Day 6. Good living in the high seas

By Michael Payne (Ideally read in a British accent)

Happy Easter everyone!

Once upon a time I had a dream. We all have dreams but few get realized. Mine was one day to find myself on a small sailboat in a far distant corner of the planet. Away from the trials and tribulations of daily life, the absurdity of the political scene, the siren call of the internet……simply gone. And here I am in the middle of the Pacific, hundreds of miles from anywhere, sailing thousands of miles to the South Seas. With wonderful companions allowing me to join them on their trimaran my dream is becoming realized. The rewards include witnessing the simple magnificence of the sun setting over the water horizon and at the same moment watching the full moon rise rise over the opposite horizon.

Another reward, surprisingly, has been the food. Anyone thinking that life on the high seas is roughing it (on the culinary front) could not be more wrong. Just this morning we breakfasted on crepes, fresh lime juice and sugar; for the sweeter pallette there was Nutella and jams. To drink? Banana granola smoothie! That was just breakfast; and with dinners of green bean ravioli, the most amazing squash soup ever, Bonita (freshly caught) burgers, Spencer’s steamed green peppers stuffed with chorizo sausage and a black bean-corn filling.

Did I mention daily helpings of avocado, pineapple, plantains and more bananas (we do have a tree and they’re ripening at once). Sandwiches for lunch include whole wheat bread, ham, spinach, cheeses, eggs, lemon pepper … it’s all positively gourmet.

To top it all off, Sabrina somehow concocted a banana crumble cake just using the stove top, and she froze icecubes of boat -made natural yorgurt to make a most extraordinary dessert. We may well be in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific but we’re eating extremely well, which makes the experience all the more remarkable.

Sailing-wise, the wind has been consistent to the point of being uncanny. For the last 48hrs we’ve been powered solely by the big blue headsail, and there has been no sail changes, just delightfully fast steering. Our Garmin unit reports we’ve been averaging 6kts with this sail alone, making 144 nautical miles per day, as we plunge deeper into the Pacific.

9am. Friday, April 14,2017
S 08•25 W 099•22
COG 226 / SOG 6.1kts
Distance to Ducie 1767nm (300nm further to Pitcairn). Odometer: 734nm.

Day 5. Boob Fish

By Sabrina. We were sailing fast at 7-9 knots, flying along the wave crests. The wind and swells are always on our port side, and occasionally splash into the boat..

Besides the white caps, only one thing disturbs the water surface: flying fish. All day long, we see them fly out of the water in swarms (or is it flocks?) of up to twenty fish at once, flapping their little wings, barely skimming the surface. This is their escape tactic to get away from predators.

The waves were building and wind speeds were just above 20 knots. I turned off autopilot to manually steer us and surf the side swiping swells. I was very focused on steering when out of nowhere, something came flying into the cockpit, clear over Spencer’s head, and nailed me square in the left breast. I screamed! I had been boobed by a flying fish!

It bounced onto the cockpit bench and lay there. I laughed infectiously, gasping with tears running down my cheeks. This fish was a big one too, almost 5 inches!

The boys joked that the boob fish could now die and go to heaven. Of all its life at sea, it suddenly found itself in a hard place surrounded by huge humans. At least it had bumped into a titty. His friends won’t believe him! Kristian threw the stunned fish back overboard.

Later on deck we found 7 more flying fish of various sizes wedged between surfboards, ontop our skiff, and other unexpected places. You’d first see the gooey blue scales and investigate more closely to find the fish stuck in some corner of our deck. It was like an Easter egg hunt – except instead of plastic eggs filled with candy we got to search for little fish. Happy Fishy Easter!

We even found two squid smothered on the deck, which brought back memories of our first year off Puerto Vallarta when I got struck by a flying squid on the back of the head during dinnertime. It’s ironic they always find me – the littlest one of all possible targets to get hit..!

We never bothered to raise our mainsail all day, the wind was steady 15-20knots, just behind our port beam, and the big blue headsail galloped us along. It was a magical initiation to the power of the trade winds – and the sea creatures we are sharing it with 🙂

9am. Friday, April 14, 2017
Distance to Ducie Atoll: 1767nm
Distance traveled in last 24hrs: 144nm (sailing) Average speed 6kts

Current conditions.
SOG: 6.1 knots COG: 226deg Wind: 13 knots ESE

S 08 25.737
W 099 22.386

Current position…

Day 4. The Trades

We had passed the “curtain of Mordor”, leaving a thick band of dark cloud to our stern… it was the boundary of the ITCZ, at 6 degrees South. Without a threat of a squall at any minute, we enjoyed our French toast with pineapple and boat-made yogurt.

Meanwhile, the winds settled into a vigorous 15knot average from ESE… perfect! Aldebaran was now finding her stride, going SW at a consistent 7-8knots.

The lumpy seas of the ITCZ still lingered, but our trimaran pounded along gleefully, as we were unwilling to slow her down. It was gorgeous sailing, we didn’t want to hamper Aldebaran’s enthusiasm. But the crew on the highside of the cockpit paid consequences with a few soakings of white water.

“Ahoy, a fishing float!” cried Spencer. This was of significant interest, something to look at in the great expanse. More surprises emerged. “Whoa, there’s a sea turtle,” he noticed an hour later during his morning watch.

Then at 1130hrs, the most unexpected: “Cargo ship, 2o’clock!” We could hardly believe it but our AIS showed we would come within two miles of the ‘BBC Scandinavia’.

“Can we say hi?” Michael asked. Next thing we know he’s on the VHF with the helmsperson on the cargo ship, ‘having a good chat’.

“You having any trouble?” Asked the ship’s helmsperson, who sounded Eastern European. We called him Ivan.

“No, we’re just calling to be friendly,” Michael responded. “Are you glad we called?”

“Well sure, not much else going on out here,” said Ivan. “Where I’d like to be is on your sailing yacht, I’d like to do that someday.”

“Is that so?” Michael said. “After spending so much time working on the ocean, you’d like to travel by boat for fun?”

“Well sure, it’s a nice place out here.”

And so it is. The ships passed each other under the blue skies and puffy clouds of the trades. The bigger one was going to Peru, originating in South Korea. The little one was headed to French Polynesia, originating in California. We met for a brief instant in the great Pacific.

We sped all day long at an average of 7.2 knots, reaching a big milestone: there’s now less than 2000 miles to go! We’ve already gone 1/5 of the way, 500 miles. Even more significant, we crossed this imaginary point precisely during Michael’s tea time at 4pm, which pleased him to no end.

To slow down the boat for night time comfort and safety, before sunset we dropped the mainsail. This also gives it a much needed break from chafing on the aft lower shrouds, where it is rubbing whenever we are doing a beam to broad reach (wind at 90 degrees or more). The big blue reacher headsail is now pulling us along on its own, at a more relaxed 5.5 knots.

I write this from my graveyard shift at 3:30am, the wind has eased a tad, and the headsail is yawning and full. It is framed by the full moon above and Jupiter to the west. The moon glitter on the sea is occasionally softened by passing clouds, which float along like passing ships in the sky.

9am. Thursday, April 13, 2017
Distance to Ducie Atoll: 1907nm
Distance traveled in last 24hrs: 143nm (sailing) Average speed 6kts

Current conditions.
SOG: 6.8 knots COG: 232deg Wind: 13 knots ESE

S 07 12.534
W 097 19.603

Current position…

Day 3. Crossing the ITCZ

A light breeze from ENE started on the morning of our third day at sea. At 7am for the first time we hoisted the blue reacher headsail and mainsail, and start plodding along at 4knots.

We celebrated the quiet of the wind in our sails with a hearty breakfast of fingerling potatoes, scrambled eggs, and banana/blackberry smoothie…thanks to frozen pulp in our little freezer.

We were not yet in the trade winds, however. The wind proved fickle, and grey blooming clouds up ahead reminded us: we need to first cross the ITCZ.

The ITCZ is the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone, the equatorial region between the northern and southern trade wind belts, with disturbed weather and inconsistent winds. The ITCZ is known for a predominance of squalls and confused seas.

Our logbook became filled with entries as we dealt with the variable conditions. – 1400 hrs. Wind dies after passing rainshower, motor for 30min.
– 1500hrs. Angry squall comes thru with reefed main, 20knots of wind, moderate rain, lasts 25 minutes – 1600hrs. Tea time. Even the ITCZ doesn’t stop Michael!

During dinner we get a lucky break: the wind is a lovely 11 knots, and we enjoy our Ravioli with green beans and avocado cream sauce along with a glass of chilled white wine. Then the lumpy seas return, slapping the hulls violently all night, bringing the crew up to the cockpit more than once, wondering if we have collided with something.. smack smack! Michael said it was akin to being inside a drum getting beat at irregular intervals. Not a great sleeping environment!

Spencer tackles the 9pm-1am night shift, with a reported 10 course changes. Sabrina does 1-5am, then Kristian is on 5-9am, with Michael “on training”.

As dawn breaks, we count six distinct squalls – ie. dark clouds with sheets of rain – surrounding us in every direction. The wind varies between 7-20 knots, swinging from NE-SE direction, always strengthening as a rainshower approaches. Our cockpit windows are zipped up and we are dry and cozy inside. The blue reacher sail handles all the gusts, occasionally sending Aldebaran galloping at 9 knots. We are lucky not to make too many sail changes, just reefing the main once.

Then at 7:45am, as if we went over a geographical boundary, like the backside of a mountain pass where the clouds can no longer form, the full moon peaked out from the clouds for the first time, and blue sky appeared ahead. Behind us, like the curtain of Mordor, was a line of darkness, impressively distinct. Ahead of us, friendly puffy clouds scattered the horizon. It was cartoon-like in precision, I could imagine a highway sign behind us pointing to “ITCZ” and another ahead of us pointing “Trade Winds”. Could this really be?

We had walked through the Earth’s doorway, arguably the real “Equator”, the centerline of her belly which groans lightly… stuck between the freshness of her NE and SE tropical trade winds.

9am. Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Distance to Ducie Atoll: 2049 nautical miles
Distance traveled in last 24hrs: 118 miles (sailing) average speed 4.9knots.

Current conditions.
SOG: 6 knots under sail COG: 233 deg Wind: 10 knots ESE

Location: S 05 49.793 W 095 25.047

Current position…

Consellations and Wind Vibrations

By Spencer

The giant upside down question mark of the sparkling constellation Scorpio dazzled the night sky. Sabrina and I gazed aloft the cabin top, watching the masthead dance circles around the full moon high overhead. We wondered what celestial beauty was in store for us in the coming weeks when the great lunar light would shut off for the rebirth of a new moon cycle and the Milky Way would engulf the night sky showing unimaginable amounts of celestial bodies.

Looking for bioluminescence below and birds aloft we feel the beginning of a breeze which at dawn of day three would finally fill our sails for the first time and with fingers crossed will keep us sailing all the way to our South Pacific destination.

Complete with big smiles and high morale the crew aboard the Sailing Trimaran Aldebaran is currently sailing through salubrious weather on a broad reach at 6 knots. With the edge of the trade winds close by, and hundreds… I mean thousands of miles (!) of ocean ahead, we are very excited for this next chapter of our voyage without the use of the beloved Mr. Isuzu.

Hook to Fork: Bonito Burgers

6am. The night sky glowed with the oncoming sunrise. I let out the fishing reels – ie. our trolling rigs, with a newly secured lure. (The day prior we lost a lure to a very large fish who nearly unspooled our entire reel in the chase; the 30pound test monofilament snapped after a jerk and the beast disappeared into the depths of the blue without ever being seen.)

I was still on shift at 7:30am, motoring the boat into the wind-less expanse when the sweet sound of a zipping line unspooling awoke the rest of the crew. No better way to wake up right? FISH ON! I immediately slowed the throttle down to ease the drag, then jumped out of the cockpit to attend the unspooling reel.

A few hard quick yanks on the rod ensures the hook is set, and the fight can begin. Spencer took to the other rod and reeled in the slackening line. I reeled my line frantically keeping steady tension while Kristian guided the fish into the fishing net. SUCCESS! By 8am we landed ourselves a beautiful sweet bonito!

We gave thanks to the fish for the gift of his life, and then immediately began filleting him on the back deck under the hot sun. By 0830 we had nice filets stored in our small dorm sized fridge.

Bonito is not my favorite fish – it can be quite ‘fishy’ tasting due to its bloody meat. But we have learned that if you bleed the fish immediately, it can dramatically improve how it tastes. Further, my cousin Sophie who joined us last year for a couple months introduced us to Bonito burgers which has morphed my upturned lip into a delightful smile when seeing a Bonito knowing a delicious meal awaits us!

That night we had an amazing dinner: Bonito Burgers crusted with toasted sesame seeds and adorned with boat-made avocado ranch aioli. To top it all off, Michael brought out a box of chilled red wine (tropical style = with ice cubes!) which gave this middle of Pacific meal a serious “moan of approval”. (Recipe below for Bonito Burgers and Avocado Aioli)

Bonito Burgers:

Minced bonito (or other “red” fish)
2 Shredded carrots
1 diced onions
equal parts yogurt & bread crumbs
Diced fresh parsley
Salt & Pepper to taste
Sesame seeds (optional) for dipping patties
Coconut Oil for cooking patties

Mix ingredients together, add more yogurt or breadcrumbs to get mixture to stick together. Form into patties, then dip patties into a plate of sesame seeds on both sides. Fry on medium heat with coconut oil. Serve ontop of toasted buns. Avocado Aioli:

1 ripe avocado, mashed
1 c buttermilk (we substitue with 1c milk & citrus/lime)
1/4 c mayo
1/4 c sourcream (we subtitute with plain yogurt)
1 small garlic clove, pressed
2 Tbsp Hot sauce
Chili pepper diced
2 Tbsp minced shallots
4 tsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Store in refrigerator. Great as salad dressing, on Bonito Burger, even as a pasta sauce!

Day 2. Installing Solar Panels

As if on cue with the sunrise, light puffs of breeze began from the south-east. It was the end of our second day of motoring in glassy seas with barely a breath of wind. Was this just a teaser, or were these the trade winds finally?

I didn’t mind yesterday’s smooth calm, as I wanted to install our new solar panels. We had purchased five semi-flexible 100watt panels for our cockpit roof in March. (They are Sunpower panels, sold by Windynation in Ventura). Our friends Jesse and Anna brought them from the US when they visited us in the Galapagos. They packed them inside a bodyboard travel bag. Total legends!!

We had a good team to install the panels. Michael lent his design aesthetic and Spencer lent his boat-building pragmatism and we started bolting them down. As we were measuring angles and drilling into beams, on the stable trimaran Aldebaran, we could momentarily forget we were in the middle of the Pacific. We worked into the night with a “work light”, after watching the sun set and full moon rise simultaneously, backdropped by puffy clouds, in a spectacular show of colors. Today we hope to finish bolting and caulking them to prevent water ingress.

These solar panels will be in addition to the 4 rigid glass 100w panels currently onboard. We installed that first array in California, and they’ve served us well throughout Central America, where we motor every few days. The total output of that first array is as much as 20amps during peak sunshine, or as low as 0-5amps when it’s cloudy. So when we have a few crew mates on board (more fans, more lights etc) and it’s cloudy, our batteries suffer. This will be especially a problem for our long sailing passages in French Polynesia. Although the new array will be partially shadowed by the mainsail, we hope it will almost double our solar production and keep our batteries healthy and topped off.

Of course, the downside of having no wind is that we use about 18 gallons of diesel for every 24hrs feeding Mr. Isuzu. So we just went through 35 gallons of our 135 gallon diesel tank capacity. But all good, Mr. Isuzu will now get a long rest, I hope! The breeze is nearing 6 knots and seems to be rising… Time to raise some sail!

9am. Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Distance to Ducie Atoll: 2153 miles
Distance traveled in last 24hrs: 161 miles (all motor)
SOG: 6.8knots (motorpower) COG: 234 deg Wind: 0-4 knots variable Location: S 04 12.054 W 094 28.335

Current position…

Day 1. Hunting the trade winds

Distance traveled in first 24hrs: 165nm (all motor)
SOG: 7knots VMG: 7knots
Bearing: 234 deg COG: 234 deg
Wind: 0-4 knots south. Location: S 02′ 31.834, W 092′ 21.223. (

Glassy seas all day and night. Since leaving Galapagos, Aldebaran is cruising along at 7+knots, aided by a favorable 0.5-1.3 knot current, and Mr. Isuzu our diesel engine. Our next waypoint is a long way away: Ducie Atoll, in the western edge of the Pitcairn Island Group, is 2473 nautical miles, bearing of 234 deg (south-west).

It is odd to point the boat into the open ocean, heading to some tiny island. But the atavistic pull is strong… Many of our ancestors have sailed these oceans and our blood has those memories engraved. “Somewhere to the south are the trade winds”. My memory banks tingle happily at this thought.

According to the wind charts (eg. the trade winds fully fill in around 5 degrees South, which is 300 miles away. However, “puffs” of SE wind push up toward the Galapagos. We are hoping to find one of these puffs in the next 12-24 hrs, perhaps 200nm south of the Enchanted Isles.

We anticipated this doldrum and brought 25 extra gallons of diesel in cheap jerry cans to help us make it to the trades. These are the times we feel fortunate to have a good diesel engine.

Yet, there is always an obstacle to challenge one’s determination at the beginning of a new project.

30 miles from the harbor, with Isabela and Floreanna Islands to either side, the engine alarm went off. Brrrrrrreeehhhh!!!!! Wait, isn’t this a replay of our departure from Bahia Caraquez??

The engine temperature was overheating… Instantly I shut off Mr. Isuzu and saw the alternator / coolant circulation belt had snapped. I sweated buckets shuffling between wrenches and keeping my arms from touching the 200 degree engine. Who needs a sauna??

Thankfully Mr. Isuzu has a spacious engine room in Aldebaran – the envy of most sailboats under 50ft. One hour later we were back underway, grateful to have all the spare parts, including some extra washers to better align the alternator bracket, which was the culprit of the premature breakage.

Our first sunset of the passage was glorious with a rising full moon in the east. All night, the ocean was silky smooth.

The sky out here feels distinctly clean, like a quartz crystal, with sharp, twinkling lines.

Departure Hiccups

Santa Cruz island, Galapagos. The morning felt like a blue bird day in the Sierras – everything was crystal clear and sparkling. The sea lions and brown noddies were chasing schools of sardines. Yacht owners sat in their cockpits drinking coffee.

I looked at the horizon past the anchorage and remembered those casual day sails when we had joked, “oh yeah, let’s keep sailing west, next stop Tahiti!” Today that was actually happening…

Two days ago, we hit our lowest point. The oven repair guy finally came, but instead of a pseudo-working oven, we now have no working oven. Let’s just say the repairs didn’t go so well. That terrible news came at the end of an exhausting day when we felt the crunch of departure, with unpaid bills pending and impossibly slow internet to get thing done.

Moral of the story: plan your departure day, then actually leave the following day! We were happy having an extra day to tie up loose ends. We got underway with a good nights sleep and a big smile on our faces. Our crew of four is Michael, Spencer, Sabrina, and Kristian. At 9am we were motoring in glassy seas aboard Aldebaran. Next stop: the Pitcairn Islands, about 2500 nautical miles away.