After years of laying groundwork, months of planning, and 6 solid weeks of focused effort, we left San Diego Bay at 1:00 Sunday afternoon, Feb. 18.
We plotted a course for Hiva Oa, one of the larger islands in the Marquesas group of French Polynesia. This gives a rhumb line (sailor-speak for the straight line that we’ll try to sail) that is 2800 NM (nautical miles) at a heading of 205°, or SSW. The weather predictions showed a front with gale force winds approaching. By sailing in front of it, we were assured plenty of wind at our backs as we headed south.
We adopted a flexible 4-hour watch schedule that worked well on our last trip. The key shifts are at night with Max taking 8-12, I take 12-4, and Max is on again 4-8. But most of the time, I don’t mind taking a longer shift and allow Max to sleep until 6 or 7. Then I can sleep all morning.
We certainly did get plenty of wind! Sunday afternoon was delightful as we watched San Diego disappear over the horizon. We had all sails up, light seas, and a steady 15 knot breeze from the west. The wind then came up steadily through the night so we reefed the sails, which makes them smaller and safer for high wind. As the winds grew, the waves also got larger. By mid-morning we were fully reefed and struggling to keep the boat upright in 30 knot gusts and steep, 10 foot waves. These conditions overwhelm Hal, our trusty autopilot, so I got a healthy upper body workout steering the boat through the worst of this. Here we are, the second day of our trip, wet and cold as the weather conspires to send wave after wave over the boat.
We have 3 basic types of situations where we take seas. The most common is a wave that slaps against the boat and sprays water everywhere. We close all the windows and wear our “adventure suits” which is what we call the fancy rain gear. The second type is where we bury the leeward rail. This happens when a gust of wind or a wave rolls the boat over so far that the deck on the downwind side goes under water. We just hang on and wait for the boat to right itself. We are always attached to the boat with a safety harness and we stow everything below decks so it stays in place when we tip over. With the right preparation, these events are just a nuisance. They cause the boat to slow down and they make it difficult to drink our coffee. The worst of our dunkings comes from a wave crashing over the stern of the boat. This is called “getting pooped” because the wave comes over the poop deck at the back of the boat. This completely floods the cockpit and can splash water directly down the companionway into the interior of the boat. Since we rarely get pooped, we usually have things in the cockpit that shouldn’t be submerged and we don’t usually sail with the washboard in place, which seals up the companionway. Also, the hatches leak when they’re submerged, which allows saltwater to get all over anything stored in the cockpit lockers. We really don’t like getting pooped!
In 15 knots of wind, we can adjust the sails to head the boat any direction we want, other within 50 degrees from straight upwind. In 25 knots of wind, we try to choose the direction that is least unpleasant. So rather than sail our 205 rhumb line, we have spent our first two days sailing closer to 180 where the boat seems to handle the waves better. We keep expecting the winds to shift north, which will allow us to turn west.
As I write this at 4:30 Tuesday morning, we still have 20 knots of cold NW wind. The waves are big but they are not as steep. Hal is steering, Max is sleeping, and I’m comfortably wedged in a beanbag chair. We’re no longer getting pooped or burying the rail, but there is still a lot of motion aboard. We’re sailing 6.5 knots at 185 and we are now 230 NM (nautical miles) from San Diego. We expect tomorrow to be warmer and more pleasant.