Monday, April 30, 2018

Passage to Easter Island

[Kyle]When Bahia Tierra Blanca began to get sloppy again with swell coming in from an approaching front, we knew it was time to leave.

The wind shift from N to SSW was to be in the middle of the night, so we left in headwinds, leaving enough daylight to clear the island and find deep water.

We reefed everything down, but were still bashing our way into thirty knot gusts and big seas. Our only consolation was that it was to be short-lived. It took a little longer than we thought, because our speed was slowing the relative overtake of the front behind us. Just after an exhausted Maryanne handed the watch over to me at midnight, the headwind dropped to almost nothing and then sprang up from astern. Three hours later, I had the spinnaker up and we were tearing a groove in a calming sea.

A squall came through a little while later and the wind built to almost twenty. That's way more than I like while the spinnaker is up, but getting it down alone is a huge ordeal in those winds, so I just steered dead downwind for a bit to lessen its intensity and held on for a fifteen-minute gallop until the cell passed and the wind dropped back into comfortable single digits.


Birds and other boats were rare sights for much of the trip
Unlike sunsets and our own ship

When I woke Maryanne, all had been reduced to a gentle swaying downwind ride with the background hiss of our fast wake. That's the stuff! As we were doing weather/breakfast/emails, another shower arrived and the wind started to pick up again. I went on deck and studied it for a bit before assuring myself it was isolated and not part of a bigger system. I decided to do the same as that morning and turn downwind to ride it out. The wind got up to 22 knots and the boat to 13 before things started to calm down again. We were just sitting down to breakfast when there was a slow boom (if you can imagine such a thing). I looked at the spinnaker and saw only a triangle of sky framed by the sail's flapping hems. The main fabric had peeled away like a banana and fallen into the sea ahead of us like a big tongue. Damn!

It took us a while to wrestle the remains out of the water and stuff it into its bag. Now all we had left was normal sails. How boring.

Boring wasn't really the problem. Our normal working sails are great, but on deep downwind courses in anything other than flat seas, it's almost impossible to get them to set without banging back and forth as the mast swings around, whereas the spinnaker just sways gently from side to side. Former spinnaker, that is. Well, it is what it is, so we used every sail trimming trick we know to try to keep them calm while trying our best to tune out any remaining racket.

The direct course to Easter Island was WNW, but there was a huge area of headwinds that way, so our only choice was to sail almost due north for several hundred miles to reach the trade winds, where we could find easterlies to push us West. It was disheartening to know Easter was to our left, while each new forecast told us the best course was to keep going ìsidewaysî to the north, putting us few miles closer. Adding to the stress was that since I had left and reentered the country to get parts, a limiting factor for us was the number of days Maryanne had left that she was allowed to stay n Chile. Going the wrong way was making our stay in Easter looking like it was going to be shorter and shorter.

It was a week before we were finally able to curve west, making a long arc around remote Felix and Ambrosia Islands. I had the light on Ambrosia for company at night and the top could be seen receding the next morning. It was still not quite the right direction, but it was closer. Easter was now WSW of us.

That day, Maryanne caught a fish. She's always so disappointed every time she tries, but this time, it happened like it does to other people; she decided she wanted a fish, she put in a line, and a few minutes later, she caught a fish - a yellowfin tuna just the right size for two or three meals. When she pulled it out of the water, I noticed its buddy swimming alongside. Are we about to callously eat half of a couple? I prefer food where I don't have to look their mate in the eye before ending their life. Anyway, I did my best to put it out of my mind. Maryanne is a wonderful cook and that fish WAS fresh.

We then had days and days of tailwinds weaker than forecast and mostly cloudy skies where what little sun we got was invariably on the opposite side of the sails from the solar panels. Our batteries suffered and we had to run a motor for a few hours every day or so to keep them from dying. We ran them more than we had cumulatively in the past six months. The forecasts kept saying not to turn left yet. No wind, slatting sails, lots of motoring, and we still aren't going the right way. When will this trip end?

The only event of other note to mention came on Day 9. We spotted not one, but two fishing vessels traveling the same course about ten miles apart. The second one looked to be coming quite close. He did not seem to be trailing any gear and was showing no day signal for fishing, so he seemed to be just a big power boat at the moment, making him the give way vessel. Maryanne called them to verify this and was told they were expecting us to stand on (maintain course and speed). They would give way. She then had a longish chat with them. They were a Spanish crew on an Ecuadoran boat that spent three months at a time fishing.

As they approached, they seemed to be distinctly not altering course. Every time a change in wind would change our speed, they seemed to alter course TOWARDS us. Maryanne called again and was told quite vehemently to stand on. She was worried about making a change that would block his impending course change, so she kept standing on. He WAS on a course to pass ahead of us, but only by about fifty feet. When he got too close, Maryanne disconnected the autopilot, spun the helm to leeward and backed the sail. I emerged from bed just as his wake slammed into us. What the hell? I guess the lonely Spaniards wanted to get a close look at the cute English woman.

It was well after we should have already been there when a front passed to the south of us and changed the headwinds there to tailwinds. All we had to do was motor across a hundred miles of calm to get there. Fine.

We spent a day motoring in flat water, which was nice, but loud. We shut the engine down, bobbed around a bit and then gradually, the wind arrived. It was enough to keep us moving, but not enough to keep the sails from banging around in the building swell. The afternoon after that, the wind arrived in earnest and we were finally moving smartly. Twenty-four hours after wishing we could find some bloody wind, we were double reefed and careening down big swells and I was wishing it would start to die down, already. I like medium wind. At least we were ticking off the miles.

On day 20 of our 14-day passage, I awoke during Maryanne's day watch and decided to say hi. When I emerged, she pointed out a mound of red rock ahead topped with golden grass - Easter Island. Well, I'll be.

It took us most of the day to sail around to the main harbor at Hanga Roa, which was almost at the far extreme from our direction of approach. About halfway, we passed into the lee of the island. This had the welcome effect of calming the wind and seas, but also gave us our first smell of the island. It smells mostly of dry grass and dust, even though it's not particularly dry or dusty, with occasional areas of Eucalyptus and a few other fragrant herbs. It smells like a hot summer day when the fields have been freshly cut.

One other noticeable thing to us was the lack of birds. Everywhere else we have ever made landfall, the last two hundred miles or so has been marked by an increasing incidence of seabirds. Usually, we see more dolphins and fish as well.

Approaching Easter, we had none of that. We saw one lone Frigate bird before we saw the island itself. Easter is in an area with very little plankton. Without them, everything up the chain that feeds on them is also absent. This makes it pretty boring, marine biology-wise, but makes for some of the best underwater visibility in the world.

That visibility helped us when we dropped all of our ground tackle overboard onto a sand patch that we could clearly see from on deck. It was eighty feet below the water's surface. We could also see several moai from the boat already!

We had just shut off the engines when we were boarded by the authorities. With formalities complete, we tidied Begonia up and both got to have our first full night's sleep in weeks AND at the same time!


Finally Land Ho! and after another half day we were anchored in sight of some of the famous Easter Island Moais

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