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Cruising Journals - Pam Wall



Chapter 10 - Across the Pacific


"Are you ready?" It was time to weigh anchor and head towards paradise! We had been in the Galapagos Islands for a month, and now we were all eagerly anticipating being at sea once again. Especially exciting was the prospect of a landfall on the high mountainous islands of the

Marquesas in French Polynesia. Kandarik, our Freya 39, was certainly ready. Andy and I and Samantha and Jamie, who were now five and nine, were anxious to break out the anchor and sail across the cobalt blue Pacific. This would be a passage of just over three thousand miles, on a thirty-nine foot sloop, with two adults and two small children and thirty stuffed animals to feed! The anticipation of this long passage was as thrilling as it could be.

Looking back at the barren volcanic islands of the Galapagos reminded us of our desire to be amongst palm trees and sandy beaches under sunny skies. In the Galapagos we had lived with twisted dry bushes, razor sharp strips of land along the shores, and damp air underneath overcast skies.

Once clear of the islands, we found the southeast trade winds howling towards the Marquesas. With a poled out genoa and single reefed main we charged before the steep trade wind seas. Kandarik loved the exhilarating pace, and while we hung on for dear life, we too enjoyed the miles speeding by at an incredible rate. How foolish we were to have worried about carrying extra fuel. We actually stowed an additional 25 gallons of diesel in case the trades had not set in. What great insurance to guarantee an extremely strong wind thus making all the extra fuel superfluous. The towing generator gave us the best indication of our speed. We would slow down a bit in the troughs, and then the high pitched whine of the generator would indicate to all aboard the extreme speeds Kandarik would reach. No need for a knotlog, our ears could tell us our speed!

While we made fantastic time, it was not an easy passage. We were often sailing on the point of gybe, and our constant fear was a thunderous backwinded genoa or heart stopping mainsail gybe even though the boom wassecurely held by vang and preventer. The lovely tradewind clouds would be interrupted by fast moving black squalls. Andy's calls for "All hands on deck to reef!" would be a constant reminder that Kandarik needed our attention. The squalls would bear down on us with heavy rain and greatly increased wind. We would have to double reef the mainsail, douse the genoa, and then it was shower time for all the crew! As quickly as it appeared the squall would hurry on its merry way and we would be left to set sail again in the steady trades. In the dark of the night the stars blinking to windward would herald the passing of a squall. How many times since that passage have we referred to the passing of a crisis, "We don't have to worry, I can see stars to windward!"

Life aboard our cozy boat became routine. Watch on watch we kept our days full. Meals became the focus of the day. The two loaves of fresh bread to be baked each day certainly kept Andy preoccupied in the morning! I must admit that I just could not be below deck kneading bread without loosing my cookies, so Andy graciously took over this task. We called him our Pastry Chef! How can I describe the fragrance of fresh bread coming out of our little oven? One loaf would be consumed on the spot with butter and jam and honey dripping from warm slices. The other loaf would be rationed during the rest of the day to last until next morning's breakfast. It was a heinous crime to be caught pulling off a corner of the second fresh loaf, and yet we all became guilty!

With the aid of his sextant Andy carefully monitored our position with a "morning line of position", noon sight, and "afternoon line of position". Even though we had purchased a new Sat-Nav, he still did not trust it. We joked that the Sat-Nav just confirmed the celestial navigation positions that Andy plotted each day. He would brace himself on the boom gallows, Samantha would read off the exact time when he yelled, "Mark!" and Jamie would steer as carefully as he could to keep Kandarik steady as possible. This ritual of navigation was a necessary part of our daily routine.

The highlight of our day, however, became four o'clock in the afternoon. If any of us wished for time to fly, it was to help us to rush to that magical hour. I would select a book and sit in the helmsman seat while the wind vane steered Kandarik. Andy, Samantha, and Jamie would all have hot cups of tea and little snacks on which to munch. Best of all were the marvelous stories we read and shared together for the next hour. When chapters would end and the reading would stop, one of us would cry out, "Just one more chapter today, PLEEESE." I would always give in and usually read on until it was too dark to see. How we enjoyed these hours snuggled together in the cockpit, spirited away to some enchanted place by the words printed in our precious books.

Did I ever have to entertain my two children? This had worried me, but how needless were these fears. Sammy and Jamie were never at a loss to amuse themselves. Every empty egg carton became an exotic decorated caterpillar. Empty cereal boxes were transformed into decorated dollhouses. Every odd piece of canvas that could be found became a part of an elaborate tent pitched on the foredeck by the mast. Ken and Barbie had so many weddings that our precious stock of eggs, flour, butter, and sugar quickly disappeared with each elaborate wedding cake conjured up by two little children in our tiny tossing galley.

Our fishing line was constantly trailing in our wake. The commotion aboard was incredible when there was a strike on the line. The drama was always the same. I would grab the helm, no matter who was on watch at the time. Andy would grab the line and start the laborious task of bringing in the fighting fish. Sammy would dive below for the squirt bottle of alcohol, fillet knife, and cutting board. Jamie would be holding the sharp gaff ready. When the silver, blue, gold and chartreuse mahi mahi would be near enough to be brought aboard, we all felt a sharp pang of terrible grief. Here was a swimming black opal under the surface of the water. The flickering fluorescent colors enchanted us. Such a gorgeous creature should be allowed to remain at home to live in the deep sea. But, hunger overcame these reservations. Jamie would hand the gaff to Andy to bring the fish aboard. A 40 pound fighting dorado is a formidable opponent. It would thrash and bang on the deck, it would throw the hook and put up a terrific struggle to regain the water. Sammy would stand poised to squirt alcohol into the gills which instantly put the fish out of its misery. And then it was all over. The thrashing fish was still, the brilliant colors faded, and all of us would have such regret to see such a magnificent creature dead on our deck with blood streaming in the scuppers. It took all our strength to compose ourselves. Andy with tears in his eyes would gut the fish, thank the gods of the sea as he threw the head back into the water, and then fillet the succulent meat. It would be hours before we could all enjoy the fish. Only when it was on our plates, fragrant and delicious, did we put out of our minds where this marvelous meal had come from.

Our life was simple and uncomplicated crossing the Pacific. Our only real concerns were the weather and, more importantly, what was the menu for our next meal. Our routine was unspoiled by outside influences. Sammy and Jamie took their watches. Legos spread all over the boat became extraordinary creations. The tape recorder echoed across the water the music of the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, Harry Belafonte, the Limelighters, Jimmy Buffet, Donavan, and oh yes, Bob Dylan! Story time in the cockpit was always the highlight of the day. The ham radio became my friend and constant companion, as I was able to talk with my Mother and Father, sisters and friends all over the world. Andy was constantly tending Kandarik and keeping careful track of our position. Life was beautiful.

Our landfall was almost anti-climatic. After nineteen days at sea, Andy expected to see the smudge of Hiva Oa sometime during the daylight hours. A contest ensued; the first to spot land would get the very first ice cream cone, if indeed there was ice cream in the Marquesas! Andy was up in the spreaders just before story time. There it was, right where he hoped it would be! A shout of intense excitement and relief, "Land Ho!" and Sammy and Jamie threw down their Legos to have their first look at Paradise! I will never forget the nonchalance of these two water babies, "Wow, that sure looks like land. I guess Dad will get the first ice cream. Let's get below and finish our castle." I am sure they could have spent another nineteen days at sea and never missed the land. Such is the flexible adaptability of children. Andy and I could not wait for our first night's sleep in a quiet anchorage while Sammy and Jamie just wanted to complete Cinderella's castle in Legos.

As we neared the islands the next morning we could see literally thousands of extremely tall palm trees, black coral sand beaches, and craggy high peaks reaching towards the clouds. It was so very, very green after the blue of the sea. We joyfully breathed the smells of vanilla, jasmine, coconut husk fires, and moist earth. We could almost feel the crashing surf on the steep shore as we rounded the point and tacked up into the beckoning cove. Our anchor plunged into the still water. We had arrived.

Pam Wall - Expert Sailor

Pam Wall

Outfitting Manager, West Marine Ft. Lauderdale

  • A lifelong sailor, Pam and her husband have been cruising together for over 36 years!