Galapagos to Tahiti – part 5

Another four days at sea, some shark fin pirates, light winds and nuclear invested islands ahead.

Friday, 3rd of April, (Day 17)

The humming rattle of the generator wakes me up every morning at 6am or sometimes a bit earlier. That’s just great if your watch ends at 4am. Then, when the noise finally stops about an hour or two later I doze off again, sleeping on and off. Some people need this constant noise of an engine or a fan to sleep, but not me. I don’t mind the sound of the water rushing past the hull. Or the occasional slapping of the lines on the deck above me. But for me the monotone drone of an engine or fan is something can’t really get used to.

This morning around 8am the boat started making a different kind of movement. We headed up into the wind. Shortly after I hear stumbling on the deck above me and the flapping of the sails. The crew is furling in the gennaker as winds have become too strong for the delicate canvas. It is replaced by the normal canvas, about 50 percent of the main sail and the small staysail. We entered a little squall. Little, as winds didn’t get any more than 27 knots, and not a drop of rain reached the salty teak deck. Too bad, as the boat could use a good rinse down.

About half an hour later, a similar ritual occurred op the foredeck. Winds died down again. The normal canvas was rolled in and the delicate gennaker was pulled out again. Business as usual, downwind running.

I figured good food will provide a good mood. So for breakfast today I scrambled up some of the last remaining eggs and cut some generous pieces of the focaccia i made a couple of days earlier. After breakfast I joined Linda for the morning watch. It was nice and quiet up in the cockpit. Then suddenly a couple of targets popped up on the AIS, right in front of us, about 6 miles out.

AIS is a system that displays boats in your neighbourhood on your chart plotting device. A very handy tool to identify other ships. At first we saw two targets, then when zooming in on the chart, two suddenly became four. Then another target popped up. What the heck is going on in front of us we thought. As we inched closer to the cluster of targets on the screen, the AIS could tell us some more details of the ships ahead. They were Chinese fishing vessels, three main ships and about five or six small boats.

We woke up the crew as they might be interested to see some form of life after days without. The boats seemed to be drifting in front of us, as they were hardly moving. But since they are fishing boats, they could also be fishing. Linda hailed them on the radio, and asked them in her best mandarin what they were doing. To our surprise they answered, ‘just drifting no nets out” said I voice on the other end of the radio. Fantastic!, so we told them we would pass at their port side. Then Linda asked what they were fishing for, hoping to score some fresh tuna for dinner. Their reply was shocking. From what we could understand from their rough mandarin was that they were fishing for shark. Well probably only the shark fins. The rest of the sharks is discarded like waste, leaving the poor thing to bleed to death. Bloody criminals, robbing the oceans of these wonderful creatures to make some crappy tasteless soup. Somebody should chop off their arms and then throw them into the sea, preferably in the neighbourhood of some hungry tiger sharks.

Chinese fishing criminals
Chinese fishing criminals

We tried to pass the fishing boats as close as possible to disrupt their operation and to see what was going on. The wind did not allow us near enough to get a good view though.

After we passed the fishing boats, things slid back into ritual. Linda dug op some delicious BBQ pork form the freezer. It was the last strip of juicy sweet goodness that we brought back form Panama. We made some BBQ pork rice for lunch / dinner. I watched some downloaded TV show from our Media server. Something with James May in Japan, quite entertaining. After lunch the sunset watch, with yet another stunning sunset. And then it was bed time again. The days slide by on Ah Ma.

As Linda went up for her night watch I noticed the boat was rolling a bit violently. Winds were gusting 20 odd knots and the sea was restless. I decided to join her upstairs and sleep in the cockpit for a bit, just in case something would startle her. The sea was restless, rolling waves hit the side of the boat whilst the swell was from the stern. The boat felt like it was ploughing its way forward, never gaining any real momentum.

Pacific Sunset
(Another) Pacific Sunset

Saturday, 4th of April (Day 18)

Yesterday it was about 1250 miles to Tahiti, today it’s 1300. Did we sail backward? No, our skipper has set a course to pass through the Tuamotu Islands, a good bit more Southerly. The Tuamoto Islands is a group of island that lies between us and Tahiti. The island group is known for its big currents between the notoriously bad lit islands. Not something you’d want to cross at night. Our planned route now takes a more southerly path, heading past Mururoa straight to Tematagi. Here we would jibe and move North West towards Tahiti. There are less atolls here, so we should be able to cut through in a day on a single tack.

Mururoa is the former French nuclear test site. Here the Frencies detonated a whopping 181 nuclear war heads in search for the perfect ‘pop’. In the process they ruined the atoll and terrorized the region. I’ve asked a friend in Macao to check on the internet how safe it is now. I can imagine there must be some radiation floating around. But there’s not much internet wisdom to be found on the topic. In any event, I would like to keep a clear distance.

It doesn’t matter that this new course adds a day to the literary. The satellite email news bulletins tell us that Tahiti immigration is closed for business from next week Friday to the following Monday due to the Easter holidays. So we can only check in the Tuesday after. Ugh.

Other than this news, the day was uneventful. In the afternoon I baked a bread in the Magma. Since the focaccia from a couple of days ago turned out alright, I thought we could repeat that trick. The bread turned out a bit pale on the top, but the bottom had a perfect colour and crunch. Sort of a reverse floor bread.

At night the flapping of the sail woke me up an hour earlier for my watch. I relieved Linda of her watch duty in the cockpit. Here I found a flat and calm ocean. Light winds made it impossible to hold course, so we deviated upwind to keep the big red thing filled with air. But even at a full beam reach, the mild swell made the sail flap loudly. This sloppy sailing slows down our progress will surely put a dent in our daily totals.

Whilst writing this sentence I see the wind’o’meter picks up. Eight, ten, twelve, fifteen, seventeen… twenty… what the heck, are the wind gods playing with me. I pop up the radar screen and am surprised by a big red swatch right in front of us, indicating a squall, so with that comes some wind. This is going to be fun. As the squall is pushing out wind. I manage to get about 30 degrees angle on the stern, putting the squall in our back quarter. The wind is now full on the back of the boat, and we are running with the swell, topping up to 12 knots. A few drops of rain reach the deck. I quickly jump down to close all hatches. A few drops could easily become a torrent of rain in seconds if the cloud catches up with us. She is now right behind us, following us at about 2 miles as another squall develops to our port side. The running is great, a fun bit of sailing alone in the night. But as suddenly as it started, so quickly did it move away. About fifteen minutes later, the winds calm down again and moved back to their original direction. And we slowly glided forward into the night.

Pacific Sunset
Pacific Sunset

Sunday, 5th of April, (Day 19)

Ah, sailing. The art of pointing the bow of the boat in the direction you do not want to go.

Breakfast is a cup of coffee and a few slices of my freshly baked bread with Nutella. Yes I’m a 47 year old kid.

We are still crawling through the South Pacific at a snail’s pace. Winds of 8 knots, or less push us forward. A heading of 270 degrees, or due West would put us in a straight line to Tahiti, about 6 days away, even at this pace. But the wind is due East, so that would mean a full run with the wind on the back of the boat, like I briefly did last night whilst running from a squall. This only works well if there is enough wind to make the boat move, 12 or more knots I believe. There are not enough knots to make that happen.

For now we’re heading about 240 degrees, so South West, pointing towards Muroroa. The route our captain chose yesterday to thread our path through the Tuamotu Islands.

Linda and I download the weather reports once more and see that moving further South would mean more light winds. We have a brief team discussion about the weather and the route. As I bite my tongue, Linda questions the chosen path. Our skipper’s explanations make sense as we cannot do a run due West with these light winds, but he still decides to keep heading South West, into the lighter winds. Despite all computer models pointing towards a more Northerly route. Ah well, 9 days or 11 days to Tahiti, it’s all the same, as we can only check in the Tuesday after Easter.

The weather discussion flows into a light conversation about TV shows. I brought a hard-disk with over six terabyte of movies and TV shows to provide some entertainment whilst underway. The crew is now watching Game of Thrones, believe it or not, for the very first time. And as many of us years before, they’re sucked into the story. The mood on board is good today, there was even some laughter.

We moved the clock back another two hours, so this time Linda and I absorb the extra hours in our morning watch, three hours each instead of two. I decide to clean the salty spray from the dodger this morning whilst our fist mate does some washing. The day to day life continues on Ah Ma

Pacific Sunset
Pacific Sunset

The orchestra of sounds you hear on a moving yacht are astonishing. There is of course the occasional clapping of the lines on the deck or against the mast. The groaning of the sheet lines on the winches under pressure. The roar of the displaced water as the bow chops through the waves. That wonderful gurgle sucking sound from the back of the boat when it’s at speed. The hollow metallic squeaks and bangs from the aluminium mast and boom.

Then inside you have the crackling sound of the wooden interior ever being so slightly bent. The occasional bang of an item in a cupboard moving around. The rushing of the water past the hull, like being on a high speed train. The amplified loud knocks of lines on the deck.

But most interesting are the voices, the wind and waves seem to talk at night, sounding like conversations in the distance.

Today another sound was added to the list, a subtle banging noise, like the drum on a Roman galleon. As I investigated the origin of the noise, it led me to the mast. The main sail, snugly rolled up into a 20 meter long sausage, is tapping the side of the aluminium mast on every roll of the boat. Me, our first mate and our skipper investigated and philosophized over the possible cause. No direct solution was found, we’ll have to investigate at another time. It’s getting dark as we slowly sail into another night on the Pacific.

At night, the bright light of the full moon scares away the stars. We see the silver linings of the clouds and the horizon where the dark waters meet the pale grey sky.

Full moon in the Pacific
Full moon in the Pacific

Monday, 6th of April (Day 20)

A full twenty days at sea now, and still at least a week more to go. We are within a days reach of the edge of the Tuamotu Islands. Unfortunately we’re not allowed to stop at any of the atolls of French Polynesia. Due to the corona pandemic, all ships should go directly to Tahiti. There is no inter island traffic allowed. Such a shame, maybe we’ll get back here some day.

The two hour time change made me feel like I was sleeping till the afternoon, which technically I was. But it was still only 9am when I came up to the cockpit. The morning was filled with looking at the weather reports and Grib files. It shows that a depression is passing past us from East to West. It is far South of us, so no danger there. This happens every other week or so. The result is that the normal trade winds are ‘sucked away’ leaving relatively calm windless patches. These show as blue areas on the weather maps. As it happens these patches are on our track we are still moving South West.

Nothing came of the weather discussion as our skipper insisted that our current track would be the fastest way to Tahiti, even though we’re now being forced even further South into the Tuamotu. And into the windless blue areas of the map.

The afternoon was spent watching TV shows and generally wasting time. Around 3pm our skipper and our first mate take down the gennaker for its bi-daily inspection. The halyard still shaves in the top of the mast. Every other day a bit of line is cut off the halyard. When the gennaker came up again it was on the other side of the boat, we had finally jibed and are heading North West now. Guess the skipper silently agreed with a course change. We now have the current and the swell on the side of the boat, or our beam. This makes for some more rolling of the boat. But the sea is relatively flat, so it’s not too bad.

During the sunset we slowly crawled under a threatening black cloud. It could break at any moment, releasing it’s rain on top of us. But it didn’t, we stayed dry and moved into the night. This was the last rain cloud for the night. The skies were clear and a full moon lit up the ocean like silver carpet. The winds are very light, so the big red thing flaps occasionally when the boat is lifted by the swell. The main sail still taps in the mast like a Roman galleon drum… dung dung…. dung dung… dung dung..

Pacific Sunset

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