Final preparations for Tahiti
The fine weather was also perfect for working on ADAGIO, and we were beginning to be careful how we used the water from the water tanks at the house. Having no buyer for our house was not so much a worry because we were happy to have our home to live in while we were unable to live aboard ADAGIO.
Our crew members were beginning to sign up. Our Australian friend, the professional deep sea diver Callum, agreed to crew for us from French Polynesia all the way to Alaska. Also our friends Bill and Maryann, who had sailed with us from New Caledonia to Australia in year 2000, wanted to crew for us from Hawaii to Alaska. We were very pleased.
I began cooking stews and soups for our passage, while I had a regular kitchen, plenty of electricity for slow cooking, and a big freezer. It also took care of dinner every evening. I poached a large chicken that had I bought at the Russell Saturday market. It was huge because the farmer told me that he had to keep it longer than planned while he waited for the processing plant to open again, and the chicken just kept growing!
We were hoping that ADAGIO would splash down again the first week of May, during the full moon high tide. I was savoring those final days in the house. The weather was beautiful, and our garden was filled with flowers and birds. We planned to live aboard ADAGIO at Ashby’s Marina in Opua after she was launched.
Two days before ADAGIO was due to “get wet” again, our realtor brought a prospective buyer to see the house on short notice. For months I had been keeping the house gleaming, and this woman came while the main living areas were re-arranged so that I could complete a complicated canvas sewing project for the boat. The bed was not made, but the kitchen was cleaned up, the garden looked great, and the sun was shining. It just goes to show you that in spite of one’s best laid plans sometimes things just turn out differently. This woman bought the house in June as we were sailing to Tahiti.
Leg One: New Zealand to Bora Bora, French Polynesia
June 7 0803: The rising tide gently floated ADAGIO off the Opua Marina boat ramp where the house moving truck had left her at low tide. It all happened earlier than expected. High tide was officially at 10 PM, but she floated at 8:30 PM. She is lighter than usual, with empty water and fuel tanks, few provisions, and also as a result of our taking off a lot of heavy books and items we had not used during our first three and a half years of cruising.
After cruising in New Caledonia and Australia, we had sailed ADAGIO from Hobart, Tasmania, back to her boat builder, Allan Legge, in the Bay of Islands for repairs and upgrades. Now we wanted to cruise aboard our sailing catamaran in the waters of Southeast Alaska and British Columbia.
We rejected the idea of shipping ADAGIO to Vancouver. Instead we invited friends to crew for us and looked forward to some exciting blue water sailing, invaluable experiences, and exotic destinations. ADAGIO could do it. Could we? We believed that with the right complement of crew, we would have a safe and enjoyable voyage. Our fantastic Kiwi friend and catamaran sailor Vanessa accepted our invitation to crew from New Zealand to Tahiti. Our Australian friend Callum, sailor and diver extraordinaire, agreed to join us in Bora Bora and stay aboard until Sitka. Our circumnavigator friend Bill planned to join us in Hawaii for the leg to Sitka, one that he had made three times already.
Steve purchased a used Iridium satellite phone, so we would have telephone contact with the rest of the world at all times. We subscribed to a medical service which provided us with instant medical advice at sea for all of our crew. Most importantly we hired Rick Shema of Weatherguy.com to help us with the weather routing.
Choosing our route had been a topic of our discussions with many of our experienced cruising friends over the past year. Some described how they had sailed due north through the islands of the western Pacific, then over the top of the Pacific High to Alaska. Inspired by John and Amanda of Mahina Tiare II, we had chosen a route from New Zealand via the Austral and Society Islands of French Polynesia, then to the Hawaiian Islands, with our final destination at Sitka, Southeast Alaska. Such a routing breaks the 7,500 nautical mile voyage into three almost equal 2,500 nautical mile passages, with landfall in first world countries for effecting repairs if necessary, restocking our provisions and taking on and letting off crew. Our plan was to make first landfall in the beautiful Austral Island of Raivavae, but it was not to be.
Vanessa spent several days helping us pepare the boat for departure before we took on one thousand litres of duty free diesel fuel. During several day sails we showed Vanessa “the ropes”, before a frontal passage brought wind and rain, whetting our appetites for our tropical destinations and signaling that it was time to load aboard ADAGIO the final supplies of fresh produce and meats.
As we sailed past Cape Brett, two Bottle nose Dolphins named Badjelly and Two Step swam out to say goodbye to Vanessa. She had made good friends with the dolphins over the years as part of her tourism business Carino Sailing and Dolphins aboard her beautiful red sailing catamaran CARINO.
We departed the Bay of Islands, New Zealand the first week of June, with a five day forecast for rough seas, mostly swell from the Southern Ocean with some wind wave. The first night found us sailing with first reefed main and full jib, before following winds in the 20’s. Under the sky bright with stars an egg-shaped moon rose up from behind the edge of the sea. At sunrise the sky became pink astern, a very soft pink with powder blue below, as the sky bightened ahead. The sun sent its rays streaking skywards from behind silver-lined clouds, and I put on my sun glasses, at 7:20 AM.
By day three, the sun was shining and the wind was from the south, allowing us to sail a broad reach directly towards our destination. Our initial course had taken us due east from New Zealand along 40 deg south latitude to stay south of the Kermadec islands. Good progress was being made — 400 nautical miles in two days, in bumpy seas and through a few small rain squalls. Albatrosses circled. Some days there were five all at the same time. I attempted to capture their grace in my camera, but the waves kept rolling us around.
A big High pressure system, positioned to the west of New Zealand, gave us a good weather window forecast for four more days. If we could keep up our speed, we might just be able to ride the High all the way to Raivavae.
It was really wonderful having a third person aboard. We each stood watch for three hours, then rested for six hours then were back on watch for three hours and so on. It might sound like a lot of sleep, but most of the sleep was light, due to the motion and the noise of waves against the hull. The quarter moon, quite bright in the sky ahead, provided a visual reference, and helped to maintain our situational awareness by other than our electronic instruments. I loved it that we sailed into the sunrise in the morning, and into the darkness at sunset. When we crossed the international dateline, it was yesterday again.
About five days out of Opua, getting emails out became a challenge. We sailed out of Sailmail HF radio range – too far from Oz and not yet close enough to Hawaii. Also we had no luck connecting to any of the Ham Winlink stations, though we tried a dozen. So for a while we had to use the Iridium sat phone and Inmarsat-C for email.
The Adagio crew stayed well-rested, well-fed, warm (with electric under blankets on the beds and diesel heat), and smelled good after hot showers. We were looking forward to seeing the low pressure system lurking to the SE of us finally get unstuck and move off. It had been sending swell waves towards us giving us a total sea state on the beam of some three to four meters high.
ADAGIO surfed from time to time at 13 knots boat speed in 30 knot gusts in squalls, under starry skies. Bright, sunny and dry days stayed with us until stato-cumulus clouds moved in. Wind speed stayed mostly 15 to 22 knots, stronger than forecast, allowing for some fast sailing until we had to put the brakes on.
Speed up: Our tactics had been focused on minimizing the effects of a tropical low which was forecast to form near Fiji and then move down across our track. Since we could not predict the low’s track with precision we had to allow for the possibility that it would cross our track west of Raivavae. So we put up full main and reacher to make as much easting as we could, and to have the option of ‘hiding’ in the safety of the high pressure system which was over New Zealand and strongly ridging out towards our position.
Slow down: The weather models converged enough to give us more confidence in their forecasts. We changed our tactic to slow down until we were confident the low was passing ahead of us to the east of Raivavae. We stowed the reacher and reefed the main, aiming to hold our speed down to 5 to 5.5 knots until we reached an aim point of 33deg S 162deg W, on June 14, when we would alter course direct for Tahiti. Forecasts called for moderate winds but a continuing strong swell during our trip to Tahiti. Three meter seas continued and a Royal albatross followed in our wake, swirling and dipping its wing tips. The following day a black browed albatross was circling. The sun was setting earlier and earlier each day, as we had decided to not reset our clocks.
The brand new vectran line that served as our reacher traveler failed as the splice came apart. We stowed the reacher with all hands on deck. Once again, it was wonderful to have Vanessa aboard to help. We replaced the line with the old spectra reacher sheet run through a snatch block on the starboard bow and cleated off to the port bow. This rig would probably hold if we needed to put the reacher back up. Boat speed still exceeded 8 knots under jib and full main, when the true wind speed was 14 knots but dropped to 7 knots when wind was at 11 knots.
While on watch we listened to audio books. With Vanessa handling more of the foredeck work, I could concentrate on meal planning and cooking, and still stand my share of the watches. The wind veered and backed, as we sailed into and out of squalls which brought little rain until June 13 when ADAGIO received a thorough water blasting. The winds eased a bit after the rain, and we enjoyed a brief respite from the seas.
The big fat high pressure system over NZ provided us with fine SE winds in the 15 to 20 knot range. The low pressure system no longer posed a hazard, so ADAGIO lifted her petticoats and carried us once again swiftly across the bounding main. We would sail directly to Tahiti, hoping to arrive by the weekend, and could practically smell the fresh baguettes. Under spinnaker during the day and then under our giant reacher during the night hours. The improvements to our mainsail furling system had been well tested and we are delighted to report that we can indeed reef while sailing downwind!
Having sailed out of the territory of the albatrosses, we were soon being accompanied by beautiful black and white storm petrels, enjoying the warmer air temperatures, bright sunshine, fair weather cumulus clouds and rainbows. The sunrises and sunsets were something to behold. Steve was alarmed one night by what appeared to be a large cruise ship on the horizon, all lit up, but not being detected by our radar. Then he realized it was the rising crescent moon behind low clouds!
Winds were forecast to stay “fresh” and seas in the three to four meter range. Unfortunately with two wave trains, the seas were rather “bumpy”, and we were thankful to be aboard a wide catamaran which does not rock and roll, and we could continue to make good speed. The cockpit stayed dry in spite of seas washing up the front windows and over the top of the coach roof. When we wanted to work on deck, we turned the boat downwind and the foredeck stayed dry.
By Wednesday, June 16 we were still under the influence of the strong high pressure system, which was ridging to the southeast. Northeast of the High was a convergence zone with poor visibility in showers and isolated thunderstorms. We would have to cross the Convergence Zone to get to Tahiti.
After we had set the first-reefed mainsail and jib, a small squall came through and blew 32 knots. The jib tack shackle distorted and came loose. Steve and Vanessa went forward to replace the shackle while the wind abated to 15 knots.
The weather forecast called for winds SE 20-25 knots with gusts to 35 knots, rough to very rough seas, as we crossed the S. Pacific Convergence Zone. We kept an eye on the barometer. A squall brought winds up to 34 knots and rain. ADAGIO surfed at a boat speed of 16.5 knots. The barometer was falling.
When I relieved Vanessa at the nav station on Thursday, the winds were in the 30â€™s, but soon decreased to the high 20â€™s. It had been blowing like this all morning. Seas rough, but on our starboard quarter. Squalls were all around. The sun was trying to peep out from behind a cloud ahead. The wind had become a bit less changeable. No squalls nearby. Vanessa said that in the guest cabin she felt as if she was sleeping under water, with the sea flowing beneath the hull and waves washing over the deck above her berth.
Beginning Thursday evening the squalls became more frequent, bringing winds in the high 20’s and low 30’s with rough seas. The barometer continued to fall as an area of gales slowly moved across our course. We tried to keep the apparent wind angle at 90 degrees, but due to the rough seas, we frequently sailed at 100 degrees apparent, to take the pressure off of the sails and rig. But for the problem of a small island, Maria Island, to leeward of us, this would have been just fine. In the conditions that we were experiencing, proximity to an island, to windward or to leeward of it, is not a good idea, due to the danger of very large waves. We tracked a large ship as it crossed our course 16 nautical miles astern. During my watch I tried to decrease some of the eleven miles we had fallen below course, by keeping the apparent wind angle close to 90 degrees. There must have been too much pressure on the sail. We should have reefed again.
In a squall with gusts exceeding 32 knots, ADAGIO surfed to 18 knots of boat speed. Heavy rain squalls were frequent. The wind backed and then veered repeatedly. The boat was being thrown all over the place and seas were sweeping over the coach roof.
Two hours later all hands were standing in the saloon at the change of the watch, and we heard a flapping noise. Looking up through the hatch in the coach roof we saw that the mainsail had torn across the middle. All hands on deck! We suited up and prepared to furl the main as best we could. Steve manned the lines and winches, Dorothy peered into the front of the boom, shouting instructions to Steve from time to time to raise the boom a bit more, and Vanessa helped Steve in the cockpit. The sail came down nicely, but we had to raise the outboard end of the boom 12 inches. Fortunately, the leech line had not parted and was guiding the aft portion of the sail into the boom and around the mandrel. The sail was torn above and below one batten, which was still attached to the leech line. The last three battens Dorothy had to push to starboard because they were bowed with the convex side to port, so they would go into the boom. It is amazing that we were able to furl the torn bits of the sail so smoothly, and the still intact leech line made it possible. The sail was torn from leech forward about 3/4 the width of the sail half way up with the first reef in. One very long batten had completely torn away from the sail fabric above and below it, and the batten remained in its “pocket”, which remained attached to the leech line. When we had furled all but about 1.5 m of the sail there was a loud â€œPOPâ€, as the furling line came apart from the webbing on the mandrel. Steve secured the mandrel with the pawl pin. Within hours of furling the mainsail, the gales subsided and the sky cleared.
We continued sailing under jib and engines in 4 to 5 metre seas, and winds in the high 20’s, so it was a bit rocky and rolly, but we were all fine, standing our watches, and getting rest while off watch. I baked a loaf of bread in the bread machine — our favorite: Whole wheat and dried cranberries. Next we baked banana bread with chocolate chips to cheer up the crew.
A few hours after we had stowed the torn main, and turned on the engines, the port engine overheat alarm sounded, so we turned it off, planning to investigate the cause when conditions were a bit more settled. In spite of her shortened sail plan, ADAGIO continued to make 200+ mile days. Squalls surrounded us and the seas were large but fairly regular. Occasionally a beam sea would slam the starboard side of the boat, or a wave would hit the underwing. ADAGIO handled it well, and it was amazing to see how much motion and noise we had become accustomed to. Outbreaks of sunshine. Drops of water coming in at the top of three maybe four of our front windows. The barometer continued to fall. The weather fax showed that the convergence zone of squalls was passing near Tahiti.
We approached Tahiti on a bright sunny day, surrounded by dark blue seas with curly white tops, rising up over our starboard transom then passing under ADAGIO, sometimes noisily. ADAGIO leaned and dipped gracefully and then surged ahead. The surrounding clouds were dissipating, so there was not much chance of a rainfall to wash the salt crystals from the decks. The tall mountain peaks of Moorea were sighted first, and two hours later, the loom of the island of Tahiti was visible on the horizon.
In reinforced trade winds of 25 to 30 knot winds, we maneuvering our “tennis court” alongside the concrete wharf with just one engine, and dinged the port bow slightly. The harbor master allowed us to tie alongside the new wharf as we were unable to maneuver to “Med-moor” on the Yacht Quay where the other cruising boats were tied stern to the dock.
We dined on mahi mahi fish at an outdoor cafe, and returned to the boat before dark to get some well-earned rest. As soon as we were in bed, the cat burglars arrived. We set off our light alarms to scare them away. But they kept coming. One guy tried to break in to one of the overhead hatches in the salon while Steve was shining a searchlight in his face. It was not a pleasant experience. Finally they stopped and left us in peace. In the morning the boat was covered with muddy barefoot prints. We had stowed everything and locked all hatches, so all they took was Vanessa’s favorite Team New Zealand hat. We found that the cat burglars who were trying to break into the boat were more stressful than was our recent ocean crossing.
Papeete is a necessary evil, with noise and dust, and major construction projects changing the harbor all around. Nonetheless, we were happy to have arrived in port after a safe passage. And we were very grateful that Vanessa was with us. She is one terrific person, a very skilled sailor of catamarans and monohulls, easy going personality, bright, intelligent, just the best!
On Sunday morning Steve walked to the Patisserie to buy us breakfast tarts and pain au chocolat. Monday we checked in to the country, delivered our mainsail to the sail loft in town and located a Yanmar mechanic to help Steve troubleshoot the problem with the port engine.
The gigantic French/Polynesian super marche’ provided us with two hours of entertainment, looking at the shelves full of exotic imported French goods, mountains of excellent produce, cooler shelves full of New Zealand meats, more coolers full of French cheeses, bakery shelves full of baguettes and pastries, and aisles of bikinis, seashell jewelry, and a whole range of department store stuff. We provisioned mostly with fresh produce, with the baguettes stuffed into our backpacks.
By Tuesday afternoon we were motoring the five miles across the “Sea of the Moon” to anchor in Cook’s Bay on the island of Moorea for some R&R.
Cook’s Bay is surrounded on three sides by sharply peaked mountain spines of ancient volcanoes, fluorescent green in the misty rain that was falling. There are small resorts dotted along the shore and a paddling canoe center at the head of the bay.
Anchored in one of the most beautiful anchorages in the world, we have been happily working on boat tasks, getting the outboard motor to run smoothly, doing a few rigging tasks, as the weather was partly sunny, and partly showery.
In search of a snorkeling spot, we took ADAGIO out to the anchorage near the reef at the mouth of the bay, but could not find a place to anchor that looked safe, among the eight or so other boats already anchored there, so we returned to our anchorage at the head of the bay. Not long afterwards, a small squall came through, with winds of 30 knots. Better not to be hanging around reefs in that kind of wind.
After a quick trip back to Papeete to collect our repaired mainsail and new crew member Callum Watts, and buy more provisions (including 20 pain au chocolat and 17 French tarts, pamplemousse (Polynesian grapefruit), fresh pineapples, melons, green tomatoes (they ripen quite quickly in this climate), 4 baguettes, frozen duck breasts, and many liters of fruit juice, we were planning to sail overnight to the islands of Taha’a and Raiatea. But after phoning the French met service for their English language weather forecast (40 knots of wind, thunderstorms, big seas), we decided to stop instead in the now familiar anchorage of Cook’s Bay and wait out the storm.
We set 50 meters of chain and 10 meters of bridle in 20 meters depth, but in bucketing rain and wind gusts of 40 knots plus, we were awakened at 2 AM by the GPS anchor drag alarm. Just before 4 AM the storm was upon us, and we had anchored in 20 meters of depth with not enough scope on the anchor rode. So it was all hands on deck, and in rain and wind, and dark of night, we retrieved the anchor, moved into shallower water, more protected from southerly winds, and deployed 50 meters chain and more than 50 meters of nylon rode. Our crew Vanessa and Callum managed the anchor windlass and bridle, while Dorothy payed out the rode from the anchor locker, ensuring no tangles or hockles would jam in the windlass. Steve used the engines to position the boat from inside, as he watched the crew working on deck through our gigantic windows. We formed a bridle out of our two reacher sheets, tied to the nylon rode with rolling hitches.
After the anchoring was completed, we re-fortified ourselves with pain au chocolat pastries heated in the oven while we waited to see how the boat would lie to anchor. The weight of the chain helped keep the anchor dug into the mud, and the nylon rode provided stretch to cushion the pull on the anchor in the gusts. There were no swells because we were anchored towards the head of the bay and the length of fetch over the water was only about a kilometer. I could feel the boat surge forward and back as the nylon anchor rode stretched in the 40 knot gusts and recoiled as the wind eased. We maintained our position, as we could see on the radar where Steve had set up variable range marker rings, showing us precisely our distance from shore and from the other boats. By 6 AM the sky began to brighten, and the sun was soon shining through the clouds of a clearing sky with rainbows painted across the fluoro green cliffs from which waterfalls cascaded. The wind was still blowing in the 30’s at 7 AM, and we were happy to be safely anchored in a sheltered bay rather than on the high seas, sailing towards a reef-ringed island.
Our new crew member, Callum Watts is a professional deep sea saturation diver. That means he regularly dives to depths of 120 meters, in a dive suit through which warm water is circulated, and breathes a mixture of helium and oxygen. He is also trained to operate remotely operated deep sea vehicles (ROV’s). He told us that one day when he was waiting on the bottom of the ocean for gear to be lowered down to him, a spider crab 4 feet high walked past him. During another deep dive, he walked onto the back of a 15 foot wide manta ray which was buried under the sand. The ray began to swim, and Callum rode, as on a flying carpet, he says, until he fell off the back!
Vanessa and Callum immediately acquired each other as targets for the Aussie and Kiwi humor that those of us who do not live in the Antipodes find it difficult to understand. They teased each other mercilessly, and Steve and I frequently would be at a loss to even understand what they were talking about.
On June 28 we raised anchor, put two reefs in the mainsail, and departed Cook’s Bay for 125 nautical mile sail to the islands of Raiatea and Taha’a, before winds of 25 knots. Twice a large fish struck one of our fishing lures, but we were sailing too fast, and the line broke. Dorothy and Vanessa baked a loaf of banana cake with chocolate chips and walnuts, a treat for late night watch standers.
Just after nine PM we anchored in Baie de Pueheru on the northwest corner of ile Taha’a in 24 metres depth. Vanessa and Callum tied icicle hitches to connect the bitter ends of the bridle line to the nylon anchor rode. We deployed 50 meters of chain and about 50 meters of nylon rode. We had considered anchoring in several other bays, but did not like the reefs located near the centers of these bays. The Baie Haamene was described in the guide as experiencing “Rafales violentes” when the wind outside the bay was 20 knots or so. The cruising guide writes that we should find 8 to 12 meters deep water over a sandy bottom in some of the bays, but all the bays are 24 meters deep or more. We had considered anchoring near ilot Tehotu where the snorkeling was said to be quite good, but instead we chose to anchor ADAGIO in a safe cove, and take our dinghy ALLEGRO across the channel for snorkeling expeditions among the islets which dot the fringing reef.
Astern of us the mythical island of Bora Bora provided an extraordinarily beautiful foreground as the sun set ablaze between the two mountain peaks which form the island’s famous profile. On June 30, as we were raising our anchor, two cruising boats anchored ahead of us in the narrow bay, and we had to ask a sailboat from Aberdeen to motor forward so that we could bring up our chain and anchor which was beneath their boat. We exited the lagoon through the pass in the reef against a two meter swell, in 20 knots of wind, and quickly dogged the front window hatches as blue water washed over our large front windows.
After a fast sail under our big reacher, from Taha’a to Bora Bora, we picked up a mooring belonging to the Bora Bora Yacht Club in the small bay just south of Point Farepiti. The full moon was rising in the cleft between Mt Paihia and Mt Oteman, the two highest peaks on the island, once again bringing us an extraordinary sunset. The Bora Bora Yacht Club is a funky, thatched roofed building with a dock for dinghys, a very welcoming staff, a lovely garden, and cold beers. The host and hostess recommended a good restaurant, called in our reservation, and arranged for the restaurant to carry us in their van to and from the restaurant. Callum treated us to the four star restaurant, Top Dive, in a beautiful traditional style hatched roof building with soaring ceiling, white marble floors and azure swimming pool, provided us with a meal fit for a Polynesian king — the best of France and Polynesia! A performance of Polynesian dance and song, by dozens of dancers in a large outdoor arena, part of a week-long festival entertained us on Thursday night.
In preparation for provisioning for a departure for Hawaii, we browsed in the several small grocery stores and the small roadside vegie stands. The woman behind the seafood counter offered to hold several fresh baguettes for us, fresh from the oven. Steve discovered an internet cafe/bakery called l’Appetisserie, from which we ordered lots of tarts au fraise (tarts made with California strawberries) and lots of pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants).
Vanessa and Callum worked above and beyond the call of duty, patching with epoxy the several dings in the hull from the concrete wharf in Papeete, cleaned the hulls and polished all the stainless pulpits and fittings on deck. Our speedy expedition dinghy, ALLEGRO, carried us to the south end of Topua Iti island, close to the “Manta Ray Pit”, for views of moorish idols, Regal angelfish, butterfly fish lemon peel angelfish, and the highlight: groups of spotted rays, cruising the depths, outlined against the white sand bottom. Vanessa described a close nose-to-nose encounter with a spotted ray at the edge of the channel. “Giant Moray eels” were abundant, slithering between the rocks.
By rental car we drove around the island, inspecting other anchorages and seeing how the locals lived. Many waterfront cottages had on the beach either an outrigger canoe or an outrigger dinghy, which the locals hoist out of the water using simple manually operated wheel lifts. We celebrated the 4th of July in the lively company of American cruisers, aboard the Amel Super Maramu Millenium 53′ s/v DOODLEBUG from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Vanessa decided to continue on with us to Hawaii, and Callum planned to stay aboard all the way to Sitka. Our weather router advised us that July 7, our grandson’s seventh birthday, would be a good weather window for departure, after the passage of a cold front. We needed to resume our voyage “North to Alaska” while the seasons were still favorable.