The Vilisar Times

The life and times of Ronald and Kathleen and our voyages aboard S/V Vilisar, a 34.5-foot wooden Wm-Atkin-designed sailing cutter launched in Victoria, BC, Canada, in 1974. Since we moved aboard in 2001 Vilisar has been to Alaska, British Columbia, California, Mexico, The Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Atuona, Isle Hiva Oa, Polynesie Française, Friday, 04 June 2010

Even cruising life can encompass both good new and bad news. The bad news has been the TIAs while at sea some 400 Nm and quite a few days still from land, the emergency air trip after arrival here after 37 days at sea to the big hospital in Papeete on Tahiti, and the ten-day stay there, part of it flat on my back. All of that could have been a catastrophe.

The good news, however, is that we made it without me experiencing a major brain-stroke at sea, that TIAs are well-known to neurologists, that the situation was dealt with in time, that the French and Tahitian medical staff were knowledgeable and competent and that I am back on the boat with Kathleen and well on the way to recovery. For a week after returning here I was still getting ‘spells’ (sudden double-vision, paralysis in legs, arms and my tongue; tingling in left extremities; and loss of my sense of balance; etc.), but provided the dosage of the anti-coagulants is correct (they are still trying by trial and error to find what the right amount should be), I am all-in-all getting along quite well, thank you. I am still not able to undertake long cruises, heavy lifting or other physical work. The French doctor told me to avoid banging my head hard or climbing trees. Sic! I am sticking to this, but I do manage to do a little boat work in the mornings and take it easy in the afternoon. My road to recovery is at least due as much to Kathleen’s ministrations. In time I shall be eating a well-buffered daily time-release aspirin and leading a quite normal life, say the neurologists.

The hospital bills have still not been paid. My German Travel Health Insurance says it will pay for everything. But it has still not happened. It is private (German state health insurance only covers the actual E.U. countries, Switzerland, some of North Africa, etc., but not French Pays d’Outre-Mer [i.e., French Overseas Dependencies]. Why the Swiss get included, though, and why North Africa, also, surely raises a question or two). Let’s hope that the insurance comes through, because otherwise we are in deep financial kaka.

Every cruiser that we tell about our at-sea crisis relates all-too-readily. They are all in the same boat with normally a two-man crew made up usually of retirees. The skipper is often knowledgeable and does most of the boat-work, on the one hand, and his/her spouse who would be almost immediately overwhelmed if faced with the prospect of handling the boat totally alone on a long passage. We have discussed what Kathleen should do if at sea I am hit by such an attack or a similar emergency occurs. Other shorthanded cruiser-crews should do the same. You would be surprised at the range of possibilities, but the scare factor is big.

At present Vilisar has been lying peacefully at anchor in Atuona port. The ocean swells still manage to creep into the long cove despite the breakwall, and until we could finally get the stern anchor to set properly, we were often rolling around at night. After several very dry weeks with brush fires on some other islands, it has begun to rain almost daily for thirty minutes or so. Dry days are now less frequent than wet ones. But the squalls, brought about by the approach of the rainy season (high point in July and August) and the magnetic attraction of the high mountains all around us, have perked up the vegetation. We just have to remember to close up the boat when we go ashore and to put away or cover all the tools at night.

Atuona is a village that keeps French-village hours. But although there are Frenchmen about, the locals outnumber the French. This is true all over French Polynesia (physically, FP is made up of islands groups spread out over an area larger than Europe): Polynesians or Polynesians of mixed races represent 78%; ‘Chinese’ descendents, usually of mixed race, 12%; and pure French, 10%. There are no income taxes, but indirect taxes are huge and are added on top of high import and the long-transport costs. FP has got to be one of the most expensive paradises in the world, which is why their tourism is fading. The French Pacific Franc is tied to the Euro and guaranteed by the French. This means that prices have gone out of sight as the Europe has climbed against nearly every currency. The French Government pours in about €150 mio every year just as a lump sum (this works out to about € 500 per head on a population of under 300,000) before they even start paying to back up the Pacific Franc or ‘investing’ in special infra-structure projects (the building standards are high; all the public buildings and highways are of top quality; education is free [though exclusively in French]; healthcare is free. At the post-office the other day (month-begin) there was a stack of government cheques waiting to be distributed; the pile must have been thousands of cheques high. This doubtless explains why nearly every local is driving a brand new Toyota-Hilux pick-up truck. You would be very hard pressed to find a really old car on the island; if you did it would be driven by an ex-pat Frenchman; the locals seem to have the money. Nearly all the professional staff in FP are contracted from France, i.e., medical staff, teachers, administers, businesspersons, etc. There is no income tax so therefore top earners (French professionals) are basically being carried by the poorer ones who have to pay sales tax to keep the regime afloat, but who in return seem to receive government cheques from the central administration and jobs from the infra-structure or real-estate projects, and therefore from l’etat (i.e., France). The FP model of economic development is therefore about as useless for Third-World emulation as the Israeli one, and for much the same reason: the standard of living is kept up and guaranteed by a rich First-World uncle.

But even the French, or even especially the French, seem happy and content in this island. Life is much more easy-going than in Latin America, everyone is so relaxed that they can stop on the roads and pick up hikers, they have time to exchange pleasantries and smile indulgently with you over your broken French, laugh and smile continually when they are chatting amongst themselves. The ex-pats are probably happy to find other ex-pats to talk to, but they have probably been infected by the happy-go-lucky Polynesians. Out for a walk into town, there is enough ripe mango or papayas or mulberries on the ground to make the cruisers happy. The fabulously delicious pamplemousse and bananas cannot even be imagined until you taste them for yourself. The volcanic soil is fertile but there seems to be almost no truck gardening, and when we found vegetables for sale they cost roughly the same as purchasing the crown jewels. The very few farms that exist are apparently run by Frenchmen; I don’t suppose the locals must or are eager to be farmers and there are precious few fishing boats around.

Of course, Atuona on Hiva Oa is a village and nobody moves fast or locks things up. Papeete on Tahiti is a city and I was told there is street crime and drug problems. I didn’t notice it when I was there, but on the other hand I was just out of the hospital for a few hours of furlough.

But, of course, there are problems in paradise. The government has become very corrupt and the ex-president has been had up in court after 25 years in power and after creating a very well-off elite class of mixed-raced locals (Chinese and Europeans mixed with Polynesian = métis) Half the population is under the age of 20 years, so the expectation is that the population will keep on exploding and the infrastructure is doming under pressure (e.g. hospitals, schools, workforce, etc). Drugs and sexually-transmitted disease is increasing rapidly. The western diet has introduced the population to Coca Cola and McDonalds; 25% of the population, I was told authoritatively by a French high school teacher, now suffer from sugar diabetes and the incidence of amputations and blindness is reaching proportions like those of the native populations in the U.S.A. and for the same reasons. It is amazing how many obese young-ish Tahitian women as well as teenage Tahitian children there are about. I never met a fat French person, though. A Frenchman told me that when he arrived here 25 years ago everybody was slim (including his wife!) The high FP franc has priced the island out of the tourist market (they compare themselves unfavourably to Bali, which gets many more Europeans and American tourists).

There is a small Polynesian Independence movement. But, if France were to stop spending money here, it is not hard to imagine that prosperity would end in a flash and the standard of living would sink rapidly below that of the poorest Latino countries. Most people here seem to realise this. The French go on paying, possibly as repayment for their damaging nuclear tests and partly perhaps because they still fancy themselves as a colonial power. When the European Union was formed (back then called the EEC), the other members objected to supporting any European overseas colonies. A special deal was cut for the French pays d’outre mer, however (in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, South Pacific, etc). In the end, however, I suppose it could be German money that is paying for it all.

It is a lovely place here and we shall be here for a few more weeks, I suppose, until the doctors finally say my “condition” has been stabilised with anti-coagulants. I feel terrific at present and hope to pilot Vilisar to Tahiti to greet son Andrew when he arrives to help us on the boat on June 30. That will be fun, I am sure.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Day 41 & 42. Costa Rica to Isles Marquises via The Galapagos
At Sea. Sunday, 02 May 2010,
Our position as at 2100 GMT/UTC (1700 NYC; 2300 Ffm):
S 09 degrees 44.25 minutes; W 133 degrees 21.00 minutes;
313.3 Nm to Hiva Oa

Well, we haven't made it to Hiva Oa yet, but we have at least made it into
May 2010! For a tourist the weather is almost perfect. Big blue sky with
puffy white clouds, a steady and refreshing breeze. No rain for days now.
The breezes are however just very light breezes! For sailors like us, it
is frustrating in the extreme that we are going so slowly. Even getting
out Lin and Larry Pardey's book 'The Care and Feeding of the Offshore
Crew', which was written during a voyage from Japan to Victoria, British
Columbia, and which indicates that they had a lot of very, very slow days,
doesn't really help us that much. It's still slow and tedious and we want
to be there now!

During my turn on night-watch, I go over our rig in my mind. Why can't I
use the topping lift instead of the main halyard? Why can't I bend on a
big genoa headsail using the mainsail halyard, backwards so to speak, and
pull the sail up to the top of the mast? This will be a big job what with
clearing away the old jibstay and removing and bagging the red yankee
which at present is tied sausage-like on the foredeck. We might actually
make more speed and at least we could drop the mainsail and secure the
boom to the boom thereby eliminating the slatting and, with the boat being
pulled by the genoa instead of pushed by the mainsail, we might altogether
be better off.

After espresso in the morning today we go on deck. Sail changes alone are
a task. But this has to be jury rigged. We clear the yankee from the
broken stay, bag it and send it below before tying off the damaged jibstay
to get it out of the way. The genoa is much bigger and it will not have
the hanks to keep it under control. After and hour or so of work we are
ready to go: the main is down and the boom secured to the gallows, the jib
is bagged up and sent below, and the genoa is lying on the foredeck, all
hooked up top and bottom and ready to go. Kathleen is ready to sheet it in. I
heave the makeshift jib halyard and the genoa starts up. It fills almost
immediately with wind and becomes almost uncontrollable. Before it is
fully up the body of the sail bellies out ahead of us and pulls the rest
of the sail right off the deck and drops it into the water where it tries
to get in under the bow. Shit! I let the peak down a bit, but that only
allows the sail to fall more into the water and even more under the bow.
What a mess! Trying to pull a sail full of seawater up even using the sail
winch is nearly impossible. You have to pull a bit at a time and let the
water run out. Finally, I recover the whole sail and, this time, manage to
get it hoisted without getting it wet again. It bellies out beautifully as
if to ask, 'What's your problem, anyway?' and Kathleen sheets it back at the
cockpit. I watch for a moment and then move back to join her. I am pooped.
The whole thing has taken nearly two hours but now we are moving along at
a couple of knots and the boom is stowed on the boom gallows. No slatting
to shake the boat from stem to stern. I go below for a break while Kathleen
experiments with steering under these new conditions.

Definitely smoother and quieter! The problem is wind. Or lack of it! We
can pretty much steer the direct route to Hiva Oa, but we are only making
about 2 knots or about 50 Nm a day. We still have 350 Nm to go. At times
we feel that we are almost becalmed. Sailors have to live with no wind
from time to time. The same Lin and Larry Pardey took 50 or 60 days to get
from Japan to British Columbia and often had days of only 40 or 50 Nm. Of
course, unlike them, we have an engine and we are now well within range of
our fuel capacity (I reckon we can make 600 Nm on calm waters on our
approx. 85 gallons). But we don't want to have to replenish at European
fuel prices when we get to French Polynesia.

Day 42

Now the worse aspect is that the windvane steering does not seem to like
working downwind in weak breezes. No windvane likes this. So we are
condemned to sit in the cockpit and hand-steer. This is very, very boring
and stressful, since you can't really do anything but steer and sleep. We
have just had our second night of this and three hours at night can seem
very long even if the stars are beautiful and there is later bright

Trying to throw together a meal is a challenge as you don't want to use up
your sleeping time. Last night we boiled four potatoes in a small pot of
seawater, opened a can of Campbell's condensed cheddar cheese soup, diced
the cooked potatoes straight into the soup and ate it all up. Filling and
fairly easy. Kathleen had made a nice loaf of whole-wheat and rolled oats.

We have come to value a little book called 'Cooking on the Go', which in
turn was recommended to us by cruising friends Bob and Rita Valine (S/V
Ritana), now living in Powell River, BC. It has lots of flexible and tasty
ideas, though some at first seem pretty bizarre. They have all turned out
well so far, though. Anyone contemplating cruising should get a copy. It
was difficult but I found a used copy on

So now, with the genoa up and Vilisar moving at a very slow speed, we hope
for a freshening wind to get us to Hiva Oa a little faster than another
five or six days. Somebody whistle!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Day 38. Costa Rica to Isles Marquises via The Galapagos
At Sea. Thursday, 29 April 2010,
Our position as at 2100 GMT/UTC (1700 NYC; 2300 Ffm):
S 08 degrees 40.95 minutes; W 130 degrees 39.59 minutes;
484.3 Nm to Hiva Oa

Not only is the trip getting very long indeed. While squally weather has
become for the moment, at least, a thing of the past, and we are enjoying
broad sunlit days with puffy clouds and bright moonlit nights, the winds,
on the other hand, have lessened in intensity and the seas, as a result,
have become much calmer. This weather and our reduced ability to carry
sail (broken jibstay and therefore hesitation to put too much load on the
mast above the spreaders), we are barely able to register any speed at all
at times. At this rate we shall never get to Hiva Oa!

The other aspect of weak winds is that our mainsail boom, a very heavy,
16-foot length of solid wood, starts to slat. There isn't really enough
wind to keep the sail filled and, once we start rolling in the swells,
that heavy boom starts swinging and every once in a while it will put the
boat through a complete jibe. We had some bad experiences with this in
British Columbia and Alaska, and for this very reason installed a
"Dutchman Boom Brake". It is essentially a piece of rope that is tied to
the lower shroud on the port side, run through a series of three gears
hung from the boom (you can tighten the gears so the friction is greater),
down to the lower shroud on the starboard side and the tail end run back
to a cleat near the cockpit. If the boom starts to go through a complete
arc, the boom brake will slow it down so it doesn't break things. We have
been plenty glad to have this boom brake in the past since. At present, of
course, we always have the wind behind us. Involuntary jibes are dangerous
to crew and ship. Unless we want to stay in the cockpit day and night, we
have to hope the boat will stay on course and that, if it doesn't and the
rolling or a wind change causes a jibe, the boom brake will minimize the

Yesterday late afternoon during a game of Scrabble below, we hear the boom
swing right across from starboard to port, the boom brake screaming its
protest. There is a big thump and we fling down the game to dash out
through the companionway. I had used a snap shackle at the starboard
shroud for the rope from the gears to pass through. This snap shackle was
around the threaded part of the turnbuckle. It was exactly here that the
turnbuckle has snapped (I guess we should call it a snap buckle). The
turnbuckle's threaded throat is broken off flush with the body of the
turnbuckle. The whole aft starboard shroud that runs to the spreader is
dangling and the boom brake is useless. The mainsail boom of course is on
the other side of the boat.

This is serious stuff. If the mast is already not fully supported (no
jibstay) at least we can carry a mainsail. Now it would be very difficult
to carry any sail at all. There is about an hour to sunset. Kathleen gets
on the tiller to keep us moving with the waves so that if possible we are
not rolling. I go forward to the shroud for 'damage assessment'.
Obviously, I have caused the problem myself by putting a hard metal
shackle around the threaded throat of the turnbuckle. Just like the
jibstay turnbuckle, the bronze turnbuckle at the base of the shroud does
not tolerate side-loading. It has finally broken.

I put on my best self-confident manner and tell Kathleen that we are not
in danger. But, unlike the jibstay, we really have to do something about
this situation if we have any hope of sailing the rest of the way to
French Polynesia. I start turning out the stuff in the lazarette hold
until I can see at the bottom at the back the several additional used
bronze turnbuckles that I bought for spares off EBay a few years ago (they
had been stripped off an old schooner and somebody was selling off the
bits and pieces). Thank goodness! But will one of them fit? I drag out my
tool kit, anhydrous lanolin, penetrating spray-oil and spare cotter pins
and seizing wire. If I work really quickly, I might have this repaired by

Trying to free up the old cotter pins, removing the old turnbuckle and its
corroded pins, etc. takes more time than actually installing the
replacement turnbuckle. I sit on the side deck with my feet in the water
as we roll while I work. The replacement is plenty stout but the through-
pins are not the same size, so I have to go below and find a suitable
full-thread bronze bolt with appropriately-sized nuts. Instead of the
regulation bolt with cotter pin, I am using a bronze bolt that I double-
bolt on each side. It is not quite the right size but it at least fits
into all the right holes. Fortunately, I had greased up the threads of the
turnbuckle when I got it from EBay, so there is no problem tightening it.
As it becomes dark enough for me to have to use the miner's headlamp, the
work is pretty much done. With full darkness the wind drops to nearly
nothing and we decide to spend the night without the mainsail, reefed or
otherwise, and simply to lie ahull with the staysail sheeted in amidships.
We drift about a mile every hour, but even without a mainsail up we are
not rolling particularly badly since we are moving with the swells. When
dawn comes we will take another look and make our decisions. Without a
mainsail up, the mast doesn't creak, the boom doesn't slat and we get a
good night's sleep. First we make ourselves a dish of refried beans with
fried egg. Delicious!
We chat like there has never been a problem.

Finally about 0700 we turn out on deck. The set-up from the night before
looks good. But I make a few improvements and then mouse everything up
with cotter pins or seizing wire. The wind is up a bit compared to
yesterday, so we hoist the double-reefed main and give it a shot. Very
slow! After a couple of hours, we shake out one reef (we will not shake
out the first reef because we don't want to load the masthead). We are
able to pick up a couple of knots of speed even in the still somewhat weak
winds. The sea is still calm with only ocean swells and our course to the
waypoint in Hiva Oa is almost exactly in line with the movement of the
waves. Kathleen sets up the windvane steering and the omnipresent bungee
cords so that Vilisar stays on a course of 230-240 degrees (mag).

From all this I have learned: 1) don't side load turnbuckles; and 2) never
throw anything away. It also helps if you can see each little catastrophe
as a technical problem and not as the end of the world. It wouldn't hurt
if you have already taken the piece of system in question apart in the
past and have some spares and you have stowed them.

It is mid-afternoon on a beautiful trade winds day and we are making 3-4
knots towards Hiva Oa. We might qualify as the all-time slowest trip. But
we shall be there eventually. We might finish our Scrabble game today.
Tonight's dinner is borscht.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Day 36. Costa Rica to The Marquesas via The Galapagos
At Sea. Tuesday, 27 April 2010,
Our position as at 2100 GMT/UTC (1700 NYC; 2300 Ffm):
S 08 degrees 12.95 minutes; W 128 degrees 20.79.67 minutes;
576.6 Nm to Hiva Oa

Yesterday and the day before are very boisterous with large and very
confused seas. This makes, on the one hand, for very uncomfortable
travelling down below; like living in a washing machine. Every task was
made triply difficult because one has to hang on for dear life once you
get off your berth, and even staying in the berth requires lee cloths and
cushions to keep you wedged in. Moreover, we have to spend whole watches
in the cockpit trying to keep the boat on course; the weather is bright,
sunny and windy, but the waves wanted to bump us one way or the other; the
windvane steering cannot get it back on course fast enough. Nevertheless,
Kathleen does make a new loaf of bread. We were feeling very fed up by
evening, so decide just to have Spam on the delicious new loaf. By
evening, too, things have settled down a bit and we can leave the steering
and stay below. Night comes and there is a full moon; it is almost like
daylight once it is well up in the sky. We shall have to put the clock
back another hour since it is well after 1900 (local) when the sun finally
goes down. Only one more change after that (30 minutes) when we arrive in
Hiva Oa.

The jibsail provides us with another chapter. Once the jibstay turnbuckle
had parted (last chapter) I tightened up the jibsail halyard to act as an
ersatz jibstay. Yesterday when I come on my morning watch and am
patrolling around the deck I think the jibsail is sagging off to leeward
and take up a few notches on the winch. It doesn't seem to have much
effect, but I tie the halyard off at the mast cleat and return to the
cockpit. Hardly there, I hear a loud crack. The halyard (three-ply line)
has parted at the masthead; the halyard itself falls onto the deck, the
jibsail, still loosely tied at the bowsprit, falls dragging into the
water. I call Kathleen on deck to handle the steering. I go forward on my
hands and knees to recover the now heavy and soggy jibsail, wrap it
sausage-like with sail bands and secure everything to prevent damage to
the sail or the boat. This all takes quite a while. The nearly-healed
abscess on my right knee of course is scraped open again and bleeding, so
I look properly heroic.

Kathleen is very apprehensive, but I can assure her that there is no
danger now. Of course, we now have no jibstay, ersatz or regular, and the
mast is no longer supported fore and aft from the bow at masthead level
with a jibstay (there is still the forestay at spreader level, of course).
We don't want to overload the mast head above the spreaders, so we shall
not be shaking out any reefs in the mainsail; it is already carrying the
load of the main boom using the topping lift and has a distinct aftwards
bend in it. This means, for one, that the mast squeaks all night as the
wedges settle and finally drop out into the cabin, and that our speed to
Hiva Oa will remain slow. But at least there should be no more exciting
chapters to the jibsail saga.

As I mentioned, the winds and waves quiet during the day and more so at
night. This morning we are almost becalmed. Our speed last night is very
slow and, without much wind, the boom starts slatting around again. Today
is better but we do barely 3 knots on average. I debate jury-rigging the
small storm jibsail by attaching it to the bobstay at the bow and using
the staysail halyard to get it up to the spreaders. After discussion
however, we decide that we shall just carry on carefully and slowly to
Hiva Oa as we are (double-reefed main with staysail). A bit more wind
would be in order though. But, at least for the moment we are spared the
confused seas and big swells. And, of course, something else to fix when
we arrive - in about five or six days at this slow speed. We really would
like to go faster and have this whole thing behind us. But, we also want
to be cautious. Once everything is fixed up at anchor in Hiva Oa we can
debate other sail combinations and the like.

This morning in the calm seas I go forward and reset the wooden wedges
around the mast where it comes through the mast collar at deck level. I
also tune up some of the shrouds that appear to me to be too loose. It is
pleasant out, there isn't much by way of sea, swells or rolling, and I am
happy to have the little jobs to do. Early in the morning the boat had
gone through an involuntary jibe (perhaps a wave pushed us of course) and
Kathleen, later me too, had gone on deck to sort things out. It was still
dark and we started getting impatient with the boat, the windvane
steering, the trip, life on the Bounding Main, the South Pacific in
general and of course each other. Eventually we got things sorted out so
we could stay below. This sort of snapping at each other doesn't happen
often. Usually some sleep or some coffee helps.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Day 33. Costa Rica to The Marquesas via The Galapagos
At Sea. Saturday, 24 April 2010,
Our position as at 2100 GMT/UTC (1700 NYC; 2300 Ffm):
S 07 degrees 2.99 minutes; W 121 degrees 54.67 minutes;
834.5 Nm to Hiva Oa

Constant readers of this blog will already have noted that we are now
calculating the remaining distance to Isle Hiva Oa rather than Isle Nuku
Hiva in Isle Marquises. (You will also notice I have started using French.
Voila!). This cuts about 63 Nm off our trip (the new destination, not
using French). Hurrah!

Hiva Oa had not originally appealed to us. But, given the prevailing SE
Trade Winds and the SW ocean swells, it would be difficult to make it
south from Nuku Hiva to Hiva Oa or some of the other islands we should like to
visit as well. So we shall start in the south and work our way north to
visit around five of the islands in the Marquesas before moving west
towards the Society Islands (Tahiti, etc.)

Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa are both check-in ports, which is important.
Especially during the yachting season the gendarmes patrol the islands and
issue fines if you stop somewhere without first checking in. It's the
usual bureaucratic tango if you are on a sailing yacht. We had planned to
give Hiva Oa a pass because the harbour there has a bad reputation as open
to swells and a foul bottom for anchoring. There is a breakwall to provide
some shelter and the yachts anchor fore and aft to keep facing into the
incoming sea swells. But in addition to check-in, there is fresh water,
fruits and some vegetables which rather makes up for the bad parts, we
hope. So we have decided to call there first.

Last night I spotted a masthead light passing parallel to us at perhaps a
mile or two. Compared to us it was moving very rapidly, leading me to
believe it was a catamaran. But I could only see one light and soon it was
gone again over the horizon ahead of us. I tried calling on the VHF radio,
but no reply.

Today was a red letter day in that I finally beat Kathleen at Scrabble. It
was close, though.

The winds have been stronger the last couple of days and we have been
making better speed. We did over 100 Nm in 24 hours yesterday and will
surely do so again today. There are a lot of biggish waves. Vilisar
handles them wonderfully. She has so much buoyancy in her stern thanks to
the engine room and the lazarette hatch, that when one of the big swells
rolls up behind us, she just rides right up and down the back of the
swell. The waves do not feel threatening at all, though at times some of
them look like about 4 metres from top to bottom. There is a little
whitecap on top sometimes, but these are not breaking waves, which would
be another story altogether. I should not like to be sailing into the
waves, however!

At the angle to the waves which we are now sailing, we do tend at times to
corkscrew a bit. And slop from the big waves sometimes hits the boat and
makes a big splash. We have had several down the companionway hatch onto
the galley stove and the chart table. We finally woke up and started
keeping the sliding hatch closed. And we also keep the GPS in a drawer
rather than exposed on the table. A few weeks ago, it decided it did not
want to turn on after a splashing. We have a backup. But it was a
worrisome minute or two till we got it dried off and functioning again.

On Day 30 late afternoon our calm is shattered when we hear a loud crack
and then hear a sail flapping away vigorously. Going on deck, we discover
that one of the lines attaching the jibsail to the jib sheets has parted,
and now the job sail is extended downwind like a stiff flag at right
angles to the boat and threatening to beat itself to shreds. With Kathleen
at the helm we somehow manage to recover the big sail and smother it on
deck though not before I thought at one point that it would pull me
overboard! Then I go looking for a stout piece of line of about the right
length. Amazingly, I find one immediately in the lazarette hatch, a
vindication of my policy never to throw anything away! I go forward again
and replace the broken one whilst sitting on the deck for safety and
getting sprayed occasionally over the bow. Everything works out fine in
the end, but I am sooooo glad this happened in daylight and not at night,
when working forward is much more fraught.

I mentioned that slop sometimes splashes up into the cockpit and
frequently right up over the cabin roof. The windward portholes are often
filled with seawater for a second or two until they drain. The decks are
always wet and often awash. We have learned to keep the portlights dogged
down, and even the skylight is closed tightly on a permanent basis. Or so
we think. We are quietly reading on our main-cabin berths when we hear one
of those loud slaps we hear so often as a wave hits the side of the boat.
I glance up to see a solid amount of water, a small wave actually, coming
under the skylight and heading straight for me. In a second the whole
berth is drenched along with me and some of the rest of the cabin as well.
We spend the next hour mopping up, wringing out bedding and hanging it
outside to get dry. Of course, it will never get totally dry, and it is
now totally salty (instead of just partially salty as heretofore). But,
another small crisis passed.

Not that the saga of the jibsail is over! Last night I go on deck for a
periodic check during my watch and discover that the jibsail is flapping
again. Gently, and nothing like the last event. But still, it does not
appear to be setting properly. We generally have a rule that no one goes
forward of the cockpit at night while alone on watch or on deck. But,
Kathleen is sleeping below and I only want a peek. I go as far as the
mast. Even with a flashlight I can see that for some reason the turnbuckle
at the base of the jibstay where it attaches to the bowsprit (at the
farthest point forward on the boat) is apparently loose. I cannot see if
the turnbuckle has simply come loose (implying that it had not been
properly 'moused' to prevent unscrewing), or whether it is perhaps broken.
The jibsail is flapping gently and does not seem to be in danger or
endangering the boat. I am near the end of my midnight-to-0300 shift, and
decide that there is no way I can work on it in the dark. I shall wait a
few hours until daylight comes.

Crawling out on the bowsprit after a cup of dawn coffee, it appears that
the threaded part of the turnbuckle has simply shorn off. The sail is
attached to the bowsprit by its own line and the sail adheres to the
jibstay by bronze hanks running to the top of the sail. The sail itself is
still attached to the bowsprit and the stainless steel-wire stay itself
seem OK. But of course it is pretty much useless if it is not attached at
the base. I decide to use the jib halyard (three-ply rope) as an ersatz-
jibstay and use the mast winch to tighten everything up as much as
possible. Even if I can dig into my bits and pieces somewhere on board for
a new turnbuckle (I may actually have a couple), there is no way I can sit
out in the swells and try to connect it to the bobstay. The up-tension on
the backstay and the down-tension on the bobstay would in any case make it
impossible without basically loosening the whole rig and retuning it,
something not advisable at sea if it can be avoided. We are not
experiencing heavy weather so my jury rig should last until we get to Hiva
Oa where I can work on the task of how to get everything down without
damage to the sail. As a reward for my ingenuity, the wind is a little
stronger today and we are having a good sail. Kathleen, after at first
being nearly overwhelmed by a perceived danger, goes below in much better
fettle and gets our breakfast. Well done, Captain Ronnie, Boy Spotwelding
King of the World!

The constant wet on the deck and in the cockpit has led to green pond scum
forming here and there. No doubt the whole starboard (i.e., downwind) side
of the boat is green as well. Gooseneck barnacles are another serous
problem. They attach on the painted topside planking above the normal
waterline where there is no anti-fouling paint. Gooseneck barnacles attach
themselves even at sea, and we have a small crop of them right at the bow,
I notice when I am out there repairing the jibstay this morning. But each
day I put out a boat-length piece of floating line from near the bow and
let it caress each side of the boat at water level for about half an hour.
This, I am assured will keep gooseneck barnacles off. When we arrive at
our destination, we have immediately to scrape off any that have actually
taken up abode as they are really tough little beasts to get off once they
have dried for a day or two. I notice in the cockpit that the pond scum
comes off easily with a stiff brush.

We return to reading and loafing. Cruising is said to be an equal mixture
of boredom, excitement and terror.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day 30. Costa Rica to The Marquesas via The Galapagos
At Sea. Wednesday, 21 April 2010,
Our position as at 2100 GMT/UTC (1700 NYC; 2300 Ffm):
S 07 degrees 40.08 minutes; W 120 degrees 01.29 minutes;
1186 Nm to Nuku Hiva

We are getting bored and restless with this long voyage! Looking back, the
days rather blend into each other. They are 'filled' with routine
watchkeeping, noting positions, fixing the odd simple meal or playing a
game of Scrabble. Otherwise, we read and read and read or sleep and sleep
and sleep. The tedium of long voyages.

We are counting down the nautical miles now. First the halfway point (1523
Nm from The Galapagos), then two-thirds, etc. Kathleen, very numbers-
oriented, has calculated our progress and drawn up tables and rehearses
the figures repeatedly as a way of passing the time. Whatever you do, it's
still slow going.

We had a few days of around 130 Nm earlier. But now we are running nearly
straight downwind under double-reefed mainsail, a staysail and a yankee.
The 'power, such as it is, comes from the boomed out mainsail. The
headsails are sheeted in fairly tight and act to keep the boat from yawing
off and broaching into the sometimes seriously-big waves. Our maximum
speed, however, now seldom exceeds 4 knots (about 100 Nm per day) and is
often much less. At least on this course although we roll back and forth
somewhat, we are not being battered by the waves as we would be going
across them on a reach, and we are not doing the very heavy rolling that
comes with sailing only under headsails. But, slow progress.

Jimmy Cornell in his book World Cruising Routes opines that the number of
passage-making yachts (8,000 - 10,000 worldwide with only about 10% at sea
at any one time) is declining because it is simpler to fly out and charter
a yacht in Polynesia or the Cayman Islands than be bothered with the
upkeep of a boat and undertaking the long bluewater runs. We have met lots
of cruisers who, after their first bluewater challenges, decide to forget
about long voyaging altogether, though they might continue to live aboard
their yacht somewhere. They only do short passages. I can understand this

In our bad moments we are heartily sick of the clammy cabin interior. No
matter what you do salt gets inside the boat and holds the dampness.
Clothes are not an issue, since we don't use 'em. But bedding and towels
and even books are icky to touch. Occasionally one or other of us gets
cabin fever and begins to rant.

I write all this for the benefit of those who think we are doing the
yachties cocktail-party thing out here.

Having the Iridium telephone on board for the voyage has been a good idea.
We get messages from our friends, which is cheering, and we can alleviate
worry to a degree amongst our family members who might otherwise worry
even more than they do. People of course forget sometimes that we last had
an update on world events in The Galapagos over twenty days ago. So when
people talk about air traffic being halted in Europe because of a volcanic
eruption, we have no background. Was it the Feldberg outside Frankfurt
that blew? Now that's a picture, surely.

When not reading or on watch or sleeping, we talk about our new lives in
Berlin. It's still a bit sketchy but something to look forward to. We also
want to spend lots of time in New Zealand before leaving there. It will
take time to sell the boat, no doubt, and there will be some cosmetics
necessary, I suppose. But, it is a real offshore-yachting centre and the
broker assures us that, given the modest price we shall be asking, Vilisar
should be able to sell herself quickly. His word in God's ear, as the
Arabs say.

At times, the waves seem huge and rather frightening. They vary a lot too.
Sometimes they are very close together and very steep and high. They are
often out of synch and from a different direction than the huge ocean
swells that mainly come from the SW. This causes a lot of turbulence and
bouncing around for Vilisar. She is actually very seakindly. But even
Vilisar can get sideways to the waves. Then life inside becomes like
living in a tumble drier. Everything is well-stowed. But if you are not in
your berth and secured you can easily be flung around hard in the cabin
with a risk of injury. The same applies when you head out to the cockpit.
We now have stainless-steel tubing handholds for safety, and I am still
quite nimble despite my 133 years of age. But this time, my foot hit a
slippery spot on the footlocker in the cockpit. I slipped onto my back
just as a swell rolled us. I stubbed my foot, jammed my shoulder and hit
my jaw bone next to my ear against the tiller. Ouch! I let out an
involuntary cry, which brought Kathleen out of her sleep and berth to see
if I had possibly gone overboard.

The problem comes when you are trying to fix a meal, for example, or doing
some small chore like replacing the dressing on my knee abscess or setting
up the computer for use. We now keep all the portholes tightly dogged down
and the skylight closed. Every once in a while a big sloppy wave will
throw a bucketful of saltwater at the side of the cabin, and it is not at
all uncommon for the deck to be awash when a wave tips us over well to the
side. A few times we have even had a serious deluge down the companionway
hatch onto the galley stove.

The seemingly innocuous little pimple that showed up on my right knee
weeks ago became seriously infected, very swollen, pus and blood-infused
with a 'head' about an inch across. Very ugly, extremely sensitive to the
touch and located for maximum contact with everything on the boat. I have
been keeping it covered and treated with anti-biotic cream, which seems to
be helping, though slowly. It will surely have been 4 weeks before it is
healed. Already other pimples have shown up around my legs. I wonder if
these are salt-water abscesses that become infected rather insect bites as
I originally thought. The ones on my knee became very infected, the others
just dried up at a much smaller level though blood-infused as well.
Perhaps, the pimple rose and then, kneeling to do a job, I ground some
infection into the spot, which then flared up most painfully. Getting
tropical saltwater into an open wound is a problem because of all the
staph infections in the warm water.

Last night we could not get the boat to stay on course without the
watchkeeper being in the cockpit full time. This is a real strain and
surely one of the least popular things to be doing on a boat. Much more
difficult than sitting out your watch below with occasional look-rounds
outside. It is damp and gets chilly without a fleece jacket. You get
splashed and sprayed from time to time and last night I was even hit
whilst sitting in the dark by one of the frequent flying fish that wind up
on deck. And it is damned uncomfortable sitting on the hard wooden planks
while you are wiggled and shaken around. We have both been losing muscle
mass so we are not as well upholstered as we were when we began. After
three hours in the dark, I was exhausted and cold and dying to wake up
Kathleen so I could crawl into the pre-warmed berth. I was asleep before
she was even fully awake, I think.

We are ticking off our 100 Nm a day so that means we have another 11 or 12
days to go.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day 27. Costa Rica to The Marquesas via The Galapagos
At Sea. Sunday, 18 April 2010,
Our position as at 1800 GMT/UTC (1400 NYC; 2000 Ffm):
S 06 degrees 42.42 minutes; W 115 degrees 6.05 minutes;
1444 Nm to Nuku Hiva

There we are yesterday towards sundown all unawares. Halfway across the
South Pacific from The Galapagos to the Marquesas with 2300 Nm to go and
farther away from land than anywhere else in the world. We are reclining
contentedly on our berths in the main cabin and just finishing up our
evening meal of delicious vegetable stew (and secretly hankering for a
'Bratwurst'). We are discussing such fascinating dinner topics as the
comparative quality of Costa Rican versus Ecuadorian potatoes, and the
time difference between GMT and the Los Angeles time zone. The evening
watches are also discussed, and whether to put our 'local' clock an hour
behind so that 0600 and 1800 coincide more or less with sunrise and

We had a bout of stiff work in the afternoon as we decided to tuck a
second reef into the mainsail. It seemed that even with a single reef the
mainsail was still so strong that it unbalanced the boat and made life for
the windvane steering impossible. Vilisar was constantly rounding up and
we were constantly having to experiment with bungee cords to compensate.
Sometimes that works but the windvane steering should be doing this on its
own, after all, especially if you do not want to be spending all night in
the cockpit or be darting up the companionway ladder every fifteen
minutes. These damned automatic steering systems have been the bane of our
lives aboard on this trip. Everything else, in fact, works just fine.

We haven't seen a ship or a light in yonks. We haven't heard anything on
our VHF radio either since Easter Sunday when we were passed astern twenty
miles apart by two bulk carriers heading up from South America with loads
of fish meal and iron oar respectively. The skippers were having a bridge
-to-bridge chat. Since then, silence.

Suddenly, we hear a "Hallo!" shouted without any radio procedure into the
radio. Perhaps a child's voice? Surprised, we jump up and make a simple
answer. At the same time I stick my head out of the companionway and there
astern see a white sail about a mile or two away to the ESE. Soon we are
chatting by radio with Oliver the skipper of French catamaran called S/V
Piquott (I think). They are eight days out of San Cristobal and also bound
for The Marquesas. In all this great emptiness, another sailing yacht!

He is going probably double our speed and diverts to pull in behind us.
Eventually, rather quickly, actually, he passes us to starboard. They are
four adults and two small kids on board; they are all sitting out on the
catamaran's foredeck and, as they approach and overtake us, they are
alternatively snapping pictures, waving their arms and yahooing. They all
seem so merry. We shout comments back and forth for a few minutes until
they begin to pull ahead of us. Oliver says on the radio that their USGRIB
weather files forecast unchanged weather for the next few days, with an
eventual more easterly component to the weather. "See you in The
Marquesas!" We watch then as the sun goes down, the new moon appears to
the west, the French boat pulls ever farther out of sight until, at dark
it is over the horizon and gone. We switch on our masthead light. We are
quite cheered to see other people and somewhat let down when they have

Last night's sailing is generally much quieter and the steering seems to
be able to handle things. But we are definitely a lot slower; not
surprising, since we have far less mainsail exposed to the breeze. This
morning I get up at dawn and tweak the sails and steering gear for an hour
or so to encourage more speed. In vain. The wind is light anyway and with
the main reefed down.. When Kathleen wakes up from her off-watch sleep
this morning we discuss whether to shake out the second reef or enjoy the
slow sail and the increased comfort below. Each extra knot of speed knocks
off about 2-3 days from the trip, but we unlikely to get more than 5 knots
on average. We have lots of tinned food aboard, but there is also the
issue of fresh water. We have not broken into our 20 gallons on deck and
have been very frugal otherwise. (I bathe in beer, for example.) For the
moment, we are leaving the second reef tucked in and hoping for a little
stronger wind.

With talk of supplies, Kathleen heads into the larder to pick over the
fruits and vegetables. There was a strong smell coming out of the forepeak
last night. Sure enough, the tasty Galapagos spuds have started to go bad.
They give off a very clear message! The Costa Rican ones, though almost
tasteless, are holding up well. (Maybe they have been radiated. I had not
noticed if they glow in the dark like a Russian submarine.) Looks like a
lot of spuds on the menu for the next few days! The Costa Rican white
onions are holding up terrifically. Six apples are discovered, as well, so
the day is a hit.

Kathleen also organises the reading material anew, stuffing the read books
into baskets for later trading and digging out new ones. I play with the
ship's clocks to get them to agree in time with the atomic clock (?) in
the GPS, and then decide to use the bright sunshine and the fillip it
gives to our house batteries to use the computer to write this blog.