La Libertad, Ecuador — THEY CALL IT THE "puddle jump." Sounds easy, right? Quick too. No worries, just a quick hop. See you on the other side!
But the puddle jump is the biggest step in our sailing adventure: more than 3,500 miles and 30 days of nothing-but-blue across to the South Pacific islands, with only the Galapagos as a potential rest stop. The equatorial current will be under our hull, trade winds at our back and nerves in our bellies.
In the 14 months since we left Los Angeles and sailed south, our longest stretch off land has been eight days on the trek here from Panama.
Now, after testing our small, aging boat (a 37-foot 1968 Islander sloop) and ourselves as we explored the waters and sands of the Pacific Coast, we're ready to plunge. We hope.
We scrutinized the mainsail, replacing battens and repairing loose stitching because we pack no spare. We topped off our modest gas stores, though the distance to French Polynesia, the eastern-most island group in the South Pacific, allows no fuel for motoring.
On this leg, we'll depend completely on the wind. If the winds don't blow -- for a day, or two, or 12 -- we'll float with the current and wait.
The gasoline will fuel our 1,000-watt generator, which helps charge our batteries, which power the autopilot, global positioning system, single-sideband radio and small refrigerator. The refrigerator is a luxury, but the GPS tells us where we are, how many more miles (and miles and miles ... ) to go -- and in which direction.
Perhaps the most challenging task seems the simplest: grocery shopping. Crossing veterans warn cruisers leaving for French Polynesia to fill every spare inch with foodstuffs and paper products. The only affordable things there, they counsel, are wine, cheese and bread. One might go far on these three food groups, but carnivores and beer drinkers live on this sailboat, and the last report puts Hinano beer at $5 a bottle in Tahiti.
I challenge you: Go to Ralphs and buy food to last eight months. How many pounds of pasta will you put in your cart? Cans of corn? Boxes of cereal? Now try it in Ecuador, where it's hard to find basics like baking soda (no luck, it's sold at the pharmacy as a stomach soother).
Open a T-shirt drawer on our sailboat and you'll find cans of chicken I hauled back in my luggage from my Christmastime visit to the U.S. The water-maker cozies up to caramels and chocolate chips. Fifty-five rolls of toilet paper force open the closet door.
Fifty-five rolls? Why worry? We must be ready. Besides, all that water out there means fewer things to hit the boat. Nope, nothing to worry about -- except for a passing freighter or curious pilot whale.
To be continued ...