In the grey dawn we motored out of Taravao, the sheltered anchorage in Tahiti, under light winds along the island’s calm lee. As soon as we got around the corner, the seas mounted and the north wind strengthened. Aldebaran was jamming at 7-8kts!
We were pushing upwind (65degrees true) to the north. Our route plan was a large gentle arc, instead of taking a straight shot to the east where our destination was: the atoll of Hao, 500nm away. The reason was the forecast showed a shift from N to NW by Day 2 then back to NE winds around Day 3-4. Hence, we needed to go as far north as possible, to maintain a decent sailing angle when the NE winds hit us in the face a few days down the road.
The whole first day was great sailing: consistent 15-20kt winds. In the evening some rain squalls up to 25kt started to bear down, so we dropped the main to the second reef. That’s when I noticed the tear in the “leach” of the sail, which is the long diagonal part in the back of the sail. It’s not under much load, but if it starts tearing it could compromise other parts of the sail.
Luckily, there were two recent patches that we had asked our friend Love to hand-sew, while we were doing boatwork for a week in Moorea. The tear was stopped by both those patches. If it wasn’t for them, it would have gotten worse quickly… and we would certainly have had to drop sail, dry the fabric and put some sail tape. This would have been tricky with the strong wind and seas; and likely come unglued in the wet conditions, as they need to be stitched for full strength.
In retrospect, I could have tried to glue the patch with a waterproof caulking like 5200; or thrown a few stitches in the corners; but that would require losing our course for a few hours, which turned out to be fairly critical.
Instead, we kept sailing with the mainsail in a second reef, about 2/3 its full size, and kept an eye on the tear. It was a source of anxiety, if it was ever showing signs of getting worse, we needed to bring down the sail on a moment’s notice.
Yet, despite the rough seas, new leaks springing through every hatch and window, all the bilge pumps working, the winds stayed consistent at 20kts. Not worried about how much water we were taking on, Aldebaran zoomed as fast as ever with the autopilot steering, allowing us to rest; and the boat clocked 150nm the first 24hrs.