07 June 2018 | Avatiu Harbor, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
We departed Uturoa as scheduled at 0800 on 1 June, motored through the Raiatea lagoon to our planned exit on the NW side of the island and then continued to motor for the next 24 hours.
By our days of weather research, we expected a 1/2 day's motoring and then sailing, then some slow days of sailing for the next few days, and then a faster (but manageable) ride into Rarotonga. Weather prediction is not accurate.
On my first watch of the second day, I had to dodge some huge storm cells, squalls, in the distance, but finally we could dodge no longer. We had a single reefed main and jib, usually sufficient, but we both wished for double reef of everything by a few hours later.
The seas were terribly confused: that is, coming from all directions. The ride becomes jerky, viscously violent, and completely unpredictable. When Conni came on deck, she was violently seasick, and remained so for the next 24 hours. She was so sick that I was essentially on my own and could not drop the main sail to provide some relief from the increased boat speed that added to the violence of the ride in those seas. We weren't in danger, but we were in a "pickle" as I called it. All we could do is ride out the storm and do our best. The seas were so violent and the wind so high (constant at 25 knots, much higher gusts) that we didn't trust any of our steering systems, so I was at the wheel for most of the time. It's wearing, but it also meant that I could only watch Conni suffer in the conditions and could do nothing to help. I hate that.
Not surprisedly, when the ride moderated in 24 hours, so did Conni's sickness, and we immediately dropped the main to a double reef and shortened the jib to the same. With the boat in less horrid conditions, the Hydrovane was able to steer quite well and we both took a breather. We'd eaten and drunk little and both were exhausted, bruised and thinking poorly. It's that last that's my greatest fear in dangerous conditions. We had read and discussed a recently-released NTSB report on the sinking of a large cargo vessel in a Caribbean hurricane, in which the captain made a series of lethal decisions based on poor information. I kept wondering whether either of us had started the failure cascade of bad decisions: very concerning, but being aware is important.
I'm the only one of us who an drop the main, by the way, since Conni simply can't reach most of the moving parts and I have the strength to move the main up and down. I'm always wearing my lifejacket and tether, anyway, as per our offshore rules, so I'm prepared at all times. I connect my tether to the jack lines, crawl or creep forward to the mast, and clip in-clip out of attachment points until I can reach the reefing lines and halyard on the mast. All of this is done with the deck bucking and seas/rain drenching me. It's not my favorite thing to do in poor conditions. Ideally, we try to preempt that problem and get things prepared prior to the arrival of poor conditions, but missed this one since it came up so quickly. Squalls usually last, at most, an hour, but this was an entire system that hit us and lasted a long time and built the bad seas over such a large area. Conni stays in the cockpit at the wheel, and must sprint from the wheel to the halyard winch to hoist or lower the main halyard. One of the last things that we did prior to departing Uturoa was to break down and clean those winches, and it certainly paid dividends this time. And let's not forget the screaming commands as we attempt to communicate. Conni has a will of steel since she still had some aftereffects of the seasickness as well as boat management and winch work to handle.
The next few days were a mix of motoring and sailing, with the added complication and worrisome failure of our autopilot. We hand-steered for the next few days when motoring (no wind), using only 1.5-hour shifts since it's so demanding to hold course. We tried to use the wind steering Hydrovane, but we were not able to manage it. I tried some various wiring methods to bypass probably wiring issues, but had no success. Until I can find some more information, we've lost that sometimes-important device. More on this later.
We had been making 6.5-7 knots with the storm wind, and both of us anticipated an early arrival in Raro, but conditions relegated us to arriving within 10 miles of the island considerably after dark. We discussed a nighttime arrival in the harbor, but I'd done that in my return from Fiji and opposed it. We decided to simply drift, all navigation lights on, until morning and sail and motor the remaining distance. We took our normal shifts and drifted with the conditions. At 0400 the next morning, I went below to awaken Conni for her shift but we both decided that we were safe and we both had a few hours of sleep. In the end, we had drifted only a 1.5 additional miles, worth the sleep. By the way, Rarotonga is a stunningly gorgeous island to approach in the early morning light. It's high, obviously volcanic, and as rugged as Moorea.
Up early, we arrived in the harbor and, after a few radio exchanges, were greeted by Customs, Immigration, Security, and Biohazard representatives. The boat was fumigated, papers signed and submitted, and we were officially entered in the Cooks.
We both hate Mediterranean Mooring (Med-Mooring, as it's called). We drop the anchor out, back up close to the concrete quay, and attach the boat via a pair of lines from our stern to the quay. We sit in this suspension with other vessels around us. It requires a dinghy to reach land, so that was our first chore: unpack, inflate, hoist from deck, and splash alongside.
We were mistakenly told that we had to pay some fees, so after some minimum boat-tidying, we inflated the dinghy and went ashore. First stop, the harbor master's office to check in there and pay for our shower/restroom key. Luckily, it was in an air conditioned office and we both hoped that it would be a long process. On our traipse to the payment locations, we got money and remembered how much we liked Raro. It's much less humid and hot, being so much further South from the equator than French Polynesia. Hot, yes, but with lower humidity, it's not sweltering. If there were anyplace to store a boat, we'd be here, but there just isn't. The islands here are so far apart, too, that it's probably not a good area for us, but my English, as poor as it is, is still better than my French.
We're both suffering from the odd malady of having balance centers accommodated to the passage so we're just reeling around as if drunk. After fruitless wonderings to pay our fees, we dropped by "World Famous" Trader Jack's bar and grill for a local beer, which did not, it turns out, help with my ataxia.
Stroll to the harbor, dinghy to the boat, grab shower gear, dinghy to shore, and enjoy unlimited hot water in a standup shower. It's one of the more under appreciated joys of civilization. The local burger joint is about 100 m from the boat, so we enjoyed our 30-minute wait and each devoured a huge burger and fries. On our return to Wings, we lasted minutes before sinking into a deep sleep with no watches to disturb us.
The Kiwis on the catamaran next door, Bruce and Dinah, invited us for beer and conversation last evening. They live in New Zealand, of course, and sail to and from there to points East for months at a time: they've got the chops in my book. She's an attorney so she and Conni quickly drifted off on that life, and Bruce and I talked cruising. He related several stories of interest but we ended up discussing the expectations that we have for electronics longevity. Kiwi insurance companies give electronics coverage for no more than 5 years! We decided that 8-10 years is probably the limit, the reasonably-expected life span, especially for cruising boats. Here's the point, and I referenced this earlier: I've been complaining about the longevity and robustness of our electronics and I installed everything prior to 2010, our departure year. They're probably at, or past, their useful life spans. Rather than repair, we need to be considering replacement, and the suite that we have can't be interfaced with the new stuff: it's all or none. I think that we're correct in our new understanding: it was an epiphany. Our gear was made in the infancy of networked marine electronics. Our railing about lack of support is unreasonable, then. The new systems will not communicate with the old, and we should probably be glad: the new physical network components are simpler, smaller, and more robust. The electronics, many of them at least, are greatly more efficient and offer much enhanced capabilities. Radar, for example, has undergone the digital revolution and the units use no more power than a cell phone, power on instantly, and use multiple frequencies that produce much more target detail at all ranges. Digital signal processing also produces greater detail, of course. Other components are also equally improved. For me, since I'll install everything, simpler networking components speak loudly. The cable from the newer radar, now completely digital, requires only an Ethernet-sized cable rather than a thumb-thick cable, difficult to bend and handle.
Before waxing enthusiastic, It's also true that the new stuff is very expensive. Any system that I can make work with the existing stuff is worth considering. Poor Conni married a school teacher, not a neurosurgeon.
Today is rest day. We've got some recon work to do, a mountain of laundry to deliver for washing, and some odd chores, but we're both physically whipped and need the rest. Cook Island money/New Zealand money, is $1.5:$1 to US dollars, so we're ahead here. We need fuel, and I gasped at $NZ8/4 L, but it's a bit more palatable with that ratio. Perhaps we'll enjoy another meal off the boat, too.