to these islands the Red-footed Booby’s started to appear, and initially, we had a lot of fun watching these beautiful birds with their bright red legs, pink bills with a blue base and intense black eyes, fighting for room on the front pulpits and grooming themselves for hours on end.
However, when their numbers reached 14 I discovered a louse on board and Pete had noticed how they messed on the bows of the boat, so the captain decided that these rude guests were no longer welcome.
It was hilarious to watch Pete scuttling from port to starboard, trying to chase them away, but unperturbed, they simply flew to the opposite side. Finally we realised that blowing our vuvuzela would scare them and we laughed, watching them ‘lighting their afterburners’ following a loud blast as they came in to land.
For several days we made slow progress as we had very light following winds and an adverse current. On most mornings the decks were scattered with dead flying fish and squid. After we investigated a nasty smell, we even discovered a squid on top of the bimini roof, about three metres above the water! On two occasions flying fish landed inside the cockpit at night and one even made its way into the saloon!
On our whole crossing we saw only two ships and on one night watch I had to radio one of these, the Giorgeos Douvelish, and request it to alter course as it was heading directly for us. As we passed Darwin, the most northerly of the Galapagos islands, the wind turned south-southeast and we had a wet and bumpy ride for two days beating into it. Fortunately the adverse current, which had thus far caused us to sail an extra 250 nm through the water, finally now turned in our favour, so our speed over ground was good.
Then over the next week the wind varied from light to reasonable while the blue arrow on the chartplotter indicated that the current came from all directions. On one of these nights I saw the most magical thing… I came up at 23h00 for my watch and was sitting on the captain’s chair, trying to wake up, when I heard splashes in the water. As it was such a calm night (only four knots of wind) I broke our golden rule of not exiting the cockpit at night without using a safety harness tether. There was no moon and it was cloudless, the sky filled with millions of stars. Ahead I could clearly see the silver streaks of a school of dolphins playing between the bows, and, as in the movie ‘The life of Pi’, I could see lines of phosphorescence as they swam through the water, broken briefly as they jumped, their rounded bodies then clearly visible. This amazing show lasted about twenty minutes…
Crossing the equator
On the 17th day we crossed the equator, still hoping to pick up the trade winds and at last a consistent, favourable current. However, the strong trades of up to 30 knots never materialised, ours varying between very light (we sailed with our Genneker for quite a few days) to moderate. We had good wind of 15 – 17 knots for only one day.
Our days were long, punctuated by a review of the weather, making fresh water, boat inspections, sail changes and meals. Pete was happy to read but I preferred the variety of reading and doing sudoku and crossword puzzles. We both missed exercise, but writing and receiving mail from our friends and family broke up the routine.
On the 20th day we crossed the physical halfway mark and on our 34th day at sea we saw the first sailboat since we left Panama waters. We called ‘The Lucky One’ on the VHF radio and had a nice chat. The next morning Urubu came into view and we had a chat with them as well.
As I surfaced just after 07:00 on our 37th day, I could see a majestic, black mountain rising from the sea to port. It was so wonderful to see land again that I almost felt emotional. At 09:30, with a great feeling of satisfaction at having traversed this great stretch of ocean, we dropped anchor in The Bay of Virgins on the west of Fatu Hiva, the most beautiful anchorage in the Marquesas and a fitting landfall.
Everyone who has made this crossing recognises the effort and self reliance that it takes and, as it was evident that we had just arrived, with Moondust’s hulls covered with goose barnacles and brown and green stains above the waterline, we were warmly welcomed by several of the 17 other yachts in the anchorage. We were pleased not to have had any breakages, unlike many we had heard of making this crossing.