Index of slides from this report.
Omoka Time"What island are you from?"
asked the boy. He must have nerved himself up to talk to the papa'a (white people) and come up with the safest possible opener. People lived on islands, so, clearly, the papa'a must come from some island. It left Dave and I pretty stumped however. Do we go the glib "island of America" route or start a geography lesson?
Natives, of course, know where everything is - who has the freezer full of chicken, where the phone is and when it works - and have known it for so long that, they can barely explain it to an outsider. So, when we asked if there was a store, people said "Warrick, down at the airport, he sells stuff," and we walked 3km to the airport to see Warrick and found out that he sold diesel. He isn't a "store" but sold us a kilo of frozen lamb chops anyway. Warrick doesn't exchange money either (everyone says he does) but arranges to change a few US dollars into kiwi dollars when he delivers our diesel so we have some cash to clear out with.
It turns out that we had been walking right past Kimo's Store (house with the orange container in the front yard, across from the school) all week. Kimo's store has frozen chicken (Australian), many cans of spagetti, toilet paper, toothpaste and beer. Everyone we asked about a store must have though that we wanted something exotic, not available at Kimo's and thus only (possibly) available from Warrick, one of the resident papa'as. From Kimo's we bought a 12-pack of NZ Lager for NZ$ 27 and a couple of chooks and were advised to hide the beer unless we want to gain a bunch of new "friends." They didn's seem to have much else that we needed. Later, we stopped by Kimo's again found them sorting onions. It had been a couple months since the last freighter from Rarotonga and the onions were starting to go bad. The onions looked pretty good relative to those we had left from Samoa, so we got onions and also some rice which they had in the back. I also swapped our 220-volt fan with the harbour master for a sack of coconuts and some limes so we were in pretty good shape if we decided to go straight to Hawaii.
Omoka is the main village on Penrhyn with a smaller village Tautua, across the lagoon to the east. Normally, one anchors off Tautua after clearing in at Omoka but as we were planning to leave on the first steady easterly breeze we never bothered with the trip across the lagoon.
While there are a couple of planes a week to Rarotonga, most of the island's goods come aboard an irregularly scheduled tramp freighter. Having given a few litres of petrol to Papa John back on Suwarow, we were down to our last few litres of dingy petrol but there was none to be had in Omoka. Petrol arrives via freighter in large square tanks and and is almost immediately sold out. The local fishing skiffs stayed on the beach and the officials that came out to check us in had to scrounge around for a skiff with some fuel. Thankfully, we didn't have far to go in the dingy and the Honda 5hp is pretty fuel-efficient.
Real PolynesiaThe package we were carrying from Papa John was for Alex, the island's sole catholic, baker, and radio man. Alex was continuously helping us out, starting with locating the quarantine inspector who had missed the first group of officials who came out to our boat and decided to go back home. The local pearl farming industry was recently decimated by an oyster virus but Alex still runs a few strings. When we came to say goodbye, he gave us each a black pearl.
We did a lot of walking around the motu. For the most part, it is covered with coconut palms and populated by fist-sized land crabs which scuttle furtively down their burrows as you pass. The crabs prevent most forms of agriculture - veggies are available only in frozen form - but the locals seem to keep a few pigs per family, usually tethered by the leg to a palm tree and attended by small boys. Mostly, we met kids, who seem to have the run of the island. Their parents would give us a friendly wave from the shelter their porch, but didn't make a big deal of our presence one way or the other. A relief, as one never knows to what extent the "honored guest" routine is genuine and to what extent you're simply a meal ticket.
We were invited by several different people to come to rehersals for a dance performance the island was giving for the hundredth anniversary of this or that mission. The rehersal was to take place at the warehouse next to the dingy landing but at the appointed hour, all was quiet and dark. Dave and I gave up on it, ate dinner and were just washing the dishes when we heard sporadic drumming start ashore. We left the dishes for later and piled into the dingy.
Ashore, on the cement outside the warehouse, a rehersal gradually coalesced out of pandemonium. The old logs that we had noticed earlier turned out to be drums, drums which were being vigorously abused by a crowd small children. Gradually adults arrived, infiltrated the "orchestra" and a rhythm began to emerge. The adults never discouraged the kids, just integrated themselves into the ongoing chaos. The drumming gradually improved and someone came with a guitar, some ladies sang a bit while the dancers did their warmups and we were off.
I was gratified to see that polynesian dancers are like dancers everywhere. Given a break, they all lit up cigarettes and the girls picked at their clothes and posed (hula goddess) lackadaisically. A lady in the audience explained the subtlties of the Cook Island Hula to Dave and me: "The girls' hips must go straight back and forth, not in figure eights like the Tahitians." The way she rolled her eyes when she said "Tahitians" indicated that a great deal of moral decay could be attributed to this figure-eight hip motion which Dave and I both developed an inexplicable hankering to see. Purely for cultural reasons, mind you.
The fact is, "real polynesia," or perhaps just that louche Tahitian figure-eight business, cost Bougainville 6 anchors in the space of 9 days. The anchoring still sucks today.
On thursday, I awoke to a view across the lagoon. Easterly wind. The morning's MSLP charts confirmed that the high to the south of us was firming up instead of moving east. This would make ideal weather for us as we'd have continuous isobars like rungs on a ladder heading north.
Also the moon was just shy of full so night watches would be less gloomy.
Sailing to HawaiiThe basic idea that had firmed up in our minds was to head straight for Hawaii, with a possible stop at Christmas Island if we couldn't get any further east or the weather deteriorated or we felt like a stop.
The lows on the chart looked a little goofy: we could get veering wind, NW or even W, or they might sink down south of us and we should have NE backing E as we get further north. Pretty much any wind would be fine by us as any course between N and E would be OK for a few days. It looked like there is a nice high forming up west of the dateline which should be in command of the central South Pacific in a couple of days. If so, we'd get easterlies, possibly even south easterlies if we're lucky. The previous high pressure system extended all the way up to Hawaii. Of course, this one might be different.
The bearing to Pt. Kumukahi (easternmost point of Big Island) is 7° so we'll hang onto the starboard tack as long as it keeps us east of due north and hope for a lift. I'd like to be as far east as 150°W or so before going north of 5°N. We've got plenty of time (13 degrees of lattitude) to get it sorted out.
Day 1 - Friday
We upped anchor just before 11 and by noon were due west of the north pass into Penrhyn.
I made "cross-swell vindaloo" for lunch, so named because an ill timed lurch caused the cook to dump in a bit more hot pepper than he intended. Dave and I had a long discussion about a nautical version of the "Iron Chef" program. Special ingredients would be things like spam, wilted lettuce, canned beets, dairy products 3 weeks past their dates, and anything with weevils. In addition to cooking (on a gimballed platform that could simulate various sea states) contestants might be required to stop in the middle of cooking for 10 minutes to reef.
Day 2 - Saturday
I took advantage of one of the squalls to get a shower.
Attention: at or near 7° 26.850 S 157° 39.715W a stainless Andersen winch handle was lost overboard. Should it be found - the ocean in the Penrhyn Basin is only 5km deep - please contact Endless Summer to arrange for its return. Assistent Scullery Mate 2nd class Gilman will be very grateful and will defray any and all salvage claims. Thank you.
Day 3 - Sunday
Inspired by our Iron Chef discussion and a general lack of inspiration on the part of the ship's cook, Assistent Scullery Mate 2nd class Gillman whipped up a batch of "Sweet & Sour Spam" which was a huge success with the crew. In consequence, he has been re-instated as Able Seaman.
We had a clear horizon so I actually saw the green flash at sunset.
Day 4 - Monday
Dave saw the green flash at sunrise. Otherwise nothing happened.
Day 5 - Tuesday
During the night I had seen one fishing boat off to the west. Daylight revealed two more, one ahead of us. We would have passed him astern but as he didn't respond to my radio enquiry about gear in the water, we tacked E just to be safe. Listening to the gibberish on the radio (Dave thought it was Korean) we were able to gather that there were about half a dozen fishing boats in the vicinity working some sort of search pattern. I hope the tuna gives 'em the slip.
When I woke up, I noticed that there was hydraulic fluid leaking out of the port-side helm. Hmmm... The leak was from the fill valve which, due to the way it aligns with the exterior glasswork, evidently can't be tightly closed. More alarming was that the starboard helm (no leak) had air in the hydraulic lines as it felt bouncy and spongy. Since a quick check of the rams revealed no leaks, it had to be the leakage from the helm itself that was the culprit. I added fluid to the starboard helm. Thankfully, the port helm steered just fine so the air problem was confined to just the starboard helm portion of the system, the rams and autopilot were still air free. After some thought, I decided that the best way to clear the starboard helm would be to have Dave steer it one way while I steered the port helm in the opposite direction. This should cause the hydraulic fluid to circulate in each side of the system separately and should drive the air out of the starboard hoses instead of further down to the rams. Dave checked the starboard helm a bit in each direction and then turned toward the least spongy side while I countered with the port helm. It seemed to work as the sponginess was gone from the starboard side. Hurrah!
But why was this happening? My best guess is that hydraulic fluid can shift between the helm reservoirs, tending to collect in the lowest (leeward) helm where it eventually leaks through the ill fitting filler cap. Both times leakage has occurred, it has been in the leeward helm after days on the same tack.
Right after our 10pm chat with Egon (Ganesh is still at Isle of Pines, 2500 miles away), we gave up on the wind moderating - it had been blowing 12s and 13s - and reefed for the night.
Day 6 - Wednesday
"Dave, half a mile to go."
Blinking owlishly, he stumbled up the steps to the cabin and we watched the GPS lattitude count down together. I made the log entry:
0317 0° 0.0 155° 37.7 Shellbacks!
Both of us had figured we'd cross the line around dawn, but the wind had stayed right around 13kts all night so we got there at the end of my watch. We celebrated by drinking a beer, sending Neptune a sip and the empty beer can to chase it with.
At this point, due S of the Big Island, I decided to aim straight for it and pick up easting only if it looked like winds might come hard out of the NE.
Day 7 - Thursday
Sailing through the convergence is arduous because there's always a squall ahead to worry about but light variable wind in between. If you don't reef for the squalls, the off watch gets irritated because it is impossible to sleep when you expect to be woken up to reef momentarily. If you don't unreef between squalls you don't get anywhere. During one of our midnight reefing drills, we decided to crank the reef in without heaving to to take the strain off the main. We'd done this several times in the past without incident. I put the reefing line on the winch while Dave led the main halyard around the winch pedestal so that he would have something to snub it on when I released the rope clutch. As it had worked in the past, I would release the clutch on the main and grind in the reefing line while Dave eased out the main halyard, keeping enough tension on the halyard to keep the battens off the shrouds. Seeing Dave braced against the pull on the halyard, I said "Here comes," and popped open the clutch. "Zook!" went the halyard and Dave, undergoing a life lesson about static vs. dynamic friction and the falliable judgement of skippers at the end of their watches, was instantly draped around the winch pedestal as though he were a cartoon character who had suddenly developed an overwelming affection for it. Fortunately, the winch pedestal was slow to take offence. Dave didn't hit any of the pointy bits and nothing got sucked into the winch or clutch.
We've been putting our coconuts in the fridge next to the ice and the result is coconut milk ice cream. Still have 6 nuts to go.
Day 8 - Friday
As it was overcast and squally all day, I baked a cake. It took 3 of our 4 remaining eggs and was completely worth it. Huge improvement in morale.
At night we discovered that we can pick up AM radio stations from Hawaii. Just talk radio. Dave didn't want to set the AM presets so I knew he was tired. Nothing much must have happened "in the real world" because they're still going off on Kerry.
Day 9 - Saturday
At midnight, I came on watch. Dave mentioned something about some darker clouds ahead so I checked the radar but saw nothing out of the ordinary. At 12:30am winds began to pick up, building gradually to 20 knots or so by 1am. As we were on a beam reach, the ride was fast with occasional slamming as we hit some chop. Well within the limits of the first reef. Instead of lightening up as previous squalls had, this one intensified with every 5 or 10 minutes bringing a new peak windspeed. At 25 knots, some things fell off the counter. At 28 knots, more things fell off the counter. As the wind gusted over 30, the boat took off on a wild tear, with continuous plumes of spray from the bows obscuring what little there was to see of the horizon (the GPS said 17.5 knots afterwards). We had a few really good bangs as the boat launched off some of the chop and then Dave appeared next to me at the nav station. Seems it had been a little difficult to sleep.
We rounded up uneventfully, fast, but uneventfully, and hove to which seemed stable enough. I figured that the wind would drop back to the sub-20 range pretty quickly, but we spent 3 hours hove to before deciding that the wind wasn't going to give up. Hove to, we were moving ESE at about 1 knot, right down the E - W convergence line. It could keep blowing like this for weeks, until we got to Mexico. We had no choice but to sail out of it. Fortunately, we still had the second reef up our sleeve. Under second reef and full jib, boat speeds were moderate, 10 - 12 knots, and the winds finally eased towards dawn.
It was a gloomy, bouncy day with both of us a bit bleary from lack of sleep and physically tired from holding on all the time.
Day 10 - Sunday
Endless Summer has left the convergence. We sailed out of a big black wall of clouds into the NE trades and puffy fair weather cunimbs. And there was much rejoicing.
Day 11 - Monday
The winds (and seas) moderated overnight and morning found us seeing the occasional 6 on the GPS. Out with the second reef! Dave and I are both really tired from the last 4 days. At around 200 miles per day, we're making great progress but the motion is exhausting and it is hard to summon the energy to unreef between the squalls. Averaging 8 knots for 24 hours means spending most of the day with boat speeds better than 10 knots. My calf muscles ached from bracing against the galley and it was hard to keep pots on the stove.
The afternoon brought several vigorous squalls with winds to 20 knots. Back in with the second reef for the night.
Day 12 - Tuesday
After lunch, winds were light enough for us to shake out the second reef. We were still getting squalls every couple of hours but nothing over 15 knots, and the sea state had moderated to the point that more power would actually translate into increased boat speed. The Big Island was hidden by clouds and we didn't sight the land underneath until afternoon when...
The wind backed as far as NNE and squandered my careful hoard of easting in just a few short hours. At four I started hand steering, trying to keep the Pt. Kumukahi light on the port side of our bows. The point itself is quite steep to so rounding it closely would not be a problem, but the coast north of the point would be a lee shore and I wanted to be at least 5 miles clear of it until we were ready to turn towards Hilo. 5 miles sounds like a lot, but we'd blow ashore in less than an hour under bare poles and an hour can go pretty quick when you're trying to bleed diesels or deal with some gear failure.
Fortunately, the wind veered back E and we cleared the point comfortably, and were even hard pressed to steer deep enough downwind to parallel the coast. Along the 30 miles of coast between Pt Kumukahi and Hilo we had three "fish aggregating devices" to avoid but saw only the first one (flashing yellow, 4 seconds). The other two never put in an appearance but we avoided 'em just the same. A pleasant evening's sail with the prospect of a snug harbour just ahead.
At around 11pm we were due east of Hilo and turned towards our final
A huge squall came down the coast, blotting out the moonlight and
engulfing us in a torrential downpour. Shivering in full foul weather
gear, I tried to keep the boat on course to our
When we passed the breakwater and sailed into the relative calm of the harbour the squall tapered off to a light rain so it was relatively easy to find our way through the outer harbour, to the brightly lit main warf We looped once off the main warf while Dave convinced me that we really did need to drive between the warf and the breakwater to get into Radio Bay. The entry channel is only about 30 metres wide and the bay itself is tiny, about 200 metres by 200 metres. Fortunately, there were only two other boats anchored so it was relatively easy to find a spot.
On LuckI've decided that I'm a sailor first and an atheist second. An atheist of convenience, if you will. Luck is just too important to risk screwing up for merely rational reasons. Here's an example: A few days after we came in to Radio Bay, I noticed the oil pressure alarm starting to chirp on the port engine. A quick look inside revealed about 2 litres of oil in the bilge and not much left in the engine. Thank god (see?) for synthetic oil. As crummy as it was to come into Hilo in storm, imagine how much worse it would be trying to get into a harbour on a lee shore at night in a storm with a big swell running and only one engine.
The oil leaked out of a faulty gasket between the engine block and the crankshaft cover. As Yanmar felt that this sort of behavior was acceptable for an engine just out of warranty, it was going to be an $1800 repair but I hit on the idea of smearing a bead of 3M 5200 across the leaky area which actually seems to be working. So far.
Back to luck. Motoring in on one engine should work just fine. Close quarters manuvering is a bit dodgy but not that big a deal. But wait. The starboard engine developed a faulty fuel transfer pump just a few weeks later, on the dock in Honolulu. So we were just a few engine hours from having to sail into a harbour on a lee shore at night in a storm with a big swell running.
But sailing has been dead reliable. Even with both engines gone, we'd still be fine right? Well, a few hours after replacing the fuel transfer pump on the starboard engine, the block on the main halyard broke and the mainsail fell down.
And I can assure you that the mere thought of sailing under jib alone into a harbour on a lee shore at night in a storm with a big swell running is sobering enough to cut right through 3 or 4 mai tais.
Of course one could always anchor. Did I mention that, at that time, the rope-chain fleming on the windlass was shredded making it hard to lower the anchor in a hurry?
So the point is, don't mess with luck. All blessings, vibes, juju, mojo, etc. accepted. And carry a tube of 5200 in the spares box. And some extra oil.