Laundry Salvation!

Praise be to the god of fresh linen! Praise be to Alda, Ipu’s wife, who kindly devoted her afternoon to running her small laundry machine in our service!

We hung the clothes to dry on the “beach” in front of the house, Aldebaran out front. Not a shabby view. Alda’s super cute chubby grandson walked around inspecting our work.

Arguably, laundry is one of the most difficult parts of cruising French Polynesia. IF you can find someone to do it, laundry usually costs $10-20 per (small) load. Is that fluff and folded? No way, dry your own clothes! It costs a small fortune here (the complete opposite of Central America, which is laundry utopia).

To subsidize this cost, we’ve been known to trade rum for laundry, which is also over priced in these islands. Lucky for us, we still have a few cases of wholesale priced rum from Ecuador. But not always are laundry owners drinkers.

Once we were so desperate we paid $20 per load and still had to hand wash because the machine was so pathetic. So the eight loads of quality laundry that Alda did for us was an enormous gift!

This was a major relief to the “culture shock” that Sabrina was experiencing upon return to the boat… which always smells, uh… stale compared to fine laundered clothes at mom’s house. Most certainly helps smooth out the reintegration to boat life!

Fortunately Sabrina brought back perfume from US, which is highly coveted by the local ladies, and she gifted these to a very happy Alda.

Ipu, host of Hao

It took us 2 days to clean up the boat after the passage from Tahiti: dry all the towels, shop vac the bilges, and finally relax.

On the third day we went to the village in Hao. Within an hour a funny fellow named Ipu adopted us, and spent the morning walking us around. He is constantly joking and laughing. With medical training in the French army, Ipu had visited all the remote atolls as a traveling doctor. Now he was enjoying his retirement with good cheer, welcoming visitors to his atoll.

In the past, Ipu had worked on the army base in Hao. The base closed down (for the most part) ten years ago. Hao was an important military site for forty years. It was the headquarters for the infamous nuclear testing that France conducted in the remote atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa, 250nm to the south. The nuclear testing ended in the 1990s.

Ipu said he loves welcoming sailing yachts to Hao. He insisted on lending Sabrina his bicycle as we hunted for internet and visited the gendarme to check in (port captain/police).

And what about laundry? “Bien sûr!” Ipu agreed, “Come to my house tomorrow and you can do all your laundry — and you can do my laundry too!” He laughed heartily.

ALL our laundry?! Do you have any idea what you’re offering, Ipu?? It was a warm welcome to Hao.

Day 4. Surfing the boat

The morning was disheartening – the wind had veered to the NE, which was more on the nose, slowing down our speed. Our ETA had crept back into the late evening — too dark to enter the reef pass.

Coffee was too acidic for our troubled stomachs, so we drank tea and contemplated what to do — whether to raise bigger sails, and push upwind faster, or keep all our tiny storm sails and potentially spend another night at sea. We were being cautious not to over-canvas and have another sail tear with the fickle weather.

We decided to raise our trusty 110% genoa, a strong mid range sail, and see what happened. Fortunately, the wind shift was temporary. A short-lived rain squall cracked the spell. It cranked the wind back to the NNE at 20 knots, a more favorable direction. The skies cleared, and we were on our way.

Land Ho! The faint string of palm trees outlining the atoll of Hao came up on our starboard.

An hour later, we approached the reef pass, at 3pm. My tide chart said the tide should be high and slack. But, given the strong winds the last few days, I anticipated the lagoon would be filled up with water. That can cause a continuous outbound current. With binoculars I scanned the reef pass and was dismayed. Large standing waves were visible outside the pass. What did this mean?

Either… the outbound current was much stronger than I had estimated.

Or… maybe the waves were larger than normal since the wind was contrary to the current. (See map drawing below)

I hoped the latter option was the case. If so, there was a way in. The sides of the reef pass are always calmer. Perhaps we could skirt the corner of the pass and sneak in while avoiding the worst of the standing waves, which were in the middle.

I steered towards the edge of the pass, near the reef. Thanks to the use of both motor and sails, the boat speed only dropped from 7kt to 4kts against the current, which is slower around the edges of the pass. The depth sounder went from 2000 feet to 50ft to 18ft. I couldn’t get any closer to the reef’s edge.

Looking ahead, the reef pass got too narrow, and we were on trajectory to hit some standing waves. They looked about 3-5 feet tall. Not trivial! These are very much like standing waves in a river which can crest and break with some white water but don’t actually move forward. Nor are they as steep as regular waves breaking on a shore.

“You’re getting close to the waves – and the reef,” Sabrina hollered, watching from deck, holding onto the bimini roof. The coral reef was now just spitting distance from Aldebaran’s starboard ama, so we had no option but veer to port into the standing waves.

I’ve surfed down standing waves in our Lambordinghy (that scary story, with our friend Tory, to be told another time!), and Aldebaran has “surfed” ocean waves; but I had never felt the acceleration on our 9 ton, 42ft boat, that we experienced going down that standing wave in Hao.

The engine groaned as we entered the critical flow of the current, boat speed dropping to 1 knot momentarily; then the standing wave picked us up, the boat dropping in, and the RPMs went into a high pitch as the boat speed hit 11 knots, her bows swerving drunkenly to starboard.

Sabrina was hooting and hanging on. I frantically spun the wheel several turns to port then several turns back, trying to keep her straight. Luckily, the trimaran tracks like a surfboard with three fins — really well — so I had no trouble. In fact, it was exhilarating! If it wasn’t so dangerous I’d do it all over again!

We only went over that one standing wave, then we were in smooth water. Our edge strategy had paid off, and now we were in the calm water of the lagoon. Relief!

We sailed in placid turquoise waters for an hour on a beam reach to the village, the sun shining on this beautiful day, and dropped the hook while heaving-to the sails, never bothering to turn on the engine. I knew the chain would wrap on the rocks and reefs below — usually I drop 3 floats with the chain to keep it off the bottom — but we were too tired.

We had arrived at Hao, crossing 500 rough nautical miles in 3.5 days, as fast as Aldebaran can go under a full load. It was now time to rest…

Day 3. Blown Out

“Wow… yet another 150nm day…” I said, looking at our morning position.

I looked up to tell Sabrina: “We’re on track to arrive in Hao by tomorrow afternoon – a day earlier than we thought!”

We had recently estimated a 9pm arrival on Tuesday. So we had tried slowing down the boat with an even smaller headsail, to spend another night at sea and arrive at first light the following day.

But the wind didn’t let up, and racehorse Aldebaran kept galloping, reaching for a 3pm arrival in Hao tomorrow. We were fairly relieved by this prospect because we were both a bit nauseous and headachy from all the rough sailing.

All was going well… I was napping down below when I felt the boat speed accelerate dramatically. That was when the monster squall hit.

The boat was heeling under the strain. I jumped into the cockpit, Sabrina had already taken the autopilot off and was hand steering, one glance to the wind meter showed 32kts, I immediately reached for the outer jib sheet and released it one turn from the enormous load, then opened the cam cleat to ease the mainsheet as well, which started luffing uncomfortably, “fall off” I grunted, Sabrina steered away from the wind, and just as we were about to catch our breath, FLAP FLAP FLAP!! The inner jib had shredded to pieces with a 36kt gust. It was a horrible loud noise. Forget about the inner jib, it was toast. I jammed on my harness, clipped into the jackline, and raced to the mast to drop the much more important mainsail. It was down in a flash, thanks to the “fast-track” that the previous owners (Bob and Jackie) had wisely installed.

Game over for the poor inner jib. It was in 8 pieces. Oh don’t worry, this is the third inner jib that we’ve shredded in the last three years, always when the wind is mid-30kts, we’re used to it ;-p

Why has this been happening? Turns out our inner jib track is in a poor position, which causes undue strain on the sail. Also, we need stronger sails than what’s available at second hand stores, which has been our purchase location to date… Solution: we need to order a custom sail and possibly change the track as well.

What’s the inner jib, anyway? It is a small headsail that rides next to the mast, primarily to keep our steerage while we are changing the outer jib. It can also be exchanged for the storm inner jib, which is what we raised in its place.

The storm inner jib is a bomb-proof tiny sail. If there are high winds of 40+ kts we’d only have this little guy up, and all the other sails would be down. Over 45-50kts, everything is down, and it’s sea anchor time for Aldebaran, where we “park the boat” with a huge underwater parachute. We’ve never encountered such winds at sea but we’ve deployed the parachute sea anchor for practice.

Thankfully, our important sails had been spared – the outer jib and mainsail. We sailed the rest of the squall at 7kts with just the small outer jib driving the boat through the horizontal rain.

An hour later we raised the double reefed mainsail. That was the last big blow of the storm… whose bulk was now hitting Tahiti, 400nm to our west.

By midnight, Aldebaran had marched into a starry sky, far enough east by now to get away from the storm’s effects. We were a bit rattled but all was good, and we had less than 100nm to go!

Stats:
– Last 24hrs: 155nm covered
– Aldebaran’s top speed: 13.8kt (this is our new speed record for a beam reach…) – Average boat speed: 6.5kts
– Highest wind gust: 36kts

Day 2. A retired racehorse

After a few calm, ominous hours in the morning, dark clouds rolled in. It was the second day of our passage to Hao, and the edge of the storm had caught up with us.

The wind was strong enough to blow the tops off the waves. The wrinkles of the sea, like a worn out shirt, were at first actually smoothed out — as if worked over by a great iron.

Then all of a sudden, as if the cosmic hand had shifted the “shirt” on the ironing board, giant creases erupted in the form of waves, which crashed powerfully over Aldebaran’s decks.

We veered the course downwind to ease the pressure on the boat and rig. Yet the short-period, wind driven swell kept dipping Aldebaran’s port bow into the trough of the waves, sending piles of white water over the dodger and bimini (which shield us from the bulk of the elements).

The cockpit windows were sealed, which normally keeps us dry and cozy, but now countless gallons of water pushed through every seam and gap in the fabric, dripping onto the port bench. Like wet unhappy cats we retreated to the starboard bench’s relative dryness, from where we could steer and monitor the instruments.

Going into the cabin gave Sabrina cause for alarm. “Throw me some towels please,” Sabrina hollered from down below. Every hatch and window was leaking; the red lights of the bilge pumps kept flashing on and off. We set up towels in various spots to catch the majority of the drips.

Even after taking down the headsail and raising the small working jib, the boat was still flying at 7-10kts. She remained surprisingly well balanced, with only 1/4 turn of weather helm (how much the rudder has to counteract the wind’s pull). The smashing waves did nothing to slow us down; for Aldebaran kept accelerating at every wave crest, like a seagull riding the updraft and dipping its feet merrily in the wild spray.

After some time we got climatized to this reality – like living for hours in a wet earthquake – and got rest. I slept on the starboard bench and used an alarm clock to drowsily check the surroundings every 30 minutes. Ziggy the autopilot kept steering with remarkable accuracy. But the real star was Aldebaran, who this year celebrates her 50th birthday (!)… like a retired racehorse who, despite being discredited by critics for her age and weight, comes alive when things get serious and takes care of her riders. That day, in the middle of a rough Pacific Ocean, showed her original design: she’s one tough boat.

Instruments shown below from 9:22pm…
– Wind direction: 002 degrees (north)
– Apparent wind angle: 91 degrees
– Apparent wind speed: 26.9 knots
– Boat speed: 9.8 knots
– Boat course: 103 degrees (east by south-east)
– Distance to next turn: 52 nm
– Distance to Hao: 261nm

Stats:
– Distance covered on Day 2: 148nm
– Average speed 6.2kts
– Distance from Tahiti: 298nm

Day 1. Mainsail tear

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.

Route Plan for Hao

Here’s our course for the 4 day trip to the eastern Tuamotos, the atoll of Hao.

The wind barbs are overlaid on the chart, showing the weather forecast for Tuesday.

How do you read wind barbs? They show the direction that the wind is going, and also its strength, measured by the number of lines in its tail. Full lines are 10 knots, half lines are 5 knots. Therefore 2 full lines and 1 half line equals 25 knots.

The forecast indicates 30 knot winds from NW near Tahiti, N winds of 15knots near Makemo, and light NNE winds of 10 knots near Hao.

However these are considered “averages” so gusts 5-10 knots stronger than the forecast are very common, possibly more when there is unstable air associated with a low pressure system.

We left on Saturday at dawn, to make as much progress to the east as possible, and get away from the roughest part of the storm, which was hitting Tahiti on Monday/Tuesday.

Prep for deep Tuamotos

Sabrina and I were now getting ready to go deep into the Tuamotos, a four day trip (500nm) to reach the remote edges of the archipelago. We planned to stay around those atolls for the next several months – so we needed to stock up the boat.

We filled three shopping carts at Carrefour in Papeete and spent a whole day packing it all into Aldebaran. It is an enormous amount of work: cleaning the compartments, sorting dried good into bins, “sweating” and drying the fresh produce, and packing the fridge.

To do our shopping, we rented a car for $30 from some friendly French cruisers who had settled here in Tahiti. We made the most of the car to finish our laundry, visit the machinist shop to fabricate a new rudder arm, wander Papeete’s streets looking for a new fish ID book, and meet our agent to renew Kristian’s long stay visa in French Polynesia.

We had to squeeze everything in for efficiency with the rental car; but also because a weather window to was appearing, which allows us to go east against the predominant trade winds. This “weather window” is actually a stormy low pressure that sends NW winds into the region. Tahiti was supposed to get hit by 40kt winds in a few days, and we were keen to be sailing as far from that as possible.

Stormy weather for Sabby’s return

Wind map of storm: Tahiti is the green pin, and Tikehau is the red pin.

I met Sabrina at the airport. “Welcome back to paradise honey! Sorry about the deluge!!”

To weather the storm, I anchored Aldebaran in Taravao, Baie Phaeton, which is  the spot between the two lobes of Tahiti (grey icon in the map below). The airport in Papeete is an hour to the west.

Nobody likes to arrive from travel with bags to a soggy boat… so we did the smart thing and got an Airbnb for the night. Added bonus: washing machine! A rare commodity in French Polynesia.

Baie Phaeton is considered the most protected anchorage in Tahiti, located at the little town of Taravao. Our current satellite position is on this link.

After the rain passed… leaving our Airbnb apartment, with spirits high (and laundry done!) we’re all set to return to the boat.

Tahiti’s South-East Coast

The most stunning landscape in Tahiti – in my opinion – is on its south eastern coast. Mountains like pyramids rise out of the thin plateau of flat land that surrounds the coastline. Aldebaran is the small white speck inside the lagoon, anchored in 70ft of water in front of a small rivermouth. This reef pass is famous for its gigantic, otherworldly barrels. Guess where?? It’s fun to get a glimpse 🙂

Dolphins and Rainbows

On my first day back in Tahiti, misty grey clouds piled up in the valleys. The ridges were being drizzled by rain, yet it largely dries up before reaching the lagoon. Mean while the sun shone over the ocean, beating down on the precipitation. Result: constant rainbows. The one in the photo below lasted 30 minutes!

Then the dolphins arrived. Apparently they are always around this area, chilling inside the lagoon during the day, feeding outside at night. Occasionally they twirl but usually they just gently cresting the surface, resting. At night, I can hear their breathing, they are so close. What great neighbors !

Tahiti, Queen of the Pacific

8am. A little over 26hrs since leaving Tikehau, I was alongside the bold green landscape of Tahiti. Mountain Peaks! Deep valleys! What a sight to behold in the morning light.

This was a delight to see after the stark flatness of the atolls in the Tuamotos. Atolls are typically a ring of low-lying land with coconut trees around a large lagoon. The Society Islands, of which Tahiti is the largest island, is a very different archipelago. Here, big mountain peaks are surrounded by a narrow lagoon and a fringing barrier reef.

I remembered our first arrival to Tahiti, with a full boat of 6 of us. Aboard were Michael and Alex – veterans of Aldebaran – and newcomers Sonya and Jewels, along with Sabrina and I. The passage from Tikehau had been rough, with SE winds on our face, the boat smashing through the waves. Everyone was fatigued. Then we awoke to a rare cloudless day over Tahiti’s incredible eastern valleys. Greeting us was a school of humpbacks whales, the welcome party. They hollered at us: “Whalecome to Tahiti!”

Tahiti is undeniably the Queen of the Pacific. Despite the fact that the other islands in French Polynesia are more beautiful — their mountains are more stunning, or their lagoons and beaches are more idyllic — nevertheless Tahiti is ultimately the crossroads of the Pacific. Its name alone encompasses the dream of paradise, and heralds our most far flung sailing aspirations.

“They sailed to Tahiti” …. Not just Sabrina and I, but our whole community together made this happen. WE sailed to Tahiti. As I quietly soaked up the magnificent valleys and vistas, an exuberant feeling came upon me. It was a mixture of shared joy, pride of the accomplishment, and yet humility at being given safe passage over the 5000 miles of ocean we traversed to arrive to this point. How had this all happened? It seemed like a lifetime had passed.

Arriving in Tahiti today, after my first solo overnight aboard Aldebaran, also left me in a state of mild ecstasy. It felt like, wow!!! But it still wasn’t the same as sharing the experience, for the first time, with good friends. Below is a photo of our champagne celebration when we made our first arrival back in September. Cheers! Santé! Manuia!

Afternoon lessons.

The “passing squall” at 7am, just an hour after departure, never passed.

It just kept blowing “like snot”, as they say. This morning’s gentle 10-15kt wind had turned into 20-25kt steady with higher gusts.

I was flying the big reacher sail, designed for lighter winds. A lot can break on the boat with a powerful sail under strong winds: the sail itself can rip, the blocks can snap, the rig or rudder arm can be overstressed.

So I turned a bit downwind, to reduce the apparent wind (ie. to go with the wind). Aldebaran was galloping at a boat speed of 9-10kts steady, sometimes at 12kts! This was exciting & fun- but irresponsible. After 10 minutes going off course, with no evidence that the wind would lighten, I knew I had to reduce sail, (aka “reef the sail”). Sigh. The question was, how to do it alone with such a powerful sail??

The sailing adage is: “If you are thinking about reefing, you should reef!” Not doing so can be outright dangerous to your boat. However, reefing usually requires pointing the boat into the wind and waves, which in itself can cause destruction (as the apparent wind increases, everything goes crazy).

Solution: I must do the opposite, and go further downwind, in order to safely reef. This would allow the mainsail to “shadow” the big reacher, momentarily draining it of power. That would give me a fighting chance at bringing the reacher down quickly, and not run over it with the boat.

But the problem is that when going downwind, the boat course becomes unstable, especially with just the autopilot steering. It could turn a few degrees too far and accidentally jibe the boat, which could break the boom (along with other things).

So this afternoon’s lesson aboard Aldebaran:

Use “preventative medicine” to prevent further harm… I did three things:

1- I used a line called a “preventer” (ironic huh?) to prevent the boom from swinging and snapping, in event of an accidental jibe.

2- I hoisted the inner jib. It feels counter-intuitive to raise more canvas when the boat is already over-powered; but this tiny sail would greatly help the boat maintain its balance and steerage once the big headsail came down.

3- Lastly, I ran the jacklines, which I could clip onto with a harness; if something dramatic happened, I needed to stay attached to the boat at all costs!

Thankfully, the seas were fairly mild and the autopilot did a marvelous job steering the boat. The little inner jib balanced the unruly mainsail and the boat stayed on course at 160 degrees to the wind for about 4 minutes – which is what I needed on the foredeck to claw down the huge reacher sail, and race back to the helm.

I then hoisted a tougher, smaller headsail, and double-reefed the mainsail.

With this configuration, Aldebaran averaged 7.5 knots for the whole afternoon, a blazing speed for our old tri. The steering was happier, and the boat shook with energy, instead of convulsing with excess power.

At night I used an alarm to wake me up every 30 minutes to scan the horizon. Some solo sailors claim they must wake up every 15 minutes because that is how long a fast-moving cargo ship will move from out of view into a potentially dangerous collision course. However, these days AIS alarms are ubiquitous to alert us of ships; so we have to worry more about the smaller, slower moving craft like fishing boats.

Sure enough, at 2am the AIS alarm sounded, from a cargo ship 8nm away. Then at my 3am wake-up, groggy from another thirty minute catnap, I saw lights from a fishing boat. No collision course, no problem.

Meanwhile, Aldebaran just blasted along on course for Tahiti, and we were set to arrive 8hrs earlier than expected!

Photo: Aldebaran’s instruments at 7:14am, an hour and a half after departure from Tikehau. Wind 23 knots, boat speed 9.4 knots. Distance to Tahiti: 168 nm. Usually these squalls pass and wind returns to 15kts. Not today!

Morning lessons.

5:45am, just outside the pass in Tikehau.

“You should seize that shackle sometime,”

The casual words of our friend Spencer, aka master marine macrae, spoken 8 months prior, echoed in my mind, as I saw the boom swing out uncontrollably and smack into the lower shroud, moments after I had hoisted the main sail… The shackle’s pin had wiggled loose, as Spencer had prophesied!

The boom was loose. The boat was not able to sail until the shackle was fixed… which is this tiny thing at the end of a super heavy, and currently unstable object: the boom.

Four lessons learnt in those wee hours:

1. Sweat the small stuff that is crucial. Usually it’s a tiny pin failure that causes collapse of a mast. Like a sour conversation with a friend that, despite seemingly trivial, wrecks a friendship… Seize that pin, matey!

2. Act immediately when someone makes a suggestion that rings true. Don’t be a lazy bum…

3. Listen to your intuition and stay flexible. I had planned to leave late yesterday evening, but the sky looked ominous. “I don’t think this is the time to start a passage,” I had thought. How glad I was for that intuitive postponement, as I’d much rather be dealing with this issue in daylight, instead of in the middle of pitch-black squalls!

4. Have a backup plan. I secured the boom with another line, and dug around for a spare shackle. Cruisers aren’t kidding when they say, “have a spare for every single thing”. The spares don’t have to be exact replicas. It’s kinda like diversifying your investments, you need options when one thing fails.

I secured the boom with another line, and the autopilot steered us along to smooth down the motion. Then with a new pin in my teeth, I teetered precipitously to install the new shackle… like weaving a thread into a sewing needle with the Pacific Ocean swirling underneath you.

By 6am, Aldebaran was sailing south properly, with 10-15kts of breeze. I was shaking my head at my oversight… but we were on our way, and skies were beautiful! Nevertheless, more was in store for us.

Photo: the shackle that attaches the boom to the mainsheet — now properly seized! The “seizing” is the little wire that goes around the shackle’s pin to prevent it from un-doing itself over time… can’t assume it’ll stay in place, just because you tighten it like hell. That little wire is the solution to Murphy’s law, “what might happen, will happen at some point”.

Solo overnight to Tahiti

My last trip with Tabula Raza (a 29ft sloop, back in 2006) was planned as a three week solo exploration of the Channel Islands. On the second day the engine broke.

Bobbing around at anchor in Santa Rosa island, looking at three weeks of food and water packed to the gills in the galley, I started reading all those sailing books that I had collected. “Dang it, I can do this,” I thought, hoisting the mainsail, and pulling up anchor slowly as the boat tacked and zig-zagged on the hook.

Over the next three weeks I sailed alone, in and out of 5 different anchorages, including becher’s bay, coches prietos, forney’s cove, pelican bay, and some random stretch of windy beach that I got stuck in with night falling. I returned to Santa Barbara with skills and confidence that would have taken me years to normally develop.

They say “adventure begins when plans fail.” Well, it sure does speed up learning!

In this mindset, I readied the boat for my first overnight sail on Aldebaran, ever. Hard to believe, but true.. in 8 years I’ve never sailed her overnight alone.

I was heading from Tikehau to Tahiti, 200 nautical miles, to pickup Sabrina, who arrives in one week. I was excited! And I was about to get some good new lessons.

Sailing solo, then riiiiip….

A mixture of anxiety and excitement filled me as I hoisted sail enroute to Tikehau. I was alone aboard Aldebaran. This was the first time I was sailing solo in… a long time.

I remembered my first solo sail, 13 years ago, from Santa Barbara to Morro Bay aboard Tabula Rasa, a Columbia 30ft sloop, my first sailboat. It was 8 months since I had purchased her, and I had never sailed a small boat before.

The quiet thrill and the quiet foreboding were both tangible. There’s a realization that nobody has your back, so your senses are heightened, the mind is sharp. Sailing around Point Conception with a smooth SE wind was liberating. Then storm clouds built, and the weather radio’s information got worse and worse. I pushed myself past delirium to sail straight and true all the way to Port San Luis, where I hunkered down. There is nothing like going solo to give you confidence.

Staying too long in a comfortable port breeds inertia in sailors; and so does having crew members. “I can’t do that alone” percolates your mind. But yes you can; you just need to re-learn how.

So here we go. Soon the sails were in trim and Ziggy the autopilot had the wheel in control. The stereo started bumping louder, captain started dancing to the beats… I was feeling good!

Heading downwind, a sailboat with main & headsail can only go 150 degrees to the wind. Which means that upon approaching the backside of Tikehau I had to go wing-in-wing (mainsail to one side, headsail to the other).

Or, I had to jibe Aldebaran (turning the boat downwind from one side to the other). Either maneuver is tough with the big reacher headsail, which has to sneak between the forestay and the inner jib stay. With another crew member to guide it makes things easier.

Hum… I could either give it a shot, or drop the mainsail. That would let me go straight downwind with just the headsail, but slower. I decided to keep full sail.

The first two jibes worked well. Then I miscalculated the angle to get around the atoll and the waves got too close for comfort. I decided to try wing-in-wing, using the preventer to control the unruly mainsail. When the reacher came around the forestay and filled up, that’s when I heard it…

…Riiiiiiiiiip !!

It had snagged the anchor windlass and ripped the bottom of the sail! I raced forward, dropped the canvas and pulled it out of the water into the nets.

Luckily the damage wasn’t major – just a tear along the bottom edge of the reacher, about 2 feet long. I adjusted course, then keeping a watchful eye on the shoreline, not far from us, I rigged the smaller genoa and inner jib.

In 20 minutes we were again underway. The sail change was for the best, after all. The wind had freshened to 20 knots and veered to 60 degrees off the bow, as we now sailed south in smooth waters towards Tikehau’s pass. Aldebaran gurgled happily, once again. Despite the bit of damage, we had made it to our destination, our pride intact.

Photo: Aldebaran with genoa and inner jib, reefed main, taking waves in the port ama bow.

Tuamotos Tattoo

We had been surfing the righthander on the “crack in the reef” on our own, dodging sets and picking off corners. Most waves were overhead with a few larger bombs. Only the end section was makeable, despite being warbly, and the shallow reef inside kept us on our toes. The surprising sections created an “edginess” that was taxing.

Noho and I were satisfied (relieved?) after catching a few waves in our first session, and thought we’d try out the lefthander. It’s such an incongruous setup, two waves peeling into each other! We needed to give it a shot.

Although the left was less steep, it was also shorter before it closed out; adding a critical element about it. On my second ride I took off a little deeper. Mistake.

I suddenly saw two piles of dry coral just inside of where the wave was heading. It was gonna be close… Nope! Hit the eject button! I forcefully straightened out, and once clear of the rockpile, jumped off the board as a ‘starfish’ – landing on my back, arms and legs outstretched, to skim the surface and avoid going underwater too much.

The strategy worked, as it had many times before. Except the spin cycle of the white water did one extra thrust and dumped this little starfish onto yet another coral bommie.

Thankful for adrenalin, I paddled like crazy through the coral heads back into the channel, before my back really started to burn. I saw Noho going for a wave; I started waving at him frantically, “don’t go, too dangerous!!” I hollered. He didn’t catch it, and we went back to Aldebaran.

The rashguard I was wearing protected the skin somewhat. Usually I wear a 1mm neoprene jacket, which would have been better. After I cleaned up with soap and water, Noho applied the local remedy to coral cuts– fresh lime juice, which as you can imagine burns like hell. Then betadine and gauze.

I was lucky the scrape wasn’t too deep. The bruise was extensive and hurt for several days. It would leave its mark on my back, a reminder of this beautiful – but sketchy – spot.

Who said you can’t get a tattoo for free in French Polynesia?? We’ll see what this Tuamotos Tattoo ends up looking like..

A Crack in the Reef

After a long day of sailing we arrived in a beautiful spot. Coconut trees hung over shallow waters, framing a simple copra house, with a good vantage point over the lagoon. Cartoon-like, outside the reef, a left and right peeled into each other, with nobody around.

Why have I avoided showing any surf photos or writing about the amazing spots we’ve encountered on our trip? The remote breaks in Polynesia are like virgin maidens in a forest; only sighted after enormous efforts, but they can become easy targets for hungry surfer wolves.

Still, who doesn’t like to dream over empty lineup shots? We will share pictures on instagram when the places are out of context. And if people really want to know, I can share the details of a spot — over a cup of coffee, not online.

This particular spot is quite difficult to find, and nobody would bother, as better waves are found in “easier” places. Most surf breaks in French Polynesia are on reef passes, which have recognizable features on a chart; yet here is an exception, a rarity located on a random crack in the reef, amid the miles of reef surrounding these ancient atolls.

Aldebaran felt exposed, rolling and pitching in the cross-ocean swells. It reminded me of our surf explorations in Central America. It was what I had dreamed of– spending a season in the vast Tuamotos archipelago finding its hidden gems. Yet, I was also about to pay a price for coming to this place.

Sailing with Noho

A swell was coming but the wind was north. “I know of a spot that might be good in this wind. I’ve never been there, but I heard it gets good,” Noho said.

He bid farewell to his wife and kids, and picked up bags of rice, cans of sausage-beans, bottles of juice, and a pound of sugar. “All we need now is fish and coffee,” he smiled.

His younger cousin Toriki was also going to join us, but at the last minute quarreled with his girlfriend. Tough luck, buddy.

Noho has traveled around the Tuamotos working aboard a large dive charter vessel, but never on a sailboat. We grinned as Aldebaran galloped under sail at 6-7 knots outside of Avatoru pass, heading into the open sea for his first experience sailing outside of the lagoon.

Mooring Setup in Avatoru Pass

What a relief! I thought, once I tied up to the mooring. I had been anchored in Avatoru Pass for 5 days doing chores, enjoying the unbelievably scenic location. But the anchor chain was giving me problems.

As opposed to the atoll’s lagoon, which can be somewhat milky, the water inside the pass are crystalline, reflecting every hue of blue from the seabed. Dozens of fat trigger fish swam among the coral. A stone’s thrown away was Mama Ou’s beach house, on either side being the twin red steeple churches; along with the pleasant bucolic sounds of the village and occasional copra boats running to outer motus. It was all very far away from the busy Scuba tourist waters of the famous Tiputa pass, 6 miles east, and I was loving it.

Yet the anchor chain kept wrapping coral heads with the ebb and flow of the tide. I used 3 buoys to “float” the chain into the water column, which worked well, but everyday I’d have to untangle the buoys lines from the spinning chain. During one of these swims I discovered a huge mooring lying derelict on the sea floor — a 4x4ft slab of concrete with a heavy ship’s chain leading away from it. I asked Noho and he confirmed it was installed by the Rangiroa commune for use of sailboats, but had not been maintained. It was time to change that!

I asked my friend Toriki for some pearl farm buoys, which there is no shortage of, from the heyday of pearl farming in the 90s. I took one buoy down to the chain, which lifted it off the seabed, essential to protect the mooring line from chafing on any coral. I added another float to the surface. Then I checked all the connections, and voilà! the mooring was ready.

Raising anchor in the Tuamotos is always an effort as the anchor chain tends to snag on coral rocks everywhere. There are even cases of the windlass being ripped off the deck as the chain short scopes on a rock, if the wind and seas have grown in the lagoon.

It is considerably easier for the person raising anchor to do it safely if there’s an with extra person to drive the boat; and even better with a person in the water to help guide the boat in a fashion that releases the chain.

On a calm tide I did all this solo, Chinese fire drill style, running back and forth on deck and jumping into the water now and then, to see where the chain was now snagged.

Then I attached to the new mooring… ahhh, satisfaction. The photo shows both of Aldebaran’s anchors on their bow rollers, and the mooring line leading into the gorgeous waters of Avatoru. Now I can come and go easily (and other sailboats too) Hurrah!

Disclaimer: sailors should always inspect moorings and attach to a secure point (which may be underwater, as is the case here). Use this mooring in Avatoru at your own risk.

Life chores in Rangiroa

“Welcome back to Rangiroa!” said my friend Noho, who we had met last September. It was great to see again and strengthen our friendship.

I had sailed the 40 miles from Tikehau to Rangiroa for a dentist appointment. I had dropped off my friends Jesse & Anna here, who had spent New Year’s with me. Now I was alone for the first time in a year.

I was surprised to discover the good quality dentist I visited had no way of accepting my money — how’s that for medical care? So I got a cavity filled courtesy of the taxpayers of French Polynesia. “Just come back when you get signed up with the local health insurance,” the dentist told me amicably.

In exchange, it was time for me to pay Uncle Sam. I needed to get my USA taxes done, but internet here is slow as molasses. Websites spin for minutes before loading. Pathetically slow internet is undeniably the greatest challenge of being in Tuamotos. Nevertheless my bank statements eventually loaded and I sifted through a year’s worth of expenses and income.

Fortunately, Noho would wave at me from the beach and come visit me for a break. Tagging along was his cousin Toriki, who paddled an outrigger everyday past Aldebaran. They are so pumped on the boat, it is fun sharing it with them. The photo shows us about to head on a dinghy mission together.

Back to Real Time

As many of you may have noticed, our blog has been months behind where we actually are — this is changing today! Welcome back to the present moment, Aldebaran!

During our 21 day passage in April ’17 across the Pacific – then thru Pitcairn, Gambier, and Marquesas – we were posting to the blog “real time”. However, our boatyard purgatory in Hiva Oa threw a tailspin into our lives as we battled for our ship’s integrity (and our sanity). One casualty, beside our health, was that we fell terribly behind on the blog.

Well, I’m following my own New Year’s advice: following the stoke. Which means… sharing what’s happening right now.

Wait! What about our last 3 months cruising the world famous Society Islands — like Tahiti, Moorea, Bora-Bora, and also other lesser known beauties? They are incredible, truly a jewel of the Earth. We’ll reminisce about those adventures on Instagram : so please follow us via computer at instagram.com/greencoconutrun , or better yet your phone’s Instagram app, by searching for greencoconutrun.

But… it’s time for the blog to come back to the “present”; which, as they say, is the real gift.

Photo: Aldebaran anchored in Avatoru pass, Rangiroa. This is the view from Mama Ou’s house, who we visited 3 months ago, and now we are back! The boat is empty of crew; I’m doing much needed maintenance, while Sabby is in California.

Slideshow this Friday (Santa Barbara)

“Highlights from 2017”

When: Friday the 12th at 5:30p

Location: THE SANDBOX

Address: 414 Olive Street, Santa Barbara

BYOC (bring your own cup) and plates and utensils as we are making this a plastic free event

Details:

Gathering all ocean lovers, adventurers, stoke harvesters, and dreamers to come together for a slideshow highlighting Green Coconut Run’s adventures throughout French Polynesia this past year. We found paradise and we want to share it all with you… the stories, the footage, and what’s up next! Feel free to invite your friends. Potluck style like usual. This event will be plastic free, so BYOC (bring your own cup) & plate/bowl/utensils to avoid single use plastics at this event. Thank you! See ya there.

TikeWow

Over the course of a few days, the atoll of Tikehau turned into “TikeWow”! We were enchanted.

As we relaxed into its slow pace and idyllic beauty, a switch turned in our minds. Left brain slowed down, right brain activated. It was a fantasy movie scene, and we were the actors, playing in this south seas wonderland…

“TikeWow” must be one of the most beautiful atolls in French Polynesia! We leave the photos to do the talking 🙂

Just one resolution for the New Year

A message from a few stoked sailors in the south seas:

“When making resolutions this New Year… disregard the guilty ones, and embrace your dreams instead!! It is much more satisfying to focus on what we love — than on the errors we find hard to let go of.”

(Giving up stuff is best suited for Lent, anyway…)

How do we recreate the life we want? Dreaming big, working really hard, and making those tricky decisions that bring your vision to life – even if life is murky.

The holidays bring out the spirit of generosity and gratitude in each of us. Carrying that feeling forth into the year, seeing the obstacles as part of the journey; we keep trying and doing better.

With our sailing voyage, we’ve been able to realize our dreams; not only alone, but as a whole community. We feel so incredibly blessed! Despite being tested by the efforts. We hope that this magic inspiration can percolate others.

For the New Year, Green Coco recommends just one resolution… “harvest stoke”.

How you will mine gold nuggets of joy in this next year, no matter what is happening, is your own art and path.

Happy 2018!