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MARSHALL ISLANDS to DUTCH HARBOR, ALASKA, PACIFIC PASSAGE, Leg 2

 

 

Majuro in the Marshall Islands was a good pit-stop but not somewhere we would have wanted to stay too long. It was very hot at 7'N/171'E. The Marshall Islands are a group of 29 atolls and 5 islands spread over 1.6 million square kilometres of the Pacific. The outer atolls are reported to be very pretty with good diving and snorkelling. The Island group became an independent nation in 1986. In the 18th century they were under German rule, after the First World War under Japanese jurisdiction and by 1945 under US control. There are still many ties to the US including using the US dollar, the US postal services and importing all food from America. We happened to be there for Constitution Day, celebrating their Independence with bands and marching parades school children and many businesses.

 

 

 

 

 

We stocked up with some more tins and carefully picked out the best of the supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables. Since it all has a long way to travel under heavy refrigeration, the quality was very poor. The diesel tanks were filled and with a combination of rain-water and bought water we filled the water tanks. This is only the third place in the world where we have not used the local tap water. Here all water comes from the sky and there is none too much. Most locals buy 5 gallon jugs for drinking and we filled our flexi-containers at one of the supermarkets, US$2 for 5 US gallons. In the Bahamas the 'fresh' water was salty so we bought. In Mexico all the locals used bottled water, so we did too. Otherwise we have taken what comes from a tap, the sky or a stream and (so far) never had a stomach upset!

 

We monitored the weather, knew we were early to head into the North Pacific, but how can you know what is coming two weeks on? The NE trades looked light to moderate for the first five days, so we dropped the mooring on the morning of Tuesday 6 May 2014, headed out of the lagoon and set a course north.

 

And north was the course, or rather northish, give or take 60 degrees for three weeks! The wind was not co-operative giving us NE or N or NW winds for over two weeks so that we were not laying our course. Cruising should be about choosing the down wind routes. We seem to have got something wrong for this passage; of course we knew that in part. We were on the wind for 17 days! We always knew we had the NE trades to get through. They are supposed to be lighter in the Spring. But the weather gods do not read all the weather guides. We had some better days with 10-15 knots, then the wetter and very bouncy days with 15-22 knots all going to windward. And when we should have got into some more variable, possibly westerly winds, it stayed north with a huge high pressure system, well to the west, pushing south from the Bering Sea feeding us NE winds from its south-eastern edge. It was not until Day 18 that we finally cracked the sheets for a 60' reach that became a broad reach a little later.

 

Everyone on a longer passage has to set up a watch routine of some kind. We are surprised how many cruisers these days do not set a regular system. We are also surprised how many couples do the 'fifteen minute egg-timer' system. There is no-one in the cockpit all the time, a head pops up every 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes is set as the time it may take a ship to clear the horizon and be close-by. We have never liked this and feel it is an unsafe practice. We want to be monitoring the weather, the sail trim, the horizon, floating debris, any ships, the ocean waves and of course the sea birds. Neither of us would sleep very well if we did not think the other was standing a good watch. The old-fashioned word is 'standing'. We don't do that all the time, but we do try to be alert.

 

Our watch system is as follows, it suits us and we stick to it very rigidly; but there are many different systems. Vicky is on watch 0800 to 1300, Tom 1300 to 1800; Vicky has cooked supper which we eat at 1720 and when Tom goes below he washes up; Vicky on watch 1800 to 2200, Tom 2200 to 0100, Vicky 0100 to 0400, Tom 0400 to 0800. Tom gets the GRIB files for weather when he goes off watch at 0800. This system works for us. The person on watch will take a reef, set the No.4 and roll up the No.2 or unroll if the wind is dying. We very rarely call the other person who is off watch.

 

 

 

 

 

We love watching the ocean birds on a long passage. One of our first visitors however was rather too neighbourly. A red-footed booby clearly was tired and wanted to hitch a ride. Now we are not against some hitch-hikers but bigger birds get in the way, leave their mark and can damage those delicate wires, antennas and the windex on the top of the mast. Our too-friendly booby came for a visit in the evening (Day 8) and insisted that the pulpit was a great stopping perch. Vicky got the photos first, then flapped her arms, sounded the hooter and swished the end of a rope. Her friend was not put off! Eventually it took the bigger form of Tom and more shouting to get him to fly away.

 

The second visitor we were happy to keep. A Laysan albatross soaring over the swells, dipping his wing to touch the water on a hand-break turn, occasionally coming to rest on the water. He was with us from Day 11 right through to Day 22. It was definitely the same bird, checking us out morning and evening. We have also seen storm petrels, flitting over the tops of the waves, never stopping in their energetic flight pattern. The occasional tern has swooped past, squaking above the mainsail. Puffins popped up on the waves in the Bering Sea along with a host of new albatross. We used to think that albatross were only southern hemisphere birds; now we know better.

 

The days and nights rolled by the routines set in. Of course it got colder as we continued north, much to our relief! By Day 10 we were sleeping in the big warm sleeping bags again, using merino wool under layers and big fleece wind-proof jackets under THE most expensive Musto ocean oilskins, with insulated sea boots. On board Sunstone we have no protection from the wind and waves, no cockpit dodger to hide under. We need very good clothing. By the time we entered the Bering Sea, the water temperature had plummeted to 5'C/41'F. We were on watch in eight layers of top clothes and fleece-lined salopettes beneath our oilskins. Our big plus was warmer hands than ever before. We had bought some expensive gloves from the UK, Seal Skinz, which have proved wonderful. They really are wind and water-proof, Goretex, leather and fleece; the first gloves we have found that really keep our hands dry and warm.

 

 

 

 

 

The Bering Sea has a very distinctive colour a sort of brown/green/grey. Everything is grey this far north. We had many days in the last week with no sun just grey ocean and grey skies - sometimes with sea fog. We had been expecting the 'sting in the tail', a fresher NW wind from a low passing to the south of us, as we approached Samalga Pass into the Bering Sea. It was a pitch-black night as we hand-steered in very inconsistent winds 10-28 knots, a 60' reach, with some larger waves, giving a very bouncy ride. Fortunately, by chance we did catch the favourable tide, which runs very strongly through the Aleutian passes. The dark night did not last long there is some daylight for over 20 hours at 53/54'N.

 

The passage ended in the very early hours of Friday 29 May 2014, after 24 days, when we tied up alongside the Austrian yacht Muk Tuk in the Small Boat Harbor, in Dutch Harbor, on the island of Unalaska. The meetings of sail boats so often have strange serendipities both Muk Tuk and Sunstone had departed from Nelson (we had spoken to Ali and Karl in March at the Marina in Nelson) and sailed to Dutch Harbor in Alaska, arriving just one week apart. The Austrians had left just before us and sailed non-stop, 58 days, here. We had completed our 6,332 miles from Nelson in two passages with a one-week stop in Majuro in the Marshall Islands.

 

That Friday morning, after a toast to each other and our trusted sailing yacht, Sunstone, we could put our heads down, at 0130, and fall into that deep, sound, peaceful sleep that comes to weary bodies, now in a safe harbour.

 

 

Vicky and Tom Jackson, June 2014

 

 

 

 

 

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