Friday, April 29, 2011

From Spanish to French (with a touch of English in the middle)

A few more comments about Easter Island before we start heading westward to Pitcairn Island and French Polynesia… Emily did arrive on Bobby a few days after we left. The Chilean navy sent a boat out a few miles to tow her into the anchorage. There were a couple of cruising boats there to help her and there help was both needed and appreciated. Winds swung to the NW which meant that swells were heading directly into the anchorage for a couple of days. At times the swells were more than 10 feet high and it was a challenge to anyone’s ground tackle and Bobby’s anchor rode parted and she was only being held by her (fairly light) snubber line to the chain. Jeff on Curare, another BC boat, took over some of his spare chain to help her secure her situation while the navy were there with a patrol boat which was taking breaking waves over its length. Can’t imagine what it must have been like but it sounded horrendous. BTW, it was impossible for any boats to enter or leave Hanga Piko, the slightly better, but smaller, harbour nearby. Also it was not possible for boats to seek alternative anchorages since the swell was entering the northern anchorage and the winds were soon to switch to the SE and make the anchorage on the this side of the island untenable. There is a reason why not that many boats go to Easter Island in spite of the obvious attractions there.

Our last day there was not without a bit of drama. We went ashore in the morning to check out with the navy (they also come out to the boat), to get water and do some provisioning. By time we got back to the dinghy, the waves had built up across the narrow gap that lead into the boat landing. About a third of these were breaking (think for minor league surfing) and it was hard to pick out a pattern. At times, five in a row would break and then there would be eight or so that did not break, but then three would break and there would only be a short interval until more breakers came. It did not look like a very safe exit with our limited outboard power and a heavy load so we chickened out and paid one of the local dive boats to tow us out past the line of breakers. I think that this was a good decision since a capsize would have made a big mess and could have been dangerous.

Hanga Roa anchorage is the area in the distance here on the right. At best the swells here were around three feet but after we left the boats here had swells in excess of 10 feet. This is not a big surprise since the anchorage is open to about 160 degrees of the ocean.

A final comment is about the the Chilean Navy, the Armada (I thought that word only applied to the Spanish fleet in 15xx that Drake fought. In fact, it just means ‘navy’ and everyone – Chile, Peru, etc. has an armada. Anyway, the Armada folks on Easter were terrific = professional and helpful at every turn. When they came out to check us in, they damaged our toe rail – perhaps really nifty boat handling would have avoided this but accidents happened. The Port Captain accepted responsibility and took our estimate of the repair cost ($250) and paid this in cash – they also did not charge us the $130 health fee. When they left they made a point of using a large inflatable rather than a heavy fibreglass launch to make sure that no further damage would happen – this was appreciated because swells were much bigger than on our arrival. Chile’s entry procedures are more complex than they should be, but that is not the fault of the local guys. At every turn they were friendly and helpful, while doing their jobs professionally.

If the trip to Easter Island was noteworthy for days of strong winds and close reaching, the trip from Easter was the exact opposite with light winds and broad reaching and running. The distance to Pitcairn Island was about 1100 miles. In normal trade winds we can sail about 150 miles a day (+/-) so that would be about 7 days. The problem was that we were south of the trades and winds were light, generally from the north or north east. The passage took us 15 (!) days and was hard on the sails with much sail slatting and banging.

To add insult to injury, when we go to Pitcairn there was almost no wind but swells coming from both the south (large (10’ or so) but regular) and north (smaller (4’) but confused). The result was that none of the anchorages on the island were tenable. The north swells were sweeping into Bounty Bay (a terrible anchorage at best) and making it a lee shore). The alternative anchorage on the other side of the island, Tedside, was being swept by the southern swells. The best solution we could come up with was for the surfboat to come out to take June ashore for the day while I floated around a few miles offshore and admired the beauty of the island. Even getting into their boat was a huge challenge which involved timing the waves and jumping down at the right instant – stepping down was not an option.

Ainia is just visible in the middle of the picture taken from Adamstown, Pitcairn. There are cliffs around almost the entire island. The village and other features are up a steep hill from the landing in Bounty Bay which is the tiny bay at the bottom middle of the picture. Water shallow enough for anchoring is quite close to shore and the disturbed (white) water in the picture.

June with some of the Pitcairnites. Considering the people are the descendants of English sailors and a few Polynesian men and Polynesian women, the people are very European-looking. Brenda Christian (not shown) was an exception, she was much more Polynesian in appearance.

June absolutely loved the island and its people (current population is 66). The launch was driven by Brenda Christian who is the great granddaughter (6 generations later) of Fletcher Christian. Other than the odd person from Britain and New Zealand, all the people ashore are Christians or Youngs and they could not have been warmer or friendlier. The island only gets about 100 visitors a year, mainly from passing yachts and they looked after June royally. She bought stamps, carvings (they travel to an island 100 miles away to get wood for carving), and even a lot of vegetables at a very good price (in spite of a recent drought). She was even given some honey a product for which the island is becoming famous. By the time she got back to the boat she seemed to be on a first name basis with half of the population!

From Pitcairn our next stop, Mangareva in the Gambier Islands, was only 290 miles but the light winds continued and this was an almost 72 hour trip (we did end of slowing down on purpose so we could arrive at daylight). We are now anchored off the town (village?) of Rikitea which is the metropolis of the Gambiers (population about 600). The Gambiers are part of French Polynesia but very remote. They get on airplane a week (with a second one every second Sunday ). They get a supply ship every 25 days (which is better than Pitcairn which has no airport and a supply vessel every 3 to 4 months. The only industry here is black pearl cultivation and we are trying to decide if we are rich enough to afford to bsy some of these. Nice, medium-sized pearls seem to sell for $50 to $60 each so a string of them would start to get pretty expensive. We are keeping our eyes open for someone selling the imperfect pearls (size, shape, colour) that go very cheaply.

The anchorage here is very protected but there is still a nice breeze. We will be spending a couple of weeks here before heading northward into the Tuamotus and then westward to Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and those more famous French Polynesian islands. Our visa here is good for 90 days and I am sure we will use most of that time relaxing and working on our French (it is tempting to say ‘Gracias’ rather than ‘Merci’ because we have been in Spanish places for so many months.)

Our passage from Easter to Mangareva also included our first significant health problem. I developed an infected boil at the top of my left thigh. At its worst it was a lump the size of a baseball with a red area around it that extended from by butt to my knee. It also produced a mild fever. Fortunately we were in contact with Silas Crosby whose captain is a doctor from BC – yay, Dr. Steve! He suggested the treatment - hot, wet compresses twice a day to keep it all open so the infection could drain out, along with dressings covered in a topical antibiotic (Fucidin) along with oral antibiotic (Cipro) and for a few days, Extra-strength Tylenol to reduce pain and fever. June did heroic work sailing the boat and doing the medical treatments. I could not sit on one side for two weeks and found it hard to even find a comfortable way to lie down. The clinic in Rikitea have been great and they are doing the dressings now and making sure that it heals correctly since the possibility of a re-infection is there.

For those making up a cruising first kit, take a lot more gauze pads and tape than you think you will need (3x as many) – we used many of these since when the infection was most active the dressing had to replaced 6 or so times a day as great amounts of blood and crud were leaking out. We also used maxipads – cutting them into three pieces. We are also going to check with a doctor and pharmacist about whether there is a better oral antibiotic for skin infections than Cipro which we had more for digestive system and respiratory system infections. Making up an offshore first aid kit is expensive but you really appreciate it when you need it. BTW, my leg should be better in another week or so – in total about a month since the problem first appeared. I checked with Steve and with the doctors here and they both said that these things can just happen and there is little you can do to prevent it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

South to Isla Pascua (or Rapa Nui or Easter Island)

This was to be our longest leg of the year – about 2000 nautical miles in all. Cornell’s book suggests that after leaving the calms around the Galapagos it should be a beam reach in the SE Trades almost all the way to Easter Island. He suggests avoiding an area outlined by 3° S and 8°S and 90°W and 95W° where calms and gale-condition squalls have often been reported. In theory, when you leave the Galapagos you should have SW winds that will allow you to sail south or almost so until you pick up the trades around 3°S. We had south winds and had to choose whether to go SW or SE and the latter was the direction we were trying to go anyway. The result was that we went right through the area mentioned above and had the nicest weather of the passage- go figure.

If the passage from Ecuador to the Galapagos had been uneventful, this one was anything but. At first we had no winds to speak of and had to combine some motoring (15 hours or so) with a lot of ghosting along and picking up bits of wind from nearby squalls. For those familiar with it, it was very much like Lake Ontario racing in July. Squalls were constant and we probably went through 40+ on this trip. Some were welcome because they brought wind; many were not since they only increased the wind from 25 knots to 35 or so.

Once we reached about 6°S we finally found the trades but also a frontal trough that gave us far too much wind for a day or so. The trades seemed to be mainly SSE rather than SE (let alone south) and the difference really matters. We had a great deal of water over the deck for days on end and even took two waves into the cockpit. We found leaks in Ainia that we had never seen and had a bit of damage to sails and rigging. The result is that we will be a true sloop until Tahiti where there is a rigger – not that we ever used our inner stay and staysail.

We sailed this leg in radio contact with four other boats: Silas Crosby and Curare from British Columbia, Pyewacket II from Australia, and Bobby from California. Of these, the only one we actually saw was Silas Crosby, Our paths crossed about five days out from the Galapagos. Pyewacket was at Easter Island when we arrived and we will likely see much more of them since they are going to the same places as we are.

Much excitement was added to the trip because Bobby , a 40 year old 34’ Taiwanese ketch, crewed by a 25 year old woman ,was having some serious problems. It has wooden masts and the top of the mainmast broke between the main and mizzen sheaves. The result was that the upper part of her main and mizzen were not supported – in fact, she could have lost the entire rig except that a lower forestay kept the main up. There were long SSB discussions about how best to secure the rig and then to jury-rig some sails so Bobby could make Easter Island (this all happened about 600 miles from the island and this is a very lonely part of the world – and it was blowing 25 knots most of the time from a direction that did not allow her to lay the island.

She was combining sailing and some motoring (to get east) and we were heading for a rendezvous with her when two things happened. She had a broken coupling between her transmission and drive shaft. Running the engine with this out of alignment meant that she was taking on quite a bit of water. Scratch the motoring part and her need for fuel. As we were running toward her position we ran into a problem with a jib getting caught in the furler extrusion half-way up. The result was that the top half of the sail was acting as a jib and the bottom half as a spinnaker. We jury-rigged this to control the loose part and turned tail toward Easter since Emily no longer needed the fuel.

As I write this, Emily and Bobby are about 250 miles from Easter Island. The wind has switched to the east and even NE but it has also dropped substantially so she is only making 1 to 2 knots with a combination of a small jib, triple-reefed main (her damaged rigging does not allow her to raise more), and even a mizzen staysail. It does not look like we will be here when she arrives but she deserves a lot of credit for not giving up and finding solutions to the many problems she has faced. The Chilean Navy people here are waiting for her arrival and will tow Bobby into the very little, very sketchy harbour at Hanga Piko for repairs. It sounds like most of what she needs can be found on the island (repairs rather than new parts) so here trip is likely to continue at some point. (There is an Australian boat here that has been making repairs for five months and Jim on that boat will help Emily get going on her repairs. BTW, the Chilean Navy, like many navies and coast guards around the world will respond to an emergency and take a person off a boat but they will not tow the boat – so one is left with a very difficult choice.

We arrived at Easter Island after 15 days and started our repairs and the drying out of the boat. The island is quite pretty and interesting but the anchorage is not very good at all. There are only a few areas of sand and the water is quite deep (we are anchored in 45 feet) and swells come around the island in both directions so it is very rolly. When we go ashore in the dinghy we have to go between two sets of breaking waves that are so close together that you actually can say hello to the kids surfing. Some days you cannot get ashore at all here as the waves break right across the entrance to the dinghy dock. Something like 80 boats a year visit Easter Island and it is quite busy now as there are five here (two Canadian, two Australian, and one French).

Most of Easter Island is like this with surf crashing on the shore. There are only a couple of decent-sized bays on this quite large island. The ship is a Chilean navy vessel that brings freight to the island. Lighters go out to the ship to bring cargo ashore one container at a time.

Here we are anchored at Hanga Roa about 100 m beyond the surf line. This was a very calm day with little surf running. You need to come through a gap in the surf that is usually about 30 m wide and then make a hard left into the little basin that you can see where your only problems are significant surge, a spider web of lines used to tie up about 8 dive/fishig boats - and being careful not to hit two large turtles (3 feet across the shell) who hang out here to eat the fish guts and heads/

We did a tour of the island and the statues are quite remarkable. There are fewer than I thought – about 40 or so have been restored (all had been pushed over during various times of tribal conflict) with many more lying on the rocks, often broken at the neck. It is incredible to drive from the quarry where the statues were carved to the sites where they were displayed. One weighs 80 tons and was moved over a sizable hill a distance of perhaps 8 km.

This is part of the most spectacular group of statues - there are 15 here with a great view of the ocean behind. It seemed that all of the statues that were close to the shore faced inland.

We are very much looking forward to finding a quiet anchorage (Mangareva in the Gambier Islands of French Polynesia) and will be leaving on Saturday for this spot. Along the way we will be passing Pitcairn Island and will try to go ashore there. This is often very difficult as the anchorage there is even worse than the one here – we will try our best however and look forward to buying some of the famous stamps there. Pitcairn is about 1100 miles from here and Managareva another 300. Weather conditions should be much nicer and we will be going down wind for a change.

SPOT watchers. We received message sent notifications all the way to Easter but don’t expect this to continue very far as we go west.