Passage to Tahiti

June 12, 2003, 10:30 am

LATITUDE: 17-00.75S

LONGITUDE: 147-20.53W


On passage from Tahanea (in the Tuamotus) to Papeete, Tahiti


Mark playing "Marvin the Marlin" at sunset

Dear friends and family: 

Mark had hoped to go diving on our last day at Tahanea -- we were receiving numerous reports of spectacular dives, with 200 feet visibility (and plenty of sharks), just outside the pass (just across the spit from where we were anchored).  Mark had a dive expedition tentatively set up with one of the other boats.  Unfortunately, strong winds kept us in the boat all day.  Because of the wind direction, across 10 or 15 miles of the lagoon, the waves built up to several feet in height.  We watched the other boats pitching about -- dropping first their anchor platforms (at the bow of the boat), and then their sterns under water.  The most alarming was Dancer -- a 1965 aluminum boat of 50 plus feet, with beautiful long overhangs bow and stern, but I guess that's not a good shape for riding out waves at anchor.  We probably rode the waves the most easily, but it was still somewhat unpleasant.

Dancer at anchor in heavy seas, bow up Dancer at anchor in heavy seas, bow down

Mark developed a new sport he calls "bow jumping" which involves standing on the bow pulpit, waiting for the pitching to reach the maximum height, and then jumping into the trough of the wave below.  Ah, the energy and recklessness of youth!

We would like to have departed for Tahiti that day, but it was not possible.  The biggest concern was the anchor chain, wrapped around coral heads on the bottom, 30 feet down.  When at anchor, we have quite a lot of spring cushioning available, just from the length of the chain, and from a pair of nylon snubbers (lengths of rope that are attached to the chain and act like shock absorbers).  But when pulling the anchor in, those safety measures are unavailable.  The concern is, what if an especially big wave comes along when the chain is pulled in relatively short, and still caught on a coral head?  There is a possibility of doing serious damage to the anchor windlass or other gear bolted to the bow of the boat.  So we elected, instead to wait things out until the waves subsided.  In the meantime, we deflated the dinghy, stowed the barbecue, fixed a couple of dinners ahead, and communicated with other boats about wind, weather and anchoring. 

We waited out another night while the winds and waves subsided, and the next morning we were ready to go.  We went through another one of our unwinding exercises, motoring cautiously forward, then to the right, or left, as directed by the person on the bow.  (It's still incredible to me that we could see 30 feet down in the water, clearly enough to see how the chain was lying on the sand or among the coral heads).

  Once free, we motored out the pass, against a 3 knot current, and into a calm sea with 10 knot winds.  It was one of those moments when we all looked at each other and said "This is what we came to the South Pacific for..."  Sailing along at 6 knots, royal blue waters transitioning to crystalline turquoise near the shore, palm trees on the nearby motus, warm but not too hot... 


Leaving Tahanea, Barbara at the helm
Craig talking to Steve on Rigo We kept up communication with Steve and Iretta on Rigo by radio -- they left several hours after us.  We learned this morning that their six year old genny blew out during the night, in a relatively sedate, 11 knot wind.  They blame inferior sailmaking methods.  (We're once again very glad for our superb Hasse sails).  But six years is also a long time in tropical sun (they estimate they've done 9 months of sailing in the last 5 years).  As it turns out, they got the shredded sail down without incident, and are proceeding with their working jib, still making good time.
Yesterday afternoon, we told Mark he could fish, and he set about building new lures, unscrambling a line tangle, and getting all the equipment set up.  Just before sunset, he got a hit ("Fish on!"), and we soon saw that it was a marlin which was going to give him a good fight.  We had the usual fire drill of taking down the sails, all while the marlin was stripping line off the reel.  Once the sails were down, we motored forwards, backwards, port and starboard, following that fish around.  That went on for nearly an hour and a half (and well past sunset).

The fish broke out of the water three or four times, and that was truly a spectacular sight.  Mark finally got the tired fish up to the boat, and decided it was too big -- we think maybe 150 pounds.  We got the obligatory pictures, and then freed the poor tired fish.  Mark certainly got his exercise for the day -- tired arms, and plenty of scenes to replay in his mind during his night watches.

Mark playing the marlin
"Marvin the marlin" before he was freed Mark experiencing the afterglow of the battle with the marlin

The wind -- having given us a number of good storms over the past week -- has now decided to totally flake out.  We've had occasional moments of good sailing, but often (including right now) we've had to motor.  Fortunately we have plenty of fuel, and we should reach Tahiti tomorrow morning.  A new phase of our voyage begins -- Papeete is a big, European city, and one of the stores is reputed to have 4000 square feet devoted to French cheeses alone!  Preparations for the Bastille Day celebration are beginning to ramp up, and we expect to find a fairly crowded harbor.

[Same day, later....]  Even a short passage through relatively calm waters to Tahiti is not without incident.  First we heard a loud vibration in the engine that shouldn't have been there -- check fluids, visual inspection of the engine, smell test -- nothing found.  Stop the boat (easier said than done), string floating lines in the water (for swimmer safety), and Mark goes under the boat with mask and fins, to see if all the zincs are secure, no obvious jutting parts, propeller turns freely -- everything looks OK.  Then we noticed that one of the battens was protruding out of the back of the mainsail, which we had lowered in our attempt to stop the boat.  We undertook repairs, which involved lots of head scratching about how to isolate the part of the sail that needed working on, finding the right screw fitting to put the batten back in place, making some leather washers, and then the hand sewing at the back of the sail to close the batten pocket.  (This involves putting heavy thread through about 8 layers of heavy sailcloth, back and forth, zig-zagging across the opening until the pocket is secure.)  We are once again filled with admiration for the Port Townsend sail folk who do such hand sewing on sail after sail, day after day.  Of course their working conditions are a bit better...  So, fingers crossed, we put the sail back up -- everything looks fine -- turned on the engine -- no weird vibrations.  All very mysterious.

Thanks to all of you who have written -- we do enjoy your messages.

Best wishes to all!

Craig & Barbara Johnston

S/V Sequoia

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