After we left Rikitea, we headed to Taravai for one last visit with our friends Herve, Valerie, Alan and Ariki. We needed a day of rest before our downwind passage. Plus, it is a good excuse for a beach BBQ and volleyball. Stefan had left us with several fish that we cooked up on the grill along with chicken and lots of sides. We loaded up on my tasty fruit from Herve’s garden and wore ourselves out with a few volleyball games.
Our friends on Sea Jay (Fred and Chris) and on Hoodoo (Yanell and Missy) were planning on heading to Hao in the Tuamotus as well. It’s funny as we are all American catamarans and we all left at the same time. Strange coincidence.
We got up early to begin our 3.5/4 day downwind passage. But evidently, not as early as Sea Jay and Hoodoo. They left about an hour before us right after dawn. I had to stop to enjoy the beautiful sunrise and give a proper goodbye to this amazing archipelago that has been so good to us.
We left at 0700 and could see our friends up ahead of us with their head-sails. Sea Jay is in the front with a large spinnaker and Hoodoo is just behind them with their parasail. Hoodoo is a 38’ Leopard whereas Sea Jay is a 50’ St. Francis custom boat.
We started out flying our large spinnaker. This is our largest downwind passage sail and reaches from the top of our mast to the waterline. She is very colorful with blues, green and pink. We can fly her in light winds up to about 10-12 kts. She is an asymmetrical kite which means we cannot actually go directly down wind. We have to go slightly off course to fly her. But the good news is that the weather forecast had us going east off the rumb-line anyway.
In the middle of our first night we had shifty winds and big seas. We were seeing 3 meter seas in 8-10 second intervals. Good that there was plenty of time between waves, but bad because they were large seas. The wind picked up, as it usually does late at night. We decided to do a sail change. We took down the large spinnaker and put up the parasail (another downwind passage sail).
New to Us Sails
Reminder…last February, in Nuku Hiva, we purchased two “new to us” downwind sails. A small spinnaker and a parasail. We had never flown the parasail before – well except one time in the lagoon when we taught ourselves how to set and take down while sailing in the lagoon. The small spinnaker is about the same size as our small spinnaker which is in need of repair.
First 24 hours of passage down
In the first 24 hours we managed to fly 3 head sails (large spinnaker, small new spinnaker, and the parasail) and our jib. In other words we were up most of the night doing sail changes trying to accommodate the wind and ensure we do not overpower the sails and blow them out.
We caught up to Hoodoo within a few hours and then lost them from view a few ours later. Sea Jay kept to the rumb-line (direct path from Gambiers to Hao) and we veered east. We lost them on AIS and out of view by sunset. Lucky for us we have communication via our satellite systems. Great first day of our passage.
- Miles Sailed: 136
- Miles to Go: 324
- Max Speed: 9.7kt
- Average Speed: 5.4kt
Day 2 of our Downwind Passage
We started our day changing back to the small spinnaker as we had winds of about 15-16kts and 3-meter seas. This sail can hold its shape a little better in higher winds. We did do a few sail changes to accommodate a pending storm, but came back to the small spinnaker. This is a really pretty blue spinnaker that dances just above our bow sprit.
We were both tired today as neither one of us got much sleep the first night of this passage. A few naps and an attempt to fish all day netted zero fish on board. Maybe tomorrow. We did have several birds stop by for a visit.
- Miles Sailed: 153
- Miles to Go: 171
- Max Speed: 11.5kt
- Average Speed: 5.7
We had an expensive day today. We were flying the “new to us” small spinnaker while the winds were blowing 12-14kts with no problem. All of sudden we heard a “pop” and down went the sail. It tore from the top all the way down the seam to the clew. Crap. Into the water like a heavy water logged fishing net. Of course, we had multiple fishing lines out as well. First things first, reel in the lines, then secure the sail that was remaining on board. We determined that most of the sail was under the port hull so we started the starboard engine and put it in reverse. This caused the sail to float in front of the boat (instead of under).
We successfully got the entire sail onboard and stowed it. We will have to take it out while at anchor to see what happened.
Photos taken once we got to shore. We think the rip started from a small tear on the leading edge and under pressure tore straight across all of the panels near the top.
Once the top portion was separated from the bottom it ripped the bottom opposed leading edge off from the seam. This second rip happened while we were trying to secure the boat and get the sail down.
After that big blow out we were a little gun shy to fly another head sail. So, we decided to raise the main and fly the jib. However, we could not get the main up past the first reef. After a diagnosis, we discovered the main halyard (the 100-meter line that lifts and lowers the 300lb sail) had a section where the cover had separated from the inner coil. It does not decrease the strength of the line but it did prevent us from raising and lowering the main. Since it is pitch dark out we will have to fix this in the morning.
Passage Day 3
The next morning, Matt was able to sew the lower portion of the main halyard but he could not reach the top portion until we lower the sail. It will need to be replaced when we get to Tahiti, Argh!
The winds have shifted to the East and the swell has gone down to 2-2.5 meters which is a nicer ride. The skies are blue and the sun is out. Would be nice if we could get a little more wind to fly the head sail.
Passage Day 3.5-4
We decided to slow the boat way down after we realized we would not make it in time to enter the pass during slack tide (when there is little to no incoming or outgoing current and swell). So, we dropped the main and reefed the jib to avoid having to drift once we arrived.
Why is it that you go “fastish” when you want to go slow and you go slowish when you want to go fast? As it turned out we arrived at the pass at 2200 which meant we had to circle or drift for the next 11 hours. We ended up drifting about 8nm out, came back and went out again. Waiting for sunrise and slack tide.
Hoodoo arrived around 0500. Then we both drifted until 0900 for slack tide. Entering the pass is always a challenge as you never know what you are going to get. Hoodoo was closer so they went first and we followed. We both saw about a 3.5kt outgoing current which was not terrible. It was in fact rather easy with auto pilot steering the boat.
Arrived and Tied Up
Sea Jay helped Hoodoo tie up and then they all helped us. Love this community! The last time we were tied up to a dock, where we could walk off the boat to shore, was back in Costa Rica after our lightning strike (over 2.5 years ago). This will be a treat!
A small mono, Queen B came in the day after we arrived (they left the same day we did but it took them 36 hours longer than us). They decided it was best for them to squeeze in between Hoodoo and our boat. We had told them they could medmoor (stern tie to the wall) yet they squeezed their entire boat sideways in. It took both Hoodoo and us to secure them and a few choice words. They are French – nothing else needs to be said!
Here is a link to another boat’s passage from Gambier to Hao.
Not the ideal downwind passage we had hoped for, but we made it safely.
This post was written in May 2020. Our blog posts are usually 8 to 10 weeks behind are true adventures.