The Puker Express Out Of Polynesia

The crew of Galactic is headed for Patagonia.
Galactic Crew
The crew of Galactic – Mike, Alisa, Eric and Elias

We started out from the Gambier sailing at thirty degrees west of south – that is, away from our destination of Chile.

That’s what I love about sailing. It’s so damn logical.

But, it was time to go if we were going to get our chance to dash across the temporarily not-windless horse latitudes. Even if going just then meant setting out in strong winds from the east-southeast – i.e., from the direction we would have been heading to, in a more user-friendly transport setting.


It was practically a rally start – another boat, the Kiwi-flagged Windora, was setting out bound for the same destination on the same day as us.

I had explained to Phil on Windora that we tried not to sail with the wind before the beam – that is, at all on our nose – as it tends to make Eric puke.

Well, Eric just fell asleep for the first couple days. It was me who was doing the puking.


Then, when I had nearly finished being seasick – two long bouncy days during which Alisa was doing ALL the childcare – Elias got his brother overexcited, and Eric puked as result. Down below. In the saloon. While he was sitting on the bunk that he and Alisa have been sharing.

Alisa, her instincts unblunted by our three weeks of idyll in the Gambier, caught the puke in a mixing bowl.

(Every gal in the world whose husband is trying to dazzle her into giving up a perfectly comfortable life in a perfectly fine house to take the family out sailing the world – here is your ammunition. Use it as you will.)


(I know that’s a stereotype about who’s likely to be trying to dazzle whom. But there it is.)

Anyway, we’re all over the puking, at least until the weather gets poor (touch wood) or until someone gets us overexcited.

Alisa and I can’t quite believe that we’re actually sailing to Patagonia.


We’re away.

And we’re being evasive with the boys about exactly how long we expect this to take.

And I think the Pacific Seafarers’ Net will be posting our position on Yotreps for the duration. The SPOT tracker turned out to be useless in the South Pacific or a Ponzi scheme, I can’t tell which. If you’re motivated, find Yotreps on the web and look for Galactic or our call sign, KL2DM.

Fruit from Polynesia
Just some of the fruit that was given to us in the Gambier before we left. We’ll never forget the generosity of Polynesia. Mike Litzow

Yachts, Like Ships, Pass in the Night

Three days later

Hello from the big empty.

No marine mammals, only one tiny flying fish on deck since we left the Gambier, no fish on the line (when it has been mellow enough to fish) and the briefest handful of birds about – Kermadec petrels perhaps? I have completely wasted these years when I could have been turning myself into an expert on South Pacific pelagic seabirds.

We did, however, have a nice visit with our friends on Windora, who are also bound for Valdivia.

The AIS notified us of the presence of a vessel at 0100 a couple nights ago, just as we were in the last stages of a long struggle, doomed from the beginning though valuable for the optimism that it stirred in our hearts, to keep ahead of a front heralding the arrival of that much-feared state, no wind.

So it was raining, and blowing. I had just wrapped up the jib completely and shifted our course 20 degrees more northward, under double-reefed main and staysail, playing out the last option open to us before the front would overtake and carry the wind to fuel someone else’s dreams of sailing to Patagonia.

And there, after the AIS alarm had been turned off, was a light. A green light, just on our port quarter. An enquiry on the radio brought back Lynda’s familiar voice.

We all had a nice chat while our courses crossed, less than a mile apart. When you look at the scale of this bit of ocean that we’re crossing, particularly on a globe, you can see what a lucky chance it was that brought us together.

We compared notes. Yes, they too wondered if setting out in that particular weather was really a good idea while they crossed the lagoon of the Gambier, heading for the pass and the open sea. Yep, kind of a rough start those first few days, but nice and fast. And, yes, they know Akimbo too! Great folks. (It’s remarkable how many Aussie and Kiwi sailing friends we have in common with these guys.) And, yep, we all were getting more and more excited for Chile. The conversation died off, as radio talks will at that hour of the night, and we never said goodbye. In the morning we heard Phil hailing us ever so faintly, but could not raise a reply. We will presumably see them in a few weeks in Valdivia.

And so now we’re in that no-wind, waiting for something different to come along. We managed a fairly heroic job of avoiding the use of the motor, running it for only an hour yesterday right after the front had left us, but this morning I shrugged my shoulders and fired it up, most likely for the whole day by the looks of things. Best to make some progress in the right direction.

Pleasure Cruise, Or, The Happy Middle

Three days later

“Wow”, said Alisa. “This is a pleasure cruise.”

Jinx not, but she’s right. Ever since the vomiting of the first two days was over, we’ve been enjoying great conditions on this longest passage of our lives. The sailing has been fast, the wind has been constant enough, and the swell has been loooow.

For more of the trip than not, Galactic has been moving faster than eight knots. And now that the wind has dropped a bit and we’re reduced to seven and a half knots under full sail, the sea seems table-flat.

Of course we’re not even half way there and it’s far too early to gloat. In particular, some variety of Southern Ocean swell is bound to visit us sooner or later. But our decision to wait until December to make this crossing has certainly been vindicated thus far. This is the first passage in years for which we’ve used pilot charts to plan, and those graphical representations of average conditions in the world’s oceans, month by month, promised a marked decline in the incidence of gales from November to December. So, at the cost of a shorter summer in Patagonia, that’s why we chose to be on passage now.

Mike Litzow Sailing the Pacific
After the first few days of fast sailing and vomiting (no pictures of those days!) things calmed down and we enjoyed nearly-tropical sailing… Alisa Litzow

It’s not like a tradewind passage, with the wind blowing forever from one direction. Lows and highs swirl by us, shifting the direction of our wind gradually but persistently, day by day.

Instead of choosing a course and doggedly sticking to it, reefing and shaking out and changing the angle of sail to bend the wind to our will, I have mostly just adjusted our course as the wind shifted, keeping us within ten degrees of a beam reach throughout. This keeps the speed up and the traveling comfortable. And as a delightful by-product, the track that we’ve left across our computer screen’s depiction of the southwest Pacific curves and swirls – we’re swooping and dipping our way to Chile, we drop down towards the magical line of 40°S, then we back off to the north. It feels very non-Cartesian mind, it has a touch of that Moitessier creature-of-the-sea air about it, this little abnegation of our era’s slavish observance of efficiency. We are sailing to Patagonia along the track that an albatross might follow. It probably isn’t the fastest route, but it feels the best. And in spite of those meandering twists and turns, we have been logging days of 180 and 190 nautical miles, straight line distance, between our positions at consecutive noons.

So this is us in the happy middle. At noon today we were at 37° 07′ S, 118° 19′ W, heading south of east. We’re at the longitude of L.A., and we’ll be finished when we reach the longitude of Connecticut. Alisa is teaching Elias to knit. We’re reading our way aloud through the Narnia series yet again. All of us are doing what we can to increase our grasp of Spanish vocabulary and grammar – reflexive verbs! The past tense! Days of the week! I am giving myself the great gift of time and concentration enough to read Faulkner (Absalom, Absalom!) for the first time in years. I’ve given a science paper a final edit and it is now ready to go to the journal (Progress in Oceanography) once we’re in Chile. I also have printed off the manuscript that I’ve been working on this year to give it a critical read after using my energies elsewhere the last couple of months…though I’m not sure I should do that while reading Faulkner. Alisa promises that we’ll be down to eating the cushions by the end of the trip. The boys are having long stretches of playing well together, feeding each other lines in their role playing of knights and fishermen.

This might be that old friend, the ineffable peace of the sea.

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