Posted by John using SailMail
One thing about sailing to Tahuata is that it is upwind from Ua Pou. The trade winds blow east to west and we’d have to sail west to east, into the wind. We thought about this a lot. Weather information was minimal. We hadn’t been able to hold a connection with SailMail long enough to send or receive an email for two weeks so we couldn’t get any GRIB files or other weather data. The only thing we could get was an intermittent and painfully slow phone data connection to PassageWeather.com. It showed the wind shifting around a little to the northeast, which we hoped would be enough of an angle to allow us to sail southeast to Tahuata. The supply ship was coming, we had to leave.
I suppose that after sailing 6,000 miles to get this far, you might get a little complacent. We were only going about 60 miles, after all. The engine had been working great. I didn’t even bother to look at it. We didn’t want to arrive at Tahuata in the dark so we planned to leave late in the day and get out beyond the rocks in daylight, then sail all night and arrive at first light the following morning.
Just before we departed, the sky turned ominous. Dark clouds, strong wind gusts and torrential rain showers descended on us. The girl’s canoe team, in the big double canoe from the school on the beach, let out shrieks of protest. It would pass over in a minute, we thought.
Once out of the bay we could see that the rain was much more widespread than just a passing shower. The seas were high, steep, close together and confused. The wind was 25 kts, gusting to over 30. We put up just one sail, the staysail, but we were leaving the engine running until we got past the rocky point. It got dark, really dark.
The rocking and rolling of the boat was severe. Like a mechanical bull in a 1980’s Urban Cowboy bar, it was best to hang on with both hands. It was nearly impossible to stand up. Our course was southeast, but we had to go north first in order to clear the point that we could no longer see except on radar. It took much longer to get past the point than we had expected. The AIS let us know that we were on a collision course with the supply ship. As we were leaving, it was coming in. We stayed on our current northward course until it was behind us, then we turned southeast. The engine sputtered and coughed. We shut it off immediately and set about figuring out what was wrong. It didn’t take long to understand once I had crawled down to the engine room. Ever since we had switched tanks after the engine quit on the way to Banderas Bay, we had never switched back to the center tank. We were still running on the starboard tank, which was now empty. Even after removing the clog from the fuel line, and refilling the center tank with all those jerry-jugs of diesel brought out in the dinghy, I had forgotten to switch the tanks back. The engine restarted. Luckily, we didn’t need to bleed the fuel lines.
With just the staysail, and winds topping out at 40 kts, we tacked back and forth for much of the night. We went north, then south, then north again, trying to make headway upwind. At one point while winching in the staysail sheet, the pull cord on my self-inflating life jacket (which I wasn’t even wearing) somehow got wrapped up in the line and got yanked on by the winch. It inflated. (OK, it does work! Or, at least it did.) In the dark it was difficult to understand what was happening.
By daylight we were completely disheartened. We still had more than 40 miles left to go. Ua Pou was still clearly visible right behind us in the morning sun. Instead of wasting all that jerry-jugged fuel trying to motor-sail and tack, we could’ve just powered straight into the wind all night and been a lot closer to the destination. We had never shut off the engine, anyway.
We furled the staysail and motored on a course direct to Tahuata, and directly into the wind and 10 foot swells. It was slow going, with each swell bringing us to a near stop. I’ve never seen the bowsprit spend so much time underwater, plunging into the bottom of nearly every swell. The inadequately secured anchor on the bow bounced in and out of its roller, grinding into the teak cap rail.
We hand steered, trading off every hour, and finally arrived at Hanamoenoa Bay on Tahuata when we hadn’t wanted toat 11:00 at night. We’ve anchored in unfamiliar bays in the dark before, but it is never fun. The anchor set on the first try. We broke out the beer we bought at the first store we’d found on Ua Pou, talked for a few minutes, then went to sleep. If we keep making trips like this, we should be veteran ocean sailors in no time.