The crossing was amazing and I feel privileged to have experienced this o-so-out-of-the-way part of the world in such an intimate way. It was also long, exhausting, uncomfortable and frustrating. It was a hard passage. Subjectively we felt that way, but as we have compared notes with several other cruisers that made the crossing within a week of us it seems to be objectively true too.
There are three reasons that I can think of for our difficult time. Our small boat goes slower and has more motion than a bigger boat. So we have a longer passage and a less comfortable ride. It's had to describe what it feels like on a small boat in a big sea, but it makes doing pretty much anything difficult. It's hard to stand up, hard to fill a water bottle, very hard to cook, hard to take a crap.
We were "unlucky" with the wind. We either had too much or too little. While we were bobbing around in 5 knots of wind doing 1.5 knots of boat speed, boats 100 miles west were zooming along at 6 knots in 15 knots of wind. We spent a lot of time in squalls with heavy rain and strong gusty winds, while other boats had almost none.
And the third reason, strange as it may seem, is that we are still learning to sail the boat. The two or three weeks of light winds were especially challenging because we had never really had to sail in such conditions before. When you are coastal cruising and fuel is easily available one just fires up the engine in light winds. With just 22 gallons of diesel to travel 2800 miles, that is not an option. Added to the challenge of the light wind was that we had trouble getting the self steering wind vane to steer the boat in those conditions. This caused us to have to hand steer for a number of days, which is very tiring. I've reread the wind vane manual and our sail trim book (again) since we got in and have some ideas about what we were doing wrong. The most important thing I am anxious to try is poling the genoa or drifter to windward when the wind is on the quarter (sailor geek talk). I think/hope it will help a lot. Generally, balancing the sails better, I think, is the key.
I have gained much more respect for my sailing heroes, some of whom, in boats just as small (or smaller), some by themselves, have made many longer and rougher passages, with a lot less sophisticated gear. John Guzzwell, the Pardeys, the Smeetons, Slocum, and many others - my hat is off to you.
My favorite part of the passage was the first time we were becalmed, north of the equator. The sea was calm and I felt better than in the whole rest of the trip. My appetite came back and it was a chance to relax. And it was beautiful - way the hell "out there", it was very cool to be able to just look out and appreciate where I was. As we were becalmed later in the trip it became frustrating, but this first time, I loved it.
I'm not as tough as I thought I was. Before we left thinking of a 35 or 40 day passage seemed like it would be fine, just be patient and we will get there. Which is true, we did get here, and we had an adventure. What I didn't anticipate was how tired I would get. Because the day is split up into 4 hour watches (during which time one or the other of us was responsible for running the boat and keeping a lookout for other boats) you don't get more than about 3.5 hours of sleep at a time. And often it's not "good sleep". Add to that that one full watch each day is spent in the cockpit, in the dark, often struggling to stay awake. You just get really tired after a while.
But sometimes nights are the best. Sailing along at a reasonable speed, the stars out like you rarely see them at home. It feels like a light show put on just for me. And when having to hand steer it was easier at night because you could steer by the stars instead of the compass. To see the north star disappear and the Southern Cross appear assured me that we really weren't lost at sea, the GPS wasn't lying, we were making progress toward our goal.
To those of you who know me well when I report my beer consumption for the whole 37 days at 5 cans, total, it will be telling. I didn't puke a lot, but most of the time I just didn't feel good, which the beer tally confirms. On the plus side I lost a bunch of weight, which was most welcome.
It WAS an amazing trip. I'm proud to have done it. I feel like I have accomplished something significant. But it wasn't fun. I'm having fun now, don't get me wrong (the pig roast last night with 25 other cruisers from all over the world was a blast). People often refer to what we are doing as "living the dream", which I can't deny often is true, but I gotta tell ya there are sometimes bad dreams too.