Sunday, September 30, 2012

Land Ahoy!

Position: 22°S, 150°W

We have sighted land! At 0400 on October 1st, the Skipper was struggling to fix one of the anchors that had loosened in its fitting overnight and the First Mate was clearing up the cockpit before finishing her watch. As the sun came up, one of the peaks of the island of Rurutu appeared on the horizon. It's a small island on the outer fringes of French Polynesia with only 2,000 inhabitants. For us, it has been our first sight of the rest of the world after 20 days and a huge psychological boost to the crew. 'Just' another 300 miles (3 days) to Papeete now...

Our third week at sea continued in the same vein as the first two, with strong weather reducing the fun and comfort factor to zero at times. As we have moved northeast, the wind has been coming predominantly from the east which has meant we have been sailing 'on the wind'. This means that both the wind and sea is coming towards us (rather than pushing us from behind) so we have been basically pushing against both to make our way forward.

This has pushed both the boat and crew to their limits. Ashling has done extremely well so far, her strong hull taking the strongest of waves and wind with no complaint. However a few deck fittings have started to suffer and the steel structure around the cockpit is showing signs of stress, so we'll be ringing around a few chandleries and boat workshops when we get to Tahiti to give her some TLC. As for the crew, well we are still here, still speaking to each other and still in good shape physically. However we both admit that these three weeks have been harder on us than expected. Here's hoping that more pleasurable sailing awaits us as we cruise around French Polynesia over the next two months.

Highlights of this week included hearing news of Rob & Steph's engagement in New Zealand (Stephanie Byrne, email deets asap!), venting the cabin as temperatures started to rise and seeing land this morning. The lowlight would have to be Wednesday morning when a large wave from astern showered the First Mate from head to foot as she stood at the wheel. Meanwhile down below, the Skipper was assessing the damage of a saucepan full of porridge oats that the same wave had caused to volley across from the cooker to the chart table, covering everything in sight. Almost a week later and we're still finding porridge in the strangest of places!

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Rockin' and rollin' in the South Pacific

Position: 33°S, 162°W

One night this week, the Skipper called out to the First Mate from his bunk - "Hey Dave". As if we don't have enough to deal with crossing an ocean, now the Skipper is mistaking his wife for his brother! He says he was dreaming of the two of them at sea, embarking on a smuggling adventure of some sort. Whatever next.

It's been another tough week on board Ashling as we seem to find ourselves moving from one squash zone (between a high and low weather system) to another. The wind builds up, the sea swell follows and we are have a few days of rocking and rolling around as we try to make as much ground as possible. Then the weather clears and we have a nice day or two before it starts all over again. The upside of this is that we have continued to make good progress and are covering more than our expected 100 miles per day. The downside is that we work hard for 3-4 days to get sails up and down and trimmed at all times of day and night; we get wet and can't get dry; and we wonder how on earth this was supposed to be fun.

The irony of Ashling's model – Endurance – is not lost on us as we realise that she has what it takes to handle these ocean passages but wonder do we? In all our dreaming and planning, we pictured us cruising around beautiful, blue waters; stopping in quiet, sheltered anchorages; and enjoying sundowners and a barbeque on deck as we watch the sun goes down. So far the passage from New Zealand to Tahiti has provided us with a much more arduous adventure - average winds over 25 knots and five metre swells. For now though, our focus is to get to Papeete, Tahiti within the next ten days and review our next passage over beer and steaks.

This week the Skipper turned hunter and threw out a fishing line with the hope of bringing in something exciting for dinner. Whatever about the fish, our regular albatross visitors were very interested; so much so that we had to pull in the line before we had a plucking incident on our hands. We haven't seen much marine life over the past two weeks but we know there is definitely something out there as the rope pulling our toed generator line through the water is now a few chunks less than what it was when we left Auckland. Probably best not to think about that one too much.

And last but not of luck to the Mayo football team as they attempt to break a 51 year drought and win the All Ireland Gaelic Football Final at Croke Park in Dublin tomorrow. On board Ashling, we'll be putting on our red and green, and cheering you on from the Pacific. Mayo for Sam!

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Friday, September 14, 2012

The First Week

A 25 year old American called James Baldwin sailed alone around the world in the early 1980s with just US$500 in his pocket. In his book Across Oceans and Islands, he writes: "The sea, especially in its moments of fury, demands first your attention, then your endurance, and finally your patience and acceptance. If you lack this capacity, the sea will soon find you out and make it known to you that the shore is where you should make your home."

Waving goodbye to Roger from NZ Customs at Marsden Wharf by the Cloud, we set sail out of Auckland on Monday afternoon with some good strong westerly winds behind us and a few dolphins to guide us on our way. We passed North Head and Rangitoto, and headed for Great Barrier Island which was to be our last glimpse of New Zealand for the next year. After lunch (thanks Steph!), we started the four hour watches with Myles settling down for a nap at 4pm. The First Mate was overheard muttering something about Skipper taking liberties but nobody on board could confirm or deny so it must have been the wind.

That very same wind increased overnight and by Tuesday morning, the sea had caught up. Then the rain arrived to give us two full days and nights of intense sailing conditions. Ashling was loving it and making great ground - we averaged 150 miles a day compared to our expected 100. However it was a tough start for the crew as we were already exhausted from the final weeks of preparation and had hoped for a quiet few days to get our bodies used to life on the water. We were cold, wet, tired and everything on board was a struggle as we switched between the bed and the cockpit every four hours. Looking at Baldwin's quote above, there was no delay in the sea getting our attention and as soon as it did, our endurance (read bumps, bruises and tears) was heavily tested.

By Thursday the wind and sea had started to ease and the sun came out, which made things a whole lot better. We crossed 180 degrees moving from the eastern to western hemisphere, Eithne washed her hair and we discovered a third crew member – a fly who was hiding in one of the lockers. We've named him Wilson and he has proved very useful in any debates, generally tending to take Eithne's side as she has apparently added fly-speak to her list of known languages! We had another pleasant day on Friday with nice winds and more sunshine, and the discovery that if we zoom out on our GPS Chartplotter, we can now fit our current position and our destination, Tahiti, on the same screen. Mind you, they are still very far apart but it is small things like this that lifts crew morale and gives us a renewed energy to keep going.
Today is Saturday and we have no wind so it's a day off. Not strictly lying around doing nothing, but doing less than what we've been doing every other day. We started off with an attempt to raise the parachute to keep us moving in whatever little wind there was, but there was not even enough wind for that and we resorted to gently rocking over and back and staying in one place for the day. Eithne got stuck into washing some clothes and airing out the boat after the week that has been, including moving some supplies around in lockers so that they don't come hurtling out when we change tack. Myles dug out the toolbox to fix up some lines around the mast and service the autopilot which has done a great week's work and deserved a day off too.

Now it's Saturday night and it's time for a beer and a movie. I think we've earned it!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Departure

Well the time has finally come to cast the lines and head for blue water. 

After talking and planning for so long, it feels surreal to be setting off, almost as if neither of us really ever believed that we would get here. The last six months have passed by in a blur as we have severed our land ties one by one...the house, the dog, the car, work. The last six weeks have been filled with the million and one things that we needed to buy or find or fix to ensure that we and Ashling are in tip top shape for the voyage ahead. 

It has been exhausting but we are now as confident as we will ever be that we are ready. Now all that's left is to take the final step. This always feels like the hardest part as the last minute nerves kick in and that annoying inner voice says "Hang on, you were serious about this???". 

So deep breath, shoulders back and heads up, let's go! First stop: Tahiti in early October. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Route

The first two legs of our trip will take us across the Pacific Ocean, first from New Zealand to Tahiti (average three weeks) and then from Tahiti to the Galapagos Islands (average seven weeks). 

After reaching the Panama Canal in January 2013, we will make our way through the Caribbean and up the east coast of the USA over several short 1-2 weeks sailing trips. 

It takes an average of three weeks to cross the Atlantic from Boston to the Azores Islands, and a further two weeks from the Azores to Ireland. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Crew

On board Ashling, Myles is the Skipper and Eithne is the First Mate. Both originally from Co. Mayo in Ireland, we have been living in Auckland, New Zealand since 2007. 

Growing up by the sea, I started to sail as a young boy, mucking around on Old Head beach in Louisburgh. As I ventured to islands around Clew Bay, and later participated in Tall Ships races around the Atlantic Ocean, I always dreamed of sailing my own boat around the world one day. Then in 2005 I took four months off work to complete my RYA Yachtmaster qualification and started to realise that my dream could actually become a reality. I just needed to get myself a trusty first mate...

After listening to Myles' old sea stories for years, I started sailing in 2008 to see what all the fuss was about. The Coastguard Day Skipper course was a big eye opener as I started to realise that it wasn't all just about sunbathing and sundowners. I kept going, taking part in some ladies race series and indulging Myles as we traipsed around marinas for his occasional dose of 'boat porn' in the search for the perfect boat. I got my VHF radio license and took an Advanced Sea Survival course, which gave a very sobering and realistic view of what life can be like on the water when things go wrong. However it has been since buying Ashling in June 2011 that sailing has taken on a whole new dimension for me. Instead of reciting mnemonics and trying to figure out the difference between a gybe and a tack, I have been getting to know Auckland's Hauraki Gulf and finally seeing the attraction of heading off on a Friday night for a weekend adventure.