In our last article, we mentioned that Mexico was just down the coast, an easy sail away from our secure waters of the Georgia Strait. So imagine you just spent some time navigating in that region; thus you now feel much more comfortable with your boat, the urge to go home to all comfort items has passed, and one too many sunset cocktails has helped plant some ideas in our brain.
Now, what seed do we harvest? Where do we go from here?
Actually, staying in Mexico is a perfectly good course of action; the country has so much to offer, the sailing is easy and the people very welcoming. We did spend eighteen months in this magnificent country and could have stayed a lot more. We find ourselves reminiscing fairly often about the people, food, sights and general atmosphere. Alas, the bug of travels confused our brain some more and we found crossing an ocean… appealing!
In reality, what are the options available to us? One is to go back toward colder latitudes: i.e. Canada, though this one doesn’t catch many of us, like a flu bug, by surprise. The second one is to follow the Coast as you have just been doing; and enjoy another few years of “day sail”, right back up to Florida through Panama, or down the Coast. Yet again, you went to Disney with the kids once and that was enough for most of us.
So, for a few illuminated ones, the only option is to visit the Islands of the South Pacific. And there lies your first challenge; the so called Pacific Ocean, the largest one. We can attest that it is a big blank space, with a few grains of sand plucked in the middle of it. That should reassure the pessimist: less earth, less danger to hit something with the keel: “Well, let’s go darling!”
Still, a change in the frame of mind needs to operate slowly; this passage will be a little longer than the La Paz/Mazatlán one. We still remember vividly that first crossing; we thought we were going to the other side of the world! So what happened in our brain to facilitate our exit strategy?
First we needed to “tropicalize” the crew, which means “relax, you are not in North America anymore; things will happen in their own time, people have different values and visions of life”. The “manana manana” mantra of Mexico is the perfect place to get into that rhythm. The stress you are going to induce is going to be enormous; all systems in the brain need to be in tip top shape. It is not the time to stop smoking or question our love relationship! Yet again, we are not all on Prozac or Opioid out here; or wearing “rosy” glasses, but rather a normal bunch, so try not to worry too much.
Secondly, crossing to the Marquesas will take roughly 25 days, or 600 hours. This is equivalent to five years, if not more, of regular Sunday outings for a normal boat. The stress you are going to put on your vessel is going to be enormous; so this time around, all system needs to be in absolutely perfect shape. And Tahiti is not a heaven for boat shopping either. Very little 110 volt items available; small selection of SAE parts, and when you need to import, better be ready for the sticker shock. You get the drift; it’s not a race around the beer can. It’s an ultra-marathon under death-valley conditions, for the boat and the crew. Let us re-assure you though, many of us have done it, and will do it again!
But a few things made it enjoyable and safe to accomplish for us. We decided on all the safety systems we required for our peace of mind on board. This means very different things for different people. It was an EPIRB, with an updated registration, a means of communicating with land SSB/Pactor, and a new life raft. Sorry no, not the one you’ve seen at the San Carlos’ fleet market, burnt by the 20 years of Mexican sun; actually that’s better than nothing, and some boat would love to have one, so go ahead and buy it. It’s only for the peace of mind really, 99.9% of us never used it. To back up our assumption, we did a rigorous survey in Hiva Oa and not one crew that was there used it; even the ones that had to leave their boat on route, in the middle of the Pacific.
Also we had Letitgo in the best condition possible; no system was left with a doubt or a presumption of hope that it would be ok. Every piece was inspected, including sails and every questionable part ordered and changed. We have done everything we could, now it was time to go relax and enjoy that special time where you don’t have e-mails, cellphones, or negative news on a daily dose! Don’t some of us pay a fortune for this nowadays? We like to call it a detox cruise!
Still in the back of your mind, you need to be ready for all eventuality. For example, in 2014-2015, one boat hit a whale north of the Galapagos and had to divert to Salinask, Ecuador; therefore sailing 6 days with a damaged boat and not knowing what would happen to the rudder. After repairs, they made it back to sea and without any more problems. Another one was plucked off their disabled vessel by a passing sailboat, and delivered in good spirits, to the Marquesas. This is to illustrate that some of us encounter unexpected issues and need to be ready for them, with well-practiced drill and standard operating procedures.
Next, why don’t you get a long-stay visa for French Polynesia? It does require a bit of paperwork and a couple of trips to a French embassy, but the system is decently “oiled” by now, if you have a well-built file. Know that it is well worth it in the end; after all you haven’t crossed an ocean just to be rushed through a territory that is 2000 km long, with an amazing variety of islands. We feel that being pushed towards your cyclone-safe zone is one of the reasons why so many crews are disillusioned when they arrive Down Under. The boat and crew are tired; they just sailed 6,000 nm in 8 months, the fun is gone long ago, just like the Jabsco pump on that great toilet of our’s.
If you made the effort, you speak Spanish by now, of course, and French is quite similar to it. So don’t let yourself be scared about the language; get that high school vocabulary out from under a few years of adulthood dust, and life will be so much more fun. Be ready, not only on shore, but also the VHF will speak a different language. The Maritime Rescue Service Center will announce all kinds of interesting things; such as a tsunami alert, or a missing boat and only in the language of Moliere.
Boats will start to be less homogeneous. Pot luck is a strange concept to a European crew; and a 3-1 ratio on the chain is for extreme weather to a French sailor. Speedo is a formal wear; strong coffee and cigarette being the elixir of life for some. Quinoa and yoga are some strange elements of a sect, not the normality, like on 4th Avenue.
One last food for thought: from Ecuador, you can cross the Pacific all year around. New Zealand is not the only cyclone-safe harbour in the South Pacific. Take your time, only a few sailors do cross more than once on their own boats.
It’s not that hard: we were ready; well, we convinced ourselves of it, anyway…