Sunday, July 22, 2012

Day 5- Talofa (Greetings) from Apia, Samoa

Time: 1950 Zulu (0950 Hawaii time)
Position: 13-deg 50-min S 171-deg 46-min W
Wind: E 12 Seas: E 6-ft
Avg. Course: 257-deg T
Avg. Speed: 4.7-knots
Rig: side tied in Apia Harbor at dock(!!) B16

Day-5 was brilliant! With the past few days of heavy cloud cover, and some intense late night computer weather downloads, our battery bank had gotten a little low. Through the morning, we jibed the boom over to starboard tack to give Sunny, atop the dodger a clear view of the sun and hence the whole solar array improved efficiency, and the banks nearly filled up through the afternoon. Just after the noon point, we raised the main to triple reef and Tao commenced to race along sailing her preferred broad reach the whole way to our Apia goal. As darkness descended, we were briefly treated to a sliver moon, once again growing among the millions of stars. Aside from the general buzz from drawing close to landfall, the nights excitement was Shawn sighting a vessel off our starboard bow. It was our first visual ship contact since just out of Hawaii. She hailed the small fishing vessel to determine its course and speed. After a brief pause, a jovial Australian voice responded calling her "mate," saying that he his crew was on deck and he, the captain, had been sleeping, and joking that we must have a good radar for they're a small boat. That would be the every 15-minute horizon scan- they were 6-nm away and quickly passed us by. At 0200 in the morning as we changed watch, we dropped the triple reefed mains'l because we were going too fast, averaging over 5.1-knots. It was difficult to find the normal relaxing rhythm of the late night watch. So close to land and a harbor, Chris was highly motivated to do horizon scans. Slowing our speed worked well, allowing us to sail the last few miles into the Apia Harbor entrance in early morning sun.

We readied Tao for entry into both a new country and a new harbor- en route to the now required marina. We did our best to tidy up down below in case we did get checked in upon our weekend arrival. On deck we pulled out the haus pipe teak plug, attached Rocky, removed jack lines, rigged dock lines and fenders, turned on Yannie, dropped the jib, and finally hailed the Apia Port Control. We had been told someone would come pilot us in, however they just said to hail them once we had entered the harbor. A huge and beautiful squall reared up just as we lined up on our entry bearing into the channel. Big cumulus clouds with the sun behind and obvious rain, nicely passed behind us. Waves were breaking on both sides and we momentarily wondered where the good surf on Samoa is. To make the entry just a little more exciting, our roll call on The Rag of the Air net came up, so we checked in as confirmed arrival as we motored in.

Inside the little breakwater, Apia is a tiny little harbor and the port control waved us into an enormous slip. Historically there is an anchorage just inside the breakwater, but larger shipping traffic were unable to turn without interactions with anchored boats, so the harbor now requires a marina stay. We have not been along side since Mexico, what a luxury. It was all of a sudden so calm that it felt like we were on the hard. Once again, we find ourselves having thought we were making landfall on a Saturday, and unknowingly getting propelled forward another day. All of our information says that Western Samoa is on the same time as American Samoa, which is the same as Suwarrow. However, December 2011, there was apparently a change moving Western Samoa from UTC -11 to UTC +13 hours. We are now officially across the date line, one day ahead of Hawaii and 1 hour earlier. Luckily, no check ins on the weekend, so tomorrow 0900 local time we (and two other boats that arrived this weekend) will be visited by immigration, customs, quarantine and ministry of health. We hear there is a shower (fresh water but not hot) so we'll likely find that and recover during our quarantine on the boat before clearing into the country tomorrow morning.

[Aside: We apologize for any confusion about timezones throughout our recent posts. Unfortunately, all of our onboard information outdated, creating our confusion (thanks for filling us in on the updated Internet information Mum and Dave, not so easy to get for us) which we passed on to you. To muddle the waters more, we have also been waiting until very early morning to upload blog posts that were written over 12-hrs earlier at the previous noon point. Therefore, posts written on one day show a blog post date of the next morning... Clear as mud? Too tired to explain any better today.]

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Day 4- welcome day of smooth sailing

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 13-deg 23-min S 170-deg 02-min W
Wind: E 12 Seas: E 7-ft
Avg. Course: 284-deg T
Avg. Speed: 4.5-knots
Rig: 80% jib
24-hr distance noon to noon: 107-nm
Distance to Apia: 104-nm

What a difference a day makes! Day-4 we started with sprout salad and pasta lunch followed by jibing to starboard tack to make some northing as well as to avoid the land masses of American Samoa. For several of the late afternoon hours we ran with the triple-reefed mains'l as well. Apia is nearly directly downwind from Suwarrow and we have found ourselves jibing around the direct line between the two. First we had to avoid the uncharted "breakers" reef and we hadn't quite decided if we were going to drop the hook before Western Samoa or not. Now we are jibing around our most efficient cruise track line as it is much faster and more comfortable to sail a wee bit above directly down wind. As the sun dropped down, we pulled the mains'l down for the night and grateful to be where we were with such comfortable conditions, we consumed a "Thanksgiving" meal. That is, in our Frank-n-cooker (our rebuilt pressure cooker whose handle rivets fell prey to corrosion), we cooked potatoes and butternut squash. Since it was the last or our potatoes, we went all out and mashed them with lots of butter, then added instant stuffing, and topped everything with a can of cranberry sauce. Delicious.

Bellys full, we continued on that starboard tack all night, marveling at nearly clear star filled skies, so different from the 100% cloud cover of 24-hrs previous. Most refreshingly, there was little convective activity and only a few sightings of lightning late in the night very far to the NE of us. Early in the morning we passed 50-nm due north of the island of Tau that we had noted as a possible closer anchorage. Once the sun rose, (around 0700 Hawaii time), we jibed again to port tack and are now sailing a comfortable course directly toward Apia. The morning's weather analyses agreed with a look out the portholes, showing conditions looking benign. The Rag weather forecasts confirmed that there is a ridge over Samoa for the next week, which means good stable weather to come. Mentally and physically we are preparing for landfall tomorrow in Apia, the largest city in Western Samoa, surely with more hustle and bustle than we've been around in nearly 3-months. Until then, we are soaking up the more relaxing portion of what has turned out to be an unexpectedly trying passage.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Day 3- Data versus Faith versus Luck

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 13-deg 45-min S 166-deg 37-min W
Wind: ESE 13 Seas: E 7-ft
Avg. Course: 267-deg T
Avg. Speed: 4.0-knots
Rig: 80% jib, whisker-poled out
24-hr distance noon to noon: 95.5-nm
Distance to Apia: 205-nm

Since we had only been slowly sailing through the morning, just after yesterday's noon point we raised the main to its triple reef. After being passed ahead by a squall we jibed back to port tack in its wake of very light winds to get back to our most efficient cruise track line. The afternoon saw lots of cloud building and mostly 12+ knots of wind, however as evening approached, when it peaked up to 20-knots, we dropped the main. In the twilight there was one small lone bird that circled us several times before bravely alighting on our forward pulpit. The boats roll soon had him in flight again, but he persevered and landed again- this time on our dodger mere feet from where Shawn stood watching. Chris' first instinct was, "You're going to let him land and poop all over?" Shawn said, "Yes, he must be tired. Any port in a storm, eh?" And Chris quickly relented feeling magnanimous toward the little guy when he saw him preening and immediately nodding off to sleep regardless of Tao's uncomfortable rolls. We named the lone black bird, "Twilight".

After an apple (still from Hawaii!) tuna and fresh alfalfa sprout dinner, all of which Twilight was uninterested, Chris headed to the bunk, darkness descended like a cloak, and the lightning began to our East. Luckily, it was far enough away that we could not hear thunder. But there was a ton of electrical activity with flashes every 10 seconds or so for nearly an hour and then less frequently but eerily closer for the hour following. Amid flashes of light, Twilight took off and was gone after a mere 3-hrs of rest (and yes, he did leave us a little splatter of bird poop). With him, the lightning and wind also disappeared. Small breaths of breeze came from the ENE and slowly moved us along, with our now whisker-poled out jib still flogging in the swells. The rest of the night continued light and variable with drier winds filling in lightly from the E, with a smidgeon of S in it as the sun rose. There was 100% cloud cover for over 10-hrs straight as we passed through the zone. Chris had downloaded more weather data around 0200 Hawaii time and Shawn awoke at 0700 to 2-hours of analyses of all the data sources. She scoured and plotted the information for where all the convergence zone, front, trough, ridge(s) had moved and where convection was forecast. At 0900, The Rag morning net came on and the weather guy David from Chameleon, gave us a fill that said we were "smack in the middle of heavy convective activity surrounding Samoa". However, he took some weight off our shoulders when he added that from his IR image the bulk of it looked to be East of us, now in our wake.

Through the morning, clouds disappeared, the sun shone through strongly, and between 14 and 18-knots of easterly winds pushed us along. As the noon point neared, we passed approximately 45-nm due north of Rose Atoll. We discussed weather and decided that there is an important time lag between what a forecaster sees and reports and when we get that data. By the time we get the data, that weather has moved on, we've already been through it, and there are few things that can accurately be forecast for the future. That said, our GFS model GRIBs were right on in their prediction- from that data source as well as hints from our NOAA spot reports, we went into last night knowing we were moving through moisture and convection and feel very lucky to have come through so unscathed. Before leaving on any passage, we collect as much data as is feasible in the time frame (of course one could spend a lifetime studying weather in any particular area) and make conservative choices about our weather windows. Shawn, not a gambler or much on faith (i.e. anything other than data and scientific law), is a strong proponent for as much data as possible, but at some point you just have to believe everything will be okay and along with all of our compiled data, Chris' faith that we would be fine along with a dash of luck were quite important in getting us through the convergence zone, trough, and convective activity that have "popped up" since leaving Suwarrow.

Our noon point showed that Day-3 was quite slow going, but also that we are within just about 48-hrs (assuming winds hold) of our Apia goal. Not a big deal, but our starboard water tank seems to have a small leak. Best case, we overfilled the tank and it ended up getting caught somewhere that has just finally made its way to the bilge. Hopeful case, one of the hoses is leaking. Worst case, one of the (very inaccessible) tanks welds is failing. Put it on the list to check when we make landfall... We are under the impression that Samoa (as was Suwarrow) is UTC minus 11-hrs, still in the same day as Hawaii time just one hour earlier. To keep with the sun, our watch schedules will definitely have to be shifted off of Hawaii time as we move west of Samoa. We will continue to download and analyze weather data, keep our fingers crossed that we do not come across any more unstable weather during this passage, and hope for a little faith and luck if we do as it seems that maybe a good dose of data, faith, and luck might be a winning combination.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Day 2- onward to Apia under the New Moon

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 13-deg 45-min S 166-deg 37-min W
Wind: ESE 13 Seas: E 7-ft
Avg. Course: 262-deg T
Avg. Speed: 4.5-knots
Rig: 80% jib
24-hr distance noon to noon: 108-nm
Distance to Apia: 300-nm

First order of business, tempt Chris to eat with a healthy, er at least tasty Cup-o-Soup and take seasick meds. Check! Good move as the food stayed down and a mere hour later he was getting feisty. We have been watching our bearing change to an uncharted reef where breakers were reported in 1988 and we entered our Rose Island waypoint into the GPS, just in case. Rose Island would be a wonderful destination- a tiny but full protection atoll full of wildlife. Unfortunately, one is supposed to check into American Samoa first and request permission to visit it, which apparently is not frequently granted. We do have information on how to enter, but we heard through the cruisers grapevine that Samoan scientists have requested that cruisers not visit in order to protect several endangered species that use the area. As Environmental Scientists, that rings true for us, so although it would be a wonderful respite, we will respect the rules and only stop if an emergency arises. Another thought was a roadstead anchorage off the western edge of Tau Island- also of American Samoa. Unfortunately our timing is such that we would have to stand off to make that work and we are unsure of the anchorages protection anyway. Therefore, it makes most sense to both of us to just continue to our intended destination of Apia, Western Samoa even though we will likely make landfall on the weekend.

Chris was well enough to check into the PacSea Net and even followed it with an off frequency conversation with some family friends that check in on us while underway. Shawn awoke for her watch which started with a nice sunset followed by a few sprinkles and then fresh alfalfa sprouts and literally "souped-up" leftovers for dinner. Chris' appetite is already back. The New Moon night was blissfully relaxing with stable weather, star-filled skies, and only a few passing sprinkles. What a change from the night previous. As the morning dawned, having passed over 30-nm from the uncharted reef, we jibed over to starboard tack to get back onto our route to Apia. A beautiful sun rise through a rain-filled squall which passed overhead and then illuminated a brilliant double rainbow in its wake. Our weather downloads for the day look promising and The Rag net weather confirmed good winds for our passage. Winds have backed to the E and go through cycles of between 5 and 15-knots, but mostly it has been a gorgeous 10-12-knot sailing morning under mostly sunny skies. By our noon point the clouds have built up and filled in. The forecast for tonight is for a wet one, we shall see.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Day 1- Rough start, but underway

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 13-deg 30-min S 164-deg 47-min W
Wind: ESE16 Seas: ESE 7-ft
Avg. Course: 260-deg T
Avg. Speed: 4.5-knots
Rig: 80% jib
24-hr distance noon to noon: 100-nm
Distance to Apia: 407-nm

Our exit from the anchorage was a little bit more exciting than we had hoped. No, it was nothing to do with the pass, it was getting our anchor up when it was set below a boat that had shown up a few days previously and chosen to anchor a bit close to us. To make a long story short, we got the anchor up just fine and nothing was hurt, however, it was not done in the most stylish manner. There was a point at which we had to fend the other boat from T-boning Tao. We are lucky that Tao is light and allowed us to push her off the other boat, we are lucky Rocky did not get caught on any other coral or the other boats anchor chain upon retrieval, we are lucky that our Pandion neighbors enjoy diving and gave us the play-by-play where our anchor was from in the water, we are just plain lucky that the situation didn't turn more ugly than it did. What we learned was that it does not work for the boat anchored over an anchor waiting to be pulled to motor up toward its anchor- too many variables going on with where that boat is related to his anchor as well as ours... Looking back, we think it might have been better for the other boat to either (a) stay put and just fend us off as we move toward our anchor, (b) pull their anchor and reset after we were clear, or (c) anchor farther from us in the first place (Shawn's litmus is if you can speak to your neighbor on their boat from your boat in a normal voice, you're probably too close). Live and learn. No harm no foul.

We shook that off and motored out the pass retracing our track in. It was now low tide, so we saw shallower depths than on entrance (25-ft) and otherwise was as we surmised, outflowing at 2.5-knots even though it was an incoming tide. Nearing the exit we pulled up our 80% jib and shut Yannie off. As we sailed the outside edge of Suwarrow Atoll past Anchorage Island, we could see the masts of the boats still at anchor behind the reef that we had walked along. Downwind? What is that? Since Hawaii we have been sailing a beam reach. All of a sudden we realized we needed to re-run our sheets for true downwind work. It was a beautiful day to set sail- sunny with puffy white non-ominous clouds and 6-ft seas. It is nearly the New Moon, so we looked forward to great star watching. However as evening approached the clouds set in. Merely ominous looking for the first half of the night, when Chris came on watch it actually began to rain.

We decided not to take any motion sickness medications because we have each felt that they made us feel worse than better. For Shawn this has worked out, however, after the first 24-hrs Chris is nearly incapacitated by seasickness. The downwind motion has been less desirable (similar to our last leg to Hawaii) because of the amount of rolling we do without any mains'l up. He has been a rockstar, still continuing his watch schedule and dutifully scanning the horizon every 15-minutes whether he is leaning over the rail to vomit or not... Ominous clouds passed over us throughout the night and into the morning. When Shawn got up for her morning watch she found that Chris hadn't been able to go down below for our normal hourly condition/position reports or the weather download that is usually his task, and needed her help to navigate the computer for weather uploads and downloads before propagation disappeared. All of the forecasts have looked clear so this weather was surprising.

Daily, we have been downloading GRIBs, Fiji compiled data from Nadi (including their fleet report which plots the data), and NOAA data and spot reports with wind, waves, rain, surface pressure, and lift index. According to the NOAA report this morning, a new front has shown up just 100-nm ahead of us. Hopefully it will dissipate before we get there. We also got a weather fill from the Rag of the Air net this morning saying that all is clear, so we will keep our fingers crossed and continue on. The morning rain passed us by with a rainbow goodbye and the afternoon has been comparatively sunny though not clear. Unfortunately it looks like we may make landfall on a weekend (overtime charges) so we may attempt to drop the hook in a roadstead anchorage at a Samoan island named Tau along the way to time our arrival.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Day 0- Leaving is always difficult

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 13-deg 15-min S 163-deg 07-min W
Wind: ESE 12 Seas: ESE <1-ft
Rig: at anchor west of Anchorage Island, Suwarrow
Distance to Apia, Western Samoa: 516-nm

As the winds grew calm yesterday, the lagoon became a glass mirror. We set up our Mexican double hammock and enjoyed the sunset watching small waves pound the rim reef all the way across the lagoon and peering 50-ft down to the reef below seeing sharks, skates and turtles. Shawn spent her first half of the night sleeping in the hammock, while Chris enjoyed an hour or so with her before hitting the sack below. While watching stars in the early evening, all but a few constellations (i.e. the Southern Cross) are unfamiliar to us northern hemisphere dwellers. We watched stars shooting around the Milky Way and large UFOs catching flame upon entering the atmosphere, lighting up the entire sky like flares. Last night was a beautiful, star filled, still night, conspiring to keep us at Suwarrow just a little bit longer. However, by this morning, winds were just starting to pick up as expected from our weather forecasts, so we took our last trip ashore to hang our "s/v Tao hearts Suwarrow" flag in the Suwarrow Yacht Club, and check out of the country, quickly getting our exit papers from Harry and Ants.

At noon all was well. We had gotten Tao prepared for passage on deck and down below, cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner, took one last swim-turned shower with the last of our freshwater that wouldn't fit in our tanks, and it was time. An Australian sailboat had arrived this morning and two Swiss and one French boat had just gotten underway- stirring our herding instinct. 1130 was the forecast slack low tide to shoot for exiting the lagoon. However, as we entered during a slack tide that was against a 2.5-knot current, each time we watched the pass around the tide chart change it still appeared to be ebbing out, and other boats that exited the pass when it should have been flooding in and went to swim the pass during purported flooding reported that although the tide chart said it should be flooding in, water was still ebbing out. Armed with these data points, we have decided the tide program is basically correct, yet there is always so much water entering the lagoon between the motus that the pressure must create a constant outflow at the main exit pass, so we were not worried leaving a little later than "slack". We soaked up our last moments in the safe embrace of Suwarrow and with mixed emotions we started the process of weighing anchor to get underway again.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Suwarrow Atoll: exploration and watching weather

Our time on Suwarrow (pronounced Suh-wah-roh) has been spent slowly re-gaining our sleep, figuring out weather here in the South Pacific, and enjoying the idyllic (sunny, light wind) days exploring the atoll. Early on, while s/v Quixotic was here, we shared several nice meals, including a Tao-based pancake brunch, and Chris charged out to do some exceptional scuba diving with Ed (who has a compressor setup aboard) in this mid-Pacific aquarium. Besides several sharks (larger than those swimming around Tao) he saw manta rays, huge deep water clams with their colorful insides, turtles, numerous fish, and intricate coral trees sheltering a multitude of tiny fish located atop large bulbous coral formations. We finally made it ashore on Day-3 and circumambulated Suwarrow's largest motu, dubbed Anchorage Island, where we saw the Suwarrow "Yacht Club," talked to the two rangers, and met hermit crabs, coconut crabs and even black-tipped reef sharks swimming in the shallows along the way. A large weather system was forecast between Samoa and Suwarrow, so although feeling pressed for time, we decided to stay put until it passed around mid-July.

Once the decision to stay a little while had been made, we started to branch out for more in-depth explorations. First, was a reef walk at low tide between Anchorage Island and Whale Island, a half mile to its west. Next, Chris finally talked Shawn into some snorkeling with Suwarrow's curious black-tip sharks on a sunny calm day, thrilling and beautiful. After a few days of strong SE flow, winds backed and eased, and it became perfect Fatty sailing weather. On our test sail, conditions were so beautiful that we just kept on, passing by reefs with names like Little Patch and Man in the Boat. We ended up sailing close hauled to the southern edge of the atoll where we watched peaks of waves emerge from the windblown surface of the deep ocean, forming a short but stunning moment of liquid glass before abruptly toppling in aerated explosions onto the rimming reef. Juxtaposed, just inside the reef we gaped at tranquil Entrance Island motu.

Having been tracking the weather closely, we knew we had one more "nice" day before a storm came through. Originally we had intended to use it to explore Motu Tou on the far west side of the atoll, but with nearly due E winds, we decided against sailing nearly 6-nm downwind and having to beat back upwind to Tao. Instead, we hugged the upwind reef and explored the north end of the atoll. We anchored in sand amid jagged coral rock just off the Brushwood Islands, mere sandy beaches atop old coral, breaking ocean waves on the other side. From here we could see very shallow waters surrounding One Tree and Turtle Island at the true north terminus of the atoll and the broken edge of the other side of the atoll downwind of us. All the motus except Anchorage Island are bird and turtle nesting areas in this national park so we respectfully stayed off shore a distance and enjoyed watching the massive amount of activity around us.

You might be wondering, just what is an atoll? From our reading (especially Hinz's Landfalls of Paradise), an atoll represents the final stage of volcanic island erosion combined with coral reef development. Simply, it is a lagoon-encircling reef that in some instances is continuous and in others broken up into small islets or "motus". Most Pacific Islands were formed volcanically and coral reefs then formed around them. Once an island ceases to grown, erosion occurs, however as the volcanic island is eroded and eventually becomes submerged, the surrounding coral reef continues to grow between 150-ft of depth and the water surface. Gaps in the reef tend to form on the leeward side of the island (creating passes that are rather convenient for boaters) and are frequently caused by freshwater flow in which coral cannot grow. Fanning was a nearly continuous atoll enclosing approximately 9X6 square miles of shallow lagoon, while Suwarrow is formed of several motus enclosing approximately 9X11 square miles of deeper lagoon.

Just like anywhere else, boat projects also abound in paradise. There is the continual daily list of tasks including weather requests, downloads and analyses, food planning (what better place on Earth to grow our first sprouts? Delicious!), water catchment and management, cleaning, photograph management, and communication (e-mails and blogs). Then there are the lingering projects. Once we got Tao and her innards all dried out from the passage, we immediately performed a more detailed check of Moni including communication with the manufacturer, Scanmar International and have painted the water paddle with bottom paint to deter another fish hit. We re-routed our second reef line, which was not running smoothly this passage, added tube protectors to our chaffing lazy jacks, rebuilt (with duck tape) the plastic oven handle that disintegrated on passage, cleaned Tao's bottom, inventoried our dry stores and reorganized for easier access, and the list goes on. And of course there are the projects that pop up and nudge less important ones (like our much awaited cockpit bed project) back down the list, such as the silicone gasket needing to be rebed on our main salon hatch…

When we initially arrived, there was only one other boat anchored behind Anchorage Island. As we always do, we circled around the anchorage checking depths and looking for patches of coral, like a dog trying to find the perfect spot to settle down. Once the hook was down, Chris swam the anchor as always making sure Rocky was solidly set in sand and our chain ran clear of any coral heads and has done so every couple days since. We are in a great spot, but now find ourselves literally in the middle of 8 boats! Except for a thunderstorm that passed within 1 mile of us on our third night here, winds were mellow for the first 4 days. Sunday 8 July, brought stronger SE winds at 18-20 knots for 3-days of relative discomfort in the anchorage (Anchorage Island provides best protection from E winds, while SE winds have over 4-nm of fetch in which to create uncomfortable sized waves). Friday the 13th a storm came through, a bit closer to us than forecast, and brought winds clocking from N all the way to S throughout the night. As the day dawned, winds were from the S and uncomfortable seas assailed the anchored boats. Amid torrential downpours, Chris got in the water to unwrap our anchor chain from a coral head which had reduced us to half of our intended scope (thanks for the heads up on that s/v Pandion!). Of course, that was only after the boat downwind and the one to our port had disentangled from their own coral wraps so we then had enough room to swing. Our chain had one lingering coral snag so we turned Yannie on to motor up to it and unwrap, but by the time we got to it, the chain had worked its way free. With the engine on, Chris took the opportunity to look into the discrepancy in our battery monitor indication and our charge controller stating full banks. Surprisingly, he found that our two house AGMs were indeed in a differential state of charge. Closer inspection found the culprit- a loose connection wire! Hopefully the improved connection will solve our relatively recent battery monitor mystery. As if the morning had not been exciting enough, during the hubbub, our main salon hatch sprung a leak and Fatty, busy collecting bath water, nearly overtopped.

Here at Suwarrow, we are approximately 2,000-nm from Hawaii and have just over 2,500 more to go to reach Australia. It has been a struggle not to get too overwhelmed with the large distance we still have to travel, the myriad of places we hope to be able to visit along the way, and the short time before hurricane season in which to complete it. We work to enjoy the present moment, go with the flow and let the weather dominate all plans. We are grateful to have managed to stay at this remote atoll longer than originally expected (as usual), and are quite happy to have made it here before the bulk of this year's Pacific Puddle jumpers. Since Raratonga's harbor is currently closed for dredging, Suwarrow will soon be heavily trafficked. The cruising style that we have developed over the past few years has been quite slow paced, and we tend to enjoy the less traveled and more remote places. However, to make those miles, we have to pick up our pace or steadily cross places to visit off the list. Only time will tell, but we hope to get underway in the next few days and have nearly decided to bypass American Samoa and make our next landfall the less visited Western Samoa.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Day 11- Kia Orana (Hello) Suwarrow!

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 13-deg 15-min S 163-deg 06-min W
Wind: ESE 12-15 Seas: ESE <1-ft
Avg. Course: 207-deg T
Avg. Speed: 5.1-knots
Rig: at anchor, Suwarrow, Northern Cook Island
24-hr distance noon to 0946: 100-nm

Confirmed arrival in Suwarrow, Northern Cook Islands on 4th of July! What an amazingly special place. The last day of our passage went by quickly. The winds never filled in quite as strongly as we had expected (18-20-knots), but the consistent 12-15 pushed us along the entire 100-nm at just the right clip. As always happens, our watch schedule fell apart a bit since the pattern of the day was different. Shawn stayed up extra hours into the night to allow Chris as much sleep as possible since he would not be getting any sleep until anchor's down, way past the end of his watch. We hove to 5-nm off the atoll at 0630 for about an hour to await light from the sun to approach any closer. We used the time to attach Rocky and eat some stick-to-your-ribs coconut banana oatmeal for energy for the final push. After witnessing a beautiful sun rise and full moon set, at 0730 we pulled the 80% back up and sailed the last several miles toward land. Half mile off shore, at our outer waypoint for the atoll's pass, we once again dropped the 80%, started Yannie, and dropped the mains'l. At 0842, slack tide according to our tide program, we started to motor through the one navigable pass into this atoll. Either the slack tide window is very small, or our tide program is a little late, or maybe it just has to do with the full moon, but the pass was already ebbing at about 2.5-knots. Yannie to the rescue, and we are extremely grateful to have had spot-on waypoints to weave us safely through several reefs into the lagoon.

Our US and Cook Islands flags flying, we motored about 2-nm to the one permitted anchorage in this "dream destination of those seeking a remote island on which to escape the clutchs of civilization." Though not an official Port of Entry into the Cook Islands, it has been made an official Cook Islands National Park, enabling brief visits by cruisers like us. There are two park rangers that live on the island 8 months of the year (not hurricane season). Having just arrived a month ago from Rarotonga, Harry and Ants showed up at our boat with paperwork before we even finished putting Tao to anchor. Chris had just gotten back aboard after snorkeling our anchor and chain, and meeting some of the smaller of the curious resident black tipped sharks! No rest for the weary, Quixotic then stopped by as they were headed out for a scuba dive, to welcome us and invite us to dinner. We took a raincheck for tomorrow to give us some time to recover. Since the rangers came to us, we didn't even get Fatty into the water or get to shore yet. It is just wonderful to to be safely on the hook again and in such a stunning place that we look forward to exploring.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Day 10- The final push?

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 11-deg 45-min S 162-deg 18-min W
Wind: ESE12 Seas: NE 4-ft, S 8-ft
Avg. Course: 199-deg T
Avg. Speed: 3.9-knots
Rig: 80% and triple reefed mains'l
24-hr distance noon to noon: 93.3-nm
Distance to Suwarrow: 100-nm

The first half of Day 10 brought consistent winds from the E at 9-knots, and very few clouds, in general very nice trade wind sailing conditions. There was a gorgeous near full moon rise just as the sun was setting. We were finally close enough to be in striking distance of our destination, so we again started planning for landfall. From our GRIB forecast we knew that winds should continue to increase over the next few days. As per normal, calculations and more calculations ensued. At sunset we were 150-nm away from Suwarrow, too far to make it to the entrance the next day (today) during daylight hours. The next option, and our current goal is to reach Suwarrow's entrance the following morning, July 4th at the 0845 (Hawaii time) slack tide.

Instead of ending up just off the island right after sunset on the 3rd and heaving to for 12-hrs to await the sunrise, we decided to slow down early in hopes we can time our arrival with only a few hours spent in the dark close to land. This decided, in the quick receding dusk of last evening, we dropped the 80% and replaced it with our storm jib and brought our mains'l down to triple reef in preparation for the forecast increase in winds over night and into the morning. Of course we soon realized in the current barely 10-knots of wind, our full storm rig was not enough to keep us moving our goal of 3-knots on average throughout the night. So, we raised the main back up to the 1st reef and saw the hoped for speeds. After midnight, winds shifted more southerly and filled in to 12-knots. In the morning, we recalculated and decided perfect timing would be 5-knots on average for the day, putting us just off Suwarrow around dawn on the 4th. With the conditions for the day building only to 15-knots of wind, that required putting the 80% back up and pulling the main down to triple reef. As of our noon point, we are on track to make the entrance by sunrise, but we'll just have to see how day 11 treats us. There's always the back up low tide on the 4th at 1346 if we don't quite make the miles in time. We are both ready for a few nights at anchor and are excited to experience this special "cruisers paradise".

[Aside: There is some confusion on the spelling of Suwarrow- different publications spell it different ways. However, Chris came across what seems like a plausible explanation in his readings last night. Apparently the atoll was named after the ship (a Russian vessel, Suvarov) that brought the first European to the atoll. Years later, the name was changed to reflect how Polynesians would pronounce the word (i.e. v sound = w), Suwarrow. Shawn kind of melded both to how it sounds and has been consistent with Suvarrov. Hopefully we will learn more details once we get there.]

Monday, July 2, 2012

Day 9- South Pacific weather reality check

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 10-deg 16-min S 161-deg 47-min W
Wind: NE8 Seas: NE 6-ft, WSW 9-ft
Avg. Course: 194-deg T
Avg. Speed: 2.3-knots
Rig: 80% and full mains'l
24-hr distance made good: 54.2-nm
Distance to Suvarrov: 193-nm

Located 250-nm from Suvarrov, we were bobbing in light conditions and observing lots of convection with periods of moderate winds associated with squalls interspersed with no winds at all between them. Our most recent weather data showed that we should be safe 120-nm from the stationary front just north of Suvarrov. We were in no hurry to rush S and get closer to the disturbance and its Tstorms. However, Chris decided to run Yannie for a bit for several reasons (1) it is good for her to be run frequently and it had been over a week (2) our battery monitor was showing low and (3) to DO something besides flopping around waiting for wind. The good news, besides the fact that Yannie started right up, is that our batteries were actually mostly topped off already (which means just the monitor is mis-adjusted). The bad news is that we ended up losing the few miles we gained with the motor. But we get ahead of the story.

Chris nicely warned Shawn, in the seaberth, that he was going to start the engine. A bit over an hour later, It was surprisingly calm just before a squall. No longer able to sleep, around 1700 Shawn poked her head up on deck to see why Yannie was now merely idling but hadn't yet been turned off. She found Chris pensively looking the direction we were going. And then, over Yannie's idle, heard thunder. There was a bit of wind (hence the engine had been throttled back), but when it became apparent that this massive darkness was not the same as our recent squalls, just before the rain washed over us, Chris made the pivotal call to come about. Chris turned Yannie off and then jibed with the 80% and all of a sudden we were headed back north. We both watched in disbelief as we sailed away from what we had just nearly entered. From our new vantage, we could see that this weather was very extensive, not only horizontally but vertically developed. It was massive with no space between ocean and cloud and no sky visible above. In a section now to our west, thunder continued to rumble repeatedly, but no lightning... Yet. The sun was setting and it was nearly our time to check in on the PacSea Net (if you look at the report we were headed almost due N) when a section to the NE of us flashed with light. It was followed by more sheet flashes of lightning. And then a particularly dark area suddenly flashed with a web of cloud to cloud lightning bolts. We raised the 3rd reef to make way upwind and not lose our easting, all the while racing to reach what appeared to be the edge of this system, where blue sky in the waning day once again became obvious.

We hemmed and hawed for a couple of hours about what to do as the storm slowly moved SW. No energy for cooking, Shawn made rice and topped it with a can of soup while Chris downloaded weather data now that propagation was improving with the darkness. At one point we dropped the jib and hove to in the light winds. After watching the lightning show behind us, we both began to feel too close and pulled the jib back up to continue away from the system. At about 2100 we tacked back toward our original SW direction, dropped the 80% and once again started drifting slowly toward our destination. The newest weather report was completely different than the 24-hrs previous. A trough had shown up, Tstorms forecast within 120-nm of its axis, which lay a mere 50-nm SW of us (good thing we hadn't motored any more)! Exhausted, Chris collapsed in bed, while Shawn stood an otherworldly watch in which angry clouds silently and rapidly moved around us. Mid watch sheet lightning appeared both to port and to starboard and then prayers were answered and the Tstorm activity finally disappeared. From another flurry of middle-of-the-night weather downloads, we were relieved to see that the trough had moved rapidly SE.

Over the past day, Chris spent a ton of energy pouring through our weather resources to figure out how to get the weather data we need for a the new area we are in (i.e. the South Pacific and its weather systems). We were aware that thunderstorm and convective cloud activity, are one of our biggest concerns while transiting this area in non-hurricane season. However, we were only familiar with the ITCZ, and it is not the only place convection activity occurs. There is also an area called the SPCZ (South Pacific Convergence Zone). From our crash course on this, we now know that like the ITCZ, it creates areas of low visibility, thunderstorms, and squall activity. In the height of it's season it can span all the way from French Polynesia to Vanuatu and is the largest generator of the South Pacific hurricanes (during the hurricane season). It is currently forecast to be at its northern terminus for this (non-hurricane) season, located just below Suvarrov, and last night's trough was likely associated with this phenomenon. Our thunderstorm experience reminded us not to grow complacent in our idyllic image of what sailing in the South Pacific should be, and instigated an effort to learn even more.

This morning dawned with clear sky and NE breeze. The dominant surface seas are still from the easterly direction, but a large long period WSW ground swell has definitely made it here. Along with the wind waves, we can see mountains of water raise us up and let us down again as sun shimmers on the water surface. Gorgeous. As we munch on delicious apple-cashew-chicken-salad along with our last cucumber for lunch, we hope the current forecast holds and clearing winds continue to fill in for the duration of our passage.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Day 8- Going with the flow and Riding squalls

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 09-deg 23-min S 161-deg 33-min W
Wind: ENE4-5 Seas: E 4-ft
Avg. Course: 204-deg T
Avg. Speed: 1.8-knots
Rig: poled out 80% and full mains'l
24-hr distance traveled: 43.2-nm
Distance to Suvarrov: 247-nm

Yesterday afternoon started out very, very calm. We sailed slowly and watched squall lines moving in their newly preferred direction, NE to SW. One that past overhead brought only a little wind and a cleansing of fresh water. As the sun reached the horizon, another blanket of weather was nearly upon us. Calm conditions, a setting sun, rain on the way created a beautiful double rainbow, colors popping against the white convection-created clouds. "Just like the moonbow, but in color," said Chris and Shawn was quick to wonder whether we should have learned something and needed to douse the mains'l. Having been watching it slowly move our way, Chris hesitated saying he didn't believe there would be much wind. So Shawn went about completing fresh limeade cocktails and quinoa-artichoke-olive dinner, and luckily, his intuition was right. After it past, we bobbed in no wind conditions, becalmed.

Decision point. Nearly 280-nm out, do we fire up Yannie and make tracks to where there is wind? More calculations- how many hours/miles of fuel can we spare? (Basic calculations are approximately 60-hrs with 5-gal back up which is approximately 300-nm in good conditions, though untested because we don't tend to choose the motor option often). Our most recent weather data forecast light and variable winds all Sunday (July 1st)- with a section very reminiscent of the forecast disturbance that kept us a few extra days in Fanning. Closer inspection of the southern hemisphere text report illuminated a "stationary front" running just above Suvarrov, with isolated thunderstorms within 120-nm, forecast for no change in 24-hr and dissipated in 48-hrs. This corresponded well with the GRIB files and our new understanding that light and variable GRIBS = unstable atmospheric conditions. Do we really want to motor toward a disturbance? There will not be good winds to sail on there and we will have to continue to motor or bob around amid thunderstorms. Should we anchor off Rakahanga, 80-nm away? Conservative sailors, we decided to collect some data- how fast will we move in the conditions we are in?

We pulled down the mains'l to stop its slapping, and poled out the jib to keep it's shape and allow it to utilize each breath of wind. And so we bobbed. At this point, it was dark. Chris crashed to grab some much-needed sleep and Shawn coaxed Moni to keep us pointed, if not actually moving, in the right general direction. It was quite disorienting- 100% cloud cover, waves sloshing around from no specifically organized direction, no consistent wind to give any clue which direction was what. The compass was a savior. Small differences in the cloud cover finally became noticeable. A hulking dark mass to our East, slowly, quietly, creeping toward us. With too much data for any decision to be obvious, between horizon scans, Shawn organized all the data onto a calendar to determine where we wanted to be in relation to the forecast Tstorms and when the winds were actually forecast to fill in again. Having a plan, she poked back up on deck and felt breeze on her neck. Almost enough for Moni to steer on his own, the squall was nearly upon us. Quickly the breeze filled in from the East, from no wind to 12-15-knots. It was a breathtaking surreal ride, for 20-minutes we flew along under 80% jib alone, in the leading edge of the squall. Shawn could see hard rain mere yards away. And then it enveloped us too, and filled our small underway jugs at the base of the mast funnel catchment (which works amazingly well with sideways rain). Huddled up in her rain jacket at the top of the ladder, watching the GPS numbers, speeds over 5-knots, peering out the dodger-eisen-glass, and feeling the motion of the boat. Shawn went back to readjust Moni several times to make the most of this gentle burst of wind and a half hour later, the ride was over, 10-nm farther along our track.

Chris' watch was more of the same. Long, intense lulls where skies cleared and stars shone, and then squall lines caught up and passed us by, each providing it's own individual ride. The recent squalls have been welcome, cooling us down and gently picking us up and giving us a lift. With the sun rise he was able to clearly see the thick layers of clouds forming the stationary front ahead. Slight ENE breezes filled in (as forecast), just barely enough for Moni to steer us with. A beautiful morning, we skimmed slowly over the surface, going with the flow. We may yet motor through some calms, but after shedding expectations of a fast arrival and getting use to the idea of slowing down and being out here an extra day or two, we are making the best and enjoying the surprisingly serene conditions.