When we started this adventure, we planned to spend a year in the South Pacific. That year has come and gone. We have had exciting times, seen beautiful places, made new friends, and sailed thousands of miles. We tried to moor Akela in Tahiti for a few months, but there was no safe harbor there.
On Christmas Eve, Max and I sailed east from Venus Point, Tahiti against the prevailing trade winds. We took advantage of a “weather window” of light winds from the northeast for 2 days. But with the light winds came summer thunderstorms with incredible lightning flashes and explosive thunder. Sailing upwind, we had all sails set, but reefed down to the smallest possible size. Even so, the storm winds would sometimes knock Akela over, flooding water over the sides. We had a very rapid wind shift that caused the sails to jerk from one side to the other, breaking the main boom and tearing the sail. Under power, we continued upwind to the island of Makemo where a friend had told us that his friend, Jean-Claude, would be able to provide us diesel fuel. This leg of the trip took 4 days.
We cleared the same pass on the west end of Makemo that we had sailed out of last spring. After a day of rest, we sailed 25 more miles inside the atoll to the northeast pass. Inside the atoll is like a giant 100′ deep lake with randomly located coral bommies that come almost to the surface. The big ones show up in the satellite image, but others are only visible when we’re close by with the right lighting. We maintained a careful watch and made the passage without difficulty, but arrived low on fuel and unable to fly the mainsail.
The town in Makemo is surreal. About 300 people live on a thin strip of land on the northeast side of the atoll, including a number of kids at a boarding school there. (Our friends from the island of Takapota had gone to middle school there.) Walking across the little town on December 31, we could see preparations for New Year’s Eve. But everything moves slowly, and we saw plenty of people just sitting in the shade, happily doing nothing. We found Jean-Claude’s store and found that yes, we can get diesel there — once the supply ship comes January 23. Acckkk. Plan B. We found another store outside of town that had a big tank of diesel fuel and they agreed to sell us some. We returned with two empty 20-gallon barrels. The full barrels weigh 140 lbs apiece, which created another challenge, getting the fuel to the boat. A local family with a minivan gave us a ride back to the dock where another cruiser helped get the barrels out to Akela where we winched them aboard. Easy Peasy.
In another day, we had the mainsail patched and the boom glued back together, and we were ready for the trip to the Marquesas, 500 miles upwind. We left Makemo On Jan 2., hoping to take advantage of another weather window. Predictions showed light wind from the northeast that would allow us to get 300 miles east before the big winds come up out of the east, at which time we could tack north and have a good angle on the wind for the remaining 400 miles. The first part went well, but the winds didn’t shift away from northeast like they were supposed to. They just got bigger! So we sailed as tight into the wind as we could, which in these conditions is more than 60 degrees away from dead upwind. Upwind sailing on Akela is messy and slow. We crash into waves that spray water everywhere. All the hatches are closed tightly, and we minimize our time on deck. With the deck constantly wet and sometimes immersed, we had nonstop leaks into the boat. Sometimes, we would hit a wave just wrong that acts like a brick wall, stopping our progress. I maintained an upbeat attitude through all this but Max was sick and grumpy. it was a miserable passage for him.
Sailing upwind in Akela is delightful in 10 knots of wind and gets uncomfortable in 15 knots. We can barely make any progress upwind without the engine in 20 knots of wind, and in 25 knots it’s hopeless. My biggest concern with the northeast winds was that we would we be end up west of the Marquesas with wind coming up 25 knots from the east. If we had any significant rigging or engine trouble, we would have to sail all the way back to Tahiti!. On the sixth day out, the winds finally clocked east giving us an easy sail for the last 200 miles, arriving Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva on Jan. 10.
We were happy to get the anchor down in the calm bay and to see our friends aboard Poppy. Max was especially relieved for the motion and wetness to stop.
So, what now?
We’re leaving Akela anchored in Taiohae Bay for a couple months allowing me to catch up on some projects in Tucson. I returned home in time to surprise Laura on her birthday (Jan 20) and Max has jumped ship to cruise aboard Poppy, exploring the Marquesas islands once again. (He is taking our satellite beacon, so our “Find us” map will show where Max and Poppy are for a while.)
After that. I don’t know. Maybe Max and I will sail to Hawaii this spring. Maybe we’ll keep Akela in Nuku Hiva for a whole year. The big Marquesan cultural festival, which occurs every 4 years, will be held on Ua Pou in December. I would just love to be there for that. Maybe we’ll go back through Tuamotus to Tahiti and continue on to the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, and New Zealand. Who knows?
I invite you, dear reader, to consider joining us for part of the trip. If you feel like having an adventure of a lifetime and if you think you may have the temperament for life on a little boat in a big sea, then let’s talk.