Saturday, September 6, 2008

Shiriri Saga #50.Breezing Up.

July 23rd. En route to Samoa via Suvarov atoll.
This morning on my watch I watched Smaug the dragon spitting out a long jet of flame: or at least that is what my imagination supplied from a big cloud caught in the rays of the rising sun. Our imaginations fill the quiet hours alone with all sorts of images in cloud formations. Later, Anne spoke with Feisty Lady, who we could see in the distance, on the VHF radio: they too are en route to Suvarov Atoll. It is rare to meet another yacht on passage but in this case we are on the same course and they are motoring so they leave us behind, ghosting along in a light SSE breeze.
We have had some rough weather since we left Bora Bora five days ago and are still appreciating the rest that these calm seas give us.
Francis is somewhere south and ahead of us and is experiencing lots of thunder storms: they must be on the edge of a convergence zone where all those southern fronts are meeting with this flow of air blowing more or less parallel with the equator. Finally, we too start the engine as the wind drops still more and even reddy cannot hold the wind. We need to recharge our batteries really well anyway after that long stay in Bora Bora.

July 26.
We have had good sailing in 15 knots of NE winds but now it is calm seas and on with the engine. Seventy-five miles to go to Suvarov where Francis is now at anchor in the lagoon. They report a lovely uninhabited atoll and we can`t wait to get there. By evening we are only thirty miles off and will have to hang around off the entrance pass until morning. The cruising guide gives good directions but warns boats to get out if the wind really gets up as the waves will then break right across the encircling reef. Francis reports a wind shift.

At three am. a big black cloud comes up from the south so down with all sail except the storm trysail and the fore staysail and along comes a massive gust of wind. We run off, waiting for the squall to pass but it just settles down to thirty-five knots plus and we steer to pass Suvarov well to the north. After wishing to get near all day, we now must watch out we do not pile up on a reef while running downwind as so many yachts have done before us. We worry about Francis trapped in the lagoon at anchor and they worry about us blithely sailing along and getting caught with all sail set. Once we are sure we are clear of the reefs we want to stop and not get blown too far past the atoll, so we experiment with heaving to and setting the storm drogue, that we bought in San Diego, off the bow. Without it the waves are throwing our bow to leeward but once set it exerts just enough drag to pull the bow back closer to the wind. We drift at an angle of 45 degrees to wind and wave and create a good protective slick to windward. This is the first time we have used a drag device since Cape Mendocino and are a little nervous but really a lot of water has passed under our keel since then and we are a more confident and experienced crew.

Shiriri drifts away from Suvarov at two knots or so and the only pain are a few nasty thumps when our counter stern drops into a trough with a jolt. By morning it is still windy and the seas are big but we retrieve the drogue and try to sail back toward the island. Francis reports they are ok at anchor but have waves breaking over their bow and a lee shore right behind them. They say the pass looks like it might be alright. After several hours of tough slogging we can now see the island ahead: we could struggle to the pass but what then? Charlie`s Charts says to get out of there in these conditions so why go in? We had so looked forward to a rest at this midway point on our journey but we shrug and ease off into a long reach for Western Samoa.

Lowering the storm trys`l.

From the Journal.
July 28th.
The wind is down to the twenty knot range and the seas are ten feet or so -a swell up from the southern ocean, with wind waves on top. We are sailing at four and a half knots under forestays`l and trys`1. Still a rough ride. Bilge water has sloshed up under Anne`s bunk damping her mattress and bedding. We roll scuppers under on a regular basis.

Lovely sunny weather. These are reinforced trades; 15 to 25 knots, and are predicted to last for at least another two to three days, but they are keeping our course clear of the convergence zone which is a plus! Meals are difficult to prepare, steering is difficult, sleeping is difficult. Heather is dreaming of the camper we will buy to drive across Canada. Flat at all times, ( no more serving meals in lidded tupperware containers) a little fridge, maybe a bathtub?

July 29th.
Last night was a continuation of before: strong SE wind and big seas. I took the try s`l down at midnight - steering was getting difficult and Shiriri was slewing around on the tops of big breaking waves. Heather called me just before my 6am time - she was falling asleep standing up. Now at lunch time Anne
is baking soda bread, Heather is steering. I`ve just woken up from a nap. Supper tonight: green beans, beef slices in gravy on cous cous. Very nice!

July 30th.
Steady progress overnight. Easier wind and waves. At 2:30 a.m. a boat that had been coming up astern came alongside, swerved toward us and turned it`s spotlight on us. Anne called them up on the VHF in her fiercest navy voice "What vessel is that? What are your intentions?"And back came Lisa`s squeak "This is the Francis vessel." We had a good laugh; they were not attempting to board us after all but were just trying to see if was us. They had managed to get out of the lagoon and were on their way to American Samoa. For us, they were the "Francis Vessel" for ever more!

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