First Mate's Log

S.V. Wheatstrong


November 12, 2003
Motoring last of three days leg to Puerto Vallarta from Cabo San Lucas. Winds at 1 knot, and sun and humidity are enough to make a man crazy. Everyone is enjoying wiping off several times a day with a damp cloth. For the most part, there isn’t a lot of activity in the seas. We haven’t caught any fish, but the fishing line has snagged something twice. Here and there, I have seen a couple of dolphin, and we even found a squid on deck. It must have jumped up in the middle of the night.

Night watches are easier to handle. Maybe because the seas are calmer. Shifts are 8AM – 12PM, 12 – 4PM, 4-8PM, and then 3-hour increments thereafter until 8 AM. The shifts are MJ & Stephanie and Rick & Mary. The shifts not on watch make the meals, and the watch shift coming off does dishes. We wash dishes with Joy and seawater, and a quick rinse with fresh water.

Everyone has his or her own water bottle and we drink it regularly to keep hydrated. MJ is a little under the weather with a cold, but is getting better. Everyone is eating very healthy with our provisioning. We are not going through as much of the canned food as I had imagined, but we are using refrigerated and frozen foods. We have enjoyed some great Greek Salads, fettuccini, and banana bread.

December 17, 2003
Hard to believe that it has been two months now that we have been cruising. Our last passage was from Acapulco to San Cristobal of the Galapagos. We had estimated for the passage to take around nine to 12 days. However, it took us a few days longer than we expected due to light winds and a limited supply of diesel, but we made it in 14 days.

For me, someone who has had very little sailing experience, it was the passage that got me hooked. Looking back, I don’t think I realized what I was getting into. The first several days of this passage we didn’t have much wind so we motored most of the time. We started to get a little concerned because we knew that we only had enough diesel with us to motor for four days. But the closer we got to the equator, the cooler it got, and the winds began to kick in. Most of the way, we were sailing closed hauled, which meant the boat was heeled over anywhere from 15-25 degrees to port or starboard, depending on our tack.

Before I had left, a few people told me that it was smart to go sailing with MJ before getting married. While we already confident about getting married, sailing is surely a test of our relationship. Having MJ as my watch partner was a learning experience for me. Coupled with the books I was reading about sailing, I got the hang of knowing when to trim sails and when the sails needed to be reefed. For anyone planning to cruise in the future, I recommend practicing reefing the main by yourself with your eyes closed and in strong winds. The advice my sailing instructor gave me was invaluable…reef the first time you think of it. You can always shake out the reef later. After this passage, I feel confident that I can do watches on my own (with MJ within earshot).

When we were sailing upwind, or beating, as it is called in sailing, my bare necessities shifted. It was no longer important to wash and brush your teeth everyday. While I would have loved to, you honestly don’t think of this. The most important thing is to do your watches, get your sleep when you are off watch, and make sure the crew eats a nourishing meal. At one point, MJ and I hadn’t showered in five days. If you were on land, I don’t think this would be a big deal, but salt-water, humidity, and the wind can be brutal to you over time.

At times when we weren’t beating to 20 knot winds, it was nice to read books about Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, fishing, sailing and "The Life of Pi" by Yann Martell (especially after the rudder started making noise.) If you have read "The Life of Pi," it got me wondering how long we could survive if we were stranded at sea or had to use our emergency life raft.

During the first several days that the wind picked up, I had to watch what I ate to make sure it wasn’t too heavy since I am prone to seasickness. After I got my sea legs, it became important to, as best I could, eat what was on my plate. I don’t think I have ever encountered a time where I would need to eat or else it could affect my ability to do my job.

Mary and Rick had purchased their flights to leave from Quito on December 13. As our supply of diesel was diminishing and winds were inconsistent, we decided to go for it and motor toward what we hoped was more wind so that they may have some time to spend in the Galapagos before leaving. We got lucky as we left the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone as we came into wind. And wind we got. The boat took care of us, but got a little beat up along the way. MJ identified an unusual sound coming from the aft cabin. We had hoped it was the wind vane, but unfortunately, it was not. He deduced, from the noise, that it was the rudder. Peterson 44’s are known for having rudder problems, but we did not have any until this passage.

Land Ho! We finally arrived in the Galapagos on the morning of December 10. What a relief it was to be anchored. This passage made me appreciate the small things in life, such as being alive and healthy, a fresh water shower and a hot meal. I think it also made me much tougher. If something in life is bothering you, whether it is a bad back or job, either do something about it or have the strength to endure. I think I have won the mind game over seasickness finally.

December 24, 2004
MJ worked on removing the rudder in Santa Cruz Island, Puerto Ayora with Richard and Mauricio. We dumped our holding tanks in the morning and reanchored, both bow and stern, closer to the other cruisers. A dive boat cut our stern anchor line several days ago. Also took MJ to the Charles Darwin Station, ordered more parts via the Internet through Dennis and Bob, and enjoyed a nice pizza dinner in town.

January 9, 2004
Today is day five of our voyage to Easter Island with Bob and Dennis. So far, it has been going really well! Bob and Dennis are so nice and helpful with everything. Dennis has been my watch partner so far. Now we’re on our morning watch shift. Yet again, we’re sailing close hauled at about six knots. I wore the Scopolamine patch for the first three days and have not gotten seasick yet. Yes!

January 13, 2004
On the way to Easter Island—eight days into it. I got seasick last night on my 2-4 AM shift. We are past the halfway mark and are making great time. About seven knots on average. We have a reef in the mainsail and are getting about 15 knots of true wind. MJ made a delicious dinner tonight…past carbonara sans meat.

January 28, 2004
The sun is setting on our fourth day to Pitcairn Island. The spinnaker is up and we finally have some wind—just five to 10 knots. We haven’t seen any bird or vessels. I quite enjoy and prefer sailing with just the two of us. MJ made me a birthday cake, and it was so tasty. Not an eventful day, and I missed family and friends a lot. I only got seasick once to Easter Island, and so far no problem. The stars are just breathtaking. I found the Southern Cross last night.

January 29, 2004
Easter Island is a potpourri of culture and language with influence from the Polynesians and Chileans. Some look Latin, while others look Polynesian. While here, MJ and I did a lot of errands such as the bank, internet café (which was quite expensive), laundry, and provisioning from the local "supermercado" and produce vendors, located on the main street from the backs of old pickup trucks. Their produce was much better than the Galapagos.

We also went on two half day tours of the moai statues, or "big heads." They were quite amazing, and I could only imagine what life was like there with 20,000 inhabitants and cannibalism.

Bob and Dennis were a huge help on our leg here both with the sails, reefing, cooking, and rope splicing. Dennis had just retired and Bob was able to get time off from work.

January 31, 2004
Day Six of our leg to Pitcairn Island. Winds are 15 to 18 knots from the East. We are running wing-and-wing with the jib held out with the spinnaker pole to prevent the jib full. Today has been a great sailing day with a current speed of 6.8 knots. We should make Pitcairn in three days.

I’m reading "Sailing Alone Around the World" by Joshua Slocum. I enjoy reading books about the sea while cruising. While not reading and steering during my watch, I try to stay productive by planning wedding stuff and cleaning. Our current watch schedules is as follows:

6 AM – 12 PM MJ
12 PM – 6 PM Stephanie
6 PM – 9 PM MJ
9 PM – 12 AM Stephanie
12 AM – 3 AM MJ
3 AM – 6 AM Stephanie

Off watch cooks while the other does the dishes. While no on my watch, I’m cooking, cleaning, sleeping, or bathing. MJ and I shower more often then before since we have less crew and thus use less water. I took a shower this morning and boy, was it refreshing. I even got to wash my hair.

February 3, 2004
We’re on our ninth day at sea to Pitcairn Island. Winds have veered from the North now, so MJ brought the jib over and we’re broad reaching on a starboard tack. We noticed fraying in the jib near the tack from not being furled tightly enough. Also, this morning at midnight, the jibe preventer (our boom vang) came loose and we accidentally jibed. The mainsheet caught under the starboard solar panel and bent the stanchion.

I have to admit that I fell asleep frequently while on night watch last night. I think that I’m getting less and less sleep. MJ also. He gets less sleep that I do because he reads a lot so I try to make sure he gets his sleep.

MJ made a nice salad for lunch, using the last of our cucumbers. For the past nine days, we have eaten a lot of fresh vegetables. Once we run out of them we’ll start eating more canned foods. We plan to use all the food in the freezer quickly so that we don’t need the batteries to charm it daily. It takes a lot of juice to freeze the cold plates.

I seem to be shedding a lot of hair. I’ve been keeping my hair in high ponytails lately and sometimes braided to keep my neck cool and hair cleaner.

February 6, 2004
We just left Pitcairn Island this morning at 1030h after spending yesterday together there. What a memorable experience we had! First on 2/4, we anchored at Tedside since Bounty Bay was too rough. The Pitcairners first made contact with us about six miles from the island and asked if we were planning a visit or if we were passing by. Right away, we noticed their 18th century English accent was unique. The next morning, after breakfast and an early Kraft dinner "lunch," Randy Christian picked us up in pouring rain at 1100h, who brought us to Bounty Bay in his boat. I didn’t mind the rain one bit since it had been several days since we had showered. The island was so breathtaking—amazingly green, covered in palm trees. The land, what little you would see as we approached it, was a deep volcanic red.

Randy and his dad Steve, the mayor, took us to Steve’s house for tea and an introduction. We met Steve’s wife, Olive, a slim woman with lots of energy, and Steve’s mother, Mama, who looked to be Polynesian. Upon learning of MJ’s computer skills as an IBM consultant, they quickly put him to work on Randy’s laptop. Randy and Nadine Christian have a simple house with a breathtaking view of Adamstown. Steve then took us on his Honda ATC 4 wheeler around the island along narrow dirt roads. We went to Adams town and saw the museum, library, post office, and church. We walked to the cemetery where every tombstone read McCoy, Warren, Christian, and Young. Off we walked back to Steve and Olive’s for more computer work for MJ and dinner. First though, we got to take hot showers. I realized that we hadn’t taken a hot shower since October 2003. My hair was so dirty. Dinner was like a holiday meal with corned beef, meat with gravy, peas, mashed potato, bread, Swiss chard, and salad. They sent us off before sunset with a box of zucchini, sweet potato, banana, watermelon, and eggplant in exchange for MJ’s help with computers.

March 25, 2004
We just returned from six days in Moorea, just a 3 hour sail from Tahiti. When one thinks of the South Pacific, Moorea is it. We were anchored in both Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay and got a chance to enjoy fine dining, snorkeling, swimming, touring the island via rental car, and exploring via the dinghy. The first two days we spent with Lilou and Alain and Manon, Lilou’s beautiful 11 year old daughter. Lilou and Alain have become wonderful friends, and we have spent many nights with them having dinner and drinking "Ti Punch" drinks on Taiko.

At our current mooring location, every morning and night, Polynesians paddle in their outrigger canoes and every afternoon and night, we can hear the local Polynesians practicing their music while dancers rehearse. The reef protects our boat from much of the wind and swell, even in the 41 knot wind last week. We look forward to the wedding and seeing friends and family.

May 30, 2004 (Sunday)

Leaving French Polynesia after a two-month's stay was bittersweet. We had waited patiently in the Society Islands for the last two weeks for our package of marine supplies to arrive, including waiting at the airport for three hours. We got some repair work done on the boat while it was tied up at a mooring buoy outside of Apooiti Marina, on the west side of Raiatea. We also got to have some fun, visiting a vanilla farm in Tahaa and doing superb snorkeling in a coral garden not far from Le Tahaa, the only 5 star resort in French Polynesia.

French Polynesia had become a second home for us. We had gotten used to being moored in Yacht Club de Tahiti next to our friends, Lilou, Alain, and Manon on Taiko. We would enjoy regular dinners and cocktail hours on their boat and ours, speaking English and broken French. Our favorite drink is now "ti punch," which is sugar cane, dark rum, and lime juice…over ice, of course. After discovering this tasty cocktail, tracking down places to buy ice became a scavenger hunt, but when successful, we were elated. Cold drinks on ice! Papeete was no longer a maze of small streets to me, and if I needed to take "le truck" into town, a 10 minute bus ride from Arue, I could find where I needed to go. The guy at Le Tiki Soft Café knew me by looks at least, and greeted me with a smile as I hopped on for quick internet use. After doing a trip around Tahiti via a dirty rental car, scuba diving, visiting the Gaughin museum, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, touring the rugged mountains of Tahiti via 4x4, becoming a regular at Marché Municipal to buy fresh vegetables, our tour of French Polynesia was coming to an end.

The most memorable, however, among all the wonderful experiences, was meeting Lilou and Alain, our French friends. The story is quite interesting. Several days upon arriving in Papeete, we were tied up on the quay stern-to, meaning the back of the boat was tied the sidewalk, and we dropped the anchor to secure the bow, or front of the boat. Getting on and off the boat was a task since the boat was kept away from the quai to protect the stern. One night, I called to a couple walking down the sidewalk at night to turn on the water faucet so I could take an outdoor shower. Little did I know that they were coming to check out our boat because they have a Formosa 46, which is a knock off of our Peterson 44. After a brief conversation, Captain MJ invited them on board for a tour of the vessel. Before leaving, they told us that the quai was not safe and recommended that we move our boat to where they were moored, at the Yacht Club de Tahiti. After they checked with their Commodore and found a space for us, we tied up next to Taiko, and then was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. Since they are planning to leave in July '05 for Madagascar, MJ gave Alain and Lilou reccomdations on how to prepare their boat for serious cruising.

For anyone considering visiting French Polynesia, be warned that it is very expensive because everything is shipped in and taxed. The French Polynesian franc is also pegged to the Euro. However, if you don't mind staying in pensions, cooking on your own, the trip can be done cheaper than staying at resorts. Le Tahaa, for example, costs $800 per night. Even with staying on the boat and doing most of our cooking, it was difficult to leave the grocery store without paying about $100US. It was worse than a Costco trip.

Bora Bora, I felt, is overrated, and too touristy. I most enjoyed Moorea for the stunning view, Tahaa for its snorkeling (where we saw black tip and white tip sharks on two occasions) and people, and Rangiroa (of the Tuomotu Archipelago) for the scuba diving. Then of course, our experience as cruisers is much different than tourists staying at hotels or pensions. Our view is where we want to drop anchor, the food is our cooking, and the biggest task is getting to and from sites without a car, provisioning, and getting diesel, gasoline, and propane. We are not rushing off to land the moment we anchor; we like to enjoy the sunset over a cocktail, creatively make use of remaining food, read, and enjoy each other's company.

Yesterday at 0940, S.V. Wheatstrong pulled safely into Avarua Harbor in Raratonga, Cook Islands. Raratonga is the biggest of the Cook Islands, and 10,000 of its total population of 14,000 lives here. We sailed a total of four days from Raiatea, Fr. Polynesia. We motored on and of for 17 hours due to light winds. Since MJ recently installed the tiller autopilot (connected to our windvane rudder), we were able to avoid hand steering during our watches. We also got a chance to fly the "Green Monster," code-name for our 1˝ ounce spinnaker, approximately 1500 square feet.

The first several days of the trip were fine after not having done a passage over 24 hours since March when arriving in Tahiti. MJ and I swapped our watch schedule for the first time, so this time, it was as follows:

6AM -12PM Stephanie
12PM - 6PM MJ
6PM - 9PM Stephanie
9PM - 12AM MJ
12AM - 3 AM Stephanie
3AM - 6 AM MJ

Unfortunately, the trip was quite rolly; more than any other that I can remember. On one of my night watches, winds got up to 26 knots. I woke MJ up to let him know I was going to reef the mainsail. For those of you not familiar with sailing, reefing the mainsail is not difficult if you have light winds and it's during the day. However, one usually has to reef the mainsail when it's at night and it's done because the wind is getting too strong and you need to take some sail down. My sailing teacher told me once, "Reef the first time you think you should reef." She was right. MJ got out of bed to make sure I was okay and reefed the jib also. Being on deck just a few minutes set my stomach back a little and I was not feeling 100%. Scopace became my best friend, and held off getting sick for the day. However, seasickness finally got the better of me the next day after four months of not getting sick. I quickly rebounded and made dinner, but couldn't eat much. For dinners, we used the wonderful pressure cooker to prepare chicken and pork. The pressure cooker allows us to use less gas to cook, it's safer underway since the lid seals on tightly, and gives us fewer dishes to wash.

For the last 24 hours of our voyage, we experienced a shift of winds from the north, where winds south of the equator are supposed to come from the southwest, known as the southwest trades. We had to sail close hauled with the wind on our nose with wind 13-15 knots. With the boat healed over at around 15-20 degrees, it reminded me of our tough trip down to the Galapagos.

Since we arrived on a Saturday and the Harbor Master told us that "all the officials were at a party," we must wait until Monday to clear customs. Meanwhile, we are flying the yellow Q or quarantine flag. We are also trying to eat the remaining fruits and vegetables before they will be confiscated by Agriculture. MJ made a great potato and onion soup to compliment my famous pizza.

It is hard to imagine that Captain James Cook sailed three separate voyages at the end of the 18th century through the South Pacific, yet without a GPS, charts, and an engine. Living on hardtack (sea biscuits), salt pork, and a good amount of alcohol, he discovered many new lands, cultures, and people. We are fortunate to have a working refrigerator and freezer, several GPS, electronic and paper charts, and a sturdy diesel engine. We look forward to getting off the boat to explore Rarotonga tomorrow.

NOTES: If you would like to sign up for our Wheatstrong Yahoo Group, visit the link on the home page and request to be added. We send emails to this group from our boat while at sea with our position, weather, and status.

June 5, 2004

We checked in with the Harbormaster on Monday morning, and since we’ve been off the boat, we have had non-stop fun at Raratonga. After having spent almost three months in French Polynesia, we were so excited to be in an English-speaking country. As soon as MJ saw the New Zealand currency, he said, "Ah…it’s good to see money with the Queen on it again."

Our first bit of adventure was, after renting a scooter, MJ getting his Cook Islands driver’s license. The test involved driving around the block. What a joke. It was just their way of collecting our $15 for their Police Department. Helmets are not required here, and in fact, you will occasionally see toddlers on scooters, holding onto their parents for dear life. After getting the scooter, we rode around the island, and that didn’t take more than an hour and a half.

We had a chance to do the best hiking in the South Pacific here in Rarotonga, across the island with a natural medicine man named Pa. Pa is a chief here, 62 years old, has blonde dreadlocks, and does this hike with groups three times a week. The advertisement for the hike said "strenuous," but it really should have described it as a "jungle hike that will leave you sore for several days afterwards." After climbing 400m up to the top Needle rock, we made our way down as it started to rain here and there. We frequently had to crawl backwards as were going down the hills because they were quite steep. After crossing the river down a few times (and after I slipped and fell on a rock in the river…d’oh!), we finished off at Wigmore’s Waterfall at the bottom. The mosquitoes only bit me a few times because I was putting repellent on any chance I could. Pa provided us with a wonderful lunch of native food, such as Polynesian chestnut, known as I’I, which was picked, then boiled from a tree over 730 years old and tuna sandwiches with sliced apple (try it, it’s actually good!).

Cook Island says they have the best Polynesian dancers in all of the South Pacific. We had a chance to witness the dancers at an Island Night at the Rarotongan Resort. I actually thought that that Tahitians were better drummers and dancers, but the Rarotongans showed us how to open a coconut with a wooden spike in just a few seconds. The best part of the Island Nite was the buffet dinner prior to the dancing. We definitely worked up our appetite after that grueling hike. I was limping at this point, but MJ had no pain. Some of the native food we had included taro (like a potato), ika mate (raw fish with coconut crème), and of course meat cooked in the traditional underground earth oven, the umu. We got our money’s worth on the buffet and rolled home a few pounds heavier.

The next day, we went on another nature hike in the Takitumu Conservation Area, where the endangered bird, the Raratongan flycatcher is found. Their number had dwindled down to 20 something because of the rats, but after the community run conservation area was put into place, the flycatcher is up to 280. We got a chance to learn about the native flora and fauna, particularly their medicinal and traditional uses, and spot the flycatcher, known here as the kakerori. Our guide, Ian, was quite intelligent, and shared with us his family history back 30 generations. His background was construction before he was approached by conservation groups with this idea of an area in which to rebuild the flycatcher population. His family, and the other landowners, were against it at first, thinking that their land would be taken away from them. After learning more about the bird, they have all become conservationists and run the area as a private NGO conservancy.

Everyone here speaks English with a New Zealand accent and/or Maori. The Polynesians here look different from those in French Polynesia because their ancestors are either Samoan or Tahitian. Their Maori language is also different from Tahitian. "Hello" here is "kia orana,", and in French Polynesia it is "iorana" or "bon jour," of course. There are hardly any Asians here except for the Chinese fisherman on the boat next to us and more Chinese construction workers building the courthouse (a donation from China reputedly in return for fishing rights). The fishermen saw me (mind you, I haven’t seen any Asian woman yet) and said, "Are you Korean?" Other Asians love to try and figure out what I am.

There are about five other sailing boats here a few American, one New Zealander, and a British boat. One of the things we cruisers do is happy hour, of course, but with other cruisers. After the Brits came in, the next day, they invited us on their boat for drinks and hors d’oeuvres. They made their passage from Southampton, through the Panama Canal, to the Marquesas, through French Polynesia, and now here. They are doing a circumnavigation with a group of cruisers. Speaking of alcohol, we’ve checked out with the Harbormaster, and stopped at the liquor store to get some cheap (compared to French Polynesia), duty-free wine and spirits. We’re running out of our Hinano, the Tahitian brew, and have now stocked up on Steinlager. We’ll have to report back on how the New Zealand and Australian wine is.

We’re now figuring out and updating our passage back to the States, given that we are planning to back in October. We are going to get as far east as we can before heading north to Hawaii. South of the equator, the trade winds come from the southeast, and north of the equator from the northeast. We’ll spend less time in Niue and the Northern Cook Islands so we can spend more time in Fiji and also allow for the delay in our schedule.

June 8, 2004
I was sick as a dog the past 24 hours with vomiting. Not sure if from seasickness being here at the harbor. We had 25 knots wind from the north, and the harbor faces the north. I had to get a hotel room last night to recuperate, but was still sick, so I guess it wasn't seasickness after all. Trying to eat dry toast and drink water.