Nuka Hiva Letter...first letter after long passage


Sunday, June 15 1986

Baie de Taiohe, Nuka Hiva, Marquises lie

Sunny and warm (85) and very humid


Well all my dear friends....

As you can see ODJ and I made it!!! We arrived here at Tajohe Bay on Friday the 13th. The trip was long and slow, and I'm very glad that it is finished. By far this is the longest passage that I will make. Most of other trips will be under a week in length, instead of more than a month. To tell you about the trip, I'm going to break the description into various categories instead of chronologically...

Solitude-- 40 Days in solitude

Really a tough one to handle. This is the first time that I can remember where I felt that I definitely need companionship. Normally I can be happy with only myself, but there is an upper limit of maybe two or three weeks after which I get into a real depressed mood that I couldn't seem to break out of. I had thought that all of the cassettes would provide me with an outlet but, very surprisingly, I didn't play a single cassette until the anchor was down!! I can't explain why, but that's the way it was. The radio was another outlet that I used infrequently The best escape was in books. I read day and night. Finished everything on board. Most of my time was spent flat on my back with a book. But after a month, even that gets old. I don't think that this solitude thing will get me down in the future, as all of my passages will be relatively short. In addition I'm going to get involved with something that will keep me more on my 'mental toes'. Perhaps computer programming or writing or putting together a video of the passages. something like that. One good thing about the solitude is that I learned my own form of meditation. I could leave my body, visit my friends and travel anywhere. I had developed the ability to meditate myself into a state where the passage of time no longer existed.

Physically-- non-stop motion

Unless you've actually experienced it, there is no way to describe the movements that the boat goes through minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day after day. Every four or five seconds the boat will pitch or heave or roll. The only way to be comfortable is lying down flat on your back. Moving about on the boat requires the use of both hands and all your movements are planned well in advance to minimize the time and effort. You find yourself wishing that it would be calm for only a little while, but it never is. Even when the wind quits blowing, the seas where still there knocking you about.

One good thing that has happen is that I've lost a lot of weight. I don't have a scale. but I would guess 20 to 30 pounds. Now if I can just keep it off!

Passage -- Time and Distance

The trip was 37 sailing days from La Paz Mexico to Nuka Hiva. Actually the trip was 37 days, 9 hours and 21 minutes. The sumlog reading was 3204 nautical miles. However since the sumlog was not indicating the correct speed this distance may be off somewhat. We left La Paz on the 5th of May, stopped for two days at Cabo San Lucas, then non-stop to the Marquises. We didn't maintain the 100 mile per day average because of headwinds and light winds in the doldrums. The northeast trades were strong right from Cabo, and we logged 9 days in a row with more than a hundred miles per day. One day we did 125 which was the highest of the trip. On the tenth day the wind dropped off as we entered the doldrums. This year the doldrums were further north than usual, at about 8 degrees north, 122 degrees west. The twelve days that followed were a 'bitch'. If the wind did blow it was directly on our nose, out of the SW. The currents were very strong, and although we logged 70 miles one day the current actually set us backwards! For these 12 days we never logged more than 75 miles, in fact we dropped to a lousy 22 mile day.

To give you an idea of how slow this part of the trip was; we didn't pick up the SE trades until about 3 degrees N, so we used 12 days to go 5 degrees, or about 300 miles. 300 miles in 12 days is an average of only 25 miles per day. During this time we also had strong line squalls that busted some rigging and blew out two head sails. Needless to say I was glad when the SE trades began. The next two weeks were delightful. The trades held their direction but remained light (8 knots) and we started logging hundred mile days again. On the 34th day out of Cabo we sighted Nuka Hiva right at dawn. The island was obscured by heavy rain clouds and surprisingly I 'lost' the island! Well, I didn't really loose it but another island off to the east suddenly appeared out of the clouds and I got confused as to which was really Nuka Hiva! The chart straightened me out and by 3;00 PM we had the 'hook' down and our last can of mexican beer in hand. I'm glad it's over and I really don't want to do it again, but I wouldn't have missed it for anything. working out the math we went 3204 miles in 897.3 hrs or 3.57 knots. My god you can walk faster than that!

Food and Provisions

As I mentioned already, I've lost weight. One of the reasons was that I made a mistake in La Paz that I had to live with for the whole passage. What I did wrong was not to check the propane level. There are two 5 gallon tanks aboard and although I knew that one was low, I belied that the other was full. Well, of course it wasn't and we were out of propane 5 days out. Not to worry, back-ups for everything, dig out the one burner kerosene stove. Plenty of kerosene on board. But it takes alcohol to preheat the burner, and as you have guessed the only alcohol aboard is gin. However gin is only one half alcohol and half water which doesn't burn hot enough to preheat the stove. Therefore cold food and drink for the remainder of the trip. Thank god that I had lots of cans. The only thing that I really missed was a hot cup of coffee

My favorite meal was a cold-slaw laced with meat or fish. The mexican cabbage lasted clear to the end and I wished that I had bought more. Lunches were simple affairs, generally consisting of meat or tuna or leftovers spread on ships biscuits. Lunch was also the time that I drank the one beer a day that I allotted myself. I had lots of cans of fruit, and I often saved the juice to mix with a tot of rum before bed. Special treats, like smoked salmon or pate or caviar were called for when we crossed the equator or extra good mileage. All-in-all even although I had no hot food I ate well and didn't suffer a bit. The irony of the cold food was that when I got the propane tanks out of the locker, the was a half-liter container of stove alcohol!!! I could had hot meals all the way across.!!

The Boat and Rigging

The hull had only a few minor problems. There were no leaks in the hull and the boat stayed dry until we got heavy rains. When it rains in the doldrums.. it really rains. It rained so hard that- I could not breathe and I'm not kidding. When we got these very heavy rains the bilges needed pumping every six or seven hours. The leaks are around the chain plates and stanchion bases. Before I leave here I'll caulk them tight, which will stop the leaks. Minor problems occurred like the radio not working and the autopilot quitting and hanks coming off the sails, but all of these were quickly repaired.

We had two major problems with rigging. One problem was that the forward lower port shroud (one of the wires that hold the mast up) parted about half the wire strands right at the compression fitting. I got a short piece of wire and clamped it around the break to take up the strain. I then slacked off the adjusting screw so there was less tension on the shroud. This proved to be a mistake as the aft lower port shroud (which had the extra' load) parted two days later in a heavy line squall. I had to take down all sail and repaired both shrouds. I used sections of anchor chain and wire clamps. The repairs are stronger than the original. Within the next couple of days I'll 'dig' out the spare (old backups ) shrouds that I had stored for just such a case. When I get to Papette I'll have new spares made.

The other problem was that during a very high wind (45+) the boat was knocked down and the big genoa jib scooped up a couple of tons of water and caused the halyard (line that hoists the sail) to jam itself in the block so that I could not lower the sail. In less than 10 minutes the sail was nothing but tatters blowing in the wind. Just yesterday afternoon I went up the mast and cleared away the last of the banners and fixed the block and halyards. Thank the heavens that I had installed double forestays so the even with one jammed, I could still hoist a head sail. All in all, everything is OK with ODJ.

The Weather-- A Bit of Everything

The weather during the passage was about what was expected except for the frequency and severity of the weather cells in the doldrums. During the doldrums we got less the 10% calms, average should be more like 30%. We had winds out of the SW (just where we want to go!) for 6 days in a row! This pattern is unheard of. Again. in the doldrums we had at least 4 or 5 line squalls a day with very heavy rain and winds between 30 and 50 knots.

When the squalls hit it was usually a 'Chinese fire drill' to get all the canvas down before it blew away Most of you know that I'm the original 'chicken of the sea' so quite often before dark I'd reduce sail to the main only. This saved me having to go forward in the middle of the night to take down the jib. The NW trade winds extended from Cabo to about 8 degrees N with constant winds of 15 to 20 knots. The direction was from due N to due W, with about NW half the time. It was warm and pleasant, with very little rain and about 50% cloud cover. The doldrums gave us the 'weather', squalls, high winds or dead calms, rain every day (12 straight!) with almost solid clouds. Here the weather became uncomfortable with 90+ temperatures and very high humidity. The daily rains were the only relief. with a shower to cool off, then immediately back into the sauna. Once the SE trade winds set in the weather turned nice again. Although we still had high humidity the temperature dropped into the 80's and the wind made things feel better. The wind velocity was lighter than the NW trades, averaging about 8 to 12 knots. Those winds are perfect for the genoa jib that I blew out in the doldrums! Such is Mister Murphy!


As many of you know, I get a real kick out of the art and science of navigation. But although I had precomputed a set of special tables, specifically for this passage, I didn't use then. Instead I fell back on the 'equal amplitude and local moon' sights. The math was a chinch, with 3 additions and 2 subtractions I had the latitude figured, and with one subtraction and a table lookup I had the longitude calculated. I guess the system worked as the island was right where it was supposed to be. Just for practice I did take a five star fix, after an hour or two of calculation I knew where I was.. in the middle of the ocean.


I'm going to leave Nuka Hiva on saturday the 21st of June, 1986` for Papette, on the island of Tahiti. If conditions are perfect, I'll stop at Ahe or Rangaroa in the Taumotus. Since all of these islands are low lying coral atolls they can only be sighted when you are 6 to 8 miles away, that's why conditions have to be perfect. If I do stop. it will be for only a few days. Passage from here to the Taumotus will take 5 or 6 days, and from the Taumotus to Tahiti will be two or three more days. The plan is to be in Papette about the 10 or so. The timing is to be in Papette before the start of Fete, which is a two week celebration around Bastille Day. During Fete I plan to shoot a video tape of all the events.

Letters and Postcards

Soon I hope to write a letter or post card to each of you, perhaps in the next couple of days before I leave here. To write me John Spencer, yacht "Oliver David Jones", Bureau de Capitaine de Port, Papette, Tahiti. French Polynesia.

All right, now that I've reached Paradise, all of you who want to come down the invitation is hereby extended. I should be in the Society Islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora-Bora etc) for the next six months, so save your money, fly down and spend a week or two. You'll not get another chance as good as this again.

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