Category Archives: Passasge

Migration to Tahiti

The migration from the Gambier Archipelago to the Society Archipelago is about 900 nm if we were to go direct.  However, we decided to head north toward the Tuamotus Archipelago then west toward the Societies which ads several hundred miles and days to our journey.

The first leg of this migration is from Taravai, Gambier to Tahanea, Tuamotus.  This passage is roughly 664nm direct and should take us 5-6 days.  The predicted forecast is for light winds, little rain, long, rolly seas.  We put up our largest spinnaker (200 square meters), since we were anticipating light winds.  We call her “Big Bertha” and she is super colorful   Usually, we take down our spinnakers at night and just run the “working sails” (main and jib) as a “just in case”.  But the winds were super light at 6-8kts and predicted to stay that way all night.

Night 2 – dun dun dun

Matt wakes me up around 2:00am announcing a pending storm.  We need to douse the spinnaker and raise the working sails.  I grab a rain jacket and make a quick trip to the bathroom.  I should have skipped the 2-minute bathroom break.  By the time I got to the deck, the wind gusted to 26 and blew out our sail.  Insert all sorts of explicates here!  We rush to the bow to pull the sail out of the water. 

Yes, Matt could have doused the sail by himself and I could have peed my pants.  Both options would have saved the sail.  Hindsight is 20/20.  But the good news is that none of the sail pieces got caught on the dagger boards, rudder, or prop!  We will try to repair her in Tahiti.  She is 22 years old. Farfugnuggin!  The lower left photo shows you where the sail ripped.

The top two photos show you the huge wind shift and gust of wind.  The bottom right photo is the parasail that we put up afterwards.

On our 5th night, we had a guest on board.  A silly, dirty boobie.  It is so hard to be mad at these birds as it is clear they are tired and just need a place to rest before continuing on their own personal migration.  But man, oh man do they leave a nasty mess!

Part I of the Migration: Gambier-Tahanea

  • Total Miles to Destination:  664nm
  • Total Miles Sailed:  710nm
  • Top Speed: 11.0kt
  • Average Speed:  6.1kt

Notes:  Super beautiful sail with the light wind coming ENE and the seas coming from ENE to E.  The seas were large at 2m, but they were long and lazy and came with long intervals in between.  We ended up sailing 46nm out of our way to maintain the wind speed.

Don’t miss our blog post “Ta Ta Tahanea” where we explore this stunning atoll for the last time.  Coming up next week.

Tahanea to Fakarava

This is the shortest part of our migration.  The tricky part is trying to time the outbound passage through the Tahanea pass with the inbound passage through Fakarava.  Unfortunately, it just does not work out.  So, we decided to leave Tahanea at the midnight outbound slack time with the hopes of arriving at the Fakarava inbound around 9a-10a in the morning. 

Typically, we don’t like to transit the passes at night because you cannot see what the water is doing.  Is it truly inbound or outbound current?  Are there standing waves?  What are the eddies doing?  Too many unknowns.  But we have tracks from a previous transit and a wee bit of the moon light and forged our way out with no issues.

The winds were light at 10-12kts from the East on a perfect beam reach.  We started with full working sails (main and jib) and were making a respectable 5-5.5 kts of boat speed.  At dawn, we lost the wind, dropped all sails and motored.  We hoisted our spinnaker but that only gave us 3kts of boat speed, so we took her down and reverted back to the motor and the jib.  This would ensure we arrive during incoming tide in Fakarava.

Super peaceful and beautiful passage to Fakarava.

Part II of Migration

  • Total Miles to Destination:  48nm
  • Total Miles Sailed: 55 nm
  • Top Speed: 11.0kt
  • Average Speed:  6.1kt
  • Total time at underway: 11 hours

Fakarava to Tahiti

We had light winds predicted for this trip.  We left the North pass at 3:00pm and had 238nm to Papeete.  An expected 2-2.5 days.  Since we did not want to arrive at night we decided to just go with our working sails.  We set them up wing on wing which means the main on one side and the jib on the other. 

We could have flown our spinnaker or parasail but then we would arrive at night – and what’s the point in that.  So, we enjoyed a nice, slow, leisurely paced sail.

Sugar Shack under sail using the spinnaker (this is our medium sized 150 square meters spinnaker as the large one (200m) was ripped on the way from Gambier to Tahanea.

  • Total Miles to Destination:  238nm
  • Total Miles Sailed:  246nm
  • Top Speed: 9.3kt
  • Average Speed:  5.5kt
  • Total time at underway:  1 day and 20 hours

I ended up writing separate blog posts for Tahanea and Fakarava so be sure to read the next few weeks to catch up on our adventures on these two atolls.

A celebration and sad farewell to the Gambier Archipelago. (see passage post).   The migration began 25 Feb. in Gambier and ended on 26 March in Tahiti.  Our blog posts run 10-12 weeks behind our adventures.

Marie Alice in Hao Pass

A Morning of Pure Havoc

A day full of havoc!  This is a continuation of the previous blog titled “Sorry Charlie – Yellow Fin Tuna” where we were under passage from Mangareva, Gambier to Hao, Tuamotus.

Hao Pass – ABORT!

We approached the pass at 5:10am and saw the standing waves inside the pass.  We approached again at 5:30am and decided not yet.  At 6:10am we saw an opening where we could enter.  Marie Alice was hot on our tail which was not ideal.  It would have been best if they gave us more lead time. 

Matt was able to maneuver around the first set of standing waves that break at the opening of the pass.  We made it in about a ¼ of the way before the 2nd set of breaking waves measuring at 3-4 meters (that is 9’-12’) started pushing us around.  Matt had both Volvo 50hp engines running full throttle at 2400rpm and we were not moving forward.

I rolled out the jib to give us more horse power along with the engines and still nothing. We literally stayed in one place for over an hour trying to make forward progression.  In the meantime, the waves are at our stern pounding and threatening to overtake us.  The current was so strong 7-8kts of outgoing current that it was preventing us from moving.  Look at our SOG compared to our boat speed.  It means at the time of the photo we had 5kts of outgoing current.   I was too scared to have my camera out when we had 8 kts of outgoing current as I was helping Matt with the boat.

Sugar Shack in Hao Pass

Sugar Shack in Hao Pass

Marie Alice had it worse as they are a monohull.  The waves wreaked havoc tossing them around like a toothpick in a washer machine!  I felt so bad for them as they took on so much water.  Wave after wave after wave crashed over them.  They later took out their jib as well but they could not move forward either.

Marie Alice Struggling in Hao Pass

Marie Alice Struggling in Hao Pass

Abort! Abandon! Exit Now!

Matt made the decision to abort after an hour of heart stopping attempts to move through the pass.  It felt like everything was causing havoc to our boat!  On the one hand I was relieved because this terrified me not being able move forward and having the huge waves at our back.  On the other hand, the thought of turning around in these wave conditions with another sail boat on our stern was even more terrifying.  And in order to turn around we had to roll the jib up which takes some of our power away.

No choice.  We rolled the jib and Matt waited for enough space to avoid hitting Marie Alice, avoid the waves as much as possible, and certainly avoid the reef.  It was dicey, scary, and challenging. It seemed like there was havoc everywhere!  But Matt’s expert skills at maneuvering the boat got us out.  Marie Alice was able to turn their boat around as well once we left.

These photos show our track into the pass.  The red line shows zig zags right and left where we tried for over an hour to move forward and couldn’t.  The right photo shows you how narrow the pass is with reefs on either side of us.

Going no where fast

Going no where fast

Regrouping In the Chop

Once we were outside the pass we went back to the Pacific’s choppy, uncomfortable, but safe waves.  Everyone regrouped and tried to make a decision.  We could either wait until the next “slack tide” which was predicted at 11:35am 4+ hours awa; we could go to Amanu which was 17nm away into the wind; or we could go to Fakarava a 2.5-day sail.  Pros and cons for each decision.

Fakarava has great internet and provisioning but we would have to sail in the upcoming weather system which was predicted with 30kts of wind.  Not fun or safe.  Amanu would be a 4-hr motor sail into the wind and waves, but we would have better protection waiting for slack tide.  The pass is “easier” and the lagoon not as crowded.  But no provisions and 2g internet.  Hao had a lot of our cruising friends waiting for us and hoping for some of the yellow fin tuna.  But we would have to wait for 4-5 hours in $hity conditions for the next slack tide.  We have a love hate relationship with Hao – see previous posts.

As we were “deciding” we got a call from Marie Alice.  He told me that the waves had soaked their instruments and they no longer had navigation or GPS.  Oh $hit!  They could not go anywhere safely without help.  Why don’t they have backups?  Gesh, we have the ship’s navigation, a hand held GPS, and navigation on Matt’s iPad and computer.  Yes, we run it all while underway.

Danger! Alerts! Alarms!

Alarms starting going off as we are contemplating the best thing to do for Sugar Shack and Marie Alice.  We both go running inside to see what is going on.  The starboard fresh water tank alarm was going off telling us that it was low.  What?  We just filled the entire tank with fresh water less than 24 hours ago.

In addition, the starboard bilge alarm is sounding.  This tells us that there is water in the bilge, inside the boat (NEVER a good thing).  We lift the starboard floor boards and then the false floor and see water sloshing around. Fuckity, fuck, fuck.  It is one bilge that flows under from the head (front of the boat), under the hall floor, to under the bed (back of the boat).  Well that sucks.  What other havoc can bestow our day? 

Decision made.  We will go to Amanu to help Marie Alice get somewhere safe and to deal with our water issue.  They did not want to wait in the horrible sea conditions for another chance at the Hao pass either.

Water Inside the Boat – Never Good

We set course and Matt gets to work trying to evacuate the water.  No need to find the source yet as we know the fresh water tank emptied into the bilge.  Matt has several pumps that he tries to use.  The issue is trying to evacuate it while underway in big seas.  You can’t exactly open a hatch and our hoses are not long enough to reach the cockpit from the starboard hull.

We tried sending the water outside the bathroom hatch as one of them is high above the water. But the crashing waves kept sending water inside.  We also tried stretching the hose from the bilge, up the stairs, across the salon into the cockpit. This finally worked with both of us holding and stretching for the hose.  Eventually we got enough water out where it would not slosh onto the floor boards.

We are still underway, heading into the wind and the seas.  It is uncomfortable at best. Poor Matt is a$$ up and head down into the bilge.  This is a recipe for disaster for someone like me who gets sea sick.  So I focused on helming the boat and getting us to Amanu. 

A few trial and error experiments and we discover that the leak is coming from a fresh water hose on the toilet. Matt takes it apart and finds the culprit.  A hose ruptured during the bouncing in the Hao pass and leaked all our fresh water from the starboard water tank into the bilge.

Fresh Water Leak

Fresh Water Leak

We Arrive Amano

Four hours later, we get to Amanu and get in the lee of the island.  The waves are down to .5-1 meter and the winds are blowing 18-20kts.  We wait for 4 hours for slack tide as we slowly make circles so that each hour, we can check the pass.

Marie Alice calls to tell us they are taking on water.  They cannot find the leak.  We continually check back with them for a few hours.  Finally, they tell us that they think the water came from the Hao pass as they took on so much water.  It must have entered through their companion way.  They had so much water that it flooded the interior.  They will have a mess on their hands but at least they are not taking on water.

Matt fixes the leaking hose on the toilet and then we continue to evac the water while we wait and circle.  Matt also determined the reason why the bilge pump did not do its job of evacuating the water.  Evidently the bilge filter had a clog (most likely my hair and dirt) which prevented the water from leaving the boat which caused it to fill up the bilge.  Havoc upon havoc.  By the time slack tide rolls around 2:15pm we have most of the water out of the bilge. 

Entering this short pass is fairly easy except it is really narrow which makes the water rip through and there is a dog-leg at the end where you have to maneuver quickly to the right.  We try to explain to the French boat that they must follow us exactly to avoid the reef and they do.

Both boats enter with about 3 kts of incoming current, but no problems.  We motor across the lagoon for an hour to a safe anchorage away from the upcoming SE weather system.  The hook is dropped and we both look relieved.

A nice hot shower, our last pork chops for dinner and a bottle of rosé!  We both pass out early.

Marie Alice

The owner, a 20-year seasoned sailor had never seen a situation such as that and had never had his boat in such a dangerous situation.  He said he truly thought he was going to lose his boat and his wife has decided she is done sailing.  They had a hatch blow out which caused loads of water to come into the main salon and cabins.  They have lots of damage including navigation and auto pilot which are critical to sailing.  His current thoughts are to file a claim with insurance, fix the boat and sell it.  They are done.

Sailing is not for the weak that is for sure.  Havoc can be upon you within moments.  It requires quick thinking, a jack of all trades captain, knowledge of weather and all systems, and patience.  It is sad that they are ending their sailing adventure on a sad note.

Despite the havoc showered upon Sugar Shack we were able to repair all damaged areas and are now smoothly continuing out our sailing journey.

Events from this blog post occurred during the first week May, 2021.  Our blog posts run 10-12 weeks behind our adventures.

Sorry Charlie

Sorry Charlie: Yellow Fin Tuna

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.

Sorry Charlie…

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!

60 Kilo Yellow Fin Tuna

60 Kilo Yellow Fin Tuna

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.

Who's head is bigger?

Who’s head is bigger?

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.

Day 2

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!

Day 3

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. 

Matt at the Navigation Station

Matt at the Navigation Station

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.

Day 4

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.

Trip Details

  • 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.