After our hilarious snafu with the gendarmes that took a day to sort out we finally left Bora Bora just after noon on Tuesday. The passage to Tonga is a little over 1300 miles — our second longest so far — and because of El Niño and the fact that we’re a little late to be doing it we’ve hired a weather router, MetBob, for the first time. Bob sent us a detailed voyage forecast showing there were various nasty weather effects along our path but he thought his suggested route might help us avoid most of the unpleasantness from a convergence zone, two troughs and a “squash zone,” an area of higher winds and big waves.
We had about six hours of disappointing light wind at first but by nightfall the wind filled in at 17 kt and with steady rain. In the morning we lost our wind again and motored for the rest of the day, then about 4 am Thursday the wind came back with a vengeance with driving rain and huge seas.
Our solo circumnavigator friend Ron Dicola gave us this advice when we left St. Thomas: if you hear scary noises, slow the boat down, go below, and trust your boat to take care of you. That’s essentially what we’ve done. The main is reefed down to a scrap, our jib is up full but it’s very small, and still we’re making 8 kts, unheard of for slowpoke, over-loaded EV. Inside it feels and sounds like a freight train barreling down a mountain.
The last five days have been miserable with winds 10 kts higher than Bob predicted, which is ok by itself, but a seastate as bad as we’ve been in since a horrible post-hurricane Gulf Stream crossing 15 years ago. All of our energies are focused on staying tucked into safe corners and controlling stress. Moving about is dangerous, cooking is out of the question, cupboard doors fly open and dishes launch across the cabin. The box containing Jack’s dad’s ashes rocketed out of the bookcase down below and up the four steps into the galley. Whoa, flyboy! One particularly horrendous wave hit us so hard on the port side that I watched seawater squirt through the gaskets on all three portholes and with such force that the saloon floor got wet, not to mention the entire port hull. We’ve never seen anything like it. The refrigerator lid came down on Jack’s head and he’s now sporting a plum-sized lump on his left temple. Our jib lazy jacks are a tangled and shredded mess.
Two days ago in the middle of a string of nasty squalls the autopilot stopped working. I took the wheel and handsteered while Jack got to work. The pin attaching the AP arm to the quadrant had sheared off. It took Jack about 45 minutes to find a bolt that approximates the size and maker a fix. Two days later it’s still holding, even in these crazy waves.
After we experienced a freak gear failure that sent our whole rig overboard last year I began to worry that everything is fragile and I find myself always bracing for another catastrophe. This past week of misery has an upside in that I’ve regained confidence in our boat. I’ve come to appreciate the strength of the new rig, the ease with which EV recovers from the crazy forces on her hulls, and how safe our boat makes us feel. From inside the saloon we can easily scan the horizon for other boats and check the sails, so while the wind is howling, the rain coming down in sheets and the seas bashing noisily against our sugar scoops and under the bridgedeck, we are dry and safe inside, if not entirely comfortable. When we go outside to look around during our night watches we’re happy to find EV just cooking along, steady as she goes. She’s obviously better at this than we are.