Contrast part 1
15 January 2019
French Polynesia occupies an area the size of Europe. Each island group has its unique geology and culture. Gambier is the furthest SE, only 350 miles from Pitcairn Island, first inhabited by the Bounty mutineers. It is also quite safe from cyclones and now is cyclone season. Gambier is unique in that numerous volcanic islands in the archipelago are surrounded by reefs.
We left Raevavai to sail to Gambier, a course 740 miles straight east. Since the trade winds come from the east, this could be a difficult sail upwind. But we watched the weather forecasts in Raevavai and waited for low pressure systems south to pass by. These low pressure systems counter the trade winds and promise westerly or northerly winds. Anywhere in between would make for fast sailing. The only problem was that passing lows also bring squalls and some rough weather. Still, we needed wind from the right direction to make this tough passage.
The Grib files we get on our satellite link suggested we would have favorable winds for the 4 or 5 days we needed to sail the 740 miles. We left Raevavai on January 4, Friday. So much for sailors superstition to never leave port on a Friday. We had light winds and gray skies when we left. We quickly determined there was not enough wind to sail. It is quite disappointing to have to motor at the start of the passage. But after two hours the wind filled in and never let up!
Uproar settled into a fast reach through choppy seas and frequent rain. Then more wind, more rain, and bigger waves. It was too rough to fish. It was too rough to do much of anything. We set a pot of chicken soup in our thermal cooker the night before we left. This fed us for three days along with the bunch of bananas hanging in our cockpit. It always takes a day or so to get into the rhythm of a passage. But it was a rough one and that rhythm was more chaos than cadence.
The wind blew and the sea flew. We single or double reefed the mainsail and rolled up some of our new genoa in the stronger winds. When winds lightened, we put up more sail. My arms really got a workout. Since all of our reefing lines are led to the cockpit, I could do this in relative safety, not having to go on deck. But there was almost always a mean spirited wave that gave me a drenching. We stayed mostly below, watching our instruments for AIS alarms or radar signals from approaching ships. Being in a remote part of the ocean, we saw none along route.
Some of the waves hit us so hard broadside they knocked things off shelves that never seem to get dislodged. Green water went crashing clear over the deck. From below, we saw so much water going over our clear hatches, we thought we were in a glass bottom boat, upside down! Some of those hatches leaked a bit, adding a soggy boat to our misery. But Uproar just kept sailing along. Thank you autopilot!
Lisa and I put our dining table down to make a large bed and spent much of our days there. We binge watched “The Wire” netflix series. We tried to sleep and sometimes just lay with our eyes closed. I thought how nice a couch by a fireplace and mindless TV would be. We questioned our own sanity, “What are we doing out here?” This wasn't the first time we have had a rough passage and will certainly not be the last.
One comfort was the Polynesian Magellan net. This is a SSB radio check-in at 8:00 am and 6:00 pm. The net controllers (I am the net controller for Sunday) take position reports and conditions for boats underway. This is followed with any boats who want to report where they are and what's happening, the gossip part of the program. Off2Sea, or NZ friends from Raevavai left the day before us in their large catamaran. They would report on the Polymag net their position and conditions. Seemed like their conditions were even worse than ours. They dropped all sails and hove to during a 35 knot squall. It was nice to know others were out there and those at anchor lending words of encouragement. Some were in disbelief that we were making 9 knots in the heavy going. Halfway through, we did the math. It is important to arrive in daylight to safely enter through the reefs. If we kept up our 7+ knot average, we would arrive shortly after noon on day 4.
Vaughn and Leslie from Off2Sea had been to Gambier before. We talked on the SSB and they suggested a SW anchorage would be best in the northerly winds. They arrived at the SW pass a few hours ahead of us. They kindly motored back and forth outside the reef, fishing, to help pilot us in through the pass. What a kindness. One wants nothing better than a quiet anchorage and shower after a rough passage. As we neared the anchorage, we received a call on VHF that Philippe from Tao offering to come out in his dinghy and pilot us through the reefs to the anchorage behind Taravai, our destination. What a welcome and relief to get through these uncharted waters to safety.
Anchor went down around 4pm. The contrast from the rough passage to a tranquil anchorage in an idyllic spot can't be described. But I will try in part 2 of this blog.
I can't say enough about Uproar. She, with little tending from us, transported us through a wild sea, 740 miles at an average speed of 7.4 knots. And she does it with grace, in spite of the conditions around her.