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The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Memories of a Circumnavigation: Galapagos to French Polynesia

Hugh & Heather Bacon

Argonauta I
Beneteau 440
February 17th, 2018

In the last article from Memories of a Circumnavigation Hugh and Heather shared their adventures while cruising the ‘Enchanted Islands’. Lets continue to follow the adventures of Argonauta I, from when they began their journey in 1997 in the Caribbean, until the completion of the circumnavigation in 2006, when they crossed their  1997 outbound Caribbean track.

Our cruise among the Galapagos Islands was truly memorable, but now Argonauta I was anchored at Isabella Island, the westernmost of the group, and it was time to continue west. We were about to begin the longest passage we would ever do, some 3000 nautical miles. (NM)

Wednesday, June 16, 1999 at 1030h we raised the anchor. We were now in company with five other yachts from New Zealand, Scotland, Germany, USA, and Australia. Ahead of us were yachts we knew from the USA, England, New Zealand, France, and Antigua. We arranged a daily communication schedule and began final preparations. We scrubbed the bottom of the hull, lubricated the moving parts of the rigging, and inspected everything! Heather had sorted out the usual below decks chaos. We had earlier topped our diesel, so we were once again good for 1000 NM. Our water maker had kept our tanks full and we had about six weeks worth of provisioning stowed along with emergency rations for another month.

Flex tanks each contained about 80 litres diesel

Our inter-vessel net was called The Coconut Milk Run. In checking the SSB, we learned that yachts just ahead of us at Lat 1.5S/Long 93W had winds from the SE at 15 knots! Good news! Our destination lays far to the west at Lat 09 48S/Long 139 02W. Strategy was to progress westwards, but to remain north of 3 degrees S until past Long 95W. That was to bypass an area of unfavorable doldrums conditions often south of Lat 3 degrees, between Long 92 and 95W. Once past this area, we intended to ease south to Lat 5S and beyond as we progressed west. The north westerly Humboldt Current transitions to the South Equatorial Current, which we expected to give us up to a 2 knot push once we got well into its area of influence. We had arranged a pool, based upon how close one might come to one’s expected time on route. We estimated 21 days to Hiva Oa, which was our planned “pointe de premier touche” as the French term it. First landfall, a New Zealand yacht anchored next to us, forecast 17 days 15 hours! It was a 51 footer, with somewhat greater hull speed than our 44 footer Beneteau Oceanus. With our dinghy once again strapped to the foredeck, we raised anchor to depart and headed out of the Bay. Apart from a manageable slow oil leak from the high pressure water maker pump seal, all systems were fully serviceable. By this time, we had mastered our Cape Horn pendulum steering and had it working well. Thus we had no autopilot electrical draw throughout the passage. Our sail configuration was full main, full genoa poled to starboard and the stay sail.

We commenced our watch system and settled into the passage. We did not set a formal watch for the daylight hours. Our night watch took Heather to midnight, with myself taking over to about 0600h when Heather would come back on for sunrise. As we progressed west, we established our own boat time to keep sunrise at around 0600h. Within the first half day, all yachts we had started out with were no longer visible. The rhumb line from the Galapagos to our destination is well off shipping lanes. Throughout our passage, we saw perhaps three other vessels. One seemed to be a research vessel, another was a ship with small boats deployed fishing a sea mount area and one freighter.

With conditions about as perfect as one could expect, we spent several days achieving anywhere from 130 NM in twenty-four hours to 150 NM with a best day of 167.5 NM. This, though, was where we began to learn that one should never push the yacht too much on a long passage, or ever for that matter.

Among those in our little group who were keen racers, spinnakers came out the second day. On the Net the third day, two spinnakers were reported as blown. I was incautious myself. On June 24, eight days out, we had been running all night with 20 to 25 knots of wind about 10 degrees off the stern from starboard, making a good 7 knots. I had the genoa poled out to starboard and full main out to port, with a jibe preventer to the toe rail. It was early morning and I was making a log entry when Heather called from the cockpit that the main sail was dropping. Yup, the main halyard had parted at the mast sheave. Why? Well I lacked a full understanding of the stress relationship between the luff and leach of the mainsail. In short, I had the preventer too tight, thus restricting the boom from rising and falling with the flexing of the mainsail. Hence, all the stress was transferred to the luff and the main halyard eventually parted at the sheave. I keep the lower part of the halyard as a souvenir and as a prop when I talk about rig stress. Later, we modified the preventer, adding a very strong bungee between it and the boom. As well, I fashioned a permanent fix against the goose neck pin from falling free. I secured a catch plate beneath the pin.

Preventer as modified with a heavy bungee cord

June 27, we were past the mid point of our 2903 NM passage Average speed had been just under 6K, but our forecast of 20 days, 9 hours en route was no longer achievable. Main halyard failure June 24 rendered the mainsail unusable. This, coupled with an expectation of lighter winds ahead, indicated the passage would be longer. Downwind, most of the drive on our boat came from the genoa, the main sail only contributing about 1 knot. So we expected to cover about 24 fewer nautical miles per day or 240 less over ten days. This would add two days of passage time for the remaining 1360 NM. Under the circumstances, I considered it unwise to climb the mast mid passage to re thread the main halyard. We had two spare halyards but they were oriented forward. Using one aft of the mast to raise the mainsail seemed a bad idea as doing so would impose a lateral load on an upper spreader, jeopardizing the standing rig. So we continued at a reduced pace. Later, we corrected this deficiency by replacing the topping lift with one of halyard diameter and strength, and adding a rigid boom vang.

In the unlikely event of having to heave to, we could raise the main sail perhaps to the second reef. but only as an emergency measure. Thus, unlike our genoa halyard failure inbound to the Galapagos, there was no easy fix. We were jokingly suggesting that as it is so pleasant out here, we should heave to for a couple of days to prolong the trip. Now we didn’t have to! Winds had been 12 to 20 knots from east or ESE. An option, with winds  below 12 knots or so, would be to break out the “big drifter”, our large gennicker. This sail is wind speed limited, which means a higher level of monitoring would be necessary, especially at night. At this point though, all other systems continued to function. The constant rolling motion caused considerable sail flap, which could results in wear. I spent a lot of time checking the rigging to stave off more failures.

Eventually we had nine vessels in our flotilla, as others sailing none stop from Panama had joined us. The Net operated twice daily on the Single Side Band (SSB) HF radio . As we were centered in the gaggle, I became net controller. At the time, all yachts were between 05 30 S and 07 30 S, but Longitude varied from 113 44 W to 124 10 W, a distance of over 600 NM. We had seen no other vessel for over five days. Destination options had changed, as we learned that the authorities were allowing inbound yachts to stop at the windward most island of Fatu Hiva. It is said to be the most beautiful of the Marquesas, and least developed. Indeed, many yachties had made the upwind beat from Hiva Oa to visit the place. Five of our flotilla of nine decided to take advantage of the policy change and make land fall at Fatu Hiva: 10 27 S/138 39 W, Bay of Vierges. It was time to celebrate mid passage with a champagne lunch, but there were more challenges to come.

We continued in our genoa/staysail configuration, making about 130 to 145 NM per twenty four hours. June 30th, at about 0200h at night, I heard a clunk from the mast area.. I investigated to find the cotter pin for the vertical goose neck securing pin had broken! The securing stainless steel pin dropped to the deck. This allowed the forward end of the boom to become unsecured and flail, with the stainless steel pig-tail hook threatening to pierce the mast and destroy the forward foot of the mainsail. By some inexplicable stroke of intuition, I had earlier looped a forward halyard around the boom and furled mainsail. Had I not taken this precaution, the front of the boom would have dropped to the deck and flogged around wreaking general havoc, possibly puncturing our on-deck flex tanks full of diesel!

My “pin catcher” to keep the goose neck in place

Quickly, I lashed the boom to the side of the mast, securing a piece of teak between the pig-tail hook and the mast to prevent further abrading. Then I immobilized the boom with a spare boom vang. The good news is that I located the lost stainless steel pin and washers at the base of the mast, which I kept safely, pending a fix-it operation upon landfall.

The next seven days were very enjoyable. We had easterly winds from 15 to 25 knots under mostly clear skies. Running in these conditions, especially at night, was magical. In the cockpit, the breeze was warm and the night sky full of stars. To Port was the Southern Cross, to Starboard the Plough, or Big Dipper and they appeared so close! Given the vast tract of ocean and at times well over a thousand miles from any land, a person could believe that at any given moment one might be the only human ever to cross a particular position.

We anchored in Bay of Vierges, Fatu Hiva, on July 7, 1330 hours local time! We covered the 2909 NM from Isla Isabella, The Galapagos to Fatu Hiva, The Marquesas in 22 days and 10 hours at an average speed of 5.4 knots. Despite our reduced speed, we were only two days longer than our original estimate.

Passage distance, of course, is based upon a rhumb line, Windvane steering is very much different than with an autopilot. Unlike an autopilot, which will lock up a compass heading, a windvane will tend to wander back and forth at least ten degrees, perhaps more. Thus, while the payback is no electrical power required, the distance the yacht covers invariably is greater than the rhumb line distance, even on a run. How much more is a guess, but our paddle wheel log recorded 2726 NM through the water for the rhumb line distance of 2909 NM. Allowing even a 1 knot push from the South Equatorial Current for the time en route of 538 hours, our actual distance over the ground would have been 2726 NM plus 538 NM, some 3264 NM over the ground. Such are the variables for navigators to ponder!

Approaching Fatu Hiva, it was exciting to see land on the horizon. The anchorage, Baie de Vierges, is a spectacular setting: huge black rock formations and lush green hills. We caught up on sleep and partied with other “Net buddies”, five of whom anchored with us. They helped repair our rigging, which was completed in just a few hours. We were keen to begin the South Pacific experience!


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