Thursday, September 24, 2015

Passage Notes

I'm writing from Del Viento, currently anchored off Suwarrow, a remote atoll in the Cook Islands. Though only 700 nautical miles from our last port (Bora Bora), it took us seven days to get here. Seven unpleasant passage days.

We actually departed Bora Bora headed for Niue, a tiny country well southwest of here. But a few days into the passage, it looked like uncharacteristic westerlies were forecast for our destination. This would have made Niue's single roadstead anchorage untenable. So, we turned northwest and headed for Suwarrrow. All told, we traveled about 800 miles.

The winds were mostly astern, but they blew soft, then harder, then harder, then softer, then harder, and finally softer--which meant lots of reefing our big main. Because the seas were big and a bit confused, and because the wind direction varied with the dozens of squalls that passed overhead, and because we were a few times caught overpowered, we also jibed several times, usually in the middle of the night when we were both tired and it was raining. Our boom brake worked satisfactorily, but it's still an awful event, especially with our 400 square-foot main. So reefs went in and out during this trip, but most of the time we were fully reefed.

We suffered damage on this passage too:

1) The starboard lazyjack line parted at about the halfway point of the passage. This one sucks because lowering the sail is a pain without both sides in place. It sucks even more because this breakdown is a result of deferred boat maintenance. I noticed chaffing on this line back in Tahiti and I could have addressed it since then, I just didn't. My poor seamanship.

2) The upper batten pocket of the mainsail became detached from the sail, from the luff to about halfway to the leech, about 20 inches of thread ripped out. I think this happened during a jibe when the main was reefed and I noticed the end of the batten was lodged forward of one of the starboard stays. I lowered the sail and Windy sheeted it in before I raised it back up, but the damage was done.

3) I noticed more of the UV protection on our headsail is unraveled. This is the same problem that's been dogging us since the Mexico-Marquesas passage. The good news is that all the hand sewing I did on that passage (and later in Ua Pu) is still holding up. The bad news is that there is still miles of unreinforced stitching to fail.

4) Two bolts sheared off on the solar panel arch I built in Mexico, in 2011. This was an easy fix underway, and the arch has held up reasonably well for all it's been through--now supporting three panels. But it highlights the need for reinforcing welding that would have made a lot of sense to have done in Mexico before we left.

5) Our batteries have reached the end of their life. I came to realize that on this passage. The equalization we did in Papeete made a difference, but came too late in the game. Admittedly, I've not been the best battery caretaker. Our lifestyle has demanded a lot from our bank and we've run the lights and music and toys late into many nights when we could have cut back to keep the voltage up. We've lived for weeks and weeks on the hook without starting our engine, and we live just fine--but we have been living just fine for four and a half years at the expense of our bank. All we've ever had to keep them charged is our 430 watts of solar (and the alternator on our auxiliary). I'm sure we'd have gotten more life from them had we invested in a wind generator or a genset--but would we have come out ahead in the long run? Moneywise? It's the nature of boat house batteries that they are never returned to a full-charge state (unless plugged into a dock) and sulfating happens. In our case, sooner than I would have liked.

Also, Windy and the girls were more seasick on this trip than they've been in a while. All of it added up to a passage we were happy to put behind us.

We're going to hang out here in Suwarrow for a few more days and the head for American Samoa where we have mail and parts waiting for us, sent General Delivery. Hopefully the beer there isn't too expensive and we can also find someone with a good sewing machine and good sail repair skills. Then I'll look for a stainless welder who can come to the boat for a quick job. Then I'll try and source replacement batteries. Uhg.
It's hot here in Suwarrrow. We are back closer to the equator, maybe that's why. The heat here is unlike anything we've yet felt in the South Pacific--as hot as it was during our summer in the Sea of Cortez, and the water in this atoll might be even warmer than what we dove into everyday in the Sea. But I'll save my descriptions of Suwarrow until we have internet and I can post pics--probably the first week of October. Where has this year gone?


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  1. From everything I've read Suwarrow seems like a very exciting place. You're a real inspiration. How about the black tip reef sharks there? How is the anchorage?

    Peace and safety.

  2. Also, and most importantly, what's the best thing about Suwarrow? I'm very intrigued and just read the article in Cruising World "South Seas Sojourn" where s/v Small World II spent two weeks exploring then shared their experience.

  3. Loved loved loved Suwarrow - look forward to reading/seeing your take... who are the rangers this year? Hugs to the family!


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