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Report Twelve from the Otter: The Passage from Moorea to Rarotonga

Aboard the yacht Otter
Opua, New Zealand
December 1999

Dear Friends and E-mail Family,

The passage from Moorea to Rarotonga, the capital of the Cook Islands, is 610 miles in a southwesterly direction. The run took me exactly seven days, which gives an over-the-bottom average speed of 3.6 knots. I left on Tuesday, September 28th and arrived on Tuesday, October 5th.

The Cooks are a group of about 14 islands scattered in a generally north-south orientation to the west of the Society Islands. Penrhyn Island in the north is on a latitude with the Marquesas and Rarotonga, the capital is 800 miles further south.

On this passage the weather was mostly gray, rainy, and blowing. I stayed below and read. No boat chores, almost no cleaning, and minimal food. I did heat water for soup, oatmeal, and tea.

It was the longest stretch of bad, gray weather since leaving the North Atlantic. Even in Panama, the rain would only last for one day. The sea was uniformly gray to match the clouds. Only saw two or three birds and two or three flying fish Ė no other life. I felt the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic below me.

Following are selected excerpts from the journal and log of my passage from Moorea to Rarotonga.

Weíre all on the journey,

Brec

__________________________________________________________

Tuesday, September 28 --

Moorea. Bright sunny morning. Take last photos of the anchorage outside Cook's Bay by the reef. Fold up the dinghy and lash it on the cabin top. Raise anchor and motor through the pass by 8:45 a.m.

In the wind shadow of Moorea the seas are lumpy and the wind is light and fluky. I feel seasick and nap in the afternoon to quell the queasiness.

5:30 p.m. By now the wind has steadied and the seas have become regular. Rainsqualls are visible on the horizon. Itís becoming overcast and gray. Only one hour until my first night at sea again. Iím anxious.

6:30 p.m Set out water generator, turn on running lights, and set watchman on the radar. Remember itís my brother Johnís birthday and think of him working on my notes -- heíll probably wish himself a happy birthday before he sends this! Happy Birthday, John!

Wednesday, September 29 --

3:45 a.m. The bulkhead to starboard behind the navigation seat is squeaking a lot as we roll. Spot freighter passing off the port quarter.

4:30 a.m. Wind shifts to the northwest. This is definitely not the Trades! The sky is clear now and the moon is just over half full and waning, but high in the sky. Venus is bright, 30į above the horizon to the east.

7:30 a.m. Listen to the Coconut Milk Run Net on SSB receiver and hear Tamoure check in. They are heading for Rarotonga from Bora Bora. I havenít seen them since Aruba.

12:00 noon The day is clear and blue. Occasional spray over the bow.

Thursday, September 30 --

Rain showers all night. Tired Ė up all night watching the squalls pass on the radar and adjusting sails.

Gray, rainy day. Wind over 20 knots, on the nose. Beating and tacking into six foot seas.

Friday, October 1 --

4:00 a.m. I wake from my first solid six hours sleep Ė straight through except for a few eye-opens and listening moments. The wind has shifted to the southeast, finally, and weíre on a beam reach. And on course.

5:30 a.m. I make breakfast of hot oatmeal and tea. The hot food feels good in this cooler air.

A lazy, gray day. Iíve been reading Michenerís Tales of the South Pacific that Todd left behind.

The ocean seems empty and endless. I stare southward now and feel the roll of the waves unbroken all the way to Antarctica. I think of the small-boat sailors who have visited that area and I shiver. I feel very far away from everything. Very disconnected from everyone. Very alone.

Dinner is instant soup, crackers with peanut butter and jelly, and tea. Long lethargic day. I read the story of "Bloody Mary" and her daughter on Bali Hai and feel the draw of the "Other."

Saturday, October 2 --

1:00 a.m. I wake from a sweet dream. Iíve found my home. Its entrance is in a sidewalk. My partner, who is Sandy, follows me there. There is a deep tenderness and joy being with each other. No one will disturb us here. I wake and the feeling of happiness persists.

3:45 a.m. Wake again. The boat motion is up and the rail is in the water. I put on the harness, clip into the tether, pull in the Genoa, and adjust the course. The wind is over 25 knots. Go below and try to sleep some more.

6:00 a.m. An extra-large wave slaps the port side of the hull where Iím dozing. I get up. The windís up to 30 knots now. Put a second reef in the main Ė one reef in the staysail. The boat motion feels better. Iím always happy when I can make the boat go from feeling edgy to comfortable as the wind increases.

Breakfast of cereal, raisins, and powdered milk is a chore in the bouncy cabin.

I tape over the fuel breather holes in the cockpit.

Put the lower plexi dropboard in the companionway. The second reefís clew line looks just a bit frayed, so I run another line through the clew cringle and around the boom to prevent a blow-out.

As I bounce around below I think of Mr. Follett, our neighbor on the family lane in Waterford, who at 80 declared himself "a little unsteady on my pins." Me too.

10:30 a.m. My reading is rudely interrupted by a large wave that dumps into the cockpit. Iím glad I covered the fuel breather. Jump out with the yellow bucket and bail. The water is over the seats. In three and a half minutes the water is gone.

The wind and seas build during the day, winds gusting to over 35 knots. I take in the entire main and unfurl a little of the Genoa. Again the boat motion is better. Waves are up to 10 feet and steep. Read and feel slug-like all day. Havenít showered and am feeling greasy. Not feeling hungry. Didnít make my bunk. The cabin feels like a sickroom. Water and crackers all day.

Before dark I have a visit from a white bird with a long tail. I talked to him for a while and my voice sounded strange. At the same time a rainbow appeared in the late afternoon -- light through a hole in the gray. The edge of the rainbow seemed to reach just a few feet from the rail.

Sunday, October 3 --

Gray, gray, gray -- endless gray. The clouds are low, dark, and unfriendly. The wind is still blowing 30 knots. Reefed staysail and 15% of Genoa out, a scrap. Otter is rolling along as smoothly as can be expected in these conditions. I admire again her ability to go on and on. The temperature is cooler and I miss my tropical trade winds of 15 knots on the quarter and warm sunny days.

Iím finishing Tales of the South Pacific and see why Todd said it was a period piece. But itís written in a voice true to its time, and true to Americaís idea of itself: quirky, self-reliant, and heroic.

Iím moved by Michenerís statement that the heroes will be long remembered by this (his) generation and when they go, Guadalcanal will become like Shiloh or Valley Forge. I think itís like watching the wake flow by and islands drop astern Ė like watching one day follow another on this passage (How did it get to be Sunday already? How is it possible Iíve passed fifty years?).

All days disappear in the wake of time until the last day appears on the horizon and we reach our last port. I can see why Tales of the South Pacific won a Pulitzer Prize, and why the musical was a hit. Ultimately Michener has the deep American optimism, the "Itís all going to be alright-ness" and altruism we pride ourselves on.

The last conversation with the Preacher Ė the black grave-tender Ė as hokey as it may sound now Ė in 1950 was a deep statement of brotherhood Ė deep belonging Ė to an all-inclusive ideal that will prevail.

One summer between my freshman and sophomore years in high school I read Michenerís Hawaii, non-stop, for days. That same voice comes back to me now aboard Otter Ė familiar, along with that sense of summertime luxury, the time to read, uninterrupted.

After finishing the book I get into a cleaning binge. All damp and dirty clothes used for soaking up water that comes into the cabin when I go on deck are put in the laundry bag. Re-arrange clothes closet. Get out Cook Islands courtesy flag and quarantine flag. Sweep Ė shake out rugs. Reorganize the offshore gear thatís stowed under the table. Take a cockpit shower with my one gallon of water Ė put on clean clothes. Mr. Greaseball goes home Ė Mr. Sailorman returns. Feels good.

Itís a little too bouncy for a hot dinner so I eat a can of scalloped French Potatoes Ė salt, pepper, and Miracle Whip Ė out of the can. The French even have better canned food than we do. I celebrate this burst of energy by starting another book, Snow Falling on Cedars.

Late in the afternoon I take in the Genoa to slow us down. Iíve determined our ETA at our current five knots will put us into Rarotonga after dark tomorrow. I need to slow to 3.7 knots to arrive at 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday.

I hold my short Sunday service. Sing hymns from the hymnal. Again itís odd to hear my own voice.

Iíve been humming and singing "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" as the run-on theme song of this leg of the voyage and since I only know one verse I look it up. Itís not in the hymnal. I remember I heard it on an old Tom Rush album. It may be in my songbook but thatís buried deep in the forepeak. I get emotional again that wet-eyed stirring in the chest. The sun comes out and lights the interior of the cabin while I sing Ė the only time the sunís been out all day.

Then back to low gray cloud and long gray rollers topped with white foam. The wake looks like snow. Otter is like a toboggan running down the winter hills.

My beard is getting soft and doesnít look so weird in the mirror.

In Snow Falling on Cedars, I read of "zenshin," a word in Kendo training meaning awareness of constant potential danger. That is what being at sea is like, beautiful but always the potential danger.

The wind is an incessant howling in the blackness outside. I feel that tonight as I sleep Ė always aware of my life jacket and abandon-ship bag. Aware of all the emergency procedures Iíve run through in my mind a thousand times. The dive through dark water to get out of the cabin if the boat capsizes.

Zenshin awareness, being so close to potential danger, is part of what separates the experience of being at sea from being in port. There is an odd mix of sound and sleep as Iím cradled, rocking on a vast, dark, stormy sea, plunging forward.

Monday, October 4 --

Another slug day. Still gray and spritzes of rain. Wind still high at 30 knots. Running slow to arrive Tuesday a.m. Read all day. Finish Snow Falling on Cedars. Sleep early at 7:00 p.m. so I can be up later on as I close on Rarotonga.

Tuesday, October 5 --

1:00 a.m. Wake from a good six-hour sleep. All sounds are regular and familiar. Take position from GPS. Let out Genoa a little to increase speed to four knots. Alter course a little south.

Dark, dark, pitch black, wind still high and moaning in rigging. The wind sound has been constant for three days now (or is it more?). No sun for as long.

Iím glad Iím not navigating by the sun or stars. Before global positioning systems, I would have hove-to and stayed in this position Ė in my general area of dead reckoning -- until Iíd had a glimpse of sun to get a fix before closing with land. I might have stayed out another week if necessary. Amazing how different GPS has made things: in total darkness Iím closing a coast only 12 miles away.

4:30 a.m. Breakfast of three cereals and powdered milk. The last pamplemousse Iíve been saving has gone bad Ė itís soft. I throw it overboard with the last two onions that are going bad, too.

5:50 a.m. Landfall! In early pale-gray light, Rarotonga shows under a gray cloud cover. Shore lights, small yellow dots, are scattered thinly along the bottom rim that I can see when Otter reaches the top of a wave. So much gray Ė dull gray Ė not even the interesting shades of charcoal of Portobello Ė just dull.

6:00 a.m. Getting lighter. I start the approaching harbor routine. Clean and organize below. Cockpit shower and clean clothes. Organize the deck. Put out two fenders on each side and run out all dock lines. Untie the anchor, which is lashed to the pulpit while off-shore. Unstick the chain-hole cap. (Technical note: I use window putty around the cap offshore so the waves washing over the bow donít leak below into the chain locker Ė It was a Linn and Larry Pardey suggestion and it works.) Furl staysail. Pull in water generator line and rotor, coil them and stow in locker.

7:30 a.m. Call Rarotonga Radio. They recommend waiting for the harbormaster at 8:00 a.m. I slow down by furling more Genoa. Only five square feet out now. Drifting downwind.

8:00 a.m. Only three-quarters of a mile off Avatiu Harbor. I keep checking the radar -- the reefs seem very close. The harbormaster doesnít answer my call. Chris from Mauvin calls me back. Heís in the harbor and tells me there are two orange marker buoys on either side of the pass, plus two white triangular day markers that align at a 193ļ entrance bearing. Heíll be on the wharf to port to help with lines when I enter. I thank him.

Engine on. I furl the Genoa completely and realize Iíve over shot the entrance by a quarter-mile. It was hard to see and the orange buoys are the size of soccer balls. Iím told later that the freighters coming in and out would just run over the large buoys; the orange fishermanís floats are easier to replace.

I find the two tiny floats much nearer the breakwater than my chart shows --- the wharf has been extended out to the reef since the chart was printed.

I line up the range markers. The harbor looks small, about eight or 10 yachts against the wall straight ahead. Mediterranean-moored with anchor chains over the bow and stern lines to the dock.

Behind the wharf rise the jagged, gray mountains in the center of the island. To the left is the commercial pier. Two small freighters and a smaller fishing boat. Chris waves me over, takes my bow line, ties it off, then does the same with the stern line.

Iíve arrived in Rarotonga.

 

 

End of Report Twelve

 

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