Passage from Bora Bora to Suwarrow
12 October 2007
Passage from Bora Bora to Suwarrow, Sept. 12-17, 2007, in which we had rolly, uncomfortable seas ,strong gusts, two accidental jibes, a little spill, and no traffic at all.
On Wednesday September 12, after using up the last of our wi-fi minutes with Ioranet, doing last minute checks for email and weather, and lots of last minute stowing of items that scatter themselves around the boat so quickly while we're safely at anchor, we picked up our anchor at 10:30 a.m. and headed for the pass out of Bora Bora to begin the 675 miles to Suwarrow Atoll. Just after exiting the pass, we saw our friends on Zazoo just arriving. Sadly, we wouldn't have any time to visit with them, but it was very nice to see them again, however briefly, and to know that all was well with them. The last we'd seen them was in Fakarava in the Tuamotus, when they had been talking of going back to the Marquesas for the cyclone season. (It was Ben who free dove 50+ feet to free our anchor in Fakarava so we could leave.) They had since decided to continue on to New Zealand, where Ben can safely leave the boat while he looks for work as a professional diver in Singapore for a bit to boost the cruising kitty. Once we passed them, we did not see another boat until we arrived at Suwarrow 5 days later!
This may have been our most uncomfortable passage yet, but nothing the boat (and its intrepid crew) couldn't handle easily. After a very easy first day, the winds and seas increased, with one day mid-passage of nasty squally skies, gusts to 30 and 40 knots, and building boxy seas. The last few days the winds came down, but the seas stayed up, making for very rolly motion as we slewed through the mountainous peaks of the sea. Occasionally the seas would cascade over the cockpit coaming, dousing anyone sitting there. Amazingly, the huge following seas behind us would almost always just slide under the boat, only once or twice sending a stream of water in under our "back door" to briefly wet the cockpit floor. Of course, every time the sea slid under the stern, the aft end of the boat rose and slewed from side to side, occasionally throwing something or someone out of place. I had one nasty slide - the cushion I was sitting on suddenly slid to the floor with me on it, causing severe pain in my shoulder, elbow and various other spots. I remember sitting there, stunned, wondering if I'd broken anything. In a few minutes I moved everything and realized nothing was broken. Bryan was very helpful, rushing to get me ice packs for my shoulder and elbow, and some aspirin. It was sore for a few days, but the ice seemed to help a lot and I was cranking winches again the next day.
Lizzie, our windvane, steered beautifully in the beginning, but as the seas became more confused we had two accidental jibes of the mainsail the second night out. On one, the preventer worked nicely and prevented the boom from crashing to the other side as the wind passed across our stern. On the second, the preventer pulled right off the cleat and the boom went banging to the other side, fortunately without any apparent damage but a jolt to our nerves. The entire passage we had the wind almost directly behind us, which meant having either the main or the genoa all the way out (with the seas and winds we were reluctant to use our sickly whisker pole so couldn't sail with both sails unless we altered course to a broad reach). Sailing dead downwind with just the main all the way out made it easy for a big sea to momentarily knock the wind out of the sail, sending the boom from one side to the other unless held firmly in place with the preventer, a line from the end of the boom to the rail which prevents the boom from swinging. If we sailed downwind with just the genoa, unpoled, it would pull nicely for a bit, then collapse as the seas rolled the boat and knocked the wind out of the sail. This worked OK occasionally during daylight hours, giving us slightly better speed than the main alone, but was intolerable in the dark when the noise of the collapses and jerks made sleeping difficult. As a result, we did most of the passage under mainsail alone, with 1-3 reefs in it depending on the wind, averaging 5-7 knots most of the way.
After the accidental jibes, we used the electric auto pilot for steering, not trusting Lizzie with the big seas. This uses a lot of power, and our continuing low voltage problems meant we had to run the engine a bit more than usual to stay topped up. When the auto pilot is on, the single sideband radio starts acting up. This radio is our link to other boats through various "nets" that we check in with daily on passage and for receiving weather information. So every time one of us got on the radio for a net, the other would have to hand steer. Fortunately, having the sat phone gives us good back up for obtaining weather info and email when the radio decides to be uncooperative. One day when Bryan turned the radio on while the auto pilot was steering, the radio wouldn't transmit again for 24 hours, then mysteriously started working again.
We had surprisingly little rain, given that nasty clouds often filled the horizon in all directions. We were both feeling a bit bummed and bored toward the end of the passage, tired of the big boxy seas coming from all directions tossing us around, so it's good we didn't have a lot of rain to make things worse. The winds were lighter the last few days, occasionally under 10 knots, so we motor sailed the last night to insure getting to Suwarrow by mid-day on Monday. We first saw land about 10 a.m., and were in through the pass and anchored by 12:30, with 4 other yachts as neighbors.