Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," and our Bigfoot29 powerboat, "Raven," from Port Townsend, Washington, USA. In 2009 we sailed north from Puget Sound up the west coast of Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii.) In 2010 we went back to the west coast of Vancouver Island. In July 2011 we left the Northwest, sailed to Mexico, and in March 2012 we crossed the Pacific to French Polynesia, then on to the Cooks, Niue and Tonga. We spent several months in New Zealand, and in May 2013 loaded Sockdolager (and ourselves) on a container ship for San Francisco. In June and July 2013 we sailed north along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts, and in August we arrived home. In October 2016, Sockdolager found new owners, and we began cruising on Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. In 2018 we cruised up to Glacier Bay, Alaska, and back. But in 2024 we had the chance to buy Sockdolager back (we missed her), so we sold Raven. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Things the Tourist Brochures Won't Tell you

Here's Sockdolager in a back corner of Atuona Harbor, among all the other cruising boats.  That's Jim in the dinghy.  But we are not the smallest boat here--there's a 20-footer named Emma, which is a 40 year-old fiberglass boat sailed by a solo German guy who seems to be unflappable.  The boat's fin keel is beginning to separate and his electronic chart plotter failed, and so did his watermaker.  He isn't concerned about the keel because he made repairs that he says should last until he gets to New Zealand, and we gave him a bunch of open source material (including Google Earth scans of harbor entrances) to help replace his electronic charts.  But wow--his voyage from the Panama Canal to Hiva Oa nonstop took 49 days.

We’re going to leave Hiva Oa tomorrow and sail to the nearby island of Tahuata, where there is a beautiful beach and good snorkeling.   Also a world-renowned tattoo artist to whom cruising sailors have been flocking.  Tattooing is high art here; these people are talented.  It seems that nearly every cruising boat has someone aboard who has gotten a Marquesan tattoo, and they are inked drawings of exquisite beauty.   I (K) was tempted, but decided not to get one, and will instead admire everyone else’s tattoos.  Shane Barry, aboard Clover, anchored next to us, has major tattoos already, but he got a gorgeous one on his right arm and hand in Atuona yesterday.    This isn't Shane, but is a local Marquesan getting a tattoo by a local artist.  Heavily tattooed guys are the norm here, and we've seen several with faces heavily tattooed as well.

I stand corrected on the idea that cruising boats are the only tourists in the Marquesas—a cruise ship pulled up this morning outside the harbor for a few hours, but left before anyone went ashore.  We know of a supply/passenger ship called the Aranui, a cruise ship called the Paul Gauguin, and this one was named the Regatta.

Shane just told us a story, and I feel compelled to pass it on, of an off-the-beaten-track tour that he took with friends, to see a part of Hiva Oa’s history that tourists don’t usually get to see:  the place where human sacrifices were made and people were eaten.  It’s not way up in the mountains, but right near here, just up the hill from Traitor’s Bay outside Atuona Harbor.  He described the rock pit where the prisoner’s legs were trapped while allowing the victim to still see everything above that pit (and he got into it, too.)  The victim could easily see the rock fire pit where the fire was being prepared to cook him (ugh), and this, said Shane, felt positively freaky.  There was also a flat rock where tattoo ink was pulverized and made (evidently a separate thing from the human sacrifices.)  Some accounts say cannibalism was practiced here until the 1950s, others say it wasn’t eradicated until the 1960s.  The young Marquesan tourguide told them “long pig” (human flesh) was delicious, like fatty bacon, but didn’t say how he knew.  (Yeeks!)  Shane figured the guy’s grandfather must have known firsthand, and had probably described it vividly to him.  

Although a German sailor disappeared last season on the island of Nuku Hiva and was thought to be the victim of a local criminal known to be crazy (his charred bones were found up in the forest and it’s uncertain what happened,) cannibalism is not practiced these days.  Marquesans are open about having it in their history, and even joke about it at times.   But next time someone says, “We LOVE our tourists!”  I will think twice before asking if tourist season has been good for them.

Hiva Oa is also the final home and grave site of artist Paul Gauguin and composer Jacques Brel.  Gauguin’s paintings and sculptures are lovely, sensuous and familiar to many, and we enjoyed a traveling exhibit of them in San Diego, but the stateside museums don’t tell the whole story.  They only say he was an alcoholic whose life became dissolute and that he died of drink and drugs, but what they don’t tell you is that Gauguin was a pedophile, a sexual predator who took every twelve and thirteen year-old girl he could find into his bed.  In Tahiti his desire to “live the life of the savage” made him persona non grata, and he abandoned his young mistress and their child to fend for themselves.  He went to Hiva Oa, where he bought wine at a little store that’s still here, for seducing young girls.

His behavior was so egregious that the church decreed every young girl in a 2 ½ -mile radius of his cottage had to board at the church school (for protection by the priests and nuns) but eventually Gauguin found a young girl outside the radius, whose parents traded her for a sewing machine.  He died in 1903 (owing money to the little wine store,) and our cruising guide says, “It is ironic that a man as perverted and disdained in life as Paul Gauguin found artistic renown in death.”  When we were out walking the other day searching for the cemetery (before we knew all this), we asked a couple of Marquesans for directions.  It was obvious that they didn’t think much of him, and now we know why.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jim's Musings on the Pacific Crossing

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. 

The good news is that we have now experienced much of what such a crossing has to offer. An easier passage may have lulled us into thinking it would always be easy. Our challenge will be to not assume that it will always be hard.

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.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pacific Crossing Photos

We hope you enjoy this photo-journal of our Pacific crossing from Mexico to the Marquesas.  The first photo is of Sockdolager and other cruising boats at anchor in Hanavave, Fatu Hiva, southernmost island of the Marquesas.  We are currently on the island of Hiva Oa.

It started in Mexico.  Three boats were together at the dock in San Jose del Cabo; Luckness, Zulu, and Sockdolager.  All were busy busy busy, getting ready for the big jump.

Here’s Craig McPheeters moments before departing for Hawaii on Luckness, a Pacific Seacraft 37 from Seattle.  He made it in 20 days!

Here’s the crew of Zulu, a gorgeous gaff yawl that lived in Port Townsend and is now based in Seattle.

And here are the Sockdolagerians.

Our GPS five minutes before departure.

Thanks to a new awning hand sewn, we were protected from the sun’s direct rays most of the time.

A gorgeous sunset and cool temps kept us bundled up at night during the first few days.

Nightfall on the Pacific, and we wonder:  how many of these will we have?

The winds were strong on the first part of the trip, and we made a thousand miles in the first 10 days.  The cost of such wind is a lot of rolling, an you can see how far the stove is going in its gimbals.  (Note also the sea-rails on the stove.)

Sunrise, day 3.  The heavy wind vane blade is doing the work.  The other object is the flag, rolled up on its staff and protected with a canvas cover.  You really don't need to fly flags offshore.

These are waves that will get you wet if they can.  There were waves and swell from three directions (NE, E and SE), which kept motion lively and the cockpit often wet.

Sunrise about a week out, still in the NE trades.

For a few days we had idyllic conditions, in true NE trade winds.  Jim enjoys the Hemingway-esque look.

Wing and wind on a perfect day in the NE trades, one of the few trade wind days we were to have.  We enjoyed every moment of it.

More wing and wing, with the genoa poled out.

Then it got rough again.  This was the beginning of a series of squalls that lasted for days.

Sockdolager surfed at 10 knots on one of Jim's watches, but when he looked to see what the maximum speed we'd attained was, it astonished us:  14.8 knots in a Dana 24, a boat with a 21 foot waterline.  Hard to believe, but here's the photo.

It was so rough, in fact, that even the flying fish were trying to get into the cabin.

And so were the squid.  A lotta things go airborne during the night, and their little carcasses are waiting for you in the morning.

Here are some photos of squalls in the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone.)

Even when it was rough enough to need the entire hatchway closed, the cabin was still cozy and secure.

Cooking means chasing food, and a galley belt frees up both hands for the job.

A salad at sea is delicious, but prep is difficult unless you plan it in advance.   We used a plastic bag hung off a knob to put the chopped greens in, then shook it to toss, and very little chasing of food was needed.

Here’s Jim at the ham radio, either checking into the net or sending one of our blog posts.  Note angle of heel by hanging items.

Blog posts were written into a notebook, then typed directly into the winlink software on the navigation laptop.

After it was rough it got calm.  Very very calm.  More than 2 weeks were spent either becalmed or trying to sail in winds less than 5 knots.  The red drifter kept us moving for awhile.

The equatorial sun is hot hot hot.  Extra shade was rigged every day.

And squalls dogged us for 750 miles as the ITCZ came back again and again.

But we crossed the Equator in style!  Here Karen records the event on the spiffy new microphone from Good Old Boat, that we’ll use for an upcoming album of sea chanteys plus recordings from various places as we sail.  (More on that album soon.)

Laundry day on the ole Sockdolager.   These were washed and rinsed in salt water because the fresh was for drinking only.  Although the salt on the clothes was palpable, we still appreciated that it was at least clean salt.

Pasta carbonara and a salad on a calm night, what a treat.

Sunrise from the cockpit after one of those all’s-right-with-the-world nights.

We had a fabulous spinnaker run, but it meant we had to hand-steer.

Here’s Jim in a relaxed moment of hand-steering.  Jeez, these photos are making the voyage look like a cakewalk.  It wasn't.  But there were grand, glorious moments.

About 100 miles out from the Marquesas we were becalmed again after several days of squalls, but (on the bright side) they gave us the best sunset of the whole voyage.

While looking for wind, we saw a sail!  And had a nice visit with S/V Gaku, from Japan.  Then they motored off and we continued waiting, but after 12 hours the wind came up again.

More flying fish, and bigger ones, landed aboard.  One evening Karen heard Jim shriek, “Yeeeeowwwza!” and heard flopping.  A flying fish had landed right next to him in the cockpit.  At least it didn't go down the back of his shirt, like one did once to Karen.  You know, when fish fly and birds swim ya gotta cut back on the beer... but we only consumed FIVE beers on the whole crossing!  It didn't taste good when the boat was rolling to her beam ends.  This fish was big enough to fry, but we threw it back.

The last 2 days were spent in heavy squalls.  Here’s one that contained 40 – 45 knots and pelting rain.  The jacket was soon zipped.

But there was a rainbow afterward.  And a reefed mainsail can sure catch a lot of water.

Landfall was such a sight for sore eyes… all that green.

Look at the face in the rock beneath and just to the left of the cloud peak.

Happy happy happy!

Here we are coming in to the Bay of Virgins (Hanavave) on our 38th day at sea.  Photo was taken by Jon-Louis aboard a French boat.

Finally, the anchor’s down!  We are looking kind of stunned here, because we were.  (Jon-Louis photo)

First thing to happen was Tucker from S/V Convivia rowing over to welcome us with a fresh coconut, which he thwacked open with a machete (no mean feat in an inflatable) and a pamplemousse, which is basically what all grapefruit want to be when they grow up.

We enjoyed a dinner ashore with our new French friends from two boats, and were hosted in the home of Simone the woodcarver, who made us a sumptuous Polynesian feast.  Most of these items were a first taste for us, and we loved everything.  There was poisson cru, couchon (pork cooked whole, underground) plus Poulet au coco, rice, poipoi, roasted breadfruit, roasted sweet plantains, and wine.  Oh but it was good.  The conversation between us and the six hilarious and erudite Frenchmen, all of whom who spoke pretty good English, was as sparkling and good as the food, and made the evening fly by.

After a few days we sailed for Hiva Oa, and who did we meet in the middle of the 45-mile crossing but our friends on Zulu!

It’s hot and humid here, and we are learning to really slow down.  All the boats at anchor in the harbor where we are now (Atuona, on the southern side of Hiva Oa) are recovering after their passages, and it’s fun to finally see the boats with whom we chatted on the radio for so many evenings.   We're anchored right next to Clover, owned by our dear friend Shane Barry, who soloed her across the Pacific and arrived 2 days after we did.  So good to have these reunions!  And the emails and comments we got!  Loved it.

We're thrilled to have this part of the passage across the Pacific behind us.  Let the fun really begin!