We have arrived! It's 10:00 am Sunday morning May 5 and we are med tied to the pier in Avatiu Harbour in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Yeah! We are so happy to be here after 14 days at sea. We are the only cruising sailboat tied up to the pier! Perhaps the first of the season.
On the last night of passage Sarah Jean went topless! What a naughty girl! Yes - we rolled up our protective cockpit enclosure, also known as THE BUBBLE of TRANQUILITY, to spend an idyllic South Pacific night with an unobstructed view of the heavens! The seas calmed down and the wind died so we motored under a canopy of stars. It was gorgeous! A wonderful way to end the passage; gazing at the stars and sleeping well without the big seas.
Rarotonga is a mountainous island with many sharply pointed verdant peaks, reminding us a lot of the Marquesas. It looks very tropical and very gorgeous. Can't wait to explore!
Here is a short synopsis of our passage from Opua, NZ to Rarotonga, Cook Islands:
- 14 days, 1,883 miles - 93 engine hours - in light air and some battery charging - highest 24 hour run - 154 nm - lowest - 110 nm - highest boat speed - 10.0 kts - 1 gale and associated front with highest wind at 44 kts - biggest seas 4 m - number of squalls - too many to remember - damage: minimal - Life Sling box on transom rail swept away by big wave - all other systems were flawless - westerly winds (NW to SW) for 11 out of 14 days - followed Jimmy Cornell's route, sailing east from NZ. - Then turned NE at 34 S and 174 W, a little earlier than Jimmy recommends but we had a low coming and Bob McDavit routed us north early - 2 sailboats spotted - "Longshot" and "Allouette" - 6 freighters spotted en route to and from NZ and Raro - books read by Beth: 3 - spotted 6 albatross - 10 sunny days out of 14 - ate 30 bananas - spilled food on the floor 5 times - soaked in salt water 4 times when boarding waves came into the cockpit - best snack - hummus and carrots - best meal - lasagna - best new artist (music) listened to on David's Ipod - Sarah Harmer - best new addition to the boat in Opua this year - new stainless grab bars in the galley and saloon table top - tied for best new addition - upwind jib from Willis - pulled us along at 6-7 kt at 35 degrees apparent in the low. Fantastic! - cool memories - sailing along the path of the full moon, and numerous star filled nights
We will email again in a few days to share our adventures on land with you. It's currently 31 degrees in the cabin. Hot! The local Cook Island kids are jumping off the pier at our stern to cool off in the water.
We plan to stay in Raro for a week. On Monday, May 13, weather permitting, we will depart for Penhryn Island. This is a tiny coral atoll located about 750 miles from here on the most northern edge of the Cook Island Group. W expect this next passage to take 5-6 days.
Thanks for joining us on our trip from NZ to Rarotonga. We look forward to chatting with you again on our next passage. See you then!
Bet & Norm + David
Beth & Norm + David
It is Saturday afternoon. We are sailing eastwards towards Rarotonga, dead downwind in steady westerly winds of 15 - 20 kts, as we have been doing for the past 3 days. This is quite remarkable in an area where the trade winds are supposed to be from the east or southeast! We are not complaining. In fact we are most thankful to the wind gods and the benevolence they have once again bestowed on our tiny ship. Maybe they feel guilty for beating us up earlier in the week! At any rate, we think we may have discovered the mythical Rarotongan Counter Trade Wind Belt, known to ancient Polynesian seafarers but lost to modern sailors. Note to self: write Jimmy Cornell about this discovery!
The westerly winds are moving us nicely along our route. We expect to arrive at Rarotonga tomorrow morning. We have been touch with the Port Captain by email and have asked him if he will blow a conch shell as we sail into the harbor. So far no response.
As our passage comes to an end and we celebrate our imminent landfall we have indulged ourselves in writing some bad poetry. Eat your heart out Homer!
Feel free to delete this email when finished.
THE NIGHT BEFORE LANDFALL
Tis the night before landfall And all over the boat Is a thick salty layer, A white crystalline coat.
Oh Rarotonga, Rarotonga, Your shores are so near Our yearning is great For that first landfall beer!
For Sarah Jean on passage Is alcohol free. We have juice, we have water Yet thirsty we be.
The Q flag is hung From the spreader with care In the hope Rarotonga We soon would be there.
On mainsail, on staysail, On solent and mizzen, Pulling us east Where the moon has just risen.
Our clothes, our towels, Our rain gear still damp To the laundry, to the laundry Will be our first tramp.
Dinners and drinks And scooters we'll rent In a very short time All our cash will be spent!
Oh Rarotonga, Rarotonga, You tropical pearl, As we approach your snug harbor Our headsail we'll furl.
Mr. Customs Man - Ahoy! Please take our lines Clear us in quickly Don't search for our wine!
In our dinghy we go To meet with the masses Dressed in loud shirts And Ray Ban sun glasses.
Hiking and snorkeling And shopping we'll go, And boat chores, do boat chores Repairs from the low!
With fishes and stingrays And turtles we'll swim Then work on our sunburns With drinks full of gin!
Emerald lagoons And pretty thatch huts Look - reclining lounge chairs! Let's sit on our butts!
Foul weather and waves, The wind how it blew, But Raro, she beckoned, No time to heave to.
To windward, to windward! Twenty five knots on the nose Twas not in the forecast But that's how it goes.
A flying fish flew Into the cockpit one night Flipping and flapping He gave quite a fright!
His tail I grabbed fast Back to sea he was tossed Back to his friends Who thought he was lost.
Sarah Jean is exhausted But soon she will rest. We'll wash her and wax her She's simply the best!
In the distance a cloud Or is it land that I see? Up the mast with binocs I see coconut trees!
Today on the floor A wool sock did I see. I laughed to myself, Of what use can it be?
In the tropics, the tropics It is very hot The chill air of New Zealand We miss totally not
Our passage is over But soon they'll be more We'll enjoy this safe haven, And leave wanting more . . .
With apologies to those who take poetry seriously. We'll let you know of our safe arrival tomorrow!
The Highs and Lows of Passage Making:
The day before we left Opua, NZ on our passage to Rarotonga, a cruising friend, Catherine on S/V Cobalt from the UK, commented that I probably wouldn't enjoy the passage back to Vancouver but I would get through it. She and her husband, Anthony, have been cruising for 10 years or more so she speaks from experience. Well, 11 days into the passage I am "getting through it", but there also some positives to ocean passage making. I've come to realize that most of us experience extreme highs and lows out here at sea. The highs are really high and the lows are . . . well, very low. For me keeping the end goal in mind keeps me going. Norm and I want to get Sarah Jean II safely back to Vancouver so we can be closer to family, our parents and our twenty something children. So we sail on.
Here are some of the highs of ocean passage making, in my eyes:
It's extremely cool to sail along under sunny skies, skimming over the waves of the incredibly sapphire blue sea, listening to good music on the stereo. When Norm played "Ava Maria" it brought tears to my eyes. My emotions are close to the surface out here and I will always associate that song with this three year voyage and my night watches.
Life is simple on passages; sleep (when you can), eat, trim the sails, watch our course and read. This simplicity allows me to live in the moment and appreciate small things, like the swallow that landed on Sarah Jean's lifelines, 1000 miles from the nearest land. Life on land never seems to be this simple so I'll enjoy this slow life while I can.
Time to contemplate life. Out here at sea I can take a step back and look at the big picture of life. How has our 3 year Pacific sailing adventure changed us? What will our life back on land look like after we arrive home in August? How do I want to lead my life?
Lots of reading time. I read on night watch and take a break every 15 minutes to scan the horizon and check the radar for squalls or ships. When it's a smooth sailing night I read a lot. During heavy weather I may do very little reading, spending the whole watch observing the instruments, trimming sails and adjusting our course.
Learning new skills. We are always learning something new on Sarah Jean, even after 3 years of ocean sailing. On this passage I've become more skilled at squall avoidance. There are lots of squalls in this part of the ocean due to the SPCZ (South Pacific Convergence Zone). They usually occur at night. When a squall hits, the wind may increase and back or veer (change direction), so I reduce sail, head more upwind with the autopilot and track the squall on the radar.
The lows of ocean passage making:
Not getting enough sleep. This has to be the biggest downside of being at sea for me. If I don't get enough sleep I get cranky! Last night the wind was howling, the boat was lurching and rolling in the big seas and I wasn't sleeping. Getting up for my 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. watch was a challenge but had to be done. I sipped my tea and had my cookie from the night watch cookie box and then things were better. This morning I slept for a glorious 5 hours after my watch. When I get enough sleep I can handle anything. Having David on board has certainly made this passage easier for Norm and I Three hour night watches are so much easier than 6 hours! Thank you, David!
Big Seas. When the seas are big on a passage there is a lot more lurching, rolling and pitching. Every step must be taken with care and carefully timed. Currently the seas are over 4 meters and waves regularly crash over the dodger or slam into our plastic cockpit enclosure on the windward side. Generally we have kept dry due to this enclosure which is wonderful when you are on watch.
Low Pressure Weather System. We were unable to avoid a big low that came across our path on this passage to Rarotonga. It was the first time we have sailed through a big low and it wasn't a lot of fun. On a longer passage (14 days) like this one from NZ to Rarotonga, it is harder to avoid these systems. You can't see them coming when you leave.
Boredom. Our Kiwi friend, Grahame on S/V Adamite, commented that boredom was his biggest problem with ocean passages. He and his wife, Lynne, have completed 2 circumnavigations! Although books usually keep me entertained, I also spend time reading up on the islands we will be visiting. I have a list of fun things to do now in Rarotonga. I write in my journal, prepare good things to eat for the crew, listen to music on our Ipod at night and do yoga on board as sailing conditions permit. On this passage I am also planning to spend more time practicing my French! David is a French immersion teacher. What a wonderful opportunity for me to improve my French conversational skills.
Well look at that! I listed more highs than lows for ocean passage making. Interesting!
Right now landfall is foremost on our minds. We're looking forward to being safely tied to the pier in Avatiu Harbour on Rarotonga, the boys enjoying beers and burgers, and a cool gin and tonic for me. We'll swim and snorkel in the beautiful lagoon and get some exercise hiking the mountains on the island. I'll snuggle into the V-berth with Norm, rather than sleeping separately in our respective sea berths and trying to be content with the occasional hug or kiss in the galley.
I will indeed "get through it", this fifteenth ocean passage of ours, with all its highs and lows!
Greetings everyone from the Tropics! *ukulele strumming in the background* Norm and Beth are taking the day off from the blog so I can fill in the blanks from the last couple of days.
Yesterday we passed another important milestone along our journey as we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5 degrees South) to officially enter the tropics. Moments after Sarah Jean II cut across the magic latitude, she came slowly to a halt. The winds completely died, the clouds parted, and the churning sea settled to glassy calm. From the deep before us rose Manu-tuta O'la (Shirley in English) the Goddess of the Tropics in all her aquatic splendour accompanied by her favourite Polynesian Ukulele Band and Choir who serenaded us while she adorned us with leis, bestowed upon us welcome gifts, and offered us papaya Champagne in fluted shells. After imparting her wisdom and giving her blessings for a safe voyage, along with various 2 for 1 coupons for the Rarotonga Shop'N Save, she bade us farewell before disappearing once again into the deep blue sea. Norm, Beth, and I were left to sail away in light air at our backs smiling and singing Oli-Wotu-iwi in three part harmony as the sun slowly set before us. (Hey, you weren't there, prove it otherwise.)
Slight embellishments aside, we did cross the Tropic of Capricorn and the sea is a deep blue. The Big Bad Low did give way, penguins are being harassed as we speak, but the winds weren't finished with us and we were still sailing hard to weather. I seem to have had the luck of the draw on watches as little drama has occurred during my shift. Almost every time Norm has relieved me, something 'interesting' came this way. So interesting this time in fact that Norm decided to extend his midnight to three am watch until 9 am the next morening telling both Beth and myself to remain below as outside was a complete mess. The moderate to strong winds we had the previous evening rose to strong to gale force with gusts to 40. He brought new meaning to being calm under (a low) pressure. Norm kept Sarah Jean sailing in fine form despite the serious conditions and got us all safely through the night. This was my first taste of nasty weather, so to those more in the know, perhaps that's just doing what needs doing, but to me, it seemed like Norm pulled down one epic night. As for my experience on watch with no moon, overcast skies blotting out the stars and the only light being the cockpit instruments, it was akin to riding a roller coaster blindfolded. I don't like roller coasters. I could only feel the rise and fall of the sea, but couldn't know just how much up and down was coming or for what to brace for. Every lurch, every roll, every rise, every plunge, every impact (and there were some loud bangs) came with no warning. We screamed briskly along, water rushing along side us, but I had the oddest sensation, by virtue of seeing nothing, that we weren't moving forward. My experience list has grown. I'll be more familiar with these conditions then next time they occur, but I won't be forgetting my first 'dark watch' soon.
Today finds us in our more accustomed surroundings with glorious sunshine and vibrant cobalt seas with nary a cloud in the sky (and dry non-salty clothing). We have marked this occasion by dressing Sarah Jean in the traditional offshore colours (laundry flying from every available line). We are making way at 6-7 knots on a beam reach in 15-20 knot winds and expect to make Rarotonga by Sunday.
Today we will talk briefly about the weather because I know many of you are curious.
Well, it looks like we have successfully dodged the bullet, so to speak. Over the past 48 hours we have managed to streak across the path of the BIG BAD LOW by working our way northeast and then north. The center of the LOW is now well to the west of us and is trundling towards Antarctica to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting penguin population.
Our weather and sailing conditions have been quite adverse with very high winds on the nose and monsoon type downpours as we passed through frontal bands and squalls. The worst weather is now well behind us. We even had sunshine for a while this morning!
At first light today, as the wind began to back around the compass, first to the north northeast and then to the north, we tacked the boat onto a new course of 75 degrees true aimed directly at Rarotonga. That was one sweet tack! Our previous starboard tack life is over now and we must learn to live with the boat tilted in the opposite direction. For example, instead of having to claw your way uphill out of the bathroom, reaching for the distant grab bar in the galley, we are now launched out of the bathroom into the saloon, falling through essentially a trap door when the door handle is released. So we are learning new skills today, sometimes the hard way!
Our crew has done an excellent job during this little ordeal. It is sure great to have a third person when the manure hits the ventilator! And Sarah Jean has been just phenomenal. Today I think we have the best boat in the world! She has been steady and strong when close hauled, working her way into viscous head winds of 35 kts. But she also has been incredibly fast, charging hard upwind into the tempest at speeds of 6 - 7 kts. Much of this is to do with her new upwind sail made by Willis Sails of New Zealand. This sail is the engine that drives her forward when sailing to weather. There is little doubt in my mind that our successful evasion of the BIG BAD LOW would not have been possible without this new sail. So our thanks to Craig and Dave at Willis Sails in Kerikeri!
News flash from the cockpit: the wind has just backed to the northwest and our boat speed has risen to 6.5 kts and climbing. Yahoo! So onward we go to Raro. It seems a little more real now. It is getting hot. The cabin temp is now 30 C. We're definitely in the tropics.
I can almost taste that arrival beer! It will be awesome!
At times, when we are sailing out here on the ocean and there is no land in sight, we feel like we are the only ones on the planet. Then the VHF radio suddenly comes to life and there is a boat hailing us, "Sarah Jean, Sarah Jean, this is Long Shot." Someone is calling us and I get all excited! It turns out there ARE other boats out here on the high seas. S/V Long Shot is a boat from Victoria with a family on board. They are sailing from NZ to Tahiti and then up to Hawaii and home to Victoria. They are traveling with S/V Allouette, also with a family on board. They too are making the same trip north from Tahiti to Hawaii and then eventually to the Pacific Northwest USA. There were several VHF calls back and forth between our boats discussing weather and cruising plans. We were able to see their boats visually for a brief time before they headed east to Tahiti.
We have another radio on board, our Icom 802 SSB radio, which I use to communicate with Peter in San Francisco. Peter runs a Ham sched for Bluewater Cruising Association members. I talk to him every day at 0430 UTC and give him our position and course and wind and sea states. I can hear him really clearly as if he was next door, yet he is 6,000 miles away. Such is the magic of Ham radio. It's a comfort to talk to someone on land when we are at sea and, should we ever have an emergency, he would be able to help. I also enjoyed talking to Steve Miller on S/V Silas Crosby. He joined our sched with Peter. We met Steve in Mexico and since then he has sailed around Patagonia in S outh America and is now in Hawaii. He too is sailing home to Vancouver but via Alaska.
Yesterday I had a thrill. I talked to Jean Socrates of S/V Neirada on the radio. She is the single hander who is sailing nonstop around the world. She is currently just south of Fiji, so not that far away from us. And she's heading for Victoria too. You can Google her and check out her website for updates on her adventure. She's an inspiration for all women sailors. We wish her all the best for her successful nonstop circumnavigation.
We have the ability to download weather information (grib files) every day using our Iridium satellite phone. It's very helpful to have access to the weather, particularly on longer passages like this one from NZ to Rarotonga when weather can change rapidly.
We even communicate with the stars out here! On a calm night David and I held our Ipads up to the sky and the names of constellations and stars were identified for us on the screen, just like magic. Very cool!
It's wonderful to receive emails from family and friends when we are at sea, again through Sailmail. In the old days men would go to sea and their wives would not hear from them for months or even years. Now we can send emails out daily to our family group to let them know we are OK. These are posted directly on our blog through Sailmail. We can also receive emails and hear news from home. Yesterday our daughter Amanda wrote that she is heading off on a trip to India! Norm's Dad, Bill celebrated his 90th birthday and we heard about his special day from his wife, Val. Our friends on S/V Songline, Cinda and Fred, are currently sailing from American Samoa to Hawaii, making their way home to Alaska. We receive their updates and marvel at how we are both sailing under the same moon.
We are so lucky to live in today's world of advanced technology that provides us with the tools to communicate with others when we are at sea.
Thank you to everyone who has written to us! The highlight of our very simple days out here at sea is to open the computer and see the message "You've got mail!"