Day 297, Year 1: Winging Our Way to American Samoa

Day 297, Year 1: Winging Our Way to American Samoa
Date: Thursday, August 10, 2006
Weather: Blue Skies and Sunny; E Winds12-18
Latitude: 15 degrees, 13 minutes S
Longitude: 169 degrees, 34 minutes W
Passage from Rarotonga to American Samoa, Day 6
Location: Miles to Go: 85 (out of 747)

We are winging our way to American Samoa. The weather is really holding for us. The winds have come around a bit to the south of east which is making it possible for us to maintain our course sailing wing and wing. Arrival time right now is projected to be around noon. Just after we made the decision yesterday to sail and not start the engines, the wind picked up and we have made good time since then. We are averaging about 5 knots-not great, but not shabby.

Life aboard today has consisted of reading, and reading, and reading. I’m trying to finish Bounty by Caroline Alexander, an author from New Hampshire. Mark finished the Nelson DeMille book and has moved on to Grisham’s The King of Torts. Linda brought a few books for us, but we are going to need our son Justin and my niece Lynn to bring more reinforcements. We have lots of non-fiction books aboard, but night watch reading requires good historical fiction or “high interest” fiction to keep us going.

The weather window for this trip has been perfect and we heard this morning on the net that there is now another 5-6 window for other cruisers out there to move west. There are about 40 boats underway right now, mostly from Bora Bora to the Cooks Islands and Samoa or from Niue to Tonga. We are the only boat on the Rarotonga to Samoa route right now, but we will meet with those coming from Bora Bora. Should be fun!

Day 296, Year 1: Back to Wing and Wing Sailing

Day 296, Year 1: Back to Wing and Wing Sailing
Date: Wednesday, August 9, 2006
Weather: Blue Skies and Sunny; E Winds10-12
Latitude: 16 degrees, 27 minutes S
Longitude: 167 degrees, 46 minutes W
Location: Passage from Rarotonga to American Samoa, Day 5
Miles to Go: 212 (out of 747)

Today was another glorious day in paradise. The sun has been shining all day, no threat of squalls, wind gently pushing us toward Samoa. What more could one ask for? We are once again sailing wing and wing as the winds are back behind us and the winds have gone down to about 10-12 knots. We are moving along at about 5 knots, and at this rate there’s a possibility we won’t make landfall on Friday. We could start the engine, but it is so very peaceful out here that we have decided to take the extra time and enjoy the ride. If the winds dip below 10 knots, we might reconsider, but right now we are happily bobbing along.

I spent some time last night working on selecting Rarotonga pictures for the website. I think I did not fully appreciate the beauty when I was there. The pictures make it look like the Garden of Eden. The not so perfect harbor, the difficulty I had getting to and from shore in the rough harbor, and the incessant rain colored my short term perceptions. I had so much wanted things to be perfect for the Stuarts when they were visiting, and the weather just didn’t fully cooperate, so I let that disappointment also color my perceptions. But as I look back, I now realize it was really a beautiful island. And we had a wonderful time with Linda, Mike, and Garrett. They might not ever want to set foot on a sailboat again, but I know they enjoyed the experience. Just the fact that you could walk out into the lagoon and see the colorful fish without even snorkeling was really a gift. And we got to enjoy lots of music and dancing the Cook Island way since we were there for the cultural festival. And we had some wonderful meals at local restaurants. It really was wonderful. But the weather wasn’t. And still isn’t. As I listen to the net each morning, I feel for the boats headed that way. They are still battling constant squalls. We sailed out of that and into calm waters and sunshine once again, and this is what I love. But if I had it to do over again, I would still go south to Rarotonga. We bring with us memories that we will have for a life time.

We continue to read about American Samoa and Independent Samoa. It is going to be very different from any place we have visited thus far, but it sounds intriguing. Samoa has waterfalls that you can literally slide down into a beautiful pool. I don’t think I’ll be doing that, but it sounds fantastic. We’ll be visiting the home of Robert Louis Stevenson which is now a museum. There are beautiful beaches, Tarzan and Jane hiking experiences where you have to beat your way through the luxuriant growth, and the best beer in the South Pacific. Vailima Breweries just outside of Apia has a brew master that studied in Bavaria and brought his knowledge back to the South Pacific. This brewery produces more than 3 million liters of brew a year, and since the water is not safe there for tourists, beer is the drink of choice for those of us passing through. There are many cultural experiences that I won’t describe here. I’ll wait until we have experienced them and report on those in future logs.

The day here is coming to a close. Before we reach Samoa, we will have to set our clocks back another hour, and then when we leave Samoa for Fiji we will cross the international date line and lose a whole day. Glad it’s not going to be my birthday! There is a restaurant in Apia that claims to be the last restaurant on earth to close every day. I’ll definitely have to spend the evening there and wait until closing to be part of this experience.

Day 295, Year 1: On a Roll

Day 295, Year 1: On a Roll
Date: Tuesday, August 8, 2006
Weather: Blue Skies and Sunny; E Winds Variable 10-20
Latitude: 17 degrees, 49 minutes S
Longitude: 166 degrees, 04 minutes W
Location: Passage from Rarotonga to American Samoa, Day 4
Miles to Go: 340 (out of 747)

We’re on a roll. We have had two great days of sailing. We are no longer sailing wing and wing. We are on a broad reach with a double-reefed main and a scrap of headsail and even with the reefed sails we are making good progress. We anticipate reaching the harbor in American Samoa on Friday afternoon if things continue has they have for the past 48 hours. The sky has clouded over in the past hour and we’re not sure what that will bring. The weather reports are indicating that we shouldn’t have any major changes in the next few days, but we all know how reliable those weather reports can be.

Last night’s sail was beautiful. Early in the evening the moon looked almost full and it really lit up the sky and the water. I love it when I am on watch and it is that light out. I can just sit in one place and glance around. I don’t have to get up every 15-30 minutes and look out for other traffic. With this leg of mine, that is a real bonus. I was on watch as the full moon dipped below horizon at about 0700 this morning. The sun had not yet come up, but as the moon went down the sky began slowly lightening. There were just a few clouds on the horizon, so it was quite a show. I think tonight the moon is officially full, but if these recent clouds persist, we might not get to see much of the moon.

Yesterday I talked to Dr. Carlin at the World Clinic on the SAT phone and he recommended that I put the cast back on. It was cut off so that I could put in back on and wrap it with an ace bandage to keep it in place. Dr. Carlin thinks that my leg has not fully healed and he suspects that they might recast when I reach American Samoa. I sure hope he is wrong, but it has been almost six weeks now and it just doesn’t feel right. Of course, I’ve never had a broken bone before and have no idea how it should feel. I’m just hoping the American trained medical staff in American Samoa is a little more thorough than the doctors in Rarotonga. I’ll let you know how this goes once we arrive.

The first day out on this trip, Mark returned an e-mail to Jon and Heather Turgeon back at Shipyard Quarters in Charlestown. They will be leaving next fall for the Caribbean and then on around the world. Jon had asked Mark a few questions, and the Captain’s Rambling below is taken from that e-mail reply. It basically addresses some of the recommendations we would have for anyone undertaking long-term cruising.

Captain’s Ramblings #6

It is difficult to relate all that we have learned along the way. We thought we had anticipated just about everything, but that was a very Pollyanna view. There is NO WAY to anticipate all that will happen when you are out here. But you should never let that stop you. You figure it out and go on. In my last “ramblings” I promised an edition addressing engine and transmission issues. That will come, but for now I will just address some of the things we have found indispensable. If anyone reading this has questions, please send those along and we will address them in a later log.

First, we love our Spade anchor. It has held when plows have drug around us. In sand it is superb and I would trust it in a gale. In mud is works very well but sometimes the mud is a soft covering for a very hard (rock?) shelf underneath. It will hold then, but I have had it drag once in those conditions. Lots of chain is our answer, but some of the anchorages out here are 60 to 70 feet deep, so lots of scope is a luxury. We have 300 feet of 3/8 inch chain and that has been enough, though if I were to weather a storm in 60 feet depths I would certainly put out a second anchor and maybe add some rope to the chain rode (or maybe just put to sea). The 300 feet of chain weights 450 pounds and that is as much as we can afford to carry. Incidentally, stern anchors are often necessary either to keep you into the swell or to keep you off your neighbors in tight anchorages. We use a Danforth for this and it has been excellent. Both our spade and our Danforth are galvanized. As for aluminum, I know of one boat that has an aluminum Spade and loves it. The captain does mention a little concern that in changing winds or tides that the shank might bend more easily than with the galvanized one, but we have not heard of this happening.

We finally got a wi-fi booster and it does help. But it is not as great as advertised. We do get a better signal with it so I guess that is what it was for – it’s just not as much of a boost as I had hoped. There are a good number of wi-fi services that cover anchorages so if you would like to surf the internet from your boat, which is a great luxury, then I would definitely get one.

We love our hard bottom dingy. We stay dry and can plane it with only an 8 horse motor (great when the anchorage is a long way from shore access). However, I wouldn’t buy an AB again as the material is delaminating in a few places at the overlap seams. Caribs seem to be a good choice from what I can tell.

We also like our hooka (or “snuba”). This is a battery operated generator that supplies air to hoses that allow diving down to 30 feet. I use it often to clean the bottom. In the Pacific that seems to be mandatory about once a month – sometimes sooner! I would not recommend a gas operated one as the fumes are sucked into the air intake – not great air for breathing. People who have dive equipment seem to rarely use it. It is hard to get bottles filled, cumbersome to use for a quick job on the boat, etc. I have worked under our boat for two to three hours at a time with the hooka. When it comes to recreational diving, dive gear may be better as it gives you more freedom of movement – but everyone we know just snorkels. There is plenty to see that way, and with water clarity in some places you can see clearly 30 to even 60 feet.

We have not used our folding bikes. They are difficult to get out of storage on the boat, into the dingy, onto shore (sometimes the landing spots are barely good enough for us to get ashore), and set up. Then at the end of the day we have to do it all in reverse as there is no place on shore to store them. But then, we weren’t avid bikers before the trip and some folks say that if you bike before then you might use them. When we did finally get the bikes out, we found that the spokes had rusted and they are now unusable. We’ll try to get them repaired thinking that we might use them in New Zealand. We have occasionally rented a car to tour an island. That was expensive in French Polynesia (about $100 per day) but less than half that in the Cook Islands.

A watermaker is indispensable since many places do not have drinkable water. But if you have one, carry spares – especially the expensive membranes as any oil in the water will damage them. We also have a rebuild kit for the pump and have done one rebuild already. It seems that everyone is always working on their watermaker, but it something most cruisers we have met would not want to be without.

Our plastic cockpit enclosure which we had made for Boston winters has proved very useful. It keeps us dry in bad spray or in downpours and on stormy night passages it keeps us out of the wind and keeps us warm. It is winter here in the South Pacific and places like Rarotonga are pretty far south so it can get chilly – same goes for Tonga we hear. But we are now on passage to Samoa – closer to the equator and warmer weather, but a partial enclosure will still help keep us dry.

Good quality headlamps for reading on watch at night are a necessity. And make sure you bring lots of extra rechargeable batteries and a couple of good battery chargers. I should note that some tools and battery chargers do not work well (or even burn out) with a standard inverter. Our inverter produces a modified square wave. Normal electricity (what you have back home) for which tools and small chargers were made is a sine wave. I am no electronics expert but I know that the difference can be damaging to sensitive equipment. True sine wave inverters are very expensive so I would suggest trying your small battery chargers using your inverter before leaving and then stick with the ones that don’t burn out. For us that has been trial and error.

We could stand to have some very long lines for tying to trees ashore or to give us plenty of scope on our sea anchor if we ever have to use it. One or two lines about 600 feet long would be nice. But then we would have the problem of storing them!!! Some people carry a spool of line or strong webbing on the aft deck and that works nicely.

When you leave for long term cruising, you will want to adjust your waterline. We found that though we had painted ours higher, that by the time we added all the stores we needed we should have gone for another several inches. Our design draft is 5′ 10″. Our actual is somewhat over six feet. It is good to have bottom paint extend six inches or so above the waterline so you don’t get growth on the topsides or painted waterline stripe. Even at that, you will still get some. After 3000 nonstop miles on the same tack you do get scum and algae and even barnacles well up on the topsides. And it can be tough to clean off, so bring lots of scrub brushes, “greenies” (Scotch Brite pads) and Clorox Clean-up. We have found spraying that on the growth kills it and makes it easier to clean off.

In the Caribbean the wind generator was our most important supplemental energy source. In the Pacific it is our two 75-watt solar panels. We would go for more solar panels if we had space for them.

Enough for now. It is expensive getting started – and the expenses continue with breakdowns and unexpected costs. But it is certainly worth it.

S/V Windbird

Day 294, Year 1: Sailing Wing and Wing

Day 294, Year 1: Sailing Wing and Wing
Date: Monday, August 7, 2006
Weather: Blue Skies and Sunny; E Winds Variable 10-20
Latitude: 19 degrees, 08 minutes S
Longitude: 164 degrees, 06 minutes W
Location: Passage from Rarotonga to American Samoa, Day 3
Miles to Go: 477 (out of 747)

I’ve said it before, but what a difference a day makes. During Mark’s middle of the night watch, he put the headsail out to starboard and the mainsail out to port to sail wing and wing. That worked for us during the night and has provided a delightful sail today. Anytime you are sailing downwind, the boat is still going to rock from side to side no matter how calm the seas, but with bright blue skies and plenty of sunshine, it makes for a great sail. We have seen no black walls or gray rain clouds today and we are enjoying every minute. It is also a couple of degrees warmer already. Heading back toward the equator seems like a good thing to me right now.

We have spent the day reading about the Samoas and I worked some on editing and naming pictures for the website. I sent all of the folders from French Polynesia and the first half of Rarotonga home on CD with Linda and she will send those in the mail to Justin for the website. I’m working on the last half of Rarotonga now and will try once again to send those via e-mail. That is not an easy task out here and might not work. We’ll just have to see what kind of connection we have in American Samoa.

We are getting very excited about our visit to the Samoas. We will first visit American Samoa. We will anchor the boat in the harbor in Pago Pago on the island of Tutuila. This harbor is sometimes referred to as the armpit of the South Pacific because of the huge tuna canneries that pollute the harbor as well as the deluge of local garbage that is washed into the harbor when it rains. I mentioned in an earlier log that there has been a clean-up effort and we will just have to see how successful that has been. But despite a less than perfect harbor, we anticipate having a great time ashore. American Samoa is beautiful. Rainmaker Mountain towers over the harbor and they say the view from the mountain top is spectacular. Not sure if I will make it up there, but I’ll certainly send Mark up with a camera. We will spend at least two weeks there, maybe three depending on how my leg is doing, and then move on to Samoa. I know it is confusing having two Samoas, but what is now referred to as just Samoa was once Western Samoa. Some now refer to it as independent Samoa. There are two main islands in independent Samoa, Upolu and Savaii, and we will explore those with our son Justin and my niece Lynn who should arrive in mid-September. When we left Rarotonga, we left the part of the South Pacific with hip-shaking, knee slapping dancing. No more grass skirt, either. We are into a whole new world where singing and dancing is much more conservative, but supposedly very beautiful. It will be fascinating to compare.

Our nighttime passage reading is Nelson DeMille’s Plum Island. We read three of his books earlier and the Stuart’s brought us this one when they came to Rarotonga. I’ll finish the book tomorrow and will have to find another “gripper” to help make it through the night passages. We anticipate arrival in American Samoa on Friday. Tomorrow we will pass the half-way mark. Hurrah! And we have a wonderful full moon to light our way. Life is good.

Day 293, Year 1: Here Come the Squalls

Day 293, Year 1: Here Come the Squalls
Date: Sunday, August 6, 2006
Weather: Sunny with Frequent Squalls; ESE Winds Variable 15-25
Latitude: 19 degrees 56 minutes S
Longitude: 162 degrees 13 minutes W
Location: Passage from Rarotonga to American Samoa, Day 2
Miles to Go: 592 (out of 747)

Today has been filled with dealing with squally conditions, increasing but incredible fluky winds going from 10 knots to 30 and back down to 10-15 constantly, and increasing seas. In other words, a downwind sail that is not fun. I knew it was too much to ask for two good days in a row, but I had hoped . . .

We can’t seem to get the sails balanced for the constant changes and the auto pilot has been having a really tough time keeping us on course. It just gives up and goes to standby, so one of us has had to be on watch all day babysitting the auto pilot. We pole out the headsail, so at least it is not banging and flapping in the wind. Right now the winds have increased to a fairly steady 20-25 but they are coming from the east which is pretty much directly behind us. That, combined with the heavy seas, is causing Windbird to bounce around like a cork. It looks like we are back to that old time rock and roll. We have switched back to the wind vane steering and it is handling things for now. We aren’t exactly on course, but we’ll get there eventually.

Not much else to report today. Just another day in passage in a not so calm South Pacific.

Day 292, Year 1: Beautiful Day with Fantastic Sailing

Day 292, Year 1: Beautiful Day with Fantastic Sailing
Date: Saturday, August 5, 2006
Weather: SSE Winds 15-20
Latitude: 20 degrees 55 minutes S
Longitude: 160 degrees 17 minutes W
Location: Passage from Rarotonga to American Samoa, Day 1
Miles to Go: 715 (out of 747)

Rarotonga is almost out of sight. We got up expecting morning rain, but for the first day that we can remember, there was no rain. Mark went to the market, returned the rental car and the wheel chair, and then returned to get Windbird ready to leave. I listened to the morning net and tried to hear the weather, but reception was sketchy. Basically, there are no major systems at play right now and the weather should be fairly stable for at least a couple of days. We left the harbor at 1030 this morning after a little difficulty pulling up the anchor. The boat next to us, Capaz, had put out a second anchor and it was on top of ours, but we had anticipated this and Capaz’s captain, Todd, was there to help us. There was no wind in the harbor, so otherwise it was an easy out. The sailing today has been fantastic under blue skies with lots of sunshine. It has been a glorious day. We put up a double-reefed mainsail and the full headsail and have been sailing all day on a broad reach with 15-20 knot winds from the SSE. There is a 4-8 foot swell from the SE. We are headed WNW. We anticipate six to eight days of sailing and would be so happy if we had these conditions all the way. That won’t happen, but you can dream.

We both spent most of the day reading about Tonga and the Samoas. We were still trying to figure out the best place for our son Justin and my niece Lynn to meet us, and we have finally settled on Samoa. It means that we will be in the Samoas longer than we had planned, but the more we read, the more excited we get. It sounds like there is plenty to do and see between American Samoa and Western Samoa. It will be hotter and more humid there, but since I had to put on a jacket this afternoon, that sounds really good to me. The weather there is described as “sultry”, so I may never leave!

060805 Day 292 Cook Islands, Rarotonga–Off to American Samoa