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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Shouldas: Marquesas 3,000 Mile Open Ocean Lessons (Part I of ?: Fuel)

overnight passages, cruising planning, boat maintenance and repair
Beautiful sunset off our Pearson 365 stern as we headed
from Galapagos to the French Marquesas.
“Sleigh ride….  It’s downwind.  Slow widely spaced rollers.  We can set our sails and may not touch them again until we’re done, “ Wayne predicted, optimistically.  The passage?

The longest unbroken open ocean passage in the world 3,000 “crow flies” miles from Ecuador’s Galapagos to French Polynesia’s Marquesas.   There are no possible landfalls anywhere in that stretch.  It’s not a question of trying to drop anchor off even an inhospitable island somewhere along the way– there is nothing but deep ocean.

Last year two cruising friends sailed the passage in around three weeks – fast for the average cruiser.  We figured we’d be a little slower, maybe several days.  Passages for this stretch taking 45 to 60 days are not unheard of, but definitely among the longest.  We figured on a month, expecting it to take less. 

We were nervous about our prior 1,000 passage from Panama to Galapagos – at that point our longest to date, with a large chunk of it in the doldrums (little wind).  Turns out the Galapagos passage, to our surprise and delight, was our best multi-day 24/7 sailing passage ever.

Our boat’s fuel tank holds 40 gallons of diesel and we carry another 5 gallons spare – 45 total.  We last filled in Panama City, burned some from there to Contadora, and some from Contadora to Galapagos.  In ideal motor sailing conditions, we can travel 7 knots an hour, at a rate of .6 gallons/hour.  That means in the unlikely event of perfect , conditions , it’s possible we could sail about 440 miles from totally full to totally empty (still less than 1/5th of our passage).  However, we don’t generally start our motor in ideal motor sailing conditions; (we’d just sail).  The reality of our viable range is far less, and we didn’t start with a full tank.

It’s an exceptionally rare sailboat that carries enough gas to make this passage – to varying degrees we all rely on wind and current.   We didn’t use much fuel between Panama City and Galapagos.  We didn’t believe we’d use that much Galapagos to Marquesas, but wanted to start off with full tanks.  We had two problems – expensive Galapagos visiting boat fuel rates and the need to pay cash when we had little.

passage making galapagos, Marquesas French Polynesia, pearson 365 sailboat
We were panicking as the fifth or so say of dead calm
and contrary current continued on or Galapagos to Marquesas
French Polynesia passage....
“Psst.  Senior.  Senior.  You want some fuel?  I get you good price,” discretely offered a Galapagos local under the cover of darkness in our Isabela Galapagos anchorage.  At the time, Wayne replied “Sure, but first we need to get cash or we can’t pay you.”  Isabela Island did not have an ATM or any bank that we could access our money from.  We figured we’d catch the ferry to Galapagos Santa Cruz, where there is an ATM, but we never did.  The local friendly black market fuel guy never returned anyway. 

Buoyed by our great Panama-Galapagos passage, we just left with what we had – probably ~37 gallons of fuel, including our 5 gallon jug – capable of about 360 “ideal conditions” motor sailing miles – enough to sail up to about 12% of our passage.

Long story “short”?
We hit seriously bad doldrums at the outset.  We did not enjoy the beneficial equatorial current we expected – instead we found we were fighting the current in light to no wind.  Our first 24 hours netted us negative 6 miles towards our destination!  The next several days weren’t a whole lot better….

Lesson learned?

Leave with full tanks and a whole lot of spare “jerry jug” or bladders of fuel and assertively motor out ASAP to the “good wind” if needed.

Shouldas: Marquesas 3,000 Mile Open Ocean Lessons
(Part II:  Sail Maintenance - coming soon)

Hiva Oa Atuona Map Marquesas French Polynesia
We're in Baie Tahauku Hiva Oa, Marquesas, French Polynesia
- for now
.
Location Location

Baie Tahauku, Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas, French Polynesia (S9.48.260 W139.01.924).  When not doing boat maintenance and repair and provisioning, we are getting in some much needed R&R.  We plan to explore more Marquesan Islands as we work our way through French Polynesia to Tahiti.  We are allowed a maximum of 3 month’s stay in French Polynesia.

Internet is limited and my computer power's been erratic so posts may be a bit infrequent for a while.  Please check back!