September 2014- Samoa and Tonga

1 September 2014  Tetautau, Penrhyn, Cook Islands
It was a squally night, which doesn't bode well for our seven day trip to Samoa.  During one rain shower, I went to get a drink of water and found a huge Cockroach in the middle of the saloon table. I had four attempts to try to clobber it, but it was too fast and eventually sped across the saloon floor and disappeared down a tiny gap between the floor boards into the bilges. AArrrghhh!

Later on in the morning, we ran our water-maker for 90 minutes to top up our tanks and when I went into the front heads to turn it off,  I found the cockroach on the work surface.  It took me three attempts to hit the damn thing - I managed to stun it with my hand and then pounded it to death with the end of a shampoo bottle.  Hopefully it's the only one that we have aboard and hopefully, it hasn't laid any eggs in the bilges…

A pensive Rose cooks the Coconut Crab

I went ashore and found Rio setting the sights on his and Tommy's rifles.   A group of six guys were going pig hunting - I was invited but declined because I had too many jobs to  complete before we leave tomorrow.

When the hunters had left, I wired in a solar panel regulator that I'd given to Rio - all the islanders just connect their solar panels directly into their batteries, which can overcharge and destroy batteries, so hopefully this regulator will help protect Rio's batteries.

I called in on Mr T to give him a video course on fingerstyle guitar playing.  He surprised me by giving me a couple of necklaces - one for Glenys and one for me, which he'd made that morning.  Glenys received a dolphin and mine's a traditional fish hook shape, both carved from the shell of a black pearl oyster and very nice.

Back on the boat, I had to clean the growth from the propeller and gingerly stepped into the water, hoping that the six Blacktip Reef Sharks wouldn't see me as a tasty snack.  As I hoped, they kept their distance - it's funny how my attitude to sharks has changed since I first saw them in the Galapagos in March.  There's no way that I would have gone swimming with any sharks only five months ago.  It took me an hour to clean the propeller and the sharks all stayed at least ten feet away.

In the evening, Rio and Kura invited us over for a meal because it was our last night.  The hunters had shot a huge sow and we watched them shave, gut and butcher it - it wasn't done as elegantly as Aru Kia did the four pigs last week, this was more of a hack and dismember.  Rose was cooking potatoes on their outside fire and we sat around it, chilling out, watching the flames.  The outside fire is made from half an oil drum and is fuelled by coconut husks - very simple, practical and efficient.

Kura did us proud and made a big Kai Kai (feast) consisting of Coconut Crab, Lobster, Curried Oysters, Barbecued Fish, rice, potatoes and sweet coconut balls.  Tasty!  After dinner, we sat around chatting and playing our guitar and ukuele.  Glenys and I attempted to play and sing the lovely Cook Island National Anthem, but couldn't remember many of the Maori words.  Fortunately, Rio, Kura and the others helped out.  Rio did a ukulele rendition of "Sitting on Top of the World", turning the old classic in to a great polynesian sound. It was a great evening.

Rio sings while Kura weaves another hat

2 September 2014 Penrhyn to Apia, Samoa (Day 1)
We were up early, preparing to leave.  After breakfast, we went ashore to say goodbye to some of the villagers.  Unfortunately, we couldn't find Mr T, but we called in on Mama P before we went to Rio's house.  Kura gave us each a carved necklace made from shell and Rio gave us a couple of "marbi" pendants, which are black pearls fused to the shell.

Saying goodbye to Rio's family was very emotional.  They have been so kind to us over the past month and have welcomed us into their home as part of their family - Glenys and I both left with our eyes filled with tears.

Back on the boat, we lifted the dinghy on deck and did our final preparations.  Sam came out in one of the Rio's boats because we were giving him a lift to Omoka (it's only seven miles but petrol is very, very expensive here).  We upped anchor, pulled out the sails and, to the sound of our fog horn, waved goodbye to our friends in Tetautua.

After dropping Sam off, we headed for the Omoka pass and out to sea.  There was a pleasant 15 knot, south-east wind, so we were on a close reach as we headed south-west.  Our plan is to head 200 miles further south before turning west towards Samoa because the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) is forecast to be north of that route and we want to avoid squalls if at all possible.

We had pleasant reach in 6-8 foot seas for the afternoon, which continued in to the evening and lasted all night.  A couple of light showers passed over us, but no really strong squalls.  There was a half moon until one o'clock, so the overnight sail was perfect - I hope the weather stays like this.

3 September 2014 Penrhyn to Apia, Samoa (Day 2)
The morning continued with 15 knot winds and fluffy clouds in a blue sky.  I checked the weather forecast and the GRIB showed that the wind should increase to 20 knots over the next few days and the SPCZ is hopefully going to stay above us.  We're going to stick to our strategy of heading south-west which will give us more of a downwind run to Samoa when the stronger winds arrive.

Back at Sea

We've easily slipped into our three hour watches, starting at seven o'clock in the evening when Glenys goes to bed.  There's not much to do apart from reading and gazing at the horizon.  The motion is okay, but very soporific, so it's hard to stay awake even in the middle of the day.

Our main excitement this morning was spotting a buoy about 1/2 mile away.  We immediately sailed over to investigate and we think that it was a weather station drifting to monitor the wind and waves in mid-Pacific.  As we sailed past it, we hooked a nice little Horse-eye Jack which I soon landed and filleted for dinner.

Unfortunately, the gimbal mechanism on the cooker failed sometime during the afternoon.  It looks like the pin that holds up one side has broken off and the whole cooker was hanging just by the other side.  I don't fancy disconnecting the gas and removing the cooker while we're rocking and rolling, so I've propped it up with a few thick books and locked it in a fixed position.  

It means that Glenys can't use the oven and has to stand holding the pans in place on the top burners while cooking, but we'll survive until we get to Samoa where hopefully, I'll be able to fix something up.

The wind veered 20 degrees towards the south during the day, so we were hard on the wind for a few hours, but as night fell, the wind backed to the south-east again, putting us back on a close reach.  At our change of watch at one o'clock in the morning, we entered a band of squalls marching remorselessly west, which made life a bit more unpleasant. 

Thankfully, there wasn't any lightning in the squalls, but each one made the wind vary in direction by 60 degrees; dropping the wind speed down to below 10 knots then increasing it to up to 25 knots,  which is just plain irritating.  Rather than keep changing the sails, we reefed the sails to cope with 25 knots of wind and then suffered the rolling and the slating sails when the wind dropped.

4 September 2014 Penrhyn to Apia, Samoa (Day 3)
The weather stayed a bit grotty during the morning, with 75% cloud cover and showers constantly around us.  I downloaded our weather emails and the SPCZ is right over us at the moment.  Hopefully it will bugger off tonight and give us a bit of peace for a couple of days.

So far, I've not been doing very well with fishing.  I caught a small, one-meal Horse-eye Jack yesterday, but I've lost two big Dorado and, this morning, I hooked  a big swordfish of some kind.  My reel screamed as the fish took the line.  I saw it make a couple of huge leaps from the water before it snapped the 80lb wire leader and disappeared with my lure.

Another heavy squall

Just before midday, a huge weather system hit us, giving heavy rain for half an hour, accompanied by rapid changes in the wind direction and strength, gusting to 30 knots at one point - not very nice at all.  The miserable weather continued until late afternoon, when the sky slowly cleared and the wind settled down.  

We altered course mid-afternoon  - I think that we've gone south enough and we're now on a course of 250M heading directly for Samoa.  The change in course has put us dead downwind, so  I rigged up our spinnaker pole to port and poled out the genoa.  

As night fell, we had a steady 15 knot wind from the ENE and a lovely clear sky.  We had a fabulous sail overnight in settled conditions, rolling downwind.  The wind slowly veered around to the south east, so Glenys gybed the genoa in the early hours of the morning.  By daylight, we were romping along on a broad reach with 80% cloud cover and showers surrounding us again.

5 September 2014 Penrhyn to Apia, Samoa (Day 4)
The sky gradually cleared during the morning and we had 50% cloud cover by lunch time.  There were still shower clouds around, but they'd all managed to slide past us.   Glenys had her morning nap and then cooked up "Panazanella" with the last of the bread, which was starting to go stale - very tasty...

The wind continued from the south-east at 15-20 knots, so we had a soporific broad reach all afternoon.  At some point during the afternoon, we passed the half-way point.

The highlight of the day was playing "I Spy".  I started with, "I spy with my little eye something beginning with S."
"Sea!"
"Nope."
"Sky!"
"Yes"
Glenys's turn, "I spy with my little eye something beginning with S"
"Sea!"
"Yes."
Having exhausted all that we could see, we turned back to our books.

Fighting another big fish that got away

The night was mostly pleasant with 10-15 knot winds and a bright moon.  We were going almost directly downwind, so we were rolling once every five seconds with the occasional monster roll just when we weren't hanging on properly.  Large cloud systems passed by or overhead, causing the wind to back or veer by 20 degrees, but we had little rain.

6 September 2014 Penrhyn to Apia, Samoa (Day 5)
By dawn, the skies had cleared and we had a lovely morning running down wind in 15 knot winds and six foot seas.  Late in the morning, I hooked a monster Dorado.  I fought it hard for 15 minutes, but it kept taking line from my reel and making spectacular leaps from the water hundreds of feet away from us.

I put the rod back into the rod holder because playing the fish was really hard work and it was tiring me out.  The fish kept on taking line slowly, so I slowly increased the friction on the clutch thinking that the hundreds of feet of fishing line would stretch and take the shock loads.  Unfortunately, the pressure was so great that one of the hoops on my rod snapped off and cut through the fishing line.  The fish took my lure and hundreds of feet of fishing line - I was gutted.

Glenys made a beef burrito for lunch, which picked up my morale.  I then did the chore of replacing the fishing line on my reel and making up yet another lure.  So far on this trip, it's one small fish caught and four escaped with two lost lures.

The afternoon continued to be very pleasant, rolling along under blue skies with fluffy clouds and the night was the same with a couple of minor showers.

At sunset, we had three Red-footed Boobies circling around the boat trying to land for the night.  They were struggling to find an up-wind approach because we were flying our sails wing on wing.  Eventually, one figured out a cross-wind approach to our solar panels (a convenient landing pad) and managed to stop before it slid off the other side.

Booby on Final Approach

I grabbed our fish gaff and poked it off because the damn things make such a mess, leaving guano everywhere.  It came around again to try to land and I actually had to poke it with the gaff three times in flight while it was hovering to land.  The booby seemed to get the idea and flew off.

Ten minutes later, it heard a clunk from the stern of the boat and found to my dismay that a booby had flown into the whirling, four foot diameter blades on our wind generator.  It looked very stunned and was hanging onto the side of the stern arch with its broken wings. The was nothing that I could do except push it into the sea with our gaff.

Fifteen minutes later, we had another booby roosting on our solar panels.  We had a full moon and it was very bright, so I reckoned that the booby would keep coming back all night if I  tried to dislodge it and there was a very good chance that it would hit the wind generator as well.  I didn't want another dead booby on my hands, so I let it stay for the night.

We've passed through a time zone and the sunset is noticeably later, so we put the clocks back an hour at our change of watches at one o'clock.  Sleep is so precious to us that we shared the extra time and each had an extra half an hour in bed. Glenys woke me up at 01:30 instead of 01:00, I then put the clocks back an hour, so that it was 00:30 and woke her up at 04:00.  A little confusing, but I think that we got it right.

7 September 2014 Penrhyn to Apia, Samoa ( Day 6)
A trough passed to the south of us which sucked the wind out of the area and gave us a stunning sunrise. We had blue skies and calm seas in the morning, so while Glenys went to bed, I sat at my chart table working on my laptop.  When she woke up two hours later, the wind had dropped to less than 5 knots and we were only moving at 2 knots - I hadn't noticed because I was so engrossed in what I was doing down below.

Sunrise

While it was so calm, we ran the generator & the water maker and I clambered up the arch to wash the Booby poo from our solar panels - what a mess.  We then motored for a couple of hours through the afternoon, before the wind picked up enough to sail again.  At sunset, we had a pleasant 8-12 knot breeze from the south, putting us on a close reach, which was lovely in the calm, three foot  seas.

By midnight, we only had 130 miles to go, so we were content to plod along at 4-5 knots, aiming to have one more night at sea.  

Sometime tomorrow, somewhere between American Samoa and Samoa, we will cross the International Date Line.  Suddenly we will lose a day of our lives as the date changes from Tuesday to Wednesday.  This is a difficult concept to grasp.  If we cross the date line at 10:30 on a Tuesday, how does it suddenly become 10:30 on a Wednesday? Is there some physical time barrier that we pass through and we sail into the future?

I was always fascinated by the way that Superman goes into the future by flying around the world at incredible speeds.  Let's say that Superman leaves American Samoa at 10:30 on Tuesday 9th September and flies around the world in a westward direction (and it takes him 1 minute), then he'll fly over Samoa one second after 10:30 on Wednesday 10th September and will arrive back in American Samoa one minute later at 10:31.  If he does this 30 times, then he'll land in American Samoa at 11:00 on the 10th October - one month in the future.  Therefore, I conclude that time travel is possible.  Now where are those red underpants?

The rest of the night was idyllic with a full moon and a cloudless sky, although the wind dropped off at sunrise and Glenys had to motor for a couple of hours.