I couldn’t have ordered up a better wind for the first two days from Christmas Island. It was blowing 10-15kts out of the SE allowing me to average a course of 70 degrees. I made 180 miles of easting in the first 48 hours. The only problem was the squalls. Smack in the middle of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), I was getting hit by squalls 3-4 times a day. Then there was the night.
The ITCZ runs along the equator from about 5S to 8N. This zone is characterized by variable winds and frequent squalls. Before a squall hits, you’re lucky to have 10kts of wind. Then the leading edge of the squall hits you with a massive blast of wind accompanied by a deluge of rain. It’s not so bad dealing with squalls in the day time. You can see them coming. You reef the sails and get ready before they get to you. You can even avoid them if they’re not too big and if the wind allows.
At night it’s different. The new moon is tonight. Without the moonlight, when there are no clouds you can see endless stars. Anywhere you can’t see stars is a cloud and possibly a squall. Last night the stars were amazing until about 8pm. Then the clouds came and all I could see was the dim perimeter lit up by the navigation lights atop the mast. Occasionally a red, green or white phantasm would shoot by as a tern or tropic birds would fly through the tri-color perimeter.
It’s always spooky to sail through the pitch dark. Last night I got hit by 3 small squalls through the night. Then at 5am, I got hit by a massive blast. I don’t have an anemometer, but with ½ a jib, staysail and reefed main, Bodhran was heeled over ~70 degrees. I climbed along the walls to get into the cockpit and blew the jib sheet and traveller. Bodhran immediately righted to a more manageable 20 degree heel. It’s hard to describe the violence of the flogging jib in what was probably about 50 knots of wind. Furling the jib is hard enough in that kind of wind, but the 2 bends in the furler extrusion from Christmas Island made it even harder. I stripped several layers of skin off my hands trying to furl the jib. Then it was time for the main.
I hopped out from behind the dodger and was assaulted by rain so hard that it left little red welts over any exposed skin. I quickly tucked in the second reef and rode out the rest of the squall under double reefed main and staysail. This squall was the beginning of a front that lasted for 4 hours. As the sun came up, I noticed that the leech had been ripped out of 3 of the top 4 panels of the mainsail. Fortunately the rips stopped at each of the panel seems, so I started up the motor, trimmed the main to keep flogging to a minimum and powered my way through the rest of the front.
Once I was out of the snottiest of weather, it was time to get the main down. I attempted to make a quick repair with some sticky back sail tape, but it wasn’t meant to be. So off came the main and up went the trysail.
It’s always fun trying to sew in a seaway. The 6′ swell running was a hinderance, but wasn’t too bad. Once again the sailrite sewing maching proved it’s worth and 3 hours after I got the trysail up, the repaired main was back up in it’s place.
My goal was to get to 153˚45W, a full degree of longitude east of the big island. I should be there today. Now it’s time to get north and away from all these squalls. I’m anticipating bigger wind up there, but it should be more consistent and easier to deal with.
I made it to 153˚45W and not much further. After sewing up the main, I was treated to another 36 hours of one squall after another finished off by 4 hours of 25-35kt easterlies. It was about as miserable as sailing gets. Then at sunset the wind clocked to the NE and settled down to 20 knots. I struggled through the night to keep my course east of north, but failed. By morning, I’d already lost 6 miles of easting, but the skies were blue and there wasn’t a squall in sight. I’d picked up the NE trades.
By noon, I crammed on a bit more sail, but was still having a hard time pointing Oahu at 346˚T. I wish that I could have made it further east before the trades filled in, but it is what it is. I’d made 231nm of easing total. I have 888nm left to Honolulu. So basically I’ve got to sail 4 miles north for every mile I sail west. The NE tradewinds should be more ENE, in which case I should make it no problem, but for now I’m worried. Worst case, if the winds continue out of the NE, I can swap over to a port tack and sail ESE for a while and put some easting back in the bank.
I can remember thinking to myself 6 years ago that it’d sure suck to have to sail into these waves. At the time, I was thousands of miles east of here, experiencing the NE trades for the first time. Now I’ve been sailing into this unending freight train of waves for 4 days straight. Every once in a while an off sequence wave will pick Bodhran up and throw her down on her ear. The wood in the headliner creaks as the hull flexes between the forces of the rigging and the waves hitting it from various angles. I’m making good progress, but it’s nerve wracking. The winds have been fluctuating between 15 and 25 knots. The wind waves are only a few feet high, but the easterly swell has been running as high as 10 feet. I’ve been confined in the cabin. The awning won’t stand up to the wind and the cockpit is being constantly soaked with salty spray.
I just finished re-reading Tania Aebi’s “Maiden Voyage” for the first time since leaving Bellingham on Bodhran in 2006. It was comforting to read how many problems she had on what was a brand new boat at the time. Granted, she was 18 years old and learning everything as she went along and Varuna was only 26 feet long. Even so, 35 year old Bodhran has stood up pretty well over the years. I still cringe everytime a wave sets her up into the air so that gravity can then spike her back down with a resounding thud. There are little drops of water slowly dripping in the forepeak and around the heater on the starboard side of the cabin. Still it’s nothing compared to the regularly occurring water above the floorboards that Tania was putting up with on Varuna.
There’s 455nm left to Honolulu. In 3 days, I should work my way into the lee of the Big Island. From there it should get a little easier, though passes between the islands are reported to be terrifying at times. I can’t wait to get into some settled weather so that I can start cleaning the salt off of everything.
Been getting slammed by 8-10′ waves for days now. It’s amazing what you can get used to, but it sure grabs your attention when the bilge pump starts cycling on. I immediately started checking all the thru hull fittings, but everything looked fine. I started popping hatches and found water on top of the diesel tanks. I’d been heeling to port, so I check the locker above to starboard and found water there too. I then looked up behind the electrical panel and found it dry. For a brief moment I was scared that I’d somehow got a crack in the hull below the waterline. Then I started tearing the amazing amount of crap out of the locker by the quarter berth and struck by a bright ray of daylight. It turns out the 1.5” hose that runs from one of the starboard deck drains to a fitting on the hull had come off. So not only was all the water that found it’s way to the deck drain leaking down below, but also the waves crashing into the hull were finding an unimpeded route into the boat. All it took was slide the hose back on and tightening the hose clamp, but damn that was an unpleasant half hour.
Those passages between the islands are no joke. Big wind and big waves, then nothing when you get into the lee of Hawaii’s high Islands. I fairly screamed along the last 2 days into Honolulu. Fortunately I’d kept enough easting that I was able to crack off the sheets and close reach the last 5 days in. It’s a bit unsettling doing >6 knots with just a staysail and double reefed main. I couldn’t have gone too much smaller and still made it to windward.
I’m not sure how far I actually sailed, but as the crow flies, it’s 3200nm from Fiji to Honolulu. Bodhran is fairly beat up, but she made it. Now it’s time for a rest before I think about making the passage to Seattle in September.