Saturday, May 19, 2012

Day 9- the final push, anchor's down at Fanning Island

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 03-deg 51-min N 159-deg 21-min W
Wind: NE 17+ Seas: wind waves < 1-ft!!
Avg. Course: 187 T
Avg. Speed: 4.5-knots
Rig: storm jib and mains'l nestled in their covers
24-hr distance traveled: 82.1-nm

The heavier weather continued and we chose to bring down the 80% jib, raise the triple-reefed mains'l, and raise the storm jib for the day. It turned out to be a wise combination. Around 1400 another ominous squall line marched toward us so we pulled the mains'l down and ran with only the storm jib until average speeds were less than 4-knots, not until after 1700. Although the rain and cloud part of the squalls abated after this, the winds never decreased staying a solid 20 gusting to 25-knots all afternoon and the seas jacked up accordingly to 10-ft. Shawn had requested that Chris bring the weather down to more manageable by the time her evening watch rolled around. Somehow, her request was gratefully granted. We put the triple-reefed main back up around 1700 and enjoyed tuna melts with Granny Smith apple slices and tomato soup as the sunset and the conditions returned to what we deemed more "normal". We calculated that to get to our outer waypoint around 0700 the following morning, we needed only to travel at 4.3-knots, so did not add more sail area.

Shawn's night watch was sublime. Not a cloud to be seen, stars everywhere melting into phosphorescent seas. Once in a while a thin squall cloud would come by, cover the sky and pass relatively mellowly, then the sky would be clear once again. With these mellow conditions, she offered to take a couple extra hours to give Chris sleep in preparation for the morning landing, and awoke him at 0200 when we were 20-nm out. Chris pulled the mains'l down almost right away to slow our forward progress, and 10-nm out, finally hove to for an hour to await the sunrise. Back underway, he awoke Shawn at 0630 with a hearty "Land Ho!". By 0800 we were rounding the corner into the lee of Fanning Atoll, a welcome relief from the constant seas of the passage. Trade winds still flow over the small island so we spent the next two hours sailing in nice winds in the pleasantly calm seas in the lee of the atoll. While sailing, we attached Rocky (who had been riding aft in the lazarette with a teak plug in the haus pipe) to the forward chain, enjoyed a freshwater downpour to clean us off, saw a rainbow, generally prepared for imminent landfall, and were welcomed into the river flowing out of the lagoon by several playful dolphin.

Our 1100 slack tide forecast was coming fast, so at 1030 we dropped the storm jib and hove to to prepare the chain for anchoring. Unfortunately, we found that we had flipped it around from the direction we wanted it, so had to pull all of our chain out and turn it around. As Shawn was managing chain, we received a hail on the radio from Scotch Power, who had left Hawaii 5-days previous to us, reporting there were currently 2.5-knots of current flowing out of the pass from the lagoon. Still, trusting our data, we planned to enter at 1100, if not exactly slack tide, preferring to be working against the ebb than being pushed too fast by a flood. The anchor and chain ready, we fired up Yannie, pulled the mains'l down, and began to motor toward our entrance waypoint.

As we joined our outer pass waypoint and turned toward the bearing we had calculated for entering through the center of the pass, we were a bit worried that our depth sounder was not working as it had not yet registered any depths. No time to head back out and dive on it to see if there was growth inhibiting its function, if we were going to attempt this entrance at the appointed time as there is only 10-min of slack tide before it would turn and rush into the lagoon during this large swing New Moon time. This will be our first pass entrance in Tao and Shawn is grateful for Chris' solid river background. Chris had decided that he would prefer to be motoring "upstream" as there is more control and at any moment, we could just fall off with the current and get spit back out to sea versus being rushed in too fast to make any maneuvers to avoid possible dangers (coral head or land for instance) into an area with which we are unfamiliar.

As we entered the channel our depth sounder finally registered depths (191-ft). Although 1115 already, it was obvious that current was still flowing out of the lagoon as we motored through swirly water (like at the end of a river rapid) and we could see the water rushing toward us. Surf was breaking on both the starboard and port sides of the pass, but neither of us gawked as we were both focused on our tasks. Chris did not waver from steering 052-deg T bearing (even when Shawn stated how much closer we were to the right bank), and Shawn was busy staring at the depth sounder and reading the depths aloud to Chris, as Chris gave updates of how the boat was handling. We were powering at 1500-rpm which in 15-knots of flat water pushes us about 3.5 to 4.0-knots and seeing speeds as low as 1.9-knots. This means the "river" was still rushing at us at up to 2-knots. However, we were making progress and still in control. Slow and steady, Chris continually "ferried" Tao keeping the bow directly into the current and as we passed the most constricted section, we were able to break free of the pull of the outflow and began moving faster in our intended direction. And we were in!

The obvious "shipwreck" anchorage (with an old rusty ship sticking out of the water) was already filled with 3 sailboats, so now we had to figure out where to drop the hook. Winds were still blowing a stiff NE 15-knots as we saw Scotch Power waiting for us and recognized Michael Kapchinski in his boat Fianna in the pole-position spot closest to the beach and out away from the channels currents next to the shipwreck. He hailed us on the radio and welcomed us in just warning us not to anchor in the dark blue areas (aka the "river"). Noting that all three boats were bow and stern anchored, we nestled in between the two cruisers we know, downwind and close to the beach, and dropped Rocky in 15-ft of unbelievably blue-green water. We backed down, and Shawn's stomach dropped as she heard Rocky skip along the bottom, coral pieces from the sound of it. She let out more scope and was happy to hear Rocky set, then Chris revved Yannie up to set her deeper. More radio chatter with Fianna explained that the stern hook was required to keep the incoming flood current from turning Tao to end up with her stern into the strong NE winds. So we let an additional 100-ft of chain out, and with the winds blowing us down, reversed against it (and the now incoming tide) and dropped our stern hook. We then used Yannie to help us motor up into the wind to bring the extra 100-ft back aboard, letting out scope for our stern hook all-the-while. At this time, probably a half hour after first dropping Rocky, we noticed the entrance "river" now had large waves, obviously strong flood current against strong wind. Phew, we timed it just right!

We were excited to raise our Kirbati courtesy flag, though apparently we have crossed the date line so it is Sunday, and there is nobody here to check us in. That is quite alright with us, gives us a little time to get cleaned up and dried out before heading ashore to check ourselves in tomorrow morning. Sorry for the long winded report, just so much excitement to share! Now it is time to sit back and tip back a cold drink in celebration to have safely arrived at Fanning Island after a momentous passage.


  1. Congratulations! It must be a relief to have set the anchor after this stage of your passage. We will be leaving Hong Kong in a week to set sail for Palau, FSM, Fiji, then NZ. We hope to catch up with you. Ziggy is back on land in Toronto since we left Japan. We can appreciate how much you miss Griz.

    Mike and Haesung
    S/V Second Jump

  2. You've done it! Yeah! And somehow jumped ahead a day, too. Relax a bit and enjoy. Griz will be glad to hear you're safe.


  3. suesthyme@gmail.comMay 20, 2012 at 8:55 PM

    Hey you two!

    Glad you are safe and sound for a few days; enjoyed the story of the squalls; the best part is the great shower you get free of charge!! Tell Shawn to take all those veggies and make you some great soup with her famous chicken stock - it will taste great on those evening watches!!

    Love ya and Az is heating up...maybe we'll meet you this winter somewhere???

    Sue and Mike