We just moored in one of our favorite spots in the Tuamotus after the roughest passage we have had on the voyage thus far. We left Moorea three days ago with the forecast calling for winds in the mid-teens out of the SE. The plan was to ride the SE winds on the beam and sail the 230nm on a course of NE to make landfall in the Tuamotus on the second day out. Not exactly what happened.
We motored from Moorea until we were out of the lee of Tahiti where the SE winds filled in. The first night was extremely rough with 20 knots just forward of the beam and steep seas throwing huge amounts of water over the boat and filling the cockpit. The motion of the boat was severe and we both felt sea sick. The exchange between me and Alyssa went something like:
Lewis: “This sucks. We probably should have just gone when there was no wind and burned the diesel.”
Alyssa: “But then you would have been swearing about burning the fuel.”
Lewis: “Probably. But at least I would have been swearing about it with a beer in my hand instead of barf in my throat.”
The only positive was that we were making 5.5 to 6.0 knots SOG against the prevailing west-setting current and we were generally on course. That night Alyssa went to pull in the jib furling line to reef the sail and she suffered some severe burns and blisters when the line ripped through her hands. This was even with sailing gloves on! Most women would go down for the count after that but she’s tough and salty so I didn’t learn about her injuries until morning.
Alyssa woke me up with a scream: “We got a huge fish! Get up!” I crawled out of the bunk and headed to the cockpit. Alyssa had pulled in a 4 foot mahi! It was bright yellow and magnificently beautiful. I went below and grabbed the gaff. A couple swift shots later and we impaled the giant, bled him out and brought him onboard. He was heavy so it took both of us to lift him. I was feeling very seasick so Alyssa went to work on the side deck cutting the huge fillets. Each side filled up a gallon ziplock. She tossed it in the fridge and threw the lure out again. A huge thanks and shout out to Bruce on SKABENGA who helped us make the squid lure that caught the mahi. We have a great picture of Alyssa and the fish but we won’t have internet for at least a month or so; we’ll upload when we reach “civilization” again.
The second day the wind increased even more and was sustained at 25 knots and gusting higher. The wind also clocked around more to the east and as a result we were close-hauled into it trying to hold our ground to make our destination. It was the roughest conditions we have subjected ourselves and Ellie to since we left San Francisco. This was due in most part to the fact that we were fighting the prevailing winds and current, which it turns out is much harder than originally thought.
After the second day the realization sunk in that there is no way we will make our destination on this tack. We decided to stick with it and see where we made landfall in the Tuamotus. The second night we came 10 nm from the NW corner of Kaukura. I did not want to tango with low-lying atolls at night so we tacked back towards open ocean on a frustrating course that was pretty much aiming right back at Tahiti. We would spend the next 18 hours close-hauled fighting 25-30 knots of wind and strong squall after squall after squall to cover only 50 nm to windward. We were only making about 4 knots against the extremely strong west current. At one point near the SE corner of Kaukura we saw over two knots of current! After what felt like the 50th tack but was probably only the 6th, we fired up the iron genoa (engine) and pushed hard on the wind against the steep seas and rain. We were only making 3.5 knots but at least we were making way. I felt like we were on that movie the Truman Show and there was someone up in a warm booth pushing buttons and f*cking with us. More wind! More current! They are still making way, send huge squalls! Through all of this we were in endurance mode just trying to hang on and not throw up. It was not fun at all. Ellie was being worked hard and she was creaking from all the stresses she was being subjected to, but she is one tough b!tch and she wouldn’t let the conditions beat her.
It took us 285 nm to cover the 230 nm rhumb line distance. We would have been in yesterday evening but it took us so long to cover the last 50 miles that we made it to the entrance just after dark and decided to take the more prudent route and practice good seamanship by heaving-to for the night. After spending two days in such rough weather, riding out the night in the lee of this atoll felt like being at anchor.
So the conclusion is that going east against the prevailing conditions is extremely difficult and borderline not possible in our boat. We did it but given the same weather conditions I would not choose to repeat this passage. We needed to get out of Moorea [a little complication called expired visas] so we decided to go. Next time we’ll be more patient and wait until the conditions are more favorable. In looking at the weather more closely it looks like we were on the edge of a convergence zone where the SE and NE trades meet. This is why the winds were so strong and it was so squally. At least we’re getting a better handle on this whole debacle they call weather forecasting.
My bloody mary is getting warm and I smell breakfast so have to run. We have a busy week planned of doing absolutely nothing. I’m finally going to string my hammock.
What a passage. What a life.
Cheers from the tired crew of Eleutheria
September 4, 2014
[Undisclosed Atoll], Tuamotus, FP