Monday, 16 December 2013


The big crossing of the Pacific

On one of the islands in Las Perlas, Panama

Karaka and the new main sail
15th of May. After a whole month of waiting for the new main sail in the disgusting waters of the Panama city, we raised the anchor and finally left. Course: French Polynesia.
French Polynesia is divided into 5 different island groups: The Marquesas, the Tuamotus, the Society Islands, the Gambier, and the Australs. Most people heading from Central or South America go directly to the Marquesas Islands, which are steep, lush volcanic islands. That´s what we did too.
It makes 7 of us: Tom (the captain, France), Zack (Canada), Steve (USA), Pam (Canada), Michaela (NZ), Luois (Quebec) and myself (Bulgaria). And the cat of course (The Philippines) :). 

He is ready to leave too
Girl Power

Everyone seemed excited, especially after a month of oppressive waiting in Panama city, anchored in Brisas del Amador that we all hated. I left with mixed feelings but tried to convince myself that all these beautiful islands waiting for us are worth the effort. And of course the sailing! Something I´ve never imagined I would do, definitely not crossing the Pacific on my first time ever sailing.
The plan was to leave Panama city and head out to the open Pacific heading south of the Galapagos to catch the right currents and trade winds that would take us all the way to Polynesia. It would have been nice to go and check the Galapagos but it is way too expensive for Karaka´s tight budget so we skipped it hoping to spend more time in remote areas of Polynesia.  But it took much longer that we expected.
Last patches before we leave
The captain

Michaela floating in the water with a glass of rum&coke
The galley
Couchsurfers jamming all night long on Karaka
Karaka somewhere in Las Perlas

After leaving dirty Panama city, we went to Las Perlas again and waited for a few days for the good winds. We stayed 5 days anchored at Contadora island. We could swim again, catch some fish (or ask the fishermen for some, also works) and explore the islands around. We also managed to catch some catfish with Kat´s cat food..Ironic, isn´t it? On the island, Steve and I met this guy who offered to take us on his ATV. It was almost like a tour, he took us everywhere, showing us all the beaches, famous houses, his house and boat, basically anything that could be of any interest to us. We ended up drinking some beers with him in a beach shelter hiding from  the rain.

An abandoned ship
Notice Karaka´s silhouette in the mid window
Todo puta me lo chupa :)


The shower built for the Turkish Survival that was taking place on the island
The island next door

Zack taking advantage of the free wifi at Contadora
We did lots of interneting because of the great WIFI signal from the boat, last haul scraping, snorkeling and relaxing before parting off. It was Louis` birthday on the 20th and Pam made a cake for him. Same day we left. We tossed up our shifts with a die and I got the 8 to 10 shift. I was the last one to choose and that was the one that was left for me after everyone else picked their shifts. But I still think that it was the best one. It means that every day between 8 and 10 in the morning and the evening I will be on watch. All of us had one shift during the day and one at night (6 of us) and Tom (the captain) didn’t rotate but he was 24/7 available. We had to call/wake him up any time a ship or other boat appeared, wind changed or any kind of problem was detected.
We had this satellite device called InReach which we used to send messages to our families and get located by them. That helped a lot since my mum starts worrying when she doesn’t have news from me for a while.

Not much to do when not cooking or behind the wheel
Sometimes we had 5 different sails up in order to catch every glimpse of a wind we had
Im not a cat person but Cat didnt was quite smart and didnt bother me at so I almost liked her.
The hatch in our "room"
Once we left, I was pretty disappointed I couldn´t sleep outside anymore. Until then I slept on the deck every night when it wasn’t raining but while sailing it is not an option anymore. It´s quite rocky and not really much space on the deck. Since I was the last one to join my bunk was the worst one - there were barely 30 cm between the bed and the ceiling so no chance even to fold my knees while laying. And no reading of course because of the lack of light. 

Living on a boat is not that romantic and fairy-tale like, like most of people would think. Especially not on Karaka. Karaka is a bit of a special boat - very basic and old school - everything is old, worn out and manual.
Sleeping. Your bunk is not a normal bed – it´s tiny and its moving, sometimes when the boat is on the other tack you really have to hold onto it not to fall…then sleeping is not really sleeping; 
Shower. Karaka doesn’t have a shower. If the weather permits you can go swimming and wash yourself in the ocean or just have a bucket shower on the deck; And of course wash your clothes with salt water or like some people on Karaka, don´t wash them.
Toilet. An old saying goes "Never put anything in a marine toilet unless you have eaten it first". Every time you use the toilet you feel like you´ve been to the gym for proper work out - lots of pumping and sweating. Sometimes I would take a break for a while and go back for more pumping. The guys never used it actually, they would jump in the ocean and do their business there if the weather and the sea allow it. By the time we got to Polynesia, I got used to the other alternatives – the poop deck, the bow (my preferred one - just stick your ass under the railing and hope no one is watching you) or just jumping in the water; Well, at the end we didn’t even have a toilet (also broken and no one to fix it) so there was no other choice.
Food. Forget about meat, cheese and fancy stuff, no fridge on Karaka. Plus people get really greedy when it comes to communal stuff, everyone is so scared that the others eat more and there will be nothing left tomorrow so they just go beyond their limits and eat as much as they can. And when the communal food is over they go to their personal stash of the same kind but just 3 times of week instead of 3 times a day. That was something that put me off but I guess it happens when 7 people on a budget share everything. One thing I learnt was that you have to eat when everybody eats, even if you are not hungry, because later will be too late.
Safety. That was probably my main concern – didn´t really feel safe on Karaka. Everything was breaking up all the time – engine, winches, blocks, chain plates, sails were ripping, things were flying away… It was scary at times, especially at night with all the squeaking, whipping and flapping. And it´s not just me, being new at sailing that felt that way. I understand that Karaka is not a fancy boat but there is nothing fancy about being safe. I was sailing on 3 other boats after Karaka but never felt unsafe on any of them.

Life on board can be quite exciting and boring at the same time. I loved being alone with all the stars during my night shifts, sailing with dolphins and whales, listening to the waves…But also there is not much to do – the regular things like reading books, watching movies, trying to think of a new thing on the menu, different from the regular pasta or rice. And the days are drifting by....
Boat on the horizon. Rare
Everyone is on deck watching the new encounter

And here it is - wooden, small and cute
Until Galapagos it was very slow with light inconsistent winds. It was expected but not as bad as that. We had to do lots of sail arrangements, making very slow progress in the right direction.We crossed the equator actually three times because we were tacking back and forth across the wind.
Getting close....And the equator! Didn`t get the perfect shot but close enough
Galapagos. All we saw :(
It was quite painful seeing these gorgeous volcanic islands from a distance
Tom taking a piss in Galapagos waters

After Galapagos we had better conditions for a while but then we got this horrible cross swell that made the sailing conditions pretty tough rolling side to side, trying to find the most efficient course making lots of sail adjustments without much success. It also affected the crew and there were lots of fights and stupid arguments that would spoil the whole beauty of the sailing.
My birthdays was getting closer (June 14th) and I figured that this is probably the only chance in life to miss your birthday. I´ve never liked my birthdays, always something is supposed to happen and always has to be at least a bit special. So I was in the middle of Pacific Ocean, with six strangers who didn’t know when my birthday was (I made sure of that), no internet connection or phone…just the ideal conditions to skip your birthday once in your life. This is what I wrote that day: “There is no chance anyone could greet me today! It is like any other day – woke up at 20 to 8, did my watch from 8 to 10, started foggy but by the end of it the sun was out and it was beautiful. Wasn’t very windy though, we were going only 3 knots, sometimes even slower and the sails would start flapping but it was all good. I realized I was happy being on the boat. Fried an egg for breakfast together with a slice of bread I saved from the dinner the night before and that made my day. We only used the eggs for baking or pancake so far but they stared going bad so for the last 3 days we were allowed to fry an egg for breakfast. Wohoooo, luxury! By the end of the day Steve started fighting again with the others and that almost ruined it but I forced myself to ignore it and even that couldn't spoil my day.I had almost a perfect birthday!"
Michaela from NZ (she was seasick all the 54 days at sea)
Got lots of mahi-mahi
The first of the many to come
Looks like that Pam really knows what she`s doing and Louis is so evil..
Taking the fishing lines in for the night
Who said me and Kat don`t get along?
We kept going 5 knots average and everyone was eager to get there. The days just blended into each other, just passing time between watches cooking, reading, watching movies, sleeping, staying on the deck if its not too rocky or raining. We all had our little things and whims that the other 6 had to deal with …so after 40 days just being surrounded by water, 53 feet started to be too small for 7 people. Actually seven strangers. Sometimes I would exchange not more than 2 words the whole day with some of the people on the boat. Other times I wanted to kill them but there was no way even to avoid the faces – you know, we eat together, work together when there is a problem (and believe me there were plenty of problems)…Some days I thought I would go crazy, especially if the weather was crap but then it would get sunny again and the wind will pick up and we´d get lots of fish and life would be good again.

Pam making a new flag for Karaka
Every now and again, the swell would be so big that Karaka would be bobbing side to side and it would make every maneuver, especially cooking, a mission.
The result also would be lots of spilled food, lots pans and pots flying around the kitchen. Every night before going to bed we had to put everything away, nothing should be left on the flat surfaces or the floor…
One of those days while cooking I flew across the kitchen (around 3 meters) with a tomato can and a can opener in my hand to stop breaking one of the wooden cabinets with my forehead.  But hey, strong Bulgarian head! The cabinet was more damaged than me I think. It still gave me constant headaches for almost 2 weeks and 2 big lumps and a scar on my forehead, which actually stayed. 
The cabinet with the missing door

I wasnt the only injured one. Zack got this after a hot tea acccident
One good thing I did, was learning French. Every day, after 2 o´clock, after Zack´s shift, both of us would sit on the deck with a cup of tea, listening to the audio´s of Michel Thomas and repeating phrases and sentences. And for my surprise it worked. I managed to get by quite well when we got to the islands. Of course I wasn’t able to discuss the global warming or the nuclear bombs but always managed to get all the information I needed and be understood.
Probably studying French
We sailed forever! It was even Tom´s (the captain) longest time in sea, the previous record was 51 days so on the 52nd day, at sunset, during my watch, he came up on the deck with some crisps and wine to celebrate it. Since alcohol Karaka was a dry boat during the crossing that was a treat. And 280 nautical miles to go! We still had plenty of fresh water for drinking and cooking but allmost all the fresh stuff was gone, only a few onions left and some pumpkings (Pumpkins last forever!!!).
52nd day at sea

Finally after 54 days at sea and 4798 nautical miles covered, on July 13th, we made it to Hiva Oa, the first island in Marquesas. I don´t know if anyone else has ever taken longer than us coming from Panama but we definitely broke all the records this year. Im not gonna mention how excited everyone was to see land and to get to land. The town itself was a bit far from the wharf so it was quite a walk and being stuck on the boat for almost 2 months, we all felt it. Our leg muscles were so flabby after all this sitting and laying around on the boat that after the first day on land, they were stiff and sore the day after. I was happy to have some fresh fruit finally… We got right on time for July 14th, the French national holiday. 
Celebrating the arrival at Atuona, Hiva Oa
Eager to get to the land, right after arrival
The reason for the excitement - one of the beautiful Marquesas islands
It was intense in the sea, especially with 7 people on board and 55 days at sea. When I tell people from other boats now how it was, they can´t believe it. I didn’t know it wasn’t normal it was my first boat and despite all the problems I loved it in a way. Well, it was definitely an experience. I don’t regret it, learnt a lot (the hard way) about people´s behavior under different circumstances and about myself. Good or bad, it happened and it’s over. Three people left the boat in Marquesas, I was the first one.

I’m on another boat now. I not only have my own cabin with a double bed where I can read and stretch my legs but I can even stand up. We have a working toilet, fridge, shower, hot water and even a washing machine. And the captain doesn’t mind answering questions and explaining things and I don’t feel guilty if I don´t know how to do something. Now I can really enjoy the sailing. Which is beautiful by the way ;)!

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