Hairy Seas, Torrential Downpours....and some Epic Waves - Surfer's Path

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Hairy Seas, Torrential Downpours….and some Epic Waves

Words by Andy.

After spending most of the day enjoying the calm waters inside the lagoon on
the leeward side of Morrea, it was time to get a move on and start what was
to be an introduction to night crossings for the guests, Nancy and I.

It all started quite smoothly as we made out way out the pass and set our
course towards the broad side of Raiataia and Tahaa. We couldn’t actually
see the islands because of the distance that lay between, but the GPS and
charts told us that it was there and we set off. The sailing was quite
smooth with the trade winds blowing at our back at about 30 degrees off
center and the wave sheltering effect of Morrea meant that the seas were at
peace for the first few hours of the sailing.

The sheltering effect only lasted so long, and soon we were out in the open
ocean. Open too all swells that were crossing through the waters from
different parts of the globe. On this evening it was the same pumping swell
that had caused our blood pressure to rise with the water intake issue the
day before. This was a solid groundswell (groundswell=12/13 second period or
higher) measuring about 3m at 16 second period, which for the South Pacific
means pumping surf. For sailing, waves like that are usually no big deal;
the boat slowly rises and falls as it cruises along. That is unless there is
a swell coming from a different direction. That was definitely the case on
this clear night. The trade winds were a bit stronger than average and had
managed to build some sizable wind swell coming at us from the east. Wind
swell is not nearly as comfortable to sail in since the period is much
smaller. So, instead of one wave every 16 seconds like the ground swell,
there was one wave every 10 seconds. The wind swell was of the same height
as well. So, picture the boat leaning to one side as the trade winds were
not perfectly behind us, then add a SW ground swell coming at is from the
port side, and then finally add an E windswell of the same height but with
waves much closer together. Oh yeah, and it’s dinner time. Luckily, some
thought had been given to this earlier that afternoon and a tasty bean salad
had been prepared earlier on. On passages any longer there obviously is not
the luxury of preparing meals before hand.

While we ate it was decided who will have what 3 hour shifts through out the
night and early morning hours. Immediately following the meal, Hugh turned
in for a nap since he had to be up at midnight for his shift. Nancy and I
had been given the 3-6 shift but due to our lack of sailing ability, and the
boys fear for the safety of all of us and of course, the boat, it was
decided that Ryan would be watching over us.

After chatting a while above deck, Nancy and I decided we should probably
try to get some sleep before we had to be up again in a handful of hours. It
is a battle in itself just getting down the stairs across the cabin and into
the bunk with heaving seas. Then the battle is trying to get some sleep. The
boat is on a 25-30 degree angle at this point so the bed is not flat to
start with. Then the rolling is thrown in which resulted in a few close
calls with the risk of being thrown to the floor always just a second away.
Luckily the motion sickness medication that we had was doing its thing we
were able to get a few hours of shuteye out of the 6-hour attempt.

3am came very early as Hugh finished his shift and the torch or in this
case, headlamp was passed off. We climbed into the self-inflating life vest,
which also acts as a harness to be tethered to the boat with. The risk of
being thrown overboard in the middle of the night is not one to be taken for

Earlier on in the trip, a gust of wind had knocked my hat off my head and
into the water. Hugh and Ryan instantly turned the mishap into an
opportunity to have a ‘man overboard’ exercise. It was my job to keep an eye
on the barely visible, and slowly sinking hat, as we moved further and
further away from it. Ryan was bringing down the sails with the help of
Nancy and Hugh was behind the wheel, turning on the engine and starting to
bring the boat around. This was on the crossing heading towards Teahupoo and
if you had read that posting you would know that the seas were not the
easiest that day for this exercise, which is why it was the perfect time to
do it. It was incredible difficult to keep an eye on the hat as it went down
below swells in the trough only to be brought back into sight by the next
crest. At one point, I thought that the hat was lost for good, but after a
few passes we were able to grab it.

Doing that in the middle of the night would be a completely different
situation and not one that any sailor would like to be a part of. So, we
were all tethered to the boat for safety.

The shift itself is quite boring. Every 15 or 20 minutes you have to stand
up and look around to make sure that there are no tankers or other sailboats
heading towards us. Other than that you just basically keep an eye on the
instruments and make sure that we are on the right coarse and that the
conditions remain the same. If they change, sails and direction are adjusted
accordingly. Most of the time though, the wind and swells are very constant
over any given three-hour period and there is not a lot of drama. That it
except for the random rogue waves that arise out of nowhere and toss a few
bucket loads of water down your back. At least it was South Pacific water
and not the chilly North Pacific stuff.

Watching the sunrise while sailing is an incredible experience and one that
Nancy and I will not soon forget. The sun came up over the horizon just as
we were able to see our destination ahead of us. It is an incredible feeling
of relief that comes over you when the next reef pass comes into view. The
thought of the boat entering the calm waters behind the reef was at the top
of my mind as the feeling of seasickness was beginning to approach after 16
hours of the boat heaving back and forth. The feeling of seeing land after
being at sea for 26 straight days is something that I can’t comprehend, and
I don’t think many could unless they were put in that situation.

The pass was lined with a picture perfect Motu (small island) on both sides,
which must have incredible waves on the right day. The swell/wind combo on
this sunny morning did not lend anything ridable as huge bombs exploded
randomly on the reefs. We sailed our way in and around to the other side of
the island with little effort as the trade winds were still at our back but
the waves had extinguished their energy behind us on the barrier reef. That
entire day was spent recovering from the crossing, even though the surf must
have been going off no more than a km from where we were anchored. We had
chosen that side of the island due to the fact that the trade winds would
create offshore winds while the passes were still exposed to the powerful sw

Bryson arrived the following day and after an evening of catching up, we
were all eager to see what the reef passes would have to offer. To our
liking, they did not disappoint and we spent the next few days surfing a
couple of sessions a day on a down the line, fast reef pass that served up
plenty of perfect waves for all.except Nancy. The reef also took it’s toll
on our bodies with everyone having to make good use of the iodine to keep
the scrapes from becoming infected. This right-hander would turn out to be
our base camp for the next week as we explored the surrounding passes and

The weather did not really cooperate for this week of the journey as three
days of off and on rain and sun, were followed by four days of torrential
rainfall. This was a shock to us, but also to the locals who explained that
weather like this was completely out of the ordinary.

We didn’t let the weather spoil our time though and explored down south by
zodiak in search of more, empty set ups. One of which was a memorable wave
that none of us will forget. As the swells entered the pass they broke
little bit, but as they made there way in further and further, the wave grew
in both height and thickness. By the inside the wave was drawing most of the
water off the reef creating fast down the line rides but also leaving the
reef dry right beside and in front of you. You really had to wait for the
good ones, but when they came it was magic. I have clear memories of my
rides and also the stoke on the faces of the others as they drove down the
line, the wave getting better the further they went. This resulted in many
slams on the reef at the end. It was just too good to pull off. The wave was
so good that we decided to move the sailboat down for a night.

It was at that point that the rain kicked into full gear and we spent the
vast majority of the time reading and playing scrabble. Then it all got
weird for a while as you will read in Bryson’s posting. Weird.

The sun finally came out again and the waves were still there. Bryson, Ryan
and I paddled out to what would be my last session on the right-hander as
well as all of French Polynesia. It turned out to be a great one with over a
dozen barrels each and no shortage of sets rolling through. It was such a
great ending to an incredible surf trip.

The next few days were spent sailing the small distance to the honeymooner
capital of the world; Bora Bora. The place is worth every bit of its fame
too. The water is perfect, the scenery is perfect, the over water bungalows
are perfect. The snorkeling and diving was incredible with a ton of fish,
coral, sharks and rays to see. That is one thing that I failed to mention
over these entries, there are sharks everywhere. We saw a ton while surfing
where ever we went. Luckily for us they are harmless reef sharks that could
care less that you were there.

So, after a few days of playing around Bora Bora, it was time for Nancy and
I to get back on the plane and fly back to our normal lives. We said goodbye
as the boys were preparing for a couple of long passages before continuing
the study down in New Zealand.

It was a surreal feeling getting on a plane and then into a vehicle after
very little land contact over the previous weeks. The time we spent aboard
Khulula was incredible and we couldn’t say enough thanks to the boys for
letting us into their world for a couple of weeks.

But again, thanks guys, and good luck on the rest of the epic adventure.

Andrew and Nancy


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