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 granted.
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 groundswells.
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 motus.
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