Huahine to Moorea the hard way
19 September 2019
Close call! We are OK but Uproar is wounded. Two days ago we set sail (trite expression that even cruise ships use) from Huahine to Moorea. It is just over 80 nautical miles, a little more than a Lake Michigan crossing. Wind was to start out on the nose but then back to NE at around 15 knots. So it was to be a beat upwind. No problem, Uproar likes going to weather.
We left at 5 pm for what we expected to be a 12 hour sail. It is not a good idea to try to complete a passage like this entirely during daylight. Arriving at an anchorage in the night is a dangerous practice. Arriving just after dawn is delightful and we especially enjoy night passages. Moon was close to full so we would have plenty of light.
What would have been a simple passage didn't start out that well. We motored an hour to clear the north end of Huahine, then found the wind and seas. Waves were short and choppy in the 15 knots of breeze and Uproar did a dance reminding me of rap music. Lisa was not feeling well and just lay flat the entire passage. I stood the whole watch but lay down a few times and slept in the cockpit. We didn't see another boat the entire way.
The wind did back to NE and Uproar, beating hard, headed directly to Moorea. It's lucky when the forecast plays right into your route plan. But unlucky when a cotter pin wears through and your forestay, furling drum and all blasts out of the anchor well and your jib is flying free like a spinnaker! The forestay is the most heavily loaded part of the rigging. When it lets loose, the mast usually comes down. We keep our spinnaker halyard attached to the bow pulpit (front railing). That spinnaker halyard prevented the mast from collapsing.
It was 6:30 am with only 8 miles to go when the forestay took off, I released the main sheet to relieve the load pulling back on the mast. The bow pulpit bent but held. Then the real excitement began. Lisa was immediately on deck. I crawled forward with a line, ran it around the anchor roller and tied it to the spinnaker halyard. Lisa winched it down hard to insure the spinnaker halyard didn't break off the bow pulpit. That spinnaker halyard was now our emergency forestay. We dropped the main and stuffed most of it in the Mack Pack cover.
The furling line for the jib ran to the stopper knot and held the jib, still full, by the side of the boat, pulling us sideways. We eased the jib sheets to relieve that load. There were no lines in the water so I started the engine, ahead slow. Next job was to try to secure that jib flaying crazily in the 15+ knots of wind. I tied a line around the furling drum which was whipping around my head. I approached it from forward to be sure I wasn't clobbered. Lisa secured the line around a stern cleat so we could keep control of the monster. Then we cut the furling line and the whole mess flew aft.
Jib sheets wrapped around the end of the boom but we cleared them and let them trail behind Uproar. Since they were well aft, and we had forward boat speed, there was no danger of wrapping the prop. We then released the jib halyard. Lowering the jib from the foil is always difficult as the upper bearing often gets stuck on the foil extrusions. I had no idea how we would get it down. But I pulled with everything I had and it started to come down. Perhaps the gyrations shook that upper bearing over the joints. Lisa and I struggled to pull the jib into the cockpit as some of it was dragging in the water. We retrieved the jib and jib sheets. All lines were aboard.
The jib wouldn't come down the last 8 feet. I saw that the luff tape was torn in a few places, it would have to be replaced. I cut the luff tape away the last 8 feet. But I had to do this reaching up, standing on a pitching deck. Then I had to cut the Spectra head strap off the sail with two dull knives. I knew when I cut it, I would fall with the sail so made sure I was leaning into the boat when the last hack parted it.
I can't begin to describe my exhaustion by that time. I took a few breathers just to get my wind back. Lisa was struggling too with exhaustion and sea-sickness. She tried several times to leave the cockpit to help me. I insisted (rather loudly, sorry Lisa) she stay in the cockpit. One of us had to stay in control of the boat. Fortunately the autopilot and engine kept us going slowly forward.
We finally had all of the sail and all lines safely in the boat after over an hour of struggle. We lashed the mangled furling drum to the stern rail. I increased speed from the 3.5 knots we were motoring but the mast shook violently in the pounding seas. Slow speed is all we could risk for the last 6 miles to Moorea.
We knew we would be safe as Uproar was still a fully functional powerboat. Our mast was saved! Dismasting is second only to sinking on the level of sailing trauma. Lisa had experienced two dismastings and I have been in one. These were all on smaller boats. On a boat the size of Uproar, the broken mast can be impossible to clear enough to start the engine and can beat holes in the boat, causing sinking!
Our jib furling system was trashed and jib damaged but easily repaired. Just dragging that jib down the companionway to stuff below was another struggle. The next day, another struggle was to drag it on deck and fold it properly. Damage to Uproar will exceed $5,000 which is our insurance deductible. But we are OK, except for bumps, bruises and utter shock!
Lisa and I are Sunday net controllers for the SSB (long range radio) Polynesian Magellan net. It is a twice daily radio broadcast where boats underway give position reports and their progress is tracked. Other boats at anchor can check in too just to chat about general information and anything of interest. The broadcast opens with the net controller asking, “Is there any medical, emergency or priority traffic?” It is quite rare to hear any response.
I keyed the mic, “Uproar.” Steve from Liward said, “Uproar, go ahead please.” I succinctly mentioned we lost our forestay but the boat was clear, motoring slowly into Moorea. Steve and Lili proceeded us to Moorea and were waiting for us. I asked that they listen for any further transmissions from us in case the situation deteriorated. Steve asked for our lat and lon which I gave him. He asked if cruisers should meet us at the pass to offer assistance. This was a breaking point for me, all I could reply was that we should be OK and thanks for the offer. Cruisers will do anything to help each other.
Steve did meet us at the pass in his dinghy. It was his birthday too. I can't describe the relief of entering calm waters and being met by a concerned friend. Steve and Lili have been cruising for many years and have had their share of “adventures” and well understood what we had just gone through. He piloted us to a good anchoring spot near Liward and shared his birthday muffins with us. That night, we had birthday cocktails on Liward. Mine was much more than a double!