Yacht Fathom - Setting off from England in May 2016 on a single-handed voyage somewhere a bit warmer
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28

After leaving the U.K in May 2016 i’m sailing

around the world in Fathom, my Vancouver 28.

map

Cook Islands – Palmerston

Ten years ago while crossing the Pacific as crew on a 51 foot Najad we bypassed the whole Cook Islands en-route from French Polynesia to Tonga and I regretted that we never stopped at these islands. As Palmerston atoll came into view between the waves on the 8th August it felt so good to have arrived second time round. The two day sail from Aitutaki had been uneventful yet uncomfortable in the 3m swell and 25 knot winds. West of French Polynesia the S.E tradewinds are regularly disturbed by fronts and troughs associated with low pressure systems crossing New Zealand in the southern winter. While sailing between the Cook Islands a good weather window is needed between these disturbances so as not to encounter head winds, squalls, big seas and poor visibility while on passage. Furthermore the moorings at Palmerston atoll are only safe when the tradewinds blow from the east, as soon as the wind comes from the west you have to put to sea otherwise the boats will swing round into the reef. Several yachts have been lost this way in the past. Many cruisers sailing through the Cooks are not able to stop for these reasons, or chose not to take the risk and sail on while the winds remain favourable. I wasn’t going to miss out this time though.

Palmerston atoll measures about 6 miles by 4 miles and of the 6 motus (small islands) within it only one is inhabited. The population currently stands at 51, half of which are children. All are descendants of William Marsters, an English sea captain who settled here in 1862 with his three wives from the northern cook island of Penrhyn. The house he built for himself with the timber salvaged from a wreck on the atoll is still around over 150 years later. The salty old seadog then fathered 26 children and divided the island into three segments each occupied by the family from each of his wives. Despite strict rules being established regarding intermarriage it seems questionable whether this has been obeyed one hundred percent! Everyone has the the surname Marsters and despite a certain amount of friction between each of the families they all work and cooperate together. There is no airport and a supply ship visits every 6 months or so.

As Fathom approached the atoll I called up on the VHF and was then met at the moorings by Bob, head of the family on the west of the island. There are seven moorings in total at the present time, three owned by Bob’s family and the rest by the family on the east side. Whichever family owns the mooring you pick up adopts you for the duration of your stay. Once the boat was packed away and well secured the islands customs man dropped by for a quick look at some paperwork and then Bob took me ashore in his boat, his eight year old daughter keeping us company. Visitors are always given a warm welcome here and once adopted into the family you are given lunch and use of the families facilities. I was invited to join Bob’s family for freshly caught red snapper fish, chicken and rice with coconut fritter for desert. As a result of some forward planning I had stocked up on some kids toys in Raiatea and gave both his two young children some toy planes and cars which proved very popular. Bob gave me a tour of the island and as we walked around explained that the boundaries between each of the three families land is marked by two rows of coconut trees. Although friendly and happy to show me around I sensed that Bob was quite a controlling personality and perhaps would not be an easy person to share a small island with. It is very evident that women on Palmerston remain in the background.

Friends from yachts Danika and Muse were also at Palmerston as well as some familiar faces from the other two boats on the moorings. I met up with them all at the east of the island in the afternoon with their hosts Edward Martsers, a more easygoing family it seemed. They told us the majority of the islands population at some point in their lives leave for New Zealand or Australia to find wives, study or find work but a few never leave. Many return for retirement and to spend their last years on the island. While walking the island myself I stopped by the middle family and got chatting to Bill Marsters, the head of this family. He is quite a character and insisted that I eat two bowls of ice cream before I could leave. He told me some old stories including the one when an English navy ship turned up and 240 crew came ashore who he then hosted for an evening at his ‘yacht club’. They drank the whole islands stock of beer within two hours so donated him the same amount of beer from the ship stores which they then proceeded to finish the same evening. Bill is currently on his third wife but despite being in his 70’s told me he would like to add another (I wasn’t sure if he was joking).

The wind was blowing quite hard during this time so we were all dropped back to our boats before sunset by Edward. He mentioned they were having a fishing competition at the weekend so I gave him a couple of lures from my fishing kit, hopefully he will have more luck with them than I have had. Next morning I went back ashore with some of the other crews for a few hours but as the weather window looked good for the next five days was keen to head off towards Niue and Tonga. The visit to Palmerston rates right up there with the best moments of my voyage so far. Such a unique and interesting place and the fact very few tourists visit, and those that do have to reach the atoll by boat, make it that extra bit special.

Posted in: Cook Islands

Cook Islands – Aitutaki

The 480nm sail from Bora Bora to Aitutaki took four days and despite being well reefed included a new record 24 hour run of 141 nautical miles, beating the previous record of 138nm set last year on the way to Madeira. The fresh south/south east wind allowed a broad reach the whole way and conditions became a little lively on the 2nd day when the gusts peaked at 30 knots. The same night I heard a thump in the cockpit so poked my head out the companionway to see a large bird attempting to land on the solar panel. Evidently it was tired and needed a rest and I spent the next half hour enjoying the performance as it tried to cling on to the edge of the panel as the boat rocked wildly from side to side and it would lose balance and slide off. The smile soon left my face when it started to crap all over the cockpit so I encouraged it to leave and then went back to my bunk. Disappointingly there was a lot of creaking and groaning coming from the mast step area so I will need to get a professional boat builder to have a good look at the whole thing once I get to New Zealand.  In the meantime I am not going to push the boat and will keep an eye on it. For sure the work done in Raiatea has prevented any further depression of the mast step and can only have added strength.

at anchor in the lagoon at Aitutaki

Landfall could not be made before dark on the 3rd day and I needed to arrive near high water so hove to overnight to slow the boat and by first light the next morning there was only 20 miles to Aitutaki. On the final approach a great big squall cloud began to creep up from astern and sure enough it hit just as I was negotiating the very narrow pass into the lagoon. Only boats with shallow draft (under 1.6m) can safely enter the pass at Aitutaki so it is quite a unique destination.  As I weaved Fathom along the line of white posts the depth sounder indicated 1.7m at the shallowest place, only 30cm or so of water beneath the keel. Since starting this voyage I think this was probably the most heart in mouth moment i’ve had as rain bursts and strong gusts added to the excitement. Carl from sv Muse and Dave from sv Kapai came out in their tenders to meet me and helped find a spot for Fathom to anchor in the lagoon. Only four other visiting yachts were in the harbour but as three were catamarans there was no room for little Fathom inside. While deploying the kedge anchor astern I managed to reverse over the rope and the rope cutter on the prop cut right through it. Doh! At least the water was only 2.5m deep so retrieving the anchor wasn’t a problem. At the same time a yacht anchored outside the reef had not been able to raise their anchor which had got stuck on some coral. The building swell out there meant their bow was pitching up and down 10 feet into the air and with a tight chain had destroyed their windlass and bow roller. Thankfully with the assistance of another yachts crew who had diving gear they managed to get free and head back to Raiatea to make repairs. Quite a dramatic arrival in Aitutaki!

Aitutaki has a population of less than 2,000 and the first European to weigh anchor here was Captain Bligh in the Bounty, just two weeks before the infamous mutiny. My arrival coincided with the ‘Te Maeva Nui’ festivities where there is singing, dancing and music over several evenings to celebrate the Cook Islands nationhood, self government and independence. Quite a show and a real cultural experience. With the Kapai and Muse crews I hiked to the highest point of the island one day and gave the legs a rare workout. I got to know the two dive instructors on the island and they gave me a lift to the east side one day where I got to see a breathtaking beach and small village that would have missed otherwise. The locals are probably the friendliest and warmest i’ve met anywhere. Everyone smiles and waves and because English is spoken by all it is easy to strike up conversation, a far cry from French Polynesia for me. Really happy I stopped here one of the most memorable places of my voyage so far.

Now that Fathom is west of French Polynesia the weather patterns are becoming much more important and impact passages and landfalls more significantly. The South east trade winds are regularly replaced with westerlies as a trough or front sweeps up from New Zealand. This coincides with a couple of days of increased squalls and rain. Not a good time to be at sea or in an exposed anchorage. I arrived in Aitutaki just in time and in the last couple of days the wind has again been coming out of the west. But the forecast looking forward shows south or south east winds for the next week, albeit fairly strong, so a window is there to head west. I’ve decided to leave early tomorrow for the Palmerston atoll about 200 miles away. That should be quite a place.

Posted in: Cook Islands

Society Islands – Bora Bora

A really nice few days here in Bora Bora catching up with friends and finishing boat jobs. I’ve made some adjustments to the rigging following the shakedown sail from Raiatea with the new forestay  Departing shortly for Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, about 5 or 6 days at sea. Hope the weather cooperates and allows a stop there as the island should be a fascinating and unique place to visit.

sunset from Raiatea with Bora Bora in the background

 

 

arrival in Bora Bora

arriving Bora Bora. thanks Bill on SV Ballena for the photo

arriving Bora Bora. thanks Bill on SV Ballena for the photo

 

Posted in: Society Islands

Society Islands – Raiatea

Fathom arrived at the carenage (boatyard) on the island of Raiatea on the 3rd July after a pleasant overnight sail from Mo’orea with Waterhoen again in convoy. Both boats managed to get a berth inside the little harbour and this would end up being Fathom’s home for just about the next three weeks. I had made prior arrangements with Richard, a boaty handyman on the island, who would help me with the repair to the mast step and deck. He would provide jacks, 2×4’s and various electric tools needed for the job. The reason for doing all this work was to investigate and try and rectify the depression in the mast step where the mast step fitting had been slowly sinking into the deck at a slight angle to starboard. I was hoping Richard would arrive the following day but he was finishing another job and then got sick so in the end didn’t turn up until Saturday 8th. It was a frustrating few days waiting around but I got a lot of the prep work done such as removing the sails and boom to reduce weight on the mast, slacking off the rigging and setting up a tent in the cabin to try and contain the dust. Adva was still around on Waterhoen so we made a quick visit to Taputapuatea. Here there is a site with a number of marae and other stone structures and was once considered the central temple and religious center of Eastern Polynesia.

Once Richard showed up the first task was to jack up the deck slightly with two pieces of 2×4 to support the weight of the mast and cabin top so we could remove the support post. We calculated it was safe to leave the mast up with slack rigging and wedges on the deck to help spread the weight. Once the support post was removed we cut out a section of the fibreglass and plywood under the mast step to see if it was wet or there had been any other structural failure. It turned out the wood was dry but had been notably compressed compared with areas further from the step. I am surprised that no load bearing plate or wood had been added above the support post when Fathom was built instead the compression post was in direct contact with the underside of the deck presenting a relatively small area for the loads from the mast and rigging to be transferred to the bulkhead.

The next step was to glue a piece of hardwood into the hole with thickened epoxy. We discovered there was no epoxy available to buy on the whole of the island due to a stock issue in Tahiti but luckily some Swiss friends sold me theirs so it didn’t slow us down too much. Once in place the hardwood plug was covered and glued by a piece of fibreglass offcut so that it came up nice and flush with the surround.

Richard was still struggling with flu like symptoms over the next couple of days but in fear of further delays I managed to keep him alive by providing regular doses of Ibroforin, hot water with lemon juice and bowls of soup. In order to add strength to the deck support I wanted to shorten the compression post and add a piece of hardwood to the underside of the deck to help spread the load. There is only one place to buy wood on Raiatea and thankfully they sold some hardwood, a bit narrower than I would have liked but workable. The hardwood was shaped using a jigsaw and two 18mm pieces epoxied together. Once dry a hole saw was used to make four cut outs allowing access to the mast step nuts and bolts. The hardwood was then attached to the underside of the deck with thickened epoxy.

Once the epoxy had cured the final task was to jack up the deck very slightly, shorten the support post and put back in place. This took some careful measuring and a steady hand with the saw. I rebuilt some of the headlining support around the post and then it was time to clean up and remove the dust. From the deck the mast step fitting now looks straight again and is no longer rubbing away at the mast heel. Nearly all of the depression in the mast step area has been removed except directly under the mast step fitting which is permanently bowed. When the mast is next stepped I will install a new mast step and flatten this area.

Fathom spick and span again I was all ready to depart Raiatea for Bora Bora on the 14th when I noticed a broken strand at the top of the forestay while doing a rig check. Very very thankful I discovered this as I could have got in a spot of bother on the way to New Zealand otherwise. With the help of friends Robin and Fiona from ‘Monarch’ the forestay was detached and taken ashore inside the foil of the furling gear. The stainless screws in the aluminium foil were completely seized so it was not possible to take the foil apart and separate from the forestay. I got in contact with a rigger in Tahiti who was able to make up a new forestay, supply a swageless terminal and deliver here to the carenage in Raiatea by plane. The new wire had to be spliced to the old one and pushed through the foil. A norseman swageless terminal was then fixed to the top end. It took quite a while to get everything back installed, thanks again to Robin and Fiona for their help. Touch wood Fathom is now back in commission and ready to get some more miles under her keel.

The plan is to sail to Bora Bora tomorrow for a shakedown sail and there I will begin the process of checking out of French Polynesia on Monday. Weather permitting I hope to stop at Aitataki, Palmerston and Niue in the Cook Islands en-route to Tonga.

Posted in: Society Islands

Society Islands – Tahiti & Mo’orea

My time in Tahiti seems a bit of a blur but after months of sleepy islands and remote anchorages I don’t think i’d ever been more excited about being in a city. Fresh produce market two minutes walk from the boat, warm baguettes every morning, plenty of options to grab a morning coffee or evening beer ashore and an open air food court. I tried to do boat jobs but didn’t achieve much, drank a lot of coffee, drank probably too much rum and partied with old and new friends alike. For a few days I lost track of the big picture, didn’t think about the next destination or anchorage, what the weather was doing or my bank balance. It was like I had been sucked into a Papeete bubble, and I enjoyed it.

another day, another bay

Adva, Oceana and I hired a car for a couple of days and did a road trip around the island. We visited some caves, did a couple of hikes and stopped at Venus Point to have a beer on the beach and watch the sunset. It was here that Captain Cook observed the transit of Venus in 1769 during his first voyage around the world. The car also came in useful for taking jerry cans to the fuel station and doing a big food shop at the supermarket. It was great to catch up with Ned, a friend from back home, who is now Captain of the ‘Wind Spirit, a four masted sailing cruise ship that travels around the leeward islands. Thanks Ned for bringing all those bits and bobs out for me from the UK.

After nearly two weeks of city life it was definitely time to escape. Oceana joined me for the short sail to the neighbouring island of Mo’orea with Waterhoen sailing alongside Fathom once again. A pleasant sail in 10 to 15 knots of wind on the beam. It was nice to have crew for the day but Oceana must learn that if she throws a banana skin over her shoulder into the wind it is likely to fly back across the boat and hit the skipper in the face who is sitting on the downwind side of the cockpit. She did make a nice lunch so all was forgiven!

Once in Mo’orea, Oceana returned to her boat Danika and Fathom and Waterhoen spent two days at anchor in the lagoon at the entrance of Opanohu Bay. Beautiful turquoise water and dramatic scenery. We got driven around to see some sights including a stop at the Belvedere, a view point that looks down on both Cooks Bay and Opanohu Bay, somewhere I had visited when I was here ten years ago. After a couple of days we decided to head round to Cook’s Bay and join some other boats we know. The bay is very deep and our small boats don’t carry so much anchor chain but we found a shallower spot in the S.W corner and settled in there. The weather became very unsettled as a trough approached from the west with 30 knots + of wind funnelling into the bay and heavy rain. Several boats dragged but Fathom and Waterhoen held firm. Unfortunately the bad weather put pay to doing a planned hike and more exploration inland.

Some highlights of my time in Mo’orea included playing football in the late afternoons with the local kids. They are hard as nails and play in barefoot or flip flops on concrete. I felt a bit of a cheat wearing trainers but received my comeuppance when I was tackled by an 8 year old less than half my height, fell over and grazed my knee quite impressively. A few of us got together several times to sing and play guitar the best time being the evening on Danika where we first cooked home made pizza and then had a good jam session in the cockpit. One day Adva, Oceana and I hitched a ride to the next bay so we could get on some faster internet. The older frenchman that stopped to pick us up proceeded to play ‘Blue Christmas’ on full blast and we all sang along without saying a word to each other. Singing along to a christmas tune with a complete stranger on a tropical island in the South Pacific in JUNE was certainly unusual.

One day John, the Owner of Danika, and I dinghied down the coast to a small spot where we had heard black tip sharks and stingrays hang out. We found it and proceeded to swim amongst them. What an amazing experience that was (see video). The next day ‘Wind Spirit’ was visiting the island so Captain Ned invited us onboard and gave us a tour of the ship with lunch after. You have no idea how exciting an all you can eat buffet lunch is after living on a small boat for over a year. Cheers Ned.

With so much of the South Pacific still to see and time ticking I was keen to get to the island of Raiatea soonest to make a start on the repair to the deck under the mast step. I met a Canadian guy called Richard in Papeete who lives in Raiatea and is a licensed professional electrician and boat builder. He is going to help me with the repair which unfortunately is going to be a fairly big job. We think we can do it by leaving Fathom in the water and the mast up with loosened rigging and hydraulic jacks. I write this now at the carenage in Raiatea and work on the repair will begin in the next day or two. The mess and disruption is about to start so fingers crossed all goes well and the mast doesn’t end up in the cabin. I’ll write about how it goes in the next post hopefully sooner rather than later.

Posted in: Society Islands

The Tuamotus – Toau & Apataki

I couldn’t have wished for better conditions on departure from Nuku-Hiva on 29th May bound for the Tuamotus. 15-17kts of breeze on the beam, swell under 1.5m and not a squall cloud in sight. Fathom was in her element and despite not pushing, over the first three days we covered 133, 135 and 130nm. Not bad considering she has been in the water since March 2016 and the underwater hull has not been cleaned since. 138nm remains the record 24hr run achieved on passage from Portugal to Madeira back in September. The new fishing lure proved quite popular and within a couple of hours of leaving I pulled in a Barracuda but threw it back due to the risk of it carrying the toxin Ciguatera. An hour later a yellow fin tuna took the hook and subsequently provided a tasty dinner for the next couple nights. A perfect size for the solo sailor with no waste.

I was a little anxious about sailing alone to the Tuamotus, an ocean oasis of reefs, palm trees, pearls, fish and sharks but didn’t want to miss it. The archipelago of 77 coral atolls lies 530nm south west of the Marquesas and about 200nm north east of Tahiti. In pre GPS days they were commonly referred to as the dangerous archipelago because any navigational error would likely have serious consequences and result in being wrecked on a reef. Even now with GPS the charts are not so accurate in places and many sailors decide to bypass the area because there are still plenty of obstacles to catch out the complacent. Each atoll comprises a large fringing reef marked by a few tiny sandy islets called Motus. These barely rise above sea level and therefore the atolls are hard to spot until only a few miles away. Within the reef is a lagoon with many unmarked coral heads (bommies). There are normally one or two passes through the reef into the lagoon and depending on the state of tide water flows in and out of the lagoon at speeds of up to 8 knots. The pass therefore needs to be entered at slack water to avoid standing waves and overfalls but none of the sources of tide times agree with each other. Quite a bit to think about without crew to help.

To make life easier I decided to head for the atoll of Toau first. At the north west side is a false pass into the reef called Anse Aymot, a one off in the Tuamotus. As it does not break into the lagoon there are no currents to worry about and it can be entered at any state of tide. Progress had been so good from Nuku-Hiva that I was close to making Toau within daylight on the 4th day out but as the wind was forecast to drop didn’t want to risk arriving after dark. That night I hove to and let Fathom drift south at 1 knot while I slept. The next day the tradewinds had disappeared so the engine was required for the final 20 miles. I threw the fishing line out in hope because I had never caught a fish before under motor. I was amazed an hour later when the line went bar tight so slowed the boat and battled to pull in whatever was fighting me at the other end. Eventually I could see it was a very good sized yellow fin tuna which I estimated to be in excess of 1m. Just as I was pulling it up over the pushpit it made a final bid for freedom and the swivel connecting the metal leader to the line exploded and it escaped. I am still in mourning as it would have provided a meal for everyone on the atoll that evening.

My visit to Toau definitely goes down as one of the highlights of my voyage so far. Only five people live there, Gaston and his wife Valentine, her nephew and a couple who live on a separate motu within the reef. They work very hard to get by and live off the land. Gaston and Valentine are renowned for welcoming yachtsman and often cook up a lobster feast for hungry sailors. Unfortunately I had missed the feast by one day but after rowing ashore got talking with them and was immediately offered a glass of their ridiculously strong home brew beer. This broke the ice and I later rowed back to the boat and returned with coffee, a bottle of rum and lemons for them. The rest of the afternoon was spent drinking rum and listening to their favourite music from my ipod connected to Gaston’s portable speaker, a gift from a visiting yacht some years ago. Their favourites were Bob Marley, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton and Gaston played along with his home-made one string bass and there was some bottle and spoons accompaniment too. A Swedish couple later joined with another bottle of rum… How surreal to be socialising with such a small isolated community on a remote atoll in the middle of the South Pacific while listening to Jolene and Ring of Fire on full blast!

The next day was a Sunday and despite not being religious, thought it would be nice to witness their church service. They have made a make shift church in a building behind their sleeping quarters and at 10am I turned up with a Norwegian couple making a total of 6 people. On entering the room we sat around for 15 minutes as Valentine struggled to tune her Ukele and in the end she gave up as it sounded so bad. Some songs were then sang acapella, regularly interrupted by Valentine wacking Gaston with the bible when he went off key. Nice upbeat songs similar to the church service in the Marquesas. We were all then instructed to read several passages from the bible in turn and Valentine told us Jesus would be paying earth a visit next year. Some more songs were sung and afterwards Valentine picked up her Ukele again for a final attempt at tuning. This time it immediately sounded perfect and she looked up at the ceiling and proclaimed that it had been tuned by the angels!

The next stop was the neighbouring atoll of Apataki where my friends on yachts Danika and Waterhoen were already anchored. In order to get the morning slack water I left Toau at 4am and motored in a calm conditions the 15 miles to the pass at Apataki. My timing was good and 1 knot of tide took Fathom through into the lagoon without drama. Phew. It was then a 10 mile trip across the atoll, dodging a couple of coral heads, to the anchorage off the carenage (small boatyard). The following four days were spent with John, Oceana and Alice from ‘Danika’ and Alfred and Adva from ‘Waterhoen’. The only three yachts at the anchorage. The others had already befriended a local called Tony who runs the carenage and we enjoyed his generous hospitality. He invited us to eat freshly caught fish with his friends and family ashore on several occasions and demonstrated how to make coconut cream. His grandma also did my laundry. Anchored in turquoise water off a palm tree fringed white beach was probably the closest to paradise I have ever found. We snorkelled with black tip sharks and drank beers on the beach as the sun set. My only wish is that I had taken more photos.

After unwinding our anchor chains from some bommies Waterhoen and Fathom exited the pass at Apataki on Friday 9th and headed south west for Tahiti. It was nice to sail with a “buddy boat” for a change, the two small yachts, 28 and 31 feet, seemingly a rarity in the Pacific where 40 foot catamarans and 50 foot monohulls are the norm these days. Fathom struggled to keep up in the very light downwind conditions but we remained in VHF contact the whole time. After 2 days on passage both boats rounded the southern tip of Tahiti before sunset on the 11th June. I went alongside Waterhoen and Adva passed across dinner, my kind of takeaway! Late evening we drifted up the coast for a few hours in the lee of Tahiti before bashing into headwinds and swell on the west coast during the wee small hours, sleep non existent that night. As the sun rose the next morning we entered the pass and headed up the west coast of the island, past the airport where I had to call up and ask for permission for us to motor along the end of the runway between flights, and tied up at the marina in the centre of Papeete. After months of remote anchorages and sleepy villages it was a nice change to be in a bustling city with, amongst other things, a big selection of vegetables including the previously elusive red tomatoes. Amazing what I get excited about these days.

Posted in: The Tuamotus

The Marquesas – Nuku-Hiva

I departed the island of Tahuata mid afternoon on 9th May for an overnight sail to Nuku-Hiva, the principal island of the Marquesas. A nice breeze funnelled down the channel between Hiva-Oa and Tahuata providing nice sailing for a couple of hours but once in the wind shadow of the big island Fathom slowed to a crawl. Several squall clouds approached overnight but the wind gradually faded away to a gentle puff and the motor was needed to cover the final miles to Baie de Taiohae. A pretty scene in the morning as the sun rose in the east, a pink moon set in the west alongside the jagged peaks on the island of Ua Pou.

Soon after setting sail it was clear that something was up with my right foot. It had been a little sore in the morning but by evening I couldn’t put any weight on it and was stumbling about the boat. In order to get some rest overnight I took some ibuprofen and supported my foot on top of the lee cloth. It became clear that my foot had been infected through the open blister picked up on the hike a couple days before. I had been careless by not keeping it cleaned with antiseptic and covering it. Asking for trouble in the tropics.

The anchor went down just before lunch in Baie de Taiohae and I caught up with friends ashore that evening. The next morning my foot had swollen up and it was not a pretty site. Luckily Nuku-Hiva is the only island in the Marquesas with a hospital and after walking up from the harbour I was seen quickly by a French doctor who told me the infection was spreading up my leg and if I had left it untreated another 48 hours anitbiotics via an intravenous drip would have been required! My foot was cleaned up, 15 days of antibiotics prescribed and I received a telling off for taking ibuprofen and not paracetamol as the former apparently inhibits the bodies immune system in fighting the infection. I had antibiotics onboard and would have taken them had I not been close to the hospital.

Not being able to swim or wear shoes restricted my activities over the next couple of weeks. It was around this time that I began to notice small little creatures crawling about the boat and every passing day there seemed to be more. It got so bad that when I took a book down from the shelf and opened it up I could see little things crawling inside. Time to investigate! Every cupboard and locker I looked in seemed to house these creatures. What a disaster! It was when I looked in the cupboard under the chart table that the cause became apparent. I had forgotten about a bag of flour purchased in Panama. It had been pushed to the back and the ziplock bag not closed properly. It was now home to a huge community of weevils and flour mites and their resultant breeding programme. The infestation had become so bad that they had spread to any food item on the boat containing oats or wheat and infected all my pasta and spaghetti. It took four long days to remove every item from every cupboard and locker, clean, disinfect and put back. I dumped a lot of food but found someone local who agreed to freeze all the pasta and spaghetti for four days to kill anything inside. I couldn’t bear throwing it all away Nothing wrong with a bit of extra protein right? Lesson learned – all flour, oats, pasta, lentils etc is now in sealable glass jars 🙂

After the weevil cleansing programme was complete Chris on Vancouver 28 ‘Sea Bear’ turned up in the anchorage. It was good to finally meet him and we keenly inspected each others boats. Interesting that the layout of Sea Bear is quite different to Fathom internally with a larger starboard bunk and more shelving around the quarter berth. I met some other interesting cruisers in the anchorage incuding Rupert and his wife Judy. Rupert came alongside one day offering some fruit and after we got chatting discovered that he had grown up in Seaview on the Isle of Wight. I messaged Mum to see if she had known him and it turns out they went to the same school and she remembers going to a party at his house in the 1960’s! It really is a small world.

After the foot and weevil débâcle I thought my run of bad news was over. But after walking round the deck of Fathom with Chris he commentated on the depression in the deck plinth under the mast step. This had been present since I purchased the boat and I had keeping an eye on it but it was now significantly worse. The mast step has sunk further into the deck, a little more on the starboard side, so that the mast heel fitting is rubbing away where it is touching the mast step at an unusual angle. I can feel movement when the boat is going through a seaway. The mast step is also now bowed but with no signs of stress cracking yet. The mast needs to come down, the plinth grinded open, plywood support investigated and likely renewed then re-glassed. It cannot wait until New Zealand or Australia. I hope to get Fathom hauled at a boatyard in Raiatea in late June or early July.

My 34th birthday was spent with Anny and Carl on yacht Muse and they even baked me a chocolate cake. Hard to believe it is a decade since I celebrated my 24th birthday on yacht Babelfish sailing to Tahiti from Hawaii. Seems like yesterday. Wonder if I will be back in the South Pacific for my 44th!

Before leaving Baie de Taiohae I was keen to visit for the first time the vegetable market that runs twice a week at 04.00. That is not a typo it really is that early for some reason i’ve yet to discover. Apart from carrots and potatoes, vegetables are just about impossible to find in the shops in the Marquesas but I was told the best chance of finding anything, including juicy red tomatoes (a real luxury here), is this market. I pulled up alongside yacht Waterhoen in the dinghy at 03.50 last Saturday morning to pick up Adva but on arrival at the market we were told there were no tomatoes as there had been too much rain. Our disappointment was helped somewhat by finding some eggplant and cucumbers. The wait for red tomatoes continues and anticipation grows by the day.

The last task before heading to the Tuamotus was to fill the water tanks. The water is not potatable in Baie de Taiohae so I visited stunning Daniels Bay a few miles along the coast, the setting for a few episodes of the Survivor TV series. In order to fill the water jugs I had to take the dinghy into the next inlet from the anchorage and 100 yards up a river where I tied up to a tree and was met by a local Paul. He directed me to the tap and provided a large fruit basket in exchange for a few dollars. Unfortunately after taking 100 litres the water went muddy so the next day I went back along the coast to Controller Bay in convoy with friends on yacht Vega. Here we finished collecting water and spent the afternoon walking to the local village. A nice evening was spent on Vega before setting sail for the Tuamotus the next morning, 29th May.

Posted in: The Marquesas

The Marquesas Islands – Tahuata

Tahuata is situated just south of Hiva-Oa and is a small island with a population of only around 600. The centre of the island is a 1500 foot mountain chain, radiating out in steep ridges and valleys to the coast. As Fathom approached from the Canal du Bordelais the rugged coastline made a spectacular site. The first anchorage I chose was off the white sandy beach at Baie Hanamoenoa. Eric Hiscock described this bay as one of the three most beautiful in Polynesia.. I don’t disagree, it is up there with the best spots i’ve ever dropped the hook. No houses on the shore just a copra drying shed surrounded by rows of palm trees. After arriving I immediately jumped in for a swim and found myself above a manta ray that was sweeping along the seabed. Later I opened a bottle of wine and drank a glass or two while watching a beautiful sunset. It doesn’t get much better.

Fathom anchored at Hanamoenoa as a rainbow hangs above the beach

The following two days were spent enjoying the tranquillity of the anchorage and catching up on some boat maintenance. The problematic washer on the Aries self steering arm was replaced and a new one attached with epoxy and later shaped with the dremel cutting wheel. Several splits in the Aries paddle were repaired and new seals added to the cockpit lockers to ensure they remain watertight. I also rebuilt the support for the companionway steps which had split. All in all a productive couple of days. Two other yachts at anchor but they kept to themselves. One night the heavens opened and it rained heavily for several hours. I was glad I had put up the rain catcher and caught around 50 litres. Without a watermaker onboard and with few places to fill up with good potable water in the Marquesas fresh water is a bit of a luxury so rainwater makes a welcome addition.

The next stop was Baie Vaitahu, situated 2 miles SSW of Hanamoenoa. The village of Vaitahu is the largest on the island with post office, small museum and one shop. I anchored Fathom in front of the village in between two other yachts. After going ashore I got chatting with Marianne, Kolbjorn and William from Norwegian yacht ‘Impuls’ and French Canadians Carl and Anny from catamaran ‘Muse’. They were about to hike to the next village and invited me along. We arrived at the village of Hapatoni over two hours later after a fairly taxing walk. Along the way we stopped to pick mangoes, papaya and lemons from the trees and passed dozens of wild goats.

I had read that the village of Hapatoni is one of the friendliest and attractive in the whole of the Marquesas and that proved completely true. The villagers welcomed us with a sincerity that was heartwarming and the area had a very tranquil feeling. It is off the beaten track and there were no visiting yachts in the bay. Carl and Anny, being French speakers, talked with the locals who all appeared to be happy and contented. The children rode past us on bikes shouting bonjour and smiling. We were invited into the homes of one of the local bone carvers who offered us fruit from his garden. I later returned to Fathom with a whole branch of bananas, mango, papaya and grapefruits for free. We were not overly keen to walk all the way back to Vaitahu so a local lady offered to be a taxi for 20 bucks each. That evening I was invited aboard Implus for drinks with my new friends.

We discovered that the next day, Sunday, a cruise ship was coming to Baie Vaitahu. The bad thing was that the village would be swamped by a load of tourists for a few hours but the good thing was that all the wood and bone carvers from the island would decent on Vaitahu to display their craft. Before the ship arrived we all attended the local church service. This was a very upbeat affair with lively singing to guitar and plenty of flowery attire on show. The impressive church and stained glass was built to mark the 150th anniversary of the first missionary arriving on the island. Not a word of French was spoken during the service and it was a really authentic Polynesian experience.. After the service several locals sold food and drink from small stalls. We found a very smiley lady selling a selection of tasty treats from her landrover. All very exciting when ones diet has been rather limited for the last couple of months!

In the afternoon we made sure to visit the carvers before the cruise ship passengers arrived. Some of the work is of a very impressive quality. Many combine rosewood, ivory, fish bone, animal bone and shell in one piece. Prices for the best pieces went up to 900 USD! A nose flute can be yours for 300 USD and would surely guarantee an impressive and unusual addition to the village band back home. However my budget dictated that I could only walk away with a small bone carving of a Tiki. As the passengers arrived in their jeans, trainers and loud voices it felt like an invasion from an unwanted civilisation!

The morning of 8th May was quite eventful. I had rowed ashore in the dinghy to pick up a couple of baguettes reserved the day before. There is no easy place to land a dinghy at the village. The concrete wharf requires putting out a stern anchor due to the swell or one can risk the surf and land on the beach and pull the dinghy up. I had gone for the later. All went well going ashore but on launching the dinghy to head back out I mistimed and found myself side on as a large wave began to break. In desperation to pull past the surf I pulled too hard on one oar and snapped the rowlock off. The dinghy then flipped and I was thrown out onto the rocks. I managed to drag myself and the dinghy back to the shore without drama and wasn’t hurt, just a bit scratched. Good job the outboard wasn’t on the dinghy. The worst part of the whole débâcle was that my two lovely fresh baguettes were now soggy and and the shop had sold out. I spent the afternoon cleaning the sand out of the dinghy and even found two small crabs at the bottom I had scooped up.

While visiting Vaitahu, Kolbjorn had opted to have a tattoo from the renowned local tattooist Felix. In Polynesia tattoos are an artform and taken very seriously. Felix is a great character and likes to welcome family and friends of his customers to dinner at his house. It took nearly 10 hours for the tatoo to be completed and later in the afternoon I was invited to join the others for dinner. It was an amazing experience to spend time with this local family, be invited into their home and dine with them.

9th May marked exactly 12 months to the day since Fathom departed Yarmouth having now safely carried me 11,113 nautical miles. As I watched Felix demonstrate the proper technique for skinning a coconut, sat in the garden of a house in a small village on a remote island in the South Pacific, Yarmouth felt a long way away.

Posted in: The Marquesas

The Marquesas Islands – Fatu-Hiva & Hiva-Oa

After 38 days at sea, the first night at anchor in Baie des Vierges, Fatu-Hiva I slept like a log. No need to wake up every hour to check Fathom was on course or to go on deck and pull a reef in the sail before another squall hit. Bliss. The first task in the morning was to fill up the tanks with drinking water, nearly depleted after five and a half weeks at sea and seek out some Vitamin C. I found a tap near the wharf and the locals confirmed the water was good to drink. Half way through filling the bottles a little girl, encouraged by her mother, walked shyly towards me and passed over a small bag of lemons and limes from their garden. A kind gesture typical of the Polynesian people. Ian from Canadian boat ‘Fandango’ then came over to say hello and helped me with the remainder of the water filling operation. We later walked round the village and traded some wine with locals for bananas, papaya and mangos. The village only has one small shop, no ATM and I didn’t have any local currency so the only way to get produce was to trade. That evening I had dinner onboard the boat of Lionel, the French solo sailor I had first met on arrival. He circumnavigated the world alone three years ago and was on another lap because he had enjoyed himself so much the first time. Although married with a wife back in France he was alone because he said his wife doesn’t like sailing and prefers to sit on the couch and watch TV!

Fathom at anchor Baie des Vierges, Fatu-Hiva

The next night I didn’t sleep so well. The cruising guides had mentioned that due to the high volcanic peaks surrounding the bay big gusts of wind can blast through the anchorage. Sure enough the wind howled at 35 knots during the wee small hours and the four yachts in the bay swung wildly around their anchors. I have a lot of confidence in Fathoms anchor setup but even so when the wind is shrieking in the rigging it is hard to relax and sleep. Lionel’s anchor dragged and his boat ended up hitting Fandango bending a stanchion. Luckily Fathom held station and avoided any drama. In the morning I basked in the limitless supply of sweet fresh water and gave the inside of Fathom a thorough clean and desalting. In the afternoon Ian and I hiked up to a cross on the hill looking down on the anchorage and then on to an impressive waterfall. Great to give the legs a workout. A nice dinner was spent onboard Fandango with Ian and his crew that evening.

In arriving at Fatu-Hiva first I had taken a risk because it is not an official port of entry into French Polynesia and yachts have faced heavy fines in the past. But it is to windward of the other islands and the logical first stop so I had gone for it. Lionel warned me on the 26th that the Gendarmerie were visiting from Hiva – Oa for the day and making a check of yachts at anchor. Convinced I was about to be told to leave immediately and pay a fine I went over to the officer, and in my best tired sounding voice, told him I had just sailed 38 days solo from Panama and was tired and could I rest here for two days before checking in officially at Hiva -Oa. He smiled and in broken english said “no problem, take your time and enjoy the island”. I couldn’t believe my luck.

The following day I spent four hours in the water cleaning Fathom’s dirty waterline. After so long at sea there was green weed as high as two feet up the topsides. Helpfully some fish in the bay had chewed off all the goose barnacles which saved me scraping them off. I later found out there are many sharks in the waters of Fatu-Hiva and swimming is not advised in this bay. Whoops. Ashore I found a very good wood carver and walked away with a nice carving of a Tiki in exchange for three bottle of wine. The Tiki is now attached to the mast support post in the cabin and supposedly will ensure good luck and a safe onward trip. Once I was back onboard a swiss guy called Martin from the 35 foot Defour anchored behind Fathom came over looking for a ride to Hiva-Oa as the boat he was on was headed the other way. I agreed to take him aboard Fathom the following day for the short 40 mile sail. The boat he was leaving is well known in Switzerland for transiting the North West passage. Their website is www.bonavalette.ch.

Fathom departed Fatu-Hiva on the 29th and it made a nice change to have crew onboard. I made use of the extra pair of hands to swap back the old mainsail for the good one and replace the headsail. The sail was most enjoyable with 15 to 18 knots of wind and a broad reach. After crawling along for thousands of miles with a dirty hull and faint breezes Fathom seemed to revel in her clean bottom and we charged along at 6 knots. Martin and I had high hopes for catching a fish but alas we were disappointed. On arrival in Hiva-Oa I pulled in the line and embarrassingly realised I had forgotten to put a hook on the end before throwing it over the side. To make matters worse the lure had been bitten in half. Lucky fish, stupid skipper I say. Arrived just in time to get to the customs and check in officially to French Polynesia before they closed for the long weekend.

Hiva-Oa is the largest of the Marquesas and the main island of the southern group. The town of Atuona is the administrative centre and has a population of over 1,500 with several food shops, an ATM and fuel station. All very exciting after being away from civilisation for so long. The anchorage is very tight and there is little room for all the yachts. It was the first time I have anchored using both a bow and stern line which limits swinging room and with the bow pointed into the swell the boat rolls less. The first evening was spent gorging on huge pizzas at the restaurant near town and drinking cold beer.

The next days were productive and quite social. Martin stayed for a couple of days before flying on to Tahiti. I spent some time with English couple Tom and Emily and had them onboard for dinner and drinks one night. Plenty of American boats around including solo sailor Dan and Tom and Shannon on ‘Finely Finished’. We often found ourselves meeting up unplanned at the pizza restaurant, the only place with decent internet. One day I hiked to the valley of Ta’ a Oa, an ancient ceremonial and sacred sight about two hours from Atuona. The remains of the Me’ae, or sacred site and Tohau, a cleared area used for dancing and singing performances, are still there . In the forest at the top the Me’ae is a Tiki sculptured onto a stone slab. It was here that people chosen for human sacrifice were placed on the altar next to the Tiki. Rather eerie atmosphere walking through the wood alone on a dark, rainy day.

After five days at anchor in Atuona I was keen to move on to the reportedly beautiful island of Tahuata, a few miles to the south west of Hiva-Oa. . Final tasks before leaving were to fill the jerry cans with diesel and top up the tanks, buy some fresh baguettes and do some food shopping. I paid a brief visit to the Paul Gauguin museum in the town. The French artist lived here for several years at the end of his life but the museum only contains copies and was quite underwhelming. On the way out of the harbour I spotted ‘Sea Bear’ on the AIS. I had been tracking Chris on his Vancouver 28, sister to Fathom, during his 34 day sail to the Marquesas from the Galapagos. I motored alongside and we had a quick chat. Here we were in some of the most remote islands in the world, two solo sailors on two Vancouver 28’s.

Posted in: The Marquesas

Panama to the Marquesas – Part 2

Staying south – Days 18 to 25

The entry in the log for the 3rd April begins with “PISSED OFF!” The Aries paddle had flipped up twice in the night and I was tired. On one occasion it flipped up and I hadn’t woken up so for two hours Fathom was heading S.E away from the Marquesas! The latest weather advice showed the S.E trades much further south than normal too but at least there was wind in our current location, albeit squally conditions and an uncomfortable sea still. The huge bunch of bananas which I had separated into three sections to prevent them all ripening at once ignored me and all ripened together within 24 hours. Never eaten so many bananas at one sitting.

On the 20th day at sea all the remaining bananas had gone to mush and I ate the last of the Grapefruit so no fresh fruit remained. On the veggie front sweet potatoes last for ages as do onions and garlic but the peppers, carrots etc don’t so these had already gone in the pot. The next day marked 3 weeks at sea, by far the longest time I had been alone. The Atlantic crossing had only been 17 days. The wind was down to 10 knots, the sea much calmer and my spirits so much better that I baked some chocolate brownies.

Over the next few days the sea became uncomfortable again and there were still squalls but less frequent and with less intensity. I spent a lot of time reading and trying to learn the harmonica. Most the time I was pulling the tow generator behind to keep the batteries charged but when I pulled it in the fishing line went out. No luck but there must be some big fish out there as I lost two lures one day.

Tradewind sailing, kind of – Days 26 to 38

Blue skies, small cotton wool clouds and 10 to 15 knots of wind, the tradewinds at last! Days 26 to 28 were really nice. Decent progress and pleasant sailing. I slept well at night and the Aries behaved. Sleeping wise I would go to bed at around 23.00 and stay in the bunk until about 6am, waking every 2 or 3 hours to check the course which I can do on the Ipad without getting up. Since leaving Perlas I had only seen one other yacht and two ships had appeared a long way off on the AIS but not within sight. Mornings would usually be spent doing a Suduko over a coffee and every couple of days baking some fresh bread. I spent relatively little time outside the cabin on deck due to the heat and sun.

From Day 28 the wind gave up and on several occasions Fathom was completely becalmed with the sails banging back and forth. By day I used the cruising chute to try and gain an extra knot or two. The tow generator created too much drag and wasn’t deployed so I had to run the engine every couple of days to charge the batteries as the solar panel couldn’t keep up. I decided to turn off the fridge to save power which meant sacrificing quite a bit of cheese sadly. I used as much as possible by having a pizza evening! After 4 weeks at sea I was very excited by the sight and smell of freshly baked pizza coming out of the oven.

There was now about 1000 nautical miles to go. I tried not to look at the eta because it changed so much depending on current conditions and boat speed that it was pointless but my mind began to wander a little to thoughts of landfall. Daily runs suffered in the light winds and ranged from 74 to 92 miles. In truth though I felt in no great hurry to make landfall. I was in a bubble and enjoying the solitude. Not once did I feel lonely or wish I wasn’t out there in the big blue.

On day 31, the 16th April, there was one of the most amazing moments of the voyage from the UK so far. I was sat on the foredeck with a cup of tea waiting for the sunset which I always did if conditions allowed. I noticed a pod of dolphins in the distance racing towards Fathom. There was about 12 knots of wind so we were sailing along quite well. These dolphins numbering at least 20, were particularly playful and keen to show off. They revelled in Fathoms bow wave twisting and turning right alongside while other decided to jump into the air or slap their tails on the surface alongside the boat. Here I was, alone, thousands of miles from land with unexpected company. I had a front row seat for the mid pacific sunset dolphin extravaganza! As the sun set they became even more expressive and somehow I managed to capture one of them, mid jump, leading me west towards the setting sun. A moment I will never forget.

Day 32 marked one month at sea.. On the food front despite turning the eggs every day most of the remaining few had gone bad. I baked a cake with the last three good ones. The wind hovered around 8 to 10 knots and the cruising chute was flown during the day. I discovered the Scrabble App on the Ipad which I had forgotten I had and which provided great entertainment for the remaining days at sea as I tried to beat the AI on expert mode. Important to keep the grey matter active.

On the 19th April, day 32, I woke up at 2am to the sails banging about and 0.2 knots of wind and a speed over the ground of 0.1 knots. Most of the next 24 hours was spent motoring and waiting for the wind to return. Every attempt so far had been made to conserve fresh water. Washing dishes was done using salt water and I didn’t wash as much as I would have had there been crew onboard! So every time a heavy rain shower came over I would rush on deck, strip off, grab the soap and shampoo and receive a free shower. Latest weather forecast showed good winds coming which should push Fathom the remaining 500 miles to Fatu-Hiva.

The last days were very pleasant with the wind ranging from 10 to 15 knots. Speed was slow though and I guessed the hull was very fouled. Peering over the stern I could see a harvest of goose barnacles along the waterline. I decided to head to Fatu-Hiva, the most windward and reportedly beautiful of the Marquesas islands. It is not possible to check in to French Polynesia here and other yachts have been fined for stopping here first in the past but I decided to risk it and avoid the long beat to windward to come back later.

On the 24th April, 38 days after departing the Perlas Islands I spotted land at 06.30. As Fathom swallowed up the remaining miles to Fatu-Hiva the volcanic peaks of the island made a beautiful sight. The only suitable anchorage when translated is called the ‘Bay of Virgins’ and the anchor went down at 15.30 local time. Fathom and I had reached South Pacific Paradise!

There were six other yachts in the anchorage including a French solo sailor who came across in the dinghy to say hello, the first person I had seen in a long time. I invited him onboard for a cold beer ( I had purposely turned the fridge back on several hours before). He told me he had arrived here the day before in his aluminium 36 footer after taking 45 days from Panama. I couldn’t help feeling rather smug! Well done Fathom 🙂

Posted in: Misc

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