28 Days

On Monday, after 28 days at sea, we anchored in the harbor of Atuona on the island of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas. Since leaving the Galapagos, we have traveled over 3,000 miles with our fastest day covering 171 miles while on our slowest day we only sailed 38 miles. Overall, our average speed was just over four knots per hour. To put this distance and speed in perspective, the area we covered is roughly the same as the distance from New York City to Anchorage, Alaska and the pace is similar to a brisk walk. The main flaw in this metaphor is that while traipsing from New York to Anchorage, you are likely to see something other than miles upon miles of ocean in all directions. Fortunately, we were able to settle into a comfortable routine that made the days pass quickly. Although a month at sea seems like a long time, I feel that I could easily go a couple of more months without missing land. However, the last week of the passage was excruciating. With less than 500 miles to go, we expected to cover the final portion of our trip in several days. Instead, the wind died and we slowly limped towards our destination. Naturally, after not having any wind for the entire week, the wind piped up to 30 knots as we prepared to enter the harbor. Less than five miles from the anchorage, the autopilot suddenly broke. After a month of nearly continuous work, the arm of the autopilot broke free of the shelf holding it. The loss of my most reliable companion hurts on many different levels. Still, the journey was not over and there was time for several more crises. Next, while preparing the anchor for deployment, the windlass failed to work. Readers who read my concerns about losing the windlass while in the Galapagos may remember that it is nearly impossible to handle the heavy chain to lower and raise the anchor by hand. As I scrambled around trying to find the cause of the problem, I noticed a growing pool of water on the floor of the cabin. Tasting the salt water confirmed my fear that there was a leak on the boat. Quickly closing the seacock for the salt water intake, I was pleased to see the flow of water stop. I was later to figure out that it was not in fact a leak from the salt water intake, but a leak from a loose connection on the engine heat exchanger. As we anxiously motored through the crowded anchorage and I expended all of my limited energy hauling the anchor up after a couple of attempts at setting the hook failed, several kind cruisers came to our rescue and helped me successfully set the anchor. Still, we drifted within a few feet of another boat, strangely a Valiant 40, albeit one in much better condition than mine. After five attempts to set a stern anchor, one of which resulted in the anchor line getting wrapped around the propeller and ceasing up the engine, yet another kind cruiser finally helped me to get a good hold. As I write, we still float tenuously close to the other Valiant and I owe drinks to nearly every boat in the harbor. In addition to the major setbacks of the final day of the passage, there were also plenty of smaller setbacks throughout the 28 days. I lost the starboard running light, broke the port running light, tore the asymmetrical spinnaker (twice), badly chafed the mainsail halyard and jib roller furling sheet, broke the line holding the radar reflector, lost the use of the stereo, and broke the band on my wristwatch. Even the American flag is in tatters as it flies proudly over the wreckage that is my boat. The fact is that after a month-long passage, no man can ever be quite the man he once was. I have learned a great many things, most too trivial to report here. Although I cannot confirm or deny the general wisdom that man cannot live on bread alone, I can testify that man can live on pasta, rice, and pancakes alone. Surprisingly, considering the enforced sedentary lifestyle, I managed to lose weight during the passage. Perhaps this had as much to do with my muscles atrophying as with the lack of variety in my diet, but whatever the cause of my weight loss, it is not a diet I would recommend to others. Despite the many disasters, difficulties, and deprivations, I am happy to be still floating and at anchor in lovely Hiva Oa. Anna and I celebrated our arrival with my usual landfall breakfast of pancakes. For dinner, we had intended to enjoy wine and cheese, but both of these had gone bad due to the heat and salty air. Somehow, the rancid gourmet food seemed appropriate for the bittersweet occasion. Still, while I may be a broken man living on a crippled boat, I look forward to the simple pleasures such as walking on land, a night of uninterrupted sleep, and eating something other than pasta, rice, or pancakes. It is an odd aspect of sailing that one day you can be floating in the beautiful tropical paradise of the Marquesas and be completely miserable while the next day you can be thrilled just to walk, sleep, and eat. Over the next week, I hope to combine these two versions of the good life to experience what I hope will be true paradise.

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