Passage to Niue: Day 9

Niue Pass Key
Author: Pete
Location: 19°10.971S’ 169°53.712W’
Date: July 27, 2015
Day 9 at sea.

 

Land Ho! Geeze, I wasn’t this excited to make landfall even after our 23-day passage to the Marquesas. We had WAY more helps steering on that one. This was a pretty rough passage on us; hand steering required us to be out in the wind and spray, and actively steering is surprisingly taxing. We’d do three or four hour shifts and then fall in exhausted heaps into the berth while the other changed from PJ’s into salty deck clothes to take over, and find a good podcast to keep awake and focused on the compass. We wore scopolamine patches and ate little. Even when exhausted, trying to sleep with the boat’s ridiculous motion was difficult.

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The boat motion, owing to her cat-like nature, was sometimes fluid and sometimes comically awkward. At times when we got crossing wave trains she seemed to almost crawl like an animal with tethered limbs, a flying squirrel or sea lion. Each corner of the boat pitched up at a different time, threatening to buck the skipper off the helm were we not attached. Then we’d get a long period, large swell from directly aft and Tayrona would ride that thing like a school bus down a sledding hill. We’d make 5 knots going uphill, then 11 knots going downhill. Very exciting, and easier than the quadruped shuffle until the swell sets changed again for the worse, back and forth.

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On occasion the stars would come out and we could steer a course using them. It’s much easier if you can aim for something on the horizon. For the most part we would cower under the Bimini and side covers following the compass. My eyes hurt after a few days of it. It’s also COLD! Sitting still in sixty degrees with 25 knots of wind for four hours made us layer up with everything we had aboard. Sissies…

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Watches blurred together, but this morning the sky cleared, though the wind and seas didn’t abate, and then there on the horizon was Niue. Swells slammed into the southern craggy coast, erupting in huge plumes of spray. Niue, also called The Rock of Polynesia, is 10 miles in diameter and the world’s largest coral island. Just offshore 1/4 mile the sea is 6000 feet deep, a stone throw from shore it’s 100 feet deep, then one or two paces from the cliff the reef is ankle deep. It’s like a skyscraper with the top floor sticking out of the water.

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We sailed downwind, wing-wing past the coral cliffs heading north to the western bay near the ‘town’ of Alofi. Sailing wing-wing is annoying; one sail is always flagging, you have to be really attentive to the whole thing. I’m not sure why I waited until salvation was in sight, but I’m blaming the lack of sleep for my intricately woven string of blasphemies and oaths that erupted out of me like lurid confetti out of a party popper. I must have ranted and raved for a good half-hour about the idiocy of the whole idea of sailing. Eventually the tide of explicatives ebbed and we moored just off Alofi in 100 feet of calm, flat water.

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We took hot showers aboard, made real food, and cleaned the boat up. There was so much salt encrusting everything it felt like the decks had carpeting. The sun was setting low in the west, throwing orange hues, when we heard a mighty “PHHHHHHHHHT” from right next to the boat. We scampered over to the starboard rail in time to see the massive black rolling back of a humpback whale not ten feet from our transom. They were bigger than the boat and loitered around blowing plumes of spray (and snot, I presume) into the air; the orange sunset reflected off their backs. I’m sure it was the sea gods telling me to shut my big yapper and quit griping. I quickly retracted my hastily spoken words and Miranda decided to stay aboard too. Welcome to Niue.

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Passage to Niue: Day 8

Niue Pass Key

Author: Pete

Location: 18°55.686S’ 167°19.141W’

Date: July 26, 2015

Day 8 at sea.

Well the fun keeps on flowing our way! We’ve had our hands full the last couple of days with a shot autohelm. A day past Palmerson the seas and wind became heavy. We had a good deal of rain and were taking heavy waves on our port bow and port quarter. Winds kicked into the 30’s and we got some waves big enough to wash over the TOP of the boat. We hunkered inside and watched the fun. The boat was slewing heavily in the seas, which I think was the death of the piston drive of our autopilot. Eventually, we got an alarm and the old girl gave up the ghost and wouldn’t hold a course anymore. So we’ve been hand steering again! It’s amazing how taxing sitting, watching the horizon and keeping a good compass bearing is! We’ve been steering or sleeping.

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I pulled the linear drive of the autohelm out. Digging in the engine compartment in high seas is sort of like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel while trying to build something out of Legos. Managed to get the drive piston off and opened it up in my bucking workshop in the boat. I was hoping for a fried wire or something easily identifiable but it was not the case.

Today the gale broke and we have sun and blue sky again and with 17 knots of wind we’re ripping along at 9 knots. Woohoo! We’re planning to stop in Nuie, rocky island country with good diving, cool our jets for a day or so, then sail to Tonga which is two days away.

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Hand-steering aside, all good aboard.

Passage to Niue: Day 5

Niue Pass Key

Author: Pete

Location: 17°33.639S’ 161°11.767W’

Date: July 23, 2015

Day 5 at sea.

Seas and wind continued to build into the night. We have a long-period swell coming in from the south. It’s hard for me to estimate or describe how big these ocean rollers are. It’s like an apartment building on its side rolling toward you at a jogging pace. You know those shots in action movies where the airplane crashes and is sliding towards the protagonist throwing sparks? Feels like that, but the sparks are white spray. They’re really tall, but widely spaced and the boat generally rides up and over them easily.

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We also have a short-period wave train from all the wind coming from the southeast. These aren’t as tall as the big rollers, but are steep and frequent. They’re the ones breaking over our hull and washing the deck. The two of these major wave trains make for a confused sea that’s sloshing the boat around like a tennis shoe in a washing machine. The tennis shoe doesn’t seem to care, but the mice inside it are getting worked.

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Did you ever see the movie Memphis Belle? As the swells sweep under the boat, depending on if we’re going up or coming down, they slap on the outside of the windward hull, or on the inside of the leeward hull and bridge deck. It makes a deep BOOM and shakes the boat. Makes me feel like I’m in a B-17 bomber flying through an anti-aircraft artillery barrage. BOOM!-shake. BOOM!-rattle. BOOM-BOOM!. To make it fun look through the port holes and fire at the swarms of imaginary fighter planes with my fifty-calibre baguettes. Ack-ack-ack-ack!

Can you tell that my iPod died? I ran out quickly to tie down a strap that came loose with my Ipod in my pocket and promptly got nailed by a boarding wave. Electronics and sea water don’t mix well, but that old girl doesn’t owe me a darn thing.

Things are hardest at dusk. You’re used to being able to see the waves and move with them. As twilight falls the sea and sky become the same color and you lose that ability. Eventually it gets dark enough that you forget about the monsters outside and just roll with it. The boat doesn’t care, why should you? We have about 1/4 of our main and 1/3 of our jib out. Still making 6-7 knots. The wind has been variable, but stays between 19 and 28 knots, with some gusts higher into the 30s. You can tell because the wind generator automatically shuts down for a few minutes after 30 knots. You know you’re having fun when your wind generator, a piece of equipment that by design needs lots of wind says, “Too much for me losers! Peace OUT!”

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We have radar up and scanning for boats and looking at squall movement. We’re getting a good deal of sea return, where the radar sees waves and thinks they are ships. Fun, eh? Miranda is a heavy-seas rock star. I don’t think she notices that we’re bucking and heaving like crazy. It’s the literal sense of being even-keeled. Last night it was too dark to see the horizon, really disorienting; I staggered upstairs to relieve Miranda of the watch, clutching railings, cabinets, and sinks trying not to yak. She’s finishing a Level 5 Sudoku and munching snacks like it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon. Me, I keep up by popping Dramamine like crack-flavored Pez.

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Grib weather files say we have another day of this circus before things settle down. We’ve changed our course a touch to the south to try to get to clearer weather sooner. We will pass Palmerson Atoll tomorrow morning. If things get worse we can stop there and wait for things to clear. Despite the sucky conditions spirits are high and the boat is shrugging off the onslaught of wind and wave.  Check the wind gauge on that one…

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More from Tayrona soon.