Beginning in April, 2015, Doug Cooley piloted a sailboat west from the coast of Mexico, three thousand miles, to the Marquesas Islands, in French Polynesia. Keeping a nautical log he “found a way into a process” of writing, as William Stafford explains. – mg
A writer is not so much someone who has something to say and the skills to enable the saying, as a writer is someone who has found a way into a process that will bring about things to say that never would have happened if the process hadn’t been entered. It’s a creative thing. And those who say of writing that it is done by learning grammar, a lot of rules and so on—no, I doubt that. The activity makes things happen.
~ William Stafford, University of Scranton 11.5.1979
The Pacific Puddle Jump, 2015
So it is Monday, April 20, 2015, which is day fourteen of the Pacific Puddle Jump adventure and I am finally settling down to do some journaling. The great weather window that was forecast for April 7th, did not materialize, so we sailed twenty miles up to Punta de Mita to clean the barnacles off, and get mentally, and physically ready for the big jump. We awoke, on Tuesday the 8th, spent an hour scrubbing the bottom, did a quick rinse off, and decided to depart, since the next favorable weather window was likely seven to ten days away. We knew we would likely have to rely on Gambol’s motor the first two days to get into any real North East trade wind pattern.
This morning we were greeted by five juvenile dolphin playing in our bow wake, at sunrise. These were beautiful dolphin, having speckled markings on a primarily grey body. They darted and played back and forth, just off our bow and I remained on the bowsprit observing and chatting with them for at least twenty minutes. They seemed content to stay for some time, and then departed after I returned to the cockpit. Interacting with beautiful animals like this is an instant reminder of one of the major reasons I am out here.
We have also been accompanied by a gull that looks like a booby, and as I was regretting not having better bird books aboard, I decided to search through the numerous books that David had left aboard when I bought the boat from him last year. Wouldn’t you know it, that among the books I found A Guide to Seabirds on the Ocean Routes, by Gerald Tuck. The copyright date is 1980, and it was printed in Great Britain, as are many of the books.
David is British by birth, now residing in Canada, and had shared the story of how he built a wooden sailboat in his twenties and sailed her across the Atlantic and into Caribbean waters. Anyway, although pleased with this find—the book is of fine quality—it is missing the companion book that has the extensive listing and pictures of the dozens of birds along these routes.
I learn that brown boobies, close cousins to the revered blue-footed boobies, are occasionally accompanied by a similarly built booby which has the same basic brown colorings, but that the upper surface of their wings are a brilliant white. This book mentions the wonderful frigate birds which we enjoyed in San Blas, La Cruz, and then Puerta Vallarta. They apparently do not travel much off shore as we have not seen them since departing Point Mita.
As far as ship sightings go, while we were about forty-five miles off of Mexico, I saw the navigation lights of a vessel that was northbound, paralleling the coast. I thought I would use the opportunity to see if I could see him on radar, so I fired up the older Raytheon unit. With a range of twelve miles, he was not showing up on the radar screen. But it was almost at that same time, that this vessel turned straight in our direction. He had been traveling quite fast on his journey north and I was thinking it was probably a Navy vessel, either Mexican or American. He was much faster than our slow pleasure craft, or the fishing and shrimping boats that ply these waters. I was relieved that after about fifteen minutes of his nav lights indicating a course towards us that he again turned northward. After that, we had no further ship contact until the evening of April 11th, when right at dusk we spotted the red port bow light and a white stern light, indicating a ship basically paralleling our two-hundred-twenty degree course. Again this ship wasn’t showing up on radar, and as I gazed westward through the binoculars, the ship also did something strange—they shut their lights off. I had a moment of concern, but then I figured they were likely another small sailboat on this same basic course, and did not want to mingle with another unidentified boat on the high seas.
Next morning, we were greeted again by at least fourteen, young playful dolphin, this time more of the grey bottle-nose type that I am familiar with from Miami, the Bahamas, and other parts of the Caribbean.
The first two motoring days netted us about one-hundred-forty nautical miles, each day. Now, under sail only, we tweaked out a low of forty-two nautical miles one day and a high of one-hundred-four nautical miles just a few days ago as the winds have become more consistent in the ten to fifteen knot range, mostly right on our tails. We are sailing wing and wing with the genoa out on a whisker pole to starboard, the main to port with a preventer line tied, and the mizzen (she is a ketch) also to starboard with a preventer tied. Direct downwind can be a squirrely course to sail and sometimes the autopilot can keep up and sometimes it can’t, and she has to be hand sailed.
As of today, Monday April 20th , we have covered one-thousand miles, of the planned three-thousand mile sail. So unless we get a lot more wind, we are looking at over thirty days to make the distance. Good thing I hid extra peanut butter and another five gallons of water. Actually we have used the water-maker that I installed, but now with one of the two house batteries dead, we are having to conserve power. We have started to shut off the refrigerator at night, when we have no boost from the solar panels.
Besides the earlier sighting of boat navigation lights at dusk that unexpectedly went out, today we had an actual sailboat sighting. To our port approximately one mile, we saw another sailboat, also southwest bound. Through binoculars it appeared forty-five to fifty feet in length, had two masts, and oddly enough appeared to be only flying a sail from the aft mast, which is basically unheard of, but it did not look like a spinnaker or a poled-out flying genoa. I put out a call on VHF Channel 16, for “any boat in the Pacific Puddle Jump fleet”, and got no response back. We got busy with other things aboard and did not see them again, nor see their lights at night.
Wow, had our first encounter with a commercial fishing vessel. I was in the hammock which is more comfortable facing aft, and Joy was close by as we talked, and I started to sense/hear a low deep rumble. Since we were under sail only, and did not have the water-maker or other noisy equipment on, I continued to focus into the sound. Finally I said to Joy “look forward off the starboard bow and tell me if you see a boat”. She did and low and behold, a large commercial fishing boat, was on our opposite tack, likely headed back into Mexico. This boat was large enough to have a small helicopter parked on its bow, similar to many of the Tuna and Mahi Mahi fishing boats that are based out of Mazatlan. I again turned on the VHF and this time listened for traffic on channel 16. Being one who has watched all the pirate movies, making contact with any boat on the high seas is nerve racking. Anyway, he quickly continued on his course, and was out of view in five minutes or so.
Today was also the mileage halfway point, with fifteen hundred miles remaining. The last couple days were slow, low mileage days: eighty-seven nautical miles and then thirty-seven, an all time low. We are nearing the ITCZ (international convergence zone), which means we are close to the equator, where the weather gets weird, the winds even weirder, and squalls are common. I did some re-plumbing on our ridged dingy that is on deck, in hopes of catching some more water for our shower-taking tank. Since the boat was so slow yesterday, we had soaped up and jumped into the ocean again. I can hardly describe how wonderful eighty degree water feels on my skin, and how nice it is to get cleaned up. Joy jumped in this time and needs to build up her upper body strength to get herself up the stern ladder that is basically vertical.
* * *
Well I have not been keeping this log up, and low and behold we made it to Hiva Oa in the Marqueses in thirty-six days. Think long and hard before taking this journey, the longest leg in the world. But, after we got to the equator, the trade winds finally started to fill in. We decided to proceed to Hiva Oa, even though the last two hours would be in darkness with no moon present. With three GPS monitors running for cross reference, we proceeded slowly under power, until we saw the flashing green lead-in light, which, along with the use of the radar guided us into the smaller anchorage.
By this time we could see the headlights of cars driving on the road that borders the bay. Finally I saw a white florescent light just to port. I assumed this was a street light or something on shore and as I turned on the high power light onto it, I was surprised to see that it was another sailboat at anchor. So we pulled up in front of him, and in twenty-five feet of water I dropped the anchor.
When I went ashore the next day, and got off my dingy and went to stand on the concrete dock, but nearly fell over because my inner ear was still swaying to the boats motion. I sat down on the dock and looked again to confirm that the dock was actually concrete and yes was held up by concrete pilings that were in fact not moving. I walked to town, my legs aching as they had not really gotten that much exercise during this phase of the trip.
The town of Atuona they say has a thousand residents, a couple of stores, a couple of restaurants, a post office, one internet café, which I hope to send this tomorrow, as I found them closed today. The Pacific Puddle Jump group has a final party in Tahiti, mid-June, which gives us one time constraint, if we want to pay attention to it. The people here speak French, and if you thumb a ride, typically will be pleasantly picked up and the drivers always refuse money for the lift. We haven’t yet officially checked in because of paperwork delay and the fact we have arrived during a local holiday of some kind.
Well thanks for following me.
I need to get Gambol refueled with diesel, and this can only be done by shuttling five gallon fuel tanks back and forth with the dingy. At the only gas station which is right here in the anchorage, they have been out of fuel, for five weeks! Of course everything is brought in by boat.
~ Doug Cooley
Arearea (the Red Dog) 1892, by Paul Gauguin
With Kit, Age 7, at the Beach by William Stafford
We would climb the highest dune,
from there to gaze and come down:
the ocean was performing;
we contributed our climb.
Waves leapfrogged and came
straight out of the storm.
What should our gaze mean?
Kit waited for me to decide.
Standing on such a hill,
what would you tell your child?
That was an absolute vista.
Those waves raced far, and cold.
“How far could you swim, Daddy,
in such a storm?”
“As far as was needed,” I said,
and as I talked, I swam.
Doug Cooley’s 2016 project
going to Fiji to work with http://seamercy.org/
to help with cyclone recovery.
The Marquesas Islands
The Pacific Puddle Jump