08/24/2011, Southwest of Suwarrow Atoll
Sorry for the delay in posting this. We couldn't get connected through our SSB..
Well, we are on the way again. We started Monday with a trip out to one of the reefs just south of the anchorage to see the manta rays that live in the area. We'd been there shortly after we'd arrived at Suwarrow but didn't see any. As we were leaving in a few hours, now was the time. The reef was only about a half mile south of where we were. As we headed south, we were passed by Warren and Maria off Night Fly. Nice people we had just met while we were anchored in Suwarrow. They had seen 4 manta while they were out there. We clipped Puff to the buoy that is there and dived into the water and started the search. A few minutes later as I swam along, I happened to glance back behind me and there was this HUGE manta just gliding along right behind me. The wing span was at least ten feet, probably more. He(or she) passed right below me. A few minutes later, more showed up gliding in a line or into a circular pattern above the ocean floor gathering what ever came along for food. There were other smaller fish that swam along with them gathering what they could that the manta didn't get. It was an amazing time. I did swim down to touch one just to see what they felt like. It was much the same as running your hand down wet velvet. I think I spooked him(or her) as the wings took a quick pulse and it swam quickly away. We climbed back into Puff and headed back for final preparations to get under way.
We had a nice lunch and discussed the easiest way to get the chain off the coral heads it had gotten snagged on. We finally decided to call Jason off YOLO(You Only Live Once) and asked his help. He came right over and after some discussion as to what was needed, I dove in and started releasing the small buoys we had used to support the chain. Jason gathered them on board all the while using the windlass to pull up the chain. Tracy was at the controls in the cockpit steering Zephyr exactly where Jason told her to go as I directed Jason from the water. A few minutes later, the chain and anchor were all free and I swam back to Zephyr's stern and grabbed the ladder as she slid past me. Tracy put the engine in neutral and I climbed aboard. We both thanked Jason for his help as he made what could have been a tough job easier. He was amazed at the great job Tracy did controlling Zephyr. Jason climbed down the ladder and took off for his boat. With the anchor loose, we stopped for a few minutes so I could get the anchor up, myself dried off and dressed then it was off for the pass to get us out of the lagoon.
We upped the anchor just about 1300 and headed out raising the main sail with a reef in it to keep us steady as we passed through the narrow channel. We made our way north and around Turtle Island, one of the motus that surround the lagoon at Suwarrow. Once there, we pulled out about a third of our head sail and changed course to 230 and headed for Tonga. Winds were about 15 knots and the swells were running about 3 meters so it was a bit rolly. We've stayed on that course ever since we left Suwarrow and have no reason to change it as it will drop us on the north side of the island we are headed for. The winds have continued in the 10 to 15 knot range and the swells are still throwing us around a bit. We will gently roll port to starboard for a while and then get hit by a bigger wave that causes us to roll quite a bit farther on our side. This has gone on ever since we left and is still happening. You hang on to what ever you can any time you move in the boat.
In our first 24 hours, we made it to 14 18.074S 165 11.646W covering 147 miles our first day. That puts our speed at just over 6 knots. Not bad for a big boat like Zephyr. We only have 567 miles to go to get us to Vava'u in Tonga where we expect to spend several months during the hurricane season. If we find we don't like it there, we may head north to the Marshall Islands, well out of the hurricane zone. I guess we will see. Meanwhile, there is a big sailing fest scheduled for Vava'u starting on September 7th that goes through the 15th. We're looking forward to seeing lots of our friends while we are there.
And that's the way the first 24 hours have been since we left. Good wind and a few showers to keep the deck clean of salt that sprays up from the ocean every now a again.
Tracy's two cents:
It felt wonderful being at sea again, no worries about hitting coral heads that were only a few feet away and had the ability to take off at least 6 inches off our keel. The entire lagoon is covered with coral heads, so even if we were in 90 feet of water the anchor would have gotten snagged by a coral head. Where we anchored is was 15 feet deep, so Bill could dive on it every day and check where the chain was and made sure the anchor was still stuck on the coral bommie where it first hooked onto.
I spent all day Sunday cooking passage meals so no matter what the sea state was we wouldn't have to scramble to get a meal together.
Bill told you all about the mantas, they are magnificent beasts. They are so huge with big gapping mouths. They are frightening to see coming straight at you, but they are gentle beasts and are fascinating to watch, but we had to leave the atoll on a falling tide so we had to get back to Zephyr and shove off.
The pass is very straight forward, but there is quite a current, 4.5 kts. outgoing. Warren from Nightfly told us to have our sails up when we went through and be heeled over when exiting and the standing wave will be much easier to glide through instead of getting bucked up and down as you go through, a la Fakarava. We had the mainsail up and getting through was a snap. There were lots of overfalls and eddies, but we managed to maneuver through and got out without a hitch. Atolls are such fun to enter or exit....NOT!
I couldn't sleep the last night in the lagoon and didn't sleep the first night of the passage as it was so rough, but last night I finally started to get into the rhythm and got a few hours of sleep, today I had a nap and feel pretty good. Life on board isn't fun if two people are sleep deprived, Bill has started to sleep also, so we finally are in passage mode and life is fine.
Suwarrow....it is a huge cruiser stopover out in the middle of nowhere. There is more hard live coral there than anywhere we have been to so far. Perfect Reef was exactly that, in my opinion. Lots of fish, lots of pretty hard corals, we got lots of good pictures to put up when we get to civilization. The two park rangers bent over backwards to be helpful. John, the younger ranger took people out fishing twice a day and Bill and John caught a Dogtoothed Tuna. I guess the fun of fishing in the lagoon is getting your catch onboard through the sharks. Bill and John's tuna made it successfully without a munch out of it. We have a couple of fillets in the freezer, the rest went to the rangers. One day, we went on a reef walk with James the head ranger...it felt criminal to be walking on live coral, but it's the only way to get to Whale Island and see the nesting sooty terns. There are thousands of them with nest right on the ground or in low bushes, most with a little hatchling nestled in. The rangers also host pot lucks once a week. Their custom at these dinners, is that the children get their dishes filled first, then the women go through the line and get their food, then the men get theirs. The hosts, I noticed waited until everyone had eaten then they filled their plates. James says a blessing before every outing or event. The Polynesians are very religious. They don't work on Sunday nor do they fish on Sunday. Naps are the order of the day, at least for James. It was an interesting and fun time, but two weeks, the time they allow you to stay, is enough.
We should be in Tonga in another four days, maybe five it depends on the winds. Another boat on their way to Tonga had a rigging failure, their headstay snapped. They thought for a while that the mast was going to come down, but they rigged up a halyard to take the place of the forestay and are continuing on, they left a day before us.
I saw a cargo ship this morning around 0630 about 5 miles to our starboard. That got my blood pressure up a tad, but he came and went in silence...just the way I like it.
08/24/2011, Suwarrow Atoll
John(Park Ranger) showed up yesterday about 1700 and the two of us went out fishing. I'd grabbed our gear and climbed aboard. Well, not quite. I actually fell over board as I was trying to hold the boat for Tracy to get aboard. John backed off and I climbed the Zephyr's ladder to try again. This time, I tossed the fishing equipment(two Pringle tubes with our line wrapped around then and the lure inside the tube. A few more lures in a a bag and we were set. Unfortunately, John's boat as well as Zephyr were bouncing up and down in the swells coming through the anchorage. I got on board but Tracy decided not to go as it was just getting too wicked to climb over. Off John and I went in search of th mysterious fish of Suwarrow Atoll. We headed east along the shore line and out to the reefs that are inside the atoll. Both our lines streaming behind his boat. It started raining. I was already soaked so I didn't care. This at least was fresh water. John's boat took quite a pounding as the swell just grew as we motored along. I figured it was good for a few hemeroids at the least(steel seats in the boat). We circled around out and back to the boats at the anchorage. Nothing. On the second pass, John got a strike. He pulled it in as quickly as possible while I grabbed the handle of the outboard. The trick to fishing at Suwarrow is getting the fish aboard. The fish all live at the bottom. The sharks all live above them. Once caught, you have to get your fish passed all the sharks that lay between you and what you caught. John pulled and pulled and pulled. About a minute later, on came the fish--whole!!! She was a beaut. A "Dog Tooth Tuna about 30 inches long and kicking up a fuss in the boat. She was not happy about getting caught. I finally put my foot down on top of him to hold him still. One problem with these fish is that they will turn on you and try and bite you if they can. Several types of fish will do that. With the fish in he boat, we headed back to Zephyr. Only catch what you can eat is the rule out here. Once back at Zephyr, I tossed Tracy the Pringle tubes and te bag of lures and dived into the water again. It was just easier getting back to Zephyr's ladder that way and since I was still wet from the first time, no problem.
Since I was already wet, I checked out the anchor chain again. All was well. Back to Zephyr for a quick shower to get all the salt water off. While I was gone, Tracy had cleaned out the frig box and made a nice pot of Mac and cheese for dinner. With a beer along side the plate a dinner, it was the perfect way to finish the day(so I thought). John had mentioned that we were having a "King Tide" that night since we were having a "new moon". The tie would be much higher than normal. Tracy looked out at the float that we use to mark our anchor. It was bouncing above the water and then below the water as the swells came through the anchorage. Not a good thing as the buoy could have easily pulled the anchor right out of the coral it was laying against. On went the fins and mask and back in the water I went. This time with a dive light as the Sun had set about an hour before. Over I swam till I got to the float and I tied the line so it would have plenty of room to allow the buoy to go up and down all it wanted without pulling our anchor out. Back to Zephyr's stern and up the ladder. Once aboard, back below decks for a second shower. I'm sure glad we have a water maker. Earlier in the day, we given Kennedy on Far Star 20 gallons for his tanks as he has no water maker an the island is running low on water. I'd given him 20 gallon a couple of days before and other boats had helped him with his water needs. We settled in for another quiet night aboard.
This morning, I finished the hook up of the wires for the bow nav lights that I had started the previous day. It worked out just fine and our light works just fine and with no breaks in the wire, it should burn for a long time with no problems. Tracy startee cooking to get all our meals ready for the next leg of our journey. We figure to be leaving tomorrow for Tonga. It's a good 715 miles away so we figure six days of sailing--weather permitting. The forecast is for good winds and a bit calmer seas than what we came in on so that will be nice. I fired up the generator earlier in the day to charge up the batteries and make more water. Our tanks are still 3/4 full but I like using the power the generator makes to do more than just charging the batteries. We headed ashore to check out but James was taking a Sunday nap so I'll head back again in a few minutes. In the islands, Sunday is a day for rest. John doesn't go out fishing.
Tracy is in the galley making tortillas for the trip. Much easier to handle and eat as we are under way. I was going to make more bread but that will have to wait till we reach Tonga.
We have heard of a second boat being lost out here. Qwest was heading into Savu Savu in Fiji. The light that marks the reef was out and they ran aground. The officials came out and took them off their boat for safely sake. A while later(when the tide went up, the boat re floated but with no one aboard, it floated across the inlet and hit the other reef and sank. It can get dangerous out here. A few days ago i wrote of the anchor breaking here in Suwarrow. The couple on board were just about to board their dingy to come a shore for the Pot Luck when he checked his chart plotter and found he wasn't quite where he thought he was. If they had gotten in their dingy, it's probable that they would have lost their boat also. If the anchor had broken a minute later, all would have been lost.
Well, I'm off for shore to get checked out so we can be off tomorrow.
08/24/2011, Suwarrow Atoll
Let's get caught up. Early yesterday morning, the winds finally let up a bit. It was enough that I felt confident enough to actually climb into the stern bunk after nine days sleeping in the main salon on anchor drag watch. Of course it was at 0430 in the morning, not when I went to bed the previous night. It was strange to wake up and not hear the wind howling in the rigging and feeling Zephyr rock back as the swells came through the anchorage. When we both got up, 0730, we found that one of the snubbers at the bow had come off the anchor chain. With it being so calm, the pressure had been taken off the line and it simply fell off. After breakfast, I jumped in the water and headed for the snubber. As the wind had died, the anchor chain had drooped down toward the bottom getting wrapped around another coral bommie(big coral tower). I dove down and got it dislodged and since we have been using some floats to suspend the chain off the ocean floor(so the chain won't get under the bommies), I repositioned one of our floats so the chain was better kept off the floor. With the snubber reattached, I swam back to Zephyr's stern and came aboard.
Since we had lost the use of our bow navigation light(red and green) we needed to find out what the problem was. Since we were no longer pitching up and down with the wind having died down, we started in on finding out what the problem was and getting it fixed. With our navigation light at the top of the mast also on the fritz, we needed to have one of the two working before we leave for Tonga in a few days. I turned on the power and headed forward to check out the light. With the lens off, the light was still dark. I grabbed my tools and checked the power to the fixture. Just 3.4 volts. No where near the 12.6 volts that the line should have said. I pulled off the connections and checked again. Same voltage. There was a break somewhere on the line bleeding off the volts. I asked Tracy to watch the bulb as I wiggled the wires to see if I could find the break. Before I had even moved one wire, Tracy says "I think the light is already on". I got up and looked at it and low and behold, it was indeed on. Non verbal threats work on electrical fittings I guess. No matter, we could not trust it to continue so we decided to re-sting new wire all the way from the circuit block in the forward head that leads to the fixture. We were going to have to pull new wire through the bow pulpit. Out came the 12 gauge wire I had bought for projects on Zephyr(much larger a gauge than was necessary) and in we went. Off came the fixture and I climbed into the anchor locker(where the wires ran from the deck and undid some of the brackets that held the wire to the fiberglass hull. Out came the wire cutters and snip snip, the line was cut at the deck. We were forced to peel off the outer insulation from the two wires(leaving the insulation that covers the wires) and with electrical tape in hand, we joined the new wire to the old and wrapped them with electrical tape and began to pull the wires through the bow pulpits metal tubes. Tracy pulled while I fed the line into the tubes. In it went and out it came the opposite end. The hard part was done. With my crimper in hand, I crimped on the new fittings and connected them to the fixture at the bow. Back down into the anchor locker to run the rest of the wire. Now normal code for boats is that the wire needs a support clip every 18 inches. The guy who put our original line in must have been paid by the clip as he had screwed them to the fiberglass every 6 inches. I had a lot to unscrew and reattach. To make it that much more fun, every screw had been painted so I had to chip off the paint before I could even get a screwdriver in the head of the screws. This was going to take some time and it did but the job had to be done correctly. About 1530, I'd done all the running of the line even getting it through the bulkhead into the forward head. We were in the final stretch.
We'd noticed during the afternoon that the same snubber had come detached again so I had to get back in the water to redo it as the wind was beginning to come back again. In I went and found that during the lull, the chain had dropped down and wrapped itself back under one of the coral heads. With the wind now blowing, there was no way to get it out from under it. At least not with anything I could do. We were forced to start the engine and motor forward to get it out. With me in the water, Tracy started the engine and motored forward and to starboard and out came the chain from under the bommie. I swam to the surface and signalled Tracy that the job was done. The floats were again supporting the chain in the water. We reattached the port snubber and balanced out the load and I headed for Zephyrs stern.
With these jobs done(sort of) we needed to try and get Dragon(our 7.5HP outboard motor) up and running again. It had refused to start a few days ago(at the start of the blow). I attached the fuel line and engaged the choke and injected some fuel into the engine and pulled the cord. After a couple of pulls, she started right up. With it being our of the water(still hanging on the stern rail), I shut her down quickly. You see, we needed Puff and Dragon up and running as we had made a call to all the boats in the anchorage earlier in the day that there would be a sundowner party on shore starting at 1700 and we didn't want to be late, especially since we had instigated the party. We launched Puff in the wind(about 20 knots by now) and lowered Dragon to the stern . I pulled the cord and varroom she started up just fine. No idea why she refused the other night but she was fine now. We grabbed some snacks and a bottle of wine and a bottle of beer and in we went. Both of us were dressed in swim trunks or suit since we knew we were going to get drenched and with a good 2 foot swell running through the lagoon we did just that on the ride in. In the end, we had over 25 people at the party. Everyone brought snacks and drinks and we all had a great time. It was the first many of us had been off our boats since the blow had started a few days before. We returned to Zephyr about 2000 and yanked Dragon off Puff and then pulled Puff back on board for safe keeping through the night. Much safer and quieter during the night.
This morning, I had planned on completing the wiring as well as a few other tasks but James(Park Ranger) announced that there would be a coral walk to Whale Island at 1030. How could we possibly pass on that. The bread was going to have to wait. We arrived early and brought in some supplies for the rangers. When New Zealand puts them on the island, they have a budget of just $2,000NZ for food to get them through from June 1st to November. They are forced to relay on either what they can forage off the land or the generosity of the cruisers that stop here. We'd already taken in a couple of dozen eggs as well as cans of fruit. This time, we took in canned cheese, a big bag of roast beef(in a shrink bag from Costco), and more cans of pineapple and green beans. We even through in a bottle of rum(for medicinal purposes only). We also took in a 5 gallon propane tank that they can keep. We've lugged it around since we left the US. We've promised them 5 gallons of gasoline as they only have 44 gallons left to take them through November. Since they go out twice a day fishing and have a generator to run every day to keep the freezer cold, there is no way that will be enough. They are such nice guys, we are happy to help. As to the reef walk, 24 cruisers showed up at 1030 and off we went over the coral and through the waves to the island. It was a great trip seeing all the birds on the island. We only walked the perimeter of the island so as not to disturb the nesting fowl. Boy are they noisy and they sure do stink when you are down wind!! We got back to Zephyr about 1400 for a late lunch.
Tonight, John is taking me out fishing in the pass. I'll be taking along what fishing gear we have and see what we can catch. The trick is to get what you catch past the sharks and into the boat before they get to it. Sometimes you win and sometimes they do. I guess we will see what happens later today.
08/24/2011, Suwarrow Atoll
As expected, the wind continued through the night for another rollie time. I was again "sleeping" in the main salon keeping watch on the drag alarm up in the cockpit. To make Tracy's night sleep better, I tied down the propeller blades on our DuoGen so it was silent through the night instead of sounding like a plane coming in to land. Being in the salon, I was treated to all the normal creaks and groans and clunks that happen as Zephyr moves at anchor. To sleep in a noiseless surrounding would be strange anymore. One thing about Suwarrow is that there are no roosters crowing at all hours of the day and night. We've come to expect it in every anchorage we visit. Sometimes, they throw in dogs barking for more entertainment through the night. Since the forecast was for more and stronger wind, we made sure to have the cockpit clear as well as the fabric panels that cover the windows of the dodger were removed so we could see if necessary. We made it through the night just fine and I'll be diving on the anchor again in a few minutes just to make sure (again) that all is well down below the water line. I've been down to visit it every day and some times twice a day since we got here and there has been no movement of the anchor since we dropped it. The chain on the other hand has shifted all over the place and the wind shifts Zephyr all around the anchorage. All the rest of the boats are doing the same thing so we know where we are in relationship to the others when we look out the windows or from the cockpit during the day or night. Ideally, we'd love the wind to be coming from the east or northeast so it would blow over the island and we would have less swell, but out here, you take what you get. I did make another "snubber" line for the anchor chain incase one of the ones that we already have in place should break.
This morning, we had another "class" on refrigeration on boats. We'd had one on engines several days ago. It was held on a big 60 foot catamaran called Sete Mares. A beautiful boat that hardly rocks at all in the swell. It lasted for three hours and was interesting to see what types of frigs everyone had and the different types that are available. With ten of us there, one other boat has the same (Cool Blue by Technautic) that we have. Dave off Soggy Paws acted as the moderator and instructor with each of us adding our own experiences as the class continued. Ours isn't keeping the food as cold as we like so I may have to speed up the compressor and see if that helps. I did offer to have a "class" on Caring for Teak" and that I would supply all the brushes and teak oil to work on our boat. No one seemed interesting in the class unless it would be at their boat instead of mine. Oh well, I tried.
It's still blowing in the high teens to low 20s and is expected to continue for the next few days. So here we sit and here we stay.
08/24/2011, Suwarrow Atoll
I just got back from my afternoon snorkel on our anchor and chain. It's still blowing outside in the high teens to low 20's with a swell of close to 3 feet running through the anchorage. On went the boots, fins and mask, oh and a swimsuit, and in I went jumping in from the port side as the stern was to much of a roller coaster with its up and down motion in the swells. It was easy to see that the chain was doing its job as it was still wrapped around the bommie that it has been wrapped around for the last 5 days. The chain had even taken it a step further by going under another ledge on the same coral head so we are doubly fastened down. There's a good 45 feet from the anchor to the bommie and then another 80 feet from there to Zephyrs deck so there is no problem. As we get hit by the swells, Zephyrs deck goes up and down like a hobby horse sometimes coming close to burying the bow in the water. During the night, the large piece of rubber that the starboard snubberl ine (line that leads from the deck cleat to the chain to take the stress off the bow roller and windlass) was wrapped around to create more of a spring like action with the snubber broke. It snapped in half. The way it works is that the line(3/4") goes through a hole in the end of the "snubber", about 24 inches long, and then wraps around it several times and goes through a hole in the opposite end of the "snubber" and then the line gets attached to a cleat on deck. The opposite end gets attached to the anchor chain. It ends up acting like a big rubber band stretching each time Zephyr gets hit by a swell. After almost two years (we'd blown another while at Channel Islands in California) it had had enough and broke. So now the two lines at the bow are the same--3/4" three strand nylon--taking the strain from the chain as it holds Zephyr in place.
So far this afternoon, no more boats have dragged their anchors and at least one boat has deployed a second anchor. One boat(Blue Moon) has three anchors deployed off their bow. They are really not going anywhere and that is a good thing as they are the boat closest to the reef just behind the anchorage. Not a good place to be in my humble opinion.
I've showered since I got back on board to get all the salt water off and now feel nice and clean. Heck, I even smell pretty good if I say so myself. Tracy is napping on the salon settee after another night of not good sleep. It's noisy out here. Tonight, I think I'll turn off the wind generator so it's a bit quieter. The forecast is for more of this for the next few days with waves out side the lagoon that will be approaching the 20 foot mark in a day or so. Thanks, I'll stay right here for a while.
08/24/2011, Suwarrow Atoll
It's continued to blow through the anchorage since early yesterday. It let up about noon, giving us time to let out more chain to give us more spring room as the swells slammed into our bow. We had planned on attending the pot luck last night but Dragon(our outboard) decided to not start. Not sure why but we took it in an omen that we should stay right where we were and enjoy a "quiet" night aboard. We positioned Puff at the stern and yanked off Dragon --keep in mind that there were three foot swells coming through the anchorage at the time--so yanked was the right work. We hauled Puff along the starboard side and hauled her up on her block and tackle to the deck. We tried to turn her over so we could strap her down but she was having none of that. I guess we have developed another leak in her since when we pulled the cork out that goes to the fiberglass floor section, gallons and gallons of water streamed out the hole. Another project!!! Where is the hole? The fiberglass looks intact so I'll have to do some hunting I guess. As it is, poor Puff slowly takes on water when ever she is just sitting waiting to get used. We have to pump her out every time we use her. I bought some hyphalon material and glue so I can fix it when we get some where for a few days. It takes three days for it to set up so it will get taken care of eventually. Once drained and flipped, we strapped her down and went below for a "quiet" dinner with the wind howling outside.
It continued through the night and according to one of the boats here, clocked in at 37 knots about 0300. One boat dragged his anchor about 80 feet before it reset. He's going diving on it some time this morning and is going to put out a second anchor. As I said in the last post, one boat broke their anchor. It didn't come loose, it broke along the shaft. They are lucky it happened while there was still some Sun shine or the outcome could have been much worse.
Just about everyone is sitting still for the day playing games or doing some projects. At least one person is going by dingy to one of the other boats to play "Scrabble". I expect that they will show up quite drenched since the swells are still running in the three foot level in the anchorage. I spent the night "sleeping" in the main salon so I could hear the anchor drag alarm should it go off. While our DuoGen wind generator on the stern is one of the quietest in the industry, at 30 knots, she was still making enough noise that there was no way anyone was going to hear the alarm should it go off. Last night, all was quiet, at least alarm wise so that was a blessing. We were not moving!!!
So that's the way it is here at Suwarrow and according to the weather forecasters, it will continue this way for the next two days, maybe longer. The swells outside the reef are expected to grow toward the 20 foot level by Friday so most of us will just stay put till it calms down. At least the sane ones will stay put. No reason the endanger yourselves and your boat by going out in those kind of seas if you don't have to. As far as net traffic goes, we haven't heard of any boats that are in transit here. I'd hate to be out in this stuff. It would be a miserable ride!