Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mexico to Marquesas

31 days at sea. That is how long it took to sail Echo from Mexico to the Marquesas. Most would count the days, one by one, dreaming of the time when they could finally get a freshwater shower and an iced drink. To most, it would seem an arduous voyage laced with sacrifices of the most basic conveniences available in the 'civilized' world. To me, it was a liberating time that allowed me to leave behind the responsibilities of land to focus simply on sailing.

On the 22nd of March, 2012 the sailing yacht Echo set sail from Ensenada, Mexico bound for Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas. She was well stocked for the voyage, her lockers stuffed with food, tanks full to the brim, and all the perceptibly necessary spares were loaded on. Her bootstripe was no longer gingerly kissing the ripples of water as they lapped on her sides but now plunging deeply into the surface, only coming up for air when she rolled. Echo was ready, and so was her crew. We had never been to our destination, had never set out on such a small boat for longer than a week, and Echo herself had never sailed so many miles at once. We were setting off into the unknown. The feeling was exhilarating, but also one of great respect for our situation. Anything could happen out there, and there was nobody to rely upon but ourselves and our 55 year old wooden boat.

canned tuna!
On the evening of day one we landed a skipjack tuna, a welcome supplement to both our stores and our bellies that night. We ate half the fish over the next two days and used the pressure cooker to can the other half, a skill that I had become interested in and taught myself because of my grandmother's delicious homemade strawberry jam. Without refrigeration, canning the fish was a great way to preserve it, and it was eaten weeks later for a special treat during our crossing of the equator.

Damage from the jib boom
It was still cold, the sea was rough and as I was being tossed around Echo's small cabin I imagined us as two yachtzee dice being shaken in a wooden cup. At least, that's what I felt like. I awoke on day two to find that sometime in the night the jib boom's gooseneck had sheared a bolt, forcing the boom forward and tearing a chunk of mahogany with it. This was bad, and I needed to repair the damage that had been done. Just to the south was a little known island, a Mexican nature preserve, called Guadelupe. I planned to anchor the vessel off Guadelupe for a day while I made repairs. Unfortunately the nature of rocky seabed and the lack of a good protected anchorage in the area kept me sailing on, only being there long enough to trade a bottle of wine for some fish with a couple of local fishermen.

just before her swim across the equator
The temperature was beginning to warm. With every degree of latitude that we moved south it was noticeably warmer, and in a few days we caught the tradewinds, putting a fresh breeze behind Echo's sail all the way to the equator. We had somehow missed the inter-tropical convergence zone. Better known as the doldrums it is an area famous for it's light winds and frequent heavy squalls. For centuries the doldrums have plagued sailors, sometimes becalming them for weeks at a time, with winds only coming in the form of strong thunderstorms. At that time of year the doldrums were meant to be between 2 and 9 degrees north, but we had seen none of it. The wind only ceased long enough for Tine to accomplish her goal of swimming across the equator. At 8:14pm on the 10th of April we crossed over the center of the earth at latitude zero and longitude 129° 45.88' West.

Securing a flogging kite in the doldrums
Soon after our equator crossing however, our good luck with the winds had run out. We had found the doldrums, though not in their expected position, they were there. The sea flattened, and the wind died. I've seen ponds that had more ripples on their surface, and been inside buildings that had a stronger breeeze. Echo was completely becalmed for days. The hot and sweaty weather was no longer augmented by a temperate breeze, and sweating in place was all that we could do. I could have easily fired up Echo's diesel motor and powered our way south of this area, but it was against my principles. Captain Cook didn't crank a diesel to get him around an area of rotten wind, and neither would I. So we sat, and we sweat. On Friday the 13th of April we went backwards 2.6 miles, rolling our way further from our destination. The winds were taking back our hard earned miles and chipping away at our resolve. It's difficult to describe the feelings of a sailor caught in the doldrums, but the best I can come up with is something in between frustration and helplessness. However we took advantage of the storms when they came, and eventually drifted our way to four degrees south where we picked up the trades again. Immediately our spirits were lifted, and we had just over 500 miles to go.

The last 500 miles were the home stretch, and Echo dashed through them with amazing speeds. With only the spinnaker up, we made just over 160 miles in one day. Echo was ready to get there, but her crew was somewhat apprehensive. We had seen the great open ocean. We had crossed thousands of miles, and seen the endless starry nights. We had traveled for weeks on merely wind and solar power, self sufficient in our ways. We had gotten so good at saving fresh water that we only used 190 liters (45 US gallons) between the two of us. The constant rolling of the boat that had once been a nuisance was now just normal. We slept well, ate well, and got into a rhythm with the sea. We had left behind all that we knew and immersed ourselves so well in this new world that it was now our new 'normal'. I wasn't sure if I wanted the voyage to end. I was simply enjoying seafaring and didn't much care about cold drinks ashore, such luxuries seemed trivial and unecessary. I wanted to get to the destination because that is what I had set out to do, but rather than looking forward to our arrival I began to see it as an end to a glorious voyage.

at our anchorage off Nuku Hiva
On the morning of April 21st our destination was in sight. The huge mountains of Nuku Hiva were in the distance. The familiar smell of the sea was replaced by one of vegetation and cooking fires. It was almost surreal to see land again. Just before noon we anchored in Taiohe bay, suddenly in the presence of other people and land. There was a great sense of accomplishment, having spent 31 days at sea braving both squalls and calms over the course of 2990 nautical miles. At first it seemed to be the end of a great voyage, but in reality it is the beginning. It is the beginning of our inter-island exploration, for from here we will be jumping from one tropical paradise to the next and getting to know the people and customs of largely forgotten and unknown areas of the world. For me, substance is found mostly in the voyage, not the destination. However the voyage hasn't ended, it is simply a different one. One that will be supplemented by fresh mangoes!

Unfortunately I will be unable to add more photos or posts until I can secure a reliable internet connection.


  1. YES... you made it! I had been keeping an eye on the blog for word of your arrival. Sounds like it was a great passage. Maybe a suggestion for a blog post would be tips on canning the tuna? I'm not going to have refrigeration and had never thought of canning leftover fish. Great idea.

  2. Rob, that is too damn cool. I'm proud of you, glad you both made it safely.

  3. We have been thinking of you! LOVE your blog, I see a book in your future! Want to meet Tine too.

  4. Just read your post for the second time and love it! Love you and your pictures too:)

  5. Congrats Rob! This is awesome! Look forward to your further adventures. Very proud you, good job Brother.

  6. Hey, Rob and Tine, Thanks for your blog posts. They are a gift to all of us. I am now working for West Marine, and selling a lot of tethers. It has been a rough month for California sailors in the racing community with the apparent loss of 9 sailors in two incidents. Stay safe.

    I am thrilled to see people following their dreams and inspiring others!