Sep 092014
 
The Hilton lighting off fireworks for my return to Hawaii

The Hilton lighting off fireworks for my return to Hawaii

I don’t know why I thought it might have been different this time. I waited for a month in Fiji for a decent weather window to get to American Samoa. I was “stuck” in Pago Pago for 3 weeks and Christmas Island for 2 waiting for parts. I’ve now been in Hawaii for almost 3 weeks. I hadn’t been ready for the first two, but for a week now I’ve been all provisioned up and ready to go. Patience is almost as import as skill for an offshore sailor, but mine is starting to wear thin.

The North Pacific High, which I need to be as far south as possible, has been hanging out all the way up in Alaska meaning that I’d have to sail nearly to Juneau before heading back down to Seattle. Now the high has disappeared all together with 5 different lows surrounding Hawaii. Two are tropical storms, but they pale in comparison to the big systems that are already steaming up the Aleutians to Alaska. I could just get out there and see what I get, but there’s been a big wind hole 500 miles across just north of here, which would have me spending half my fuel in the supposed trade wind belt. All I can do is wait.

That's a whole lot of no wind north of here surrounded by certain unpleasantness on all sides.

That’s a whole lot of no wind north of here surrounded by certain unpleasantness on all sides.

On the bright side, I’m docked right at the beginning of Waikiki. I’m getting a little tired of all the noise from the restaurant band across the street and the endless parade of passers by. Still it’s an epic spot to be docked in with some world class people watching.

Mainly I’ve been hanging out with the crew at the old fuel dock. The dock itself has been sold to a Japanese firm that wants to turn it into a wedding chapel. In the meantime, there’s about 8 boats that have their own little private marina in the middle of Ala Wai. They have to use their own anchors and med-moor to the wall, but it’s a sweet setup. Garrett has a Downeaster 32 named Mary Jane. He plays guitar and is fully into paragliding. Chris and Leyla live have cruised the South Pacific on their Hans Christian 33 Privateer and Chris just happens to play guitar and banjo. You can see where we might have hit it off.

The Fuel Dock Compound

The Fuel Dock Compound

The most epic moment of the last 3 weeks came last Friday. Garrett asked if I’d wanted to go with him to the other side of the island where he’d be doing some paragliding. I grabbed my camera rig and jumped at the opportunity to get out of town for a bit. Little did I know that I’d meet Maui Doug over there and get in a 90 minute long tandem flight over Makapu’u Head. Truly one of the coolest things that I’ve ever done.


So now I’m looking at the North Pacific High not forming back up for at least a week. In the meantime, I’m going to try and get a little cruising in. I’m not sure where, but I’m definitely ready to get out of the city.

May 192014
 


May 5th
It’s been 12 days since I left Samoa for Oahu. I’ve left a serpentine trackline behind me as I’ve tried to navigate through the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ). Oh the first few days were fine. I wasn’t able to lay the course that I wanted, but the wind was consistent and I was making progress. Then 8 days ago that came to an end.

I’ve sailed upwind before on the ocean, but rarely for more than a few days at a time. Even my recent run from Fiji to Samoa was mostly about waiting for the wind to die and then motoring like hell. This passage was going to be in excess of 2600 miles and I wouldn’t be able to rely on my engine to make it all the way there. Besides, I’m still a little concerned with my little Suzie Diesel. She’s been acting up on me lately and I don’t like to push her so hard.

When the wind left me, it didn’t leave all together. It’d come and go in spurts. Evaporation during the day would create huge squalls every afternoon that would creep across the sky like alien motherships dropping their lead gray payload on the sea below. These squalls would bring wind, often lots of it. So may day would be filled with trying to play the light air to get to the next squall. Then I’d hastily reef down the sails as the squall front hit while still trying to maintain the best sailing angle to get east.

It’s all about the easting. The wind predominately comes from the east. The currents flow from the east to west. The cards are all stacked against me. At least in the southern hemisphere, the winds are supposed to be from the southeast, not that they’ve done that for me. When I get to about 8 degrees north, I’ll pick up the northeast tradewinds. If I haven’t made it far enough east by then, these winds will push me west of the Hawaiian Islands. I’d have to beat right into the heart of these intense winds and waves. I’m not sure either Bodhran or myself are up to the task. So I try for my easting in the southern hemisphere.

For a whole week, I play the light airs. After 3 days the squalls dry up. I’m surrounded in the distance by puffy white clouds and bright blue overhead. The real problem is my tacking angles. Bodhran isn’t a very weatherly boat. At the best of times, she can barely hold a 50 degree angle to the wind. Now with the light airs and ocean swell, I’m not able to sail closer than 70 degrees to the wind. When the wind is out of the due east, that means that I can either sail north on a course of 20 degrees or south on a course of 160. Either way I’m not making much easting. So when the wind dies, I fire up the diesel and motor as due east as the waves allow.


May 8th-11th
I got 4 good days of sailing in. The east wind filled in 10-15 knots and I was finally making 100nm days towards my destination. I was just south of the equator when……………..

May 12th

Oh what a sickening feeling. I’m sailing downwind. I’d spent days trying to claw my way east against wind and tide. Now I’m giving it back running for Christmas Island. It’s hard to describe how disheartened I feel.

Last night, while beating into a 10-15kt east wind I came down hard off of one of the occasional 4-6′ swells that I was bashing into. I heard a telltale snap from up forward. My first indication that something was wrong was that the jib was flogging. The jib sheet having been loosened slightly. Upon further inspection forward, I noticed that the furling drum was swinging around inside the pulpit. Something was definitely wrong. Fortunately I was still able to furl the jib and take the load off the presumably broken headstay.

Once the sail was in, I hooked up the spinnaker halyard to the bow roller and winched it tight to make a temporary stay. Fortunately Bodhran is cutter rigged and the inner forestay kept the mast from breaking. I eased the jib halyard to see what would happen and the entire sail/furler started to come down. Obviously my headstay or some other component in the chain had failed. I re-tensioned the halyard to further support the mast and made the decision to fall off for Christmas Island 220 miles to the west.

I’d already been out for 18 days. It’d been a long hard slog, playing the squalls, light winds and currents the best I could to make nearly 1000nm of easting. I’ve never had to work so hard at a passage in my life. I’d expected ESE trade wind conditions, though the pilot charts said that I’d be as likely to get force 3 as force 4 winds. As it turned out, I had winds from north of east for most of the previous 18 days and only 4 days of fine force 4 sailing winds.

Still, I’d made my 1000 miles of easting and had turned north. I was just about ready to cross the equator when the headstay snapped. I had a bottle of champagne chilled and ready. Instead of celebrating my return to the northern hemisphere, I turned away in defeat.

Matters were made worse by the light of day. I can see where the headstay snapped at the mechanical fitting just below the masthead. If the water was calm, I could climb up there, replace the fitting and re-attach the stay. I could be back on my way. Instead there’s still a 4′ sea running making it impossible to do any delicate work aloft.


Hopefully I’ll find the refuge in Christmas Island to make the repairs I need. It should be straight forward, but it would be an immeasurable help to have a second pair of hands on board. The worst part will be when I leave Christmas and have to start working my way due East again to regain this 200+ miles before I pick up the northeast tradewinds.

May 16th
Sailing to Christmas was excruciating. Without a headstay I couldn’t fly the spinnaker or the jib. Instead I was limited to the staysail hanked onto the inner forestay. If I wasn’t a cutter, it would have been worse. I wouldn’t have been able to fly any headsail at all. I also kept a reef in the main sail. It probably would have been ok to fly the full thing. Going downwind, there wouldn’t have been much need for the headstay, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. So I limped along between 3-4 knots.

To add insult to injury, I had a 10 knot ESE wind with me the entire way. This is the perfect wind for Bodhran to be sailing upwind and making more easting. Instead I had to sail wing-on-wing dead downwind, one of the least comfortable points of sail know to man. Wing-on-wing sailing causes the boat to roll 10-20 degrees to either side as you go down the face of the following waves. The sails give almost no stability to the motion of the boat. I was already very depressed giving up all this easting, the rolling of the boat was just icing on the cake.

The best part of my 3 day sail to Christmas Island was the night sailing. I’d left Pago Pago just before the new moon. Now I was sailing under an almost full moon under a cloudless sky. The moon was far brighter than most compact florescents. I could have read by it’s light if my Kindle hadn’t crapped out on me the day before I lost the headstay.

I timed my arrival off Christmas, with a little judicious motoring, to ensure that I’d be 10 miles off the island at first light. It took most of the morning, but I’d made it around to the lee by 10:30 and dropped the anchor a few hundred meters south of the wharf on the leeward west side of the island. Alas the sandy patch that I picked was just a shallow layer of sand over rock and my bruce anchor found no purchase.


I dropped in deep water and had 200′ of chain out. The last thing I wanted to do was haul all that chain back up, but up it came. Exhausted after 20 days at sea and hauling 200′ of chain in the equatorial sun, I moved up to a shallower spot closer to the wharf and dropped the hook again.

This time the anchor skittered across the bottom as I backed down on it. Then it stuck. I put more power to my little Suzie Diesel and my heart sank as I broke the anchor free. This spot was also no good. Greg and Bonnie had anchored here before and told me it was the place to be, but I wasn’t having any luck. So up came the anchor again, except this time it was much heavier. When I finally got it up, the weight of my Bruce had been augmented by a nice hunk of rock that I’d broken off and taken with me.


As recently as 2007, you could get inside the lagoon here at Christmas Island, but the channel has gotten too shallow and you have to anchor off. The water is crystal clear and I noticed that there was a nice sandy patch just north of the wharf. Greg had told me that south was the place to be, but after getting the anchor free of the rock, I was just about spent. I motored north of the wharf, dropped the hook in a beautiful patch of sand and was set.

I put the skiff in the water, grabbed my documents and went in to deal with formalities. The wharf has a beautiful floating dock where I merrily hitched my dinghy and jumped up the rusty stairs enjoying my first steps on solid ground in 3 weeks. I made it as far as the security gate and then was told that I had to return to the boat and wait for a boarding party to come with all the officials. Dejected, I returned to Bodhran. After 2 hours of waiting in vain for the officials, I decided that it was time to get drunk…..so I did.

This morning I set to work on the headstay. I climbed the mast and took off the broken fitting. I could see that the headstay had unraveled and that I wouldn’t be able to replace the fitting in place. So I climbed down the mast and began the agonizingly sow process of trying to lower the whole roller furling/sail/headstay assembly while anchored in the ocean swell. Through a complex series of lines I was able to slowly lower the assembly down to the spreaders when a couple of guys I’d met on my way in yesterday swung by in their outrigger canoe. Mariga and the other fellow whose name I can’t remember made short work of getting the 40′ long furler/headstay assembly down onto the deck. I served up some coffee to the guys and we chatted in the cockpit for a while until they took off to continue their fishing.

The officials hadn’t been answering their radio all morning. Now I get a call from them. I need to move 500 meters to the south. I’m not allowed to anchor where I am. Siiiiiiiiiigh! So up comes the anchor, and I moved to a spot 500 meters south of the wharf. The holding isn’t good, but I’m too tired to do anything about it after all the exertion of yesterday and todays project of getting the headstay down. It should be good enough where I’m at to deal with customs at least.

Again there’s no response on the radio. I decide to make some lunch and wait. An hour later I get a call from the officials. They don’t want to walk the mile up to the wharf, can I please re-anchor a mile to the south down by the pass into the lagoon? Arrrrrrgh! Up comes the anchor for the 4th time in 24 hours. I’m fairly certain that I’m going to have to get an electric windlass when I get home.

I anchor again near the pass and go ashore to pick up the officials. Instead of having a nice floating dock, I have to pick them up through the surf on the beach. It wasn’t a problem, but it took some doing to not swamp the boat while the less than nimble officials were clambering on board, simultaneously keeping off the sharp coral beach that was just waiting to punch a hole in my skiff.

Clearing in was no problem. There were no fees which was great after being gouged for a $165 to clear in and out of American Samoa. I had to handwrite my forms in quadruplicate, but the officials were cheerful and never even bothered to come below. I just dropped them off on the beach. It’s too late to go in and find internet, so hopefully I’ll get this posted tomorrow.

I’m here to fix my headstay. I have spare wire and fittings. I think that I’ll be able to get it done in another couple of days, especially if I can enlist a couple of helpers to wrestle the thing in place as I raise it up again. Christmas looks like a beautiful island. I was met by two huge green sea turtles on the way in yesterday. The water is amazingly clear. Hopefully I’ll get my repairs done, take a couple of days to tour the island and then be on my way early next week. Keep your fingers crossed!

May 18th
A couple of problems here. First, my spare length of wire is 16” too short. I’ve tried to figure out a good way to MacGyver it together, but I wouldn’t feel good setting out for Hawaii 1200nm to windward without a well functioning headstay/jib. The second problem is that I bent the furler extrusion when I was taking it down. I should be able to beat it back into shape, but I’m going to have to take it apart. It’s riveted together and I don’t have any rivets, so they’re going to have to be sent in as well.


On the bright side, the pass into the lagoon is teeming with life. On one trip in, I saw 2 green sea turtles and 4 mantas. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do some snorkeling there. The folks in town are friendly. There’s a brewery here. It was Sunday when I passed by it yesterday, but I’ll definitely be heading back to check that out.

Apr 042014
 

Gopro off the bow as I motored away from the setting sun

Gopro off the bow as I motored away from the setting sun


A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In my case a journey of 6000 miles from Fiji to Seattle, began with a 4 mile trip out to Cousteau Resort. After waiting nearly a month in Savusavu for a decent weather window, I checked out and was ready to leave. The weather didn’t look great, but there were no cyclones or dangerous looking lows out there and I was ready. I hoisted sail and took off all the way down to point reef, 4 miles away where I broke off the clutch handle for the windvane.

This passage was going to entail sailing east against the prevailing winds. I could use the autopilot to steer the boat, but it uses lots of power and will only hold a compass course. The windvane, on the other hand, uses no power and will adjust to any shifts in wind direction to ensure that I’m always making as much easting as possible. The prospect of sailing to American Samoa without this tool filled my heart with dread, so I pulled a u-turn, sailed a mile back to the anchorage off Cousteau Resort and dropped the hook. I slapped a liberal coat of JB Weld around the broken windvane clutch handle, scrubbed the hull and prop, and took care of a few other projects that I should have done before I left.

The next morning I left in earnest. I was able to sail a little bit, but I motored most of the way out to Taveuni. I was thankful that the SE wind hadn’t filled it, it made this first leg a much easier trip. A pod of pilot whales came by to check me out a couple hours after I left. I also spotted my first everpygmy sperm whale a little before sunset.

Pilot whales leaving Fiji

Pilot whales leaving Fiji

Once I passed Taveuni, I began to encounter a contrary current that stuck me all the way to Pago Pago. Sometimes it was down below half a knot, but for the most part I had to fight a 1+ knot current 620 miles against the wind. Bodhran doesn’t motor particularly well into the waves, nor does she sail particularly well hard on the wind. This combination made this passage the hardest leg of my proposed trip home.

The weather was all over the place during the passage. When I got wind, it was normally out of the southeast and I was able to sail into in fairly well. I had blue skies about half the time with the rest being filled in by squalls, and lightning. I ran into one cell in the middle of the night that brought gale force winds from the east, so I hove to for 7 hours and let it pass. In between the stints of sailing, I fired up the motor and made as much easting as possible.

On the 6th night out, I’d been motoring for 48 hours strait. The constant vibration shook a wire loose from my alternator. Of course it happened in the middle of the night. I spent 3 hours doing everything I could to fix it. But it looks like something shorted when the wire came loose and blew out the diodes.

I was worried about running the engine with a faulty alternator. Fortunately the wind filled in out of the SE and I had a great sail to within 10 miles of Pago Pago. The the wind died down leaving me along a very rough coastline with a 7-10ft swell running. I nervously ran the engine the rest of the way in, hand steering to conserve power.

I dropped the hook at the head of the bay, up past the Starkist tuna cannery on one side and McDonalds on the other. It was too late to clear into customs, so I put the boat to bed. Drank a couple of Fiji Golds as the sun went down and then put myself to bed. It took me 7 days to make 620 miles. Not my best average ever, but I was pretty happy with it. I ran the engine for exactly 100 hours. So I burned lots of diesel, but I made it. This was the passage I’ve been worrying about for the last few months. I’m glad to have it in the books.

Tuna boats in Pago Pago Harbor.

Tuna boats in Pago Pago Harbor.

Yup, that's a McDonalds.  They've got two here.

Yup, that’s a McDonalds. They’ve got two here.

Settled into Pago Pago with the Q flag up.

Settled into Pago Pago with the Q flag up.

Feb 202014
 

We stuck around Namena a day longer than zee Germans. There was a northerly wind forecasted so they bugged out to get back up to Cousteau before they had to bash the whole way. We decided to go with the flow and head south to Makogai.

We had a forecast for 10 knots out of the north for our trip south, but it never materialized. Instead we motored in flat calm seas pulling two fishing lines behind us. Mélanie spotted a bunch of boobies going crazy over a bait ball and we abruptly changed course. The first hit came fast on the rod. Mélanie worked hard to try to get it in, but it was too strong and nearly spooled all the line off the reel before it shook the hook. It did create a knot which we didn’t get fully worked out before we got another strike. This one too through the hook as we didn’t have any drag setup because of the knotted line. I worked out the knot and got the reel ready to go again for the 3rd hit, but even with maximum drag, the fish spooled me. These guys were just too big for my rod and reel setup.

Instead we turned to the handline. We switched out the blue squid, which the tuna had been ignoring, for a blue rapalla. Fortunately the fish were still in a feeding frenzy as we circled around for another pass. The handline went taught and Mélanie started dragging it in. Unfortunately the fish spooked when he saw the boat and she wasn’t able to handle the line. We lost another one.

We came up with a new plan for fish number 5. When the handline went taught again, we kept motoring along for 5 minutes to tire the fish out. This tactic worked like a champ. Mélanie wrestled the fish alongside the boat and I hit it with the gaff. I don’t know how big the other fish were, but this beautiful yellowfin tuna was 30lbs and nearly destroyed my port visor above the nav desk during his death throws. It took us an hour, but we finally had our fish. We set off for Makogai.

We anchored off the old leper colony and took in the yellowfin carcass and ¼ of the meat for Camelli and the crew. It turns out that the Minister of Fisheries for the Eastern Division of Fiji was visiting the research station. Camelli didn’t have much time for us, but was appreciative of the tuna.

We went back out to the boat for a nice sashimi dinner including some ginger that we’d picked ourselves over a month ago for just this occasion. Afterward I went in for a music/kava session with the fellas at the research station. It was interesting chatting with the Minister of Fisheries. He was by far the most worldly, educated Fijian that I’d ever met.

Unfortunately the wind picked up out of the NW and gave us quite the rolly night. We had to bail on Makongai. The waves were wrapping around any protection, so we decided to take advantage of the northly to head down to Ovalau 25 miles to the south.

We had a great sail in 15-20 knots of wind. The highlight of the day was passing through a pod of pilot whales. They were holding on station and we got a good look at lots of them, but it was too rough and I didn’t have my camera out.

The pass into Ovalau was easy to navigate in the clouds and we continued our boisterous sail down the west side of the island to Wainaloka bay. Wainaloka is listed as a hurricane hole. It’s certainly a beautifully protected anchorage with great holding, but it’s a bit big to use as a hurricane hole. Still if you’re caught in the area, this is the place to go.

We were running a bit low on supplies, so we took the skiff in through the mangroves to the village and started walking towards Levuka, the old capitol of Fiji. Unfortunately we missed the 8:30am truck and there was no traffic of any kind on the road. After a couple of km we ran into a fisherman who’d also missed the truck, though he didn’t know it. Eventually we were able to call a taxi to take all 3 of us into town.

The cession of Fiji to the British took place in Levuka back in the 1860s and the town hasn’t changed much since. Walking the streets, you’d think you were in an old west town, as long as you didn’t look to the east towards the Koro Sea.

Mélanie and I walked around town and checked out the sites, poking our heads in and out of the various shops containing lots of things we didn’t need. We visited the small museum and saw a good shell collection and some of the history of the place. In the end Levuka was a poor provisioning stop. Fresh veggies are hard to come by except on Saturday. We ended up with some apples, carrots and beer from the MH and that’s about it.

We spent the last two days hanging out at a sandbar between the anchorage and Moturiki. It’s completely covered at high tide, but has a wonderfully sandy beach that appears at mid tide. Of course we had another photo shoot, played crib and generally had a very mellow time. From here it looks like we’ll be heading south to Leluvia and eventually Suva. The wind is looking light for the rest of the time that Mélanie is going to be here, so there’s probably going to be lots of motoring in our future.

Feb 072014
 

As I mentioned in the last blog post, Mélanie met Richard and Denyse along the beach by Cousteau Resort. They’d rented a house on the beach for 3 weeks as part of their year long trip around the world (flying not sailing). They left for Nadi this morning, but we’ve all been hanging out exploring the area together for the last few weeks.

I hadn’t spent any time in the interior of Vanua Levu, so when Richard and Denyse rented a car and offered to take us along, Mélanie and I jumped at the opportunity. Savusavu was a madhouse with a Princess cruise ship in town, so we figured that a trip up to the national park for a nature hike seemed like a good plan.

It only took 45 minutes to drive up to Waisali National Park with it’s one trail. We pulled into the parking lot right behind a bus from the cruise ship….Doh! We quickly scurried in front of them to the ranger station to pay our fee and get on the trail.

The trail was in good shape even after the recent rain. The signs pointing out various local flora and fauna were badly sun damaged and mostly illegible. The highlight of the trip was the creek at the valley floor with multiple waterfalls and a nice pool to go swimming in, after doing the obligatory cannonball of course.

After the park, we were supposed to meet up with Tia at the Copra Shed to go up to a waterfall. Tia never showed, but we all enjoyed all the cruise ship people watching and the band while we sat on the grass and played cribbage.

The next day we set out towards the western tip of Vanua Levu. After about an hour we ran into road construction. After 20km we saw a construction worked eating lunch and asked how much longer the road was torn up. He said that we had another 60km to go to the beach and that the road was under construction the entire way…..we turned around. We then tried going out the Hibiscus Highway towards Viani Bay to the East, but were again turned around by road construction. Oh well, some things just aren’t meant to be.

Then the big day finally came. Superbowl Monday. I’d been waiting around Savusavu ever since the 49er’s game to make sure I’d be able to watch. Richard and Denyse met us at the Yacht Club where we joined a spattering of other Seattle fans and one lone Bronco who had just quit her job and flown to Fiji. I remember mentioning during the pregame show how much more nervous I’d been about the San Francisco game 2 weeks earlier. As everyone now knows, I had nothing to worry about as Denver didn’t show up to play.

With the game being over and my life/schedule being my own again, I took Richard and Denyse out for a sail towards Koro island. It was a good opportunity to test my compression post reinforcement in a 15-20 knot breeze. The post didn’t flex a bit as we bashed into 3-5 seas with a reef in the main. It definitely gives me confidence as I start making my way back home.

We got one good strike on the fishing line while we were out past the point. Mélanie wore herself down to the nub reeling it in, but the fish spat out the hook when it caught sight of the boat. Our fishing record during cyclone season continues to be abysmal.

After our day sail, we anchored off Richard and Denyse’s house where we’ve spent a few days snorkeling and enjoying being out of town. Yesterday we borrowed a couple of kayaks and paddled out to Cousteau Resort’s private island a half mile past the point. It was a beautiful sunny day and I had my camera along, so we spent a lot of time playing in the water and doing some gymnastics on the beach. Fun, but my back is killing me from a pretty good tumble. I think I need to practice a bit more.

We’ll be off to Namena tomorrow, hopefully with a couple of German boats that we’ve also been hanging out with in tow. It should prove for some epic snorkeling and diving as long as the weather cooperates.