Our Pacific Crossing definitely provided us with a major sense of achievement, but it was a lot like “groundhog day” or an endless “slumber party” once we got into the rhythm of it. Days were spent lounging around in our pyjamas on the saloon bed, which we make up for our passages, or in the cockpit. We thought we would have plenty of time to indulge ourselves with our favourite pastimes, like playing the saxophone and writing for Elaine, fishing and reading for Roy and refining our Celestial Navigation skills together, but reading was the only activity we managed. We realised very early on that preserving our energy for our watches was in fact the more prudent thing to do, so downtime was spent catching up on sleep, undertaking normal hygiene activities, cooking / baking and eating.
The beautiful sunny skies and deep blue, flat seas that we were expecting definitely eluded us though. What we got instead was, for the most part, overcast, dull days in a very high south-easterly swell which gave us plenty of challenges around which sails to fly. With our main sail continually slamming in the swell, we eventually had no choice, but to take it down to prevent breakages.
What helped break up the monotony were the dolphins that stopped by from time to time to play in Paw Paw's bows and the excitement around Roy catching the yellowfin tuna on the few occasions he was able to fish, Also, solving the mystery around the very strange lights we kept seeing at night over the horizon, at first thinking it was the moon rising or a cruise ship, only to discover they were associated with huge Chinese fishing vessels trawling with huge fishing nets.
Another highlight of our days at sea were calls to family and friends as far afield as in the USA, England, Ireland and South Africa just to say hello and put their minds at rest that all was well aboard. Our daily contact with the other World ARC yachts via the midday and evening SSB radio net broadcasts helped as well. Although we didn’t see another yacht or the comforting lights of another yacht for days, it was always lovely to hear the familiar voices out there and know that we were not alone is this huge ocean. Add to that a splash of humour during the evening net like Elaine indicating, when prompted, that the only wild life she's seen that day was "Roy running around the deck" and the day ended with laughter.
Our celebrations at sea were numerous. We celebrated everything from St Patrick’s Day to various milestones; the quarter way mark, the halfway mark, the 2000NM line, the 1000NM line.
For our celebration of the 2000NM line, a third of the way, Elaine cooked up a hearty full Irish breakfast including freshly baked soda bread to mark the occasion. For our halfway mark celebration it was the meagre toastie - Toasted cheese sandwiches at lunchtime, followed by a celebratory cocktail at sunset accompanied by smoked mussels, stuffed grapevines, brie on crackers, olives, assorted nuts and the last of our pineapple, to be sure, to be sure we had celebrated the milestone appropriately. For St Patrick's Day we enjoyed a movie night with a hearty homemade chicken soup to warm the cockles of our heart, accompanied by freshly baked soda bread to add some Irish flare.
It's also fair to say, that if anyone had told us 27 years ago, on the day our wonderful son was born, that we would be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in the midst of a circumnavigation, instead of celebrating his birthday with him, we would have said they were smoking something, but indeed we were!
On Elaine's Dad's birthday, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we needed to slow down in order to ensure a daylight arrival and accepted another night at sea, albeit our last one for the crossing. With less than 60NM to go, we sailed under a moonlit sky, in the company of Waterman, another World ARC participating yacht, in order to arrive in Hiva Oa at daybreak. Our sense of achievement mounted with every new mile sailed and we definitely look forward to "Land Ahoy".
With the full moon dipping behind Hiva Oa, Marqueses Islands, to the west, the sun rising to the east and dolphins frolicking in Paw Paw's bows, we crossed the finish line and arrived in paradise. Our first ocean crossing completed in less than 22 days. It was a very emotional time indeed, although somewhat surreal, which was further emphasised when we discovered the most stunning and dramatic scenery as we entered the anchorage of Atuona - Not at all what we were expecting.
We were presented with garlands on our arrival and, during all the officialdom, we had time to catch up with folks from the other yachts who had already made landfall. We then decided that a nice long walk into town to stretch our legs was the next order of the day.
The following day we decided that the Hotel Hanakee Pearl Lodge for some R&R was not only deserved, but definitely needed. A day, high up in the mountains, in a beautiful hotel sporting the most spectacular views, a cool breeze blowing, an infinity pool to relax in and a delicious lunch was just what the doctor ordered, before getting stuck in to give Paw Paw a much needed clean inside and out.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Hiva Oa, visiting the Paul Gauguin Art Museum and his gravesite, perched high on the hillside with spectacular views overlooking Atuona. Elaine also enjoyed her swim with some local children, much to their delight, in a rock pool of the river we had to cross when walking to and from town. The Easter Service at St Anne's Catholic Church which we attended was the most unusual service and it was lovely to hear the singing.
Given the wet, rainy and overcast start to the day, while at anchor in Baie Hanamoenoa, Tahuata, in the Marquesas Islands, we decided there was no better time to sit and write this article, on this day, 1st April 2016.
A certain calm has descended on the anchorage after the last of the yachts of the World ARC fleet departed yesterday for a rendezvous in Nuku Hiva; one we have decided to skip in order to more fully enjoy our independent sailing time until the rendezvous in Tahiti. With their departure, our cruising life seems to have returned to an even keel, mirroring that which we had grown used to as full-time cruisers in the Caribbean for the past two years.
It would be an understatement to say that life has been completely hectic up until this point in the rally. We knew the World ARC itinerary was fast, for reasons well documented, but we never expected the level of stress associated with it and has certainly had us wondering whether we are indeed retired or have just changed roles and responsibilities in a more challenging environment.
We left Bequia, soon after our Christmas celebrations had come to a close, with the intention of spending New Year in Rodney Bay, St Lucia, before heading into the marina on 2nd January 2016, in time for the opening of the World ARC office. Knowing we were well prepared and with ample time to spare, we were looking forward to a fairly relaxed week, with only the last of our fresh produce provisioning to do, leading up to the start of the rally on 9th January 2016. We were aware that we had to complete the World ARC Safety Inspection, but other than a few get-togethers, a Skippers Briefing and a farewell function, we assumed we had plenty of time to arrange a dive to the Pitons as well as enjoy some of the sites that St Lucia had to offer. For this reason we had purposefully skipped this Caribbean island during our previous sailing season, expecting that we would have the time prior to the start of the rally. Well, best laid plans!
After introducing ourselves at the World ARC office, we were promptly presented with information detailing such a full itinerary for the remainder of the entire week, to the extent that we had to squeeze in and split our provisioning time over two days. It was bedlam to say the least, with neither one of us getting to bed earlier than midnight on a single night. It was so busy that we were trying to squeeze out time for cruising friends who had taken the trouble to come and see us off. Elaine was icing Roy’s birthday cake in the middle of the night so that it would be ready for his birthday celebrations the following morning. In all this mayhem, Elaine didn’t even get a chance to practice her Happy Birthday renditions on the saxophone. Needless to say, it was a disaster, when trying to play it for Roy on the day, in between getting Paw Paw ready to leave the marina for the noon start. Combine that with trying to remember boat names and the names of 150+ people so as not to embarrass ourselves when we next encountered a fellow participant on the dock. Although we were all issued with name tags and dutifully wore them, failing eyesight meant peering into someone’s chest to read them. What a carry-on!
It didn’t help matters that, after the time had lapsed to contest any of the handicaps that had been posted on the noticeboard, we learnt that two of the faster and larger boats had been given a better handicap than ours, after the fact. Although Elaine brought the matter to the attention of the organisers to no avail, it was rather disheartening to realise that no matter what we would do, we would never qualify for a prize. Although the rally is touted as not being a race, this seemed rather underhanded, since we only learnt of the change during the Skippers Briefing at the end of the week and left a somewhat sour taste in our mouths. It was more of a bitter pill to swallow when one of these yachts won the first Leg in the catamaran division – So much for: “It’s a slow and heavy boat hence the rating”! As with all these things, it’s always a case of “follow the money” as we discovered Lagoon is a huge sponsor of ARC events.
The highlight of Roy’s birthday though, was spending it with TiSento (Agnes and Bas), who stopped by to unload the last of our goodies that they had bought for us in Martinique and, of course, with nerves and excitement mounting, with each tick of the clock, we were commencing a lifelong dream – 35 years in the waiting for Roy, 8 years in the planning and preparation. It was indeed a dream come true and a very emotional time for both of us, especially when we heard the horns blowing from our cruising friends who were in the anchorage to wave us off as we presented Paw Paw to the “race” committee boat.
While the route of the World ARC Rally is well documented, the one leg that Elaine was not looking forward to was the leg from St Lucia to Santa Marta, Colombia, primarily because of the time of the year we were rounding the Colombian Cape and the notorious storms associated with it. Fortunately, we had the most benign weather we could ever have wished for and rounded the Cape in flat, following seas, glorious sunshine and fair winds. We were off to a great start! Unfortunately twelve hours out from Santa Marta we hit the compression zone with winds in excess of 35 Kts and flew into the anchorage of Santa Marta at 0230 with blinding lights everywhere, doing 10 – 12Kts and having to overtake one of the World ARC yachts, Giampi, within one mile of the finish line because they seemed to have stopped dead in the water. Our hurtle over the finish line resulted in us nearly t-boning a tanker, which, minutes before, was at anchor, but decided to berth and block the entire entrance as we approached. With Elaine about to jump overboard in fright and screaming to Roy that we’re going to end up toothpicks, Roy, in a very calm voice indicated that “now was not the time to panic”, following which he turned Paw Paw around and headed back towards the finish line, much to the dismay of everyone aboard Giampi, who by now, had surely deemed us certifiable!