So close and yet so far...This evening finds us fore-reaching off of Rarotonga because we weren't able to reach the harbor by dark. Although the harbor entrance is reportedly straightforward, since Avatiu is a Med moor situation (bow anchored off with stern lines tied ashore), we weren't eager to attempt it in the dark.
Rarotonga hove into view at 11:20 a.m. before disappearing again into the clouds. At that time, we were still 44 nautical miles away from the harbor entrance. At 2:00 p.m., the island was larger, but the entrance was still 31 nm away. With sunset around 6:30 p.m., that put us arriving into the harbor just as darkness fell. We were close...but yet so far...from making landfall today.
The past two days have not been what I expected from a passage leaving New Zealand in mid-winter. The end of our voyage is not what I anticipated a mere two days ago when we were experiencing gale force winds. For the past two days, we have been creeping along at speeds ranging from 1.9 to 5.0 knots, or sometimes, not moving at all. Yesterday, we were for all intents and purposes becalmed for several hours. Our average speed for the day was about 2.5 knots. Today, we did a little better, probably averaging around 3.5 knots.
The light winds were exacerbated by their angle. The wind kept switching sides from a broad reach on the port tack to a broad reach on the starboard tack, only sometimes settling on dead downwind. We have used almost every sail in our arsenal in the past 24 hours. The wind died when we were in our downwind wing-and-wing configuration. We furled the headsail, lowered the pole, and struck the main. We raised the asymmetrical spinnaker. This worked for a while in six to eight knot winds. Patrick even had the boat going at a ripping four knots when hand steering with the spinnaker. But soon, the wind speed was only three or four knots, and it wasn't enough to keep the spinnaker full. Instead, the sail languidly wrapped itself around the headstay or hung limply at the side of the boat. We doused the spinnaker.
We drifted for awhile: There was no wind. We rolled out the headsail. It tended to hang around the headstay like a flag with no breeze. Every once in awhile, the metaphorical Stars and Stripes would roll out, only for the sail to assume the position (of a limp dishrag) once again.
The only tactic we didn't try was the engine. A couple of days ago, Patrick found engine oil contaminating our fuel and deduced that we have a leaking seal in our injector pump. With the help of good friends back in Whangarei who made some inquiries for us, we found out that it is probably safe to run the engine in that condition for awhile. We determined to save our engine use for the harbor entrance to Rarotonga and not to motor through the present calm.
And so we struggled along in the light winds. It seemed like we listened to nothing but slatting sails, snapping sheets, and a jerking boom or pole for twenty-four hours. The noise was getting on my last nerve, and I longed for peace and quiet. Then, around 11:00 p.m. last night, a miracle occurred. A wind came out of nowhere and built to 18 knots in a matter of minutes, steadying up around 15 knots. Silhouette charged on at four or five knots for the next hour. The sudden speed felt so dizzying, I decided I'd better clip in! Over the next hour, the wind lightened to 11 or 12 knots, but we were still moving. By the time I woke Patrick to take the watch at 1:30 a.m., we were back down to six to eight knots of wind, and the only testimony to my experience were the miles made good.
This morning, the wind was light but steady from behind us, and it was obvious that the best sail configuration would once again be wing-and-wing. We rode along easily but slowly, rolling on the gentle swells all day. When we got close---but not too close---to the island, we started fore-reaching. We should have about twelve miles to go to the harbor entrance come morning.
Meanwhile, Rarotonga sits waiting on the horizon. The island has definite hills---or perhaps peaks---it's hard to tell from this distance; but it lacks the striking topography of say, Bora Bora or Tahiti. We will discover more tomorrow when we actually set foot on the island. We are excited at the prospect.
Rarotonga, so close but yet so far...
Posted from sea via Ham Radio.