The Voyage to Nowhere

Turning Around



Saturday, June 5, 2004 (Day 10 of the Juan Fernández Passage)

Well, we spent another 24 hours beating into strong east-southeast winds; the adverse winds just won't quit. The barometer is high (1029 mb) and staying high.

While preparing breakfast this morning Marcie got upset when the boat rolled and a load of freshly-made toast slid off the counter and into the sink. Marcie is affected by disheartening factors, too, including a dirty messy boat, poor hygiene, laundry piling up, the extreme difficulty cooking, cold and wet early morning watches, slow progress, and many boat problems. She confessed to needing some "nesting" for a while in a marina or port to rejuvenate and renew her spirit. David hasn't been immune either, suffering from an exhausting amount of work fixing the numerous boat problems, on top of the numerous hours of watchstanding.

David called a meeting in the saloon to discuss what we could do about the adverse winds and our unsatisfactory progress. David had been studying weather and passage-planning information and offered a few possibilities for discussion: continue on our present course, skip Juan Fernández and sail to another mainland port in Chile, turn around and return to Easter Island, or motor south into an area of more reliable westerly winds then head to Juan Fernández and the mainland. We mulled over the possibilities and shared our opinions on each option; we also pored over the very detailed pilot chart of the South Pacific, analyzing the numerous weather details. Everybody found plusses and minuses for each option, so it was hard to decide.

Although I was homesick, I was still interested in visiting Juan Fernández. We all decided that the best plan was to motor south into the reliable westerlies, visit the islands, then head for the mainland. By examining the pilot chart, David thought we would have to motor south about 200 miles before resuming an easterly course. Unfortunately, this would also bring us closer to the Roaring Forties, an area known for storms and strong winds. Indeed, the pilot chart showed a significantly greater chance of gales as we headed south. Despite the risk of bad weather, we all agreed on the plan.

With the plan now decided, David checked our fuel stores to confirm our fuel usage to-date. We knew we had used about half of one tank; the other tank was full (the tanks are 80 gallons each). But David got a big surprise when he dipped the tanks—one tank was half-full as expected, the other was EMPTY! Huh?? What?? Yup! - - - EMPTY! What happened to the 80 gallons of fuel?

This is what we figured: A long time ago, one of the fuel tanks did have a leak, but while the boat was hauled out at the boatyard in Puerto Lucia, the boatyard staff was hired to repair the leak and reseal the interior of the tank. The repairs were successful and for months the tanks remained leak-free. But during our recent gale, the boat motion was violent enough that the vigorously sloshing fuel must have either re-opened the old leak or started a new leak. All the fuel leaked into the bilge and was pumped overboard when we periodically ran the bilge pump. In fact, after pumping the bilge a few days ago, we had noticed a sheen on the water trailing astern from Nine of Cups, and that must have been our missing fuel (now long since evaporated).

Well, it's a whole new ballgame now. Serendipity works in strange ways sometimes. Just when you think you've got it all figured out, serendipity throws you a curve ball that whizzes right past you for a called strike three—yer OUT! With so much fuel missing, we can no longer entertain the motoring option. After recomputing our fuel usage, David figured we have at most a 30-day supply, assuming we use the engine only to charge the batteries and that we use every drop of fuel, including the 20 gallons in jugs on deck. Being conservative cruisers, we would like to maintain a fuel reserve in case we need to motor in an emergency, so it's more like a 20-day supply, with reserve. We no longer feel comfortable continuing towards the mainland, given the passage's seemingly interminable length. On the other hand, it's just over 600 miles back to Easter Island, so that now looks like our best option—return, perhaps make some repairs, then get more fuel. After that, Marcie and David indicated that they would likely return to Puerto Lucia in Ecuador.

I was on-watch when we decided to return, so I dialed-in the new autopilot heading and Nine of Cups swung around and pointed her bow at Easter Island. Our about-face resulted in an immediate and amazing change—from bashing our way close-hauled into winds and seas to an easy downwind reach with comfortable following seas. It even felt warmer, too, due to a decrease in the apparent wind. The about-face also greatly improved my mood, since Easter Island is only 616 miles away, versus 927 miles to Juan Fernández or 1,383 miles to the mainland.

By the time we arrive, my adventure will have been three months long, and although I have enjoyed it, I don't want to spend another month sailing back to Ecuador. I let David and Marcie know that I planned to leave the boat at Easter Island and fly back to the States.

This will require some logistical maneuvering once we get back to Easter Island. I have to book a flight out of the country, then get copies of the ticket and give them to David and Marcie so they can remove my name from the crew list for Nine of Cups. They can't just cross out my name, instead there's an official procedure involving the Armada. Then I have to get a hotel room, and depending on the flight schedule, I might have to wait around a few days. If I have time available, I'd like to rent a car and see more of the island. Also with a car, I might be able to help out David and Marcie by shuttling them to the gas station and supermarket. All of this is to-be-determined, since at this point, we don't even know if the weather will permit anchoring off Hanga Roa to go ashore. And first we have to get back to the island.

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