Monday, August 11, 2014
Neiafu: Apia to Neiafu passage log
Rain, occasionally moderate but mostly misty, seems finally to be ending after two days. I was fortunate that Saturday was sunny and I could dry the Great Cabin.
Reportedly the wind is still blowing 20+ knots at sea and may finally decrease in the next few days, a week too late for GANNET and me.
With thick overcast I’ve had little solar charging, but with a bit more sunlight, the regulator seems to be working properly.
I emailed Yellowbrick and received, as always, a prompt and useful response. Most likely the problem is ingress of water at the charging USB port at the bottom. An O ring that should be on the cap isn’t. I don’t know when or how it could have been lost.
I have cleaned and dried that port and managed to get the unit fully charged. I activated it, and in twenty-four hours the charge has dropped to 93%, considerably more than normal, and a red light that flashes every ten seconds when the Yellowbrick is charging continues to do so even when it isn’t. I’m going to let it run another day. It is possible that it is working well enough.
Below is the passage log.
I had to type it into the computer yesterday. Underway I wrote it by hand in a water resistant notebook. I never removed the laptop from its Pelican case during this passage.
GANNET’s daily runs were remarkably consistent:
12 miles to noon the first day; then 112; 112; 110. For the three full days that’s a 4.6 knot average. More than I expected. I was always in damage avoidance and trying to slow the little sloop down.
GANNET’s daily runs since leaving San Diego now total 5200 miles. The remaining distance to the waypoint at the entrance to the Bay of Islands is 1,171 miles.
August 5, Tuesday
0915 Sailed from dock under mainsail with first breath of wind. No need to fit and then remove Torqeedo.
Once out in the harbor I engaged tiller pilot while I brought in and stowed dock lines and fenders, then unfurled jib and took the tiller myself to sail out pass. In ocean, engaged tiller pilot again.
1000 Sunny day. Broad reaching NW to clear reefs that extend far from shore. Windex which had been working at dock stuck. Tied short pieces of red yarn to shrouds as tell tails.
13°44’S 171°56’W Vavau 325 miles 201°
SOG 5.3 COG 260°
day’s run 12 miles
Rolling along at 5 to 6 knots under jib alone. Wind directly behind us. Fifteen miles to clear the west end of Upolu. Then 310 to Vavau and another eight to Neiafu harbor. Clouds over Upolu and the other big island, Savaii. Conditions rough an hour ago, but less wind now. I’m in no rush to reach the corner and have to harden up.
1400 In the lee of Upolu. Wind very light. Rolling in following seas. Seven miles to go before turning to 201°.
1630 Pounding into and falling off waves under reefed main alone close-hauled port tack.
I steered the strait between Upolu and Savaii. Chaos.
Strong gusts of wind. No wind. Jagged waves leaping up from all directions. Conditions like overfalls where seas of unequal height come together.
After we rounded corner, I remained on deck in foul weather gear trying to find the best path and sail conditions through rough seas. I’m hoping that as we move away from the islands the wind and waves will decrease.
I forgot to remove the American flag from the backstay. Fluttering wildly. Too dangerous to try now. I’m writing this in pencil in a notebook. Too rough to remove computer from Pelican case.
Good consequence: the Windex has been shaken free and is now functioning.
When on deck I had companionway closed and slat in place. No water down below. Now I have the slat out for ventilation and some water is coming in through that opening. But none from the sides, and we’re taking a lot of water over the deck.
1800 GANNET slowed so set some of the jib. Trying to balance having enough sail to power through waves without leaping off them with thunderous crashes.
1830 I’m sitting on the port pipe berth facing west. Sun setting behind clouds.
A wave just crashed aboard.
Sky smoke, sea pewter.
We’re moving along quite well. Still rough, but this has been about as I expected.
I smell of whiskey. I had just poured a plastic of Jameson’s when GANNET leapt off a wave. When she landed, half the pour leapt onto me.
August 6, Wednesday
0740 A horrible night. I’m not sure I got any sleep before 2330. I know I didn’t between then and 0400.
At 2330 wind accompanying rain rounded us up and and the off course alarm went off. I got up and furled the small amount of jib set. GANNET continued under reefed main alone, leaping off waves and landing with terrible thuds.
I lay on the pipe berth unable to sleep. Finally at 0400 after two especially shuddering landings, I got up, put on foul weather gear and headlamp and went up and tied in the second reef, which on GANNET is at the third reef level. This helped.
I sat at Central, what I call my usual location in a SportASeat on the cabin floor facing aft. Drank a box of apple juice and managed to get a little sleep sitting up.
Several episodes of brief, heavy rain during the night.
During the night something started to groan. At first I thought it was the rudder, but the sound is coming from the starboard bulkheads. No cracks. They look secure, if unhappy.
At 0615 first light I put on foul weather gear again and went on deck to look around and set a tiny amount of jib.
Wave just crashed aboard.
We’re now sailing under triple reefed main and a t-shirt of jib, making 4-5 knots, not pounding too hard, and have 230 miles to go.
The wind may have diminished slightly, but still far more than forecast fifteen knots.
Writing this by hand in water resistant notebook. Won’t risk removing laptop from Pelican case.
0845 Tiller pilot just died. Not surprising in these conditions. Only old Autohelm that came with GANNET left. I’m saving it. Sailing almost close-hauled with tiller tied down. But I have to be ready to go out at any moment.
Conditions very rough.
0930 I opened the tiller pilot housing. Not a lot of water inside. I removed water with paper towel and Q-tips. Closed it. Took it on deck. Hooked it up. Nothing. I also tried the Autohelm. It works. GANNET is sailing on course by herself.
15°18’S 172°49’W Vavau 214 miles 200°
SOG 4.1 COG 192°
day’s run 112
Still sailing with tiller tied down. Speed has dropped and am considering setting tiny bit of jib again. A crash just changed my mind.
1445 Slept an hour after protein bar lunch. Just out on deck in foul weather gear, unfurled part of jib and adjusted tiller line. Wind less than 20 knots. GANNET finds a smooth patch and accelerates quickly to 6 or 7 knots, then bashes into or leaps off a wave and stalls to 3.
1640 Wind maybe forecast 15 knots.
Set Autohelm tiller pilot to steer for night. Changing wind speed or direction would upset balance and take us off course with tiller tied down and I need sleep.
Still taking a lot of water over the bow, but it is not blowing all the way aft to the tiller pilot. Autohelm noisier than Raymarine. Low moan. Let’s hope it is more waterproof, too.
Whatever was groaning around the bulkheads has stopped.
1830 I have seen this so often before: what was so hard becomes with a change in wind force or direction so easy. GANNET is moving smoothly through reduced waves two and three knots faster than she was smashing into them last night. Timing, if not everything, is a lot.
August 7, Thursday
0830 Last night couldn’t have been in greater contrast to the night before. Wind moderate. Seas lower. Little angle of heel. I slept soundly until 0500, two hours before dawn, when the wind began to increase,
I went on deck at 0620, first light, disengaged the Autohelm and tied down the tiller again. Also furled more of jib.
We’re occasionally leaping off waves again and heeled 20°-30°. I don’t like 30°, but nothing more I can do about it. Water coming aboard and down below, though not nearly as much as before I unblocked the hatch drains.
120 miles to go.
I really wanted an easy day.
Not going to happen.
0930 Reduced jib to tiny scrap.
Wave just crashed into GANNET’s side. Not even a very big one. Thunderous.
1030 Very rough. Opened companionway—foul weather gear a given—and furled scrap of jib. No good. Just hobby-horse up and down in same place, so eased a bit of jib back out. Noisy. Leaping and pounding. Waves smashing aboard. Just have to get thorough this day and night.
17°04’S 173°29’S Vavau 102 miles 201°
SOG 4.7 COG 190°
day’s run 112
In cockpit to tie loops to tiller and position blocks for sheet to tiller self-steering in case wind shifts. Tiller tied down only works close-hauled or very close reach.
1420 Several waves in succession washed over us. I said 20+ knots of wind from ahead would turn GANNET into a submarine and it has.
1620 While I would prefer to steer an accurate compass course as we approach landfall, conditions are too rough to risk the Autohelm and I’ll leave the tiller tied down, unless wind and water coming over deck significantly decrease.
We’re 80 miles to waypoint off the entrance to the passage into the islands and 7 less than that to the north coast of Vavau, the main island of the group to which it gives its name.
Continued solid low overcast.
As we stagger on, I’ve diverted my mind from this bedlam with an early gin and tonic and working a jigsaw puzzle on the iPad mini. Just finished the puzzle—a drawing of San Francisco in sailing ship days—and the drink.
If GANNET continues to leap off waves—and if we are to make any progress, she must—I won’t get much sleep tonight. There are times I have figuratively said to the ocean, “All right, bring it on.” And to my boat, “I’ve eased your way as much as I can, but now you are just going to have to take it and hold together.” Thus far they have. But these landings are wrenching. I don’t see how GANNET holds together. How any boat can.
1700 A few patches of blue sky astern. I don’t know their meaning, if any.
Nights are long here. Thirteen hours. 1800 to 0700. 0600 still fully dark. We have a waxing gibbous moon. I saw it last night. Not at all the night before.
My left shoulder aches. Facing aft wedged into Central with the boat heeled far to starboard, my weight is on that shoulder.
1830 70 miles to go at unseen sunset. Total cloud cover.
I’ve never been on deck on this passage without foul weather gear and seldom even open the companionway without wearing it. However, I just did to reach out to bring the Velocitek below to change batteries, and two waves got me. Shorts and t-shirt soaked. Changed.
Wind remains 20+ knots.
August 8, Friday
0440 22 miles to waypoint.
A fierce night.
I went to the pipe berth at 2000, but no chance of sleep. GANNET and waves continuously crashing. Got up at 2130 and finished reading Ralph Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN. Back to berth at 2300. Lay there awake. Maybe a little sleep after 0200.
Just checked. We’re on course with tiller tied. Will hold off using Autohelm.
Cooler last night and now, though we’re at 18° South.
0700 Just set Autohelm to steer. At first it didn’t work. I checked the plug and saw corrosion around one of the two pins. Cleaned and WD40ed. Worked.
Vavau visible nine miles ahead. North and west coast 500’ sheer cliff. Darker gray island against gray sky and sea.
The pants of my foul weather gear slid from where I stowed them between the pipe berths to under the companionway. Wet inside. Wearing them anyway. Not going to bother to dig out my other set. Not too long before we are inside passage between islands.
1200 Tied alongside fishing vessel to wharf Neiafu. This is the smaller of two wharves, but too big for GANNET.
The entrance passage is wide but leads to the southeast.
We had to tack up it in lulls and gusts. I steered with the tiller extension from the forward end of the cockpit where I could reach the jib sheets to tack, then back to hold the tiller. Gusts of 25 knots buried GANNET’s lee rail. Waves were only 1’-2’ and we powered through them rather than leapt, often making 7 and 8 knots.
A couple of small islands in the passage. Off one of them I saw three power boats near what I first thought were exposed rocks before one of them spouted and I realized they were whales. The power boats followed the whales. I did not.
After beating up the first passage, I was able to turn northeast up another for the final three miles. Less wind. Engaged the Autohelm. Fit outboard bracket and Torqeedo. Lowered main. Prepared dock lines and fenders. Tried calling Neiafu Port Control on handheld VHF. No response.
Gannet was making six knots under jib alone across smooth water. Wonderful. As we neared the narrow entrance into almost landlocked Neiafu, the wind headed us. I started the Torqeedo fifty yards off the first channel buoys and furled the jib.
When we turned into the harbor, the wind jumped in force and I had to give the Torqeedo more rpms than usual. Two catamarans were tied to the fishing wharf on either side of a local fishing boat. Some men waved me to tie to the fishing boat. I came alongside and handed them my lines.