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Crossing to Palmerston, South Pacific

21 August 2010
Ken Newell
Crossing to Palmerston, South Pacific

Following an over extended stay in Bora Bora, 7 weeks to be exact, we set sail for Palmerston Island. Palmerston is a unique atoll located approximately 630 nautical miles west of Bora Bora. The uniqueness is not owed to the location or geography, but rather the fact that the island is essentially owned and operated by 5 branches of the original McMaster's family that has inhabited the island for many years. The Queen of England ceded the Island to the families and it is now governed by the families and is a part of the New Zealand common wealth. The atoll can't really be entered by a keeled vessel, so the families have established 9 moorings on the lee side of the island. When you arrive, you are assigned a mooring which is yours for free during your stay. In addition, depending on which mooring your are assigned, a family is assigned to your. The family basically adopts you and takes care of you and expects that you will trade with them the many things that they need on the island such as tobacco products, cooking oil, rice, rope, chain, etc etc. In exchange, the family will provide you with meals in their home and transport to and from your boat when you need to go ashore. The place sounds truly interesting and we will report how true the experience is relative to the descriptions.

The crossing thus far, after five days, has been shitty. This seems to be the case with every crossing this year. The seas have been nothing like the calm prediction presented by Clear Point. The Clear Point wave prediction models are totally worthless. I would like to send an email to Clear Point and suggest that they simply develop a wave model using random number generators as it would have equal probability of being correct.

The seas have been confused and large for the entire passage, making flying of the genaker impossible. The wind predictions have, however, been fairly exact. Due to the large confused seas and light winds, we have experienced considerable damage to our mainsail track system with the loss of two additional batcars. The uncontrolled and continuous slating simply destroys the batcars as they get jerked from side to side with the toe-rail-to-toe-rail rocking.

Two nights ago we experienced some really ugly squalls filled with lightning, rain and wind. Using the full moon during this crossing, we sat in the cockpit at night and watched the lightening filled clouds slowly approach our position. The lightening would flash from the inside of the towering clouds and bolts of light would dance outward and wrap around from the bottom of the cloud to the tops of the anvil-like formations. Every once in awhile the bolts of lightening would strike directly downward towards the ocean surface and thunder would rumble across the miles separating us from the squall. This would make Lori flinch.

It took hours for the slow moving squalls to reach us and by then the moon was setting on the western horizon behind the approaching clouds. We were double reefed when we experienced the first wave of squalls which proved fortuitous since wind speeds went from 7 knots to 50 knots in just 4 seconds. Even with a double reefed main and furled head sails, Trim heeled over about 45 degrees. When the wind passed, the rain started. At first it was a light drizzle, but over the period of 30 minutes the rain increased steadily to a torrential downpour. This rain was heavier than any we had experienced prior and once again we could not hear each other yell just 2 feet apart. During this torrential downpour, the lightning was flashing and loud thunder rumbled all around causing the hair to stand-up on end. We had never experienced an electrical squall like this before. Sometime between lightning flashes and thunder, we heard a loud popping sound from the stern of the boat.

Lori yelled "Oh Shit!"

The dinghy had collapsed and folded in half due to rain water collecting inside. We had taken the drain out of the dinghy while it was on the davits, but since we were heeled so far over in the other direction, the water was unable to drain. The weight of the water caused the dinghy to fold in half. There must have been 100 gallons of water in the now folded dinghy still hanging from the davits. At about the same time, I noticed that the reefed mainsail had filled with hundreds of gallons of water where the folded section of the sail had acted as a rain catch hanging from the boom. The boom was about to break under the weight of the water while the davits were about to rip off the transom.

When the rain stopped, the sun was rising on the horizon behind us. We could still see more ominous squall clouds on the horizon in front of us. We needed to empty the sail first to prevent the boom from breaking and then we would focus on the dinghy. The rain water was far too heavy for us to lift and force it to spill out. Lori grabbed two cooking pots from the galley and we bailed as fast as we could. It took us a good 15 minutes to empty the folds that had stretched to the deck. Once the water was emptied, we were able refold the sail and tightly lash it to the boom.

At one point the forward eyelet for hanging the dinghy ripped out and the dinghy nearly fell into the ocean. Luckily I had attached extra support lines which held the dinghy upright while it was folded. Since we couldn't reach the dinghy with buckets, we used an electric pump and within 15 minutes, the dinghy was back in a straight and rigid position and we arranged more support straps to at least get us to Palmerston.

Yesterday, we caught a beautiful 49" Dorado. During the ensuing fight to bring the monster onboard, it jumped 8 to 10 feet into the air spinning and twisting in an effort to free itself from the double barbed hook attached to steel leader and 200 pound test. This fish didn't have a chance and within 15 minutes we had it on the deck and fully filet for many meals. Posted from Ham Radio
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