Friday, August 22, 2014

Neiafu: sailed

August 18, Monday
Vakaeitu Island

        I went ashore this morning seeking cheese, crackers, South Seas Rum and paper towels.  I found the first three.   And a can of Heineken and one of Fosters, an Australian beer.  
        I’m not sure there are any paper towels here.  This is a serious loss.  I believe that some of us are as tough sailors and any ever, including those iron men in wooden ships, but we have two distinct advantages:  trash bags and paper towels.
        I did see paper napkins.  Perhaps they will substitute.
        Back on GANNET, I put the Torqeedo on the transom, but tilted it up out of the water and sailed off the mooring under jib alone under a low sky and wind of 17 knots forecast, Raymarine tiller pilot 2 resurrected by Rich steering.  Again my thanks to the tiller pilot whisperer.
        Wind inside this archipelago is inconsistent.  Blocked by hills.  Slipping through valleys.  Light to nonexistent.  Strong gusts.  GANNET’s speed varied from 1 to 6.5 knots.  Mostly 4 and 5.
        I’ve sailed this way before, most recently eight or nine years ago in THE HAWKE OF TUONELA when to my regret I broke my rule about towing dinghies.  Before leaving the mooring I deflated the Avon and stowed it in the aft end of the cockpit.  As we approached the north end of Kapa Island and had a three mile leg south in exposed white-capped water, I was glad I did.  Towed dinghies are noisy, slow, and obstructive nuisances.
        Before making that turn I also put on foul weather gear and partially furled the jib.  Again wise moves.  Flat water gave way to white-caps.  Spray covered the foredeck.  But the waves were only 1’ and GANNET powered through them without becoming airborne.  These were exactly the same conditions I experienced in THE HAWKE OF TUONELA, and it was on this stretch in her that I regretted towing the dinghy.  Even old sailors can learn from experience.
        I hand steered on this three mile beat, tacking five or six times between islands.
        Clear of the last islet, I was able to ease the jib sheet to a beam, then board reach and let the tiller pilot steer while I brought the anchor and rode on deck.  Rather than carry this forward from the companionway, I’ve discovered that it is much easier to move anchor and rode in deployment bag to the v-berth and then pull them on deck through the forward hatch.
        On the way to Vakaeitu, we passed nearby Lapa Island off which I saw mooring buoys.  I may go back and take one tomorrow or the next day.
        A few hundred yards off Vakaeitu, I lowered the Torqeedo into the water, started it, and furled the jib.  I could anchor under sail, but like to circle around where I anchor, particularly since I am anchoring GANNET on mostly line rode, and look for coral.
        No other boats were there when I went in.
        I circled and let go the Spade in 32’ of water, first easing out 20’ of chain and 90’ of line, then after I was confident the wind had set the anchor another 30’ of line.  This is less scope than usually considered appropriate, but GANNET is very easy on anchors and under normally prevailing conditions, Vakaeitu is well protected.
        It had taken me three hours to cover twelve miles, not counting the tacks, and was now 1:30 p.m.
Time for lunch of cheese and crackers and Heineken.
        After lunch I pumped up the Avon and put it over the side.  This was a precaution.  I do not have a boarding ladder on GANNET.  I believed that I could get back aboard by tying a loop in a line secured to a cleat as a foothold, standing in it and pulling myself up.  But I had never done so, and the prospect of an old sailor hanging onto to GANNET until help came is too pathetic.
        Avon inflated and over the side, I climbed down, put on fins and face mask and went for a swim.
        Coral, not spectacular, and some fish.  Also not spectacular.
        While I was in the water, another boat come in to anchor and I was pleased to see did so a reasonable distance from GANNET.
        I swam back to the little sloop.
        This was my first time to inspect the bottom since leaving San Diego.
        In Neiafu I had seen some green vegetation growing near the bow on the port side and so had put a brush in the Avon.  The growth was easily removed, as was some above the water line near the stern.  There was some scum on the rudder, also easily brushed off.
        Otherwise the bottom was clean and smooth.  No hard growth at all.  International Ultra is good antifouling.
        I had to shorten the loop in the line from the port stern cleat three times before I got it right, but then left foot in, right in the circular hole in the transom I assume was intended for a man overboard pole and I was back aboard.
        A solar shower.
        Rum and tonic on deck accompanied by Shostakovich Preludes on deck; dinner of freeze dried Pad Thai, which actually tasted like Pad Thai in the Great Cabin; and I’m about to retire to the v-berth to read.

August 19, Tuesday
Vakaeitu Island

        Late on a sunny afternoon and I’m about to go on deck and deflate the dinghy, which is presently floating upside down beside GANNET, drying the bottom after I scrubbed it.  Vegetation obviously grows well in Neiafu Harbor and, in addition to the weed on GANNET, the dinghy had growth after little more than a week in the water.
        From anchored GANNET blue to turquoise water is surrounded by land.  I’m not sure how many islands I’m looking at.  I think six.  On all of them, only a few houses can be seen, probably not more than a half dozen.  Last night after dark there were no lights visible on any shore.  In fact the only light was GANNET’s anchor light.  The other boat here didn’t turn his on.
        This morning I finished rewriting the passage log from Apia into narrative form for a magazine article, oiled the tiller, cabin floorboards and the companionway bulkhead; scrubbed the deck; and rowed most of the way to a small, pretty beach on the other side of this cove.  Only most of the way because as I neared, I left the protection of the headland and the water become white-capped and broke on a shallow ledge that prevented me landing.  So I rowed back to GANNET, had lunch of cheese and crackers, and then snorkeled.
        The coral is mostly drab, but there are some colorful fish and many colonies of sea urchins.  The water is much cooler than in Apia, as is the air.  Comfortable after a slight first shock.
        I managed to climb from the water again via the looped rope and so will deflate the dinghy preparatory to moving somewhere else tomorrow.
        I had the anchorage to myself for an hour this afternoon, but another boat came in and I hear the motor of a third.
        I may only move less than a mile to one of the mooring buoys I passed off the small island of Lape on my way here.  The location is appealing, but may be rolly.
        So, a day at the office.
        Nice office. 
        Almost five o’clock.  Office hours are over.  If you have been here a while you know where I’m going and what I’m going to do.  If you are new:  on deck for libation, music and study shades of green.

August 20, Wednesday
Lape Island

        Atypically the wind was from the north this morning.  Not strong in the anchorage at Vakaeitu, but we also had a low tide that exposed coral not far off GANNET’s stern.
        Finally just before noon the wind swung southeast and I lowered the Torqeedo into the water and started pulling in the anchor rode. 
        I had tried to see the anchor while I was swimming, but visibility did not enable me to do so.  Anchoring on line around coral is always problematic.  As the 90’ marker broke the water, we were caught.  I went aft and put the Torqeedo in forward gear.  Still caught.  Went aft and put it in reverse which broke us free.  I am using eight strand 1/2” nylon, stronger than GANNET requires, because it  provides more protection from chaff.  As the rode came in parts were discolored by whatever it had been caught on, but not frayed.
        For a single-hander from the moment the anchor breaks free of the bottom to when it is secured at the bow, his boat is adrift.  GANNET’s 10 pound spade and 20’ of chain at the end of the nylon don’t weigh much.  I can pull them up fast.
        When I was able to move to the tiller, our bow was pointing toward the shore, so I reversed out until I had room to turn forward.
        Letting the tiller pilot steer, I went forward and sorted out the anchor and rode, then tied one end of a dock line to a bow cleat.
        As we neared Lape, less than a mile away, I spotted the three buoys off her northwest side I had seen on Monday.  All were vacant as they had been since then.  I picked up the one nearest the island.  It is quite comfortable at present with only a little more motion than at Vakaeitu.
        I can see the two boats anchored at Vakaeitu.  Three others behind a small island to her east.  And another at an island farther south.

        I don’t recall if I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my Torqeedo batteries is no longer taking a full charge.  No 1 stops at 88%.  I have recently been using number 2, which does still charge to 100%; but it too seems to be discharging faster.   The ten or fifteen minutes I had it in operation as I entered Vakaeitu and the half hour powering over today discharged it to 64%.  Good enough for my purposes.  But these batteries cost $600 and are supposed to last five years.  Number 1 is three years old.  Number 2, presently being charged, two.

August 21

        The mooring at Lape was wonderful.  Space and openness behind us, but protected smooth water.  No one took the other moorings, so I had the place to myself.  Two small local boats were at a dock a quarter mile away.  There is a village somewhere on the island, but I’ve never seen even a glimpse of it.  From the mooring Lape appeared uninhabited.
        After a comfortable night I dropped the mooring at about 9:30 on a sunny morning and unfurled the jib.
        The wind was much lighter than it had been, only 5 or 6 knots and from the east.  I had to tack across smooth water looking for isolated patches of coral.  As soon as I had enough room to let the tiller pilot steer, I raised the main, and GANNET had a wonderful sail all the way back, although all to windward.  Perfect temperature.  Perfect light wind.
        The number 2 tiller pilot definitely works, but the wind is so variable off the islands and gaps between them that I hand steered most of the way, which was all to windward, moving forward with the tiller extension to handle the jib sheets when tacking, then back aft.  GANNET sailed mostly at 5 knots, sometimes 6, and occasionally 2 when caught in wind shadows between islands.  It was lovely.
        Up the final three mile stretch of water leading to Neiafu, I tested Raymarine 3.  It does not work.  Doing nothing for a couple of minutes, then going hard over from port to starboard and back again.  
        I dropped the main and lowered the Torqeedo into the water after a tack a mile from Neiafu, earlier than I should have.  Furled the jib two tacks later when the wind went soft, and Torqeedoed to the moorings.
        In my absence, I’ve lost my free mooring.  I thank Rik for its use.  I’m now paying 15 panga a day, which is about $9 US a day.
        Before leaving Cape I had set up the GoPro in its rail mount on the stern pulpit to take a photo every 60 seconds.  It was a perfect day for it, with excellent sunlight and color on the land and water, and GANNET sailing close to islands before tacking.  I expected to have some great shots.  But when I went to upload them to my computer, I found that I must have had the settings wrong for there was only one photo of me when I pressed the shutter button.  So it goes.
        I’ll go ashore and forage later this morning.  I am on my last box of Kleenex, my last roll of paper towels.  I thought I had found boxed fruit juice, but it is only sugar water.  Rich and Cyndi, who have left for Fiji, told me about a couple of stores of which I was unaware. 
        Another sunny, pleasant morning in Vavau.