September 15, 2011

Wallis and Futuna Islands

We set sail Wednesday the 24th of August for Wallis island 210 miles to the west. The weather had been a little strange the past few days but the grib files showed winds of 20 to 25 knots out of the southeast and of a good direction and strength for Downtime to be on a beam reach. We had set a double reefed main sail and rolled out 2/3 of the jib before we made our way out of the tricky pass at Asau just before sunset. It was 11 miles to the end of the island and the winds were swirling around until we reached that point. We motor sailed down the coast into the impending darkness and as we cleared the island the winds continued to build. One thing about a weather prediction, you can usually count on them being WRONG! Instead of 20 to 25 we were experiencing 25 to 35 with gusts to 40!!and Downtime was moving way too fast crashing through the huge waves at up to 12 knots! Time to reduce sail!! We rolled up the jib completely and this alone slowed the boat to just under 9 knots while riding down the face of 15 foot waves. The ride was not that uncomfortable and things felt safe aboard the boat. I did not want to dump the main until daylight so I just positioned the sail mid ship and sheeted it tight to catch the least amount of wind and pointed the boat directly downwind taking us off course just a few miles to the north. One good thing about a 200 mile trip is that you have lots of time to adjust your course so a few mile in the beginning is no big deal it is that last mile that counts the most and where many boats are lost.
The next morning we woke to our first view of what we were sailing through, huge seas as far as you could see. It was time to change the sail plan and we turned the boat into the wind and lowered the main and stowed it safely, zipped up in the cover on the boom. With wind like this we would only need part of the jib to maintain forward direction, speed was not an concern since we were already way ahead of our schedule and planned an average of 7 knots. We left at night to time our passage so we would arrive in the morning the following day but now the computer showed us getting there at 2am and averaging closer to 9 knots. We had to slow the boat down or we would pass the island in the dark. We rolled up the jib and were still going over 6 knots in 30 plus knots winds. Briefly we would catch a occasional wave and the speed would shoot up to 9 before it roared passed us. There was no way to go slow the boat down enough and with waves like these no way to get into the pass on the south side of the island, the waves would be huge breaking across the small opening in the reef.
Unable to enter the inlet we changed our course and now had to make 230 miles in 30 hrs to make our next island Futuna before dark. That is just under 8 knots average, so we rolled out the jib and the boat responded and we were now moving at just under 9 knots. Needless to say when you go that fast over a ocean as nasty as this it is a rough ride. Things start breaking and I am always on the lookout for what is coming apart next. On passage I am up all the time and only take short naps during the trip. It turns into one really long day where it is dark at times. You give up on looking for any traffic since you can only see 8 miles at the most at sea anyways, your odds of hitting or even seeing another boat in a ocean this big especially out side of the shipping lanes is got to be about like winning the lottery. I trust my AIS to tell us where the big ships are and to warn me when I am too close to them. This unit I can not say enough about, it is just under $1200 and tells you where all the boats over 50 meters in length and within a 25 mile radius are. All targets displayed are nicely with the ships name, speed, direction and time till closest approach displayed on the navigation screen. I set our AIS for a 2 mile radius and 10 min TCPA before the alarm goes off, this way at least I will never get ran over by a tanker going 30 knots!!
We continued crashing our way across the ocean and sometime during the second night I went below to use the head, I pushed the button to flush and nothing happened? Just Perfect!! I opened the floor access and to my amazement found water sloshing over the 24 volt pump!! Not Good!!! The first thought is “Are we sinking?” Then ”where the #@$# is all this water coming from!!!” Then, “What the $@^* is wrong with the bilge pump?” Next we pulled all the bilge covers to discover the whole Starboard hull is full of water and saw the spare navigation computer floating in a big mess of other spare parts!! Needless to say Capt Pedro is not a happy sailor at this point!! There must have been 200 gallons of nice salty seawater sloshing around and it needed to get off my boat now! I found the spare bilge pump and wired it in, challenging under water!! Once we got the water pumped out we started looking for leaks but all we found was one small drip? The pump must have been out for awhile, who knows?? We hosed out the entire hull with fresh water and wiped it all down and would deal with the things that needed fixing when we dropped anchor. If you don’t get sea sick working down below mopping out the bilge I doubt you ever will!! Daria and I were both feeling a little green by the time we got it all cleaned up. When it was all said and done I replaced a float switch and took apart the other motors and gave them a bath in WD 40 and everything is back to working fine. That sight of water sloshing will haunt me for a lifetime!!
This was our first really rough weather since we attempted to go to Cartagena last fall. The sea is a powerful force not to be taken lightly. 35 to 40 knots are big winds and create huge waves in no time at all. Things to remember are that wind speed and force are squared just like speed and inertia so a 10 mile per hour wind and a 20 are not double but have 4 times more force being generated. Hitting a wave doing 6 knots or 12 knots, is that you hit them 4 times harder!! This is what breaks boats and kills sailors!!
Downtime is an amazing off shore machine, but I can tell the limits when she starts to get unhappy. waves start coming aboard and things start breaking. When water comes over the boat you are going way too fast and need to reduce sail and turn downwind.
The winds kept the sails full and we had the anchor down in a small patch of sand between two reefs off of Horny Island, a small island just south of Futuna. The anchorage was rolly but felt much better than crashing across the big waves. We got a restful nights sleep and found the anchorage to rough to launch SD so we motored over to Futuna and anchored in their small harbor.

 We had several locals come out to meet us and we gave them hats, tee shirts and candy. The next morning they came out with three big bunches of bananas in appreciation, looks like more banana bread in our future!!

That afternoon Daria roasted a succulent leg of lamb and we had a feast. Amazing how hungry you get spending a few days at sea and not eating regular meals, the leg did not last long…

We woke in the morning and were surprised how close to the reef we were at low tide! It was like we could almost jump off the boat and walk to land. When we anchored it was high tide and we were surrounded by water. At low tide the ocean drops 5 ½ feet and the entire reef is exposed.

 The anchor was holding fast and we were not getting any closer so life was good. We turned on our WIFI booster and had “FREE” internet for two days and I booked tickets for my kids and their girlfriends to come see us in New Zealand for Christmas. We really did not see any point in going ashore so we set our sails the afternoon of the 28th and set our course for Vanua Levu the northern island of Fiji just 160 miles to the south west.
In our next adventure we will explore Fiji and some of her 300 islands!
Until then enjoy life and live your dreams!!
Peace!! Capt. Pedro and Daria