We’ve now been on dry land for 4 days after what I found to be a very long, difficult 3 week passage. I thought I’d write a few quick notes on my impressions of the last passage before it is all too far in the past to remember how I felt. Maybe this entry will be useful later when Gary has some crazy idea to sail around Cape Horn or to do something equally crazy…
I’m still not sure if I feel a sense of accomplishment yet, or just massive relief for having made it here in one piece without any major breakages. We went through at least five major weather systems (or was it six??), each with seas greater than 4 meters and winds in the 30 knot range during each event. We’d have 24-36 hours of crap conditions, then about a 12-24 hour break before the next one. The breaks were definitely required, but not necessarily restful as it was often difficult to keep the boat moving in the light airs and big seas. We ended up running north 250 nm to avoid one big system, only to be smacked immediately following it by another, even bigger system on our second last day. We saw sustained 30 knot winds and 5 meter seas for about six hours. We managed to fill the cockpit with water three times on my shift which was incredibly scary… the only good thing about it was seeing how fast the water emptied through the cockpit drains. Thank heavens for small miracles. During that storm I declared I’d be perfectly happy to never sail again. And there are no pictures as I never want to remember those conditions… Being on the bottom of one wave and looking up to the crest of the next many, many feet up was not a pleasant experience. I definitely never want to go through conditions like that again.
One of the things that kept me going during the difficult hours was watching all the sea birds. We had a flock of either petrels or shearwaters (need a bird book!) follow us pretty much the whole way. I’d watch them and imagine that they represented all the people at home following us on the blog or on our tracker. That helped give me the strength to make it through my watch. Interestingly, on the really, really tough days, when I needed an extra shot of courage, an albatross would make an appearance... I think I have a new spirit animal.
The boat took a beating this year but managed to make it through reasonably unscathed. We’ve worked it out that she (and Gary) spent 59 days offshore. The vast majority of those days were in rough conditions. Despite a few leaks, she looked after us really well. Frankly, I don’t know how she didn’t shake apart. In terms of issues (at least on Legs 2 and 3) we chafed through two furling lines and the genoa sheet. We also lost the pins out of 4 shackles – the genoa shackle, and two separate shackles on the boom vang (we lost one of them twice!). In addition, two sets of screws for the bimini came undone (but were luckily found before they escaped overboard), and the top pins that hold the bimini together came out twice. We also developed a stress fracture on one of the hydrovane mounts (note, the hydrovane is our device that steers the boat by the wind). We monitored the crack daily and it did grow in size over the course of the trip, but happily it (and the back end of the boat) didn’t fall off. We also broke the lazyjacks again, although that was caused by handler-error, not the seas. Overall, I can’t say enough good things about Heidi, our hydrovane – she steered us faithfully in every condition we encountered, from the light airs to the 5 meter seas. Our autopilot (Otto) also had no problem in any of the conditions we put it through. And our engine, Myrtle, started reliably when required. We couldn’t have asked for more.
As for making it here in one piece, I’d like to thank Nadine for helping us get the boat here. She was very helpful crew and kept us fed and allowed us to get some rest. And of course, I need to thank Gary for getting us here safely. I don’t think he slept more than 2 hours a day, but made all the right decisions on where to go and when. He calmly dealt with every issue as it came up (always at 2 am) and constantly reminded me that our boat was just like a rubber ducky in a big bathtub. He was right – we just kept bobbing up and down each wave, no matter how big.
Am I glad I did this trip? Honestly, I’m not sure. I’m glad we are here and will definitely enjoy exploring Chile, but I’m a Cruiser, not a Sailor. I didn’t hate being offshore (at least not all the time), but I certainly didn’t love it either. Obviously I can do it, and I can see the appeal of trade wind sailing where you set the sails and forget them for two weeks. As that should be the type of conditions we encounter when we leave Chile in a few years’ time, I know I will do another passage. But, I’m happy it won’t be any time soon.
Overall trip details:
Leg 1: La Paz to Galapagos = 22 days; 1900 nm (~3600 km)
Leg 2: Galapagos to Easter Island = 16 days; 2000 nm (~3800 km)
Leg 3: Easter Island to Valdivia, Chile = 21 days; 2300 nm (~4370 km)
Overall distance travelled this year = ~11,700 km (greater than all the way across Canada and back)