Saturday, June 30, 2012

Day 7- Two showers in 24hrs?

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 08-deg 44-min S 161-deg 16-min W
Wind: ENE6-7 Seas: ESE 5-6-ft
Avg. Course: 202 T
Avg. Speed: 5.0-knots
Rig: 80% and full mains'l
24-hr distance traveled: 120-nm
Distance to Suvarrov: 290-nm

Beautiful sunny day, consistent winds, of course it's time for an afternoon shower, whether we need it or not. Our second solar shower has finally given up- the hose to bag connection is leaking. When we pulled it out, it was sadly only half full. Happily, though, we figured that we might as well use it all up, so had the most luxurious underway showers ever. And in case you're worried, we have two more solar shower backups (2 1-gal herbicide applicators, filled with fresh water of course). Quixotic had made landfall, so at our radio check in, they filled us in on their entrance to Suvarrov, etc. We have looked up the tides there and realize that it is +1 more hour west- another reason for the difference in sun rise and set times we are seeing. We had a delicious peanut chicken satay with potatoes over pasta dinner. Then the winds continued throughout the night- with slight decreases, enough to raise the main to 2nd reef. Another blissfully moonlit squall-less night though there was more moisture in the air. Chris did another middle-of-the-night upload/download with successful propagation, and unfortunately the GRIBS forecast much reduced winds for the next two days.

By this morning, the winds decreased enough to raise the full main. We enjoyed potatoes and spbacon with the entertainment of a rainbow from a squall that had passed half in front and half behind us. Similar to the winds we have noted fluctuating between ENE and ESE, it was difficult to tell what direction the squalls were moving this morning. Although decreased in speed, the first few hours of Shawn's morning watch were pleasant. That is, until she heard radio traffic in another language and all of a sudden a large dark cloud mass, reaching all the way to the water, moved overhead. She had already pulled the main down to its 3rd reef in preparation, but at the last moment decided to drop it entirely and called Chris up on deck just in case. It turned out not to pack too much wind, but the rain was quite heavy. After finally reorganizing all of the cockpit lines and pulling the mains'l back up to 3rd reef, yet another squall moved atop us and we dropped the main again. The squalls today are moving distinctly different, more NE to SW versus previously SE to NW. Post squall winds were light enough to bring the mains'l all the way back up and winds have not yet filled back in. We clocked another great mileage day, but unfortunately do not expect the same for the next 24-hrs. Oh well, at least we collected a bit of fresh water from our mast funnel faucet and Shawn even got a second freshwater shower while collecting it, two in one day!

While underway we notice that much of our discussion revolves around nostalgia for landlife and what things we miss. Surprisingly, dairy products have topped that list today (i.e. icecream, butter, yoghurt, cheese, milk). We do still have butter, cheese and milk, but are in conservation mode and use them only sparingly. Chris has set up a third fan at the foot of our seaberth and it is divine. We are getting close to Suvarrov and therefore, are starting to prepare for landfall. We will make every attempt to get to the entrance during early daylight hours.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Day 6- Calculate, recalculate, just wait and see

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 06-deg 53-min S 160-deg 30-min W
Wind: ESE10 Seas: ESE 5-ft
Avg. Course: 202 T
Avg. Speed: 5.1-knots
Rig: 80% and double-reefed mains'l
24-hr distance traveled: 122-nm

Here we are, finally experiencing the highly touted idyllic SE "Trade Winds" (as Don Anderson would remind us, the area between 5 and 15-deg latitude). These are the moments that make the struggles of passage-making seem far away. Yesterday afternoon winds were a bit stronger than they are now, so under triple reefed mains'l we raced past our half way point (523-nm left). Already half way?! Only half way?! The breezy conditions continued, though waned a little, throughout the nearly cloudless night. Yes, cloudless and it follows squall-less. Still plenty of meteors/shooting stars last night, but not as many as the night previous- less and less time to see them without moon until it reaches full in the next few days. As we move away from the Equator, we notice the sun rises each morning ever so slightly later and sets a little earlier. It is the "winter" in the southern hemisphere. Today winds have abated a bit, so up goes a bit more sail area and we are frequently seeing speeds of over 6-knots. Each day, over and over, we calculate and recalculate. How many miles more? If we keep this speed, how long? How many miles between this point and that, us and them? How many knots forecast, how far away, at what time? The difference between the straight line and actual course? How many minutes until the next horizon scan? How many amps are flowing in, going out? And the list goes on. And each time, of course, a different answer.

We are hoping the clouds stay away and allow the sun to fill up our battery banks as for the past few days we have been losing a little with cloud covered afternoons and our intense computer/HF radio usage and constant fans whirring. We are currently playing roulette, riding with the hatches open this afternoon- it is the most difficult off watch to sleep during as it gets quite hot down below, the airflow and small spray every once in a while are welcome relief. However, we will not be surprised when something gets doused, and hopefully we will be able to dry out whatever gets wet. Speaking of which, we have replaced our thick blue folding foam cockpit chairs with our river Paco pads (think water proof super thick therma rests). It is difficult to believe it took us this long to make this switch. I think Shawn came up with the idea on Fanning, post rain squall, as we were once again trying to dry our outdoor chairs. And now, underway, it is no longer a big deal when a wave sneaks around the dodger to soak our seats, and they can be shaped into any comfortable form. We also plan to use them for our soon-to-be-completed outdoor bed set up.

Chris' appetite is back en force and we are having to make sure to have enough food prepared for the long graveyard watch as last night he went through nearly 2 cups (before cooking) of rice, beans, and corn with cayenne pepper. And still, he was ready to put back some fat apple pancakes with spbacon (thats SPAM cut into thin strips and fried, yes we've been away from stores for a while). Yesterday we even enjoyed a fresh and crispy jicama, one of our favorite long-passage foods. Sailing has not exactly been a weight loss program for either of us. Onward we go, basking in the friendly sailing while it is here. These conditions are forecast to stay for another day, then we may have to struggle through some light winds as we draw closer to the Northern Cook Islands. We'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Day 5- Moonbows and UFOs

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 04-deg 59-min S 159-deg 44-min W
Wind: ESE15 Seas: ESE 6-7-ft
Avg. Course: 191 T
Avg. Speed: 4.8-knots
Rig: 80% and triple-reefed mains'l
24-hr distance traveled: 116-nm

We neglected to mention something noteworthy yesterday- why indeed Chris was a bit tardy pulling the mains'l down before we got overrun (anyone remember that video game Frogger?) by a huge squall... He had just come onto his graveyard watch and it was the first night he'd been treated to any moon. The quarter moon starting to set due W, was blindingly bright and was hindering his vision a bit. Even in the eastward direction, there were no stars visible because the moon had lightened the sky so. And then he became transfixed as a perfectly symmetrical moonbow became visible. Of course this means that he was between the light source (the moon to the west) and the water source (the squall to the east) but he didn't think of that. It wasn't until the first licks of increased wind with moisture that he kicked into motion. All was well, just a little frenetic for a few moments. Mostly, we just wanted to report such an amazing moonbow sighting.

Back to Day 5. As might be obvious by our much improved daily mileage (from 93 to 116-nm), conditions have improved. Winds filled in and although there were a few squalls that required reducing canvas, in general conditions have been more consistent over the past day and therefore more relaxed. There was much cloud movement, but even the dark grey moisture laden ones seemed less vicious, or maybe just seemed more manageable than no winds to big squalls had been. We each had visitors for our night watches- we saw shooting stars and two small black chatty birds alighted on Big Daddy with much more success than the ungraceful booby on our last passage. They hitched a ride until the morning light and then were gone. All night in 12+ knots we were close hauled, trying to keep our easting in the lighter winds to reach our mid passage waypoint, even with the strong west setting Equatorial current. We are grateful to have done this as the winds forecast for the next 2 days are increased intensity and more southerly. Just before dawn, winds piped up as forecast and there has also been an increase in the size of the seas, so Chris pulled the mains'l down to third reef and we have neared our 5-deg S goal enough to start falling off directly toward Suvarov. Beam reaching is so much more comfortable than upwind. The morning star rose brightly heralding the approach of day and all of a sudden a flare-like object (UFO) brightly made its way out of the sky. All morning Tao has been galloping along. Chris had to bypass the solenoid (again) and in just a few more miles we'll pass the half way point already!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Day 4- The Doldrums: light winds, squalls and lightning

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 03-deg 05-min S 159-deg 20-min W
Wind: E10+ Seas: E 6-ft
Avg. Course: 181 T
Avg. Speed: 3.9-knots
Rig: 80% and full mains'l
24-hr distance traveled: 93.1-nm

Just after the Day 3 noon point, mellow winds and sunny conditions continued, though with a few more questionable looking clouds- a squall tracking just behind us. We continued slowly on until 1400 when a squall snuck up on us, and Shawn, still awake making lunch down below, jumped up on deck to help Chris on the foredeck drop the 165%. So easy to put up in mellow light wind conditions, taking it down in the leading edge of a squall was a bit more heart pumping. Since we don't do a ton of high energy sail changes, Shawn didn't make it easier with all the lines amess in the cockpit, Chris wrangled the large sail without the help of the downhaul (Oops!). No longer overpowered, the sky dark, we reassessed and decided as usual to go conservative. We wanted the 80% back up, but first dropped the main to a triple-reef since the heavy clouds packing winds were still surrounding us. Once the jib sheets were re-lead and reattached, the 80% went back up easily. Shawn organized the mess of lines then went down below to continue late lunch preparations while Chris set the sails for maximum efficiency.

The rest of the day and through Shawns watch 'til midnight, winds were light and fluky between 2 and 4-knots. Tao is indeed a spritely light wind sailor, but 4 knots of wind is her minimum for efficient sailing, below this sails flop annoyingly and forward progress is slow with Moni having difficulty holding a course. Still, we slowly made way and always enjoy pesto dinner night. We have been having difficulties connecting to our preferred Hawaii based station for up/downloads at 1500 (which is when it is most convenient for our schedules). After our net check in and a nice surprise contact with Burg and Marcia in Gualala, CA (thanks for the messages from Mum, Dave and Grizzly!), Chris managed to upload via a station in Petaluma, CA. Then at 0300, middle of the night, finally made contact with our preferred station for a large weather download.

This amid yet another graveyard watch that didn't give a moment of rest for Chris. An hour after Shawn hopped in the bunk after a frustratingly light wind watch, she was awakened by the sounds of a squall with strong winds and Chris on deck dousing the full main. She groggily came on deck huddled at the cockpit controls under the dodger to support Chris wrangling the mains'l in a windy downpour. All was well, back to the bunk for Shawn. However, that particularly strong squall lasted nearly an hour- fine under 80% alone, stressful for Chris though. Over the next two hours he constantly monitored the dark masses to the East of us with angry lightning flashing 3 to 4 bolts every minute for an hour straight. Warily, he raised the main to triple, then double, and finally its single reef point around 0300 when assured that his prayers had been answered. The strong convection had gratefully passed astern and Tao had made it out from under the cloudmass into the clear starry night. Once he was able to download the weather data we had hoped to have the afternoon before, he found indeed, that the South Pacific text forecast was expecting moderate T-storms from 3-deg S to the Equator between 155 and 160 W, smack where we were. Phew, barely dodged that one, apparently we haven't quite cleared the ITCZ affected area, aka the Doldrums.

The rest of Chris watch was spent adjusting Moni as the winds changed from SE to NE and back as small squalls marched past. Needless to say, he was quite ready for the apple pancake with butter brunch before finally getting to rest. It appears that Shawn has lucked out thus far with her scheduled watches being timed as convection is building. This morning's watch has been idyllic with breezes back to 10-knots allowing us to move briskly along around 5-knots. Just before the noon point a flock of the small particularly chatty little birds caught Shawn's attention, and up on the foredeck she was able to witness birds circling above a dolphin hunt. All of a sudden there were large bubbles forming a circle around what must have been the unlucky hunted school of fish. If the dolphin didn't get them from below then the birds above took a turn. There were even frigates high above, which since our understanding is they can't even land in the water to rest, it seems they're quite far from land. It was like something out of the Blue Planet videos we've watched though of course, no camera footage, so you'll have to take our word for it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Day 3- Magic at the Equator

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 01-deg 31-min S(!!) 159-deg 19-min W
Wind: ESE 4 Seas: E 3-ft
Avg. Course: 181 T
Avg. Speed: 4.4-knots
Rig: 165% and full mains'l
24-hr distance traveled: 106-nm

Day 3 was pure magic. All morning there had been a strange heavy looking cloud formation north of us and southward were white fluffy clouds and blue sky. It felt like being in between two different worlds. After discussion and weather downloads, we believe that "strange" formation to the north marked the axis of the ITCZ. Right after the noon point, winds eased a bit and Chris shook the final reef- it has been quite a long time since Tao has had her full mains'l up and it felt great. Chris woke Shawn from her off-watch slumber when 1-nm north of the Equator, and the party ensued. A moment before crossing, Shawn pumped up the music and played "Break on through to the other side," by the Doors. Chris marked a point of all zeros on the GPS as we crossed, we took funny pictures, and made offerings of both cold coke (which = gold to us out here) and rum to the Ocean Gods and Goddesses. Fish (we believe dorado) were hunting all around us and we saw small squid launching themselves out of the water in attempts to avoid being supper. Conditions were gorgeous, 12-knots from the East with a slight southerly flavor, seas organized from the east at a comfortable 4-ft, and Tao sailing swiftly at over 5-knots of speed. Crossing the Equator by boat was a first for both of us and very special. We played music, took freshwater showers, and continued the party with fresh kang-kang (delicious) pizza. Welcome to the South Pacific!! And to answer the question that you've all been waiting for- No, our toilet still flushes in the counterclockwise direction (maybe this will change as we move farther south and the Coriolis effect becomes stronger?).

The beautiful conditions continued throughout the night with swift sailing through small seas under first moon and then star light. Chris was especially grateful as his last two graveyard watches have been spent dodging and hunkering down from squall after squall. Our GRIBS forecast at least 9-knots today and a bit lighter tomorrow. However, as the sun rose, the winds abated more than that. We dug out a larger fores'l, took the 80% down and replaced it with a 165% sail. This configuration has eeked us along at between 3 and 5 knots in light 3-6-knot ESE breezes all morning up to the noon point. Although we did just watch a squall march astern of us, it is nice to relax a bit from the constant anxiety of crossing through the ITCZ. As of yesterday afternoon, its axis was located nearly 200-nm from us with moderate thunderstorm activity only forecast to reach 90-nm from its axis. We will keep monitoring, but for the moment we are enjoying the mellow conditions and for the afternoon have even opened the hatches to allow some much needed fresh air down below.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Day 2- Moni takes a hit

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 00-deg 15-min N 159-deg 17-min W
Wind: ESE 11 Seas: E 4-5-ft
Avg. Course: 181 T
Avg. Speed: 4.4-knots
Rig: 80% and double reefed mains'l
24-hr distance traveled: 106-nm

Day 2s excitement started right away, with a squall at quarter after the noon point requiring us to pull down the mains'l, but before the hour passed, we raised it again to the 3rd reef. This sequence repeated itself once more before settling into light winds in time for our checkin with Quixotic followed by the PacSea Net report. Sunset with saffron rice, refried bean tostadas and Chris finally hit the bunk. Shawn wasn't quite ready with all of her gear, but decided to head up on deck for a quick horizon scan. She was rewarded by hearing a loud metallic BANG. Images of s/v Privateers headstay flashed through her mind but before they congealed she noted Moni's blade hanging askew. Barely settled yet, Chris leapt out of the bunk and was asking if a fish hit the windvane before he even emerged from the companionway. No time to discuss, Tao had fallen off and her jib was down, meaning near to jibing- both of us grabbed the tiller at the same moment and pushed it hard over, and the preventer (named as such for its purpose of preventing an unexpected jibe) did it's job.

Shawn took over hand steering and Chris was immediately back to Moni with Shawn's headlamp as the day's crupuscular light was nearly gone. "Hand steering?! No thanks! Christmas Island is only 100-nm upwind of us," was on Shawn's mind. Chris verbally diagnosed the problem as the water paddle blade had been hit, and knocked such that it was no longer linked to the windvane. After dousing the main to slow our speed, upon closer inspection, the primary gear assembly that connects the water paddle to the wind vane actuator had become unmeshed. Chris had to unscrew the actuator shaft from the top most gear assembly to flip it around because it had become inverted when jammed hard in that direction, and he then remeshed the gears. Luckily the strong cast bronze that our older Monitor is made out of did not break, nor any of the surrounding tubing parts, with impact. But what was the impact? Tao did not hit anything. We can only surmise that a large fish had seen the shiny blade "swimming" through the water and decided to test it for food. Moni 0, fish 0; both likely sustained injuries. An hour of hand steering later, after digging out, reading, and following the Monitor windvane instructions about how to correctly remesh the gears, Chris had Moni, a bit lopsided, but steering again. A slow night of sailing ensued with just the 80%.

After another squally wet graveyard watch, the next morning dawned with dolphins playing around our bow. Once Shawn was on deck and breakfast consumed, Chris went about the task of realigning Moni. Once again Chris unscrewed the actuator locknut and this time, he adjusted the actuator shaft length so the water paddle was aligned, evenly turning at the limits of the vanes swing. After reattaching Moni to the tiller, he steered true without a peep. Either it has been working itself out of alignment for a while or it sustained the offset from a large blow. No tubing has been bent and still to check once we reach port, is the lower shaft alignment and assembly. There are some scratches on the blade, but no obvious teeth marks. What happened shall remain a mystery, but we are very grateful that Moni is back in service.

The weather here is constantly changing. It is difficult to imagine a hulking squall being able to sneak up on someone visually observing the surroundings every 15-minutes, if not more frequently. But somehow one moment a cloud mass can appear innocuous and the next menacing, howling winds and spitting rain. The morning sun kept the squalls momentarily at bay and at the noon point we were a mere 15-nm from the Earth's Equator! A party is in the works as long as the weather stays benign.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Day 1- Underway to Suvarrov Atoll

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 02-deg 02-min N 159-deg 15-min W
Wind: E 12 Seas: ENE 4-5-ft
Avg. Course: 176 T
Avg. Speed: 4.5-knots
Rig: 80% and triple reefed mains'l
24-hr distance traveled: 107-nm

Slack tide was busy at the entrance to Tabaueran yesterday. Just after a squall passed overhead and disappeared just as quickly, we pulled Rocky, covered with white nearly clay broken coral sediment, out of the water at 1130. The Kwai had just entered the lagoon and we saw that fellow cruisers on PotLatch (meaning luau), headed back to Hawaii, were weighing anchor as well. We made haste out and had a quick ride through the pass on the current before the ebb got too strong. Outside the atoll it was quite pleasant: sunny, no seas, nice breeze. Chris flipped our anchor chain (for equal wear in future use), disconnected Rocky, brought him back to his passage home in the cockpit lazarette, inserted our teak plug into our haus pipe, and we were ready to sail.

After pouring over the forecasted GRIBs, we had decided to hank on the 80% jib, so up she went followed near instantly by our first squall. Past the protection afforded by Fanning, after the squall, the roll was back so we raised the triple reefed main. This lasted until about 1600 when another larger squall came rolling through and Chris dropped the main completely. Shawn was already in the bunk getting ready for the night watch, already tired out by the last few days of preparation and body screaming against the constant roll. Chris, okay at first as always, was fully seasick by the time Shawn came up for watch change. So, after he had made SSB contact with Quixotic, a few days south of us, noted an AIS ship with a CPA of 9-nm, and got us on the Pacific Seafarers roll call, Shawn feeling much better, took over. She prepared dinner, finished our check in when our #11 slot came up at 1815 and up/downloaded (the Hawaii station we use had been down before we pushed off). We ran the rest of the night conservatively with only the 80%, agreeing on rolly over middle-of-the-night-overpowered. The moon is growing, so Shawn's 6 to midnight watch was partially lit and then star studded. Right after watch change, Chris' graveyard watch turned into one squall after another.

The morning dawned clear and together we raised the main to triple reef. We have decided to head due south to (1) ensure downwind passage all the way to Suvarrov even as winds shift southward and (2) take us perpendicular to the Equator to get us through the ITCZ area as efficiently as possible. This puts us on basically the same point of sail as we had from Hawaii to Fanning, beam reach with seas on our beam. The forecast is for between 9 and 15-knots over the next week stronger north where we are and lightening as we move southward. Thus far, the squalls are bringing increases of approximately 10-knots and rain. Tao is doing well. Moni is steering true, but not without some squeaking, which we presume is from the inordinate amount of freshwater rinsing he has gotten over the past month. Except our bodies having to get re-acquainted with the roll, it is feeling familiar to be underway again.

PS Happy Birthday Sarah, great day to set sail on!!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Day 0- Taibo (pronounced sap-oh) Tabuaeran!

Time: 2200 Zulu (1000 Hawaii time)
Position: 03-deg 51-min N 159-deg 21-min W
Wind: NE 10 Seas: calm
Rig: at anchor Nabari (north) side of atoll pass
Distance to Suvorrov Atoll: 1,046-nm

Over the past week we have been busy as always, ashore nearly every day to surf the break on the other side of the pass. The 4-day swell was epic and Chris took full advantage of it. He did receive a kiss from the coral when he did one too many cut backs instead of exiting the wave, ending up with a shin injury and a compromised leash after wrapping around some coral. However, we have been carefully managing the wound and it is healing well. Aboard, Shawn has been cooking banana-apple-nut bread like crazy and Chris scoured the cockpit (the banana sap being the last straw) and it is now nearly gleaming. One mishap, we ran out of our first propane tank. Not a problem, because we have a second, but strange as we usually get 11-weeks of cooking from each 2.5-gallon tank. It turns out that the crimp on the flexible hose from the tank to the regulator was leaking. Chris had another already assembled specifically for that purpose, one of those things that we likely should have changed out before leaving Hawaii. No big deal, we will just have to fill up again in American Samoa. With our water tanks filled with sweet rain water, it feels strange that propane is now our limiting resource. After meeting with our favorite police/immigration officer (the one whose radio Chris fixed) several times, we are checked out of Kiribati. We spent yesterday aboard getting Tao back into sailing shape, no small task as we appear to have grown roots here. We have now organized and re-stowed everything, cooked and cleaned. Last evening we celebrated by eating the last of our cabbage in a coconut-peanut-cabbage salad.

This morning we are finally as close as we are going to be to be ready to push off. The weather (despite the ITCZ moving around us and yesterdays squally conditions) appears to be as our forecasts surmised so we must get to the final preparations to head out on the slack tide, around 10am Hawaii time. Our next destination is the Northern Cook Islands. We were hoping to visit Pehnrhyn first, but since we are a little behind schedule and it is also a bit further upwind, we will likely point toward Suvarrov instead. That means approximately 1,046-nm, 10ish days to make it our longest passage for this season, and includes crossing the Equator into the South Pacific. We will attempt to update the blog daily and make nightly radio contact with the Pacific Seafarers Net. Onward!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Weather and Plans

After our yoga day on the N shore in Nabari at the Meleang Tabwai Secondary School (MTSS), we returned to Tao where the water jugs were filled and the rain had finally relinquished. Still, dark thunderclouds lined the distant sky, and there was now not a breath of wind. We usually filter the freshwater from Fatty into large buckets on deck, but today, the buckets were already full and Fatty was riding extra low in the water. Chris had the brilliant idea to use Fatty and her copious fresh water catch as a bath; what extravagance, and quite an amazing view from the near water level tub! The next day dawned sunny and the stillness continued. It turned into a work day as we diligently checked items to-do-before-leaving-Fanning off the list: change Moni's lines, check rig tension, check prop and rudder zincs, upload uncharted reef waypoints into the GPS, plot our course, download more weather data, manage our photos, air out cushions, and the list goes on. Tuesday morning we had planned to go to the main village, Tereitaki, on the other side of the channel and check out of Kiribati. But the day flowed differently. Before we were able to organize ourselves for the day, Michael from Fianna rowed across the channel for the first time to visit, so we spent the morning catching up with him. Soon after, Quixotic moved to our side of the channel and motivated an "everyone-is-leaving-soon" cruisers potluck. We reluctantly let go of our "plans" for the day and went with the flow.

The following morning we meticulously performed some detailed weather analyses to determine the most favorable timing for departure. As we have yet to find useful discussion or forecast (from the seemingly exhaustive list of saildocs from which we pull down our weather data; if anyone has this data, please enlighten us) of the area we are about to enter, we poured through the last week of collected weather data and tracked the development and movement of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) by plotting where our Pacific Forecast text stated it was located. The ITCZ (aka Doldrums) is a belt of permanent low pressure near the equator where the NE tradewinds and SE tradewinds converge, characterized by calm and variable winds accompanied by thunderstorms and squalls. Light, variable, or no winds punctuated by 30-knot squalls with the possibility of heavy thunder and lightning are far from ideal sailing conditions (at least for us), so we would like to minimize our exposure to this constantly shifting area (check out our Planned Cruise Track post to see an approximation of where it is usually located). Our plots of the ITCZ movement clearly indicated that the day we experienced continuous heavy downpours, lightning and thunder, and subsequent fluky winds (which even came from the west (?!) for a time), the ITCZ axis had moved directly over and even a little bit north of us. With this knowledge, we went back through previously downloaded GRIB files and noted that this disturbance had indeed been demonstrated by the wind barbs in the forecast. Looking at newly downloaded GRIB forecasts, we see a similar, but larger, disturbance brewing between 2-deg N and 3-deg S next Tuesday and Wednesday. Whether under sail or motor in such light and variable winds, it would be impossible for us to avoid this disturbance.

With our conservative "wait for the weather" attitude, leaving this Saturday as we were revving up to do is unfortunately (at least for keeping to our "plans") no longer the plan. Although frustrating because we know there is so much awaiting us to see farther along our cruise track, and each day that ticks by at this point we forgo seeing something else, we agree (yet again) that waiting for the right weather window is of ultimate importance. So, we'll wait and continue to gather detailed daily weather data. We think that we were lulled into believing the winds here just always blew since we'd been here over 3-weeks and seen nothing but solid 18-20-knot ENE winds. It has been a gentle reminder of an important lesson: in addition to already keeping on top of overall basic weather in areas with which we are not completely familiar, we need to start looking at detailed weather data at minimum a week before we really actually want to push off. On the up side, it's not like we've nothing to do to keep busy. Another swell is forecast to get here the 16th through 19th. We will continue to watch the ITCZ movement, and instead of having a long list of things we still want to do, we will spend the next week actually preparing ourselves and Tao to be ready to pull the anchor whenever the moment is right.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Surf's Up, Water Catchment, and Yoga

That forecast swell arrived just as predicted, and was phenomenal. The wave breaking outside the lagoon on the south side of the pass was a clean, offshore, beautifully formed left-hand peak with consistent 6-7-ft sets and occasional double overhead waves. It reminded Chris of a surf break called Frigate's Passage that he surfed in Fiji (just before the coup there in late 90s; it was where Chris' sailing dream was hatched) and appears to be able to hold a solid triple overhead swell. It is a relatively friendly wave (not too fast nor too heavy) but, during the full moon at least, you have to work against some strong tidal currents, and with the reef so close, it is not a beginner break. During the big tidal swings, Chris even had to get out and walk back up the shore to get to the peak, along the way he'd pass Shawn, who was taking photos and mingling with the locals who were also interested in watching Chris surf. One local surfer, Tekanaoro, joined Chris during a couple of his sessions. Otherwise, Chris surfed alone and reported feeling deeply moved by the raw and relentless energy of the ocean unleashing one seemingly perfect, pristine, and untouched wave after another on the shores of this tiny atoll. To add to this immense beauty, he was occasionally rewarded with glimpses of a large tuna hurling itself out of the water in pursuit of scattering prey, or a rainbow left in the wake of a passing squall.

During the swell, fellow cruising boat Privateer left for a beat to Tahiti and came back 36-hrs later with a 150-lb ahi tuna and a broken headstay. The same day, quite rickety looking and badly listing to starboard, the loaded Moamoa, one of the island's few supply ships, motored in and dropped the hook where we had originally been anchored. For the next two days while they were here, small boat traffic across the river pass increased noticeably as locals from all over the island made their way aboard to purchase wares (we primarily heard excitement for long absent tobacco and kava) or to secure off island passage. Privateer made their way over to our side of the pass to join the two other boats already tied up to the grounded barge for headstay inspection and "dockside" repairs. The Kwai, a motor-sailor cargo ship traveling between Kiribati the Cook Islands and Honolulu, usually visits Christmas Island before Fanning, but was diverted and filled the Moamoa's recently vacated spot. The cargo motor-sailor had been diverted by Tyrone, an agent for the Kwai who is in charge of buying seaweed from around the island and making sure it is prepared and ready for shipment, and who needed to get his family to Christmas Island by a certain date. Tyrone is also the unofficial cruiser's ambassador, speaks superb English, and is the guy who knows how to get things on Fanning. We have had several discussions with Tyrone and feel that he is a warm and honest soul and were very sad to hear of his father-in-law passing the night before he and his family left.

Throughout the swell, we poured over our tide charts figuring out daylight hours that were most favorable for surfing. We found that at least 0.8-ft of water is necessary, below that the reef gets difficult to avoid, an ebbing tide seems to hold the wave up best, and the smaller bump of the two daily tidal swings creates less current to fight against to stay in the line-up. Post-swell, we shifted our thinking toward heading south. We started to look at weather, and at the same time, continued dialogue with the Napoli local Beeto (the one who originally showed us around the north shore of Tabuaeran) who had contacted us in hopes that we would be willing to teach the island high school students some yoga. Feeling like that was our final activity, we prepared for it and slowly chipped away at our always growing "to-do" list. The chainplates were cleaned and rebed prior to the swell so top of the list was sewing and connecting our mast-funnel water catchment system. Another entire day was spent doing laundry, by hand, motivated by the fact that all of our holding buckets were brimming full of Fatty-caught (mostly fresh with a little salt water splash) water and needed to be used to make space. It was quite a process and sparked lots of thought about how much water and energy are used by washer/dryers we are familiar with, as well as very sore wrists. After the cleaned and rinsed laundry was hanging all over Tao and drying in the wind, we pushed off to make a banana bread delivery (all of our bananas ripened at the same time) to the folks working diligently on the barge. As the sun set, we made it back to Tao to pull the clothes inside just before it started to rain.

And rain it did, all night long. During a middle-of-the-night pit stop Chris saw lightning and the next morning Shawn heard thunder as the rain continually poured straight down with eerie no wind conditions. We juggled water: added what had been collected by our mast-funnel into our 6-gal jug plus two of our 5-gal jugs to top off our starboard tank and put these jugs back to immediate collection use. The larger one was posted at the base of the mast and the two 5-gallons on each side of the cockpit gathering water funneled off each side of our shade awning through side grommets into hose leading to each jug. By the time the sun came out, all of our jugs were nearly overflowing.

It turned out this morning was our planned high school yoga class, so we prepared for a very wet ride on the red "church" truck (apparently the white one is owned by "the local council" and the blue one "the people") that Beeto and the school had routed just for our yoga day. All three trucks have the driver's side on the right and are quite well-used (which is an understatement; imagine patches of paint, smashed windshields, and generally major signs of vehicular attrition as there are no official mechanics on the atoll). Ed and Nila from Quixotic, also dedicated yoga practicioners (Ashtanga) joined us for the occasion. It was a 45-min very wet ride standing in the back of the truck as it drove slowly from one wet pothole to the next to the far north end of the island. As the actual details had been lost in translation between us and Beeto via the VHF (he hails us "Tao's boat, Tao's boat, Tao's boat"), we were unsure exactly what we were to present to whom. Discussion of what yoga is with the high school teachers? Students? Did they want to see or do a whole class? Watch a demonstration of yoga? We went armed with books, CDs, and all sorts of information in our heads to share. We were flattered to have been invited and excited to share something so special to us. It turns out that Anates, the high school geography teacher is working with Beeto to improve the high school's physical education program, one of the ways by adding yoga. The problem is that they have no one to teach them, which is where we came into their plan. Unfortunately it is impossible to convey all of our combined yoga experience and knowledge in one afternoon. But what we were able to do was quite satisfying.

Napari Village, at the north end of the island, houses one of the two (and the only non-parochial) high schools serving all of Christmas (Kiritimati), Washington (Teraina), and Fanning (Tabuaeran) Islands and currently boards approximately 90 students. We were met by a man serving as the interim principal and the science-turned-geography teacher, Anates (we had previously met the actual principal, but she had left a few days earlier, along with several other teachers, on the Moamoa for several weeks to attend a conference on Christmas Island). Anates took us to meet the "senior" or grade 11, 16-yr old, students we were to teach. We all gathered in an open air space roofed by natural woven palm leaves covering a cement slab where the 4 of us were ushered to sit in the center on a palm woven mat and face the students. In addition to the teacher, whose English was quite good and Beeto, there were about twenty shy looking students. It was a co-ed class, who had separated themselves in half, with all girls on one side and all boys on the other. Each student was in uniform with a white button down shirt and blue knee covering shorts for the boys and skirts (which made some of the yoga quite difficult) for the girls.

We launched into it, each of us briefly introducing ourselves and meeting blank stares. Shawn asked if anyone had heard of yoga and only the teacher and Beeto raised their hands. We were unsure if the students could even understand what we were saying and though there was no head nodding or acknowledgement from the students when we asked if they were following our English, the teacher confirmed that they understood perfectly well (it turns out that all of their lessons except Kiribati class are performed in English). So we continued on, starting with what yoga is "union of mind and body," and how yoga might be good for each of them. Then we asked everyone to stand up and join in and first, Ed introduced Ashtanga by leading the class through several sun salutations and a couple postures. Next, Shawn introduced Bikram's Yoga, starting by describing the normal classroom with mirrors, heat, humidity, and how to practice on an empty stomach and well hydrated, then leading everyone through Pranayama Breathing and the first three warm up asanas. By the time we got to Eagle Pose, where you twist arms and legs like ropes to open all the major joints in the body, the students were smiling, laughing, and actually enjoying themselves. Our time was up and after a thank you in English from one of the boys and a Namaste, we were invited to join the class for lunch where Shawn and Nila sat with the girls and Chris and Ed sat with the boys. One of the girls, Keemie, turns out to be Miss Christmas Island 2010 (which means she was voted the best traditional dancer in 2010) and though in school uniform instead of traditional garb, she agreed to perform an impromptu dance for us. What a treat! We left them with the Bikram's Yoga class CD and hope to send them the Bikram's Yoga Blue Book via the Kwai when we can. Late that afternoon, they sent us off on the red truck with smiles, waves, and ko bati n raba(thank you very much)'s as well as fresh greens, Kiribati music, new words for Shawn's dictionary, more papayas, another entire stalk of bananas and a general sense of having shared something important with this community. It is a small step, but we are delighted to have been part of bringing Yoga to Tabuaeran.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Tigiroy! (pronounced sig-E-roy meaning good luck or cheers)

We have been quite busy out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean since we last posted! As always, so much to do and see and learn and experience. We've only got a few main projects on tap; sew a mast water catchment skirt/funnel and re-bed the chainplates, but there has been so much fun social stuff that we haven't chosen to spend our time on the projects yet. We are enjoying our more isolated anchorage, but it hasn't kept us from visiting the other side. It has been very exciting to sail across together in Fatty- wet with big standing waves when the tide is flooding in and the wind is howling out, but fun! It is almost comical, going over to someone's boat for sundowners or appetizers usually the biggest challenge is not getting anything wet or spilling any of our food. Now, not only do we have to package the food for spill proofing in a rough ride, but we have to take a set of dry clothes in a dry bag, change, and then be off again by sunset so we can get across the river and back to our boat before dark.

One of our early adventures was short tacking Fatty upwind through a bunch of reefs to the other quite inaccessible and beautiful coconut laden east side of the atoll while Chris (Jahn) and Andreas from s/v Privateer paddled their sit on top kayak. It was quite an adventure. We have figured out a method to roll-reef Fatty's sail because it has been super windy nearly every day so far (18-20-knots). We have spent a couple mornings doing yoga with the 6 other cruisers in the anchorage from Privateer, Quixotic, and Fianna. When Shawn led class, there were not only 8 cruisers, but a large Kiribati children audience, and even a few daring young participants. Another morning we helped Arania, the local police officer, repair his VHF radio in exchange for an entire stalk of bananas, 4 drinking coconuts, and a Chivas Regal bottle filled with Kamaimai (syrup from a coconut tree). Once we had a working speaker attached, a very authoritative, "Tao, this is the Police, Tao, this is the Police" is how they hailed us. The whole anchorage was wondering what we'd done wrong :). We also made a kang kang (delicious) pumpkin coconut curry for a potluck on s/v Quixotic, after which we sailed Fatty home across the channel, in the light of the quarter moon. Yesterday, we were invited to visit the north shore of the island by a nice local, Beeto, who showed all four of our boats around his village, husked at least 30 coconuts for us (Shawn miserably failed to get even one opened let alone husked without breaking a sweat), and organized a volleyball game against the locals, which we valiantly lost. He also walked us to the only other charted anchorage on Fanning, "Whaler Anchorage," which suggests that Fanning Island may have been commonly used as a whaler stopover during the whaling days. The location also sports a beautiful right wave peak, which becomes a world class surf spot with any swell from the north. Beeto explained that winds tend to stay offshore in this anchorage, which is surprising considering its location and the prevailing ENE winds. We have been taking tons of photos, but who knows when we'll next get internet, probably American Samoa.

The locals here are really nice and very giving- even though they have comparatively little. I do wish that we had more of an idea what the people here really needed before we came. We brought things like tooth brushes and combs, but what they actually need are books, single prong fish hooks, thread, glass bottles, and clothes (not to mention any sort of medical supplies or expertise as there is just one nurse that lives on the island). They are forever awaiting te baas (the boat) to bring them more sugar and flour, pick up the island's cleaned and dried seaweed (their sole money-making export), and transport anyone to any other islands. There are approximately 2,000 people on the atoll spread among 6 main villages; 4 on the south island and 2 on the north island. When we made our way to the east island, we saw huts and people who apparently pay $30/month to be there and harvest as many coconuts as they want for copra (dried coconut meat primarily used to make coconut oil). The island's original money making export, copra has now fallen in demand from this particular atoll (apparently, nearby Washington Island controls the local market now) and we hear that paper "chits," pieces of paper with only a promise of genuine coin, are exchanged among the islanders as payment for goods. Many people don't speak a word of English, but most speak at least a few, learned early on in school, and there are a few, usually from Kiribati's capital, Tarawa (located among the island nation's primary island group some 1,500 miles to the west), who speak fairly fluent English. Still we try and we are very slowly learning the basics. The Kiribati language is quite difficult with intonations unlike anything in English although many of the locals purport the words are just like English. We will continue to do our best. In terms of fresh produce squash, bananas, coconuts, papayas, and fish/lobster abound. We'll also try to find some eggs and green leafy stuff when we provision next.

The swell has been small since we got here, so Chris has only gone surfing a handful of times, but a south is forecast to roll in here the 4th and 5th bringing a sizable bump in wave height, so we're trying to get projects done before that.