Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sailing the Kona coast on the Island of Hawaii

The sunset from beautiful Kealakekua Bay.
We could have stayed forever in Honomalino Bay, but there was no place to get water, so we headed to the next anchorage, Hookena.

As we entered the bay, a long rock wall with white letters spelling “Aloha” greeted us. We anchored next to a tall cliff riddled with holes and caves. The noise of the water echoed off the wall and back to us. Adjacent to the cliff is a beautiful beach with a popular campground and a dozen or so homes up from the beach.

It's hard to imagine now, but a century earlier Hookena was the major port in south Kona with regular visits from steam ships. We could see the remains of the old wharf and landing. In 1889 Robert Lewis Stevenson came to Hookena to escape the noise and confusion of Honolulu. While we were anchored here I read one of his short stories set partly in Hookena.

We visited the week before school started. There were lots of local families camping there, enjoying their last week of freedom. People are naturally curious about us when we come ashore. We often get peppered with questions. The most common is “What do you eat?” followed by “Do you sleep on your boat?” “How long did it take to sail here?” and “Are you scared?” We answer their questions and, if we like them, them to swim out and visit us, but this rarely happens.

The morning of our second day at Hookena, we looked out and saw three preteens (a brother, sister and the brother's friend) swimming to our boat. We recognized them as questioners from the day before and invited them aboard. We fed them cookies. The next day their older sister and mom swam out to visit us. It was a fun!
Although found on reefs throughout the topical Pacific, yellow tangs must like Hawaii the best. There are so many of them Kona get's its nickname "The Gold Coast" from their great numbers.
We enjoyed snorkeling every day at Hookena. The predominant fish is the ubiquitous yellow tang. There are so many on the Kona side of the Island of Hawaii that it is often called the Gold Coast. We even saw a rare color variant of a yellow tang that was mostly white. Some people call these ghost tangs.
Ghost tang.
We went scuba diving one day with our friend Garry and two of his guests, Ginger and Grant from Texas. We started at the old ruins of the wharf and found interesting rock formations including an arch near the point. The coral is healthy and abundant and so are the reef fish. Virginia saw a reticulated butterflyfish, an octopus, a pair of lined butterflyfish the size of dinner plates and other of our favorite rare fish. Diving the Big Island is always a treat.

Most mornings we were greeted with a pod of dolphins swimming around the boat. They usually stayed a couple of hours jumping and spinning around our boat. Brandon would don fins and mask and join them in the clear water. He would stay in one spot and let the dolphins swim past him. Virginia usually preferred to watch them perched on the deck box. She felt she could see more of the action that way.
Swimming with wild dolphins a Kealakekua Bay.
Some people are weird about swimmers in the water with the spinner dolphins. We are strongly against chasing or harassing them in any way. If you quietly stay in one place the dolphins usually come to you. They seem as interested in us as we are in watching them. A couple of locals who frequent the beach told us that last winter the park was closed because of an outbreak of Dengue Fever in the area. They admitted sneaking in while the park was closed and said they never saw the dolphins come into the bay to swim. Their opinion was the pod wasn't interested in visiting the bay when there are no swimmers to play with.

The Big Island is strict about staying anchored in the same place for more than 72 hours. We pushed our luck and stayed five days before we moved on.

The base of the Capt. Cook monument. 
Our next stop was Kealakekua Bay, best known as the place where Captain James Cook was killed in 1779. The main attraction to this bay is the Marine Conservation District in the north part of the bay and the monument memorializing the spot Cook died. The bay is rightly famous for its coral heads and many varieties of reef fish.

The first morning we were here, Virginia paddled over to the monument on the kayak. Brandon hung on to the back of the kayak for part of the way and swam part of the way from where we were anchored to the monument, about a mile. The effort was worth it. The coral and reef life near the monument was the most beautiful we have ever seen. Snorkel boats and guided groups of kayakers filled the water, but even that couldn't spoil the splendor of the surroundings.

You can't anchor or land a kayak anywhere in the marine conservation area near the monument, so we took turns: one of us staying with the kayak while the other climbed a badly-corroded steel ladder to view the Cook memorial.

Up to this point we hadn't encountered any other cruising boats in Hawaii, But we did meet an ex-cruiser while anchored at Kealakekua Bay. One afternoon, after returning from visiting the monument, a woman named Gretchen swam up to the boat and introduced herself, She said she cruised the South Pacific for a couple of years about a decade ago. We invited her aboard, handed her a towel, and had a wonderful visit. She now lives nearby Kealakekua, but she was born and raised on Kauai.

We enjoyed two beautiful sunsets and a very protected anchorage in Kealakekua Bay. There was almost no motion at night, almost like being in a marina -- not like most of the other anchorages that are open to waves and swell.

We weren't about to push our luck with the 72-hour rule at this anchorage and only stayed two nights then sailed on.
Sunset at Kailua Kona.
Our next stop was the busy town of Kailua Kona. We anchored just out of the harbor and next to a popular swimming lane. All day local people swam by our boat. Many of the swimmers would stop and visit with us. We enjoyed talking with them and several of them told stories about other boats who anchored without regard for the coral. They were impressed that Brandon always dove on the anchor to make sure it or the chain was not a danger to the coral.

Kailua Kona is the tourist hub of the Big Island and we enjoyed walking around this cute shops and historical sites. We ate some pretty good fish 'n chips at a restaurant with a great view of our boat. We also called our Uber girl, Gigi, and arranged for a Costco run and to pick up other supplies.

At anchor in rolly Kailua Kona.
The anchorage is well known for being one of the most consistently uncomfortable anchorage in the islands. We are pretty tolerant of rolly anchorages and were comfortable for the first four days. Then the wind and waves started coming from different directions and we soon learned why no one stays long in Kailua Bay. We decided to leave the next morning.

Alas, our charmed life turned against us. Our engine didn't want to work well. We messed with it all day and got it to function well enough that we could leave the next morning. It wasn't working perfectly, but we were able to get out of the harbor, put up our sails and head to Nishimura Bay, which is on the north end of the Big Island.

There we would wait for fair winds to cross the Alenuihaha Channel. This small bay had a rock wall and beautiful trees amid big lava rocks. Underwater was beautiful as well with plenty of coral and fish. We wished we had taken a picture but we didn't. The wind howled the two days we were anchored so we didn't dare go ashore or snorkel. We were safe in our little bay: while the water was calm in the anchorage, just outside we watched the white caps and big waves march by.

Short drying time in windy Honomalino Bay.
We finally met another cruising boat. They were a California couple who sailed their Hunter 45 sailboat to Hawaii four years ago. They now keep it in a Honolulu marina for most of the year while they are home in California and cruise the islands for a couple of months in the summer. They were headed to Hana on Maui. The day they left the winds looked wicked.

The U.S. Coast Guard warns the “channel is generally regarded as one of the most treacherous channels in the world because of strong winds and high seas.” The channel creates a venturi effect between two of the world's tallest mountains – on Maui, Haleakala and on Hawaii, Mauna Kea. The current generated by 2000 miles of trade winds is forced to funnel in between the two islands making for a strong current.

Our fair winds showed up the next morning, Aug. 16, and away we went. Like many of our passages, we were told how bad it would be. Once again, nothing evil happened and we actually enjoyed the windy sail to Maui. After all, why have such a great sailboat if you can't have wind to sail? Five hours later we dropped our anchor in a big sand patch at Big Beach on the south end of Maui.
Crossing the Alenuihaha Chanel was a blast!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Cruising isn't all sunshine and pretty fishes

Virginia takes advantage of windy Nishamura Bay on the
Island of Hawaii to dry a batch of laundry.
We often have people tell us, “you are living my dream!” Sometimes it feels like we are living a nightmare.

Blogs abound about the glorious sunsets, islands and fabulous experiences of cruising. No wonder it is a dream of so many – sailors and non-sailors alike – to sail away. But we want to tell the truth. What is it really like?

There is a saying that cruising can be defined as fixing your boat in exotic places. Things break... all the time. While most things we can fix, we have been frustrated for nearly two months with an engine that has stubbornly refused to work. Each time we thought we had it figured out, the fix didn't work. Our mechanic friend, Henry, did his best to analyze the problem over the phone. We appreciated his effort and knowledge, still, nothing worked. At one point we would have traded the boat for two one-way tickets home. Stuck in bouncy, murky anchorages is discouraging and not what we signed up for. (The engine saga continues in future posts. We think we've almost got it fixed.)

We have to fix things no matter how hot it is or how much the boat is bouncing around. We have lots of bruises most of the time. They look great with our tan.
Virginia sews a zipper on the bimini so we can put up our cockpit cover. The zipper was ripped off by the wind during tropical storm Darby. Note the seasick bands. Even at anchor she sometimes gets seasick.

Filth. There is a whole new degree of filth you need to accept. Water is scarce, so showers are usually limited to about a gallon and we use our solar shower almost exclusively now we are in a warm climate. Laundry either is done by hand (which takes hours) or toted a mile or more to the laundromat. We often find ourselves smelling our clothes to see if we can get away with wearing it one more day!

Two six-gallon jugs of water weigh nearly
100 pounds.
Water is an almost daily chore. In Hawaii, at least it's free and easy to find. We often anchor off beach parks. They usually have water. We drag a couple of our six-gallon jugs to the beach in the dinghy, fill them up, then row them back to the boat and lift and pull the 48 pounds of water onto the boat. Then we siphon the water from the jugs into our water tank.

Daily life doesn't stop just because we are “livin' the dream.” Floors still get dirty, cupboards still need to be cleaned, engine oil needs to be changed, composting head needs attention. On a boat all these tasks are a little more difficult. No room for broom and mop closets means sweeping the floor with a whisk broom on your hands and knees. Same when its time to mop. Cupboards are replaced by lockers on a boat and they are usually deep, inaccessible and awkward to clean. The “engine room” is tiny, cramped and very hot most of the time. Food needs to be cooked no matter how much the boat is moving.

Years ago at the Seattle Boat Show we saw shirts for sale: The woman's shirt said “Quit Yelling At Me!” the man's shirt said “I'm Not Yelling!” That sums up bad days.

Boredom is a problem sometimes. What! In Hawaii!? Some days the wind and waves make it difficult and even unsafe to go ashore. So we are stuck on the boat. We are currently in a murky, tiger-shark-infested anchorage and can't snorkel. So we read, or pace, or read, or go crazy. This is harder on Virginia (think border collie) than Brandon (think tree sloth).

We have to (get to?) walk everywhere, usually lugging something like laundry, groceries, gas or diesel jugs. I don't think we would recognize each other if we weren't carrying something. We are to the point where if our destination is only a mile away we think "Score! That's close." The upside is that we've both lost 30 pounds since we left Newport in February.

A friend traveling from Oregon to the tip of South America on a motorbike told us that traveling is not the same as vacationing. We try to remember that.

It's hard work, this sailboat life. Would we do it again if we knew then what we know now? You bet!
A rainbow over Lahaina. Sometimes the view is so beautiful it takes your breath away.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Riding out DARBY in Honomalino Bay

Oceanus anchored in beautiful Honomalino Bay. The bay could easily accommodate six cruising yachts, but we didn't have to share.
If Honomalino Bay were anywhere else in the United States it would be continually overrun with cruising boats. It has clear beautiful warm water, perfect depth and a sandy bottom for holding an anchor, good protection from prevailing wind and waves, great snorkeling, coconut palms, and a black sand beach. Most days there are only a few beach goers. There were a few fishing boats that came into the bay for an hour or two, but for the most part, the eight days we anchored there we had this gem of a bay to ourselves.

Reticulated butterflyfish in Honomalino Bay. 
We really enjoyed the snorkeling here. The number and variety of reef fish are as good as anywhere we've snorkeled. We saw fish we have been searching for in ten years of Hawaiian vacations: reticulated and saddleback butterfly fishes. Our Hawaiian fish identification book call both of them “very rare” in the islands. I also saw another favorite rare fish, the black morph of the long-nose butterfly fish, a fish we've seen in only one other place.
A saddleback butterflyfish; another rare find in Honomalino Bay.

We felt well protected in this bay and we put it to the test. One day, we motored over to the tiny fishing village of Miloli'i to get water. While there, some people Virginia met talked about the tropical storm Darby about to hit the island. “What storm?” she said. “Oh don't worry,” they said. “Hurricanes and storms never come to the west side because of the volcano.”

We were considering leaving the next day to go north, but after checking the weather we decided Honomalino Bay was the best bay all along the west side to ride out the storm. Darby was expected to make landfall on Saturday but we didn't see much wind. In fact we joked around about how vicious the storm was. We should have kept quiet.

That night Darby did what no one thought he would do, he turned left and blew right over the west side of the island. Right over our heads. At one point all was calm and we smiled until we realized the eye of the storm was right over us. Soon the winds picked up again. The winds probably reached only 45 to 50 knots in the bay, but the boat rolled all night so much we couldn't sleep. During the night the dinghy, which I should have hauled up on deck and stowed upside down in it's chocks, turn sideways, filled with water and banged against the side of the boat.

In the morning, the storm was well north of us heading up the Hawaiian chain. Virginia got two or three hours of sleep, by making a nest of settee cushions on the cabin sole. I stayed in the bunk and didn't sleep at all. At 6:30 a.m., our scuba-diving friend, Garry, called us  to check on us. He said he had never seen the winds blow that much on the west side. Darby was only the fifth named storm the hit the island since the government started keeping records in 1949.

Virginia considers the exotic plant life at the beginning of the trail to Miloli'i.
In spite of Darby, we really enjoyed our time here. Garry and his wife Susan really made our stay enjoyable. Gary drove us to the grocery store and, later, gave us 10 gallons of fresh water. They also let us use a house they own and run as a VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) so we could wash all our dirty clothes and have a real shower. (There were no guests staying in it that day.) Garry also took us scuba diving a couple of times. These are great people! If you want a wonderful scuba vacation experience, check out their VRBO on the big island.

After our morning snorkel one day, we met a young lady on the beach doing her homework. Like most people, she was curious about how we got around and how we got food. We told her we usually walk, sometimes rented a car or used Uber. She volunteered to be our transportation while were were on the Big Island. We called her Gigi our Uber girl. The arrangement worked perfect; she got money and time to study while we did shopping and laundry and our feet got a nice rest. We also found her to be delightful and interesting company.

Most afternoons and evenings, after any beach goers left, we watched as a small herd of goats came down to the bay. They were black with brown markings around their faces and legs and blended well with the black lava-rock cliffs. We would watch them from the boat. They seemed to be as curious about us as we were about them, especially the kids.

Most mornings a small pod of spinner dolphins visited us.
Four of the mornings we anchored in Honomalino a pod of spinner dolphins visited the bay. We would watch from the deck or jump in a swim with them. One morning when we motored out of the bay in our dinghy to meet Garry for a dive, the boat drew the dolphins like a magnet. They escorted us out of the bay jumping and spinning just a yard or two in front of the dinghy.

In addition to our dinghy, Virginia has a sit-on-the-top kayak. It comes in handy for many tasks, like recovering our stern anchor after the rode parted during Darby. Paddling it around is fun too.
We wanted to stay longer, but we needed to get to a place where we could refill our water tanks. We were also eager to see more of the Kona Coast.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Rounding scarey South Point

Leaving Hilo. You can just make out the observatories on Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on earth.
While we weren't exactly dreading rounding South Point, we were both looking forward to it with trepidation. This passage is infamous for its difficulty because of the strong winds and currents that are usually present. The winds are so consistently strong that the trees grow sideways away from the prevailing winds.

A wind-blown tree at South Point, Ka Lae in Hawaiian.
Virginia watched the weather reports closely and it looked favorable on July 13 so we decided to make a run for it. We wanted to pass the volcano in the dark so we could see the lava flow at night. We figured leaving at around 11 a.m. would be about right. The total passage to Honomalino Bay looked to be about a 23-hours. We decided to do our watch schedule of four-hours on, four-hours off. The wind was almost perfect the minute we got outside the breakwater. Off with the engine and up with the sails.

Smoke and steam mark the path of lava down the Kilauea Volcano to the sea.
We always underestimate how fast Oceanus goes. We wanted to be at the Kilauea lava flow after dark, but sailed past late in the afternoon, good for seeing the steam, but not for viewing glowing hot lava. What was beautiful, was the reflection of red from the lava on the underside of the clouds.

The interesting part was the smell. A month earlier, when we were out in the middle of the ocean, we talked about other people's experience of smelling the land before you could see it. We were looking forward to smelling Hawaii because everyone knows how wonderful Hawaii smells. Imagine our disappointment when all we could smell was, what we thought was, petroleum. We never could figure it out until we passed the spewing volcano. There was the smell: an odd petroleum, sulfur-like smell. Lava.

The winds were holding up. We were going about 7 knots and it was pleasant sailing. Virginia had the watch from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., which put her at South Point near the end of her watch. She was a little nervous because of the horror stories, but she said it was the easiest passage ever. In fact at 1 a.m., while approaching the point, she was so bored she considered calling her night shift nurse friends at North Lincoln Hospital in Lincoln City. Then she realized it was 4 a.m. in Oregon—a really busy time for night shift.

She woke me up around 1:30 a.m. because she needed help changing tacks as we rounded the point. I took over since I was already up.

The 14 wind turbines of the Pakini Nui wind generation project on South Point are each topped by a bright red light, which all blink in unison. Those lights, combined with the blinking white light from the Ka Lae (Hawaiian for the point) lighthouse, made for an enjoyable, ever-changing light show and stayed visible from the boat for almost an hour.

The winds got lighter and Oceanus slowed down, which was a good thing since we won't enter a strange anchorage—any anchorage, really—in the dark. The sky was clear and the ocean fairly smooth. In the waning darkness I saw a green navigation light dead ahead. It didn't seem to be moving, but Oceanus' speed was only about 2 knots by this time. I wasn't worried, but I also kept close tabs on the vessel. I figured it was a fishing boat waiting for daybreak. I was right; at first light she began moving and set a course south and out of my path.

Virginia relieved me a short time later. I dropped into my bunk and seemed to fall instantly to sleep. It didn't last long. About an hour later I felt Virginia shake me awake. She had started the engine, which usually gets me on deck as quick as I can pull on my pants, but not this morning. I came on deck groggy as she peppered me with questions. Finally I had to beg for a moment to get my bearings. According to the GPS, we were outside our planned anchorage, but where exactly it was wasn't clear.

Virginia at Honomalino Bay.
We consulted the cruising guide, but still weren't sure. Finally, after searching the shoreline with binoculars, the instructions made sense. We slowly motored past the rocky reefs and carefully felt our way into Honomalino Bay about 7:30 in the morning.

From the bow of the boat I could see the bottom nearly 80 feet below us. By the time we reached a good anchoring depth of 25 feet I could clearly see the ripples in the sand patch in the middle of the bay. We dropped anchor and set it. I slipped on my mask and fins and dove into the clear, warm water to check the anchor, which was buried deep in the sand.

Beautiful palm trees, black sand beach, sandy bottom perfect for holding an anchor, protected from wind and waves: it was a perfect anchorage and we were the only boat and people in sight.
Oceanus anchored in Honomalino Bay.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Hanging in Hilo on the Island of Hawaii

We anchored in Reeds Bay at Hilo on the Big Island for almost a month while we waited for parts and fixing things that broke on our 22-day passage. We found the bay to be a good anchorage and comfortable most of the time. We were also impressed with the great holding. (More about that later.)

We got to know Hilo pretty well. It didn't take long, it isn't that big, but I can't think of any city with a more distinctive character. Once we figured out the bus system, we could easily get downtown to a laundromat, grocery store and a great bookstore.
Hilo is also the home of the visitor's center for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Designated in June 2006, the monument encompasses the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands from a little northwest of Kaua'i to about Midway Atoll, covering 4,500 square miles. The coral reefs inside the monument are among the healthiest reefs in the word and 90 percent of Hawaiian green turtles nest on its islets. A national monument has the highest level of protection of any designation, so it requires special permits to visit this area. We enjoyed the exhibits in the visitor's center, especially the 3,500 gallon saltwater aquarium.That the visitor's center is located in Hilo is kinda funny since Hilo is about as far away from the monument as you can get and still be in the Hawaiian islands.

We enjoyed a whole afternoon of poking our heads into the t-shirt and souvenir shops, not to mention the candy shops. One standout was Moonstruck Patisserie, a little French bakery where Virginia had passion-fruit cheesecake and I had the best croissant of my life. It really was love at first bite.

A big highlight during our stay at Hilo was seeing our friends Jason, Renee and their daughter Elli. We visited their beautiful property outside of Hilo where they are building a house. One weekend Renee and Elli spent their Saturday taking us to the Kapoho tide pools to snorkel, followed by hamburgers at their place. We really needed that outing since there are no good snorkel spots within walking distance of our anchorage, that we know about, anyway. Renee also generously lent us her car two different weekends to run errands, go to church and sight see.

The waterfall at the Hawaiian Botanical Garden.
One of the unforgettable places we went was the Hawaiian Botanical Gardens. If you ever go to Hilo this is a must see. It was started by a couple who bought 17 acres of undeveloped, garbage-strewn valley on Onomea Bay and spent six year hand-clearing the sight. They turned it into a garden of Eden and opened it to the public in 1984. Tropical plants from all over the world grow here. It's now a self-sustaining non-profit nature preserve and has expanded to 34 acres, much of it held in reserve for future conservation and protection.

From our boat we could see a restaurant called The Ponds. We fantasized for a few days about eating fish and chips there before we finally walked over and tried the place out. Yes, the fish and chips were everything we hoped they would be. We ended up going there twice during our stay.

For the Fourth of July we celebrated by going out to breakfast at Ken's House of Pancakes. It is mentioned in every travel guide and was an easy walk from the bay. It is justifiably famous for the food. We had huge omelets and pancakes with passion-fruit syrup. We left stuffed and waddled back to the boat. That night we watched the firework show over Coconut Island from our boat.

We made friends with Chris, the owner of a little store not far from our boat called All Kine Stuffs. She was nice enough to let us have our replacement alternator shipped to her store. Her store also carried pink wintergreen mints my wife calls headache pills. These candies that are like crack cocaine to her and they are next to impossible to find. (Call her and she can tell you why she calls then headache pills.)
Some of the Bonsai at the Hilo gallery.
We found an interesting round building on one of our walks and decided to check it out. It is the Wailoa Center, a gallery run by an art organization for local artists. We enjoyed the paintings from several different local artists. Most of the paintings were land or seascapes from the Big Island's west side. The following weekend the gallery had a Bonsai show. We walked the two miles to the gallery and saw some of the most beautiful Bonsai I've ever seen—many of them 50 or 60 years old.

Everyone says that all is does in Hilo is rain. We didn't find that to be the case. Maybe because we are from the Pacific Northwest where rainfall of 90 inches a year is no big deal. While it did rain almost every day, it didn't rain all day, just two or three intense downpours, mostly at night. A cruise ship moored in the Harbor every Tuesday. The first Tuesday we were there was the only time I saw it rain nearly all day. It was raining so hard we could hardly see the cruise ship from our boat. We felt sorry for the people on board.
Cruise ship leaving Hilo.
We enjoyed watching the cruise ship coming and going, but not as much as the canoe club races, which took place nearly every evening. Most of the canoes were six-person outriggers, but there were also some sleek one-person outriggers as well. Some mornings canoes full of students would paddle past our boat and stop for a visit.
Lili'uokalani Park.
Every time we walked to downtown we passed the Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens. This 30-acre Japanese gardens is beautiful and felt like something out of a storybook. The park's site was a gift from Queen Liliʻuokalani and was built in the early 1900s. It is one of the largest such gardens outside Japan. The gardens contain Waihonu Pond as well as bridges, koi ponds, pagodas, statues, torii, and a Japanese teahouse.

We planned to leave July 5th but when we tried to pull the anchor up it wouldn't budge. I dove in and discovered it was tangled around a large barnacle-encrusted piece of machinery. No wonder the holding was so great! I also found our prop to be completely encrusted with barnacles after just a few weeks in the bay. The next day I strapped on my scuba tank and untangled the anchor chain and scrubbed and chiseled the barnacles off the prop and other places. Then we waited for a couple more days for favorable winds to get us around South Point. We had heard scary stories about this passage, but that's for the next blog.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Sailing from Mexico to Hilo, Hawaii

A squall heads our way near sundown.
Time. You can cross an ocean going little more than five knots, it just takes time. For us in Oceanus it took just under 22 days to sail from San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, to Hilo, Hawaii -- 2731 nautical miles.

We sailed through four time zones. Most of the time, in fact, we didn't know what time it actually was. It reminded me of the line in Where the Wild Things Are where Max sailed his boat "in and out of weeks and almost over a year." The clock on the wall in the salon read one time, the satellite clock reported another time, our InReach satellite texting device told another time and the Garmin GPS gave yet another time. To top it off, part way through the crossing the battery for the wall clock over our bunk slowly died adding to the confusion. I began to rely on sunrise and sunset to keep me oriented. The question prompted, what seemed like, hours of discussion between Virginia and me. But we had plenty of time. It wasn't until Hilo hove into view and we picked up a signal for our cell phone, when the issue was settled.

We left San Jose del Cabo on May 21 at about 2 p.m. Mountain Standard Time. Since arriving in California back in February, we traveled a surprising distance east in addition to our steady progress south. So far east, in fact, we added about five days to our ocean crossing. Leaving  from San Francisco, the distance to Hawaii is about 2050 miles. Leaving from the tip of Mexico's Baja peninsula added more than 650 miles to the trip even though we were only two degrees of latitude north of Hilo.

Our course was due west and the winds blew out of the northwest putting Oceanus on a close reach for the first couple of days. The boat moved along well, but it heeled over about 15 degrees making life aboard difficult. Moving about usually took both hands and good timing. Sleeping meant making a nest of pillows on the lee side of the bunk and hoping the boat didn't pound too much in the large seas we encountered. Virginia described it as trying to sleep on a waterbed with a group of three-year-olds jumping on it while beating on pots and pans. I didn't think it was that bad, but I can sleep through almost anything.

It wasn't until day six, we were able to ease the sheets a bit. With the wind on our beam the heeling and pounding was less, but where were the glorious, downwind runs other sailors talk about who experienced the trade winds? Still, beam reaching has its advantages. We racked up some impressive noon-to-noon runs: 150, 157, and 153 nautical miles all with a reefed mainsail and genoa. Then, about day 13, the wind came from the east, northeast and dropped to seven or eight knots. We dropped the main, which was blanketing the genoa, poled out the genoa and raised our reaching staysail, sheeting it on the side opposite the genoa. With wind from the stern, our noon-to-noon milage dropped, but life aboard was much more comfortable.

During the whole voyage we saw only four ships and one other sailboat. We encountered the ships early on as we crossed the route from the Panama Canal to North American ports. We caught a glimpse of a sailboat at the edge of the horizon near the end of the voyage. Except for those encounters, we saw little more than sea and sky.

From on deck I can see about four miles in any direction to the horizon. This movable bubble of sight was our world. The sea teamed with flying fish. Oceanus startled large schools of them that would leap free of the water and fly above the wave tops. They were a constant source of entertainment. Each day I would pick up two or three that landed on our deck and died there. Only twice did one land in the cockpit so I could return it to the ocean before it died. In the sky, blue-footed boobies regularly visited us circling Oceanus looking for a place to land. Nothing suited them, and they let us know of their displeasure with squalks and baleful looks. There were shearwaters too, but not many other birds live the pelagic lifestyle required this far from land. Only once did dolphins visit us, but the pod  of two or three dozen stayed with us for three hours, playing in our bow wave and breaching.

The sea and sky were our constant companions. No words can adequately describe the beauty of the tropical ocean. I never grow tired of looking at its deep sapphire blue with brilliant turquoise highlights that turns to black as the sun sets. Like the sea, the sky is always changing: the endless variety of cloud formations, the quality of light from each unique sunrise and sunset, and night skies filled with stars. The Milky Way looked like a river of light in the sky most nights. We also saw several meteors, sometimes two or three in a four-hour night watch. Mirroring the lights in the sky was the twinkling phosphorescence in the sea. The vikings called it Ran's jewels after the Norse goddess of the sea. And so it seemed to me -- lights glittering like jewels in the deep.

The wind never got much above 25 knots during the whole passage. Even the occasional squall that came our way didn't pack much of a punch. But the gusts were usually from another direction, throwing off our wind vane self-steering. Little rain accompanied the squalls either. We planned to catch rain. Lucky for us our 120 gallons of fresh water was more than adequate.

Maid Marian, our Hydrovane self-steering gear worked great, we hardly had to touch the wheel.
Our third crew member, Maid Marian, our Hydrovane self steering, worked tirelessly keeping us on course for days at a time without needing any attention. Hydrovane is made in Nottingham, England, so she needed a name from the Robin Hood legend. She's an amazing piece of gear and doesn't complain or need much attention. When the winds were really light, say below three or four knots, she would take a break from her duties and we would hand steer.

Besides our VHF radio, which has a range of only several miles, we had a DeLorme InReach. It uses the satellite phone network to send and receive texts from nearly anyplace on earth. It also sends out a tracking ping every few minutes to update our position on their web site. This is our only long-range communication while at sea. We would occasionally send and receive texts from our family and one friend who kept an eye on the mid-ocean weather for us.

Virginia received a text about half way through the passage telling her that her dad died. He was not in good heath, but it was still tough on her. The funeral was six days before we made landfall. A few days after the funeral, and still about 300 miles from Hilo, I ask Virginia if I could get her anything. "Yes," she said. "Off this boat!" I wasn't sure how to respond, except to say she had to wait or she had a very long swim ahead of her.

With only a few days until our landfall, the focus of our discussions shifted from "What time is it really?" to "What do you want to do once we get to Hilo?" Not surprisingly, for those who know us, it was mostly about food. Specifically: Ice cream and donuts (Virginia); shave ice and fish and chips (Brandon).  We both agreed it would be nice to sleep more than four hours in a row on a bunk that didn't bounce around.

This sailor needs a shave and a shower.
Things break on a long passage. That's just the way it is. They also always break -- always -- in the middle of the night. Our radar reflector chafed through the flag halyard and fell from spreader height at 1 a.m. It hit the deck right above my head when I was fast asleep. A few nights later a bolt came loose on the boom brake and again it hit the deck right above my head while I was fast asleep.

Some of the things that broke I could fix, but the alternator wasn't one of them. We discovered it wasn't charging the first time we ran our engine. We decide to run the engine once a week to make sure it was working and to fully charge up our battery banks. Our solar panels usually keep the batteries charged unless it's really hot, which taxes our refrigeration, or overcast during the day, which cuts the efficiency of the panels. When that happens, our over-sized alternator on the diesel engine keeps the batteries topped up. Without the help of the alternator, we turned  everything off that we didn't absolutely need. We even turned the freezer off at night to conserve electrons.

By 1 a.m., June 10, we could see the lights of Hilo on the horizon. Oceanus charged along at 6.5 knots. We didn't want to enter the harbor in the dark, so I hove to for about three and a half hours, making about half a knot to the north away from Hilo. As the sky grew brighter I changed course back toward our goal, but by then the wind was light and fluky, coming directly from where we wanted to go. Our batteries were too low to start the engine and the overcast day wasn't helping. In desperation, I lashed our Honda 2000 portable generator to the deck, crossed my fingers, and fired it up.

We use the Honda as needed to top up our batteries while in calm anchorages. I wasn't sure it would work at all on the pitching deck while underway. But it worked like a champ, charging the batteries while Virginia and I fought to keep Oceanus moving in the light and unpredictable breeze. By noon the batteries were still low but we decided to try the engine. It cranked, but didn't catch. I tried again, still no love. One last time. Crank, crank, crank, sputter, crank, sputter, sputter, vrooom! Hilo and ice cream, here we come! It's about time.
The view from Oceanus safely anchored in Reed's Bay, Hilo, Hawaii.

The Aquarium connection

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is following our adventure on their web site as part of the Oceanscape Network. If you would like to read more about our encounters with marine wildlife look here.

If you want to track us go to

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Adios Mexico, on to Hawaii

The view from our slip at Puerto los Cabos marina in San Jose del Cabo. The large sculpted cross puts on a light show every night.
We've only been in Mexico a month, but it's already time to say adios. Hurricane season is about to start and it's already HOT! It's been in the high 90s F every day this week. My wife seriously can't take it. We're talking heat stroke and total misery.

So today we leave San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, for Hilo, Hawaii. We are excited and looking forward to seeing our friends in Hawaii and continuing to explore the underwater treasures of those magic isles, this time from our own boat.

We've enjoyed Mexico for the most part. One of the good/bad things is we rarely have internet. I have enjoyed the break, but it makes it tough to keep the blog updated.

Snorkeling at Bahi Los Frailes.
The 10 days at anchor at Bahi Los Frailes was beautiful and it was there we decided to sail for Hawaii -- that was one week ago. We spent the last three days in San Jose del Cabo stocking our boat and getting her ready for three-to-four week trip to Hawaii. Just a few more items and we're off!
Oceanus at anchor at Bahi los Frailes.