On the way to French Polynesia, again
29 May 2014
Off to the Line Islands
Phil and I originally had planned to leave from Hilo and sail back to the Marquesas in French Polynesia. Only 2,000nm in a straight line or about the same distance from the Galapagos to the Marquesas. But instead of downwind it would be into the wind and it would not be a straight line either. We were not ready for that so we change our minds to sail to the Tuamotus since we didn’t get to see much of that group of atolls the first time around. That was the main reason to go back to French Polynesia instead of further places west. It will be a little more miles, but the wind angle would be better. Or at least that’s what the book said. But as our departure time approach the winds were not cooperating. They were stronger and coming from the East South East instead of the East like the book said. So we change our minds again and decided to go south to Fanning and maybe make it to the Tuamotus or Tahiti from there. Then we change our minds again and decided to try for Raiatea and from there maybe get a good weather window to head east.
Phil left Oahu the first week of April for Maui with a stop in Molokai. He ordered new sails and the sail loft is in Maui. I stayed behind waiting on the dentist to finish and my gums to heal and the wind to die down a bit. Well 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. The wind just wouldn’t die, the weather man say it’s blowing 30kts all the way to the equator. I’m supposed to meet Karlyn in Raiatea the 1st of June and if I’m going to make that date and make a few stops along the way I’ll have to leave soon. Besides my time at the marina in Honolulu would be over in a week and I’ll have to go somewhere, might as well go south. I’ll just have to deal with my friend the wind.
Just after lunch on the 20th of April, I said my good-byes to Hawaii and headed south for better winds. I always wanted to test my storm sail combination, now is as good as a time as any. So I only put out the staysail and was doing 6 knots, in 3 meter waves. I talked with Phil on the SSB and he had it a little better, he was in the lee of the Big Island and it was blocking the wind and waves. But once he cleared it the ride was on.
By midnight the winds had drop all the way down to the low 20’s. Out comes the jib. I sure didn’t feel like going on deck to raise the main. The wind might pick up again. By sunrise I was right, the winds are back into the 30’s, rolled up the jib and under staysail again, this time doing 6.5kts. Those waves are now 4 meters. The boat is doing well, I’m doing well, and if something breaks I’m not far from land. Just before sunset I’m in the lee of the big island, things began to settle down winds down to less than 10kts, but the waves didn’t go away. To maintain boat speed I rolled out the jib and turn on the engine. Don’t think it’s a good idea to put the main up because once I clear the big Island the shit will hit the fan.
Sunrise bring a surprise. The jib furling line found something to rub on and almost chafed through. Glad I notice that because without it I wouldn’t be able to roll the sail back in without a lot of work. Had an old spinnaker halyard that I could use, so out on deck in them big crashing waves I go, all tied up with my new harness. Replaced it and fix the chafing spot. Just before sunset the winds are back in the 30’s. I tried a different sail plan, this time I took in the staysail and put the 2nd reef in the jib. Boat speed 5-6kts, and the ride is a little bit more comfortable.
On the 3rd day the winds have died down to 15-20kts, the sea state has calm down to only 2 meter waves. I’m now brave enough to raise the mainsail with the 2nd reef in and the Jib with a 2nd reef rolled in. Windy the windvane steering system has been steering the boat for the last 12 hours then she gave up, one of the bolts that one of the pulleys attach to broke. Stainless steel rusted again. Damn it! Now for me and Otto to steer the rest of the way.
Come morning and my enemy Chafe struck again. This time it was the reefing line on the mainsail. Drop the sail, cut the bad section off the line, retied, this time I made sure the run was true, no more Chafe, I hope. Then the winds picked up again into the mid 20’s, Boat speed 7kts, time for a sail change with night time coming soon, took in the jib and rolled out the staysail with the 1st reef in. Did I mention that I’ve been on a close reach every since leaving Hawaii? Boat heel over, rails in the water, etc. Not a very pleasant ride. Phil is having just as much fun if not more. He reported a rouged wave hit him and dump a whole lot of water on the boat. A few things not working correctly after that. He’ll have to tell that story.
Not much happening on the 5th day. Winds 20-25kts from the ESE, 3 meter swells from the NE, boat speed 6.5kts. For the last few days I have been averaging 150nm/day. At least I’m moving fast. Nothing broke, even found time to wash dishes.
Next day the clouds move in. Which mean here comes the rain. Wind switched to the NE at only 15kts, which mean the boat not heeled over so much now. Batteries need charging so turn on the engine, but no joy, no alternator output. Found a wire that broke. So what else to do except get out the tools and fix it.
This must be the doldrums. Wind from zero to less than 10kts, but plenty of rain. Boat speed 2.5kts, but I’m not complaining, can finally get some rest. Finally took out the reefs in the mainsail and done a little motoring. These conditions last for 2 days. I make it to the northern end of Fanning around midnight after 9 days at sea. I was too lazy to take in my fishing line at sunset like I normally do, then around midnight I caught a small Wahoo, only 1 meter long. I’m not going to try to enter the cut in the reef in the dark, so I heave-to and just drift around in the lee of the island. Once sunup I go fishing again and catch another Wahoo. Phil has been there since yesterday morning and has no fresh fish to eat. I drop the anchor next to him and wait for the customs and immigration officials to come check us in. Then give him one of them babies because I feel sorry for him, or I don’t feel like cleaning two of them, I need some uninterrupted sleep.
After the check-in procedure and a nap it was time for some more sleep. Up early then more sleep. Decided I had enough RR and head for land to go visit some new old friends. Stop by Bruno’s place and interrupted him painting the house. He had this look, who are you guys and what do you want? We mention we were the 2 brothers from last year, “Oh yeah, I remember you guys.” Talk about this and that but the most interesting thing was his hydroponic garden, or whatever you call them. I had seen some in Hawaii that pumps water from a fish pond into the plants, but he added a chicken coup. When the chickens take a shit, it lands into the fish pond then he pumps this mix into the tubes where the tomatoes were growing. Only problem the chickens didn’t lay any eggs. He put a roaster in with them hoping to encourage them, but no luck. Now I use to raise chickens back in the day, so I mention he might need to feed them something besides coconuts. A little grain might help. But no grain here just plenty of coconuts. I suggested instead of feeding the left over rice and corn that the kids didn’t eat to the dogs, give them to the chickens. I’ll have to go back one day to see if that worked.
Next stop was Tyron’s Kava Bar. He didn’t recognize us either. We interrupted him trying to log on to the internet. I said well you have my brother’s picture on your desktop. “Oh I remember now, you are the 2 brothers on the sailboats. Yep that’s us. The Kava business must be good. He has remodeled the place and spent $10k on a new sound system. Of course everything cost more here, he could have got it for half that price back in the world. There was some singing, dancing contest that night, so of course we will be back.
There was another boat from Oregon tied up to the old sunken barge on the other side of the pass. Paid them a visit and to check out what the anchorage was like over there. Kind of shallow but minus the strong currents that switches direction with every tidal change. We decided to stay where we were. Told them about the show at Tyron’s that night, but their dinghy motor wasn’t working. Offered them a ride, they were glad to get off the boat and see the other side. The singing contest was great, just wish I knew what the heck everyone was laughing at. We went back the next night for the pool and dart tournament, but no luck this time, lost on the first round.
Well I got this old dinghy motor that I tried to get running again. Haven’t used it since last time I was here. It would start but wouldn’t idle. Plus the steering wouldn’t swivel, salt water environment froze it in place. Told the captain from Oregon he could have it, maybe between the two engines he could get one of them to work. Next day he motors over with the engine running with one of the local girls as crew. He said he came by to thank me for the engine and to give me a present. Wow a girl for me? No but I can have a bottle of wine and some homemade tuna salad. The girl was his.
A week after arrival it’s time to depart. The angle of the wind won’t let us sail to the east and we always said that if we were anywhere close to Penrhyn, like within 500 miles we would have to stop. So we change plans and made plans to stop at one of our favorite places in the South Pacific. May 4th anchor up and heading for the pass. Winds from the ENE at 12kts. A good day to go sailing, all sails up, only 800nm to go. Second day at sea, same conditions. Only made 103nm run that day. Not complaining because it sure is good to not be walking on the side of the boat this time. 3rd day and the winds move to the east at 10kts, clouds roll in but no rain. Have to start the engine to recharge the batteries and might as well put it in gear and make some miles.
May 7th, sometime after midnight I cross the equator again. Celebrated with a toast of rum - a little for me and more for King Neptune. Bought a bottle of Hanna Bay a cheap local Hawaiian brand. Damn that stuff tasted nasty. Hope the king didn’t get to mad at me for not sharing the good stuff. The only thing that stuff is good for is killing fish.
Winds still out of the E at 13kts, seas only 1 meter. Done over 140nm that day, what a good day to be sailing. 5th day conditions just couldn’t be better. Averaged 6.5kts that day. The only problem I turned the generator on to recharge the batteries. Only lasted 3 hours before it began to overheat due to a lost of cooling water. What the ____! Oh well I will have to check that out when I get to Penrhyn. Next day more of the same. Made 156nm, I think that’s a record for me and my boat in one day or at least I haven’t found anything written down that is more then that. May 10th and I’m anchoring inside the atoll next to Phil. Of course he has been here several hours before me. With those sailing conditions he was also having a good passage. Checked-in , and before it gets dark and before the winds pick up we head for the other side to one of our favorite places, Te Tuatua village.
As we approach we get a call on the VHF advising us not to go between the buoys, they mark a reef. And then we were kindly invited to church services the next day. But who could wait to see old new friends. We headed off to visit Papa Sito and he was surprise to see us. The kids had came and told him that his friends “the 2 brothers” was back and anchored in the same place as last time, except Silhouette was on the north of Irie II. Kids have a good memory. We were the last 2 boats to leave last year and are the first 2 boats to arrive this year. Everything is about the same. All the visitors have finally made it back to New Zealand and Australia. The guy in charge didn’t pay the full bill for everybody so the cargo ship wasn’t going to bring them back. Everybody had to come up with more money to catch a different ship back, paying twice. I guess they are thieves and dishonest people even in a place as remote as this.
Sunday morning off to church we go, then dinner at the minister’s house, then back to the boat to do nothing except play with the computer and take a nap or two. Maybe even play a little music with the volume turn down real low, first on the list is some Bob Marley. But I got to jumping up and had to switch to some smooth jazz.
Next morning off we go to visit some more old new friends, but this time we found a new one. Rio wasn’t around the last time, so we got to finally meet him. He bought a boat while in Australia and was trying to get it to work right, the wiring to the lights and all that was messed up so Phil started that job. The engine wouldn’t run right so I started helping Rio with that job. Some type of linkage was missing and he had to manually adjust it to try and find the sweet spot. Wanted me to fix it. I’m not a magician, without that linkage the only thing I could think of was for Him to wire it in place and hope it worked. I decided I would tell them how to fix things instead of doing them. The other problem the engine wouldn’t turn over using the battery, they had to hand start it. I check the battery with Phil’s meter and found it to be okay on voltage, but it was a little bitty thing, maybe for starting a moped not a 40hp outboard. I suggested getting that big battery that he took out of the boat and charge it up overnight. Well he didn’t, he just hooked it up and of course not enough voltage to start the engine, but enough to run the lights. And since I didn’t wire the linkage together he did it. Engine works now just got to hand start it while playing with the linkage. One day he’ll recharge the battery.
Phil on the other hand just had to get his hands into that wiring mess. I told him about teaching a man to fish, but he said that Rio just wasn’t interested in wires. So he spent all day upside down soldering some wires together. When he got through if you turn on the lights the engine starter would engage. Opps, a little more trouble shooting found a wire that was hook up by the previous owner into the wrong place. Then he spent the next day downloading drivers to Rio’s computers so he could get his video camera to work. Just have to see who you’re talking to when using Skype. Now the guy got video but have the slightest idea how to fix it the next time. And Phil wanted to know why I never had anything to do? The captain of the Kawi mention to me in Hawaii that these guys are not dumb, they will take advantage of your kindness, so I just kindly gave them my opinion and how I would try to fix it, and if they didn’t want to do it then not my problem. Something George would do.
We did notice a little rift between some of the families, like one day we where trouble shooting the minister’s house 12v lighting system. One of them just wouldn’t work. We change out the light bulb, nothing, Phil got out his meter to check for voltage. We tried every switch in the house, nothing. Minister said maybe it’s not hooked up. So after all the easy steps was over Phil crawl into the attic, chase the wire to a closet, I chase it to some switches, removed them and sure ‘nuff it wasn’t hook up to anything. For a quick fix we hook it up to a switch so it would come on when you turn on the hall light and if you didn’t want it on then just turn if off at the fixture. Then when we were at Rio’s house talking about it, he said he wired up the minister’s house years ago and they didn’t have any more switches, so he left it unwired. Did he say he didn’t know anything about wires, or he just wanted someone else to do it for him?
Papa Sito wanted a 12v light on his porch so when the generator is off he could flip a switch instead of looking for a flashlight. I had a light on the boat that I was going to wire up for a cockpit light, but it’s been 2 years and I haven’t done it yet. So I donated it to him. Phil went and soldered some wires together to a 12v light bulb that he wasn’t using anymore. But nobody had any wire to hook them up. Back to the boat and out come my100ft roll of boat wire that I was saving for emergency repairs. They now have lights. But they complaining the batteries are no good. Phil checks them out with his meter and sure’nuff they were bad. But only 5 months old. We take a looked at the charging system. They had a solar panel wired directly to the battery, on a good sunny day the battery got overcharge then when no sun it got undercharge which is the fastest way to kill a battery. We tried to explain that they need a controller to keep this from happening. They just couldn’t understand what we were talking about. Then while at someone else’s house, he was asking Phil to look at his solar controller to see if it was wired correctly. Where’s the manual. Yep it’s wired correctly. Where did you get that device? He ordered it via the Kwia. Went to Mr. T’s house, a famous local recording artist that has retired back to his home town. He had the same setup. Only his wasn’t wired correctly. Surprising Phil didn’t rewire it just told him what to do to make it right, like don’t hook the lights directly to the battery hook them up to the charge controller. While there he had a washing machine that didn’t work correctly. After disassembly we found out it would only work if it had water in it. Duh!!! Next time we see Papa we say, order one of them charge controllers just like Mr. T. have and your batteries will last a lot longer. Betcha he didn’t order one. Us old folks are so hard headed.
Another friend we had to visit was the elder of the island. When we were here last time he was building a catamaran sailboat. It’s all finish now and it sails. For the maiden voyage they put 20 something people on it. Lucky it didn’t sink, came close.
Every evening we get to help shuck oysters, looking for pearls. Phil found one of the biggest, about the size of a pencil eraser. They said its worth about $300 from the pearl buyer. If I would have found it I would have offered to buy it, but . . . All I found were a few normal size ones. Every day after lunch everybody went Pipi hunting. Except the school teacher. She waited until after school was over. Everyone is going to the South end of the atoll now. We beginning to think they will over harvest and will have none in the future. Some of the elders agree, but a family can make an average of $1000/week selling them to the buyer. Wow that’s like over $50k a year. And what to spend all that money on? There are new motorbikes, new 4 wheelers, and all those outboards that we work so hard on last year have been replace with brand new ones. The kids even got smart phones. Everybody got a computer or two. But the big expense is to go visit family in New Zealand and Australia or just to move there. If you need to see a doctor for something major instead of the nurse you have to find a way to one of the above countries and it ain’t cheap. Fuel, is expensive also.
For helping fix Rio’s boat he takes us fishing in it. First trip was to go soldier fishing. They call them that because there are so many of them. Take a little bit of cut bait put it on a hook with a little string attached to a cane pole, throw it in the water, wait a few seconds, and pull in a fish. Reminded me of fishing with my dad at croaker hole. About the same size of fish too, we kept anything over 3”. Most of them were the size of my hand. Sometimes you didn’t need bait, those suckers bite the hook. Every now and then you would catch a baby shark. Found out the trick was to keep the bait moving, soon as it stop, shark attack. And then they broke the line. Once the tide stop moving, no more fish biting, glad for that we all ready had 2 ice chests full. Back to his house to clean all them little things, and guest what’s for supper? We even got some to take with us.
Next night, time for another fishing trip, this time we are going for mullet. Take the boat to about the same place but this time instead of anchoring in the cut we beach the boat and walk to a lagoon. Spread the net across the entrance then made a circle back to where we started. Took about 10 minutes and we must have had 10 kilos of fish. Or at least a whole bunch. Back home to remove them from the net and start the cleaning process. Guess what’s for dinner? Now these mullets have the same shape as them mullets in Texas but are white instead of black. Must be because they live in this clear water. And tasty too. If Texas mullets taste this good they would be on the menu in every restaurant. They even serve them raw, or just cooked in lime and vinegar juice. We even got some to take with us.
On Friday we hear another boat on the radio. They are trying to get info about the entry. Someone on the other side answers must have been the customs guy. Saturday we see this little boat sailing across the atoll. When they drop anchor we don’t see a dinghy. Maybe it’s one of them small folding ones. Anyway on the way back to our boats we stop by to invite them to church the next morning and explain to them that is all you can do on Sunday. They were a couple of young French guys on a 9 meter boat, and said they would be more than happy to go to church. We even volunteered to give them a ride since they didn’t have a dinghy, just a kayak and a surf board. After church to the Minister’s house for lunch. Then to Rio’s house for tea where a conversation about kite boarding started. One of the local guys use to kite board when he was in New Zealand and was talking about the perfect beach behind the reef. They didn’t have a dinghy but they had a couple of kites and boards. They were planning on going to the other side on Monday with us to check-out, but they decided to stay to catch some waves. Then they heard about the lobster hunting, and the fishing, and the Pipis. We heard they stayed for another week or two.
Monday and it’s time to head for the other side; Omoka village. There’s a big meeting of the island consuls. But instead of taking their own boats, the Minister and Rio and a few others hitch a ride with us, and we towed their boats. Think they wanted to save gas, or just the opportunity to go sailing. The mayor was pissed that they were late and canceled the meeting. There was a catamaran that just completed her check-in, so to show them the Minister hitches another ride.
We didn’t make too many friends here last time, because most of our time was spent on the other side. The school principle has left, and the customs agent was busy, so that left the Catholic deacon whom I met last time. We stop by his house but guess what; he’s out Pipi hunting. But his wife said he would be back soon and he was. Chatted about this and that but it was getting a little late and time to head back to the boats for something to eat, but they wouldn’t have any of that, we had to stay for dinner. For the whole week here we had very little opportunity to eat on our own boats. Everybody wanted to feed the 2 brothers. They must have felt sorry for us.
Wish I could say the last night was the best one. But the weather system we were trying to beat showed up early. Wind and rain started at night. Then more wind in the early morning. Didn’t sleep much because I was on anchor watch, clock set to wake me up every 30 minutes. By morning the GPS said I wasn’t in the same place anymore. Shit the anchor is dragging and I’m moving closer to them rocks on shore. Then I wasn’t moving anymore, that was close, the anchor reset and I only moved 30 meters or have 50 meters before I hit the rocks. Sun up, pouring rain, wind in the 30’s and anchor is holding. Then a break in the weather, I call Phil on the radio and relayed my problems and said I was pulling anchor and getting the hell out of there before the next storm. Next problem the anchor won’t come up, I’m stuck on another coral head. That makes 3 out of the 4 times that I’ve anchored here that that has happen. Well what do I do now? I can’t jump in the water and leave the boat unattended this time. So I called Roux on the radio, no answer. Call Phil on the radio and beg him to go to shore and get help. He had already taken his motor off the dinghy and didn’t want the trouble of putting in back on in this shit. I suggested that he could row to shore. He tried but the strong wind didn’t let him do that very well, he ended up sailing onto the rocks and had to walk the dinghy around to the beach. He eventually found Roux and another guy to come and help. He said I owe him big time, I agreed and hope I never have to repay him in these conditions. I rigged up my Scuba gear for Roux, but he said the water was cold, did I have a wet suit? It didn’t quite fit but it was a wet suit. And the BCD inflator hose somehow rupture between here and Hawaii. Being an experience diver he didn’t need it anyway, just pull himself down the anchor chain get it unwrap from the coral and follow the chain back up to the boat. While I was working the windlass the other guy was driving the boat, while Roux was trying to get back into his boat. Forgot to mention the big waves. Phil was trying to get his dinghy back on the foredeck. Now that I was freed from the bottom the wind and rain really started to get stronger. So I motored around pulling Roux and his boat trying not to hit the coral heads that’s just below the surface. Roux decided to keep the Scuba gear on just in case Phil had the same problem. Then Phil’s snubber line broke. The wait was over, he either pull anchor or break something else. Lucky him he wasn’t stuck on a coral head. While retrieving my Scuba gear from Roux I asked what I owe you? A wet suit was the answer. Oh well since it looks good on you, you can keep it, like I had a choice.
Well we manage to make it thru the pass without any more problems. Then around noon on the 20th of May the wind and rain was over with. Now how come we didn’t wait a few more hours? The rest of the day and into the night the winds never got above 10kts. Lessons learn, you can always wait for better weather. Or next time when expecting bad weather go anchor somewhere else.
For the next several days the winds are less than 15kts. But out of the East and sometimes the southeast. My boat doesn’t point very well so I’m headed south but want to go south east. Oh well will have to tack to get there. Can’t make over 100 miles per day. Then about 3 days out the wind increases to over 20kts. On the nose, boat heeled over. Big waves also. Then just at sunset I notice some lights on the horizon. Look like a ship, but couldn’t see it on radar and he don’t have AIS, must be a fishing vessel. Then it started to rain, I could see his green light which means he should be passing in front of me, but I still couldn’t see him on radar. So I began to make some adjustments, tuning it and such to try and dial him in, then I looked up and I see green and red lights, Damn it he’s heading straight for me, I can’t go fast enough to get out of his way but I try anyway. Turn on the engine, full speed ahead, get out my spot light and shine on my sails, then shine his way, then I only see his red light. He must have seen me and decided to turn and go behind me instead of in front of me. Next time I see someone about to pass close I’m going to call them on the radio. Now why didn’t I ever see him on radar? I was thinking he was further away then he was and had the radar on 6 mile range, which made him disappear into the sea clutter because he was only a ½ mile away. I’m going to have to pay closer attention next time.
One day the wind dies to about 8kts. I used this opportunity to motor east, so when the winds came back I would have gotten closer to the rumb line. Phil has been using his motor a lot on this leg and tacking. He’s staying on the rumb line whereas I’m sailing on the same port tack. About 3 days out he start having battery problems, for some reason they not holding a charge, not to mention all the other problems he’s been having since that rough wave hit him. When his alternator quite working he decided screw this sailing shit and turn on his motor and didn’t turn it off until he reached Raiatea. I on the other hand decided to have some fun sailing and ended up 300nm west or Raiatea, which meant I had a lot of tacking to do. Finally gave up trying to go fast and just left the reefs in and settle down to a somewhat comfortable ride, if you can call it that. Made it to Raiatea on the 29th, tied up to a slip in the Apooti marina, checked in with customs and started the process of cleaning and drying out the boat. Salt everywhere. Cushions began to have something growing on them and that’s the inside ones. That last leg must have been the hardest thus far. But nothing broke. Or everything has broken already. Phil didn’t fare as well; you’ll have to hear him tell his story.
Now I know why they call that angle of sail beating. Because it BEATS all desire out of you for every wanting to do that again. So Tahiti and the Toamotus will not be seen by us this year, it’s in the wrong direction. And if I ever decide to beat anywhere again will someone PLEASE remind me what the sail was like from Hawaii to here.