A Most Unpleasant Passage
01 August 2008 | Rarotonga, Cook Islands
There's a saying, "Gentlemen don't go to weather". Well guess what? Neither should we. But that's exactly what we were doing for nearly the entire 530 mile passage from Bora Bora to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. That means being close-reached and beating into 20+ knots of wind and steep seas. That means slamming up and down. Sound like fun? I don't think so. In fact it was the most uncomfortable passage we've had to date. The wind was supposed to clock around to the east and be more on our quarter, but that didn't happen until well into our 4th day at sea. And that just meant that instead of slamming up and down we were rolling side to side with the swell.
The girls each suffered bit of mal-de-mer, but quickly recovered and learned to come up to the cockpit for fresh air when they felt a little green. Otherwise, they were playing school and other imaginative games and not complaining (too much) of boredom.
The other big drag about the passage was the water we took over the decks, into the cockpit and even below-decks. The dreaded saltwater down below! The first time we took a huge wave on the deck I'd failed to completely shut the large hatch over the aft cabin (where the girls were sleeping), In the middle of the night I heard a huge wave hit us and then, "Mooooommmmmm!! We got wet!" A fair amount of water had found the small crack around the partially shut hatch and poured down on the girls. They got over that insult fairly quickly and with a speedy change of bedding were back to sleep.
I thought I'd learned my lesson and had every hatch and porthole window dogged down tight EXCEPT the one in our shower. I left it opened because a) it was on the leeward side and the waves were hitting us on the windward side; b) I wanted some ventilation since the rest of the of the boat was closed up; and c) the window was in the shower, for Pete's sake. If a little water came into the shower, who cares? It's a SHOWER! So imagine my surprise and disgust when- again in the middle of the night- I hear from the aft cabin, "Moooommmmm!! There's water in here!!" What the hell? We had just taken another wave, the biggest yet, and it came over the cockpit, hit the side deck on the opposite side of the boat (where incidentally John now found himself standing in 3 feet of water rushing down to the scuppers- I keep telling him that every time he steps out of the protection of the cockpit he's effectively putting a big target on his head for the sea gods). The water on the side deck not only poured toward the scuppers, but a huge amount found it's way into the shower's porthole window and across to the bathroom floor. There couldn't have been more water if someone had stood outside with a fire hose aimed in the window. Of course, because it's a bathroom there is a drain in the floor. Of course, because this was the passage from hell, the drain was on the windward (read "uphill") side of the floor. So it was completely incapable of draining the water. So it's like 2:00 a.m. and I'm on my knees scooping up water with a cup and putting it in the sink. Then I had to switch to a sponge to finish the job while Maddie and Sophie offered words of encouragement. (They seemed to find the ordeal entertaining.)
We finally arrived outside the Rarotonga harbor early Thursday morning. We're dog tired but now the real fun begins. Avatiu Harbor, the only harbor on the island, is tiny. There is not enough space to anchor so visiting yachts must stern-tie to the cement quay. This entails dropping an anchor from the bow and carefully backing up toward the quay, trying to avoid hitting the other stern-tied boats that are on either side of you. When you're close enough you toss stern lines to helping hands on the dock who secure them to the bollards. Then you tighten up the anchor rode, tighten up your stern lines and you're all set. Now add to this the fact that most sailboats (and ours is no exception) do not back up very well: when the propeller is spinning in reverse gear the boat "walks to port". Backing up in a straight line is very difficult. Then add a little bit of cross wind and throw in a bit of swell. It's the type of situation that gives rise to expressions like "pucker factor". And it's certainly not a maneuver that any boat can accomplish without help from the dock.
The harbor master, nice guy that he is, is really no help here. He gives you permission to tie up but his interest ends there. Fortunately, at the time we arrived, there was still a pretty big gap along the quay. We were also lucky that our friends on Shilling and Charisma were right there when we came in, telling us which spot they'd picked out for us and ready to coach us and take our lines.
Shortly after we'd settled in (and my stomach knots had loosened up a bit) we heard on the radio that single-hander Frank, from the Dutch boat Morning Light, was outside the harbor. This time John was part of the crew that came to the aid of the entering boat. In fact, over the last two days, 8 more boats have come in and each time there are ready and willing hands on shore to help the new boat get settled. It's another example of how the cruising community looks after each other. The harbor is now quite full and even as I write this, John and the crews of Shilling and Orca III are helping the latest arrival find a spot to shoehorn them in. There's really no thought of turning anyone away, particularly since anyone arriving has probably just made a several-hundred mile passage-from-hell to get here, and there's really no other place to go.
Thankfully the island of Rarotonga is showing itself to be well worth the effort...