Thursday, June 24, 2004

Passage to Tahiti

The one problem with everyone being stuck on the boat waiting for weather is that once it clears EVERYONE goes on the move to their next destination. In this case Billabong, Emerald, Stardust, Solstice, Magmell, and Ascension all headed for Tahiti (Bobulona, Waking Dream and Island Sonata left a day earlier and had rough swell left over from the blow), Freebird went to Taou while the two remaining boats went to the south anchorage.  Three boats entering from Kauehi immediately filled the vacancies as we crossed paths near the entrance to the atoll.

Passage from Tuamotus to Tahiti

We had planned on about a one and a half day passage with the wind just barely allowing us to go down wind on the track to Tahiti.  For some reason (maybe our whisker pole), we where able to steer right on course while everyone else was about 10 degrees below us. They were still within VHF range but not in our faces.  A couple of times I looked at the pack below us; it looked like a highway.  Even as the boats started to spread out they still were in packs of three (too much for me).  It is nice to have boats around for safety in numbers, but we had an incident with Stardust that makes me want to stay away from the pack.  They had jibed and were going to cross our path so they got out their camera.  We talked on the VHF and both took pictures as the boats got closer, and closer, and closer.  I had the right of way but was getting uncomfortable letting the autopilot steer in such close quarters.  I took the helm, and headed us down to get out of their way (they are a 43’ Hans Christian Ketch and weigh twice as much as us). Just as they were crossing our stern about 20 feet behind us, we got stuck in the trough of a wave and they surfed down the front of another and they got within about 10 feet of our arch with their bowsprit.  Our fishing line got caught on their bow as it rode DOWN their bobstay to their bow.. YIKES.. KT was a little upset.  No more close mid-ocean sailing for us.

We realized we would be a little early if we kept up our speed, so as the wind shifted behind us we dropped the main and sailed only with the poled out Genoa.  It was kind of funny watching all the boats jibe back and forth across our path at 45 degrees like little mosquitoes.  Everyone was worried that the wind might die, so they tried to keep up their speed strategizing what the best course/trim was.  I guess most people thought that using their whisker pole was too much work (too heavy or too big).  The funny thing was that we just kept our course trucking on slowly but STRAIGHT towards Tahiti, and made it there before all of the other boats accept one and we did less work (if you can call it that), which is my key to a successful cruising life.  As we approached Tahiti, the shipping center of the south pacific islands, the increase in ship traffic was noticeable.  We all kept a good watch on the radar for Emerald (who lost their radar in the Marquesas), but would lose track of who was who within all the other boats.  We did an occasional flash of lights to synchronize locations and entered into the lee of Tahiti at sunrise without incident.

I was down below double-checking the charts and radar when I heard this REALLY loud noise.  I had been up since 11:00 pm (it was my choice because KT looked so peaceful when I went to wake her up and I wasn’t tired); my senses weren’t exactly spot on.  At first I thought that we were just about to be run over by a huge freighter… but wait I would see them on radar …or maybe they are too close for the radar… no, that doesn’t make sense.  Ok not a freighter!!!  Maybe it was a HUGE rogue wave like the Perfect Storm, reaching up to swallow us whole; mind you all this ran through my mind in about 5 seconds. As I bolted up on deck I realized it was a 747 on final approach to Papeete airport.  Come on you must be able to understand my confusion; I hadn’t heard a plane of that size in at least six months.  It would be the beginning of our strange re-integration into civilization.  I know most of you wouldn’t consider Tahiti/Papeete a city or anything that required “adjustment” (unless it was a native drink), but we were used to one-shop towns of a couple of hundred people max with flown/shipped in vegetables that everyone gobbles up in two minutes.  Tahiti would be a big change for us.

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