Sunday, July 15, 2018

Passage to Huahine

[Kyle]The forecast for the overnight passage between Moorea and Huahine was for lots of rain and wind of such a strength and direction to keep both sails slatting back and forth maddeningly. That is, of course, if we hadn’t just had our spinnaker repaired in Papeete! It was time to test it out and give it a good fresh water rinse in the process.

Several of the other boats in the anchorage also came to the same conclusion about the weather and we all departed within minutes of each other. I was really looking forward to zipping past the slowest half of the fleet after clearing the pass and unfurling our secret weapon.

That totally would have happened if it had been a fair fight. Get ready. Here comes an Old Man Rant about how things are going to hell in a hand basket…

Back in the day, a lot of people who wanted to quit the rat race and go see the world would learn to sail, buy a boat, sell almost all of their stuff, simplify their lives, quit their jobs and head over the horizon.

Leaving Opunohu Bay (Moorea)

These days, such a path is becoming less and less common. A lot of cruisers are keeping their jobs, either working seasonally or online from home. This keeps the money flowing in, which means they can keep their houses and their cars and their second houses. It also means they can buy much bigger boats equipped with every convenience they have at home – no need to go without.

In the 1970s, a typical cruising boat was about 36 feet long overall, with 40 footers considered large. Now we see 55 to 75 foot boats everywhere. Sailing magazines unabashedly advertize million-dollar boats as “The perfect starter vessel for cruising”.

We’ve been aboard some of these boats and they are lovely, like little condominiums. Some are even nicer than condominiums. It makes us a little ashamed to show their owners around our boat with her dings and scratches. It feels a little pathetic to have nothing to boast about but our “water you get by pumping with your feet” and our “cushions with real foam”.

Most boat designs involve lots of compromises. Plush accommodation means wider and taller cabins, which means bigger hulls and thus more aerodynamic and hydrodynamic drag. More furnishings and more amenities means more weight, which means either floating lower in the water, or building even bigger hulls to provide more buoyancy. This means even more drag and so on.

That’s half of the problem. The other half is that dive compressors and laundry machines and dishwashers and watermakers and air conditioning and extra freezers and those floodlights for lighting up the pretty mast all night use a lot of power, which will deplete even the biggest battery banks within a couple of hours. The solution for all of this is to install a generator to run everything, which has to be used almost all of the time the engine is not running.

Since these boats tend to not sail so well, many need twenty-five knots of wind to make it even worth it to put up the sails. Actually, that’s not true. Most of them need twenty five knots of wind to get any use out of putting up the sails. It seems to be the norm, perhaps because that’s how it’s taught these days at sailing schools, that the mainsail always goes up no matter how far you’re going or which direction. I think this is deliberately intended as a dirty trick. Engine-driven vessels have to give way to vessels under sail and I think the policy of always raising a sail is a way of claiming right-of-way that doesn’t apply. A sailboat with its engine in gear is a power-driven vessel and is required to act accordingly, but a big sail is easy to see and exhaust coming out of a little pipe near the waterline isn’t. Technically, if you’re doing that, you’re supposed to display a day shape called a steaming cone, but nobody does this. We don’t even do it because I’m always operating on the belief that I’m about to shut down the engine(s). Even so, when we have the engines in gear, whether we have sail up or not, we follow the rules for power-driven vessels. We’ve seen way too many boats lately go plowing ahead of others they should have given way to, their mainsails flapping uselessly behind their mast like a flag fluttering in the wind. Such behavior is not cool and gives us all a bad name.

Wow! A bonus side rant to the original rant. Let’s get back on track, shall we? Since these boats are heavy and slow and their batteries will die without a generator running, the answer is to run the engine the whole time they’re underway. Since this is pretty much the normal mode of travel, they have big engines (more weight) that can make them go fast.

This annoys me for two reasons. The first is that we made the decision the other way. We bought a boat with more basic comforts so that we could have better than average sailing ability. The only time I get to feel like I made the right decision, which is important for my self-esteem, is when we unfurl the spinnaker, feather the props and leave all of those condos in our wake, which is hardly noticeable to them because of how effortlessly Begonia slices through the water.

When we left the pass at Moorea, our engines were pushing us along at about five and a half knots. When we shut them down and unfurled the spinnaker, we slowed to four, which was pretty good for five knots of wind from behind. I was looking forward to slowly leaving the fleet behind as the night progressed. It went the other way. By nightfall, they were all gone, over the horizon ahead of us. Those with AIS seemed to be managing the trick of going seven knots, which gave them a two knot headwind onboard. Sigh.

So after a whole night of some really impressive sailing performance, we arrived into Fare at Huahine dead last after the others had already taken restorative naps. Least comfortable and slowest. How demoralizing. So now all we have to make ourselves feel better is that we spent less money on fuel and we pollute less, both of which we try to do. The difference is something that has to be understood intellectually, since it’s not apparent on a day-to-day basis. Two boats on the horizon are flying full sail. One is harnessing the kinetic energy of clean air to move, the other is burning a liter of diesel for every mile. That’s the second thing that bugs me. Four miles per gallon is not low impact living, it’s obscene. Buy a Willie Nelson-sized RV. It’s better for the environment.

The U.S. Coast Guard classifies Begonia as an engine driven vessel with auxiliary sail. I used to get offended by that in much the same way that I did when someone referred to my state-of-the–art, 20 million-dollar jet as a Puddle Jumper. Wrong! We are a sail-driven vessel with an auxiliary engine. Our sails are by far our primary means of propulsion and we try to resort to use of our two small engines only when necessary.

Maybe the Coast Guard has it right after all. This year, even on beautiful days for sailing, nine out of ten boats that we have passed or been passed by that were flying sail turned out upon closer inspection to be running their engines at speed. Does no one sail anywhere anymore?

It seems that the elaborate sailing rigs on some types of boats (the type with masts) are meant more as a status symbol, categorizing the operator as a sailor, which everybody knows is better than a power boater (the power boaters see it exactly the opposite way, of course). The ten jerry cans of diesel they have lashed to each side of their decks tell me otherwise.

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