Monday, April 28, 2014

Are we on a boat or a roller coaster?

Despite our toasts to Poseidon both when we left Ixtapa and when we could no longer see land I think I pissed him off with that last blog post.  Poseidon, I am sorry, you are all powerful.  The sea can be fierce and we have unfortunately seen a little bit of that over the last few days. 

Although, what we have seen is nowhere near true storm conditions, for the last 72 hours we have been getting winds approaching or above 20kts and seas of 8-10+ feet.  The worst part is that the swell period is extremely short.  The measurement "period" is akin to the wavelength if you have ever taken a physics course -- it is the distance from the top of one wave to the top of the next.  When the period is short by the time you come down off of one wave there is very little time, if any, for you and the boat to recover before you begin your ascent again.  I do not want to worry everyone, Moments has done very well and we are safe.  

The major problem has been that the waves, combined with the higher force winds have been too much for the Monitor windvane and we have had to hand steer.  Hand steering, especially through waves like that, is exhausting.  The first day we got into a routine of one hour shifts which was about as long as I could manage to keep the boat pointed in the right direction.  Luckily, the previous day I had made a huge pot of vegetable soup and baked some bread so we at least didn't have to spend our precious sleeping time cooking meals.  

We have experienced similar conditions before coming down the Baja peninsula, but for those shorter trips of 2-3 days there was a light at the end of the tunnel; we just exhausted ourselves hand steering and then slept soundly at anchor.  This time, after one whole day of one hour hand steering shifts we knew that there was no way we were going to be able to sustain that pattern through the night and the next day, after which it looked like the weather was going to change. 

Lets just say that I now know how Popeye got such big biceps, and trust me it wasn't the spinach.  So, what did we do?  We hove to.  Heaving to is a magical sailing technique that allows you to essentially park the boat at a "comfortable" angle to the wind and the waves.  Once you achieve the correct angle and lock down the wheel all you need to do is keep a watch to make sure you don't get run down by a tanker.  Yes, you do drift a little but we actually drifted directly towards Hawaii, making progress when we weren't even intending to move!  

Adam and I both got a good night's rest and we were back to sailing this morning under much more favorable conditions.  We have actually passed the half way mark today so it is all down hill from here.  Or should I say down wind? (Corny, I know, maybe the sleep has gone to my head.)

1500 miles to go!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Life on S/V Moments

All is well on the SV Moments!  Sure, we are both already feeling a little stir crazy but we have good weather and it looks like this pattern might hold for a while.  

Before we left I had a lot of questions about what exactly it was we would be doing for our month at sea.  Frankly, it's pretty boring.  We like it boring, we want it to be boring; boring means everything is as it should be and we have good sailing conditions. 

Life on the boat is pretty much like life everywhere else, you just have to understand that everything moves.  We also don't have a real shower, but that is another story.  The first few days of this trip, and our other longer sails, were exhausting.  While at anchor, we had gotten used to going to bed and rising with the sun, which typically gives us 9-12 hours of sleep a night!  This has been a serious treat for me as medical school typically afforded me only 5-7 hours, maximum.  We cannot truly anchor the boat at night in the middle of the ocean.  The depth where we are right now is more than 3000ft.  Also, there are other boats to worry about.  As as it takes about 14 miles to stop a large cargo ship or tanker and fishing vessels generally have such bright lights that they cannot see us until we are very close, too close, we are always on the lookout.  

We take three hour watch shifts all day and all night.  The good thing is that we are generally so exhausted by the end of our shift that sleeping is not a problem.  We also have plenty of snacks, warm beverages and reading material to make the shifts more enjoyable.  Also, did I mention the spectacular scenery?  Sharks, turtles, HUGE tuna (yes, we can see them through the water), rays, dolphins, whales, birds etc and at night the bioluminecence makes our boat look like one of the floating cars in a Jetson's cartoon, floating among the wonderfully starry sky.  I cannot count the number of falling stars I have seen since this trip began.  

Luckily, one of the things you typically do not have to do while on watch is physically steer the boat.  There is no power steering here and to keep the boat pointed through the waves is a significant workout.  Occasionally, it is necessary to hand steer for a while and even with the Monitor windvane (a mechanical autopilot of sorts) doing most of the work you always have to be alert and make small corrections to the course and most importantly adjust the sails. 

Now that we are ticking off our 10th day at sea (4/23) we have both become more accustomed to the sleep schedule, our meals actually occur at regular time intervals and we have fallen into a routine regarding necessary chores on the boat.  We eat pretty much how we would eat anywhere else which includes baking bread once or twice a week.  We get weather information and even some emails from our family through our SSB radio once a day, which is how I send out these updates. 

So there you have it, extraordinary yet at the same time boring, just the way we like it.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ocean Safari

Finally, we are moving!  Although the weather information that we have downloaded says that there was not supposed to be much wind last night and today, we are finally on a course and speed that puts us ahead of schedule.  Unfortunately, we are still making up time from our fight against the wind and then a few periods where we were completely becalmed, bobbing on an absolutely flat, clear sea.  We are currently about 2700 miles from our destination.

Dolphins are our constant companions day and night racing the boat, flipping and spinning up into the air.  I know they are out there but it always makes me jump a little when I am sitting in the cockpit at night and suddenly hear the sound of their blow holes only feet away.  It was especially shocking when I heard a much louder gush of spray and air and realized that a whale had surfaced just feet from our boat.  We generally try to avoid getting too close to whales as they are about as big as we are and can cause serious damage to the boat (not to mention the poor whale!).  Adam was in radio contact with a boat while coming down the Oregon coast that became disabled after they, most likely, hit a sleeping whale.  However, this whale was most definitely not asleep and most of the time it seems like they approach us because they are curious.  Adam always says we should try to talk to them and then begins to make all sorts of horrible sounds which he maintains is "whale speak."  This whale checked us out and then, most likely realizing that we were not another whale, went quickly on his merry way. 

Although Adam has not yet had any response from the whales he was able to communicate with some of the local wildlife last night.  Similar to the famous blue-footed boobie of the Galapagos, Mexico has a very healthy population of yellow-footed boobies which we have enjoyed watching as they fly around us and dive from 40-50ft to catch fish.  We also spend some time cursing them when they decide to poop all over our decks.

There are still a number of birds way out here and they often like to hitch a ride on our boat.  Last night one perched itself directly on the top of our mast and stayed there most of the night.  This was not a problem until around midnight when I noticed the lights of a fishing boat that seemed to be getting closer very rapidly.  The boobie was sitting right in front of our tri-color light -- the green, red and white light that lets other boats know we are here and which direction we are going.  I was worried that with the bird there the fishing vessel could not see our lights!  Adam was just coming on shift so I asked him to flash the tricolor and anchor light to try and scare the bird away.  This, unfortunately, did not work.  He then tried to give his loudest velociraptor scream up the mast through the hole in the cabin, again to no avail.  As an aside, if you have not heard Adam's velociraptor scream you should ask him next time you see him, seriously, it is straight out of Jurassic Park.  Next, we got out the foghorn and finally received some response from the bird but not the one we were hoping for.  We squawked at it and it squawked back at us, but didn't budge.  By this time the fishing vessel was close but we were clearly not on a collision course so we let the bird be.  He was still there when I came back on watch three hours later.  I have to say that bird must have one solid stomach to sit on that mast all night long, it made me dizzy just trying to watch him!

You may assume that our boat is the only thing for miles around that the birds can land on without getting their feet wet, but this is not the case.  Yesterday, the day of boobie shenanigans, we also saw four of these birds fighting over who got to hitch a ride on the back of a sleeping sea turtle.  They were making such a racket that the turtle eventually swam away but we enjoyed the show as each one tried to swoop in and knock the others off to gain a little respite in the middle of the big blue sea.

Stay tuned for more from the S/V Moments.  Trade winds here we come!

Posted for Rachel and Adam by Lori Hughes

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

And They're Off...

4/15/13 - 10:39 local, 15:39Z

We have left Mexico!  The sign-out procedures were (as anticipated) a bit of a circus but both immigration and the port captain were very helpful to make sure we were able to leave with all of the necessary paperwork.  We left at 3:20PM on Sunday and are now just beginning day #3 on the sea.

Although winds were predicted to be from the northwest we found out very quickly that they were actually coming from right where we wanted to be going!  Sailboats cannot sail directly up wind.  Instead you have to tack back and forth in a zig-zag pattern so that the wind hits your sails at an angle and (just as in an airplane) uses lift and the momentum of the wind to propel you forward.  When tacking to get somewhere up wind you not only move slower because the wind blows you back a bit but you also have to cover twice or more ground than you would if you were headed straight from point a to point b.  So this is where we are.

Luckily the wind was reasonably strong and the swell was low so we covered 60+ nautical miles towards Hawaii in the first 24 hours and by now have covered close to 180nm.  This is definitely progress but we are a little bummed because our boat can easily sail 125+ nm per day.  At least the trade winds wont be right in our faces but we have to get there first!  

Other than the wind, so far everything has gone smoothly and we have enjoyed the company of hundreds of dolphins and 20 or so sea turtles.  Some little suicide squid jumped up onto our deck last night and Adam just put them on our lures as (used to be) alive bait.  I am always amazed by the stars when we get away from land but over the last few nights we have seen a number of meteors which has been a real treat!

We are currently checking in with the Pacific Seafarers Net ( and continue to put our position reports in YOTREPS.  You can go to to see a video of our progress.  Unfortunately some of the reports are under our ship station call sign: WDG8553 (all up until now) and others are under Adam's ham call sign: KD9AFE (because that is how the Pacific Seafarers Net logs them).  I tried sweet talking them into combining the two but no can do.

That is it for now and I hope this message makes it over the radio waves to you all!
While at Zihuatanejo, MX. Our boat is the one by Adam's head!

Anchored in Zihuatanejo (no more!)

Posted for Rachel and Adam by Lori Hughes

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Leap

My New Year's resolutions are shot.  I guess that is pretty typical but I had hoped that since I was on "vacation" I would finally have both the time and the will to make them happen.  Alas, that was not so, as you can see for yourself by the recent frequency, or lack there of, of my blog posts.  I have received a few emails concerned for our safety and hoping that Moments was not resting on the bottom of the ocean.  Not to worry, Moments is still afloat and looking better than ever.  Adam and I are a little worse for wear because although we are on "vacation" we have been putting in long days checking projects off the list.

When discussing this trip with some of you I may have mentioned our original plan: to cross the Pacific to the Marquesas Islands.  About the time we got to Mexico it became clear that that plan would cause us to rush, pretty much all year.  There are two main problems with rushing.  First, on a sailboat rushing is dangerous.  You cannot rush the weather and you only want to make a crossing when the weather looks great not when you hope it will be fine because you really have to get somewhere.  Second, there are many reasons that we left on this adventure but rushing was not one of them!  We grew to love Mexico, so we took it slow.  Our Spanish is better, we made many quality friendships and we were able to stop at some out of the way places rather than make big leaps down the coast.  This was a better plan for us so we moseyed down the coast very undecided about the future, content with the present, and always ready to answer "south" when asked where we were headed.  However, by the time we left Manzanillo it was becoming clear that we needed to make some tough decisions.  Were we going to keep heading south down the Central American coast and cross through the Canal into the Caribbean or did we want to make a right turn somewhere and head out far enough so we could get back to the Pacific coast of the US?

Right turn it is.  Although neither of us has been to Central America and the draw was strong, this was another plan that would result in rushing.  To be out of the Caribbean and Gulf by June, when the hurricane season starts, was just counting on too many "ifs" to go our way.  Not to mention, it is currently lighting season in Panama where there are a crazy number of strikes each year (check out this: and this: for some cool things about lighting)  Tall, warm, metal mast + flat, cool ocean = not a good idea.  Some boats do have lighting protection systems so that all of their electronics are not fried when they are struck, but not Moments.  We probably need to get a little better with the sextant before risking the loss of our navigation electronics!

For those of you not familiar with sailing and global weather patterns.  The wind along the western cost of North America generally comes out of the north and then moves to the northeast as you get further from shore.  The swell (waves, before they hit land and become waves) also comes out of the north as it is (primarily) the result of the friction of the wind on the water.  Sailing up wind with pounding waves at your bow is not our idea of a fun or safe time.

So, with those options not looking so excellent and the Marquesas a far off (but probably unrealistic in a year) dream, we have decided to head for Hawaii!  The Hawaiian Islands are the most remote islands on the planet and to get there we will be traveling more than 3000 miles.  Think LA to NY in a sailboat.  For the last month we have been working hard making all of the necessary preparations for this long passage, which will most likely take us about 1 month.  Thank you to everyone for your support!  More to come before we depart.