It was time to leave Gambier after spending 5 glorious months in the Archipelago. Leaving is bitter sweet. It has truly been an amazing experience hanging out with so many lovely people in this beautiful piece of paradise. But we our season is over and we need to move on. Right after Matt’s birthday a weather window opened up and we decided to take it. We spent 5 May at Taravai celebrating Matt’s birthday for the 3rd year in a row and left the day after to head to Hao. Five short hours later, we land a 60-kilo (130+ lbs) yellow fin tuna! What? How did we do that? Let’s start at the beginning.
Six boats were planning on leaving during the same weather window. One left early on the 4th of May, four of us left on the 5th of May and one decided to wait until the 6th of May. Two other boats will leave a week later. Clearly, it’s a good weather window, right? Ha!
Sea Rose left the day before us and was reporting large waves in long intervals which were comfortable. Amaryllis left around 0700 on 6th of May, Grace left at 0900 and we left at 1000. As soon as we left the pass, we realized the weather was not what was predicted which was N – NE. The wind was actually NW which is exactly where we needed to go. Hard to sail with wind on your nose. We tacked our way back and forth hoping the wind would cooperate soon. Within a few hours we passed Grace. They too were having a hard time pointing in the direction they wanted to go. They ended up turning back to Gambier late in the afternoon to try another time while we forged ahead.
Always a race when 2+ boats are heading in the same direction
Sugar Shack had full sails up (no engines) making 6.5kts and with three fishing poles trolling. We were “pinching” pretty close hauled and did not have much room to the wind (meaning we were as close to the wind as we could get while still being able to maintain speed). We were not on the rhumb line, but we were making forward progress.
Around 1500 the first zing went off. Before I could get to the 2nd poll it went zing! Crapity crap crap! Matt went after the first pole as it has the largest lure. He used autopilot to try to slow the boat down. Unfortunately, he over corrected and we went into irons (dead into the wind and stopped the boat). The two fish decided to swim under and in front of the starboard hull. $hit! Not good. Ignoring the fish, we had to right the boat. About 7-8 minutes later we addressed the fish. I brought in the 3rd line that had no fish to avoid further entanglements. Then started bringing in the 2nd line. I quickly realized that the line was caught on the starboard rudder. Oh, for fuck’s sake! Matt paused his work on line 1 and came to help me only to rip the fishing line – fish and lure gone!
Back to 1st line. Matt continued to work the fish. We did not know it was a yellow fin tuna for several hours as it never surfaced. As he worked the fish, I worked the boat. When you bring in a fish on sailboat you try to maintain forward motion not too fast, ideal is below 2kts. You need the boat to continue a forward momentum but you don’t want it to go too fast as it will cause too much drag on the fish. Which is hard under full sail with big seas. The waves pushed us forward giving us a little bump in speed while the wind played havoc on us. We ended up going backwards and literally heading back the way we came for over 4 hours as we, well, Matt fought the yellow fin tuna!
We lose the light…
The sun had set around 1730 and we were using flash lights to follow the yellow fin tuna around the boat. He was a fighter that was for sure. He would dash left or right each time he neared the boat. We were constantly trying to keep him away from our rudders and props. One good note is that the 2nd broken line with the leader and lure got caught on the 1st line so we were able to retrieve both of those items. The lure was sans hook so that fish got away with our hook.
Matt prevailed after 4 hours of fighting the yellow fin tuna. He brought this sea monster on board with a gaf and tied it to our wench to hoist it onto the sugar scoops. The he took a well-deserved rest with a cold beer. This yellow fin tuna is a good 60 kilos (130+lbs) and Matt struggled for a long time and then had to haul it onboard!
Cleaning the beast
Matt went back to work on the yellow fin tuna as it needed to be “cleaned.” Poor thing had to sit uncomfortably on the sugar scoops, in high seas, and pitch black conditions while trying to clean this enormous yellow fin tuna. We latched flash lights to the rails and used the wash down pump to keep all the blood off the boat. Three hours later Matt called it good. The fish head was huge – Matt could have easily put his head inside the yellow fin tuna’s mouth.
The next morning, Matt decided to properly clean the fish. He is usually very precise when cleaning his fish but the conditions were not good last night. So, he cleaned it up and filled 4 very large zip lock bags (see above photo of one bag).
We will be feeding the entire anchorage and the village with yellow fin tuna when we arrive.
It was a fabulous day to be sailing. We had decent winds at 12-15kts, 1.5-meter seas in long intervals, and sunny skies. The only problem was that we were not heading in the right direction. Ugh. We were knocking off our cross track, but it is clear we won’t make it in 3 days.
Amaryllis was 8.5nm ahead of us when we started and now, they are 33nm ahead of us. Bummer…as you know it is always a race if 2 boats are heading in the same direction, even they leave before you and don’t stop for hours to fuss with a sea monster. Yellow fin tuna wins over arriving first.
We did not make good VMG (velocity made good toward your destination). We only sailed about 31nm in 12 hours. Pft!
We kept searching for the trade winds but they eluded us. We tried different sails (jib & main, jib only, main only, spinnaker) and just could not catch the wind. So, we ended up motoring most of the night into day #3 and most of day #3. Now, who is sorry, not Charlie.
I did a load of laundry as we had little wind and a sunny day. I tried to sneak in a 2nd load but just as I was about to start, we finally found the wind. Not complaining, I will take the wind and a steady sail over laundry any day. It was perfect trade wind, just as predicted. We finally found the predicted winds and we were rocking it! We had a reef in each sail because we were seeing 20+ kts of wind and we still had 1-1.5-meter seas but they were in long intervals so not terribly uncomfortable.
This is what SOG (speed over ground) and TWS (true wind speed) should look like! Compare to the photo above where SOG was above TWS.
Once I was feeling better, I went through our first aid bag and ditch bag. They both needed review and removal of overly expired items. I then updated the inventory list. We only get these bags out of the bilge when we have a 2+ day passage. I had not updated the inventory in a while and there are lots of things that need to be replaced and updated when I go back to the states.
Communications while underway
Matt sending an email on our satellite device – love that we can keep in touch with others while at sea.
We certainly had a wonky passage. This was probably one of our worst “sailing” passages in that we made horrible time. A three-day passage turned into 4 days. We had a lot of zig zagging and a curved track.
We arrived at 2:30am which is not ideal, but what can you do? An Amel 46, called Marie Alice, was also approaching the atoll. Marie Alice is a French boat but they speak a touch of English so we chatted about the pass. We told them we had been here before and would lead the way in at slack tide. Remember slack tide is when there is no incoming or outgoing tide from the lagoon to the Pacific. In the Tuamotus you have atolls (a bunch of motus / islands that make a circle with a lagoon in the middle. Several atolls have passes that allow sailboats to enter / exit but you have to watch the tides.
Slack tide was predicted by two sources to be at 5:15am. Sunrise was supposed to be 5:25am. Lucky for us the sky brightens up before sunrise. We circled for 3 hours, in the dark choppy seas, waiting for slack tide.
- Miles to Hao: 460nm
- Total Miles Sailed: 515nm
- Max Speed: 15.1 (ridiculous but it was over a wave)
- Average Speed: 5.8
- Departure: 10:00am on 6 May
- Arrival: 2:30am
- Total time traveled: 3 days 18 hours
Be sure to check in next time when we encounter massive issues including aborting the Hao pass and have water inside the boat!
The events from this blog post took place in early May. Our blog posts run 10-12 weeks behind our adventures.