Underway again... where did the week go?
KB, Cloudy with rain
08/06/2009, About 45 miles SW of Suwarrow, Cook Islands
Suwarrow was one of the most magical places we have been to on this trip. We were lucky enough to spend a week there, time just flew by and we could have easily stayed longer but we need to keep moving. As Jeff mentioned in his last blog I finally found my cliched tropical island with palm trees, sandy beaches and blue blue water. We could see the fish and small back tipped reef sharks swimming around our boat every day - and the bottom was very clear, about 25 feet down - we could see the coral bombies our anchor was resting behind!
It's a national park and part of the Cook Islands - our only stop in the Cooks. The only way to get there is by private boat so its very remote, with a ranger - John, his wife Veronica and 4 boys living on the island for 6 months of the year to make sure the cruisers behave themselves. You need permission to go to most parts of the lagoon and its great to see such a beautiful spot being preserved. We originally planned to stay for 3 days but ended up spending a week while we snorkeled, swam and spent lots of time catching up with other cruisers. Fish was on the menu nearly every night, between a big BBQ on Victory Cat one night where the whole anchorage was invited over to help them devour a bill fish they had caught enroute. We were also lucky enough to be treated to freshly caught Coral Trout caught that day by George on Trio - its a magnificent tasting fish.
The week went way too quickly for me - I cant believe we are back out here for another 700 mile trip, another 5 or 6 days at sea - this really is a big ocean with lots of nothing between spots, but after being privileged enough to spend a week in Suwarrow it makes it all worth it. Tonga here we come!
Paradise is an atoll in the Cooks
07/31/2009, Suwarrow, Cook Islands
We are anchored in Suwarrow, which is a large atoll in the Northern Cook Islands. Its stunning here, a real postcard and right now we are anchored off the most beautiful little island with sandy beaches, palm trees and water so clear you can see the bottom from 35 feet. Other boats anchored here tell us there are loads of sharks, we havent braved the water yet but who could resist with visibility like that. I think I'll start off close to the shore and check out the coral and fish from there, maybe I can make a run for the beach if I see jaws coming my way.
It took us 5.5 days to get here and we had almost every type of weather on the passage, everything from 0 - 35 knots and seas ranging from pretty flat to 3 meters in a washing machine with waves coming from two different directions. This leg from Bora Bora to Tonga is known to have some tough weather conditions so we were expecting the worst, it wasnt all that bad apart from the huge roll we had for the last couple of days getting in here, every time we are in dead downwind sailing I wish we were in a catamaran!
Atoll in the middle of no where...
jT, Sunny with random rain squalls during the day
07/31/2009, Suwarrow, Cook Islands
It is such a strange feeling to see land after a voyage. We had been at sea for five days, with our only human contact being the SSB (Single Side Band High Frequency radio - Ham radio with multiple frequencies that bounce off the atmosphere to get the radio signal halfway around the earth) nets that we check into. Over the last few days, we've plotted the course of other vessels going to Suwarrow and Niue and beyond. We even had a social invite to help eat a five foot bill fish, on the coming Saturday, that was caught on the way into Suwarrow. So the radio is our lifeline. It also allows us to sent email and submit these sailblogs on the float, so it's an important part of our voyage.
On the last night at sea, we had our VHF radio (good for only line of sight distances, so it's up to a maximum of twenty miles between boats that it can be used) crackle to life. Calling us was a catarmarian called Honeymoon (they are actually on a year honeymoon crossing the Pacific), with Seth and Elizabeth on board. They had picked us up, most likely on radar, as being five miles ahead of them. At night, most of the navigation lights on sailboats work for about 2-3 miles. We had a quick chat with them and both of us at been slowing down the speed of our boats to reach Suwarrow a few hours after dawn. The call came at 2am, so I was just coming onto watch when Kirsty chatted with them. From then on, I was focusing on finding their nav light as they closed on us and the island. Funny how you focus on things you can bump into out here . By about 4am, I finally had them in sight. We had only about 1/3 of our head sail poled out, as the wind was coming from dead astern, and had been "reefed" in like this since dusk the previous night. This slowed us down to just under 4 knots and gave us an arrival ETA of 8:30am.
So back to the original thought of this blog, we are out in the middle of the biggest ocean, far far from any continent and land mass. If you look at our large scale map that covers the entire Pacific Ocean, the islands we are on are barely even DOTS! The typeface of the names are the only reason you would see them on the map, without a magnifying glass. So when your up on late watch, you tend to think. I still marvel at the sailors that had to plot their Lat and Long in the old days... and the old days were only twenty years ago before GPS became widely available or used. Back then, noon was the most important time of the day. Right before the sun hit the highest point in it's arch, you would start to measure it's height in the sky with a sextant. As noon hit, you would read the largest degree reading and note it down. After noon, the height of the sun would drop until dusk. With a pile of charts and reference manuals you could roughly determine your latitude on the earth (the East - West running lines). From that it was a huge mathematical endeavor to calculate your longitude. Messy and sometimes inaccurate. Plus think about how many days you don't see the sun at noon, due to clouds, etc... So navigating in the days of old could be down-right dangerous! Now we just glance down and see our Lat and Long displayed on a GPS, updating several times per second. Talk about easy! Takes the stress out of approaching a reef in the middle of the night :)
At dawn, I finally get to look over to my left and see land, but guess what? Nothing but rolling sea! The main island is supposed to be visible from six miles out, but with the sea conditions and us skirting up to the top of the atoll, it still isn't close enough to see with us nine miles out. I can see our friends, Honeymoon about two miles off of our port side. During the night, they had closed on us and crossed over from starboard to port (right to left) closing on the atoll closer than we had. Over the next hour, we change course just a bit and finally see the island come into view. We had also rolled out our head sail, and picked up the pace back into the 6+ knot range. We were stilll rolling heavily from the seas, twenty to thirty degrees to each side when the wave trains came through. That motion is never comfortable in a mono-hull, so both Kirsty and I were very glad to see land and know a calm anchorage lay ahead!
With Honeymoon just off our stern, by about 1/2 mile, we lined up to enter the pass into Suwarrow lagoon. Gorgeous! The cliche tropical island had finally been found by Kirsty! Turquoise water, white sand beaches leading up to lofty palm trees! The pass was wide and uneventful, but as we got into the lagoon a familiar face was charging up in his dinghy. George and Annie off of Trio (we first met them on mainland Ecuador then have seen them in Galapagos and finally in French Polynesia) were here! George came out to make sure we got around South Reef ok, and then gave us the lay of the anchorage. You have to love friends like that! We steamed over to the anchorage and dropped in 25' of clear water. Once away it's funny to be in the middle of no where, but have seven other boats around you. Each with a story, each with their own trials and tribulations, but still having found themselves all together in a paradise. Ahhhh that's cruising!
Yellow Fin Tuna for Dinner
07/28/2009, Half way between Bora Bora & Suwarrow, Cook Islands
How did we ever make it across the Pacific I have to wonder? Three days into our 700 mile passage, we have just passed the half way mark and I'm pacing up and down the companionway wondering when we are going to arrive... I guess its all relative to how long a passage is. We are in the middle of a big hole with not much wind around so we are doing a combination of sailing when we can get enough wind to push us along and motor sailing to keep us moving forward. Its amazing to think that on our first night out we had a triple reef in and a handkerchief of a headsail out and were ripping along in 20 - 25 knots with gusts in the 30s. This is definately a much more comfortable ride.
Last night about an hour before sunset we had strikes on both rods. We managed to hook both of them on - a first for us, 2 fish on the hook at the same time. We took a line each and slowly started to reel them in. Mine was much easier than Jeff's, he had something big hooked on, so once I got mine close up to the boat we focused on getting it aboard.. We could see that it was a smallish yellow fin tuna - actually a good size for us with about 4-5 meals on him - and we successfully managed to get him aboard without too much hassle. Back to Jeff's and we worked on it together and as he got closer we could see it was another yellow fin tuna, but much bigger than mine, he was in the same league as the one Jeff caught in the Galapagos. Wondering how we were going to refigerate both we were thinking about sending one back, no need as once again we couldnt mange to get him onboard he was just too big. As Jeff was lifting him over the lifelines he spat the hook and disappeared - it wasnt too painful this time around since we already had a nice one onboard... fresh fish for dinner - nothing beats it - he was delicious!
Next Stop, Northern Cooks
07/25/2009, Leaving Bora Bora, Fench Polynesia
After 2.5 months in French Polynesia we are watching Bora Bora slowly fade into the distance, What an amazing place, we have loved it here but its time to move on to the next beautiful spot. We originally planned to get underway yesterday and were on our way to the fuel dock for a last duty free refuel before heading out when both of us head a very strange sound coming from the engine. No water coming out of the exhaust pump (bad news for our diesel) and lots of white smoke steaming out - not a good sign at all. I lose it, have a massive hissy fit and stamp down below - I'm over things breaking all the time, especially since we have just waited a week for a part - surely something else hasnt gone out this quickly. We decide to go ahead and refuel, which is another story in itself, its always fun coming into a fuel dock in 20 knots of wind with noone on shore to help with the lines. With that out of the way Jeff calmly sets about troubleshooting the engine problem. We have no water coming into the system to cool down the engine. One of us in going to have to dive under the boat and see if there is something blocking the water passage. Looks like I'm up, since Jeff cant go into the salt water with his tattoo yet. I don my mask, snorkel and flippers and dive under, happy days, there is a huge piece of seaweed stuck in the passage - yippee, maybe this is going to be an easy fix. Sure enough after clearing the passage of the seaweed the engine is running as good as new.
After a quick weather check it looks like a big storm front is passing through with 20-30 knots and given its now 4pm we decide to delay out start until tomorrow. A good call as it turns out, it was a pretty horrible night with huge rain squalls all night with gusts of wind in the 30kt range - not fun to be sailing in. It was also a good test for the new anchor and shackle combo we have put on here in Bora Bora. The original swivel we bought to go with our new anchor was too small and kept tripping the anchor when we pulled back on it. I'm happy to report that with the new shackle it stuck like glue - we didnt drag an inch all night. We had our first serious problems with our anchor dragging during a stormy night earlier in the week - thats never happened to us before and we sure hope it never happens again - its not fun waking up during a downpour to find that you are 20 feet from another boat and moving quickly past them because your anchor has tripped - especially your brand new anchor. We had to motor off to another calmer anchorage in the middle of the night and still dragged a couple of times. Lets just say that as soon as the sun came up we picked up a mooring ball and went straight to back to bed!
So with all that behind us and some great times in Bora Bora we have pulled up our anchor in French Polynesia for the last time and are heading towards Tonga - its about 1400 miles and we expect to be there in about 2 weeks. We are going to break the trip for a few days in the middle with a stopover at Suwarrow, which is a small atoll in the Northern Cook Islands. We have about 5 days at sea to get to Suwarrow and we are both looking forward to catching up on some reading and movie watching. Hopefully the weather window will hold, there has been some absolutely terrible weather on this passage for the last week with some folks experiencing up to 40kts, but right now its looking good and fingers crossed for an easy passage.