Friday, 31 August 2007

4 days of hell & 24 hours of even worse!

It feels like an out of control train careering down the tracks or a scary theme park ride that doesn’t end. It has pushed me further than any previous passage, in fact anything in my entire life. I hit bottom, total exhaustion after a never ending battle with the elements left me unable to think rationally & leaving me petrified for our safety.
This has been the roughest passage to date for both of us, one neither of us wish to repeat. We fought confused seas, east south east (ESE) winds of 40 knots; 2 swells, one wind generated from the east & the other a southern ground swell; 5 meter breaking waves that crashed down upon us engulfing the boat. It was harsh conditions that ripped our mainsail & cut through our furler line, very bad news in such bad weathers as we were unable to properly reef or put away the sail. Wearing all our foul weather gear; thermals, waterproofs, boots & most importantly our PFD’s (life vests & harness); we attempted to complete our watches whilst clipped in to stop the breaking waves from taking us overboard. The waves hurtled themselves at the boat, filling the cockpit with salt water, ripping items from the deck & throwing the boat from port to starboard & back again. To top it all off there was no moon during the passage leaving it the blackest of nights & visibility a big zero. Unable to see which direction waves are coming from & when the next big one is going to cover you in freezing salt water is highly disconcerting.
The jugs of diesel strapped along both sides of the boat were broken free with the power of the waves. Bobby climbed forward & we attempted to rescue as many jugs as possible. Not an easy job as mountainous wave’s crash over the boat.
As conditions worsened Bobby deemed it too dangerous to be outside. We were drained, fatigued & I will happily admit I was frightened. We put our faith in the autopilot, shut the companionway & attempted to rest. No chance of being able to sleep, eating was a definite no go & drinking was also a mission with most of it being spilt down my front. As I lay on the bed scared & crying I attempted to recall essential items to take for the life raft just in case.
It wasn’t to be the end of the testing times. With battery power low we needed to run the generator. She wasn’t impressed with our conditions & did not want to run. With power crucially required for the auto pilot, mast lights & GPS, I sat on the floor sliding from side to side, squeezing the fuel ball encouraging it to run. I sat there for an hour with frightened tears running down my cheeks whilst Bobby hopelessly tried to get some rest. It was team work & I knew the importance of letting him rest in order for him to think clearly.
We decided to make an unscheduled stop on a tiny island called Palmerston to escape the weather & rest. As daylight arrived, Bobby returned to the cockpit. Conditions were still terrible but at least we could see what we were battling against. It was another 10 hours of combating the elements until we approached Palmerston.
Unable to furl the headsail was going to cause problems as we came into the anchorage. We radioed ahead & spoke to boats at the anchorage. As we approached, a local boat brought 2 sailors out to Barraveigh. They climbed onboard & immediately set to work on the headsail. It was a relief to have someone else take over. They brought us in safely & got the anchor set securely. Left alone we sat on deck still wearing all our gear, hugging each other with happiness. We were safe & stationary – I can’t even attempt to tell you how that felt. Cheese & crackers washed down with a glass of wine to celebrate our safe arrival was followed by a deep well needed sleep.
Casualties: ripped main sail, broken furler line, ripped biminy (canvas roof over the cockpit), 2 diesel jugs now lying on the bottom of the ocean (we were lucky we didn’t loose them all). The list could have been a lot worse & we are lucky the problems are all fixable.
We made it!!! Barraveigh is a tough old girl who we have up most faith in.

final goodbye to france!

We said our goodbyes to the French Polynesian Islands & left for an 8 day plus passage to Tonga. But not before a few laughable incidents!

Still pottering about in the dinghy (if it was a car I’d have my L plates attached!) Thought no harm could come to me in the short trip across to the dock for a bag of ice -how wrong could I be! Halfway there the outboard begun coughing & spluttering. Having a good idea I was out of petrol I did the sensible thing - crossed my fingers & hoped I’d make it to the dock where someone could give me a tow back. It wasn’t the case & I was left with no power, no oars (had neglected to put them in!) & 15 knot winds, pushing me towards the coral. Typically no one was on the deck of their boat or could hear me shouting. 2 meters away from the coral I knew there was only one way out! I jumped into the water fully clothed & swam back to the boat towing the dinghy! I may have failed in my mission to get the ice but received brownie points from Bobby for not letting the dinghy & outboard get broken up on the coral!

Another good evening drinking at Bloody Mary’s was followed by more entertainment. Returning to our dinghies & unfortunately Chris (s/v Barefeet) stepped directly off the dock into the water completely missing the dinghy! He got off lightly with a small cut on his foot & gave us a few laughs!

Our SSB radio has been a problem since we set off in Panama. Boats had problems hearing us during the big crossing & Bobby was determined to get it fixed for the next leg, which meant ripping up everything in the bedroom to check wiring & replace copper bonding. On the edge of spending 2 more days changing wiring running throughout the boat in the deepest & inaccessible areas, Mike (s/v Wombat of Sydney) suggested the problem could be as easy as whistling into the mike prior to transmitting. Bobby was highly sceptical that the solution would be so easy & ridiculous.. Guess what…. it works!! Don’t ask me how, all I know it its something to do with tuning the radio with whistles!

Believe it or not I still have a milk tooth! It didn’t appreciate being chomped down on a muesli (granola) bar & required a visit to the dentist. Mark from Scholarship set up his dentist’s surgery onboard. Looking very professional in his white coat, I was provided with a huge pair of sunglasses whilst a table lamp was shone into my mouth. I had the full works & no longer have any problems. A big thank you Mark!

Filling with tanks with water at the dock was not as easy as it looked. Coral heads beneath threatened to take chunks out of the boat. After measuring the depth of the highest coral heads it was deemed possible for Barraveigh to tie up on the dock. We remained in place for Wombat of Sydney & Scholarship (larger boats with larger keels) to tie up alongside us where the water was deeper & filled their tanks. We had never noticed the slight tide change but when you are sitting above coral heads with only inches of clearance the smallest of tides makes a huge difference! Bobby dove under the boat to check it out & found he could touch the bottom of the keel with his little finger & the top of the coral head with his thumb! Luckily we got out of there with no disasters, said goodbye to both Bora Bora & the French Polynesian Islands.

Depending on the winds we will either head directly to Tonga or make a stop on route. Keep your fingers crossed that we will have nice weather.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Society Islands

My apologies for the lack of recent updates & therefore extra long news report! We have had a blast here. The best bit – enjoying paradise at a fraction of the price, the honeymoon couples are paying! A waterfront bungalow with a huge bed, crisp white bed linen, fresh water showers, air conditions & tv is appealing but at £400 per night I can do without!
Since leaving Tahiti we visited Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, & of course world famous Bora Bora. They are green, mountainous islands like the Marquesas but with reef encircling them, similar to the Tuamoto’s. We sail through the breaks in the reef (passes), dropping the anchor between the reef & land. Apart from the great food in the supermarkets the other thing the French do well is marking the channels with red & green posts to aid navigation. In one confused moment we motored in circles whilst trying to work out if the marker should be on our starboard or port side. Hugely important, get it wrong & the boat will hit reef…lets just put our indecision down to having too much sun!!
Moorea took our breath away for both good & bad reasons. Gillaume & Julian joined us from Tahiti for the weekend. It was great to share life on board Barraveigh & they were great guests. They arrived on 2 scooters with 2 surfboards, bottles of wine, a case of beer, my fab straw hat & snorkelling equipment – I wish we had taken a photo! Unfortunately overnight one of the scooters was stolen, hugely disappointing but they remained upbeat & continued to have a fantastic weekend.
Swimming with sting rays was the highlight in Moorea. We took the dingy to a swallow area in the middle of the ocean and were instantly surrounded by sting rays. They were very inquisitive, checking us out & swimming by brushing themselves on us. Bobby tried to get a ride on the larger rays, grabbing hold of their wings. Guess they weren’t keen as they’d stop swimming & go into reverse to get him off! Hanging around in deeper water just meters away were black tipped reef sharks. I guess they were friendly sharks & didn’t mind being chased by Bobby & I, who were keen to get a good photo!
During a kayak trip I made a discovery, five sunken Tiki’s the size of our dinghy. I doubt they are authentic but it was a cool find & I rushed back with my snorkelling gear.
The anchorage in Moorea was perfect, surrounded by coral & turquoise waters. Perfect until the wind kicked up. The anchor dislodged & we dragged. Luckily the chain wrapped around a coral head & stopped us from going into the reef but it could easily have been a different story. As daylight arrived & the winds died, we pulled anchor. Not easy with the chain wrapped around a coral head & very little room to manoeuvre. It was tense (especially between Captain & crew!) but we got Barraveigh out of there safely.
A night passage to Huahine was anything but tranquil. Both struggled to sleep during our 2 hours “off watch” due to unsettled seas & with intermittent winds the sails were constantly in & out, & engine on & off. Result a grumpy captain & moody crew! ; )
We remained in Huahine longer than expected waiting out a bad weather front. Much of the time was spent partying with fellow cruisers, followed by a day of movies recovering from hangovers! – vague recollections of dancing onboard Seari before stripping off for a night swim; a night of games with Barefeet, after which Bobby slept in the cockpit with a bucket!; impromptu sundowners on Barefeet followed by a late night of loud music & dancing….very surprised the rest of the fleet were still talking to us the following day! It was a fun filled week with good friends & laughs, oh & bruises – my hammock on the bow collapsed sending my crashing down onto the life raft (Dad, you’ll be pleased to know my cleat hitch was perfect, it was Bobbys bowline that slipped….result a bruise the size of a plate on my calf!!) We even managed to set aside time for an archaeological tour of the island & a walk to many marae’s (old sacred platforms where local people years ago would pray to the gods – once you’ve seen a few you’ve seen enough but it was good to stretch our legs!) It was a great island & one of the favourites!
A quick stop in Raiatea due to empty propane tanks, that’s gas bottles to us Brits (apparently I’ve been baking too many muffins!!) before moving onto Bora Bora!! Pulling the anchor in Raiatea gave us a few problems. Soon realised why when the anchor broke the surface with a lump of coral attached to it (see photo gallery).
We are now in Bora Bora anchored outside the apparently well known (I had never heard of it!) Bloody Marys, a fab restaurant & bar visited by the stars & bus loads of honeymooners! We have visited many islands that have similar offerings as Bora Bora, fantastic turquoise waters, incredible snorkelling & great scenery yet there is something special about Bora Bora even if it is over run with tourists! For that reason (& that I’m not keen on beginning another passage to the next island chain) we have remained here for longer than expected. The Society Islands have certainly woven their magical spell upon us & its hard to say goodbye.