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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Sailing north around the weather
Randy
09/28/2008, South Pacific

We were so sad to leave Palmerston. It was a magical 24 hours. We arrived and friendly folks helped us to a mooring. All of the people living on Palmerston that haven't married into the family are descended from one man, William Marsters. Mr. Marsters came from England, picked up three Polynesian wives and relocated to Palmerston in the 1800s. He had three sperate family groups, one with each wife, and these persist to this day. There are now 8 families living on Palmerston (about 50 people), four of them from one of the family groups and 2 from each of the other two groups. They get about two supply ships a year and they never know exactly when they ships will show up. There is no airport, so yachts are by far the most common visitors.

When you arrive a host comes to meet your boat. This person takes care of you while you are at Palmerston. They will get you a mooring, take you back and forth to the island, feed you lunch, take you on a tour of the magical little town with its sand streets and generator powered lamps nestled between the coconut trees. Edward, our host, offered to take me fishing but alas we couldn't stay long enough.

Hideko snorkeled to che3ck our mooring and reported that the reef around the island is amazing. We visited the town and had a wonderful lunch of Parrot fish and Mullet. The island is amazingly clean and the people are all disarmingly friendly.

We arrived in the morning yesterday but knew the weather was going to deteriorate. All of the boats were leaving when we arrived except two (there had been six). One, the catamaran Margarita, was having mechanical problems and could not leave. The helpful Palmerstonians guided the 46ish foot cat through the deepest pass into the lagoon at slack high water in the late afternoon. It is a big lagoon so there is still some serious chop when the wind goes north (as it was scheduled to do) but at least there would be no 2 meter swell! I really wanted to follow them so we could spend more time here, but the pass is 4 feet at high water. We draw 4.5 feet. I don't know what Margarita draws but she has boards so I would guess no more than three feet with the boards up.

The other boat, Free Spirit I think, was a 40 footish mono hull and they stayed on the mooring with us. I had a spot forecast for wind from the NE at 16 knots which would progressively move north overnight. Northeast is fine at Palmerston because the atoll moorings are in the arching west side to the reef, pretty well protected from the NE through the SE. North or South or any West and the swell is going to come right in.

We had a cocktail party with Independent Freedom after dusk and enjoyed the wonderful company of the crew. Steve, the skipper is a retired Brit with a knack for fixing boat stuff and lots of interesting stories from his travels around the world. His wife Dia is a software programmer, and their crew Paul is a Scottish fisherman from the North Sea.

Normally at Palmerston you would not have to put your dinghy in the water, your host will provide you with all the transpo you need (including exhilarating runs through the little pass at the anchorage which is very tight, has lots of turns, and can have big currents). We had to put the dink down to ferry folks between the boats after hours though. When we finally dropped everyone from Independent Freedom off at their boat around 11PM the wind was up to 20 knots (quite a bit above forecast but that is often the way of the GFS model I find). It was getting pretty choppy in the anchorage as the wind had backed to about 20 or 30 degrees. I was doing well but a big wave came over the bow just as I was about to get them to their boat, giving everyone a good wake up shower (this usually only happens to my Mom in the dinghy).

Back at Swingin' on a Star we stowed the dinghy and got the big boat ready for sea. It was pretty tough bringing the dink up in the 2 foot chop, because you have to get the dink broad side at the transom and the waves just barrel under the bridge deck bouncing it all over the place. Don't get anything you want to keep between the dink and the stainless steel pipe of the swim platform while this is going on.

Once the dink was stowed we decided to stay the night on the mooring. Hideko had checked the mooring and it was chain with a good anchor so I felt confident that it would not break if things got interesting. Things got interesting.

It was a bumpy night on the mooring. We kept an anchor watch all night. I am really glad we have our Raymarine Smart Controller wireless. In these situations we take the controller to the bedroom and set every alarm it has. We had the depth alarm set to 40 feet (we were in 43 feet of water), we had the anchor alarm set for 1/100th of a minute (this is 60 feet however and would have probably warned us just before we crashed onto the reef if the mooring broke), and we had the high wind alarm set to 25 knots (this went off a few times in gusts). We also walk the deck every hour and check the bridle and our position. We check out the hatch more often and look out the escape hatch to check the mooring in the water as well. This doesn't make for the best nights sleep but if your mooring breaks in conditions like this with the west shoulder of the reef 100 meters away you have limited time to correct the situation.

Hideko and I had drilled our exit in advance. Our out was 270 magnetic. Hideko would turn on the deck light and cover the bow with a flood light to free any mooring remains and ensure that the props did not get fouled. I would start the engines and back us around to the NW to get the props out of the way of any streaming debris from the bridle, which would now have been down current and wind, and this would also drive us out to sea away from he reef. Once the bow was secure we'd head off on 270 until we were in deep water.

It, of course, did not come to that, but it was an interesting night. By 18:00 hours it felt as if we were anchored in the open ocean. The wind was north and the point to the north of us was doing little to stem the 3 foot seas built up by the 20 knot winds. We had two loops on the mooring, which we always set for safety (one line on the port crossbeam cleat through he ring and back to port and another line on the starboard). Independent Freedom was just putting to sea as we fired up the engines. Hideko loosed the port line first to lay us back with our starboard side to the wind. This got us pointing NW. Hideko then pulled the starboard line and tracked the mooring for me as we motored clear of the mooring field.

We had 25 knots apparent as we lined up to raise the main. The SPCZ was reincarnating bellow Niue this morning, the more north we were, and the slower we went west, the mellower the conditions would be when the cold front at the convergence went by. Given the choppy seas set up by the blustering north wind we decided to sail into it with the wind 45 degrees off to starboard. It was a good thing Steve had helped us fix the traveler, the way it was jammed before we would have had a hard time on starboard tack, much less pointing.

We double reefed the main and triple reefed the jib to keep the motion under control and keep our speed under 7 knots. Just as we got the boat set up we got hammered by a 30 knot squall. Hideko didn't have her side curtains in yet and I was on the radio trying to copy the ANZAC net. Of course Roq decided this would be the best time to pee. After scrambling about in the 30 knot squall we both sat down with a big exhale as the wind began to calm. Hideko was soaked from putting up the curtains, I had dog pee on my leg (thanks Roq). It was time for a coffee.

After the morning's excitement we settled into an eventless mid day day beating to weather at about 6 knots. We were right on course for Pango Pango, American Somoa. As they say, where ever the wind takes you...

As afternoon came to a close we hit the clam before the proverbial storm. We rolled up the jib and fired up the starboard aux, motor sailing in almost no wind. I turned on the radar to see where the dragon was and bam, there it was. Six miles out, a huge wad of rain. It was the biggest solid mass I had ever seen on the radar. We were running with full sails up by the end of the afternoon so we went back to reef one to prepare for the tempest.

It is 6PM now and we are still in the front with constant rain and lots of wind. We haven't seen anything worse than 30 knots so far and the seas, while lumpy, aren't that big so it is really fairly comfortable. The only thing I don't like is the occasional lightning flash. Good thing I have been practicing with the sextant.

As it stands we are heading for Pango Pango (American Samoa). We may change back to Niue one we get out of the mess and download new weather reports. Have to wait and see where we can sail.

348nm to Niue 437nm to American Samoa

Cook Islands
Palmerston
Randy
09/27/2008, South Pacific

We arrived in Palmerston this morning around 9AM. A great group of Cook Islanders checked us in and out and fed us a wonderful lunch. These people are amazing. The atoll is beautiful. I would stay here a week if we could. We stayed the day on one of their moorings but weather is kicking us out. We will be making for Niue this evening or Tonga if Niue is untenable (lots of west wind going around. Steve on Independent Freedom helped us get our traveler jury rigged to actually move again but still hold the boom down. Thanks Steve! More tomorrow.

Cook Islands
Sailing to Palmerston (Port tack please)
Randy
09/26/2008, South Pacific

We had a nice sail last night. Our pace with a reef in the main has lined us up for a morning arrival tomorrow at Palmerston atoll. My final jury rig on our traveler car seems to be holding well.

We have port and starboard control lines on the boom just in case. Fortunately, as far as emergency duty goes, the control lines have been idle. They did calm the boom in the boisterous seas that cropped up this morning (I may use this trick even when the traveler is working again). There are no hard points up on the bimini so the control lines run to deck cleats. This causes them to chafe on the hard top unless the traveler is hard over. We have duct tape protecting the gel coat and chafe gear (fire hose) on the dynema lines.

After a lovely night with only a little pounding, the seas moved more to the beam and got up. It has been a rolly ride today with a good 2.5 meter swell and perfect 15 knot winds from 110 off to port. We sailed tody with reef one in to stay slow so we don't arrive at night.

Weather is always a prime interest when on passage. We are pulling spots for every two degrees of longitude on our track for detailed local forecast information (wind speed/dir, wave height/dir/period, & pressure every 3 hours). We grab a three day GRIB of the general area to see macro weather trends. We also pull the wether report for the area from Honolulu to get the weatherman's take on the computer models. Add to this Buoy Weather data from Frank on Independent Freedom (also sailing to Palmerston) and the Anzac net check ins and you have a pretty good picture of what is going on.

We are particularly sensitive to wind direction and strength with our traveler car immobilized. If the wind stays south of east (as predicted until 8AM tomorrow) we can sail to Palmerston. The wind is predicted to move into the north quadrant shortly after 8AM. If we are caught out in this it will complicate our sail plan. We also don't want any gales with duct tape holding out traveler bearings in.

Once in Palmerston the weather complications continue. The wind is going north and then NW because a low is passing to the south. If it is light and the seas are moderate the Palmerston mooring field may be ok. If wind or seas are strong we'll have to leave Palmerston that evening, or early morning, at the latest. We're hoping to get to spend at least a couple days in Palmerston.

It is looking like a New Zealand rigger can get out traveler parts to Niue in a week. Niue is a two night hop from Palmerston and with luck we'll be able to sail it.

We'll be eating well tonight regardless as we just pulled in a perfect little tuna.

96 nm to Palmerston

Cook Islands
10/06/2008 | Pablo Ramos
Which fishing pole caught that tuna?
11/26/2008 | Randy
They actually both hit. The one on the Shimano got off. that said the Shimano is the long term high haul champ by far.
-R
Limping to Palmerston
Randy
09/25/2008, South Pacific

All things considered we are having a fairly nice, albeit slow, passage. We set out from Maupiti for the 625 nm trip looking forward to smooth sailing and 200 mile days. We plan for 160 nm days but hope for 200. We've been barely making the minimum with the help of the diesel. We sailed our first day and then had the traveler melt down. We motored the first night and then motor sailed the second day until the traveler gave out again, then went into trawler mode. Last night we crossed the fading SPCZ sheer line. It rained almost all night and we had no sky from about two hours before sunset until dawn. This morning early we had a little 20 some knot squall and the seas got really sharp, building into the 3 meter zone, but it passed in an couple of hours.

Today we are back to sailing with the full main and jib up, making five to eight knots in the light air on a deep reach. We can't move the traveler without surgery so we can only sail on a port tack reach anyway. The traveler car is heavily duct taped and a sufficient number of bearings are in place to keep the car on the track, hopefully. Because the port cap is broken the car is only secured on the starboard side and simply jammed on the port side. The light conditions (10-15 knots true from 150 off the port bow) combined with the 4-8 foot swell is really working the rig. Not a good thing while trying to limp into port with a broken traveler.

Today I talked to Independent Freedom (an unstayed Freedom yacht) and Plan B (a Privilege cat) over the SSB and both have experience with this traveler system. Each had some good advice for repairs to the traveler car. It is a Lewmar traveler and is less than 3 years old! In a fairly shocking oversight, bordering on negligence in my book, Lewmar decided to use plastic end caps for the traveler car to capture the Torlon bearings and hold the car on the track. The plastic they picked falls apart when exposed to UV after two seasons. Hmm, let's see, sailboats, tropics, intense sunshine 24/7, yes these things go together. I know Lewmar is from England where they don't see the sun too often but come on. Apparently the new Lewmar cars have aluminum end caps. We will be having a few of these metal caps shipped to Niue if possible. Plan B has also offered to meet us in Niue and they may have some spares to offer that will fit our car. You have to love cruisers, what wonderful folks.

We have to keep an eye on the fuel because we're pretty much out in the middle of no where. Closest possible fuel is Niue a good three nights out. We could motor the whole way there with what we have left (this boat has good tankage) but I prefer to come in with a safe reserve so we're sailing. If has been a near perfect afternoon of it as well. Wind about 130 to port at 11 apparent and a close together but reasonable 6 foot swell on the quarter. We're gliding along at 7 knots into the sunset.

255 nm to Palmerston

Cook Islands
Broken Traveler
Randy
09/24/2008, South Pacific

Well the traveler deteriorated today. It was holding together most of the day and toward the end of the day we tried to set up for a jibe. As we carefully pulled the traveler to port the forward side of the traveler car began to spit out plastic ball bearings. It now looked ready to come off the track.

We dropped the main and put a line around the end of the boom to the starboard quarter cleat to control the boom if the traveler let go. We tried to move it back to starboard all the way to the lock (it is about a foot or two out) so that if it came off, the starboard control lines on the car would be as short as possible and keep it under control. It moved a little and then jammed. I didn't want to mess with it further because we have a 2 meter swell and there is just no way to control the flow of ball bearings up there in the bimini.

So we are now a trawler. We are doing 6 knots with one engine at 1,750 RPMs. We are burning about 1 to 1.3 gallons an hour and in the worst case can motor 5-6 more days. Our destination in Palmerston but we are considering ditching at Aitutake (218nm away). Tomorrow during daylight we're going to try to jury rig the boom so that we can get some main back up. The main adds at least a knot to the motor even in this very light wind (10 knots True, less than 10 apparent).

The South Pacific Convergence Zone is a wind convergence area much like the ITCZ which forms up at times in this area creating conditions like the ITCZ. It is the cause of our light wind and mildly squally weather. The frontal bit and sheer line is running from Roratonga to Niue right now and conditions south and west of there are tough. We are trying to stay north of the mess. Ten know of wind from astern is not optimal but 3 meter choppy seas and 25 knots with 35 knot squalls is certainly no fun when you have issues.

So we are now heading to the place with the best weather, a supply of diesel and the ability to have our part flown in quick. All is well on board of course. We have the boom secured, the sails down and the starboard motor humming.

399 nm to Palmerston

Cook Islands
Day One to Palmerston Atoll
Randy
09/23/2008, South Pacific

We got up with the sun this morning. From the anchorage I could see the break on the south reef was much subdued as compared to the conditions on our entrance. With that green light we got the boat ready for sea.

We exited the Maupiti pass at about 7AM. The breakers on either side of the pass were not half the size of the surf when we entered. It is still an exhilarating experience, motoring right between two sets of breaking water. The shelf stays 30 some feet deep for quite a ways making the exit area a little choppy. As you make your way out it almost seems like you're standing still. I looked at the SOG but it said 9.5 knots.

Once outside we raised the main in a good two meter seaway. We thought about putting it up in the lagoon but I decided I'd rather have fewer variables exiting the pass. Once the main was flying we headed off and pulled the jib out. Palmerston and Maupihaa lie about 262T from the Maupiti pass. We would arrive near Maupihaa after sunset. Maupihaa has claimed more than one cruising yacht. It is a low atoll with another challenging pass.

The combination of the location of Maupihaa and the wind direction put us on a course of 251T. This allowed us to keep the wind on the port quarter and sail south of Maupihaa by a good 6 miles. The French charts have been very good in French Polynesia (which Maupihaa still is). The paper and the electronic charts agree on the Maupihaa position so hopefully it is where it is charted. We are leaving the radar on just in case.

We did a noon site and an afternoon sun line today. While I was taking the last shot I heard a clicking noise like a plastic ball bouncing on the deck. I could find no evidence of it when I looked around so it remained an uncomfortable mystery. The celestial running fix, our ship's GPS and our hand held all agreed on our position so we felt pretty good about our reef avoidance planning.

In the afternoon Hideko took a nap. While she was sleeping I heard the noise again. This time I found a plastic ball bearing! Not good. I got Hideko up and climbed around under the rig until I found the problem. The aft edge of the traveler car was bleeding ball bearings. In fact I think it had none left. At first I was concerned that these actually were instrumental in holding the car on the track. Losing the traveler car would not be pleasant. Upon inspection I believe that the car will stay on the track with no ball bearings on one side but I haven't made a definitive study. The main is up and loaded.

We had reefed earlier when a little squall came through and we decided to leave her reefed until we get to Palmerston. We are losing sunlight so I don't have time to drop the main and do a detailed investigation. Once reasonably sure the car wasn't going anywhere I put the two bearings we had caught back and duct taped the broken plastic end of the car that was letting the bearings fall out as the boat rocked.

Life would be no fun if we didn't have little surprises to keep us on our toes, no?

551 nm to Palmerston

French Polynesia
Maupiti Island Tour
Randy
09/22/2008, Maupiti

The last of the stragglers are leaving French Polynesia. We're on our way tomorrow, some friends on Thulani were on their way across this morning when we listened in on the Anzac Net. There are still a few boats we know of in Bora Bora but they're leaving within the week. Most are targeting New Zealand by mid November to avoid Cyclone season. Some are heading for Australia. Only one other boat that we have met is heading north however.

Our current plan is to cruise up the Solomon Islands and from there Yap, Palau, Truk (Chuk) and Guam and then on to Japan in May. We would really like to go to New Zealand but they have ridiculous dog regulations for visiting yachts. Australia is still possibly in the running but they are almost as bad as New Zealand. Fiji will be the last stop before we'll have to make a call and turn left or right. We have also considered just spending a season in Thailand.

After our standard morning of breakfast, weather and radio nets, we set off for Maupiti proper with socks and shoes. It is strange wearing socks and shoes for me now. I think the last time I did was hiking around in Tahiti almost three months ago.

We had 8,000 francs (about $110 US) left and our goal was to see the island and spend every last cent. We had called the only hiking guide from the Lonely Planet Book in the morning but he didn't answer. We tried again from town with a different number we found on a poster but still to no avail. We were on our own.

We dinghied down the marked channel to the town quay in short order. This stretch can be a little choppy due to the large fetch offered by the sizable lagoon. That said, we always enjoy our dinghy rides. During various trips in the lagoon we have seen Sting Rays, Eagle Rays and Manta Rays, among other interesting creatures.

We pulled into the little harbor and were the only boat there. It was a little before noon and the gas station attendant was still on duty. We bought 5 gallons of diesel for our Jerry Jug and asked if we could leave our dinghy there. He said no problem. We left a full 5 gallon gas jug and the recently filled 5 gallon diesel jug sitting in the dinghy with a handheld VHF and various other things in the anchor locker, all unlocked. We normally would have locked it all up out of habit but the attendant told us that he would move the boat if need be while we were doing our hike, so locking wasn't going to work. We did not have a minute of hesitation though. Maupiti is the kind of place that you just can't imagine getting robbed in. The other Societies, yes, Maupiti, no.

We set out on foot to the north and the more populous part of town. Before long we reached a cute little snack. It looked like a lady's out door kitchen. We ordered a Panini and a couple of soft drinks which came to 550 francs. This is by far the cheapest meal we have had anywhere in Polynesia. The sandwich was a nice toasted ham and cheese on a fresh baguette and the sodas were ice cold, what more could you ask for.

We headed on through town stopping in at the Marie (Town Hall). They have a photo timeline of Maupiti over the last hundred years in one of the conference rooms that we were allowed to look over.

The road around the entire island is paved now and most everything is on the lagoon side or the mountain side of this one closed loop street. You can't get lost in Maupiti.

Further into town we saw several schools, a couple churches, the town's big restaurant and bar (about the size of a Dairy Queen) and lots of friendly people who all smiled and waved back when we said Iorana.

The entire walk around the island is picturesque and I couldn't help but notice how much cleaner Maupiti was than most of the other Society islands. The cleanliness really comes out when you walk the streets of an island. Most have plastic bottles and other trash laying on the side of the road. This was very rare in Maupiti and we noticed several anti pollution promotions at the town hall.

The sheer mountains tower over the main road for much of its length adding contrast to the beautiful blues in the lagoon. Just outside of town we found the dirt road leading up into the mountains to the site of some prehistoric petro glyphs. Nothing on Maupiti, including the petro glyphs, is as grandiose as you might expect in other more developed locales, but that is part of its charm. We found the petro glyphs in a dry river bed just lying there as if we were the first people to find them.

A ways back down the road some talented artist had carved an impressive monument out of a large stone. We weren't really sure what it was for but it seemed to commemorate something and had been adorned with various talismans by the local folks. It was a lovely collage of creatures with a whale, turtle and others coaxed from the surface of the rock.

Passing onto the north side of the island we found the one dive shop. It is the guy's house, like so many shops here, but there is a Plongee sign out front. The view out across the lagoon and back up into the mountains continued to evolve into new an striking vistas. As we walked down the west side of the island we reached the one fork in the road. You can follow the pavement to the left up over a little arm of the island to continue on to town or you can head straight ahead to the Tereia Beach.

It was getting into the afternoon at this point and we had more or less given up on finding a path up into the mountains so we headed for the beach. The beach here is sandy and lovely and faced with a huge sand bar carrying all the way out to the motu across the lagoon. We ran across a couple of folks from the motus loading copra from a skiff into a truck on the beach. They greeted us with a hearty Iorana as we passed by.

Back on the south side of the island we scrambled over volcanic rocks as we made our way back to the road. This is a fun little beach hike and was easy to do at low tide, which is when we made the transit.

Back on the road we kept a look out for the one marked Marae (though we saw at least one other). We arrived back at the docks having missed it. The one little store, that actually is a store, on the island is just south of the dock and they packed a surprising amount of goods into the single isle that reminded me more of a walk in closet than anything. They are attached to the town bakery however so we availed ourselves of some fresh Chocolate Croissants and a few bottles of water.

As we were leaving I asked one of the ladies outside if she knew where the Marae was. She said sure and told us to hop in her jeep, which was covered in vanilla vines. She drove us back up the road a bit and dropped us off right in front of the large sign that said, "Marae". In our defense you can not really see it when walking in the other direction. Really.

We thanked our ad hoc guide and walked down to the beach to take a look. This is not the most well kept Marae. That said it is supposed to be one of the more sacred of the Marae in French Polynesia and the most sacred on Maupiti. There is also a monument here in remembrance of the devastating cyclone that hit Maupiti in 1997.

After a nice day on the island we walked the short distance back to the fuel dock. It had taken us almost four hours to circumnavigate the island by foot with various stops and detours, you could certainly do it faster. We gave the fuel man every last cent we had and asked him to put it in our dinghy gas tank. He obliged and we said a sad farewell to French Polynesia as we motored back to Swingin' on a Star.

French Polynesia

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