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Logs & Stories - October 2005
October 6, 2005
Seafire went back in the water last Friday, nearly a week ago now, and we're engaged in resting and final clean-up. Not far from the boatyard is Apooiti Marina, a small dock-less harbor (all the boats inside the marina are Tahiti-tied, backed into a space with two moorings off the bow and two lines tied to the wharf.) We secured a pair of moorings and Tahiti-tied in the last slip on the outside quai of the marina with a stunning view of Raiatea's lagoon, forested Tahaa, and the jagged peaks of Bora Bora in the background. This side of the island faces west, nightly treating us to a wondrous array of sunsets -- a blazing orange ball sliced in half by the glistening horizon, a radiant light source blanketed by foreground clouds, beams of light originating from the distant sea and illuminating high clouds from beneath.
We ended up hauling out a week after we arrived, spending most of that time trying to decide which yard to use. As I mentioned, the yard that we'd been able to make reservations with over the Internet was tooled with cradles that were pulled about by a tractor. Unfortunately, the cradles didn't fit Seafire very well -- if we were placed in one it would be impossible to put supports under the boat's main strength bulkheads (in fact, the yard manager told us they'd support the boat only on the main hull, not necessarily even where there were frames), and the amas would be hanging about eight feet in the air, too high to reach without scrounging up a great deal of scaffolding.
The other yard, the one that didn't answer emails, had a better mechanism, a 30' x 30' steel I-beam platform on rails. The platform meant they could be more free form with the supports, positioning them most appropriately; in addition it had a shallower angle of exiting the water than the first yard and its tractor did, reducing risks and emotional trauma. I've been particularly nervous about this haul out because we have so much weight in the boat, more than ever before.
We ended up scheduling a haul out in both yards on consecutive days, and the day prior to the first one we went to the cradle-yard to watch them haul another unusual boat. The cradles were made for fin-keel monohulls and seemed to fit those and others pretty well, but this particular boat was a very wide, traditionally designed 40-foot Colin Archer monohull with a deep forefoot and a full keel. The owner, who had built the boat, watched it go into the cradle and chickened out -- with the supports only able to reach the forward 60% of the hull, most of the boat's 50,000 lb weight sat on the two aft-most 1' x 1' pads. It looked like a lot of weight on a couple of small spots and had the added adventurousness of giving the appearance of a large boat about to do a back flip. We chickened out when he did, and both of us ended up hauling out at the other yard.
As it turned out, because the Colin Archer was out at the same place and both of us had other friends arrive, the yard visit evolved into something of a multinational community experience for us. When you're at anchor, the only people who have access to you are those with boats, but on the beach you get spontaneous arrivals of random people, and in our first week in the yard we were treated to visits of folks from a variety of places around the planet.
The Colin Archer was crewed by captain Rick (a Swede who spoke six languages fluently) and Jim (an Englishman with an upliftingly light sense of humor); they were assisted by their friends Kenneth (another Swede) and his wife Videa (a exotically gorgeous woman from Trinidad). Our French-Canadian friends on Amani, Didier, Joanne and CÚline, anchored in the lagoon and visited us at various times, including Naomi's 10th birthday.
Veronique (Bernard Moitessier's widow) was nearby working on preparing Tamata for a passage, assisted by Aurleon, a charmingly handsome 26-year- old French sailing instructor. Richard, a Canadian resident of Uturoa who had spent twenty years living in Haiti, also joined us on numerous occasions. Ben, the twenty-five year old who'd been with us in Moorea, stopped by several times. There were other people who stopped by for conversation, folks living aboard anchored off the yards, cruisers passing through for a few days, the local sailmaker who repaired and modified our batten pockets.
One of the fun things about haul outs is how much attention Karryn gets from the other guys around the yard. Because she's gorgeous and capable, I always seem to be treated to a fair amount of respectful envy from both the yard workers and other boaters. This one was no different.
During the first week, it seemed that we were having nightly parties with international character and colorful conversation. At one point Rick (who's in his late 50's and recently divorced) and I were discussing women and how many men seem to think of them as being characterized by their ages rather than by the distinctiveness of their individual personalities. Among various related topics, we were discussing how could Rick find a girlfriend his age, and I said something like "I wonder how you meet a really nice 60-year-old Love Goddess?" Karryn immediately piped up with, "Wait sixteen years, you idiot."
Rick laughed pretty hard, but looked like he was eating his heart out.
Raiatea - continued (part 2)
The haul out itself was, well, a haul out. The main projects this time were: - Raising the waterline another 3 inches (9 inches in all, since the summer of 2001); needed because the splashing of the warm tropical water was causing marine growth well above the water's level. - Painting the bottom (this needs be done about every two years). - Repairing the crack in the minikeel. - Stiffening the self-steering's trim tab with multiple layers of heavy glass, motivated by the dang thing jumping off the back of the boat on our passage from the Marquesas. - Painting the dinghies and fiberglassing their oar tips.
The yard fortunately had three weeks of uncommitted time available on the platform we were placed on -- a perfect time since haul outs always seem to start feeling awful at the end of the second week, inspiring a spurt of let's-get-outa-here motivation in the third. This time, though, weather made a huge impact -- we were buffeted by squalls with heavy rains much of the first week and half of the last.
The first week it was okay, though. I was feeling kind of lazy, and the view out Seafire's aft cabin was spectacular -- Bora Bora twenty miles in the distance. In the rainless periods, I'd head below, generally after a leisurely slow start in the morning and go to the platform and work on something clean and gentlemanly like scribing the new waterline with a pencil. I actually took three days to do this, I think, working between the squalls. It was a fairly large job -- Seafire's three hulls give us the combined waterline of a 110-foot boat.
But I was also slow in starting after a break, mesmerized by the scenery, grateful that I had an excuse not to work too hard. Plus I was procrastinating on the sanding part -- that really shitty part where you get out a big, loud electrical machine and rub it on toxic paint as bits of dust fall in your eyes while you're wearing a hooded suit in 90-degree mid-day heat.
After that first rainy week, though, things pretty much got going. The Colin Archer got launched and then Amani and Tamata sailed off, so we lost a few visitors, and the weather improved dramatically. One of the challenging elements, though, was in dealing with the supplies available, basic stuff like sand paper, rollers, paint and epoxy. As it turned out, the yard stores had just enough of the things we were short of to make do. We had a couple of close calls, though -- we ran out of bottom paint, West System epoxy and foam rollers just as the job was complete. Whew!
Walking around the haul out grid, a structure made of steel I-beams about 6 inches wide and a foot apart, presented a challenge. The nerves driving my ankles are still suffering from my back injury, and I had to move around carefully to keep from falling. I was thinking this problem was unique to me until I noticed Karryn, Jackson and Naomi having similar difficulties. Fortunately, there weren't too many falls, and even then only a few bruises. My single fall, though, could have been much worse. I was holding an electric drill, putting a hole in the trimtab at the back end of the boat during high tide, when I slipped and fell in the water; fortunately, I managed to break my fall by my forearm hitting one of the steel beams kinda hard. Ouch! But the drill stayed out of the water. Karryn slipped when she and Jackson were moving a dinghy on the grid, managing to bruise the inside of one arm.
As it turned out, the grid provided me with some great physical therapy. After my injury, I spent a fair amount of time using a walker, then graduated to two canes side by side, then to a single cane. After returning to the US for the summer I started using hiking poles because they enabled me to stand up straighter, and I've been using one since but generally had to be mindful of walking carefully. After moving around on the grid without any aid, I found that my motion became more fluid, and I started forgetting to use the pole, accidentally leaving it leaning against something while I walked away.
After the week of dryness in the boatyard, the torrents of rain returned, this time with gusto. The wind seemed to shake the boat on its stands more frequently, and the rain was often drenching. As time passed, we were getting closer to the arrival of their next customer in need of the space, and the thought of spending additional time out of the water was starting to feel unpleasant. I guess I enjoy haul outs until I have to get covered in dusty, toxic filth; after that point, I get motivated to launch as soon as possible. We didn't have too trying a schedule until the rains started, but after than we were constantly moving tools, shifting from one job to another as appropriate, taking longer-than-wanted rain breaks.
The Polynesian guys in the yard were always friendly and helpful, perhaps related to Karryn's presence, perhaps because when Seafire was pulled from the water I'd gotten into the sea with the workers and helped them block the boat, swimming around and assisting them in placing huge wooden blocks under the minikeel (I don't think most owners do this sort of thing).
One of the last tasks needing to be done was raising the four 6-volt golf cart-type batteries (about 65 lbs. each) we'd just purchased from the ground up onto Seafire's deck. I pulled up the first one by tying a line to it, and standing on the deck and pulling it up. My feeble back didn't like this a bit, so I started going about setting up a block and tackle using a halyard, a block (pulley) and a line to a winch. Joe, an athletically huge Polynesian, perhaps 6'3", lean and muscular, saw me doing this and offered to come to my aid. With the next three batteries, he simply grabbed each of them with one arm, and walked up the eight-foot tall ladder, making it look easy. Lucky me.
Raiatea - continued (part 3)
When we went back in the water late on a Friday afternoon, we anchored outside the two boatyards on one of the few spots less than 80 feet deep, a slightly uncomfortable rowing range from the yard where we still had stored a few of the items we'd unloaded to reduce weight (diesel jugs, the heaviest sails, boxes of paints and metal parts). At this point, the boat was a complete mess inside, tools, parts and dirt everywhere, and only one of the dinghies was fully assembled after the painting and repairs we'd done. We spent the next two days alternatively resting and attending to all the completion details.
On Sunday morning we made the final trip to the boat yard to pick up our gear, and set about pulling up the anchor, only to find we'd seriously snagged a coral head. I got on my snorkel gear to examine the problem, dove into the water and took a peek. The anchor was set in about 45 feet of water, in the strong current too deep for me to get to but shallow enough in the somewhat murky water that I could see pretty well on my deeper dives.
My inspection brought on the thoughts of "Hmmm " and "Oh, shit." The chain was wrapped at least once around two coral heads. For about 15 minutes we tried to free ourselves by using Seafire's motor, but concluded we weren't being effective. Time for more drastic measures: I got out my scuba diving gear. Mind you, I've only been diving once in the fifteen years since my brother and diving partner, Joe, died. I'm a little rusty. I didn't know if I should trust my regulators, both of which are now 30 years old and haven't been serviced in a decade and a half. I didn't know if I should trust me, my crumbling spine or my failing memory which can't recall much of what I learned as a teenager about the main points of diving safely.
I felt like I did when I got in the water after leaving Nuku Hiva, the trim tab came off and to replace the thing I had to get into the pulsing sea under a leaping boat, its rudder jabbing about near my head. You know the notion: "Is this a challenge or an ass-kicking?"
I put on the tank, had a brief discussion with Karryn and the kids about what we were doing and how we'd communicate when I was under water (we used a buoy-release system), and I jumped in. First question: Will I float with the tank on? I got a good answer: I was neutral buoyancy. Easy to stay afloat at the surface, easy to descend in the water.
I dove down to more closely examine the problem. We'd anchored with about 4:1 scope leaving 50 feet of chain dangling from the bow of the boat and another 150 feet of chain running along the lagoon's bottom. This length of chain had found two coral heads, taking a single 90-degree turn around the larger one (about 10 feet high), and then completing its knot by taking a 360-degree turn around a smaller (4-feet high) mushroom-shaped head. The current was running fairly strong, putting a lot of force on the chain. I released the small buoy, a signal to Karryn that she should motor the boat forward and take pressure off the chain. At this point I had another two thoughts: "Can she keep the load off the chain long enough for me to untie all this?" and "Am I gonna lose any fingers?" After a few stressful minutes, the problem was resolved and I returned to the surface with all parts attached.
We motored the short distance over to the Apooiti Marina and found a single free mooring in the middle of the bay. This was actually pretty good news -- I mentioned earlier that there aren't many good anchoring spots in this part of Raiatea because of the water depths.
We'd expected to be at Apooiti two days earlier and I'd made plans with Richard (the Canadian living here that I'd mentioned earlier) to visit Raiatea's main marae, a sacred stone plaza. This one, Marae Taputapuatea, apparently had greater significance than most. Raiatea, not Tahiti, was the central island in the Societies before its being stumbled upon by Europeans, and was inhabited by the royal family and the high priests, and any marae constructed on another island had to include one of Taputapuatea's stones as a symbol of allegiance. I'm told that this rule included not just the Societies but also all of tropical Polynesia, from Tonga to Hawaii to the Gambiers.
The marae itself was amazing -- several large paved stone plazas, most bordered on one side with large stones perhaps eight feet high -- but even more amazing was the trip from the marina to the marae. It took us perhaps an hour to reach our destination, a winding drive down the island's east side to the lush island on a Sunday afternoon. We quickly passed through Uturoa, with its three blocks of small shops and its two grocery stores (same scale as Friday Harbor in the San Juans), and were treated to a drive through paradise.
The island with its 12,000 people has small communities sparsely dotting the shoreline, and our drive took us through these. The folks here mostly seemed to live in modest dwellings but take pride in the plantings they place along the road and enjoy Sunday afternoon get-togethers. We passed through hamlet after hamlet, treated to the view of beautiful leaves and flowers, happy groups of people walking or sitting near the road, waving back at passing car travelers. In one place there was a community soccer game in process, in another a community volleyball game. We'd wave at people; they'd beam and wave back, no idea of who we were, no apparent concern that we were strangers.
I kept thinking that this is how Hawaii must have felt in the 1950's -- laid back, mostly rural, a few surfers, mostly nice folks living subsistence lifestyles and an occasional visit from a celebrity like Elvis.
In our first couple of days at Apooiti we continued with resting and cleaning, adding the additional projects of getting into town for the check-out and provisioning processes, and moving from the mooring to a spot along the quai so we could have shore power for charging our new batteries. Jackson and Naomi, acting on my advice, gorged on PC time, playing computer games.
Start of Passage to Pago Pago
We sailed out of Bora Bora's lagoon this morning, bound for Pago Pago in American Samoa, an 1100-mile transit. Since we generally seem to average 120 mile days, about five knots, we expect it to be a nine or ten day passage. We could go faster -- we generally sail with small sails because we're chickenshit. Seafire is designed to carry a 400 sq ft main and a 600 sq ft genoa, a total of 1000 sq ft. We've gotten used to carrying the smaller 250 sq ft main and a jib of similar size, half the designed area, because the boat balances better and is easier for the windvane to steer, and because it's scary to go on deck and reduce sail when squalls move in at night.
There are two reasonable stops along the way, Maupiti just west of Bora Bora and Suwarrow, about 2/3 of the way to Pago Pago. Because hurricane season is approaching and we think we need to spend a couple of weeks attending to business in Pago Pago (medical and dental checkups, provisioning, life raft inspection, receiving parts in from Seattle, etc) we're concerned about keeping moving, so we're planning to skip both stops. It's possible, though, for us to stop in Suwarrow in the event the wind shuts off. Suwarrow is an uninhabited coral atoll in the middle of nowhere, and is reported to have a pretty pristine marine environment (lots of sharks). We'll see.
The first day moving out of an anchorage is generally fairly jarring -- you move from a placid lagoon to the tumbling ocean -- but this transition was pretty benign. We exited Bora Bora's lagoon on the downwind side of the island and started sailing downwind in 15-knot winds with fairly flat seas. It's been a nice first day out.