Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Rough Passage to Beveridge Reef (Niue)

[Kyle]We knew our next sail was not going to be a pleasant one. The forecast all week had been calling for strong winds and big seas to swing forward of our beam for the trip. We didn't have enough time to jump in front of it and our fourteen day limit was up in Suwarrow. I'm sure Harry and Katu would have allowed us to stay longer if we really needed to wait out the weather, but the anchorage would not offer good protection when the weather hit Suwarrow, so we decided it would be safest at sea.

As we left, it was just starting to blow hard from the southeast. We put up a tiny amount of sail and had a pleasant run around the outside of the atoll, which started as a downwind run and progressed to a fast upwind beat in the flat seas in the lee of the reef.

Once we left the southern tip of the atoll, the seas built quickly and we changed tactics. We reduced sail to slow Begonia to between five and six knots. This kept us from launching from one approaching wave into the next and made for a smoother motion. We were still moving around a lot, but at least it didn't feel like we were getting thrown around. We were able to make progress about fifty degrees off the wind heading due south. Our hope was that when the worst of the wind passed and we couldn't make headway, we wouldn't be blown too far downwind. That way we wouldn't have to beat too far back upwind to get to Beveridge.

When the wind picked up a couple of days later, the ride started to get uncomfortable again. We hove to, keeping just enough jib out to keep Begonia from turning through the wind onto the other tack. We then lashed the helm with the rudder centered.

To our happy surprise, Begonia did not slip sideways downwind, but rather continued on her original 50 degree upwind course at just over a knot. With help from the current, we moved sixty miles further upwind in the next day, steering a surprisingly straight course with no input to the rudders.

Our watches got pretty boring then. We weren't really moving, there were no controls to manipulate, so there was little to do except watch for other vessels. Two or three times an hour, an errant wave would come from an off direction, slam into us and break completely over the boat. It seemed to always happen when I was looking the other way and right after I was starting to feel dry again. Bloody waves!

After heaving to for two days, we had actually made it far enough south that it looked like it would be possible to bear off and head across the wind to Beveridge. The only problem was that the waves had built up and we would have to sail parallel to them, which could be anywhere from uncomfortable to dangerous. We decided to test it out for a few minutes and see how it felt.

It wasn't too bad. With more sail up and with the keels un-stalled and producing lift, the roll was dampened to a tolerable level. Most of the big waves just lifted us and rolled under. The remaining distance to Beveridge was such that we would have arrived in the dark at our present speed. The charts around the reef are horrible and wildly inaccurate. Slowing down to arrive well into daylight meant we didn't have to push Begonia too hard.

Two mornings later, we had slowed down even more and were comfortably far from the reef, plus a generous buffer. The radar picked up the line of breakers about half an hour before we could actually see them. Behind, we could see two sailboats at anchor. That was surprising because the weather had been so bad we thought no one would have wanted to be there with no land to offer protection. We took a wide path around the reef toward the pass on the western side.

One of the boats saw us approaching and called us on the radio for a chat. They said they were leaving that morning after a stop at the pass for a snorkel. They explained that other boat was a wreck that had hit the reef two days earlier. He had the family on board, who were all okay, and were taking them to Niue. He explained that a salvage boat was being sent by their insurance company from New Zealand to recover it and asked that we look after it while we were there and to please not take anything. We told them not to worry and exchanged contact details so we could send them updates.

They pulled up anchor just before we got to them. We exchanged waves and dropped ours on the sand shelf near the wreck in eight feet of crystal-clear water. We were tired from the passage so we decided to wait until the next day to have a closer look.

1 comment:

Mommy Carla said...

To be honest, this all sounds damned uncomfortable edging toward scary. Glad you're ok.