Off eastbound to Fakarava and Nuku Hiva
09 February 2020
We finally departed Marina Taina in Tahiti on Saturday December 14 after having a couple of Doctor appointments in Papeete. We only went around to the NE corner of the island to a good jump off point, Point Venus that we had been to a couple of other times.
Heading east or North East from Tahiti is usually against the wind so you need to watch and plan your timing to be able to sail in the direction that you want to go... I had been watching closely for a couple of weeks and Sunday looked like the wind would switch to the south of east sometime late Monday. The SPCZ (South Pacific Convergence Zone = NASTY weather!!) was hanging to the south of Tahiti and expected to stay there so we departed Point Venus after a final weather check Monday morning. So off we went. The skies were dark but everything was manageable. In fact, there was another boat off in the distance taking the same track as us.
Our "plan" was to sail northerly with the wind that was still slightly north of east and then turn NE bound when the winds backed. Well, that SPCZ has a mind of its own. It decided to head north from where it had been sitting for days. The weather turned a bit damp and the wind increased and then increased some more. That was accompanied by torrential rain. Not just a 15 minute squall, I mean torrential rain. Pressure washer type rain. ¼ mile visibility type rain. For over 6 hours straight!!! We were double reefed flying our heavy weather Yankee (high cut) Solent. The boat was handling it fine but it was a most definitely a very bump ride. We were close hauled and the waves were reaching 4 to 5 meters. We were flying off the crests of some and with the confused seas we were, well, getting wet. The rain was so heavy we had to shout at each other in the cockpit to be heard. Even though Laurie had recently waterproofed the Sunbrella Bimini over the cockpit it became thoroughly saturated. We could hear the dinghy anchor chain getting airborne in the dinghy high up on the arch but thankfully, the dinghy never budged. (We make sure of that always!!!)
I had noticed an AIS target about 10 miles north of us earlier - a French Commercial Fishing trawler. At around 2 AM I heard someone calling us by name (that almost never happens) and it was them calling to see if we were alright (and probably thinking who is stupid enough to be out here in this weather in a "little" sailboat). I thanked him for calling and ensured him we were fine but complained it was a little "damp". We were in the middle of that heavy weather at the time. BTW; who goes fishing in weather like that?
In the morning the rain let up and the wind turned off. Like 30+ knots to 5 in a couple of minutes. That might sound good but it's not! Remember those 4 meter waves? They are still there and with no wind to fill the sails and keep the boat "settled", it gets a bit uncomfortable. No choice but to fire up the engine and at least work the waves. It was kind of funny actually, seeing the waves smash into each other. Numerous times I though a dolphin or something was jumping but no, they were wave hitting each other and splashing straight up a few feet.
The wind finally filled in from the ESE and we were able to sail towards our preferred destination, Fakarava. When we first left we did not know for sure if we could hold that much "easting" and thought we might need to go more northerly to Rangiroa where we spent Christmas last year. Late in the afternoon the sun started to peak through a bit between intermittent squalls but that was normal.
The balance of the trip was uneventful. Seas were good and we had sunshine occasionally. And in fact, we made water for a couple of hours prior to arriving at Fakarava, North pass. We arrived at the pass just at about slack time (good timing Bob! (Luck)) and entered the Lagoon. The place was much busier than last year when there were only 3 boats in front of the community, Rotava. We arrived on Tuesday, just over 2 days after departing Point Venus having done 284 NM. Our track "looked like a boomerang" to quote a fellow sailor and friend who was watching us on our tracking site.
After settling in I did a "detailed inspection" to see how the boat faired in the rough weather. Nothing was broken! In fact, after being under the pressure washer for six hours the deck is as clean as a whistle! The only thing that I noticed later was the dinghy anchor chain was no longer in the bow but had migrated to the stern of the dinghy. At least it stayed on board with us!
We had a week before Christmas and our goal had always been to head to NE to Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas to get out of the rainy unsettled weather for the season. Further from Cyclones too. So I watched the weather for that "opening" to allow us to go. Before we knew it, it was Christmas Day. We had Turkey (ok, a Turkey roll) and trimmings all ready for the special day except...the wind was strong and very squally. With the wind forecast to go northwest and be 25 kts plus, most boats left to tuck in close to shore on the north side of the Atoll. They were still in our visual range. We decided to stay put along with a couple of other boats. Actually, it was interesting watching people's decision making on when / where to move. Most everyone left with the exception of us and 2 or 3 other boats. My reasoning was, the weather event was to be short lived, maybe 24 hours and the "fetch" was not great. I had numerous boats stop by and ask us if we were leaving and I answered "I don't think so". Many answered back maybe they wouldn't. Then; one boat left to go behind the reef and almost right way the rest start to leave like a little parade and all anchored in the same basic area.
On Christmas Day the weather arrived and it was definitely squally but we were fine. The waves never got higher than maybe 18 inches. We were on a heavy mooring meant for larger vessels but none-the-less, we ran a track and kept the anchor alarm on in case the mooring failed. It was lousy enough that we elected to postpone Christmas dinner. I think I had leftovers Christmas day!
We called home in the morning to talk to family and give them our best wishes. When I hung up from Ryan's family I looked outside and this Cruise Ship had arrived and anchored not far away. I could just make the outline of the ship in the heavy rain. So, I watched as they started to deploy their landing shuttles. Out they came and down part way to the water and then stopped. There was no way they could land that thing against the concrete pier as the waves were coming directly from the NW and bouncing off. Not to mention, where are they going to go? Cruise ships do stop in Fakarava all of the time, it has one of the largest passes (if not the largest) of all the Atolls but there is not much to do other than sightseeing, renting a bicycle or taking a tour. But in the pouring rain? Not enough shelter and it was Christmas Day. I assume the locals knew it was coming and may have had a plan but with the weather the way it was; the ship sat there for a couple of hours and then brought the landing shuttles back up and headed off to Nuku Hiva according to their AIS.
I kept an eye on the weather and as New Year's approached, I thought I saw an opportunity to head NE in the making, still a few days away but it was looking promising. We were invited over to another boat for New Year 's Eve drinks and of course we discussed the weather. When I told them we were planning on leaving for Nuku Hiva in a couple of days they thought I was nuts. There were 5 boats wanting to go but no one saw the opportunity. I'm not sure why. There are a couple of factors, Hedonism can sail tight to the wind, tighter that many other monohulls and definitely tighter than cats. But that wasn't really the issue in my eyes, I saw that we would head north and then turn SE for a day or so and then turn almost due north to Nuku Hiva. Some close hauled sailing but not too bad. I was planning on a January 2 departure and we decided to go and anchor near the pass the day prior, New Years day. Once we got there I continued to check weather and decided we would postpone our departure until the morning of the 3rd. We spent the extra day on the beach and Laurie even went swimming...well, she got in the water.
We left on the morning of the 3rd and had a good sail to Nuku Hiva and almost exactly as planned; Northerly, east-south-east for a day and then north east. You can check out our track on the webpage. In fact the wind backed as we turned NE and the last day we were screaming into Nuku Hiva doing 7.5 to 8 kts on a reach. In fact, a good part of the trip we were on a reach. We did the trip in just less than 4 ½ days, a full day quicker than last year. Full disclosure; we motored for about 10 hours one night and 8 hours the next when the wind completely died. The first night the seas were like glass and pretty close to that on the second night of motoring.
We spent a couple of days in Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva and then went around to one of our favorite spots, Anaho Bay. There, as planned, we completed a bunch of annual heavy maintenance items on the boat: remove both Windlass' motors and gearboxes, inspect; remove and service all 6 winches and so on. Changing seals on gearboxes etc. is a lot easier than fixing it after it fails. Something from my airplane days I guess.
Not all work though, we took time to hike, visit the farmer and hike some more. I took a day and decided to hike "off trail" for a day. Well, I followed Goat trails mostly, at least those that were not vertical as so many are! So I made it up much higher than the normal "pass" that I climb for exercise or to use the phone. I have posted some of those photos but unfortunately, it was a bit hazy that day. If the opportunity presents itself, I'll go again on a clear day and with the better camera. The photo accompanying this post is as high as I got, about 3 hours to there. Hedonism is in the background, can you see it? Hint; closest boat to me, you can see Laurie?
And rain? Almost nothing in 3 weeks. All that weather is to the south. We did have one day of rain but that was sorely needed as there has been a major drought going on here for a couple of years. The difference in the lack of vegetation from our first year, to last year and then this year is astonishing. Many fruit trees that normally had fruit had none at all. Others that did were smaller. The mangoes seemed to fair better but even then, they were smaller unless they were in a valley. And after that day of rain? Pretty amazing watching the place start to turn green again, that quickly. They still need lot of rain though.
So that is it for now. I will try to keep the Blog up a bit better. To that end, our Predict Wind tracking page now has a small Blog that I can use for posting smaller updates under way. Hope you like it!