He’s one helluva catch: Getting naked ‘n lucky en route to Niue

August 2016

My handsome captain is naked; well, almost. I insisted on it.

I want to get this photo right. I’ve been waiting for this moment, for this pelagic fish. Since sometime before we embarked on our voyage, I have wanted to recreate the image that covers The Cruisers Handbook of Fishing, the authority on fishing while voyaging, even still after nearly 20 years since publication.

We don’t have a copy of the book aboard, but I can see the cover image clearly in my mind as I stage the shot.

Neil is wearing a bandanna…and a 40-inch (101 cm) dorado.

As it turns out, the cover boy and author, Scott Bannerot, was not naked on the cover, nor was he standing on the starboard side of his sailboat. In fact, he wasn’t even holding a dorado! He was holding a tuna. The whole experience made me question the veracity of my memory, BUT I got a few things correct: man, boat, fish.

I love his photo.

We hauled in that beautiful dorado on the final morning of our 4-day passage from Suwarrow to Niue, but there were nearly 500 nm between Suwarrow and that glorious moment.

Moooooooving on…
Dolphins accompanied us as we made our way though the reef pass and shifted our course to sail for Niue, an omen for a good passage ahead. We galloped along at 6.5 knots, Red Thread’s mane dancing in the southeasterly tradewinds. Several days at sea stretched ahead of us, and Suwarrow’s seabirds circled around us.

Suwarrow had proven a very special stop, complete with some of our most interesting wildlife encounters and memorable moments with fellow cruisers and Harry and Pae. There is always a part of us that longs to linger, but Mother Nature herds us onward like cattle to fresh pasture with the change of seasons. Only three months stood between us and cyclone season. If we tarried anywhere too long, we would risk having to cover more miles in a short timeframe later. Such is the cruiser’s plight; there are worse ones indeed.

Why is the bilge pump running?
Suwarrow was well in our wake when a red light on our instrument panel alerted us that our bilge pump—the device responsible for removing seawater from Red Thread’s nether regions—was running. Ours is a wet bilge, so there is always a bit of water down there. Rarely enough to necessitate running the bilge pump, however. We lifted the large, hinged floorboard in the center of the salon to investigate.

Shit. We were taking on water!

Thankfully, the culprit was but a hose clamp (two, actually; we often double them up side-by-side) that had rusted and snapped and not one of the more sinister possibilities (e.g., leaky shaft seal, failed seacock, hole in the boat).

The hose that was spewing ocean water into Red Thread’s belly was meant to lead to the engine, to the raw water heat exchanger, specifically. We were under sail, so at that moment weren’t requiring an influx of seawater to cool our Yanmar engine via the raw water heat exchanger. Had we been, the problem could have far worse (e.g., if we were navigating a crowded harbor or bommie-strewn anchorage or crossing shipping lanes). We carry about 50 spare hose clamps in all shapes and sizes “just in case.”

King Neptune rewarded our efforts to keep Red Thread afloat by sending us a 32-inch (82 cm) skipjack tuna at dusk as we eased into an uneventful, relaxed night of tradewind sailing after a fine dinner.

Logbook 07 August 2016 @ 3:00 am: From one inky horizon to the other, a panorama of astronomic grandeur paints the sky. The mast pivots and sways with the rhythm of the sea, carving an invisible pattern across the star-studded heavens. Fifteen knots of breeze rustle the canvas bimini over the cockpit and fill our sails, propelling us mile after mile toward the “Rock of the Pacific”, the miniscule country of Niue. Waves gush along our hull and gurgle behind our transom, the voice of the sea telling me that we’re sailing at just over five knots. This is as good as it gets. These are the nights we crave. The only thing missing is the moon. –Jessie

Day 2 of our passage was marked by squalls and lower-than-forecast winds. We flopped around a bit but maintained 5 knots of speed, as the hours ticked by. The monotony was broken when we realized we had an issue with our rig.

“The starboard lower aft shroud looks to be a problem” –Neil, logbook 08 August 2016

Cotter rings or pins are used to lock the shroud turnbuckles, essentially preventing the turnbuckles from rotating. Failure of these can lead to tension on the shroud being released, effectively allowing the mast to shift out of alignment. As we sailed along, Neil noticed that our starboard lower aft shroud was loosening because the cotter ring had broken. The shroud needed to be secured and tensioned. When Neil attempted this, however, the new cotter ring snapped, too.

We realized that Neil had made a mistake in how he had tensioned the shroud previously (during our time in Raivavae). Making a first-class amateur rigger mistake, Neil had turned the shroud, rather than the turnbuckle. Consequently, this placed too much load on the cotter rings, and they had finally heeded to the pressure.

We were on a port tack, fortunately, so the shroud wasn’t taking much load. Neil doubled up the cotter ring to add extra reinforcement, and it was holding. Although we were uneasy about the issue, we were confident enough that we’d get to Niue given that the forecast conditions were mild and set to temper further, all on a port tack. All we could do was monitor it and sail on, grateful that we had discovered the issue and that the error had not led to bigger problems during bigger winds. We added it to our to-do list for Niue.

Sea wench seeks academic job

Logbook 08 August 2016 @ 6:00 am: Much of the time, this lifestyle feels like we’ve been living it forever, as if there is no other way of being. Then, there are moments when the juxtaposition of our land life and cruising life collide. I’m on my nightwatch and just minutes ago, at quarter to five o’clock, a series of messages came in through our Delorme inReach. They were from my best friend in New York (over 7,000 miles away), who has been monitoring my email while we’ve been off the grid sailing from French Polynesia to Suwarrow. Wonderful news…I was selected to interview for a job at a university in Australia! –Jessie

We were one step closer to a realizing the possibility of getting to reach Australia and staying there.

A jubilant smile spread across my face.

I clenched my fist and whispered the word, “YES!” into the hollow blackness of the predawn ocean air.

I hastily tapped several messages back to my friend, asking for more details and expressing my appreciation for her, before stepping up to the helm. It was time to flip on the chartplotter and run a radar scan for squalls.

Now, I would just have to figure out how I’d take a call when we reached the tiny country of Niue in roughly 60 hours.

Lazy winds make for a noisy boat
Winds eased and we poled out the jib to help reduce stop the boat from rolling in two-meter seas that were flogging the sails and causing the sheets to thud across the cabintop. Creaks and moans and bangs echoed through the boat. Modifying our sail configuration helped to settle the boat and quiet things down. Then the winds eased to below 10 knots, and we hoisted the spinnaker for the first time since we sailed from the Gambiers to Raivavae three months prior. Then they eased even more and, as night descended on our last night at sea, we threw in the towel and fired up the engine.

By dawn, the sea was a pashmina of silk.

The logbook recalls my premonition that whales would burst from the lackadaisical sea at any moment, which they did just a couple hours later as we rounded the northern tip of tiny Niue. Two humpbacks, the first we’d seen since Mexico more than a year prior, gave us a whooshing welcome that immediately endeared us to the Rock of the Pacific. It was with the rising of the sun that picturesque morning that we hauled aboard the grand fish that lured Neil to get naked.And so it was with a refrigerator chockfull of fresh dorado that we lucky sailors hoisted our quarantine flag.

Without a protected harbor and not a single beach off which to anchor, Niue is a giant coral amulet smack in the middle so the Pacific.

We threaded two bowlines through a mooring in 90 feet (30 meters) of water that was so deliciously clear Red Thread might as well have been maraschino cherry bobbing in a blue lagoon, cheersed to making landfall at the Rock, and readied ourselves to greet one of the world’s largest uplifted coral atolls.

Passage perks
Point of departure: Suwarrow, Cook Islands – 08/06/16
Point of arrival: Alofi, Niue – 08/10/16
Distance traveled: 540 nautical miles
       Fastest 24 hours: 138 nautical miles
       Slowest 24 hours: 128 nautical miles
Total time: 97 hours (4 days, 1 hour)
       Engine roaring: 18.6 hours
       Sails soaring: 78.4 hours (81%)
Average speed: 5.6 knots
Jessie’s musings: When I remember this passage, it is the image of my gorgeous husband and that magnificent fish—the second largest we ever caught (second only to the behemoth barracuda off Nicaragua)—that springs first to my mind. For me, that photo immortalizes Neil’s youth and the glories of feeling incredibly free living during the time we lived a beautifully simple existence on the ocean.
Neil’s reflections: All in all, I remember this being a pretty good passage from a weather and sea state perspective. Coming out of Niue and discovering salt water below the engine due to the broken hose clamp, I remember becoming extremely frustrated again with our engine access. Red Thread is a truly fantastic blue water boat; however, she has one major flaw in my opinion: challenging engine access. No boat is perfect, so we take the good with the bad. In our case, this means a lot of contorting by the captain to keep her ship-shape and Bristol fashion.

3 thoughts on “He’s one helluva catch: Getting naked ‘n lucky en route to Niue

  1. Pingback: Two fish and one existential crisis | s/v The Red Thread

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