Like the hem of a silk nightgown dancing delicately in the breeze, the foot of our spinnaker sashays in the twilight. A three-quarter golden moon dangles teasingly amid billowing clouds, cascading gilded ripples across the sea. The moon reappears beneath the nightgown’s hem just before the bow dips ever so gently, curtsying again and again and again. There is a spine-tickling sensuality to the scene.
We are sailing downwind along the 23rd parallel on seas as flat as middle America in a mere 6 knots of breeze. The only sound I hear is the gurgle of our hull skimming through the Pacific, the telltale sound that Red Thread is trotting at just over 4 knots. Not even the breeze utters a whisper. –Jessie
Dare we depart port on Friday the 13th? Well, the answer is clearly “yes.” Our passage between the Gambier Islands and Raivavae went down in the books as perhaps the most peaceful passage imaginable. But it started a bit rocky.Friday the 13th
Sailors are a superstitious lot. Some wouldn’t dare embark on a passage on a Friday, let alone Friday the 13th! We decided to tempt fate. We weighed anchor just before 10 am on Friday the 13th of May and motored through the necklace of coral that surrounds the Gambiers. It was my nephew Boden’s 10th birthday. We turned on our satellite phone, reserved for emergencies and only the most special of birthday calls, and dialed him in Utah.
Seas were lumpy, at 3 meters every 9 seconds, but Red Thread was well-stowed and the skies were blue. From the get-go we set a good pace and raced under full sail at over 6 knots within a few miles of s/v Romano.
I must be honest, three memorable mishaps did occur on the dreaded 13th, but by the end of the passage, we were quite happy to have paid the piper right out of the gate, which paved the way for the lovely sail we experienced thereafter.
“Security is mostly a superstition…Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” –Helen Keller
They say bad things come in threes
Incident numero uno. As we readied to boat for 700 nautical miles of open ocean ahead, Neil and I teamed up to tie down Ms. Sassy, our temperamental dinghy, on the bow. During the mundane endeavor, Neil slipped, his feet rocketing out from under him and his face careening directly into her fiberglass undercarriage. Face down, he slapped Ms. Sassy’s bottom furiously amid a barrage of swear words, some of which cursed our decision to depart on Friday the 13th. Neil sat up, looking as if he’d taken a right hook to the bridge of his nose, and with a bright red abrasion carved in the center of his forehead. Sailing across the Pacific is indeed a most hazardous endeavor.
The second mishap involved one of Neil’s precious scotch glasses. A gift from his brother and one of his most treasured personal possessions, he had two glasses etched with the logo of his alma mater, the University of Washington. Both had survived tucked in the corner of our dish cabinet for thousands of sea miles, but it seemed King Neptune required the sacrifice of one. I opened the cabinet to retrieve a plate, and the shattered remains of one of his glasses stared back at me…
Friday the 13th’s final abuse also took place in the galley. Late in the afternoon, I was busy cooking a large pot of green curry stew with half a saddle of pork we’d bought from Herve on Taravai. As we were living without refrigeration in an effort to wring the last breaths of life from our waste of a battery bank, every nibble of fresh meat aboard our ship was in the pot, which was, I admit, too full to be simmered in a seaway. I lifted the lid to give the concoction a stir just as we heaved to starboard. Our gimbled stove cocked backwards and then abruptly rocked the other direction as we rolled to port. The stovetop cover that rests unobtrusively behind the stove caught the lip of the pot and flung curry, white potatoes, purple sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, and several hunks of pork behind the stove. Damn. I shrieked with such vehemence that Neil assumed I had been injured, and moments later he was at my side. Overfilled the pot as I may have, I naturally blamed the stove, who had robbed me of pork and precious rounds of our last remaining carrots. With the exception of onions and garlic, vegetables were exceptionally difficult to obtain in the Gambiers, and I practically had to elbow a French woman out of the way to get my hands on a decent few.
The next thing I knew, I was on the galley floor folded over crossed legs, eyes inches from the floor, reaching beneath a hot oven (I had bread baking). With the aid of barbeque tongs, I retrieved as many morsels of food as I could bat toward me or clench with the tongs, and plopped them back into the pot above. All the while my husband, his face abraded from the morning rendezvous with the dinghy bottom, stood balancing the gimbaled stove with one hand and a now not-so-overfilled pot of curry [above my head] with the other. A curious thought struck me: “What has my life become that I am attempting to salvage a few half-cooked scraps of pork and root vegetables from the wasteland of questionable sanitation beneath a 450° oven?” That thought was quickly countered by the reminder that such dodgy behavior as it relates to food is really not that foreign to me, which is [in part] why this life has been such an easy transition. Conditions soon improved…
We have been graced by splendidly easy sailing on this passage, and if the seas and winds continue to ease as forecast, the spinnaker we haven’t hoisted in nearly 5,000 nautical miles may finally get to fly. The peacefulness of it all is worth the snail’s pace.
Lovely, lazy sailing
There were no aggressive seas selfishly ripping a kayak from our stanchions; no back-to-back gales that tried our stamina and conviction. Other than hand-steering more than we’d like to compensate for our dilapidated batteries, the passage was flat out easy. Our only breakages were the whisker pole, which fell onto the lifelines when the topping lift cleat broke free when we were deploying the pole in the pitch black of night, and a chafed hole at the luff of one of the batten pockets. Manageable.
We ran our Honda 2000i generator multiple times per day and turned on our chartplotter intermittently to conserve energy. We set a record for our slowest 24 hours at 84 nautical miles and courtesy of a full moon and benign conditions, we sailed through the night under spinnaker for the first time ever. Our days were delightfully mundane, as we succumbed to the zombie-state of watch routines, meal prep, sail trim, and attempts to entertain ourselves. Neil read and watched movies. I read and wrote and turned the galley into a lab of culinary experimentation. We learned that a hand of bananas quickly becomes a menace aboard. All of the fruit seems to ripen at once, and you must eat bananas until you hate them and question whether banning the fruit might be easier than eating it ever again. Banana bread, banana muffins, banana pancakes, banana smoothies, bananas on oatmeal, bananas straight out the peel, bananas, bananas, blasted bananas! To be whinging about a banana surplus is a manifestation of how little we really have to complain out. Okay, we did have one thing to grumble about…Neil spotted a cockroach at 4:00 am and heroically tore the cabin settee apart trying unsuccessfully to find the little demon. Disgusting…!
The aroma of banana bread, my mama’s recipe, is wafting from the galley oven and swirling with the scent of salt on the air, making my tummy growl. Daylight has arrived and the glow of the morning sun is diffuse behind the sea of clouds that blankets the sky, adorning it with a patchwork of shapes and shades of gray. It’s 7:30 am on day 3 of our passage from the Gambiers to the Australs, French Polynesia’s southernmost and least-visited island chain. –Jessie
After we hauled in a 28-inch yellowfin tuna, our first since our passage to the Galápagos, my cooking bonanza intensified! Beer-battered fish tacos (awesome!); dill, garlic, and lemon butter tuna steaks (divine!); guacamole (mediocre); and eggs benedict with scratch hollandaise sauce (borderline failure). I even tried my hand at pickling the tuna!
Two days later, as dusk fell and our fishing lines had been pulled in, our depth sounder began to ping at 95 feet when we were in more than 10,000 feet!
Neil unspooled the handline and before he could fully release the line, we had a bite! He was a child fishing from the kiddie pond! Minutes later, our second 28-inch yellowfin tuna of the passage was being filleted in the cockpit!
Beauty and treachery
On the morning of our seventh day at sea, the spires of an emerald island palace etched the horizon and begged us near. Luihi (you may know him as King Neptune from our equator crossing flick), laughed gleefully in the breeze, his hair a mop in a tornado, as we motored through the pass into Raivavae’s lagoon. We arrived with sun-kissed cheeks, eager to celebrate another successful passage beneath our bluewater belts.Unfortunately, we learned upon arrival that Mike and Gill on Romano did not fare so well during their final night at sea. A navigational error left them bouncing on the jagged, unforgiving barrier reef several miles off Raivavae’s shores. Theirs was one of the worst predicaments a sailor can imagine—especially in such a remote corner of the world—one that often leaves a boat damaged beyond repair or impossible to retrieve. Thankfully, Romano is a stout Swedish-built Najad, and Mike and Gill moved into action rapidly. They used the volume of the swells and their engine and bow thrusters to maneuver themselves off the reef and get Romano, and themselves, into deeper water and safety. Read more about their fiasco here.
Hereafter, we shall embark upon passages on Friday the 13th whenever the option presents itself! The crew of s/v Romano might feel differently. How about you?
Point of departure: Taravai, Gambier Islands of French Polynesia – 05/13/16
Point of arrival: Rairu, Raivavae, Austral Islands of French Polynesia – 05/20/16
Distance traveled: 756 nautical miles
Total time: 7 days, 3 hours
Engine roaring: 6.5 hours
Sails soaring: 164.5 hours (96%)
Average speed: 4.4 knots
Jessie’s musings: Our prior passages between the Galápagos and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and from there to the Gambiers were difficult. Although we had a couple mishaps, this passage was cake. Sure, we experienced the regular tiredness that comes with passagemaking, but we truly felt relaxed. I felt gratitude for the simplicity and monotony of the sail. On the afternoon of day 5, my logbook entry reads, “Enjoyed a pamplemousse topless on the bow in the sunshine.” If that isn’t a most delicious taste of freedom, I don’t know what is!
Neil’s reflections: The thing that stands out in my memory is that this passage was in every way different than the four days before we reached the Gambiers. The winds were consistent and favorable and fairly light. We flew the spinnaker for nearly 24 hours and had clear, calm nights. We also were fortunate to catch 2 yellowfins (well, three…we released one). Raivavae was stunning as the sun came up…one of the most beautiful places you can imagine seeing upon approach.