Beginning though with our transit of the Panama Canal, begun on 17th March after a long delay in Panama, we finally collected the Pilot who was a real pleasure to have aboard. We motored up to the first lock behind a Dutch general cargo carrier and with a catamaran who followed us from Shelter Bay. The lock gates shut behind us and the massive quantity of water filled the lock capable of carrying us all to the level of the second and then the third lock which deposited us into the Gatun Lake some 180ft above our start point. Once through, we made our way in the fading light to an anchorage two-thirds of the total journey. In tension of the moment I had forgotten to check that the Diesel daytank was topped up. We were merrily motoring towards the anchorage some 5nm away when the main engine stopped. It did not take me long to locate the empty daytank as the culprit which then precipitated feverish action to bleed the system by Chris and for Tom to pump up the 180 litre daytank. The Panama Canal Authority gleefully charge massive amounts of money to move boats that stop in the canal in order not to have any blockage of the main shipping traffic. However, the timing of our transit combined with the fact that the canal was not very busy helped us. Gradually our ‘way’ fell off but we were able to hold onto a Red channel buoy while the bleeding was completed. We fired up and got under way just as the Panama Canal Authority were thinking of getting a recovery vessel organised and the moment was avoided. We did have a little more drama in the last lock because of the sea/freshwater disturbance but mostly because the tug we were tied up against had stirred the water up and this threw my stern out and we turned athwart the canal a full 180° to end up facing the way we’d come! The new pilot we took on in the morning suggested we go out astern but I knocked that on the head bearing in my our long keel 2.7m below the water line and we managed to warp her round and against the wall. The lock let us down to the final level and opened up for us. So at last we entered the Pacific Ocean. Our Papuans cheered as they thought that we were now in the same ocean as Papua New Guinea and I did no spoil it for them by pointing out that we have about 8,500 NM to go yet with the biggest leg soon to begin. Another catamaran we met with a Christian family on it called Loco had gone ahead of us and were hoping to remain in touch with us on the long voyage to French Polynesia but they left to go to an island nearby and wait for some wind.
After topping up the shopping in Panama City; we decided to start motoring as I had a weather report telling me that wind already existed off the Panama coast of about F4 or 5. We threaded our way between the ships at anchor waiting to go through the Northbound canal and closed Punta Mala. Shortly before the wind kicked in we caught a dogtooth tuna from which the girls made a fine fish stew. The wind was quite strong to begin with and then settled down to a regular SE at F4. The sea state was slight and this made for a comfortable passage. Some 740NM SW lie the Galapagos Islands and I decided to give them a miss for two reasons, firstly they are extremely expensive to visit despite their interesting wildlife and secondly they are a shrine for Darwinists. We carried on with our long voyage and settling in to the rhythm of life on board. Every morning we had our devotions and each of the crew took their turn to share a message.
Despite the reports that the SE Trades are very consistent, we found it not to be so with frequent periods of calms and the winds were mostly Easterly and even North Easterly; rarely SE. The main sail was quickly damaged again by the frapping when the wind dropped and traveller fittings fell down the mast to be diligently collected pending the next repair attempt. We have concluded that the main reason for this dilemma is that Living Water is quite narrow and rolls easily in beam and quatering seas but also that the lower mainmast shrouds are stayed on the coach-roof and too far back which prevents the mainsail being let our to its fullest extent.
I have been concerned that we are not making sufficient progress toward my hope of getting to Fiji in May and so I got everyone together to explain the position and we all agreed to shelve the plan of going to the Marquesas and aim directly for Tahiti even though it is a longer passage it should take a week of our schedule. So we adjusted our course to sail further South but the wind was no better and still rather slow. Some days we made good progress but then we were virtually becalmed on others.
On the 5th April we caught a magnificent tuna fish which fed us for a few days. We all enjoyed landing it and Chris and Tom cleaned, filleted and finally cooked it on the BBQ cooker at the stern. Later the girls asked it we would ‘steak’ the fish by cutting it athwart ships. Our fishing has been a qualified success as we have caught a few ‘school’ mahi mahi but we have also lost quite a few lures sometimes by huge fish and other times due to neglect. Fishing is a big learning curve for me and I am not a little helped by Scott and Wendy Bannerot’s book on Cruisers Fishing.
On the 8th April the Iridium Go went overside after being placed on the coachroof on charge and trying to connect with the satellites, one wave and the inevitable happened. Suffice to say that we were now unable to transmit the tracking that most of you will be familiar with and we were concerned in case you worried about us. A ship appeared on our AIS called PSU Chile registered in Singapore and we were able to request them to transmit a message/email to Cameron about our condition and that we were also now unable to get any weather forecasting. We did try to get the SSB receiver to work but without success, even with the Admiralty list of radio signals we could not get it to pick up any signals at all. Not a lot one can do in the middle of the Pacific on that score so we committed our way to the Lord and carried on.
The watermaker is a real blessing and while we have measured the use of our water we have not run short and the water made is excellent quality; making some 120 ltrs a day. Gelly calculated our food perfectly and we have had want for nothing at the time of writing which is as we close on Tahiti with 270NM to go.
On the 12th April we had the main down to repair it. Many of the slides had broken and I had to sew a patch onto the luff where the slider had ripped the rather slender bolt-rope out of the sail then we made sail again and it lasted well while we had winds greater than F2. We were becalmed again soon enough and the frapping began again in earnest and rather than getting it down again without being able to repair it we left it up. A long period of calms/min-wind ensued until the 19th when I spotted an AIS signal which I tried to call hoping to get weather information. We got no answer and sailed right up to the position only to find that I had called up a Chinese fishing buoy with an AIS transmitter attached.
The following night we saw the mother ship busily engaged pulling up their lines. We got no response from a VHF call. One aside from this was that a number of mahi-mahi had followed us over from the buoys and stayed with us. On the following morning a striped Marlin made a spectacular leap out of the sea while we were having devotions and as we discovered the display was because the fish was on our line and had taken a Rapala-type lure. This was the biggest fish any of us had caught and after a bit of a fight we landed the fish on our deck which was set upon with great zeal by Chris. The fish was dispatched quickly on account of the sharp bill that threated to do us harm otherwise. The meat was delicious and we cut steaks and fillets from it and then returned to devotions and thanked the Lord for this magnificent fish.
Land Ho on Thursday the 25th April as we sighted Fakahiva Atoll. Arriving on the lee side of the island we anchored near the drop-off in 17m of water. Secure anchorage but a great labour was in store for when we left. It was Chris’ birthday and he ceased to be a teenager as he turned 20. Colly and Rose cooked a chicken bought for the event in Panama (it seems like such a long time ago) I opened the bottles of Dad’s favourite Rioja – Banda Azul and we had a fine dinner together.
Of course we could not go ashore as we had not yet cleared into French Polynesia and it was still another 544NM to Tahiti. We weighed anchor in the morning as an uncomfortable swell rose from the North and we were keen to be under way again. We had caught a lot of fish and re-stocked the freezer again. Chris and Tom went spearfishing and caught some coral cod; they also told us that there was a lot of growth on Living Water’s hull. I am rather disappointed to discover this as we had bought JOTUN antifouling which was supposed to be the best of antifouling paint offering protection for 3 years and they would not send it to anyone but a boatyard. Living Water went back into the water in September and we are now in April which makes it 7 months! So we may have to slip her in Tahiti or Fiji as we do not have suitable lifts or slipways big enough for Living Water.
On the first day after leaving Fakahina we were accompanied by a large striped Marlin which we saw under the stern and swimming around us. This fish is a top-line predator and we were sure it was looking for more mahi-mahi. We studied it for about 10 minutes before it moved off to hunt elsewhere.
Now as I write we are sailing between the atolls of the Tuamotus. On the horizon to the South the sky has been getting quite grey and we may be in for a bit of a blow. Now we are touching 10 knots in some exciting sailing but I have to confess I am concerned about how much out mainsail can take. We cannot possibly take it down so we are letting it drive with the genoa. During the night the wind rose to a full gale of wind and intensely heavy rainfall. I switched the watches to 2hrs each until conditions stabilised. At 07.15 the wind backed to render the genoa useless so we furled it and are now under mainsail alone. The Simrad autopilot is working very well and keeps course perfectly. We are now 180nm from Tahiti. After some praying this morning the Lord showed me that we would get to Tahiti and neither the crew nor the ship would suffer damage. At least our approach to Tahiti will be from the East and our entry from the North. This should give us good protection from strong SE winds to hand all sail. Everyone is in their berth and looking very peaceful despite the boisterous seas and rain outside. We had a full gale of wind on our last three day and blew in to Tahiti under the shelter of the mountain we made our way in calming seas to the entrance at the reef and to the Taina marina where we tied up stern-to. Colly and I went ashore to get urgent shopping supplies and felt we were back in France. At a Carrefour supermarket all kinds of French wines were available at about 2-3 times the price. Everything else is there too and Baguettes at less than .50p! For all that the Tahitians have adjusted gratefully to being a fully-fledged French colony (Department of France), they are well educated and are prosperous. Many speak English and their French is good but despite that they have not lost their native identity as Tahitians. It would seem throughout much of the old colonial world that impoverishment of the bulk of the citizens is the price of independence as self-seeking politicians establish themselves comfortably as they assume power from the outgoing colonials. It will be interesting to see how things are in Tonga and Fiji but we have only arrived here we still have much to learn. One thing is for certain that ultimately it is the Word of God that will make the best differences for mankind and indeed the best place for man to place his trust is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Guy, Colly and the LW’s