I’m writing this on a glorious 15knt beam reach passage from Rurutu to Papeete…. Ahhh finally the tropics!
Well I knew that this passage had a reputation of being one of the most difficult in the Pacific and it didn’t let us down! Supposedly the intent is to go south from Opua down near the 40 degree latitude which is known as the roaring forties, in order to catch the westerly winds to take you east. Then when you have made your eastings and are south of your destination you should turn north to get there. Well it didn’t quite turn out like that. On more occasions than I can count during this passage the bow of the boat would dive into a wave and rise to the occasion with 8-12 inches of water racing up the deck, over the top of the hard top and resulting in a waterfall coming into the cockpit! All in all the boat handled this voyage beautifully with very little breakage (high contrast to leg 1) it was our bodies that suffered the continued abrupt movements sending us sideways and sometimes across the cabin left many bruises and body aches.
I enlist the services of a weather router to tell me the best course to take with regular updates during the journey to choose the safest route possible. He indicated to us that a Tuesday departure date would be good except we would have light winds for the first couple of days and to head directly east until a NW change occurred to head SE towards 40 degrees. So we headed off and motored for the first 5 hours and the wind picked up in order for us to sail and lasted through the night and then died again. This caused us to motor for the next two days with only 5 knots of wind. At this point we were thinking that this was all too easy… Boy were we mistaken!
The NW winds turned into NE winds meaning we were running to windward toward 40 degrees. The winds picked up to 30-35 knots! It was a good thing that I made the staysail before we left (although we could have used the storm staysail) as with a triple reef in the main sail and the gib completely furled we set the staysail to successfully go tho windward at an angle of 40 degrees to the wind. This was sort of ok except it went on for three days! Sailing on your ear for three days with 4-5 meter swells gets a bit tiring…..
Our next update from Bob the weather router tells us there is a big storm approaching and instead of continuing east at 40 degrees we should wait for a SW change and head NE as quickly as possible. We were heading to windward as best we could and getting pushed further and further south. I was wondering how far south we would get pushed before the SW change.
At very close to 40 degrees the change finally came through and we had some very nice sailing heading NE in 25 knots of wind… This was excellent compared to the last three day. This went on for a day and then we were becalmed….. We knew we were supposed to get north as quickly as possible to avoid the brunt of the next warm front that was due to come through very soon so we again put the motor on and proceeded under motor for around another 24 hour. Then it came….. Luckily we were in the northern section of it so on our NE course we coped it just aft of the beam but we didn’t get far enough north and were soon experiencing 40-45 knots gusting above 50 knots! It seemed like the amount of sail we had up was equivalent to a handkerchief and we were doing 8-10 knots and surfing to 14 knots! This went on for two F*$k&*ng days…… We considered heaving to at one point but continued on with no great issues other than the sheer discomfort and wear and tear on our bodies…..
We were told at this point by Bob that the winds would shift to the South and at this point we should continue NE on a close reach to a designated point at which time the winds would change to SE and at this time head north until we reach Rurutu. So the winds finally dropped to 30 knots at which point we thought were a dream compared to what we had been through but to maintain course indicated what started out as a close reach soon turned to windward. What windward again in 30 knots!!! This went on for several days as we were trying to make as much easting as possible. We never made that particular way point as the winds continued to change to the east pushing us north but at least toward Rurutu. This continued to happen until around 150 miles from Rurutu the winds were now ENE and we were starting to take the occasional tack to maintain our course.
We were thinking there is no way King Neptune would let us have a peaceful finish to the voyage and we were correct! The further we got north the more squally the weather got with winds ranging from the normal 18-20 knots to 30-35 knots as the squalls hit and then about 20 minutes of lull after changing back to the 18-20 knots. The closer we got the more frequent the squalls became and the heavier the rain during. On the last day we originally thought we would arrive around 10:00 but because of this battle and the number of tacks we ended up taking as the wind continued to shift north it became evident this would not happen.
It became very unnerving as we came up to the south tip of the island and along the east coast we knew that the island was a mere two miles to our port but we had not seen it yet!! Predict wind and Bob had both indicated that the front would have passed and we would have clear skies and moderating winds hours ago. I was starting to think of alternatives as it would not be safe to try to enter the very small harbour under these conditions. Should we heave to and see where we are the following morning? Should we try to sail back around to the west side of the island and anchor in calmer conditions?? Then just as we were 1.5 miles away from the harbour there was a break in the squalls, the skies cleared and Rurutu loomed before us! We took the opportunity as it looked like it would last for a couple of hours made it into the port which was way smaller than I imagined and set anchor. PHEW