Squalls On

Before leaving the UK, I visited two seperate friends, both girls with
lots of sailing experience. I was seeking tips, advice, general
encouragement. What I got was an amusing surprise. The one, currently
skippering a 60′ private yacht across the Pacific, told me to take
medicated talc and nappy rash cream. The other, an experienced dinghy
racer, told me to take thongs. Not for the look: to reduce the area of
soggy cotton against skin. Nice.

I hoped that I had missed the opportunity to expand on the delights of
wet weather sailing, but alas, no. It is back with us in force. Put
delicately, your rear end spends a lot of time being wet and salty, and
no number of Gore-Tex layers will prevent this. On the journey from
mainland Chile we wore thermals and shorts, thermals and jumpers,
jackets, hats, and ever-present ‘foul-weather-gear’, or foulies. As we
moved further north and west, to Easter Island, we each shedded maybe
one layer in that concoction, but not more. And we discovered the secret
of board -shorts over thermals: they at least attempt to dry between the
soakings, unlike cotton anything. Cotton, wool, polyester, cushions,
pillows… it doesn’t matter the material, once it has been hit by salt
water it will never never dry. The hygroscopic salt, so wonderful at
soaking up red wine stains from white carpets, similarly soaks up all
moisture from the air.. of which, you might imagine, there is much. So
we now take our shorts off before we sit down. We have inside and
outside clothes. We cover our cushions with sheets or canvas. And we be
the soggy arse brigade when outside.

For the first few weeks of the trip I was terrified of ‘itchy bum’ as Jo
so delightfully referred to it, but the warmer we go, the greater our
chances of drying out between soakings. For those people continually
sailing in colder climates though, hats off to you… no-one mentions
that in the books. Actually, there’s lots that’s not mentioned, or maybe
I’m reading the wrong books. This sailing mallarky is bloody hard. Even
Andy announced a couple of days ago as we met for a morning brew, “It’s
not easy, and it’s not fun”. I had to work hard to resist asking the
obvious, ‘so what the – are we doing here then?’ Easy, fun.. I guess I
knew it wouldn’t always be those, but these last few days haven’t even
been enjoyable. Grumble, grumble…. it can’t all be about the smug
feeling of self-satisfaction that we’ll get on the other side.

So you’ll have realised we have left, left Rapa Nui, left Easter Island.
It is behind us, to our north and east and there’s no going back. We did
briefly contemplate it yesterday, when the lumpy seas and general
wetness had managed to beat both our spirits down at the same time, but
the idea of return was no more appealling than that of soldiering on.
Ugly weather is ugly whichever way you look at it, and our recent
experiences mean we now feel safer facing it out in the open blue, with
only ourselves to contend with, than either near rocks and land, or
other boats. Plus, French Neptune left on the Friday and we’re still
following the trail of fine cooking that wafts behind him.

Rapa Nui, Easter Island, what can I tell you about it? On the journey
there I had read the relevant chapter in Jared Diamond’s ‘Collapse’, and
during nightshift the night before arrival I had polished off ‘The
Little Prince’ (again). So, as land came into appearrance, I was struck
almost simultaneously by how this once thoroughly forested, lush, and
self-sustainable island was now almost entirely barren due to poor
land-management by humans; and also how those isolated barren hills were
exactly the shape of a boa constrictor that has swallowed an elephant.
Other than these two things, I’m hesitant to share much more as our time
there was so limited. Indeed, I wonder if we are the only tourists ever
to not take a single photograph, or visit the magnificent Moaii statues.

We had heard amazing things about Rapa Nui and were prepared for magical
places, mysterious history, friendly people, and a terrifying surf
approach between boat and shore. The latter, at least, I can confirm.
There is only one place to anchor near the main town, and there is only
one place to land a dinghy; navigating between the two involves passing
by all the local surfers, of which there are many. And they’re there for
a good reason.

Andy did a stellar job, I didn’t even pretend to offer. We donned
swimwear, triple-bagged everything and took only the bare minimum (hence
no camera), watched the waves, and then he ROWED. Rowed like hell
between the surf, between the rocks, between the astonished people, and
whoosh(!)ed us straight onto shore. Even more impressive, he managed to
row us back out again at the end of the day! This was possible on our
first and third days there. On the second, Andy hitched a lift on a
dinghy with 15hp outboard motor belonging to a neighbouring yacht…
seemed a safer bet for transporting our broken hydrovane and his bent
anchor. They set off to find a workshop and I was left with the wreckage
that is a boat after two weeks at sea. To be fair, it was heaven: my
first time entirely on my own for what felt like months.

On our fourth day, the surf was big. Only the pros were out with their
boards. We hitched a ride yet again with our new friends, along with
empty fuel drums and a huge bag of laundry.We made it to the bay safely,
only to be covered by a wave upon arrival. But hey, we arrived. Another
yacht in the bay had less good fortune,-on the return leg their dinghy,
complete with four people and provisions, hit a wave and was upturned.
The navy and surfers came to help them out but it was a shock
none-the-less. Several hours later our french friend gave up waiting for
a break and put his entire dinghy and outboard inside a fishing boat
that took him home. Not a good day for rowing. And an indication of the
swell to come.

The main town, Hanga Roa, is a town without much of a centre, with
terrifyingly high prices, a school, a football field, an impressive
coastline, and a full complement of both tourists and locals. The locals
seem a fairly even mix of Chileans, Rapa Nui natives, and families with
both cultures, and were on the whole pretty friendly. The climate is
warm but not exhaustingly hot. Beyond this, I can only really talk of
the amazing mechanic, Don Carlos, who gave Andy open use of his
workshop, and a new 1″steel bar, to fix the Hydrovane; and the inside of
the fruit and veg market and internet cafe. The highlight for me?
Definitely the fresh and sweet pineapple juice.

Don Carlos was not only a godsend in terms of his workshop and
materials, he was also a genuinely friendly guy, proud of his Rapa Nui
heritage and happy to talk about it. His friends all call him Gringo on account
of his surname, Edwards, but nothing else about him was very European.
The name came from his British grandfather who had come over as a
manager for Williamson Bafour and Company, a scottish shipping company
that ran the wool trade on the island and was essentially the de facto
government for much of the 20th Century. The rest of Don Carlos’ heritage
was pure Rapa Nui, a culture and language that is still alive today despite
very aggressive assaults on the people by Europeans and Peruvians after the
culture itself almost self-exterminated due to using up all the island’s
resources. In addition to being the island’s main mechanic, Andy discovered
that Don Carlos was also the local expert in animal castration,and was about
to neuter a horse that very afternoon. His other victims had included donkeys,
chickens, cows, sheep, and even a rat.. “just to see what would happen” (he got
fat). Among equipment lying around the workshop Andy also found an enormous
harpoon for spearing tuna, and we’re happy to report that our broken hydrovane
shaft will be put to a similar cause. Carlos didn’t accept any payment for the work
we had done there, not from us or the other two yacht-related jobs that
visited during our stay… he just asked that we put his name in cruising guide
books and spread the good word.

We fully intended to stay much longer, maybe a week, maybe three…. so
those first few days were dedicated to recuperating from the journey,
tidying up the boat, doing laundry, checking email, fixing the
hydrovane, and, in my case, fixing me. I was exhausted, I ran a fever
for three nights that we were there, and all I wanted to do really was
sleep and rest.

Then came the weather predictions. Filthy filthy north west,- to which
our anchorage would be open. Had we been alone, I suspect we would have
sought shelter in a different bay on the south side. However, there were
seven yachts visiting at the time (3 USA, 2 Canada –incl. us, and 2
French) and the idea of all running for cover to the same place didn’t
appeal much either. Neptune, our old friends from Puerto Montt, decided
to leave. As did the other french boat, one day later. Around this time
we checked weather again: the filth was predicted to stay five days.
What is worse, five days lumping around in an anchorage near other
boats, or five days battling it out in the big blue? Neither really
appealled but we cut our losses and left.

And that’s that.

So, to those of you who were looking forward to reports from Easter
Island… please tell me about it when you visit, if you visit. I am
told it’s the most remote place in the world but that’s certainly not
true, unless you measure remoteness by distance travelled to get there
by sea (and who does that these days?). 747s were flying overhead as we
arrived, languages from every country could be heard walking down the
street, and imported goods from around the world were for sale at
exhorbitant prices. We saw some of the smaller statues.. they look much
like the photos, but never saw the famous large ones. And I really
regret missing out on the ‘statue factory’ inside a volcano on the other
side of the island. Still, we reached the place, bought a little fresh
food (not as much as I would have had I known we weren’t returning), got
clean, got rested. And, as an aside, got initiated into Pacific Cruising.

To be honest, those first few days felt more like an introduction to the
cruising world than an exploration of the most remote and magical place
in the world. By other people’s standards it seems seven yachts isn’t
that many but to us, it was a crowd. And of course we were part of the
making of it. Still, made me realise how spoiled we have been ‘off the
beaten track’ until now (Andy met one other boat in his three months
journey north through the Chilean channels). It also made me look at
ourselves with new eyes.

To the other boats in the harbour, we must look very small, and very
basic. Our story and age also places us at the younger, and possibly
more naive, end of the spectrum. To me, this is still an adventure,-
exploration of the unknown. I guess after twelve years of cruising it
becomes more of a lifestyle. And with a lifestyle choice come lifestyle
comforts: water-makers, refridgeration, showers, washing machines,
internet, ship-spotting technology, spare bedrooms, kitchens with a sink
you can wash up in, sails you can unfurl and furl up without leaving the
cockpit, and huge covered spaces to watch the world go by at night
without ever having to get wet in a squall. These boats are in a
different league from us. I feel very young, but I also like our
simplicity…. especially in good weather.

So, what was the filth? Was it that bad? Did we make the right decision?
Who knows. The seas weren’t terrifying, we weren’t preparing the storm
anchor, I wasn’t scared for my life… so that’s a step in the right
direction I guess… but it was powerful. Powerful Weather.

We’re hurtling along, wind on our side, black cloud looming on the
horizon. It looms more and then is upon you, Bam. Winds soar, the boat
fights, the waves break right over the deck. High winds, boat leaning
over… two nights of that was amazing sailing- school for me. What was
terrifying to start with was almost a game by the end.. here it comes,
wait, wait, ok, BAM, release the jib, release the main, go to Otto, now
thankfully back with us, and direct the boat downwind, maybe tweak the
steering wheel a bit, back to the sails, let them out out out, this
thing isn’t letting up. As the boat turns down with the wind waves stop
breaking over our side, that’s something, but we’re hooning along. It’s
ok, I had downwind sailing school last month, I can hold this. If it’s
too much for Otto I just hand steer ’til it passes. But before that: the
rain.

And what rain. A patter, a skitter, and then impailing down upon you.
Wet, wet, wet. So wet there’s no point even trying to hide from it, just
keep guiding the boat. And as the rain sits over your head, the wind
abates, the boat wobbles all over the place, time to tighten up those
sails agin, redirect the boat to our course, get very wet.

One plus to the rain (and did I say, when it rains it really rains), is
that we now have full water tanks again. We were very low in Easter
Island and not able to fill up from shore but thankfully our new
Canadian friends have the worlds largest water-maker/desalinator and
passing on 100L to us was for them no big deal. Still, that left another
100L of empty water jugs … that we managed to fill purely by catching
rain during one 20 minute squall – and no fancy technology either, three
buckets hanging under the mainsail and it just poured right in! While
one bucket was collecting water, Andy and I decanted the other full
buckets into 5L and 10L jerry cans that live below our floorboards. So
simple. So delicious. So natural.

Two, three, days of this? Squalls, they are called. In one nightshift I
timed squalls lasting 30-40 minutes seperated by lulls of about 15
minutes. No rest for the wicked. And we made so little headway.. either
going nowhere between them, or hurtling in the wrong direction when
they’re upon us. But for me, it was ok, we were not out there to make a
course, we’d either be here or there, facing these winds in a bay with
six other yachts. I stick with this choice.

Two days after we left, Andy looks out of the hatch, ‘I see sails’.
You’re kidding. We call all the people we can think of on the VHF.
Neptune is at least a day ahead of us, it’s not him. The other French
boat passed us after five hours on day one and was far north of us;
would be strange if they had changed their course. Thankfully we have
scheduled a daily radio chat that’s not far off… indeed, it’s our new
Canadian friends, of dinghy, anchor, and water-maker fame. They left the
morning after us (after a rough night at anchor) and already are close
on our tails. Nice to hear their voices but underlines again the
difference between big and little boats: speed as well as comfort. All
well, ’til they call up an hour later. The squalls are in, none of us
can see a thing, the best course they can make is due South and they’re
worried they might hit us.

That’s nuts: what are the chances? So we spend the nightshift on proper
alert for lights from another boat. We didn’t escape all the way out
here just to bump into someone!

As I finish this off, the winds have calmed somewhat, we’re making good
progress in a reasonable direction. Better yet, the new weather reports
show south easterly winds on their way tomorrow that should push us back
towards where we want to go. Which, ofcourse, we’re not really sure of.
Our GPS is programmed for Pitcairn Island, famous for the Mutiny on the
Bounty and still inhabited by descendants of Fletcher Christian.
However, I am yet to read a guide or meet a person who recommends
stopping there with a boat. My choice? Sail a couple of days further, to
the Gambier Islands that have a safe protected bay, and catch a cargo
ship to Pitcairn. Is that cheating?

One thought on “Squalls On

  1. Thanks for another informative post! I'm so happy to have found someone who is describing the real life and feelings of a first passage… especially in the Pacific, where we hope to launch someday. I'm so happy every time I see a new post pop up from you. :)

Comments are closed.