Lat 18 40.0 S
Long 173 59.1 W
Calm, sunny, nice…
Days Events: Final shut down of S.V. Moana and hop on a plane to start my journey back to French Polynesia
Writing about something that has been done a thousand times over is not easy.
So many great sailors, adventurers and writers have penned this story that it seems futile to even try.
I didn’t set out to do this. I’d put myself through this ordeal too many times prior on S.V. Cassiopee.
In my mind, solo sailing was something in my past, something I had proven to myself I was capable of and not something I planned to do on a 38 foot raft for 1,500 nm.
But, any chance to not wear pants for 11 days is worth taking.
Getting out of NZ was harder than expected.
I have never owned a boat in a first world country before. Having all the spares in the world at your disposal is a dangerous way to drain your life savings.
Luckily the previous owners had done an excellent job in fitting out Moana. I only needed a few extras and had to add my equipment that I normally like to have around.
Spear Gun – Check
Kite board – Check
SUP – Check
Quiver of Surfboards – Check
Dive gear – Check
Range of Kites – Check
Yup, that should cover it.
So I set off.
As I cruised out of Opua, a sense of freedom arose. I was now officially leaving, with all the toys you could ask for, on a floating tree house. I was (am) the happiest boy in the world.
I’ve never been one of those people who think a material possession can “define” who you are. Never had a BMW, home entertainment system, cool phone, or any of those things people acquire in the pursuit of happiness.
That said, I now understood what it’s about.
Looking out at the bow of a double canoe and driving along with the power of the wind was my “Shangri-La.”
The first couple days were spent getting to know each other. It’s always awkward in the beginning of a relationship. We were both obviously excited, and we had the honeymoon passion of an adolescent couple.
However, we didn’t really know each other yet. This was going to be our first trial on if we will be able to stand the test of time.
I played with a few sail configurations. Moana showed me what she liked, and how she intended to sit with a variety of wind directions and speeds.
Sailing out of NZ is good for that. You can have 20 degree wind shifts and 25 knot variations in speed every hour… on the hour.
We had an amazing 4-5 days of getting to know each other, and I was even able to get some sleep. We tromped along the great blue expanse of the south pacific and made great miles everyday in our intended direction.
Then night 5 happened.
The wind had been picking up all day. Already dropped the foresail and was now broad reaching on a full main and headsail.
The wind kept rising. I was hoping with nightfall, it would settle. This was wishful thinking.
What’s the old saying?
“Wind before rain, set sail again.”
I can never remember the other half
So I’ve decided it is for now on
“Wind after rain, here come da pain.”
I realized I would need to reduce sail, and with a weather system building around me, I figured I’d drop the main and run out the night on the headsail alone. I’d still be making 7 knots and heading almost due north.
This didn’t go well. Single-handing a gaff-rigged schooner is hard, nuff said. After full preparations and a lot of forethought, I screwed it up. I did eventually bring the main down. But I had torn the head of the sail and nearly lost the gaff. Unless I was going to get calm conditions to do a serious repair at sea. I was now only half way to Tonga and had a fractured rig… crap.
Night had come and I was surfing along at good speed on the headsail. But I couldn’t balance the wind-vane self-steering at this angle. Wind kept rising.
Moana was loving it and playing around in the waves, but I was exhausted. We had a little talk, and I dropped the headsail.
Better safe than sorry and I was not about to use every ounce of energy this early in the game.
“Must sleep, Asses situation in the morning.”
That was one of the best ideas I’d had in days.
Fully rested, and ready to make some miles we set off again.
The wind was still intense, so I grabbed the storm gib. This was actually an accident, I meant to grab the #3. But whew we, was I happy to have the storm gib.
I remember standing there after hoisting that 2 square meters of canvas and thinking. “What the hell is that going to achieve?”
We were flying! Moana is so light, that even with a small sail, if you got a crap load of wind, it’s all gravy.
I still couldn’t balance the wind-vane on this point of sail. So this was my first day of, quickly tying up the helm, running into the galley and grabbing a handful of carrots/peanut butter/crackers/anything in sight and running back to the helm.
This carried on throughout the whole day, after 20 hours of manually steering her, I dropped the sail again.
It was blowing a steady 35 knots and gusting harder. I simply didn’t know if my 38ft of plywood would hold up if I came to and tried to beam-reach, so I could use the wind-vane.
Next morning I wasn’t left with a choice. The wind had backed and broad reaching meant going the wrong way.
Which would have been fine, if I had time to detour through Fiji, but that wasn’t happening.
That is why I hope from now on “I will not sail on a schedule!”
Double, reefed foresail and storm jib I came up a bit, at about 90 degrees apparent wind. Perfect angle for the self-steering.
So with a beam-reach I should see my true wind. “well, what is it” I thought.
“Ohh, that looks like about 45 knots and a crap load of clouds in the sky. Hmmmmmm. Maybe I should have triple reefed that foresail.”
We were HONKING! Moana trucks along like no other! It was like sailing a 38 ft hobbie cat in massive swell.
I’m not sure if I was flying a hull, but there were moments when I would not have been surprised.
The next three days took commitment.
We screamed NE climbing the swells and marching over frothy wind swept seas.
Then a set would come and SNAP!
Between the hulls.
A couple of these were just plane scary. I have never actually thought, “this was a bad idea” at sea before. Well other than when it got dark during the Eclipse Open Ocean Kite of 2010, I had never thought, “this was a bad idea.”
I’m not saying it was, but it got heavy out there. I’m not going to attempt to be heroic about it.
We got smashed.
Moana took all of it in stride, and seemed to gain energy from it. As the intensity rose to a boiling point, it was almost like she found her groove and could smell Tonga.
I didn’t touch the self-steering again. Nor did I do a sail change, or change course.
She brought us home.
The wind would shift at the right time and give us the angle to pass, too close for my comfort, 5 miles to windward of Minerva Reef, at night.
Or when I noticed our cross track was getting too large for my liking; she’d round up a bit and find her stride.
Moana kept on, keeping on until we were nearly 10 miles off the western shores of the Ha’apai group.
Afterwards, was simply finishing the job.
After clearing customs in Neiafu, I tied up to the mooring where she will rest for three months and await my return. 5 full days of emptying every single hatch and compartment to dry out all of the equipment that got swamped over the past 11 days.
It was a lot of work. Not just the voyage, but making it happen, and closing up shop until August as well.
But as I said earlier,
“Looking out at the bow of a double canoe and driving along with the power of the wind was my Shangri-La.”
Moano seemed happy in her temporary resting spot.
I hope she sticks around for me until I get back for our Tonga trips in Aug