November 12, 2018 - March 22, 2020
* How To Not Abandon Your Boat
* Rose -- A Very Tough Young Woman
* Culture Shock In San Diego
* Our Kind Of Town
* A Warning Of Disaster -- Which We Ignore
* Ken Tries His New Camera -- Video!!
* We Kill 500 COTS
* Dancing With A Cyclone
* The Best And Worst Weather Routing Ever
* We Enter The Twilight Zone, And Then It Gets Worse
* Beth Loses The Use Of Her Hand
* Friends In Need
* A Cornonavirus Survival Capsule
Hi everybody. We've been working on this website update on and off for several months, and most of it was written before the coronavirus crisis exploded. Reading this now, it all feels a bit strange –– like it was written in a different era, when different things mattered.
But maybe our new post can provide some diversion to all our friends and family who are stuck in "lock down." And maybe it will help us all remember the way things used to be –– and hopefully will be again in the future.
At the end of this update, we will describe our own plans for surviving the coronavirus. We're in a unique position here in the Marshall Islands –– we can avoid getting the virus, while still doing pretty much what we want to do. But if we do get sick we are totally on our own -- very little chance of medical help.
So we're determined not to get sick! Eagle's Wings has become a survival capsule.
This is a long update, so we will just mention a few highlights that you shouldn't miss. Our descent into the twilight zone in the Marshall Islands, for example. And the Rosie the Riveter picture in the "Rose" section. Plus some interesting sailing and boat tips. And underwater pictures from Vanuatu.
And we have produced our first videos! We're not ready to compete with Attenborough yet, but check them out.
If you are going to read the website, then it probably makes sense to watch them as they come up in context. But if you are the impatient sort, then here are the links (we shot these in 4K, but only uploaded 1080p, due to the slow internet at our end).
Snake (39 seconds)
Sailing (2:07 minutes)
Teamwork (2:57 minutes)
Killing Dragons (15:59 minutes)
November 12, 2018 - November 28, 2018
Anyway, in our last episode we had left our wanderers in New Caledonia, awaiting a weather window to New Zealand.
We waited for a few days in very pleasant Port Koube on the west side of Ile Ouen, a much more tranquil spot than Noumea.
November 28, 2018 - December 4, 2018
And then it was finally time to shake the famous red clay of New Caledonia off our anchor.
Here Ken knocks the mud off. If you get this stuff on your clothes, or on the deck, you will wish you hadn't.
We motored out in very light conditions.
Yes, that's right, we left on a sailing voyage when there was no wind at all.
But it gets worse –– here's the prediction for two days out. The small gray boat icon shows where we would be at that time –– namely getting in front of a rapidly developing low.
So why did we leave on a window with no immediate wind, followed by a storm?
Here's the answer. This is a completely different storm –– a tropical cyclone forecasted to develop about 10 days out. Had we stayed in New Caledonia this thing could've landed right on top of us.
The weather models are not very good at predicting tropical storms, so there was an excellent chance that this thing would not develop, at least not as forecast.
But the model is telling us that the conditions are dangerous. And that it's time to get out of Dodge.
So, what to do?
Here's the plan that we worked out with our fantastic weather router, Bruce Buckley.
We would take the light northerlies generated by the developing low and use them to sail (slowly) eastward toward Fiji. And then once the big low passed underneath us we would turn right and head for New Zealand.
This strategy should also get us to New Zealand before that tropical cyclone can catch us.
So, once the wind built a little bit, we sailed slowly eastward in light winds and calm seas, waiting for the first storm to go by. We weren't fast, but we also were not in a hurry.
Note that we are not even sailing at full hoist –– just lazing long.
Life could be worse.
Ken sets up the fishing lines, and also demonstrates his tropical fashion statement. Hat, sunglasses, PFD and harness, underwear, and sea boots.
We still arrived at our waypoint a little bit early. There wasn't even enough wind to heave-to, so we just dropped our sails and lay a-hull.
And got thoroughly miserable as Eagle's Wings wallowed in the light air and seas. Sailboats really like wind pressure!
With the storm past, we made our right turn and headed toward New Zealand in the light westerlies left behind by the storm.
We always know that we were getting to within a few hundred miles of New Zealand (in the spring) when we tie into a nice albacore. Does Ken look happy? Sushi!!!
Unfortunately, this is another sign that we were close to New Zealand. The fronts get more intense.
Here's what this looks like on the radar.
Beth was on watch, and for a while she was able to maneuver the boat and change course to avoid the worst of these things.
Until she wasn't. Eeek!
But Beth really earned some bragging rights here, as she reefed the sails, jibed and tacked repeatedly, and finally hove-to. She turned off the navigation computer and put it in the oven to protect it from a lightning strike. A good thing, as we got a nearby lightning strike which momentarily knocked the lights out of the instruments. Fortunately there was no lasting damage.
She finally got back underway when the squalls passed. All without waking Ken up!
Beth still can't figure out how Ken slept through the thunder and lightning.
Tips To Avoid Abandoning Your Boat
Shortly before we made this passage some good friends of ours had to abandon their boat at sea, off the Pacific Northwest Coast of the US. They were very experienced sailors – – had been out for 20 years –– and were actually within 200 miles of finishing their circumnavigation.
Our friends encountered some big winds and waves when they got up on the continental shelf of North America, and they decided to run off –– heading downwind. But they "broached" –– meaning that the the rudder lost control, and the boat turned suddenly sideways to the wind and waves. And got knocked down hard.
The husband got a serious facial cut from flying debris -- probably wood that had broken off the cockpit coaming. His wife was temporarily trapped in their sleeping cabin amidst all of the gear that came tumbling out of lockers and cabinets.
Even worse, lots of seawater ended up down below, mixing with the chaotic jumble of gear.
And then the books came off the bookshelves and dissolved to pulp in the seawater. And plugged the intakes for all five bilge pumps. So our friends had no way to get the water out.
Faced with an injury, lots of seawater on board, and no working pumps, our friends reluctantly made the decision to trigger their EPIRB satellite rescue beacon.
But, during the hours-long wait for rescue, they reevaluated the situation and decided they could save their boat.
Then the helicopter showed up, at the absolute limit of its fuel supply, and there was no time to debate things. The Coast Guard rescue swimmer prevailed on them to jump in the water and get winched up into the bird. And so they flew away, leaving their boat bobbing along by itself.
But this story has a happy ending, because the boat survived and was found less than 2 months later by the Coast Guard. They towed it into port -- and, because the Coast Guard does not claim salvage rights, our friends got their boat back!
This event made us revisit own preparations. We had obsessed about these things before we left the US, but that was fifteen years ago.
Anyway, here are our precautions.
First of all, you have to keep the water out.
Most boats sail with their companionway hatch open.
For those of you who aren't boaties, the companionway is the main entrance to the boat, and gets closed up with a vertical hatch board (or boards) and a horizontal slider. (This picture shows our setup in port, with screens and a security hatch board that lets air through.)
When it's open, it's a very big hole in the boat -- which no doubt seems even bigger when the boat is upside down...
This is something that we are pretty diligent about. We always have the full, watertight hatch board in place and locked when we are at sea.
A lot of boats don't do this, because it's awkward to get up and down the companionway. But we have just made a point of learning to climb over this thing. Now we can do it without thinking.
We don't usually close the horizontal slider. But we've revisited our plan -- the slider should be closed and locked when conditions get scary.
This is a companionway lock which allows the slider to be secured, but still be opened from both the cockpit and the interior of the boat.
The metal tab slides through a slot in the hatch board, so that it can be secured from the outside with a lock, or, at sea, with a small carabiner.
And then if a person inside the boat needs to get out, they can just pull on that ring, which removes the pin and allows the slider to open up.
Next, we have the question of securing gear. It's pretty clear that locker latches and settee cushions can't be expected to contain heavy tools and provisions in a knockdown.
Almost all of the lockers which contain heavy objects like tools get this kind of treatment.
As do the drawers.
But we are reconsidering whether the webbing buckles are adequate. We might upgrade these -- say by using spectra line instead of webbing.
This is an example of Spectra line used as a tie. That line doesn't look like much, but it's as strong as steel wire of the same diameter. And no buckles to pop open.
And there is more going on here. A previous owner installed four of these nice cabinets, using wood screws fastened vertically to the shelf. It seemed pretty obvious to us that a hard knock down –– imagine the boat falling off a wave for 15 or 20 feet and landing on her side –– would tear those screws right out of the shelf.
So before we set out from Chicago, Ken bolted the top of each cabinet to the wall behind it.
Here is our solution for settee cushions. Lots of heavy stuff stored under those cushions...
And the bookshelves get this treatment. This netting is held in place by strong bungee cords that hook into fairleads. In port we just unhook the bunjees and drop the netting back behind the books.
This is part of Dashew's basic design –– strong, positive locks on all of the reefer and freezer hatches. Otherwise you add food to the mess.
This heavy toolbox gets strapped down and also sits behind screwed-down cleats that keep it from sliding around. Again, we might upgrade to spectra line.
And then there are a myriad of small details – – basically everything not in a locker needs to get strapped down.
Okay, so we make a few exceptions.
We have a nice flat screen monitor for watching movies. It mounts on the wall, but we don't remotely trust the wall mount at sea. So it gets strapped down on a settee.
Even the navigation computer needs a strap.
Finally, the floorboards on our friends' boat may not have been fastened down. So the pulpy books got down to the bilge pump pickups.
Again this is part of Dashew's design –– all of the floorboards are screwed down. This is particularly important for us because we store lots of heavy stuff -- spare pumps and such -- down low under the floorboards. (Vacuum sealed and wrapped in padding so that they don't corrode.)
And we'll finish with a few other details. Like having strongly fitted lee cloths that will keep you in bed even if you get thrown against them violently. Again, we're using lots of spectra here.
Bottom line -- you can't prevent every bad event on a passage (or in life). But it helps to have a plan.
And to learn from other people's experience, both good and bad.
December 4, 2018 - March 3, 2019, April 11, 2019 - July 5, 2019
Back In New Zealand Again
Do we have to explain why we keep coming back here? This is Urquhart's Bay, at the mouth of the Hatea River leading to Whangarei.
Back at Riverside Drive Marina –– always feels like home.
This was our 12th summer at Riverside.
And Beth gets to re-acquaint herself with her "favorite" tree. Technically this is called a Pohutukawa, but we just call it a Puka-puka-puka tree.
Unfortunately, Beth seems to be very allergic to these bright red flowers.
She swears that she starts to get stuffed up at least 400 miles out as we approach New Zealand!
Ken is dubious...
First thing is to get the boat cleaned up after passage. Like getting rid of this squid that had jumped aboard. We would consider eating him, but he's probably past his use-by date…
We also had to solve a few problems that cropped up on passage. Here Ken disassembles one of the fuel filters. Evidently we took on some bad fuel, probably in Vanuatu.
It also turns out that new-style Racor filters have a check valve which keeps water from getting to the engine.
That little white ball is supposed to sink in diesel fuel but float in water. Nice concept, except that Ken is holding a container of diesel fuel here –– and that ball is floating.
Our mechanic tells us that the balls change density after they've soaked in diesel for enough years. And when they start to float they completely stop the fuel flow.
Ken registers his feelings. We just took the ball out of the valve -- after all, this is our polishing filter, so there are other filters protecting the engine. Plus, this failure wrecked the polishing pump.
And of course we needed to catch up with our many friends in Whangarei.
Here our friend Don introduces his granddaughter Maddy to some new buddies.
Maddy is quite the pistol. Her favorite thing is leaping off high places into the waiting arms of her dad.
We also got to meet Fatty Goodlander, a famous cruising author who happened to be in town.
Fatty is what you call a raconteur -- with a constant supply of funny stories.
We started trying to get our bodies back in shape after six months on the boat.
Ken peers into an abandoned goldmine.
Which we decided not to explore.
And we stopped to smell the flowers.
We also stopped to admire the improvements that Graham, the new Riverside Drive Marina owner, is pushing forward.
With his own hands.
Graham is a prominent businessman, and quite well off, but he sure isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. In fact, he may be the hardest working person that we've ever met. His staff despairs of keeping up with him.
He's in his 70's and officially retired!
And when Graham builds something, it stays built. This is going to be the new barbecue patio, but it has enough steel reinforced concrete to survive a nuclear war.
Riverside had a new resident when we arrived –– a 23-year-old American woman named Rose.
Who had purchased an old wooden sailboat she planned to sail to the tropics. It turned out to need quite a lot of work -- surprise!
In fact, Rose ended up replacing all 94 ribs, with help from a (famous) local boat builder named Mark Webby.
Which required driving 3000 new copper rivets! With hammers!
(The red drips are from traditional red lead paint.)
Hence the "Rosie the Riveter" pose.
Rose is quite a story –– left home at 17, and spent the last six years riding the rails on trains in the American Southwest.
It turns out that there is a whole subculture of people who do this –– dodging the railroad detectives, who are still called "bulls." Rose can expound at length about how to stay camouflaged –– mainly 1) don't move, 2) stay in the shadows, and 3) don't wear bright colors.
And she can also explain how to pick the right trains to ride, so that you don't end up in the wrong place or get stranded somewhere. Keep in mind that you have to pick the train at night, in the dark, using a red flashlight, while dodging the bulls.
But here's the thing, underneath the tough exterior, Rose turns out to be thoroughly likeable -- a smart, reasonable person with a good set of values. We don't know (didn't ask) exactly what set her on this unconventional path. But she's come through it remarkably undamaged.
She also listens to advice.
Which makes people want to help her.
When word spread through the New Zealand wooden boat grape vine about Rose's plight –– a plan to make a very difficult cruising passage in a boat that was presently not seaworthy –– Mark stepped up to help out.
Mark is another person where appearances can be misleading. He looks like a surfer dude, but he turns out to be one of the most skilled and respected wooden boatbuilders in New Zealand.
Here he slides a plank for Rose's new bulwark into a propane-fired steaming box.
And after the plank has softened up, Mark and Rose work to clamp it in its new home.
Although Rose is savvy about trains she really didn't know much at all about sailing. So we tried to help out where we could, with advice and surplus equipment. Here Beth helps her fit some used foul weather gear that another friend had given to us.
We might say that we took Rose under our wing, except it's pretty clear from this picture that she wouldn't fit under our wings!
(This picture may be slightly exaggerated by a wide angle lens. But we couldn't resist...)
At one point Rose saw the two of us carrying a scuba tank, each holding one end of it. So she grabbed it, did two or three presses over her head with it, and then carried it to the car for us.
This may explain how she survived her train riding adventures –– who the heck was going to mess with her?
Rose shows off her answer to the perennial boat yard problem -- you can't get anything done, because everybody who goes by wants to stop and chat.
She makes her living as an artist (although she now has a sideline in boatbuilding). Here Rose displays an inlay that she is making for her salon table.
Mark's Concordia Yawl
Mark invited us to visit his workshop, where he is building a Concordia Yawl -- possibly the most iconic sailboat ever. He is the only boat builder outside of the Concordia business who was ever allowed a copy of the plans. And this may become the last Concordia ever built.
Mark has been working on this boat, in between paying projects, for 25 years. And it was now within a few weeks of completion.
All of the fittings are bronze, and most are cast and machined by hand. Mark doesn't do the casting himself –– he draws on a network of traditional New Zealand craftsman.
It was quite an honor for us to be invited here, as Mark generally discourages visitors.
He and his wife live almost off the grid, growing most of their own food and surviving without such modern necessities as telephones and computers.
Ken likes to say that Mark lives in the Bronze Age.
Here's the builder's plate -- bronze, of course -- awaiting only the completion date.
Update From New Zealand
Anyway, here's the latest word from New Zealand as of 12 months after these pictures were taken.
Mark has launched his boat.
Rose has postponed her voyage while she completes the interior of her own boat and applies for residency in New Zealand. And gets some coastal sailing experience, thank heavens!
Rose is now working for Mark as a boat builder.
That all seems just great to us.
Getting Back To Real Cruising -- In The Boat Yard
Real cruising means doing projects on your boat. So lots of boat nerd stuff coming up here -- very exciting!
We didn't plan to do much this year. But you know what they say about the plans of mice and men…
Those two boxes hold 1000 watts of solar panels, fresh from China.
Our old (semi-flexible) solar panels had gotten a bit cloudy –– this happens with the soft panels –– although they were still producing plenty of power.
But since the Chinese panels are very cheap, and we were in a good place to get them, we decided to go ahead and put new panels on.
The plan was to just take off the old panels, use their holes as a guide to drill mounting holes in margins of the new ones. And then mount the new ones. Should take maybe two days.
But here's what we found when we removed the old panels.
Because the soft panels mount directly to the carbon fiber bimini, they don't get a cooling airflow underneath them. The intense New Zealand UV had evidently caused teeny air pockets in the fairing under the paint to expand until they literally blew craters in the paint.
None of this damage was structural –– the carbon fiber layers weren't involved. But we needed a repair.
And we needed to keep this from happening again.
Since the damage would all be hidden under the new panels, Ken decided to do the work himself. Here's some of the fill, before it gets sanded.
Ken says he can do perfectly fine repair work, as long as it doesn't have to look good…
Ken sands away at the fairing, while trying to prevent the UV from blowing holes in his head.
And when we finished repairing the paint, we decided to fit double-skin Lexan panels under the solar panels to insulate the panels from the bimini top.
The open air channels in this material might provide a little bit of cooling for the solar panels as well, but unfortunately polycarbonate is a lousy heat conductor. But it's light and strong enough to walk on, which is important.
This whole experience points up the drawbacks of the semi-flexible panels, despite their low cost and light weight.
Anyway, by the time Ken finished all this, a two day job had ended up taking at least four weeks. This is the normal rule in boat work -- estimate the time needed, then double it and raise it one time unit.
And unfortunately, the drama wasn't over, although we didn't know that at the time… The next chapter to this story happens in Vanuatu, later in this update.
Here's another "little" project.
Our Spectra water maker has an "ionizer" which puts copper and silver ions into the flush water –– inhibiting marine growth on the membrane and in the filters. (We clear the ionized water out before we make water -- so we don't drink the stuff.)
But our ionizer was retrofitted on top of our older system, and it never worked very well –– Ken just couldn't slow the water flow down enough to get a strong ion content.
So he finally gave up, and built his own flush control box using an "Arduino" logic board and parts. That technology let him write a little computer program which controls things in the real world (via relays) -- and then download the program into this logic board. Very cool.
Ken says that he felt like a total nerd –– putting together his teeny circuit board and relay system.
We also bought new chain.
We use high strength G7 chain, which gives us a good strength to weight ratio. Unfortunately, it's dangerous to re-galvanize this stuff, so we end up replacing it every few years.
Here Ken works on marking the new chain, so that we can tell how much we have let out when we anchor.
We've experimented with lots of different marking systems, and finally invented our own. We tie small bits of uncovered Spectra line onto the chain at 10 meter intervals.
A short bit of line indicates 10 m. Two short bits indicate 20 m. And the longer piece means 30 m. And then we start repeating, so a long and a short means 40 m, and so on.
We just tie a square knot, and then seize the knot with superglue.
These marks never fall off, and you can read them even when they are dirty or covered with mud.
We also use spectra to seize our anchor shackles, again locking our knots in place with superglue. We use two separate bits of line on each shackle for redundancy. The point is to keep the shackle pin from unscrewing and falling out on some dark and stormy night at anchor.
Most sailors use wire for this purpose, but we have found that wire can get pinched and broken between the chain and the shackle.
Here is an illustration of the problem. These are the old seizings that just came off the anchor shackle (we renew them about once a year, since they will eventually degrade in the UV over a period of 5 or 6 years).
You can see that one of the two pieces of line has been drastically pinched and squeezed. If that were wire, it would have broken –– but the Spectra line just spreads out and takes it. This line is still plenty strong.
And the backup looks pristine.
Here's another useful idea. Most sailors clamp their SSB antennas directly onto the backstay.
Unfortunately, the stranded wire of the backstay will inevitably wick water down into the connection. As a work-around, sailors will lead the antenna wire downward to the connection, in an attempt to keep the water from working its way up inside the antenna cable. But even if that succeeds, the actual connection between the backstay and the antenna wire still gets wet and corroded.
We avoid this problem completely. We always attach our SSB antenna to the swage rather than to the wire itself. The swage is completely smooth, which allows our tape wrap to make a waterproof seal. And the swage forms an excellent electrical connection to the wire.
Works great –– our antenna wire usually looks pristine at the end of the season. And the SSB transmits just fine.
We also used our time in New Zealand to order lots of useful stuff.
Here Beth models a new lycra suit –– we were planning to go to the Marshall Islands, as we thought we might need something lighter than our wetsuits.
Beth also ordered some new eyes.
She had cataract surgery, and loves the results. She's back to driving at night again!
Finally, this is someone else's project, but we thought we'd show it to you.
It's an alternative to painting –– shrinkwrap.
Here's the finished product. (The vertical streaks are just watermarks from rain –– they will wash off.)
Apparently, you can repair this stuff relatively easily. We're not sure how you would go about removing it, however.
March 3, 2019 - April 9, 2019
Back In The USA
Time to make our annual pilgrimage back to see family and friends.
Culture Shock In San Diego
This time, however, we had another mission. We need to find a place to retire when we stop working. (Working on the boat, that is.)
San Diego has always been very high on our list, because of the great climate. But recently Ken has been getting cold feet –– kind of worried about the crowds and the traffic and the general scene.
So we decided to spend a week in San Diego to see if we could envision living there.
We stayed in an Air B&B rental in a really nice little neighborhood not too far from the water.
One point for Beth.
You could definitely tell we were in California!
And then we started noticing these little blue and white signs down by the curb.
Of course we were staying in a vacation rental! Seems that we had walked into the middle of a local dispute. We even heard stories of tourists getting their tires slashed.
We totally get this. We probably wouldn't want to live next to a vacation rental either.
But Ken took this as a point on his side. This is what happens when the place gets too crowded, and touristy.
We took an evening stroll and walked by this car dealership.
Yup –– that's right. The price is 1.5 million. And if you really squint at the fine print, you will notice that this is a used car!
Another point for Ken.
Have we got a deal for you! Only nine dollars to have someone inject botulism into your mouth!!
Ken is pulling ahead.
In desperation, Beth took us to the grocery store.
Every fruit and vegetable you can imagine, plus 5000 varieties of coffee.
Point to Beth.
And a convenient store so that you always have something to wear to parties…
Point to Ken.
Okay, that's worth at least three points for Beth!
We have felt for a while that it is stupid to put people in prison for marijuana.
But we didn't quite imagine billboard advertisements…
No points awarded.
Some of our longest-term friends –– Bob and Pauline –– came out to visit us in San Diego. They live up in the San Francisco Bay area, but at least we would be in the same state with them.
That's worth a lot of points.
Could almost be the same couple that sailed out of Chicago 15 years ago.
As long as you don't enlarge the picture!
We took a hike with Bob and Pauline in the Torrey Pines State Reserve.
Stunning scenery. And also, we got to talking with some of the "docents," who look after the park and show visitors around.
And we realized that we had a lot in common with those people. Retired people with an interest in the outdoors, and the time and energy to be proactive. Not bunkered down. We could probably find some friends in that community.
Points for Beth.
More points for Beth.
But, if you look closely, you will see the wire guardrail holding us back from the edge of the cliff.
The whole place is pretty heavily regulated -- docents, after all -- and you aren't going to find any solitude –– not exactly wilderness.
So that has to subtract a few points from Beth's score.
Then we wandered down onto the beach.
Several points for Beth.
But of course, the camera always lies. Because it only shows what is directly in front of it.
And if you step back, and look at the bigger picture, you can see what Ken is worried about.
So no net points awarded at the beach.
And we visited the aircraft carrier Midway –– now a Naval Museum.
Ken got to see a real Dauntless dive bomber –– the plane that won the battle of Midway, and one of Ken's all time favorites.
And Beth got to play around with the electronic equipment in the Combat Information Center (CIC) in the carrier.
Reminded her of the CIC on Eagle's Wings! The Cruising Information Center, that is...
The carrier was fun, but not the sort of thing that you would do often if you lived there.
No points awarded.
Anytime we're back in the States, we have to go shooting.
This is really Ken's thing, but Beth was looking to humor him.
So this is a point for Beth.
But, there's always this side to the shooting scene. Much as he loves to shoot, Ken admits that this is a bit over-the-top.
In the end, none of this has anything to do with California or San Diego anyway –– this is general to the whole USA.
So no net points awarded at the range.
We took a hiking trip with Bob and Pauline in the
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
east of San Diego.
The recent rains had set the desert alive with flowers.
This is a pretty nice resource, and a place we could visit frequently –– although not in the summer.
But it's a long car ride to get there.
One point to Beth.
We only scratched the surface, but that's our summary of San Diego so far –– a lot of pluses and minuses. The jury is still out.
Then we moved on to Chicago to visit our friends Debbie and David.
David shows off a new skill at a local wildlife center.
We decided not to try that trick with this guy.
This video shows why:
Snake (39 seconds)
And, as usual, Debbie and David took us to the Orchid Show at the Highland Park Botanical Gardens. Always really special.
And we visited the local supermarket. Which includes a "bone bar" for your dog.
And here's another place which is becoming a tradition for us when we visit Chicago –- the local Abt Electronics -- an over-the-top appliance store.
Here's the perfect range to cook your morning eggs.
And a bargain, too. Marked down $4,000 for some scratches.
So basically, the $4,000 markdown is about 50% more than we paid for our first car.
Then we moved on to Wisconsin to visit our friends Debbie and Tim.
Here Tim shows what it takes to win on the ice.
And here he shows what it takes to be able to walk after winning on the ice.
This pneumatic thingy squeezes the juices up out of your legs and back where they belong.
Ken wonders if they make something like that to squeeze the juices back into your brain…
We have deep ties to the midwest, with lots of very good friends in Wisconsin and Illinois. Now if they could just do something about the weather...
April 11, 2019 - July 5, 2019
Good Bye To New Zealand
We flew back to New Zealand to make ready for sea. But in the back of our minds we knew that we were coming to the end of our long relationship with New Zealand.
We plan to sail back at least one more time –– but we can see the writing on the wall.
We stopped for a few nights in Auckland, to enjoy the energy and the fantastic restaurant scene.
It's a seafaring town.
With an amazing racing tradition. Here is KZ-1, the famous "aircraft carrier" which Dennis Connor beat with the first America's Cup catamaran.
Now they race for the Cup on foiling catamarans that hit 40 knots! And the Kiwis are still big players.
Auckland has a blooming, booming nightlife.
A beautiful and exciting city.
But honestly, we prefer the more provincial attractions of Whangarei.
This is a traveling caravan/circus –– about 40 homemade camper vans traveling as a group and giving shows throughout the North Island.
Offering the locals mysterious and sometimes badly needed elixirs.
Along with entertainment for the kids.
If you look closely, you can see how this homemade merry-go-round gets its power. The operator powers it with a bicycle pedal!
Traveling artisans hammer out their art.
And weave their magic.
This girl gets to do what a lot of teenagers probably dream about –– stick swords through her father's head…
Oddly enough, he survived!
And once the show is over, they pack it all up to move on to the next town.
This was great fun –– a carnival without the sleaze.
These are our long-term cruising buddies Steve and Lindsay of s/v Jemellie.
They are Brits, although actually they hail from the Jersey Channel Islands.
That's an important difference these days, particularly since the Islands have a special relationship with the EU. They get all the commercial and trade benefits, but are exempt from the rules about freedom of movement for workers.
That's probably a deal that Britain would've loved…
Steve and Lindsay were housesitting a place about an hour's drive from Whangarei, and we drove up to spend the night.
And do some fantastic hiking along the coast.
And the thing is, this time the camera doesn't lie. This is the way life is out there, and there's nothing hiding just outside the frame. Except some sheep.
But Steve and Lindsay are looking to sell their boat and move back to Jersey. And so it's goodbye –– hopefully not forever.
Here's a little music back at Riverside. These musical cruisers called themselves the "Barnacle Pickers." They had some serious musical talent.
Delivered with some serious enthusiasm.
They included our friend Nancie, who is a concert violinist. (As well as her husband Art, who was a symphony conductor.)
We've been friends for years with Art and Nancie, on s/v "Second Wind." But now they too are planning to pack it up and head back to the US for good.
"Second Wind" pulls away from the dock at Riverside for the last time.
This is a well-known downside of cruising –– you are always saying goodbye to your friends. Hopefully we will meet up again in the States.
But we have to focus on getting ready for our own trip, making last-minute fixes and gathering our provisions.
We hope to summer in the Marshall Islands next season -- which would mark the first time in 12 years that we have not returned to Whangarei.
Here Beth stocks up on spices to last the duration.
And, because we aren't coming back next summer, we decided to finally sell our little Toyota station wagon.
Derf, as she is affectionately known (because of the first three letters in her license plate), had been in our family since 2006.
She was built in 1997, making her at once the oldest car we have ever owned and the car we have owned for the longest time. And basically trouble-free! Toyota knows how to build them.
Our friends Don and Janet kindly offered to sell her for us, so that we could keep using Derf right up until we left the dock.
Ode to Whangarei
Seeing the end of the run makes you appreciate things more. Like Whangarei.
Whangarei is an unassuming working town –– a supply hub for the surrounding dairy farms.
Which gives it a delightfully high ratio of hydraulic shops, machine shops, electrical and plumbing supply outlets and such compared to less essential services like Saks Fifth Avenue…
Turns out that dairy farmers need a lot of the same technology that sailors use!
Whangarei isn't known for its architecture, although the Town Council tries.
Here's a major "tourist attraction" in town –– the new lifting bridge, which dutifully opens at noon so tourists can snap pictures.
Well, actually, there will soon be a new "Hundertwasser" art gallery which should be spectacular, and will hopefully draw more visitors.
And we admit, as bridges go, the Hatea River bridge is pretty cool.
Even if it gets stuck closed on hot days, and also can't be opened in over 30 knots of wind.
The Town Council may have put form a little bit ahead of function on this one.
The nightlife might not compare to Auckland, but it suits us -- Tuesday night at McMorrisey's Pub.
And, of course, Riverside Drive Marina has been our home for a long time. A bit more personal and friendly than those big marinas in Auckland.
A spot light projects a perfect image of s/v Hydra on the back end of the paint tent. (You can always recognize Hydra by her namesake -- the twin wind vanes.)
Even when Whangarei tries to be intimidating, it can't quite pull it off…
Here's that dock in action, with the Shackleton Sea Scouts presiding.
Another Whangarei landmark -- the canopy bridge. Home to Saturday art and food festivals in the summer.
The Town Council created a 3 mile path which connects the canopy bridge, the lifting bridge, and this pedestrian bridge into a very inviting walking loop.
It gets lots of use, in all seasons and all times of day.
When we hike the loop, we usually have to budget extra time for talking to all the friends that we are sure to encounter.
Here's Riverside's competition, the Town Basin Marina, viewed from the walking trail.
And the Council has been adding artwork along the way, like this sculpture of a Maori war club.
The giant sundial at the clock museum.
And finally, a couple of views from the Hatea bridge at sunset.
Our kind of town.
But enough sentimentality.
We have places to go and adventures to seek. (And we will indeed find some...)
"A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for."
July 5, 2019 - July 11, 2019
Sailing To Vanuatu
We left in mild conditions. Except for squalls.
But those can give you rainbows!
And some nice sunsets.
Mostly we had some pretty nice sailing.
With the wind vane keeping us on course.
Ken was still experimenting with his new camera equipment, and put together a short video to show what sailing feels like on passage in nice conditions: Sailing (2:07 minutes)
We log our position every hour, and Beth marks our progress every 6 hours on a paper chart.
We mostly navigate with electronic charts, but we think it's very important to have paper charts and keep our position updated on them.
Electronics can fail.
And then we ran out of wind, and had to turn the engine on.
Fortunately, Don and Janet had given us this emergency signalling kit in case we ran out of fuel.
It's a chocolate bar, of course.
A Harbinger Of Trouble
And then, as we approached Vanuatu after an uneventful passage, something bad happened. How bad, we didn't realize…
We suddenly felt a strong vibration when the propeller was turning. It went away when we took the engine out of gear, and got worse when the engine was in gear and revved up.
We had experienced something like this in the past, when part of our propeller zinc had fallen off, unbalancing the prop. So we figured that was the most likely explanation.
We were able to control the vibration by slowing the engine down. And then the wind built back in, so we decided to wait until we got to port to address the problem.
But, oddly enough, when we got to port the propeller zinc was intact. And the cutlass bearing and shaft couplings were fine. And the vibration seemed to have disappeared. We really didn't know what to think about this… Maybe something had fouled the propeller for a while? Weird...
With hindsight, we should of treated this like a VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM, and gotten to the bottom of it.
Complacency is the enemy...
July 11, 2019 - July 25, 2019
Back In The Tropics
Beth had finagled special permission for us to stop at the southernmost island of Vanuatu –– Aneityum -- before we finished our official check-in in Port Vila, further north. So we anchored in the bay off the village of Aneghowhat, on the southwestern tip of the island.
The people here live a semi-traditional village life.
But Aneityum has also become a favorite destination for cruise ships –– looking to show their passengers what a traditional village life looks like.
"Traditional" villages that get thousands of visitors every few weeks. Hmmm...
But actually, the villagers here have figured out how to handle this.
They stage all the cruise ship events on Mystery Island –- an uninhabited island out in the bay. On "cruise ship days," people converge from the several villages on the island to put on shows, sell their handicrafts, and cook food for the tourists.
The tourists end up quarantined (but entertained and happy), and the villages don't get overrun by thousands of visitors. As a result, the villagers have remained friendly and unjaded. Which is also good for business, of course.
And then they return to their nice quiet villages with a little bit of money in their pockets. So the locals get to enjoy village life without the financial strains that a lot of the more isolated villages are feeling now.
People in Vanuatu pay to send their children to elementary school. The fees don't sound like much to Americans, but for villagers with absolutely no cash economy, they can be a real problem.
But the people here don't have to worry about that.
So we have to admit that the cruise ships can be a good thing, sometimes.
[Except when a pandemic hits -- ed.]
We were eager to get back into the water –– remember, Ken needed to check out that prop zinc.
Plus Ken was eager to test out his new Nikon Z7 underwater camera gear.
We found some interesting diving, although the conditions were a bit challenging. The reefs off Aneghowhat are pretty exposed in strong trade wind conditions.
We had heard there was good diving on the north side of the island -- in more sheltered water. So we took Eagle's Wings around to Anawamet Bay.
The local chief's son, Noke, immediately came out to greet us. And initiate trading.
We ended up with quite a collection of produce, including these giant beans. All of it was very welcome after a passage at sea.
We traded an old rope –– still quite serviceable and worth some money –– for a bunch of fruits and vegetables. That seemed like an ok deal.
You do have to know where to draw the line, however.
On the last day of our stay, Noke came out to visit again. And this time he asked for some gasoline, explaining that it hadn't been available in Anaeghowhat on his last trip over there on cruise ship day. Now there was another cruise ship day coming up, and he didn't have enough gasoline to get there. So could we possibly spare some?
We said yes, but explained that we would have to charge the market price. We said that gasoline was expensive, and we couldn't afford to be giving it away.
Also, if the word got around, then every time a cruising boat pulled into a village somewhere everyone would line up waiting for their free gasoline!
Noke took this under advisement and said that he would check and see if he could find some in the village. If not, he would come back.
Amazingly enough, he found some in the village.
In any event, we were happy to be diving again.
This creature is a type of sea cucumber or beche de mer.
And this is an Eagle Ray.
Which gave us a really good look.
Beth has had a very persistent problem with mask fogging. She breathes a little bit through her nose, despite her best efforts –– Ken can often see bubbles coming out of the top of her mask.
So we experimented with the nose plug, improvised from a small Carpenters clamp.
Unfortunately, this was not a great success…
We also found a few interesting nudibranchs, like this Phylidia Picta.
And then there is this guy –– a Blue Dragon –– who is incredibly ornate and weird looking.
Ken gets frustrated photographing Blue Dragons, because they blend in so well with their background. You have to look really closely at this picture, particularly just right of the center, to see what's going on. This Dragon has horns like a Texas Longhorn, just to the right of the black widow-style white mark on the dragon's head.
Against a plain background this critter would be unforgettable. But in his native environment you can barely see him.
Of course, the diving community considers it very bad form to molest the wildlife –– say by inserting a black card underneath a Dragon!
Some of the aquatic wildlife doesn't wait for you to molest them –– these sea snakes like to take a snooze on something dry. Like our swim platform.
Since their venom is usually fatal, it seemed like a good idea to chase this one off. We've done this many times.
In reality they are not aggressive, and their mouths are too small to pose much of a danger to humans.
July 25, 2019 - November 19, 2019
After about two weeks in Aneityum, we headed north to Port Vila, with quick overnight stops at Erromango and Tanna on the way.
And took the opportunity to do some productive fishing!
Ken demonstrates how it's actually possible to sleep in our pilothouse…
Vila has become one of our favorite places –– a safe harbor, with good markets and good restaurants, practically no crime, and within easy reach of good diving.
Here is the view from the Iririki Island Resort –– which has some nice restaurants that are open to cruisers.
We took a walk along the coast to stretch our legs after all that time on the boat.
And encountered this inquisitive mama pig.
With a bunch of little ones. (What do you call a group of pigs, anyway?)
She wanted to know if our camera tasted good…
Our immediate passage repairs were very minor –– just this broken Antal batten car. We've had a lot of trouble with these things, and we now carry a full set of spares –- one for each batten.
And this Whale solid-state water sensor failed inside of our gray water box. We replaced it with a spare, but we have subsequently discovered that these things have a flaw –– they tend to develop a leak between the plastic body and the potted electronics, which lets enough water in to kill the switch.
It's a shame, because we love the Whale pumps, and find them highly reliable. But the switches aren't ready for prime time.
But there were bigger issues out there, some of which we knew about, and some of which we didn't…
For one thing, our new solar panels stopped working!
The power output just slowly dropped off, and then basically quit altogether. After a week or so in Vila we only had one panel that was actually working.
This is a bad problem. Without the panels, we end up running our little Kubota diesel 3 to 4 hours a day. With the panels our runtime drops to about an hour in Vila, and to nothing at all in a sunny location.
Also, it's very difficult to get lead acid batteries fully charged without solar panels, as you end up running a diesel engine for hours at a stretch just to put in tiny amounts of power. (And if you don't get lead acid batteries fully charged about once a week, they will "sulfate" and lose capacity.)
Let's just say that solar panels are "mission critical" on Eagle's Wings.
We did a little exploratory surgery on one of the failed panels –– by opening up the connector box.
Warning: some boat nerd stuff follows here.
The panels use very simple construction –– the cells are tied together with foil strips inside the plastic laminate. And then the strips come together and exit under the connector box.
This picture shows one of the foils sticking up out of the plastic, but the other foil just crumbled and broke off at the surface, leaving only a small black spot.
And here's what the fitting looked like inside the connector box.
The foil on the right looks clean and shiny –– right up to where Ken had cut it off. While the foil on the left looks like it's been through a nuclear war, and just fell apart without cutting.
Here's what we think happened. When Ken installed the new panels back in New Zealand, he had intentionally shorted the positive and negative leads together for each panel, in order to protect them from moisture.
Although it sounds weird, this is something that you should be able to do with solar panels –– unlike alternators or batteries or generators, solar panels can't output more than a fixed number of amps. And their hardware should be sized to take the maximum output. Ken had done this plenty of times in the past with other panels.
But the Chinese company had upgraded the power on these panels, and evidently hadn't upgraded the foil. So, running at maximum output in the intense New Zealand summer heat and UV, the foils had burned right up.
We were disappointed at this failure, and we won't hook the leads together again. But this shouldn't be a problem in normal service, since it's almost impossible to reach maximum output once you put a load on the system.
In any event, we decided our best option was to order a new set of panels for shipment to Port Vila.
As always, Shine Solar in China allowed us to place a custom order for a wide border and a special orientation of the control boxes. We used DHL to bring them in.
It took more than a month to get the panels manufactured and shipped, but they got to us intact.
And Ken drilled yet another set of holes in yet another set of panels.
We like to work on projects like this under our tent on deck. Much better than working out in the sun and rain.
And soon we were cooking again. There are a lot of numbers in these solar panel control displays, but the ones that count are on the second line, on the right-hand side in each display. The controller on the left is putting out 34.1 Amps, and the controller on the right is putting out 31.2 Amps. Not bad for a sailboat!
This meter shows the net power going into the batteries (after some gets siphoned off by various boat systems.)
We were very happy. And so far, about six months later, we are still happy. At least with the solar panels...
We had intended to explore the northern islands of Vanuatu, but the problem with the solar panels kept us in Vila.
But no matter –– because the diving is great around Vila.
An Ornate Butterflyfish.
At first, Ken had a lot of problems getting his new Nikon Z7 to focus quickly and accurately underwater. For a couple of weeks he felt that he had made an expensive mistake with the new camera and housing.
But eventually he discovered some obscure menu settings that made all the difference. So now the camera focuses better than our previous camera. And Ken loves the fact that he can shoot video. Plus the ergonomics are exceptional, both in and out of the water.
This Whip Gobi was hiding on a mooring chain only about a meter below the surface. It was a windy day, and Ken was getting surged around by the waves.
But, obviously, the camera grabbed perfect focus. We won't talk about the camera settings here, but anyone who wants to use a Z7 underwater should contact us.
A Doriprismatica atromarginata nudibranch on a sea cucumber.
A couple of Blue Streak Cleaner Wrasses pick parasites off a Yellowfin Emperor Fish.
Cleaner wrasses establish "cleaning stations" where bigger fish come to get their parasites removed. The big fish goes into a kind of trance, opening its mouth and gills. And the wrasses will crawl right in amongst the predator's teeth without any fear of being eaten!
Some Highfin Blennies.
You have to squint at this picture a little bit – – but this shows a Spotted Shrimp Goby and his shrimp partner. The shrimps are good at digging holes, but they have terrible eyesight. So the Goby stands watch while the shrimp digs.
And then they both share the same hole.
Notice how the Goby is giving Ken the evil eye, while the shrimp is oblivious. If the Goby twitches his tail, then they will both disappear instantly into their burrow.
Here's another look at the partners.
And here's a little video that we think you will enjoy: Teamwork (2:57 minutes)
A Blackspotted Puffer.
A Dwarf Hawkfish.
A Loch's Chromodoris Nudibranch on a sponge.
A pair of Longnose Filefish, hiding out in staghorn coral.
A Flat Rock Crab.
The still picture hardly does this guy justice –– those lights on his legs were flashing on and off like a billboard in Times Square.
This Mantis Shrimp is about 1 inch long.
Here's another one of those very photogenic Nudibranchs (Chromodoris elisabethina).
A Pacific Double-Saddle Butterflyfish.
Some Pacific Blue Tangs -- now universally called Dory Tangs.
Here's a close-up of a giant clam, looking like a volcanic landscape on Mars.
A delicate Sarasvati Anemone Shrimp.
Coral and sponge.
The tip of a whip coral.
A Goniobranchus Leopardus Nudibranch.
An adult Spotted Boxfish.
And a predator.
The local dive shop –– Big Blue –– had been doing a fantastic job of fighting the Crown of Thorns starfish outbreak near Port Vila. So for a while we weren't seeing any of these vicious coral eaters.
But eventually, as we moved out to more remote dive sites, we found them.
Heaps of them. There are probably 8 or 9 big COTS in this picture.
These guys can lay waste to an entire coastline of coral in just a few seasons. And the coral will take decades to come back, if it ever does.
The outbreaks used to happen maybe every 50 years in most places, but they seem to be more frequent now.
Combined with all the other stress that coral faces they can be a real gut punch. But areas with a dedicated dive community can stop them.
And the Port Vila area has a lot of great coral to protect.
We couldn't just walk away from this.
So we dug out our killing equipment.
And mixed up our witches brew of bile salts.
Ken always uses a mask when he's working with this stuff. It's easy enough to handle in small quantities.
But he got a scare back in New Zealand while decanting a 5 kg container into smaller packages. That raised a lot of very lightweight dust. And then Ken went off into a corner, lifted his mask for an instant to use his phone, and breathed.
He coughed for six weeks –– and for a while felt that he might never dive again.
Ken is fully recovered now. But we are VERY careful. The bile salts are pretty harmless once they're mixed up –– you could probably drink the stuff, as your stomach lining can take it.
But it's an enzyme which digests meat, and your lungs are just meat.
And it only takes a 10th of a gram of the powder to kill a COTS the size of a turkey platter. So, yeah, don't breathe the stuff. Or get it in your eyes…
Beth prepares for the hunt.
It was always gratifying to return to the same area the next day to find only bits and pieces of the COTS that we had injected on the previous dive.
The COTS become agitated within a couple of minutes of being injected. And as soon as they show distress, fish of all kinds begin to attack them. By the next day there's almost nothing left except fat fish.
Very quickly, the fish began following us around –– looking for their next meal. Beth even thought that some of the fish were trying to show her where the COTS were hiding. Ken is a bit dubious about that…
But for sure, in the animal kingdom it doesn't pay to show weakness!
The COTS killing took over, and we ended up staying in Vila and just hunting for the rest of the season.
Sometimes, we would both take injection guns –– when we felt we had a particularly large concentration to attack.
But most of the time Ken carried the camera, scouted for COTS and shot video, while Beth did most of the actual execution.
Ken was shocked that his wife of 38 years turned out to be a real hunter-killer. He used to bow hunt for deer, and Beth would never have any part of that. But COTS bring out her killer instinct...
By the end of the season, we had killed about 500 of them. That's just a drop in the bucket compared to what Big Blue has done, but we felt good about it.
And Ken put together his first serious video effort. We call it: Killing Dragons (15:59 minutes)
Peering into every nook and cranny in the coral offers some unexpected payoffs.
Like these baby white tip sharks hiding under a big plate coral.
Plus dramas like this nudibranch trying to get out of the way of an agitated, distressed COTS.
Killing COTS began to feel a bit like a job –– but an important job that we looked forward to tackling.
And then we could enjoy some well-deserved time off with our friends Wendy and Dave on "Elysium" -– exploring the restaurant scene in Vila.
And observing the local boat scene.
This is "Dragonfly," which belongs to Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google.
We're not big on powerboats, or super yachts, but you had to admire this one.
She has an extremely efficient hull shape.
And and even larger length to beam ratio than Eagle's Wings.
Which allows her to easily exceed her theoretical hull speed of a little over 20 kn. Apparently she can cruise –– efficiently –– at more than 25 kn.
Definitely more appealing than your typical gin palace.
And we had to deal with the usual unexpected breakdowns.
The mounting feet on our dive compressor suddenly all failed at the same time. That caught us by surprise –– a spare part that we didn't carry!
That won't happen again!
We were using our wonderful new four-stroke, 20 horse Mercury engine to dinghy an 8 mile round-trip every day to our dive site.
And we started cracking the false floor in our dinghy –– scuba tanks bouncing up and down when we flew off waves.
So Ken decided that he needed to beef up the dinghy floor with some plywood panels.
Here's a finished product in the bottom of the dinghy –– it's totally stopped the problem.
And it's really been necessary, since our poor dinghy now has to accommodate our dive tanks, camera gear, and two underwater scooters!
But that's a story we'll get into in a later update.
We also had to deal with the shortcomings of the supermarkets in Port Vila. Namely that the toilet paper was too luxurious.
We like to use single-ply toilet paper. Because double-ply can plug up a marine head, with unspeakable results.
We have pictures, but you don't want to see them…
So, anyway, we ended up having to split double-ply roles in order to make our own single-ply toilet paper.
If you had told us 15 years ago that we would be spending our time like this, we wouldn't have believed it.
[Actually, in light of current conditions, our readers might find our technique useful.... ed.]
Here's another kind of repair we might've found surprising.
Although, actually, Beth has always been a frugal Wisconsin girl!
And here's another shortcoming of the local supermarkets. They carry knockoff Oreo cookies (made in India).
Definitely inferior to the real thing. Compare the cream filling on the package to the reality!
A quick tip. Don't tie your mooring lines on like this!
Just visualize what will happen as this boat starts to horse back and forth in a stiff breeze, drawing the boat's two mooring lines through the rope eyes.
This set up could chafe through and break loose in one blustery night. It's much better to take the starboard line back to the starboard cleat, and the port line back to the port cleat.
We spoke to the family on board about this, and they changed their set up. They were very nice people –– just a little inexperienced. And we don't mean to pick on them, either, as we see this kind of thing all the time.
But we have a policy –– if we see something that is safety-related, we always speak up. Even if it's none of our business…
We will end our discussion of Port Vila by talking about this amazingly versatile beauty shop.
We watched in awe, as they advertised a new specialty every week.
With something for everybody.
This probably wouldn't cut it with the politically correct crowd in the US.
But blackface was never a thing in Vanuatu –– basically everybody here is black, except for the tourists and a few ex-pats. So nobody got offended.
And here's the pièce de résistance.
We aren't quite sure what this is all about.
But whatever this is, you probably don't want to get it in the same shop that will also slather mud on your face…
November 19, 2019 - December 2, 2019
Ken and Beth Step Into The Twilight Zone
And then life got surreal. And it hasn't really stopped...
December was here, and the cyclone season started to loom over us.
We had a new plan this year –– instead of going back to New Zealand, we would head north, across the equator to the Marshall Islands.
The Marshalls can get occasional cyclones, but it would be winter up there in the northern hemisphere –– so not the cyclone season.
We had planned to follow the blue route on the right, heading almost straight north.
But at the last minute we diverted instead to the blue route on the left, toward the Solomon Islands, adding about 400 miles to the trip.
We went out of our way on the advice of our weather router, Bruce Buckley. He alerted us to a developing cyclone that would cross our path if we sailed due north. And he was right.
This forecast shows the expected weather three days ahead. At the time we downloaded the forecast our boat was located at the purple boat icon.
And we were expecting to reach the gray boat icon in three days, when this weather pattern would apply.
Heading straight north from Port Vila would have taken us into the path of this developing tropical cyclone.
There was a reasonable chance that this thing could come to Port Vila, so we really didn't want to remain passively on our mooring. So we went around it!
We would never have had the confidence to try this on our own, without advice from Bruce.
This isn't the first time that we had danced with a tropical cyclone. But we had never before tried to predict exactly where one would form up, and how it would move. We don't have that expertise…
Our plan was to get behind the cyclone, and then turn right and ride the South winds on the backside of the low -- it's called doing a slingshot.
We ended up getting really close to the Solomon Islands –– close enough to see some shore birds -- because the developing storm had gotten huge, and we wanted to give it some elbow room.
The key to dancing with cyclones is not getting your toes stepped on!
And then we made our turn, with nice strong winds on the starboard quarter.
It was a bit spooky -– heading straight for this thing. The models aren't tuned for cyclones, so the winds at the center will be much stronger than what shows here.
But the cyclone (named Rita) was moving away to the southeast at a pretty rapid rate.
So our real problem was to stay close enough to keep some good winds for as long as possible.
In the end, it worked out beautifully. We had a lot of good wind and all we saw of Rita were a few squalls.
This had been a weather routing tour de force on Bruce's part.
The Worst Advice Ever
And Bruce's performance looked even more spectacular when we compared it with advice from a different weather router.
Through a combination of circumstances, we ended up hiring two routers for this passage. (Because Bruce had a scheduled vacation, which ended up not being a problem.)
And the other guy (who operates out of Hawaii) routed us right in front of the storm, with the following comment:
At the present time there is no tropical cyclone warnings or suspect areas over your sailing area. There is some deep convection over the Solomons, but that is insufficient to develop a tropical cyclone.
We would never complain because the weather doesn't follow a forecast -- that goes with the territory. Except that Bruce had already predicted the storm. And the other guy never corrected his advice, even when the cyclone was in full swing!
Plus he still insisted on getting paid!
And in his last email to us, he said that we had sailed "unnecessary miles" because we didn't listen to his advice -- this was after the cyclone had fully brewed up and gotten an offical name! Yikes!
By the way, his motto is "PREDICT, PROVIDE, PROTECT."
We decided his $100 fee was worth it for the entertainment value.
We did have one serious problem as we squeezed by the cyclone.
Beth got thrown into a counter in our aft head, breaking the toilet paper holder and cracking a rib in her back.
So she had to wear a padded life jacket for the rest of the trip. Kind of miserable, as it got hotter and hotter.
Ken was very impressed that Beth didn't miss a single watch as a result of her injury. But we did have to plan things so that he could help out with sail changes, since Beth really couldn't pull on ropes or work the winches for a few days.
The toilet paper holder didn't fare so well either…
After 5 1/2 days of terrific sailing, our wind ran out as we sailed into the dead zone or "col" on top of the cyclone. Time for the "iron genny."
And that's when disaster struck.
Ken started the engine just as Beth came on deck for her night watch. And when he put it in gear, we heard a horrible grinding, screeching noise coming from the engine room. Kind of like your car muffler had come loose and was dragging on the pavement. At 50 mph! The noise stopped as soon as Ken went to neutral.
Ken checked the transmission fluid and all of the couplings, rotated the shaft by hand, and then tried again to put the engine into gear.
This time it worked, but with a very strong vibration. Clearly a transmission problem. Probably related to that event from six months earlier, on the way to Vanuatu.
We managed to keep it running (slowly) for the next few days -- but one time it brought the engine to a crashing halt when we tried to start it. This was bad!
Ken got it started again.
At this point we had a decision to make. Our destination, Majuro, in the Marshall Islands lay about 600 miles north of us. New Zealand lay about 2000 miles to the south. With the tropical cyclone season in full swing down there...
On the other hand, we knew that we could get good mechanical help in New Zealand, whereas we weren't likely to find much in Majuro.
We made an Iridium call to our mechanic back in New Zealand, Tim Brown. Tim thought our best bet would be to replace the transmission entirely.
Majuro has very good shipping connections to the United States, and we were confident we could get a new transmission shipped there. And Tim told us that the transmission could be swapped out in the water. Unfortunately, he thought we would probably have to move the whole engine in order to do that.
Here's our engine installation.
The transmission sits at the far end of the engine, back in the corner, right up against the bulkhead. You can't even see it in this picture.
(We have a reversing transmission, so the shaft runs under the engine and out of the boat to the left in this picture.)
And the tranny weighs 130 pounds.
So you can see why Tim wanted us to shift the engine in order to get to it.
But there's no direct overhead access to hoist the engine, which weighs an additional 478 lbs. This wasn't going to be easy…
We made some Iridium calls to contacts in Majuro, who told us that other cruisers had managed to swap out their transmissions there.
We decided to press on.
Across the Equator
And we finally crossed the equator, for only the second time in our 15 years of sailing!
This was less exciting than it looks on the computer. :-)
For a long time, we kept enough wind to sail slowly.
(Those are our watch ducks, Hughie and Louie.)
This Equatorial zone is famous for having lots of squalls and no real wind. But it turns out that cyclone Rita had sucked most of the thunderstorm energy out of the ITCZ.
So, while we got chased by a few squalls, they mostly just gave us beautiful sunsets.
And sometimes no wind at all.
But at least the engine cooperated and we were able to keep going. With no engine, this would be a very long trip.
And Now the Sails Don't Work!
Then things got worse.
The night before we arrived in Majuro, we ran into some squalls on Ken's watch, at about one in the morning. The wind built to about 25 kn, so Ken decided to roll in our big headsail –– called the Genoa.
And all at once, the clew ring pulled completely out of the sail, allowing it to flog madly in the strong winds.
Here's a picture of our Genoa in nicer conditions. It's the forward sail.
You can just barely see the clew ring in this picture –– it's the small steel ring where those lines attach.
With those lines released, the Genoa will begin to flap like a giant flag. This can quickly destroy it.
Ken furled the sail, but with the clew no longer attached, there was no way to keep it from unrolling.
So Ken had to go up on the bow, in the squall, in the middle of the night, and wrap the Genoa like a maypole, using our three spare halyards –– two spinnaker halyards and one spare Genoa halyard.
Ken says the whole thing was kind of surrealistic. There was an icy rain pouring down from the squall, and lightning all around on the horizon –– although too far away to hear the thunder. And then periodically he would get drenched by a wave. But the seawater was about 85°F, so getting hit by the wave was kind of nice in the cold rain.
Ken was wearing his usual tropical uniform –– a PFD, boxer shorts, and sea boots. He stayed clipped in to a fitting in the center of the boat –– so even if he got knocked off his feet by a wave, he couldn't go overboard.
Anyway, he got the thing under control without having to wake Beth up. Beth was very impressed!
Here's what the damaged sail looked like up close. The clew ring had broken right through five pieces of Spectra webbing.
And that webbing had been protected by a Sunbrella UV cover, which completely hid it from the sun.
Here's the picture once we removed the Sunbrella cover.
We don't know what to say about this –– the Spectra should have been strong enough.
Well, at least we know how to repair this, and we can double up on the Spectra tapes so that this will never happen again!
But this will be a big job...
And so we limped into Majuro, in maybe our worst shape ever after a passage. With a broken transmission, a broken sail, and a broken rib.
And things were going to get worse before they got better…
December 2, 2019 - March 22, 2020
Majuro has a mixed reputation among cruisers.
The Marshall Islands cover about 180,000 square miles of ocean, and include 29 major atolls. It has a population of about 58,000 -- up from just 15,000 in 1960, and many fewer in 1946.
Practically the entire population lives on just two of those atolls, mostly in "urban" areas. And a majority -- maybe 40,000 people -- currently live on Majuro.
That's a lot of people, for an island where you can often stand in the middle of the narrow strip of land and see the shoreline on both sides.
(All of the blue and white area on this chart is water -- the land is the light brown strip. The lagoon is about 21 miles long.)
With a traditional economy, this place might have supported, maybe, 1000 villagers.
Basically, Majuro seems kind of unsustainable, in many ways.
The economy gets it support from two places –– foreign aid and foreign tuna fleets, which come here to transfer their catch to factory ships and to re-provision.
The tuna boats use helicopters and telescoping lookout platforms to find schools of tuna. And then they extend their giant nets around the school, draw it tight at the bottom, and take the entire school out of the ocean.
This technology, called "purse seining" can capture tuna faster than they reproduce.
These fleets have already made Bluefin Tuna almost commercially extinct, and now they are working on other species, like Yellowfin. It's hard to watch.
But, for as long as it lasts, Majuro is cashing in. At any given time there could be up to 15 purse seiners reprovisioning in this atoll, along with half a dozen factory ships.
So we cashed in as well. Fresh Yellowfin Tuna for less than five dollars a pound.
The people who actually do the fishing get paid peanuts -- most of the cost seems to be in the distribution. That makes tuna very cheap in Majuro.
And makes hypocrites of us...
Anyway, for the moment there are still fish around here.
Two big Yellowfin Tuna taken in local fishing contest.
The US took the Marshall Islands away from Japan in World War II.
But that liberation turned out to be a mixed blessing for the Marshallese. Because, starting in 1946, and running up through 1958, the US tested its atomic weapons in these islands, mostly on the atolls of Bikini and Enewetak. This involved the –– officially "voluntary" –– relocation of villagers from those places.
And, worse, the US military got the numbers wrong for the "Castle Bravo" test of a hydrogen bomb, which ended up being about twice as powerful as expected. The resulting fallout sickened and poisoned many villagers on the downwind atolls.
More beneficially, the US has established a permanent military installation on Kwajalein atoll, which now houses an important missile-defense radar installation and employs a lot of Marshallese.
For all those reasons, the US has a deep relationship with the Marshall Islands and contributes a large amount of foreign aid –– amounting to about $80 million in 2019.
Which is big money in a country with total GDP of roughly $200 million!
The Marshalls also get foreign assistance from Taiwan –– which sees the island chain as one of its last allies –– in addition to help from places like Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
Anyway, everything about this place has been shaped by the US and by foreign aid. For better or worse…
From the abundance of American products in the supermarkets...
... and hardware stores...
...to daily traffic jams on the island's single main road…
...to the huge, growing, unmanageable trash dump –– known locally as "Mount Trashmore."
Keep in mind that the base of Mount Trashmore is only a few feet above sea level –– and that the coastline is only a few hundred meters in both directions!
Eventually a cyclone will put all of this into the ocean.
Of all the world's cities, Majuro may be the most threatened by rising sea levels. Even moderately large waves now cause "inundation warnings." Meaning that the lower stories of many buildings will get swept by seawater...
Here's another charming feature of Majuro -- we always carry a heavy stick when we go out in the evening – – as protection against the packs of aggressive dogs.
The first time we were attacked, Ken had to fight them off by kicking (and swearing). We were lucky -- we know several people who have been bitten. After that experience he went out and bought this sledgehammer handle.
The stick doesn't actually stop the dogs from coming after us, but they stay out of range. So there's a lot of growling and snarling but no real action.
(Sometimes the dogs make some noise as well… :-)
In any event, Majuro is a complicated story, and we will spend more time on it in a future update.
But, for the minute, we will just tell our own story…
Things Get Even Worse
We immediately ordered a new transmission from the States. Fortunately, ZF Marine, the new owners of Hurth, still made a drop-in replacement for our 25 year old unit. Thank heavens!
While we waited for the new transmission, Ken spent several weeks trying to figure out how he was going to move the engine. Tim Brown suggested making a "lifting frame" to support a block and tackle. But the incredibly tight space made that very difficult.
It got worse when one of the local cruisers -- who has lived in Majuro for a long time, knows everybody around here, and has done a lot of this kind of work –– came on board to look at the problem. He took one look at our installation, threw up his hands, said it was impossible and that no one would want to work on it…
He's actually a nice guy, and we get along fine with him -- he just made a hasty judgment.
But it sure wasn't what Ken needed to hear at the time.
This felt lonely.
Beth Gets Hurt
Then Beth lost the use of her left hand.
She dropped our heavy refrigerator lid on her thumb.
We didn't get a picture immediately, but this is what the wound look like after several days.
And here's the other side –– Beth is actually lucky that she didn't cut tendons or break bones.
We treated the wound with antibiotic ointment and kept it bandaged. Here's the debris from just one change of bandages.
It looked okay at first, but with the benefit of hindsight we probably did not get it clean enough.
In any event, it got infected.
This is a very serious event in the tropics –– infections are a big deal out here. So we immediately put Beth on a course of Cipro from our medical supplies.
She also went in to see a doctor in the hospital. He didn't like our bandaging job (steri-strips covered by regular bandages). He said we should have used guaze, allowing the wound to breathe. But he agreed that Beth needed Cipro and he gave us a new prescription to replenish our inventory. The whole visit cost $35, including the Cipro, a bunch of gauze, antibiotic ointment, and iodine rinse!
The Cipro helped with the infection, but then Beth developed a secondary problem. If you really squint hard at this picture, you can see a very slight bulge on Beth's wrist. This turned out to be a fluid buildup, resulting from the infection. You can also see that her fingers and hand are swollen.
It doesn't look like much, but the swelling pressed on the nerve bundle going to her hand. And she ended up losing the feeling in some of her fingers. And completely losing the use of her hand. This picture shows her best attempt to make a fist.
And she started waking up at two in the morning, with her arm numb and yet on fire at the same time. Beth would jump out of bed and pace around the boat in distress, shaking her arm. Ken says that he has never seen his tough, cheerful wife of 38 years be quite that agitated. And it was getting worse. This was a crisis.
So we went back to the hospital. And after waiting for several hours, finally got in to see an orthopedist.
Who diagnosed Beth as having "peripheral neuropathy" -- a result of "being old." He said there wasn't much we could do about it, and prescribed vitamin B.
That was about as useful as the comments we had gotten on our transmission! We got out of there in a hurry…
A Friend In Need
We had reached the low point of our entire 15 year voyage.
We had to contemplate leaving our disabled boat on a mooring in a somewhat dicey anchorage (the bottom of the lagoon is filled with the wrecks of boats sunk by the occasional westerly blow) while we flew off to look for help in the States. (And probably gotten trapped there by coronavirus.)
We talked to our GP back home, and started looking at flights to Hawaii, where we would try to get an appointment with a specialist. A neurologist or an orthopedist –– we weren't even sure.
Ken kept repeating "we've got to stay positive, we've got to stay positive…"
And then we remembered our friend Pauline –– the same Pauline that we had seen in San Diego earlier in this update. Pauline is a physical therapist extraordinaire.
So we sent her the picture of Beth's wrist, and she immediately diagnosed the problem. And set us up with a program for dealing with it.
First, Ken had to gently "milk" the fluid out of Beth's fingers and hands and wrist and upper arm toward her shoulder.
Then he had to wrap each of Beth's fingers with a shoelace, getting just the right amount of pressure –– not too much and not too little.
Then he had to wrap Beth's hand and arm with an ace bandage, again getting just the right amount of pressure.
And then we put an ice pack on her wrist for 20 minutes.
Followed by mobility exercises, gradually trying to get her flexibility back.
And we had to repeat all of this five times a day!
So we got right down to it. And, the very first night after we started doing this, Beth slept through the night –– getting rest for the first time in days!
From there she just steadily continued getting better. As of now, about eight weeks after her injury, she is almost completely back to normal –– just some lingering numbness in her fingers.
Those nerves take a long time to get over a trauma.
We can't say enough about Pauline's help.
And Some More Friends To Help Cruisers In Need (Us!)
And then Dave of "Dignity" showed up, saying that he had heard we had an "impossible" project, and that he wanted a look at it. We ended up hiring him on the spot.
Years ago, Dave was a long-range reconnaissance scout/commando in the South African Army, who operated on his own behind Cuban/Angolan lines in the border war with Angola. He has lived on his sailboat "Dignity" with his wife Glyn for something like 25 years, and they are now planning to make their way back to South Africa.
Let's just say that he's not put off by a challenge … He was a great guy to work with.
One more piece of the story –– Beth and Ken had been on the phone with Ken's sister Cathy just before Dave showed up. We had been describing our plight –– this was at the point where we still didn't have a solution to Beth's hand, or to our transmission.
Cathy is quite religious, and promised to pray for us. We told her we would take whatever help she could arrange…
So then we hung up the phone, and, within a few minutes, heard Dave knocking on the boat.
Needless to say, Cathy takes this as clear evidence of intervention by the Almighty. We are less convinced, but we have to admit that it's a data point…
The new transmission arrived courtesy of DHL. An expensive thing to air freight –– but when you need it, you really need it.
Beth fends off while Dave cranks it on board.
Ken helpfully takes pictures...
Beth and Dave admire our shiny new transmission.
And CJ of "Holiday" also offered to help out. His advice and help were invaluable.
And then Ken made two conceptual breakthroughs. First, he calculated that there would just barely be enough space behind the transmission to remove the tranny without moving the engine. Provided that we opened that submarine hatch visible in the picture, and also cut away a section of the engine room insulation.
As the spline came out of the engine, the transmission ended up clearing the bulkhead with about 30 mm to spare!
And, second, he realized that the overhead mount for our very heavy automatic fire extinguishing system was probably strong enough to take the weight of the transmission.
He rigged up a hoist, and tested it, and sure enough –– it could hold more than 130 pounds.
Now we had a way to support the transmission while we pulled it off the back of the engine.
And from there, it was possible to rig a series of hoists so that we could gradually shift the heavy unit out from behind the engine and then up through the engine room hatch.
And we also needed to support the engine, because the engine mounts attached directly to the transmission.
Dave solved this with some carpentry and a hydraulic lift.
And of course, we had to prepare the engine so that we could get at the transmission. Here's the "before" picture.
We removed just a "few" engine components –– like the exhaust elbow, the intercooler, the turbo, the transmission oil cooler, the shaft brake, the transmission control cables, and the propeller shaft stub (which bolts into the transmission).
Plus all those filters and hoses that you can see on the bulkhead next to the engine. Plus Ken had to drain the coolant out of the engine and the oil out of the transmission.
Ken and Dave worked for more than a week on this -- lots of tight corners and hard to reach bolts.
And here's the "after" picture, with the transmission ready to come off.
Ken demonstrates the working conditions. You have to squeeze inside a locker to get to this submarine hatch.
Dave peers through the other submarine hatch –– this is the one that's easy to access!
Fortunately, Ken and Dave are both pretty compact…
And then finally, after more than a month of head scratching and hard work, we got to "T" day.
Amazingly, the old transmission came off without a fight, and the new one went right on.
Well, there was a little fighting, but CJ got it done. CJ is less compact than Ken and Dave -- but has more oomph!
CJ and Ken maneuver the old transmission out of the way.
We ended up donating the old transmission to a local shipyard that services the tuna fleet –– they thought they might find some uses for it.
Dave tightens the new damper plate to the engine –– prior to putting the new transmission on.
And then it was done.
And we took her out and ran her up, and the vibration was gone!
This felt like a monumental victory, which it was. We were back in business.
And by this time, Beth's hand had recovered enough that she could tackle the Genoa project.
She started by tearing out all five of the old spectra tapes. That took days.
Then she began hand stitching the new tapes back on.
She had hoped to use her powerful Sailrite sewing machine, but there was just no way. The sail was too thick and the access was too difficult.
So she ended up using this cute little device called a "Speedy Stitcher." Peter on "Ahaluna" lent us his and we had one as well.
The Speedy Stitcher acts just like a sewing machine needle –- it pushes a loop of thread through the material, which allows Beth to pull a second, locking thread through the loop.
Just like a sewing machine, except about 1000 times slower.
And Beth created a machine-like zigzag stitch by hand. Using two tapes instead of one, so that we don't have to do this again.
She started off trying to push the Speedy Stitcher through the material by hand. Then she started trying to hammer it through with a mallet.
But after breaking a couple of needles, she decided that the right thing to do was to use two Speedy Stitchers –– one with a big fat heavy needle on it that could stand up to hammering, and one with a thinner needle that could push the thread through the prepunched hole.
(We had originally tried using a power drill to make the holes, but the drill bits got hopelessly wound up in the Spectra tape, so that didn't work at all.)
Here's another innovation. Beth found it was very hard to keep the tapes aligned on both sides of the sail. She tried clamps, but that didn't work. So we started pre-gluing the tapes in place with superglue.
The superglue can't replace the thread, but it holds the tapes just fine for sewing purposes. And superglue doesn't gum up the needles. We also used the glue to seize the knots when Beth finished a row of stitches.
Anyway, here's the final result –– five tapes (including three doubles), each with three rows of zigzag stitches.
Each row of zigzag stitches took Beth about two hours of work. Not counting all of the set up time.
Or the time spent ripping out stitches when something didn't work out…
And then, she sewed the UV cover back in place.
But before we put the sail back up we thought we should take a look at the other two corners of the sail –– the head and tack.
And found more incipient failures…
So Beth got back to work again.
Since these tapes haven't actually failed, Beth decided to just put one more tape over the top of each eye for security.
We'll have a sail maker to a more permanent repair on the head and tack when we get to New Zealand again.
We would actually like to get some time to do what we came to do out here –– get out to some uninhabited atolls and do some diving.
So that's where we stand now. Ready to do what we came to do!!
Surviving the Brave New World
And then, just as it seemed that we were exiting the twilight zone, coronavirus entered the world scene.
But the virus hasn't entered the Marshall Islands. (Yet.)
The government here has a bad reputation for corruption, and the place seems pretty dysfunctional.
But, although they haven't mastered dog catching, this government has done a fantastic job so far of keeping the virus out. This is one of the only places in the world that doesn't have it... yet.
By late January, they moved quickly to limit traffic from infected countries. And by early March they moved to prohibit all human entry –– by ship, airplane, or yacht. Basically no one has been allowed in for weeks -- well before most other countries acted. And, at the same time they have been able to keep supply ships coming in –– requiring them to quarantine for 14 days (increased to 30 days at one point), and then setting up protocols so that the stevedores don't interact with the crew. Airplanes are allowed to land but no passengers can disembark.
It's working so far.
But the virus will probably get here sooner or later. And if/when it does, it will be bad. Majuro is a crowded place, with sketchy healthcare. (Half the adult population has diabetes, and they also have a big problem with dengue fever.) The only hospital would be overwhelmed almost immediately in an outbreak.
And the island would run out of food in a heartbeat if supply ships decided not to come here. Not totally sure what would happen to the social fabric in that event…
Plus we're not spring chickens anymore -- we are now in our mid-60's, so our chances of getting through the virus without lung damage aren't all that great. Especially with no medical help.
So, for all those reasons, we've decided to get the heck out of Dodge. We've loaded Eagle's Wings with so much food that she barely floats.
Beth shows off a tiny fraction of her provisions. That's a bag of navy beans...
Part of Ken's coffee inventory.
And then there are the reserves stored under the floorboards!
Unfortunately, the beer supply will be a problem. Some other sailboats have onboard breweries, but we never bothered to do that. Ken is kicking himself. Beth doesn't mind at all…
We figure that we could eat for six months without setting foot on shore. Notice that we say "eat" -- not "eat well." Lots of beans! (Plus fish, of course.)
We can make our own drinking water and we have over 1000 watts of solar power. Plus we carry almost 1000 liters of diesel. So we can be self-sufficient for a very long time.
And, totally by coincidence, the virus caught us in a place where we can stay indefinitely if we need to. US citizens don't need a visa to stay in the Marshall Islands, and the southern atolls do not usually get cyclones. Plus, we are close enough to the equator that we could make a run for it if a cyclone did brew up. For technical reasons (lack of Coriolis force) -- cyclones can't get into the Equatorial zone.
So we plan to leave Majuro within a week or so and head north to some of the less inhabited or even uninhabited atolls. Where we will self quarantine, dive, do our underwater photography and kill COTS until the world develops a vaccine. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it!
Our survival capsule.
We've heard about some billionaires heading for their bunkers to wait out the coronavirus –– sounds dank, dark, and damp. We like our little white fiberglass survival capsule –– seems like the best place in the world right now.