06-04-2018 – Omoa, Fatu Hiva, French Polynesia

We’ve (finally) arrived in the Marquesas! Hooray! Our trip took almost 2 exactly months (actually 57 days if you count from when we left Las Perlas, or 60 days if you count from when we left Panama City). That’s much longer than the other boats in the “fleet” It’s just that Lungta prefers to take her good time about getting anywhere. 🙂
The days at sea all turn into a blur, since each one looks quite a bit like the previous one. Of course, some days have more clouds than others, some present different wildlife sightings, some have slower winds while others are faster, etc. But the elements of each day were substantially the same. No one moment felt especially special or different, and yet the overall experience gels together to produce a unique even on our lives. Somehow life itself seemed to slow down and become more basic. Watching the sun set or the moon rise was among the highlights of each day. We read, ate (two or) three meals, brushed our teeth and napped eah day. We read about places in French Polynesia we wanted to visit, watched episodes of “Cosmos” (the updated series with Neil de Grasse Tyson), repaired torn sails, and talked together. We all learned things about ourselves, some of them good, some opportunities for growth. 🙂
We arrived at the island of Fatu Hiva yesterday evening. We first went to the bay that is known far and wide, called Hanavave. It is lined with tall rock spires and the story goes that it was originally named by the French the Bay of Penises: Baie Verges. But the powers that be were shocked and chose to add one ‘i’ to make it Baie Vierges, the Bay of Virgins. Don’t know if this is true, but it makes a repeatable story. 🙂 We were surprised to see more than a dozen boats in this narrow anchorage which is very deep in the center and only suitable for anchoring around the edges. We poked our nose into several corners, but couldn’t find a place that felt safe. We’ve heard a number of times about winds that come down through the valley strong enough to cause a boat to drag on its anchor, and didn’t want that to be us! So, after exploring the areas of the bay that were unoccupied, we decided to leave and find another spot.
We spent our first night in French Polynesia anchored at the town of Omoa, 3 miles south of Hanavave. (But many of you probably already know this by checking our tracking page, forecast.predictwind.com/display/tracking/Lungta 🙂 ) We saw a great sunset along the way, which included a brilliant green flash. Our anchor dropped at 6:30, and after a joyful champagne toast and a quick spaghetti dinner, we all crashed in our bunks with no worries about having to get up for a nighttime shift. Although there are reports that this anchorage is a bit rolly, we found that it was delightful after 8 weeks at sea. 🙂 It’s open to a spectacular view of the sunset, but has high cliffs which shelter us from the constant presence of the trade winds. The hills are covered with greenery, including coconut palms that we believe are tended as part of someone’s garden. The small town is nestled in a bowl at the bottom of a few valleys, which form a wrinkle in the cliff-lined shore. Our fir st day here, we moved slowly – kinda like this way of living! – we spent a few hours cleaning the bottom of the boat, which had accumulated quite a few barnacles (including gooseneck barnacles, which reminded Kathy of a flock of white butterflies that had landed on the hull and then somehow got stuck). We then took an exploratory trip into town, to find out if our land legs still worked. Fortunately they do! We found a little grocery shop, and bought some basics – sugar, flour, eggs, milk, soy sauce, sweetened condensed milk. Wow – it’s going to be a challenge moving all the Spanish we’ve slowly learned over the last 7 years to a folder for storage, while we work on making coherent sentences (mostly questions!) in French. The woman at the store was patient with us, and we expect that we will encounter many people in the islands with that same sense of “what’s the hurry?”
We are thinking of returning to Hanavave tomorrow, but our plans are pretty fluid right now. We’ll let you more as it develops. For now, it’s time to get another good night’s sleep!

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05-18-2018 Crossing the Pacific

We’re now starting to get close enough to our destination that we can sense a change (internally, not the environment!). We’re still 1200 miles away, too far to just douse the sails and motor in, but something is changing. We have cycled through all four of the shifts, so each of us has spent 10 days on each time schedule. We each have different ways of organizing our days to fit in the constraints. Now we’re rearranging the shift schedule again, this time not according to the algorithm, but rather looking at who prefers which shift and who is open to any of them. Dan and Dave will keep the current schedule, while Kathy and Baban will switch. We think we are roughly two weeks from making landfall.
We had a celebration about 10 days ago marking the halfway point in our travels. Dave made a delicious appetizer of seared dorado with a sesame-soy sauce, Dan made a fresh loaf of apricot honey bread and mixed up a fruity rum punch. We set up a picnic on the deck in front of the pilothouse while Lungta all but sailed herself. We watched a few whales spouting in the the distance and toasted our journey, both internal and external. The day had a bit of a magical quality to it!
We’ve seen more than our share of wildlife and other boats. We have had a few sightings of spinner dolphins. These guys are smaller than the “usual” bottlenose dolphins and behave quite differently. While bottlenose dolphins love the bow wave and will swim back and forth in front of the boat for hours on end, spinner dolphins rarely come closer than half a mile from the boat. Spinner dolphins, however, love to leap! They seem positively joyful in the way that they catch the air! Sometimes they will do interesting spins and turns, but mostly they just jump as high as they can and come back to the water with a huge splash! The latest pod we saw was huge, with well over 50 members. There were smaller groups of them that seemed to be swimming in tandem, surfacing together and diving simultaneously. Other individuals were dancing their own dance, some leaping 15 feet up in the air, some doing partial somersaults, landing on their sides or backs. The whole happy show only lasted 15 minutes, although we could see their silhouettes fading into the horizon for a good bit longer. One night Dan and Baban enjoyed a visit by a group of bottlenose dolphins playing under the bowsprit. Another night Kathy heard a whale spout just outside the window of the pilothouse as she sat at the helm. She grabbed a flashlight and searched the water’s surface. She heard the release of breath, saw the mist of the spout, smelled the fishy breath, and saw the mucousy residue on the water’s surface. The whale (or pair?) surfaced roughly a dozen times close by, first on the port side and later on the starboard side, but never in the flashlight’s beam. Dan joined in the search and did catch a glimpse of a tail submerging – but mostly this individual or pair avoided the light. Given the size of these animals and the fact that others have reported seeing pilot whales in these waters, it’s reasonable to assume that is what these guys were.
Back when we passed the Galapagos, and for about 250 miles all around, we had lots of boobie birds around. There was one night where we had 15 of them on the spring stay (which connects the tops of the two masts). They generally coexist peacefully, with only a little bit of grousing. 🙂 But there were also 2 or 3 frigate birds that wanted to horn in on the location and they were a source of much complaint! Eventually the frigates moved on for the night and we were left with only boobies. Unfortunately, in the morning we were left with a spattered and slippery walk on the downwind side of the boat. At that, we decided they were unwelcome. Baban and Dan pulled out a slingshot and tried to shoot dried beans at the birds to convince them to move on. But, true to form, the boobies were unresponsive. Fortunately we moved beyond the comfortable reach of their home territory and they dropped away in just a couple of days. More recently we had a smallish bird catch a ride on our deck overnight. Although this is usually not a good sign, he ended up flying away in the dawn’s light. We typically end up feeling protective of birds like this that take refuge for a while on our floating home!
We’ve also had a couple of turtle sightings. They seem like such gentle creatures, and their endangered status always makes us privileged to encounter them. By far, thought, the animal that we’ve seen the most of has to be the flying fish! They get spooked by the boat as we pass by, and they leap out of the water on a mad dash through the air, sometimes “flying” a hundred yards away from Lungta. Sometimes they are avoiding other marine entities – like tuna and dorado! It’s exciting to see a school of flying fish with a predator or two in hot pursuit! Our stretch of catching dorados daily has passed, and our catch has dwindled to only one fish every 2-3 days – which is still a treat!
Last night we decided to leave a fishing line out over night to see what happens. What a surprise! Round about midnight, the line made its classic whizzing sound, indicating something bit. Baban woke us and then proceeded to reel the line in. Turns out we had hooked a squid, about 15″ long and 6″ in diameter. Dan scooped it up in the net, and it squirted ink into the air (making a sound reminiscent of a fart). 🙂 Baban (what a guy!) brought it into the galley sink, cleaned it and popped it into the fridge for lunch today. Mmmmm, garlic and olive oil calamari!
In addition to wildlife sightings, we seem to have had more than our share of boat sightings. 🙂 We have seen two sailboats and 3 commercial vessels (two of these were mentioned our last posting). All but one of them passed within 2 miles of us! One cargo ship altered course when they spotted us. Our AIS system showed us that one was heading from Panama to New Zealand and another from Seattle to Brazil, around Cape Horn. So even though we were way out in the middle of blue water with no land within 500 miles, we were right on the route straight down the coast. Both sailboats were almost certainly heading the same place as us – French Polynesia! Of the 20 or so boats on the tracking list that Kathy is maintaining, no one has reported as many sightings as us. Few see more than 2 on the entire passage! Don’t know what’s different about Lungta, whether it’s our route, the fact that we have four pairs of eyes scanning the horizon, what catches our interest – or perhaps just a coincidence!
One of the common issues on a long blue-water passage like this one is chafe. We have had our share too. The most significant example (so far) has been the halyard for our jib. This line is used to pull the jib up to the top of an aluminum extrusion, which encircles the forestay and can freely spin around it, and which has a slot that the forward edge of the sail inserts into. The halyard loops over a pulley built into the extrusion at the top, to allow us to pull down from below when we want to bring the sail up. But with all the continuous motion of the boat, the line moves around a bit and slides along several surfaces in the area around this pulley. Over time, something wore completely through the halyard, causing the jib to slump down in the extrusion’s slot. Once the sail was no longer taut, it lost a lot of its effectiveness. We were able to roll it up, loosely, and continue on our way – but at a significantly reduced speed! We decided to send someone up the mast at th e first available window of “gentle weather”. Unfortunately in the meantime, both of our staysails developed long tears in them. These sails are quite old and it’s time for us to replace them (obviously, according to Captain Hindsight). We had thought/hoped that they had one more season in them (but perhaps we shouldn’t have tried to cross an ocean in that last season!). So we pulled out the sewing machines and set to work. In the meantime, a flap of the jib worked its way loose and flapped itself silly in the wind, creating a few more tears that needed repair. After 3 days of sail repair, we were moving along again with all of our sails except the jib. Finally we found the weather that we were waiting for, and Baban volunteered to go up the mast to run a new halyard. Then we hoisted the jib, secured all the lines involved in the process, and lowered Baban back down to the deck. Away we went with our powerful jib leading the way!
Several people have reported to us in the last couple of days that there is something odd happening with our tracking page at forecast.predictwind.com/display/tracking/Lungta Apparently the line that represents the track we have followed the last several weeks/months has turned into a squiggle that is reminiscent of an Etch-a-Sketch drawing. It appears that we backtracked dramatically and then returned to our course. Rest assured that all is well on Lungta. We did not lose someone or something and go back to retrieve it! 🙂 We don’t know what happened with this tracking tool, but the problem is digital not actual! We have heard that one other boater is having similar issues.
We have had no problems with storms, tsunamis, or pirates! We are slowly, but peacefully, crossing the Pacific Ocean under the force of Mother Nature. Life is slow and fairly basic. We’re all learning about ourselves and each other. This is a lifetime event for all of us, but it may be difficult to articulate just what it is we’ve experienced! It will be nice to arrive in French Polynesia, but these last several weeks have not been all about getting there; they’ve stood on their own as an interesting chapter in our lives.
Hoping each of you is also content with where you find yourself in life! Thanks for riding along with us on ours!

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Fwd: 05-08-2018 Crossing the Pacific

——– Original Message ——– From: Dan Finkelstein <lungta@myiridium.net> Sent: May 8, 2018 2:34:54 PM PDT To: 1126blog.com Subject: 05-08-2018 Crossing the Pacific
Life on Lungta continues on, much as it always has – but different too, while underway. Our days are colored by the watch schedule, especially at night. During the days we’re more casual, but someone is almost always in the captain’s seat. Part of the reason for that is that the navigation PC is also our primary connection with email.
Kathy, in particular, has been making a lot of use of the email recently. She volunteered to be the new manager of an email system to track the locations of a group of sailboats traveling from Panama to the Marquesas, called M-Fleet by its founder. When the original list manager arrived in the Marquesas, he was tired of the project and asked for a replacement. Did Kathy step forward or did everyone else step back? The original owner had designed a nice Excel chart that graphically showed the relative locations of all the boats on the list. He embedded it in his email for everyone to view easily. But after a few hours of banging her head against the project, Kathy determined that she would not be able to provide the same image; our mail app compresses attachments, and this one ended up with unreadable text when it was received. Since the boat names are an important part of the image, this was unacceptable. She sent the data out in a text list in her nightly email, but was disappointed with the results and kept working on trying to find something better. After a couple of days, one of the boaters suggested a different type of file format that used text to denote waypoints on a chart to things like our navigation software and GPS devices. He helped her organize the data so that when people download this file to their device they will see a star marking each boat in their location on the chart. It’s fun to see who’s closest or how far someone else has come in the last day or two! This week some of the boats are arriving in the Marquesas and a similar number are beginning their trip across the ocean. There seems to be a larger number of boats moving this way than we had even imagined.
We often feel like we’re out in the middle of the vast ocean, with no one and nothing as far as the eye can see. Last Thursday, though, we were reminded that there is more going on just out of sight than anyone knows. On one morning, we sighted not just one, but two other boats. Baban actually sighted the navigation lights of the first one in the wee hours of the morning, and it approached over several hours. Eventually it got within radio distance and the AIS system provided us with lots of information, including that it was a 333 meter Greek tanker, bound for Brazil on the other side of Cape Horn. It got 1.25 miles from us before crossing our track as the sun rose, and then receded over the next several hours. The second boat was the opposite: a small sailboat that was heading in essentially the same direction as we were. We first saw a sail on the horizon. As it got closer, Dan established radio contact and had a pleasant conversation with the Norwegian woman who replied. We learned that this boat was named Isis II – and felt a surge of recognition as we realized that this was the boat that had recruited Laura away from us almost exactly a month ago! They had been to the Galapagos and were now bound for the Marquesas, but *much* faster than us. What a small world!
On April 28th at 10:04pm, we finally achieved an exciting milestone: crossing the Equator! We captured a screen shot of our navigation PC to commemmorate the event when we were at 00 00.0001S 94 48.3216W There are many traditions of how sailors have greeted this occurrence, and mostly they are silly or treated as a rite of passage. More elaborate ceremonies typically invoke King Nepture, and sometimes bring newbies (referred to as pollywogs) up on various charges for King Neptune to rule on, sometimes administer punishment (Kathy knew of a boat that made everyone eat some vegemite for their transgressions), and frequently involve a sacrifice (the child of one of our friends offered up a pancake from his breakfast). We’ve heard stories of people shaving their head, dressing in silly costumes (often including a crown and staff like Neptune), and historically walking the plank. We settled for opening a bottle of champagne for toasts reminiscent of New Year’s Eve, along with a sa crifice of rum for Neptune to join us in the celebration. Our crossing occurred during a Full Moon, which felt even more auspicious! After crossing the Equator by boat, pollywogs are promoted to shellbacks, and traditional maritime practice allows them to sport a particular tattoo motif to commemmorate that event.
On a long passage like this one, people seem to crave some milestones or other events to break up the monotony. Many of the boats in our “fleet” are counting down the miles. We are changing our shift schedule around every 10 days, for variety, moving back one segment to the previous 3-hour shift. As it works out, the person who had been doing the most challenging shift schedule “gets a night off”, when moving from the 12-3 shift to the 9-12. We’re about to move into our 4th shift schedule, which means that we will have each done all four watch times. It’s looking like we might have another 1 or 2 after that. In addition to “shifting shifts”, we are distributing the time zone changes geographically. Panama and the Marquesas are 4.5 hours apart. We’re turning our clocks back an hour each time we pass a latitude line that’s a multiple of 10. We passed 100 degrees South three days ago, so we turned our clocks from Central time zone to Mountain time zone. We’ve turned the clocks b ack twice so far and have three more to go, the third time we’ll only do half an hour because the Marquesas uses a time zone that is off by half an hour from their neighbors. That seems odd to me, but I have heard that India also uses a half-hour offset to find a time that works for the most people possible in its region.
We’ve been fishing a lot, by which I mean dragging a lure through the water as we travel. Most of the daylight hours we have two lines trolling out back. The first two weeks we were underway, we only caught one fish. All of a sudden we are catching fish, almost exclusively dorado, a.k.a. mahi-mahi. We have caught 14 dorados in the last 9 days, and a few near-misses! We’ve seen schools of them near the boat, and we believe that they are following Lungta. Dorado are known for hanging out underneath floating objects. But they are most likely to bite when the lure is moving through the water fairly quickly, at least 5knots. Many of the fish we’ve caught have been when we’ve been taking in a line, for example at the end of the day. We prefer not to have the fishing lines out at night, because it means a bit of work, not just landing it, but also killing it and processing it for storage. We have put a good bit of these fish into our freezer, but we’ve also been enjoying fish for di nner most evenings. We’ve come up with a variety of ways to cook them, but still have a few tricks up our sleeves! Dorado makes for good eating!
There was a day last week when we weren’t moving very quickly, so Kathy started a load of laundry. (We’re concerned that when we’re heeled over or bouncing around, it might not be good for the bearings in the washer. Can you believe that the designers wouldn’t have tested it under similar conditions?!) By the time the wash was done and it was time to hang the laundry to dry, the wind had picked up a good bit. Perhaps 15 minutes later, Dan checked the fishing lines and found that there was a fish on one of them. He called out to the crew and we all came running. When Kathy got on deck, the first thing she noticed was that one of the sheets was missing. As she looked around deck to see if perhaps it had landed somewhere, Dan reeled in the fish and the others prepared to bring it on board. Then they noticed that the fish was actually a big, blue bedsheet! What a silly surprising coincidence! The hook had poked a few holes in the sheet, but at least we still have a complete set. 🙂
So, there are a few things happening on Lungta while we’re on our way to the islands of the South Pacific. We’ll send more in a bit. We’re happy and healthy, and hope that each of you is also!
Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

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04-27-2018 – Crossing the Pacific

We’ve been underway for about two weeks now, and have begun settling into a new rhythm of life. We’ve set a watch cycle, where each of us does a 3-hour watch during the day and another at night. The schedule is the same from one day to the next, but we’re changing it around every 10 days to give us each the opportunity to experience all of the time periods, from sunset to midnight to sunrise. They each have a different character, and it’s fun to have a little variety. We did our first “shift shift” almost a week ago. It took a couple of days to settle in to the new pattern, but now it’s familiar. We all have our own personal rhythms, so when one person is waking up in the morning, another is going to sleep, and someone else is ready for a bite to eat. Sometimes that makes it difficult to do things together, like the family style meals we like to share. But we’ve managed to find a nice balance between doing things all together and doing things alone or in pairs.
We’ve been sailing almost continuously, but generally not very fast and often not in the exact direction that we want. 🙂 Most boats going from Panama City to the Marquesas first go to the Galapagos, pass to the south of them and then jump on the tradewinds all the way across. But we were having trouble getting south, and there was disagreement about whether the “usual” route was the best one for us. Eventually we decided to pass the Galapagos to the north, and try to turn south at some later point. At that point we began moving again, primarily west, which was encouraging. We’re still trying to get south and still moving mostly west. Stay tuned…
We’ve had two fishing lines in the water most of the time (during the day), but have very little to show for it. Yesterday we finally got a hit. The first strike jumped off the line almost immediately, but then a second strike happened on the other line. Baban reeled it in and dropped it in the net that Dan was holding. It was a beautiful 2′ dorado, a little on the small side but enough to feed the four of us that night. What a delicious meal! As we hear from other boats, it’s sounding like the fishing is more successful as people get close to the islands. One person described getting 5 fish in one day!
One of the commonly reported problems on blue-water passages like this one is wear and tear from all the constant movement. Soft surfaces like sails and ropes are particularly at risk of chafing through. Overall we’re doing pretty well, but we did have one line break a few days ago. Murphy’s Law would have predicted this to happen in the wee hours on a choppy, moonless night. Oddly, for us it occurred mid-morning on a fairly calm day. The line was a halyard, which holds our jib sail up tight. This sail is a roller-furled sail, though, and is mostly supported along its forward edge by an aluminum channel. This meant that although the sail was not useful it didn’t fall into the water or on deck, potentially sustaining further damage. We were lucky! Later that same day we found a really calm moment when we were able to raise Kathy up the mast with the other end of the rope, so she could reconnect it to the sail. Even a calm moment out here is far rollier than she’s used to in an anchorage. She used an additional strap to keep her from swinging away from the mast as she went up. It was a good learning process and a confidence booster, in case there’s a “next time”. We’ve been steadily sailing ever since.
Over the two weeks we’ve been underway, we’ve spotted lots of different animals. They’re not happening all at once, so it doesn’t feel like all that much, but most days there’s an interesting sighting or two. Close to Panama we had several whale sightings; we’re not sure which species, but “fin whale” comes to mind. We’ve seen a couple of turtles and quite a few dolphins. There was one day when we watched a large pod of spinner dolphins move on by. These guys are smaller than the more common bottlenose dolphins and less interested in interacting with boats. But their claim to fame is that they jump, frequently and apparently joyfully. Imagine a whole school of dolphins happily leaping along the way wherever their pod is taking them. They don’t synchronize their moves, and they don’t always land gracefully. But they do it a lot! It’s quite a sight. 🙂 A few times we’ve sighted a group of “jumping somethings”. They seem to come in a few different varieties, some darker than ot hers, some bigger than others. All of them are somewhat reclusive, avoiding close encounters with sailboats. We mostly see them in the distance, but we’re hoping to study them more carefully in the coming weeks.
Baban has a mind thirsty for knowledge. He has been learning a lot on this journey, and one area that has absorbed a lot of his time and energy is maritime ropework, known as marlinspike seamanship. Every day he asks Dave for a “knot of the day”, and every day the two of them spend a couple of hours working with rope, sometimes tying beautiful decorative knots, sometimes splicing eyes into the ends of old lines, sometimes finishing a raw securely with whipping twine. Dave is always enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge, and this is one area that he has a deep trove. Another topic that makes him shine is the night sky. He loves to talk about his “celestial friends”, which range from the moon (the full moon is especially meaningful to Dave) to individual stars to the wandering planets. One cloudy night he spotted a star through a break in the clouds and confidently identified it as Castor, in the constellation of Gemini. He used the direction from the boat, the height of the moon, the brightness of the star, and his knowledge of what other stars were nearby to draw his conclusion. Although no one else onboard had remotely enough knowledge to support or refute his observation, his confidence felt almost like magic!
A friend on another sailboat shared with us an email he was receiving daily where another boater was collecting location information from all the boats currently crossing from the Galapagos to the Marquesas. He used an Excel spreadsheet to create a beautiful chart that graphically showed everyone’s progress, and distributed it daily. We joined the list of boats that he was tracking – but he was only displaying boats that had passed the Galapagos, and we hadn’t yet gotten that far. Shortly after we joined up, he announced that he was arriving in the Marquesas and would be discontinuing the regular distribution. He was looking for a replacement, and Kathy ended up volunteering (it might have been one of those situations where everyone else steps back from the line). She has spent the past three days getting set up. It turned out to be a more complicated technical situation than expected, because of the limitations of our email app. (It’s trying to compress the image for distrib ution, but it’s being too aggressive and the result is an unreadable fuzzy mess.) In the meantime, she has been sending the information out in a simple text email, while she tries to figure out a prettier solution. She’s spending much of the time she’s on watch collecting the data from emails and creating the distribution email, but also sending personal email communications to many of the boats, trying to get to know the people in our new “community”. It’s fun, but time-consuming!
So there are a few things happening on board Lungta as we sail across the Pacific. We’ll send another update in a week or two. In the meantime, stay safe and happy – and we’ll do the same!
Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

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04-15-2018 – Crossing the Pacific

We have finally made it out of Panama! We made some new friends, and had a few setbacks, but we finally made it out of the gravitational pull of the to-do list and the city of services, society and stuff!
We met a family on a boat named Shawnigan. Coincidentally, our friend Jonnie had already met this family (or at least the mom!) in her yoga class in Mexico months previously. She suggested to both of us that we might enjoy meeting up. This family came over to dinner on Lungta one night, and Dave enchanted the 4-year-old with stories and a few magic tricks (well, truthfully, he captivated all of us with his magic!) The boy called Dave “Santa” and gravitated his way whenever we encountered them again over the next few weeks. Shawnigan left well before us, but we’re hoping to catch up with them again either as we pass the Galapagos or after we all reach French Polynesia.
Another boat we hope to meet again is called Tribasa Cross. Gary is sailing on his own, but his wife meets him when he’s in port. He was searching for crew for the crossing, and we compared notes about our experiences. He appeared at our door with a membrane from his watermaker which he was replacing with a different size – he arrived just as we had removed ours because it wasn’t working. What serendipity! We exchanged a few practical gifts like that in the 3 or 4 weeks we were both in the anchorage. Kathy sewed a pair of small awnings for him; he gave us a couple of spare fuel pumps for our generator. Dan advised him on an air leak in the fuel system for his generator, and he gave us some pointers about configuring our Iridium satellite device. Just days before he departed Panama City, he found a crew mate that seemed to be a good match. We waved them goodbye, but are staying in touch along the way to the South Pacific.
The biggest setback we had to our departure was when our windlass motor stopped working. We were about to bring Laura up the main mast for another day of painting, but when we stepped on the pedal nothing happened! Being able to deploy and raise our anchor is a critical function which we cannot live without. The motor is a relic from U.S. Navy vessels during WWII. It was designed to be used in a cargo crane, although we don’t know if it was actually deployed that way. There’s no information about this 80lb behemoth online, and we gingerly approached a local electric motor shop for help. As far as we know, the motor had never been removed from its mounting spot in the ceiling of the forward stateroom. It was a bear to remove, with mounting bolts that were nearly impossible to access and a few that were stuck so firmly that the heads tore off before the shaft of the bolt was willing to turn. As always, though, we managed to get the job done, and we sent it off to the shop for diagnosis and repair (they actually came to us, and picked it up at the the dock where we tie off our dinghy when we come ashore). While the motor was in the shop we turned our efforts to removing the broken bolts so we’d be ready to reinstall the motor when it came back. The shop took only a couple of days to work on the motor; it turns out that there was nothing especially wrong, just years of corrosion, dust and wear. It’s back in place and working as well as ever. What serendipity that it didn’t go out one week later after we had left for more remote places!
We found a new crew mate, a multi-cultural 28-year-old named Baban. His parents are Iranian Kurds who were freedom fighters in the 80’s. Eventually they found asylum in Denmark where they settled when he was 5. He is now a Danish citizen, but still feels ties to his family’s roots. He has a real gift for languages and speaks 5 languages fluently. He’s extremely bright and full of energy and curiosity. He came aboard the day before we left on our last trip to the Perlas, a shake-down cruise of sorts also intended to give our new crew some experience underway before there was no turning back. Laura returned the same day from a side-trip to the Caribbean side of Panama, where she made a new friend and joined her on another sailboat for several days. We had a short but sweet trip back to the Perlas, and it was delightful to see Dave shine as he schooled our two young crew mates in short courses on useful knots, weather, sail management, navigation, the night sky, and more!
The day after we got back to Panama City, Laura spent some time in town, making some important phone calls and doing some important soul searching. She came back with some exciting but also disappointing news – she had decided to leave Lungta and join the boat that she had met the week before. She had made some decisions about starting a graduate program later this year, and her schedule was no longer as flexible as before. This other boat, named Isis, had a tighter itinerary than ours and seemed to be a better fit. We all joked about her having been recruited by Isis. 🙂 So, we were 4 again. We spent a bit of energy looking for a replacement, but there was so little time until our departure that it felt unrealistic to find and orient someone new.
Our final setback happened when we made plans to leave on April 1st, with the steps of checking out at Immigration on Friday, final provisioning on Saturday, to leave on Sunday morning. Friday morning arrived and we learned that all government offices were closed for Good Friday, one of the nation’s biggest holidays – oops! So we waited until Monday when the offices were open. Our provisioning actually consisted of three stops: PriceSmart (a Central American version of CostCo), a wholesale farmer’s produce market, and a standard grocery store. All three of these trips turned out to be much bigger events than we’d done before; we wanted to prepare for a month on the seas and another month of island hopping before reprovisioning, and also include a hefty buffer for spoilage and a safety margin. We were surprised that our PriceSmart bill totaled more than $1000 (we’d expected half that)! The trip to the produce market was especially fun. We hired one of the local guys with a stu rdy hand-truck to follow along with us and collect all of our purchases. As it turned out, Alfredo also helped us find the stalls with the best prices and quality. We got a 30lb bag of mangos, 10 pineapples, half a dozen papayas, some melons, a bunch of small sweet bananas and a box of the usual ones; we got a 50lb bag of winter squash, 20lb of carrots, 6 cabbages, 10 bunches of spinach, and some onions, broccoli, and tomatos. Alfredo was great, and he even helped us flag down a taxi to get back home.
We left Panama City on April 5th, spent two nights near Isla Contadora where we were able to access internet for our last-minute on-line needs. Among other things, Baban helped Kathy set up a tool to allow her to post blog entries – like this one! – via email. We did the final coat of paint on the last bits of both masts, cleaned the waterline of the boat one last time, and topped off our water tanks. Then, at 8am on Sunday the 8th, we pulled up our anchor and sailed out of the anchorage, beginning our journey across the Pacific. Although there was little fanfare, all of our hearts were singing as we began this most romantic of all sailing passages to the islands of the South Pacific.
I’ll keep this posting shorter than past ones, and try to post more frequently to keep you up to date on our progress. Remember that you can check on our location at the tracking page forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Lungta
Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

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03-05-2018 – Panama City, Panama

It’s been a while since our last posting, and rest assured we are still safe and sound – and still in Panama City! We’re excited at our impending crossing of the Pacific, and have been busy preparing. Here are a few of the biggest items on our list that we’ve been working on:

– Painting: we’ve painted the pilothouse, all of the burgundy trim including the rubrails, and are now working on the masts.

Laura Sands the Main Mast

– Navigation: we’ve updated our navigation PC, and switched to a new navigation program, OpenCPN. We’ve tracked down lots of charts which work with this new program, including some which are derived from GoogleEarth satellite images. (We hope these will be useful to identify coral heads when navigating the Polynesian atolls.) We’ve installed a new radar, wind instrument, and AIS (uses VHF radio frequencies to communicate with nearby ships to identify *and avoid* potential collisions). The data from all of these is combined and displayed on one screen using our new navigation program. We’ve also installed a new satellite communication device which will allow us to get weather data and forecasts daily, which can also be displayed on that same screen. This satellite device (called an Iridium GO) will note our position hourly and will update our position and track at: http://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Lungta (note that the capital ‘L’ is very important!) We’ll be able to send and receive text messages and even some email.

– Visas: we’ve applied with the French embassy in Panama City for long-stay visas to French Polynesia. If we didn’t do this, we would be limited to a three-month stay, but once these applications are approved and inserted into our passports we should be able to stay up to a year. The more we hear and learn about French Polynesia, the more we want to extend our travel time in the South Pacific. As so often seems to be the case, our anticipated trajectory seems to be lengthening and slowing down. It now looks likely that we’ll spend more than just one season crossing the Pacific. We don’t yet know where we’ll spend the cyclone season this year, but it will probably not be as far west as New Zealand. And after French Polynesia, there are a number of other island nations that are worth a potential visit as we hop our way the rest of the way across the Pacific – Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, etc.

– Crew: we’ve found two wonderful crew mates, and life is good. Dave joined us in October (along with Keith and a few of his friends), allowing us to leave Lungta in his capable hands while we visited our families in the States. Dave had a long career on the water as a pilot boat captain and various roles on training schooners. Laura arrived two weeks ago from Copenhagen, fresh out of medical school and with a surprising amount of international travel already under her belt. Both are vibrant, engaged, thoughtful people who are delightful to be around and we expect will continue to be so for the upcoming 4-6 weeks at sea. We don’t “need” any more but we have one more bed that could be filled, either with an individual or a couple. We’ve received messages from many interested people over the last several months, and we’re so touched at the outpouring of interest. We’ve had deeper conversations with dozens of them to find just the right mix. It’s getting close to time to close that door, but we haven’t stopped yet.

Because we have an infinitely long to-do list, we have to balance that work with time off for fun. But don’t worry – we’ve also had a few adventures in this same time frame.

Our friend Suzanne came for a visit, her third (so far). We spent a few days out at the Perlas islands again. On the way we put out a fishing line with a brand new lure on it. We had purchased a fancy reel from another boater, who had included this lure with a sweet request to let her know what we caught with the set. As we were nearing our first night’s destination, a fast-moving ferry catamaran overtook us but changed directions near the last moment. This caused him to cut across our fishing lines that were trailing behind, and indeed he snagged our new lure and it was eventually lost. We didn’t land that fish, but it was a BIG one! 🙂 Our first afternoon in our private anchorage, two young men in a panga drove up on the beach and poked around the bushes and trees for a while. We kept trying to figure out what they were doing: taking a pit stop, preparing to camp overnight, taking the dog for a walk? They didn’t stay long, though, and then they came immediately to Lungta – with newly harvested coconuts for sale! Yum! Suzanne swam ashore another day, “just because”, and had an uninhabited tropical island completely to herself for a while. We enjoyed fishing from the dinghy just before sunset one evening, and had the freshest fish ever for dinner!

Suzannes Underway Photo  Dave Fillets a Porgy  Suzanne's Group Selfie

We left the Perlas so that Dave could catch a plane to visit a friend in Mexico, so we had Suzanne to ourselves during her last few days with us. Kathy and Suz spent the next two days seeing some of the sights, so that Suzanne would go home having seen some of the “real”Panama. We went for a nice hike in the Parque Natural Metropolitano, a nice stretch of forest not far from the city which has views overlooking the Canal and also the anchorage where we managed to spot Lungta. Along the trail we saw numerous leaf-cutting ant trails, a blue morpho butterfly. a large spiky spider spinning a sticky web, and a papaya-sized (and -shaped!) rodent locally called a ñeke. At the very end of the day we encountered a park ranger who pointed out a sloth to us. What a delightful find! We went from there to an artisan’s market that had a nice variety of local crafts, mixed in with a good sampling of tourist shlock. 🙂 Suz bought a nice mask (for her collection of animal masks) of a ñeke! We also wandered a bit through a local fair, never figuring out what the occasion was that was being celebrated, but enjoying the children playing in bubbles and the regional dancing that was featured. The next day we made a quick run to the local wholesale produce market, before she needed to head to the airport. The colors and smells of the various fruits and vegetables were a sensory pleasure, and it was delightful to come home again with our arms full. It was a real treat for Kathy to reconnect again with this “lifetime friend”! We talked about our shared history, our dreams, our current trajectories; it was a nice heart connection.

The View from Cerro Cedro  Local Wildlife  See the Sloth?

In early February we learned that the Carnaval holiday was Panama’s biggest celebration. For nearly a week we saw great nightly fireworks displays and heard that there was even more going on at the fiesta in town – floats, dancing, music, food. So we decided to go on Tuesday,the last day, with our 15-year-old friend Jack from the boat “next door”. We didn’t really know what to expect, but we definitely found something different. For starters, we met up with another boating couple on the bus who ended up going in with us. At the entrance we didn’t know that we would need to show our passports, and we newly didn’t get in! But ourfriends talked the guards into allowing us to pass, arguing that we were clearly no threat to anyone. 🙂 We first passed dozens of food stands, most of which had essentially the same things. They all had loud music blaring from a huge speaker behind the stand, and all of them had different music. There was a parade with half a dozen floats, most with a feather-clad queen swaying their hips and waving from way up high. One of them had a platform that would go up and down. There was also a marching band playing from the back of a large flat-bed truck, another truck carrying a few gymnasts with costumes that evoked the Chinese poi dogs barking playfully, and a pair of stiltwalkers with huge papier-mache heads and hands controlled by puppet-sticks. Perhaps the best part of the parade, though, were the two groups of locals who were celebrating a cultural connection: one African, with compelling drum-beats and matching batik garments, and the other Polynesian, with a loosely choreographed grass-skirt dance featuring dancers from 4 to 75. The fireworks were good, but surprisingly short-lived. The weirdest thing about this whole event is that most of the people did not really seem to be celebratory or even particularly enjoying themselves; mostly it seemed they were just glad to have a national holiday so they could get a day off of work. 🙂

Daytime Fireworks

We got an opportunity that Kathy had been hoping for for quite a while: to transit the Panama Canal as line-handlers for another cruiser. We met the owners at a pizza night for the cruising sailors. They had spent ten years cruising in the Pacific and were now taking “the shortcut” back to Europe. They invited us to join them, the following week. Dan wasn’t too excited, so opted to stay home on Lungta and continue working on some of our projects. But Kathy, Dave & Laura all were up for the adventure! A few days later we packed an overnight bag and joined them on their boat. They had a 5:15 appointment in the morning to pick up the Advisor near buoy #2. Although we went to bed fairly early, I don’t think anyone slept really well; we were all excited about the next day’s plans. The next day was a full day, not exactly crazy busy, but with things to do frequently throughout the day. When we called in the morning to confirm the time and place to meet the Advisor, we were instead told buoy #6 at 6:15 – so we had time for breakfast! Receiving the Advisor(s) was smooth – there were two, because one was in training and other was her mentor. We had a beautiful glimpse of the sun as it came up over the island that Lungta is anchored near (we were now on the other side of the causeway). There are 6 locks, 3 going up to the lake and 3 coming down afterwards. We were side-tied to another sailboat of a similar size, and there were also 3 big tugboats and a beautiful Mexican tall ship in the lock with us. There were men up on the yardarms of the Mexican boat, some of them more than 75 feet above the water level. Dan & Kathy had toured this same ship, Cuauhtemoc, when we passed through Acapulco with Wayne and Keith on our way south.

As we entered the first lock, a couple of men standing up on top of the walls of the locks tossed down a monkey’s fist on a fairly light line. Some of the line-handlers would catch the line and tie its end to a loop already tied in the end of our long lines, and the men above pulled the lines in and dropped the loops over a big bollard (kind of like a cleat on the wall). Once the lines on all four corners were secured, the other line-handlers would tighten them up to keep our boats centered. The gates of the lock would close and the water would be pumped in (or later, out). Each lock had about 30 feet of depth change, was about 1000 feet long, and was about 60 feet wide – that’s a *lot* of water! As the water level changed we would have to adjust the length of our lines to keep them tight – but not *too* tight. It took about 10 minutes for the water level to change from top to bottom. Then all the boats would disconnect in order to move on. The men at the top of the walls would hold onto our loops (well actually, their own lines which were tied to our loops) and walk them down the wall to the next lock. They weren’t pulling the boats, just keeping pace. After we went through 3 locks, we came into Lake Gatun and spent the next hour or so trying to cross as quickly as possible, in the hopes that we’d be able to do the next 3 locks in the same day. Otherwise we’d have to spend the night in the lake and wait for an Advisor the next morning. At first we lagged further and further behind our traveling companions, but as the wind picked up we gained on them. Our hosts were thrilled that it was an indication that their new propeller was outperforming the others’. At any rate, we made it just in time, before the Canal authorities decided to make us wait until morning. Hooray! So we pushed on through the next 3 locks, this time accompanied by a huge cargo ship named Tomorrow which just barely fit inside the walls of the Canal. There can’t have been more than a foot or two on each side. It was pretty intimidating to see this huge ship pulling in behind us! Kathy got a kick out of the name and kept saying “Tomorrow is closer than you think”. 🙂 We transited the Canal efficiently and successfully in one day. We motored around the corner into the harbor of the city of Colon, and looked for a place where we could drop the anchor for a couple of hours while our hosts lowered their dinghy in the water and took us ashore. Unfortunately the wind had picked up a good bit from an unusual direction and we just couldn’t find a safe place to accomplish this. We finally motored across the harbor to the Shelter Bay Marina and pulled into a slip there. It was surprisingly challenging to find a taxi back to the main part of the city, but we eventually found one. We ended up having him drive us all the way back to our own dinghy dock – and somewhere along the way he proposed to Laura! 🙂

A few days later we ended up crossing the isthmus once again! We had just about given up on finding a place that could inspect and service our liferaft, when Kathy saw a commercial boat offloading theirs onto the dinghy dock and pushing it up the ramp. She hopped out of our own dinghy and asked the guy at the top where they were taking the liferaft. We contacted that company and a few days later they came to pick our own up. We asked if we could watch the process, and they agreed. So the next morning Kathy, Dan & Dave hopped on a bus back to Colon. We got a taxi to take us to the address that we’d been given, but it turned out to be more complicated than we’d expected. The servicing company was located inside the Duty Free Zone, which is surrounded by barbed-wire-topped walls and has guarded, limited entry. The taxi driver told us that we needed to pay the guard $20 – but not in front of the cameras! After a bit of a standoff, we called our contact at the servicing company, and he drove their company van around to meet us. Our guard settled for $5 and we were on our way. We got a kick out of seeing them unpack our liferaft. We’d bought it from a second-hand shop in California, and had never seen the inside. We were very pleased at what we saw. Although our life raft is quite old (manufactured in 1989), it is quite solid and in good shape. They checked that it would inflate, and checked all of the seams; they replaced the flares and first aid kit; they hydro-tested the CO2 cylinder and repacked everything up carefully again. The liferaft comes back to us along with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you have a safety net.

Inflated Liferaft

We’re busy, but we’re definitely feeling like we’re nearing the end of our gotta-do list! Hope life is full of promise and joy for each of you as well – and if it isn’t, then figure out what you need to do to make that so!

Rock Stars

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