martes, 7 de agosto de 2007

Beating Against the Trades, Twice

Sailing in the trades. The phrase alone conjures up images of deep blue, whitecap-ridden seas running up from astern as the wind fills the sails and thrusts you downwind to your next tropical port. The “cruiser’s” ideal circumnavigation would be one where the wind was always aft of the beam. Speed, comfort, and the general ease of such downwind runs make for idyllic passages. But, as July wound to a close I found myself facing the task of turning against the trades. After two weeks in the Leeward Society Islands I had to return to Tahiti in time to meet Liz Clark (off Swell) in Papeete to take delivery of much-needed parts from the States.
Knowing the beat to windward was inevitable I continuously kept an eye on the weather, waiting for a calm window to sneak back to Tahiti. On July 25th, while at Raiatea, I received the latest weather forecast and it wasn’t good. After blowing fifteen knots for a handful of days it was predicted to pick up in the coming days to 25 knots out of the southeast—the direction I needed to go. Liz was set to arrive at the end of July and the forecast showed my best chance to get back was to leave right away. Thus I shot off an e-mail home, picked up anchor, and departed Raiatea through the Teavapiti Pass on its northeast coast. The wind was blowing 15 knots out of the east-southeast as I set sail and headed for the north end of Huahine. My plan was to pass just north of Huahine before tacking south and, with a little luck, sailing straight for Tahiti. Mother Nature had other plans.
As the day wore on the wind began to back to the east and I was forced to steer further and further north until 2000 when I was east of the longitude of Huahine and tacked to the south. As the night wore on the wind picked up and was blowing 25 knots by midnight. I sat crouched in the cockpit staying out of the chilly wind but keeping an eye out for ships while sailing as close to the wind as Avventura could manage. As the new day dawned the wind rose to 30 knots and more in the gusts, and the southerly swells were slowing my progress. At 0730 I decided to tack and see if I could sail a better course heading more easterly. As the boom swung over to the port side the mainsheet came apart and the boom swung wildly out over the side as the sail flapped in the vicious wind. I quickly started the engine and doused the mainsail. It turns out the stainless steel piece which held the mainsheet onto the traveler had broken at one of the two welds. (The mainsheet is the rope that allows you to control the angle of the mainsail to the wind, and on Avventura it is connected by this stainless steel piece to a four foot long track along which the mainsheet is able to slide to further adjust the angle of the sail—the traveler.) I spent the next hour searching for a spare part that could serve to jury rig a new mainsheet and eventually found a block that fit onto the track. After an hour of bashing into the swells I was able to set the main once more and stabilize Avventura.
The wind refused to cooperate with me, and as the day progressed it shifted into the southeast causing my course to suffer. Then as the sun reached for the horizon an easterly swell began to show amidst the still dominant 6 foot southwest swells. By the time darkness descended over the sea the easterly swells had risen to eight feet and had a ridiculously short 9 second period. I was no longer able to hold a southerly course and began losing miles to the west when I decided to tack. As Avventura settled in on the new tack I was disgusted to fin her heading nearly due north. The easterly swells coupled with the southeast wind made progress to the east all-but impossible. The hours ticked away and I began to calculate out how long it would take to return to Tahiti. I contemplated powering the entire way, but could not make any speed into the swells and I was getting low on diesel. I had to make a decision—fight the wind and ridiculous short-period swell (both of which were forecast to continue for another handful of days) and arrive in Tahiti some three days late, or return to Huahine and find another way to get my things.
After bashing into a couple decidedly larger swells (12 footers by my estimation) the decision was made. I turned about and began surfing down the large, confused swells. With just a triple-reefed main and a staysail for stabilization I was making over five and a half knots. The first traces of dawn saw me rounding the north end of Huahine once more, and as the sun rose I dropped the hook in the Avamoa Pass once more. Stoked to be safely tucked into a quiet anchorage, and exhausted from 48 sleepless hours, I cracked open a Hinano and sat on the foredeck soaking in the warm sunshine.
As luck would have it Robyn’s Nest and Chica Bonita, two cruising friends I met first in Ecuador, arrived later in the morning and I spent the next couple days surfing fun lefts in the Avamoa Pass and treated to nice meals on Chica Bonita after sunset. It was nice to spend a few final days among good friends who have helped make this voyage that much better along the way. I shared some of my best waves this trip with the trio of South Africans on Robyn’s Nest in the Galapagos; and plenty more good times followed, from our bar-b-q in the Tuamotus to reuniting in Southern Tahiti. It was all capped off by celebrating Dave’s 17th birthday aboard Chica Bonita in Huahine with homemade pizza and perhaps the tastiest homemade cake I’ve ever had. So here’s wishing all the best to the crews of Robyn’s Nest (John, Scott, Dave, Chris and Lucy) and Chica Bonita (Mike and Heather) as they continue on towards New Zealand.
Despite the good time I was having in Huahine I was still a hundred miles from Tahiti where I had to be to get my parts. Things started to turn in my favor as Liz changed her flight to August 2nd and the wind began to die as July wound down. On July 30th I was able to get up the mast and change jibs (somewhere in the dreaded windward slog my working jib sustained a large tear), and with a favorable weather forecast I was determined to try my luck and head for Tahiti in the morning.
Knowing I would be going another full night without sleep I turned in early and slept soundly through to 0200 when I was awaken by a blast so loud it seemed to shake my bunk. As I awoke I immediately knew what was happening and leapt out the forehatch prepared to abandon ship—a freighter was surely bearing down on me. I was anchored on the edge of the Avamoa Pass, and as I emerged into the dark of night I saw the black hulk passing some fifty yards astern with ample sea room and no need to panic. I guess the captain was just taking his frustration out on me; but either way I had been scared out of my mind and found getting back to sleep impossible. Instead I weighed anchor and headed for Tahiti, again.
The conditions could not have been more opposite as I headed southeast once more. The wind never rose above 12 knots and I motorsailed the entire time, passing just south of Moorea twenty-four hours after leaving Huahine. As dawn opened the first day of August I entered the now-familiar Taapuna Pass and once more anchored off Papeete’s Marina Taina with two days to spare before Liz passed through.

Moral of the blog: never be bound by a firm schedule when sailing. Only bad things can come from it. You cannot change the weather, and should never force yourself into sailing with a bad weather forecast. I’ve learned the lesson well.

By now I have received my parts from the States (thank you Liz) after they decided to take a detour in Liz’s luggage through Paris, and again have a working SSB Radio. I will soon resume posting Position Reports through Yotreps. In the next day or two I will be taking my leave of Papeete and heading for a week or so in southern Tahiti before I defy the trades once more to return to the Tuamotus. I will depart there in early October (or thereabouts) for Christmas and Fanning Islands in the Line Islands before continuing on to Hawaii in late November. Thus I will be largely incommunicado until early December. I will try and send updates sporadically through the SSB Radio Email; but here’s wishing everyone a happy end of summer and all of autumn.

lunes, 6 de agosto de 2007

Society Islands

The Society Islands. Their names alone conjure up images of idyllic beauty. Huahine. Raiatea. Tahaa. Bora Bora. Images of rugged green islands rising from azure lagoons surrounded by a line of white surf pounding on a barrier reef. Of palm trees swaying in the trades, white sand beaches, friendly natives, vibrant coral reefs and reef passes bordered with surf. I spent the last two weeks of July enjoying these mythic isles.
On the sun-filled, calm morning of July 17 I picked up anchor and motored out Tahiti’s Taapuna Pass heading west. The plan was to pass by the south shore of Moorea and if there was no wind I would pull in at Haapiti and surf the fun left for a couple days. However as I skirted Moorea’s southern coast, after reeling in my first (and to date only) fish of the Society Islands (a small skipjack), the wind filled in from the east and I decided to push on for Huahine. I was quick to raise the main and kill the engine, and before long the wind was up to 25 knots out of the east. The swells were a bit confused, coming from both the south and northeast, but with a double-reefed main and a partially-furled jib I was making over six knots and was set to arrive in Huahine at dawn. I spent the night in the cockpit keeping one eye on the blustery wind and another on Sand Dollar, a sailboat that remained less than a mile off my starboard side all night long.
At daybreak I entered the Avapehi Pass on Huahine and before long settled in at the island’s main anchorage inside the Avamoa Pass. It was soon obvious that the six foot swell that was in the water was too east for Huahine’s surfspots, so instead I swam ashore and set about exploring the island. Huahine is a quiet, laid-back island filled with welcoming locals who want to keep their home from becoming an obnoxious tourist destination. I passed my time walking along the white sand beaches of the northwest coast, paddling around the lagoon, and surfing small waves at both the Avamoa and Avapehi Pass (with the right swell, something with a lot of west in it, there are two good rights and a fun left between the two passes).
After a couple days of relaxation and exploration on Huahine I was ready to move on, so I picked up anchor and motored over a glassy sea to Tahaa some thirty miles west. Tahaa is Raiatea’s less-famous little sister. Situated just off her north tip, Tahaa and Raiatea share a single barrier reef. Unlike the rest of the Society Islands it is possible to sail all the way around Tahaa inside the reef in the calm and brilliant waters of its lagoon. I entered the lagoon through the narrow Toahotu Pass on the island’s east shore, passing between two small palm-clad motus and emerging into the deep blue waters of the lagoon. I followed a marked channel around the south side of the island leaving the green sandy shallows to port and the rugged island to starboard. One thing I found in the lagoons of the Society Islands is the water is either more than sixty or less than six feet deep. This makes finding a good anchorage difficult, and I spent two full hours scouring Tahaa’s west coast in search of water less than eighty feet deep to anchor in. After poking my nose into Patii Bay I checked the length of Hurepiti Bay and explored the inlet of Tapuamu Bay, never finding a good place to anchor. On my way back down the west coast of the island I took a long look at the PaiPai Pass and realized there wasn’t enough swell for the left to work properly. As the sun sank low in the sky I gave up hope of finding a decent anchorage and picked up a mooring buoy in Apu Bay.
With the engine shut down I opened a beer and watched the sun slip behind the western horizon as a hermaphrodite brig entered Apu Bay under the power of sails alone. In a rare display of seamanship these days the young captain shouted out orders to his crew of paying passengers and eased his 150-foot-plus ship into place, dropped the hook, and let the wind fill the foretopsail and back the ship on the anchor. It was an impressive showing in an age where most sailors of small ships can’t anchor under sail, let alone a big square-rigger. The ship is from New Zealand and apparently sails around the South Pacific carrying paying passengers who are taught how to sail while stopping at the beautiful islands along the way.
I left Tahaa early the next morning, slipping out of the PaiPai Pass where I was quick to shut down the engine and set sail. A light breeze trickled in from the east-northeast, and since there was still no surf I headed for Bora Bora, perhaps the most famously beautiful island in the world. The wind remained light throughout the morning and I sat in the cockpit enjoying the warm sunshine, reading, writing in my journal, and loving the cruising life. After four hours of slow but steady sailing I arrived at Bora Bora’s lone reef pass with an eight knot breeze still trickling in from the east. Perhaps inspired by the display of seamanship the previous night I decided to keep the engine off and sailed my way in the pass. The rugged, somehow familiar peaks of Bora Bora loomed ahead and the light green shallows and dark brown of the reef lingered on either side as Avventura ghosted up the blue pass and approached the Bora Bora Yacht Club. Just before the anchorage I dropped the main, powered my way into 87 feet of water, and dropped the anchor with all 250 feet of chain out.
Once I deceived myself that the boat was safe with less than 3-to-1 scope (as a rule I always set 5-to-1 scope; more in an unprotected or windy anchorage) I launched the dinghy, grabbed my board, and motored out to the pass. While sailing in the pass a local was stand-up paddling into a left breaking off a finger of reef on the south side of the pass, and I was itching to get in the clear blue waters. The wave was a strange sectioning left with a steep takeoff followed by sections where the wave would hit fingers of deep water in the reef and turn to mush only to later become hollow again. The surf was far from world-class, but the setup was hard to beat. I was the only one out and the familiar green form of the island loomed across the lagoon of green and blue water above a beach of white sand. Sitting in the “lineup” it struck me that nowhere else in nature have I seen such vivid colors. The blues of deeper water, the intense green of the sandy shallows, the sharp browns and purples of the coral reef, the motus of blinding white sand capped by green palms swaying in the trades, and the dark green hulk of the island itself with patches of light, exposed rock reflecting the bright sunlight. The colors alone rank Bora Bora among the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It was easy to see why it is among the most photographed islands on earth. As the sun reached for the sea I returned to Avventura thrilled by another great day of cruising.
July 22nd brought scattered showers and a 25 knot east wind to Bora Bora. The anchorage at the Bora Bora Yacht Club was shielded from the bulk of the wind, and I was determined to spend the day exploring the island. I headed ashore in the early morning and met the manager of the “yacht club.” He told me they rented bikes, and in minutes I was pedaling north along the coast. After a detour inland into a local neighborhood I circumnavigated the island, enjoying the ever-changing vistas across the greens and blues of the lagoon and up at the drastic island peaks. Near the south end of the island I left the bike beside the road and hiked up to a spot overlooking the lagoon on both sides of the island. It was a truly beautiful place and I only wish I had had a digital camera along to post the pictures. Instead I shot a roll of film to be developed whenever it is I return to San Diego.
After completing the 32 km circumnavigation I returned to the yacht club just in time for an impromptu barbeque at the yacht club. The manager insisted I stay and eat, and served me up a massive helping of grilled chicken, sausage, and breadfruit. The grilled breadfruit was delicious and if you ever find yourself unsure of what to do with the strange veggie just throw it on the grill. As I ate conversations were started between the handful of cruising boats whose crews were ashore. It was quite a diverse gathering with a couple Japanese men, two Norwegian couples, a Canadian single-hander, an American single-hander, and the American couple from Katie Lee. I enjoyed the conversation for a while, but after lunch the sun came out and it was simply too nice a day to spend chatting away. I excused myself, stopped at Avventura to get my board, and returned to the reef pass to try my hand at the left once more. The wind was blowing so hard offshore it made trying to turn almost laughable but I had a good time messing around in the small waves.
Monday morning brought a return of sunshine and clear skies and I decided to head for Raiatea. As soon as the anchor was up I raised the main and shut down the engine, sailing away from Bora Bora and continuing southward. After a few hours of sailing to windward I reached the lee of Raiatea. The wind died so I furled the jib and motored in the Rautoanui Pass on the northwest side of the island. Entering the pass I gazed wide-eyed as perfect left tubes peeled off the reef and a dozen locals dropped into barrel after barrel. I headed straight for the nearest anchorage and set the hook in eighty feet of water inside Pupau Bay. As soon as the anchor was set I returned to the pass in my dinghy and paddled out in the perfect six-foot surf. My first wave I dropped in behind the peak, got a nice little tube, and pulled out just before it closed out on the reef. That proved to be my best wave of the day, though a handful of nice little cover-ups followed as I traded off waves with the friendly locals. Only the setting sun was enough to chase me from the surf, and I reluctantly returned to Avventura to spend the night in my own private anchorage.
Rising early the next morning, I was disappointed to find the swell had dropped. After a short but fun morning session in the small waves I dedicated the remainder of the day to boat work including a trip up the mast to replace a burnt-out light bulb as well as complete a few other minor tasks. The boat work spilled over to the morning of July 25 as I dedicated myself to solving the riddle of the broken bow navigation lights. After a couple hours of toil I was able to rewire the lights and get them working once more, and by late morning I headed to a nearby marina to use the internet feeling good about the day. When I checked the weather forecast for the coming week my mood began to change. East to southeast winds were forecast for the entire week, picking up from 17 knots on July 25th till it would be 25 knots from the 26th till the 30th. I had to be back in Tahiti by the 30th to meet Liz Clark who was flying back from the States with much-needed parts for me before continuing on to her boat, Swell, in the Marquesas. My best hope to return to Tahiti was to leave immediately. Thus began my first windward bashing in the trades…