Palmyra, The Southern Hemisphere

This time two years ago, Constellation was strapped to a dock in The Netherlands. The town, Monickendam, just north of Amsterdam, is known for its smoked eel, pretty bridges, and superyacht production. Now, we are free in the south Pacific, on a beam reach doing 100+nm days, headed for Western Samoa. The trip out of Hawaii to Palmyra Atoll was frankly, miserable. It included some of the most oppressive heat I’ve experienced, the worst calms, days of heavy seas and winds, and generally was an awfully slow and trying voyage…

Watching the GPS, and looking at the compass, I noticed a disparity 50nm short of Palmyra. Almost 2kts of equitorial current was pushing us east, and with no wind, waking up every morning was depressing, as we were pushed further and further away from landfall. Eventually we struggled within 31nm of the Atoll, and I decided enough was enough: The mighty Yanmar was doing the rest of the work. Unfortunately through a set of circumstances I’ve yet to fathom, the engine was full of cream coloured oil.With the help of John out of Brewer Yacht Yard, in Greenport Long Island, satellite email, and my books, it was ascertained the water must have come in through the exhaust, or through the seacock. I spent dizzying hours with my head in the bilge, draining the oil into water containers. Putting half a litre of fresh oil back in the engine, I started her up, and noticed no new water. I let the oil warm, drained it, and filled it up again, and we were off. I have to say, that little Yanmar is an extraordinary engine.

With wide-eyes, Palmyra Atoll was approached from the East, with distant waves crashing at sea on reefs, dozens of new birds, palm lined beaches, and strange military structures abound… At last, land was found in the middle of nowhere. On channel 16, I called Palmyra Station. Amanda, the Fish and Wildlife representative and refuge manager, answered with excitement – Yes, Constellation was finally here! Having no idea who, or how many people were on the Atoll, I was suprised with the amount of radio traffic, as Constellation rounded the top of the island, and skirted reefs to the infamous channel entrance. Not sure of who or what to expect, it was even more suprising to be given an escort through the channel by Brad, the marine operations manager. Brad had us anchor just off of the main station, whch was an encampment of small bungalows, mess hall, generators, science labs, satellite dishes, sheds with tractors, and even the world famous Palmyra Yacht Club.

Invited to dinner on the first night, the sight of freshly cooked and crumbed Ahi (tuna), vegetables, and other delights not found on a boat (especially mine, where absolutely no fish have been tempted by lures…), all the pain of getting to the atoll was gone in an instant. Special thanks to Franklin and Amanda for the invitations, and to Anthony for possibly being the worlds most isolated chef.

Palmyra Atoll has quickly become the most interesting, beautiful, and unusual place I’ve visited on my entire voyage. It has always been my dream to visit places that may otherwise be impossible to gain access to by any other means of transport – And being allowed to visit the now privatised island (owned by The Nature Conservancy) was a great highlight. Thank you to The Nature Conservancy for keeping the island open to sailors, and also many thanks to the Fish and Wildlife Service for ,handling the details and particulars of our visit. I can’t embed photos while at sea, however all my photos of Palmyra are online here

And so now, just 465nm from Western Samoa, I am also in the southern hemisphere after nearly exactly two years en route to Australia. Jeff, thank you for the French champagne to celebrate 0 degrees, however I must say, it was room temperature, and room temperature on the equator is, well… Hot!

For now, I’m going back to lying on my bunk, as sweat drips into my eyes, and the large tradewind seas toss Constellation around like a piece of driftwood… It’s beautiful and special out here, but it’s also tough going.

Nick.

3 Comments

  1. Hi Nick,
    Healthy mindtrips you are unleashing here.
    No fish and hot champagne ?
    Better trades and flying fish on deck on your next leg to Samoa …
    wishes Michael from Berlin

  2. Hi Nick – Trust this finds you well – hopefully already on Samoa. Just a quick note on the seawater ingress into the engine: We had (what seems to be) the same issue during an Atlantic crossing 2 years ago (subsequently installed a syphon break between the raw cooling water exit from the engine and the point where it joins the exhaust stream). While 2 oil and filter changes were sufficient to get the stuff out of the engine and get the engine started again we ended up with starting problems 2-3 months later. Symptoms at first suggested a sticky stop solenoid but on closer inspection revealed that 3 of 4 plunger springs in the diesel injection pump had pretty much corroded away from salt water exposure. Apparently the injection pump’s innards sit in a relatively static oil sump that doesn’t experience the same degree of turnover as the oil in the engine itself and consequently didn’t get cleaned out by the repeated oil changes. The spings are cheap but the repair was expensive since the pump needed to go to a special shop. Ours was a different engine (Beta Marine/Kubota) but it might be worthwhile getting an experienced (!) mechanic’s oppinion/suggestion. Not sure how easy that is in the places you’re currently in… in the grand scheme of things you’re pretty close to Australia already anyway.
    Cheers and “immer eine Hand breit Wasser unter dem Kiel”!
    Markus

  3. jeff

    I love your brothers stories! I only wish he had a comments section.
    Good luck with your travels mate, Cheers from Houston!

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