Galapagos to Hiva Oa, Marquesas, French Polynesia

Saturday 22 April at 9am we left Santa Cruz in the Galapagos bound for Hiva Oa, Marquesas, French Polynesia a mere 3,000 miles away.   It was going to be our longest ever passage at sea EVER let alone just the two of us alone.  So we were excited and nervous all at the same time.

We bid farewell to Santa Cruz and a tall ship that had come into the harbour overnight and sailed off towards Isabella.   We had a lovely farewell visit by a pod of dolphins to put smiles on our faces. 

The passage itself was challenging in places and a joy in others.    Beautiful sunny days with blue skies and blue seas were just gorgeous and we enjoyed that a lot – we even tried goose winging for the first time on Morphie in the early stages.    

And you can’t fail to love the beautiful sunsets, the sunrises and the moonlit nights…..

And of course more smiles at the pilot whales when they come to visit.

We had suicide fish and squid constantly landing on our decks which had to be cleaned off every morning….and Richard tried fishing but gave up in the constant motion deciding that landing a fish and cleaning / gutting it when the boat is going rail-to-rail side-to-side was just a step too far. 

Oh yes of course and then there was the Japanese whaler(?) who we had to change course for….and a few other fishing boats.   There were also two tankers out there according to the AIS but we never physically saw them.     

Low wind days were frustrating as we were moving so slowly but couldn’t afford to risk using too much diesel.   Funnily enough we were so frugal – even though we ran the engine to charge the batteries and to make hot water for showers – we ended up using only 45 gallons out of our total supply of 125 gallons diesel.   So perhaps we didn’t need to endure those 2 knot speeds after all LOL.

But then there was squall alley…..with grey skies and seas….and we kept getting hit from behind with driving horizontal rain.   The motion was particularly horrible as we got picked up and thrown down by the waves surfing underneath us – pitching us wildly from side to side.   We changed course to avoid squalls….found no wind…..changed course again and eventually the squall line was so wide we couldn’t avoid it but just had to plough through and put up with the poor conditions.    

One particular bad squall – about 1,000 miles still to go to our destination Hiva Oa – and the auto pilot failed.   The auto pilot often dropped out if it couldn’t hold the course so we weren’t unduly worried.   However, this time, when we went to re-adjust it the control head was blank.   We checked fuses, cables, even drying the unit out with a heat gun just in case of water ingress, all to no avail.  The system was dead!   And, of course, this was the one item that was not in our spares inventory.

This had a devastating impact on us as we realised that we were going to have to hand steer for over a 1,000 miles.   With no point of reference out in the ocean that means steering by compass alone night and day.   We both found that this was tiring, particularly with weather helm from the large swelly seas, so we fixed our schedule at two hours on and two hours off.   This meant that we were ships that passed in the night and in those two hours ‘off’ you had to eat, sleep, clean up etc etc.   Sometimes Richard managed a three hour shift in the day which allowed me to cook up huge pots of food that we could just dip into as and when we were hungry.

Apart from the obvious emotional impact this schedule was punishing physically.   Both of us struggled at different times but we managed to keep each other going and were relieved that each day we were that bit closer to our destination.    But we still had to cope with the horrible noises down below and sleep deprivation became a real issue.

As a result we eventually changed course to accommodate the weather and sea conditions and to minimise the noise down below to facilitate better sleeping conditions – the downside was that it added miles to our journey but there really wasn’t any other option open to us.  In total we were hand steering for the last 10 days of the trip.

Finally, and not a moment too soon, we were closing fast on Hiva Oa.    The island rises majestically from the sea to great heights but all we saw were dark and menacing rain clouds which made the approach even more intimidating.  

Of course, we were going too fast so we had to slow down considerably to ensure that we would make landfall in daylight which was a frustrating decision.    Sod’s law but that was the moment that the gas decided to run out so no celebratory cup of hot chocolate for us.

To hand steer for that length of time in those difficult conditions was a daunting task – to say the least – but we knew we had to get ourselves to safety so we just got on with it and did it.   Not sure how but we did!   We obviously didn’t mention this in our regular blogs whilst at sea as we didn’t want family and friends to worry about us whilst we were still out there.   

Eventually we had anchor down in Hiva Oa, Marquesas, on Thursday 18 May at 8.40 am having spent 25 days at sea and travelled 3,082 miles which despite:   low wind;  too much wind;  bad conditions;  and hand steering, we still managed to average just over 5 knots so actually pretty pleased overall with our performance.   In fact woo hoo – we did it!!!    We felt quite proud of ourselves and not a little bit relieved. The positive aspect of the whole experience was that we both lost a bit of weight LOL.

The anchorage is mountain-backed with lush greenery all around – or that is what it would look like had it not been peeing down with rain.   Having got ourselves cleaned up and presentable we dinked ashore – clambered up the broken down wooden jetty which is about four foot too high – and met some cruisers who told us about Sandra the agent who would help facilitate the check-in process and that they were pretty laid back about it all here.    

We had the paperwork with us anyway so decided to walk into town to see what was what.  

And it rained…and it poured….and the road whilst beautiful just went on and on….  At the point of giving up we were given a lift by a muscular shirtless tattooed young man – think Samoan rugby team – who spoke English and was a delight to meet.    Well I enjoyed it anyway LOL.    Very glad we didn’t walk, it was bloody miles away!!!!   The town is a sleepy little place with a few shops, a tourist information centre, a bank, a post office, a hardware store and a general store plus a few snack vans and cafes totally surrounded by the most spectacular mountain scenery.  We got some cash out the ATM – taking a stab at guessing the exchange rate as we hadn’t been on line for almost a month – and got 15,000 French Polynesian Francs.   It turns out 1,000 is about £7.   We would have got more but Richard’s card was refused.  Really?!?   Well that can wait for another day as I definitely wasn’t in the mood to deal with the bank right then.   

We popped into the tourist office and got a few pamphlets and met an English couple who were trying to check in on their own and were struggling – so decision made we’ll try Sandra in the morning.   Anyway….the whole town was shut for a couple of hours for lunch…..including the Gendarmerie!

We found out a local restaurant had internet so got a taxi there…and asked her to return to pick us up at 3.30 pm.   We walked in to be told they were closing – this was 2pm – as they don’t open in the afternoon.   The distress must have shown on our tired little faces as she took pity on us and let us stay to drink beer – but no food.   OK, that’ll do, and we enjoyed our first cold one or two for 25 days admiring the spectacular view of the beach below.   We also downloaded thousands of emails….but didn’t get a chance to look at them.       The taxi lady returned and we went back to the harbour and dinked to Morphie.   We had another couple of cold ones in the cockpit before turning in for an early night.   Sadly the anchorage was really rolly and we didn’t sleep well at all despite our exhausted state.  Oh yes and it rained all night.

Friday morning – still very jaded – we went ashore (in the rain) and met Sandra.  She took us in her 4×4 to town to the gendarmerie and also took delivery of our horrible wet smelly laundry from the passage – I was almost embarrassed to hand it over – but not that embarrassed LOL.   The customs / immigration form (in triplicate) was in French so the odd bit of translation/explanation was required and she double-checked it when it was completed before handing it over.   The guy then took our paperwork away and returned it to us with our official documentation which Sandra is going to send to Papeete, Tahiti, for us.   Sandra also supplied us with an e-mail address for an agent in Tahiti so we can order spares to be there waiting for us on our arrival.    

We obviously need to buy a replacement autopilot head but we are also considering buying a complete new autopilot system anyway – compatible with the older one we currently have – so we never have to face this situation again.   We also need to get a replacement GPS antennae as one failed on the passage which wasn’t a problem as we had two wired in anyway.  We also noticed that the plotter in the binnacle has a nice looking coral garden starting to appear on the screen.  Looks like our electronics are going to need to be stripped out and replaced in New Zealand – we did debate it whilst in the US but decided against, largely on cost.  But we think the time has probably now come.  Oh yes and of course another ensign bit the dust in the conditions.

Back to the bank again….and Richard’s card got refused again grrrr…..    And then we went supermarket shopping.   No bread anywhere – hang on, this is a French island – we’ve been salivating over bread for weeks.   Apparently the baker has run out of flour so is having to wait on the ship coming in on Monday to resupply him – so looks like we’re going to have to wait a while for that pleasure.  Damn!   We found eggs, tinned goods and more chocolate and biscuits to replace our supplies.  I was excited to see New Zealand lamb in the freezer too…   We’ll need to revisit to purchase frozen meat in a future quick visit to town in future before we leave here.  Oh yes, and we did also manage to get some cheese and tinned Anchor butter so we did quite well.

We walked, in the rain again, towards the restaurant and, just as we were almost there, we were offered a lift so took it.   Had a nice lunch – admiring the spectacular beach views in the rain – and caught up a bit more on the internet including some e-mails but a long way from getting through them.   Then we got a lift back from the lady owner of the restaurant to the port.   We had another early night after a couple of beers in the cockpit but, to be honest, we remain exhausted.

Saturday morning, after another restless and rocking night we were delighted to see that the sun had come out.  We dinked ashore and admired the view of the anchorage whilst we waited for our taxi lady to turn up – at 8 am – but she was clearly on island time. 

We had decided to do a private island tour rather than hiring a car ourselves.   Well…she turned up at 8.30….and in tears as something had happened at home and she couldn’t find anyone else to drive us.   She was genuinely upset so we just said fine.    Shame but, actually, we have lots to do so never mind.  

On the way back to dink we were surprised by the number of gendarmes that had just arrived in three vehicles – and we were stopped by one of them asking us about a particular boat Goldenage.   Well – we confirmed that we had seen the boat in the Galapagos (because he had anchored on top of us in Santa Cruz) and he was in the harbour yesterday morning but, by the time we had returned in the afternoon, they had left.   They knew exactly who was on board and who they were looking for.   Very intriguing!   Wonder what they were supposed to have done?!?

Back on board we picked up anchor and took the opportunity to move inside the interior harbour behind the breakwater as a few boats had left – so we are now in a more protected spot with a stern anchor deployed too – and there was definitely less rolling thankfully.  

Richard did an engine oil change while I started blogging.   There is a wifi hotspot in the harbour but at £10 an hour I don’t think we’ll be taking that one up.   Will have to wait for Monday when the Post Office opens as they sell SIM cards etc.     It certainly feels strange to be this long off-line.

Richard went ashore to get rid of his old oil and to talk to the guys in the very small boatyard.   We would like to get an expert to look at the auto pilot just to make sure we haven’t missed a trick when trouble shooting.   Even if he only just confirms what we already know.   What they did confirm though is that we can’t get our gas bottle filled until we reach Tahiti.   Oh well….should be OK.  While he was gone I enjoyed watching the junior outrigger racing boats practising for their up-coming regatta.     

When Richard came back – with good news that a marine electrician was coming to us on Monday morning – we then transferred diesel from the jugs on the rail to fill up the tank to avoid any condensation issues in this humid environment.   We were going ashore but decided against and started to hoist the dinghy for the night.  

As we did so I looked up and spotted a crack in the stainless arch.   WTF?!?!    So we dropped dink back in the water and investigated.  OMG the arch is failing – there are three connecting posts between the two rails that have come away – and a crack all the way around one of the 2 inch stainless rails.   Clearly the arch has been flexing whilst underway in the turbulent conditions and maybe the rolly anchorage was the straw that broke the camel’s back.    We were shocked that these failures had occurred because these arches are specifically built to hold the dinghy whilst underway.   And we had taken the outboard off to reduce the weight as recommended.   So now we have to speak to the boatyard again and see if they can do stainless steel welding here. 

If they can’t the nearest place may well be Tahiti as the islands between here and there are really just isolated pearl-farming atolls in the ocean.  Tahiti is 700 miles away but at least we can stop and break our journey to recover at 400 miles with short hops all the way after that.  If that happens then we’ll put dink on the bow throughout and leave the arch clear of any weight.    Fingers crossed it can be sorted out here and we can continue on our journey as planned.  

So no chance of having fun in the South Pacific any time soon!   Dealing with Morphie post-passage is far more time consuming than we anticipated with even basic maintenance let alone anything as major as the arch.   Maintenance is the key to keeping Morphie in good order and we are very diligent over it – I actually cleaned all the stainless including the arch before we left the Galapagos so you can see what a few days at sea will do to a fractured joint in terms of rust.   

Her hull right now is also filthy from the ocean – we again cleaned her hull before we left – and all this crap came from the passage.  We also have a nice culture of mussel-like creatures living along the stern line which need removing.   

The psychological impact of the latest issue – in our exhausted state – has hit us quite hard but once we have a plan to get it fixed we’ll be fine.   Fingers crossed for some good news tomorrow.   In the meantime we’re back in the restaurant to get online.

Bye for now