14 October 2010
Neiafu Harbour, Vava'u, Tonga,waiting for customs clearance.
While in Tonga, the starter motor for our engine finally gave up the ghost. It had been getting harder and harder to turn the engine over and eventually the starter would not crank at all. When i took it apart it was obvious what the problem was: it was burnt out and breaking up inside. It was soon clear that it would take several weeks to get a replacement of one sort or another, so it was pure sailing for us from then on.
It was actually much more fun, peaceful and a good learning experience. For instance, I was never exactly sure just how you were meant to sail up on the anchor in order to retrieve it. After experimenting with mainsail only, headsail only, combinations of the two, steering or not steering, we became quite adept at the procedure. Turns out you can use any combination of sails but usually some headsail helps. We let the boat sail out to one side as far as the anchor chain would allow; tack the boat, or let it tack itself; then pull in as much chain as we could while the boat was heading off to the extent of the chain on the other tack, and so on until we sailed past the anchor and pulled it out of the seabed. The trick is in not sailing too slowly or not letting the boat get up enough momentum ( if the chain is getting too short) and also in not sailing too fast and past the anchor. Moderation in everything!
Similarily, we learnt to drop anchor and dig it in under sail. Again, getting just the right speed was important. Too much sail and too fast meant a runaway chain. Scary. Too little speed and the anchor wouldn't be sure to dig in. Usually, we would sail through the anchorage and pick our spot, approach from upwind, drop the mainsail and turn to run downwind over the spot where we wanted to place our anchor, have just enough headsail out to give us the right momentum, lower the anchor and feed out the chain as Isabelle rolled up the headsail, I'd then snub off the chain at the scope we wanted and as the anchor bit Isabelle would swing the bow to the side the anchor chain was coming off. By the time the boat was around head to wind we would have the anchor nicely dug in.
It was also very satisfying to be able to do all this under sail and we regarded with a little pity, the other boats that always resorted to their engines for the same operations, feeling that they were missing out on something.
We resolved to sail on to Fiji and finally sort our starter motor problems there, where there are more services. We had to wait several days for the weather to settle a bit but then we had a rather pleasant sail, especially the last two days of the three day passage, in conditions that reminded me of the way the first days of spring feel when at home.