Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Med Moored in Radio Bay, Hilo

Silhouette is back in the U.S.A. We made a safe entry into Kuhio Bay this morning and turned the corner into the small nook known as Radio Bay to facilitate our check-in with Customs. A friendly fellow cruiser took our shore lines as we Med moored against the seawall.

The first I saw of Hawaii was at 10 p.m. last night when I came on watch and could see the lighthouse at Cape Kumukahi on the island's east coast. Upon our landfall in the Marquesas, we could see Hiva Oa from 46 miles away; so I was surprised when we couldn't see the island of Hawaii, with two 13,000-foot volcanoes on it, from 50...40...30 miles away. Although we searched in vain for the Big Island yesterday, it stayed shrouded in rain clouds and/or volcanic smog. At dusk, I looked around---still no island---but we were surrounded by rain squalls in 360 degrees. Patrick caught some wind and showers on his watch, but considering the look of things from the cockpit, it wasn't too rough of a landfall. In fact, once we got into the wind shadow created by the Big Island, the sea was the calmest its been during the entire two week passage.

When I finally could see the island in the light of day, I was amazed at how low the topography is---at least from this approach. Hilo is situated against the base of a shield volcano, Mauna Kea, but we could only see the bottom of its flanks this morning. Its summit remained obscured by clouds. The giant Mauna Loa also remained hidden in a cloak of gray.

We are looking forward to exploring the Big Island after a much needed good night's sleep. Safely arrived in Hilo.
Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fanning to Hilo, Day 14: Out from Under

Yesterday (Passage Day 13) brought more blue sky and sunshine, by day, and more stars and meteors, by night, than we've seen in the past week and a half. The signs this morning bode well for more of the same...but not without first passing through a big rain cloud---complete with double rainbow---done.

We have 87 nautical miles to go to our waypoint outside of Hilo and another 25 nm into the harbor. If all goes well, Silhouette will be poised to enter Radio Bay tomorrow morning. Today, we will spend the day scanning and re-scanning the horizon for the outline of Hawaii. The Big Island is, after all, a big island, with two high volcanoes on it (Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa). We should see the island long before we arrive, but then again, we may not. Hawaii has its own particular brand of smog, called "VOG." Volcanic smog is a mixture of sulfur dioxide and airborne particles spewn out from the island's active volcano, Kilauea. VOG may obscure our view of the island on our approach.

We are very excited about making this landfall, and I'm experiencing a huge wave of anticipation adrenaline. Patrick is looking forward to an uninterrupted night's sleep, and I'm looking forward to all the good things to eat!(Those who know me will not be surprised.) I'm especially looking forward to visiting the Hilo Farmer's Market on Saturday.

I'm also looking forward to seeing Hawaii with new eyes. I've been to Hawaii twice before---and Patrick once lived on Oahu for three years---but I'm looking forward to an extended stay and to exploring some of the more remote areas of the islands. It's fitting and has a certain emotional symmetry to it, that as we bring our South Pacific voyage to a close, we visit the Pacific islands of our own country. Now that I know that the Marquesans first settled Hawaii, I will be looking for signs of their culture. In fact, I have already seen some without knowing it on previous visits: The remains of "heiau" or temples on Hawaii have almost the same construction as the ceremonial meae in the Marquesas.

As I write this, a tropic bird flies alongside the boat. Earlier this morning, I saw a fairy tern. Yesterday, a masked booby landed on the bimini. All the signs are there for another tropical landfall. Yet, this tropical landfall is just a little bit different: After almost two years and over 17,000 miles, we are coming home.
Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Fannng to Hilo, Day 12: Wa-hoo! We Caught a Wahoo

After cleaning up the breakfast dishes, I emerged from the companionway into the cockpit to see a fish on the end of my line! I had put the lines in the water when my watch started at sun-up. It was my first real fishing effort in three or four days, because it had been too rough: not too rough to fish, just too rough to deal with a fish should we catch one.

As I pulled the fish in hand-over-hand, I could tell from its pointy snout that it was either a tuna or a wahoo: definitely not a mahi mahi. As the fish got closer to the boat, I could see the unmistakable colors of a wahoo. Wa hoo! We finally caught a wahoo! Patrick grabbed the wire leader and tried to lift the fish over the lifelines, but those wahoo are darned heavy! The fish was struggling, and I didn't want to lose our very first wahoo, so I quickly thrust my hand under the gill cover and grabbed the gills to help haul the fish on board.

It was a nice sized wahoo for our-sized refrigerator: a meter long before I removed the long, pointy head and short tail. It wasn't much fun cleaning the fish in a rolling cockpit in 18 knots of wind; but Patrick steered the boat downwind for a less violent action while I cleaned, and we got her done. I should say, we got "him" done, because the wahoo was a male. Now, we have retired the trolling lines for the rest of the passage. The wahoo will provide us with about five generous meal's worth of fresh fish: more than enough to see us to Hilo.

The menu for Day 12? Wahoo fish sandwiches with garlic mayo for lunch and wahoo steaks with leftover pasta alfredo for dinner. Vegetables? What's a vegetable?

The conditions are still rough, but we are out of the lightning and most of the rain. The forecast shows no precipitation, but we still have about 80 percent cloud cover, and some of these clouds are holding rain. Winds are variable---16 to 25 knots with gusts to 28 (the forecast says 18 knots)---and the swells are still big and still steep. However, since the wind has been more from the east, we have been on a beam reach and have been able to maintain an average speed of five knots or better. (This also means the cockpit is very wet, as we occasionally get hit broadside by a wave whose top falls right into our cockpit.) It's looking good for our arrival at Hilo on Wednesday.

Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fanning to Hilo, Day 11: Moving Again and an Early Retirement

Did I say we had left the zone of tempestuous weather behind in my last post? I should have known better than to say anything like that out loud. The squally, rainy weather has continued following us north. We haven't had any bursts of 40 knot winds...but we've had 20 knots...and 30. We've had lightning flashing continuously in the sky for hours at a time (thankfully, none of it too near the boat.) And we've had deluges of rain. Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration. Maybe not deluges. We're still a boat, not an ark yet, but I think more rain has crossed Silhouette's decks on this passage than on any other single passage we've made.

Up until yesterday. That's not to say it didn't rain yesterday: It just rained less. Everything was less. The swell was lower. The wind lightened up---enough---but not too much. More and more time passed between squalls until they turned into just big gusts of wind or sprinkle showers. And the result was better sailing conditions. Today, we finally got the boat moving at better than five knots of boat speed. All. Day. Long.

Between the huge swells, winds on the nose, and the period of time when we had no wind at all and had to motor, we've had a difficult time on this passage getting the boat moving and making any miles. Yesterday was only the second day of the entire passage in which our speed over ground has been a consistent five knots. It was also the first night in four or five evenings when I could do more than heat something out of a can for dinner. I enjoyed our reprieve for a day.

I didn't expect it to last. I gave up any hope of a ten or twelve day passage to Hilo long ago. So I wasn't surprised when we had lightning again last night, and Patrick had to hand steer through several squalls in the wee hours of the morning. On my first watch of the day, the wind quickly built from 18 to 25 knots, and we had to strike the jib (which we were using in conjunction with a double-reefed main) and exchange it for the stays'l once more. That slowed our progress yet again, but gave us a more genteel angle of heel and kept the rail of the boat out of the water. Later today, the wind and swell moderated, and we were able to unfurl a little of the jib to increase our speed. Once again, we are moving at over five knots.

Silhouette has been a needy companion on this leg, demanding constant attention. Frequent shifts in wind direction and strength require many minor adjustments to sail trim and course and the reefing and un-reefing of sails in order to keep her moving along. She does not tolerate any lapses in attention, and she lets you know it by either galloping wildly away, luffing her sails, or skating along the water on her rail. The sea also chimes in, spitting around the corner of the dodger as if to give you a gentle slap in the face for daydreaming.

We have discovered a change we want to make to the roller furler installation on Silhouette. This came to light because in rough conditions like the ones we have been in, we often use a double-reefed main/stays'l combination. Rather than take a reef out of the main during the lulls in wind, we sometimes prefer to unfurl some jib. It's easier to reduce sail when the wind suddenly increases again, and the helm seems to stay better balanced in big swells than with a single-reefed main. The issue is, we only have two winches on each side of the cockpit:  not enough to accommodate the jib sheet, stays'l sheet, and furling line on one tack. We should have seen this one coming; but we had never spent days on end going upwind, so it wasn't a big issue before. It's not a big change:  just the addition of a line stopper/clutch ahead of the cockpit furling line turning block, which will facilitate transferring the furling line to a different winch and also simplify securing the line when the sail is partially furled. Since we have been on a starboard tack for days, Patrick has worked around this situation by leading the furling line behind the helm, through two snatch blocks secured to the radar arch, and onto the starboard stays'l winch. It's not ideal, but it's working for us, for now. We'll add the stopper in Hawaii.

Changing topics, those who've been to sea know that you dream more at sea. Or maybe we just remember our dreams more due to the interrupted sleep schedule. In any case, I was a little confused a few nights ago when Patrick woke me for my watch. As a matter of fact, I was a bit resentful. I couldn't understand why I was being asked to take another watch, when our third crew member hadn't yet stood a watch! In this event, our "third crew member" was an imaginary person in my dream...

We put our real third crew member---our Monitor wind vane---into temporary retirement yesterday. The Monitor's water paddle broke off at a weld on the shaft (not at the safety tube which is designed to break should the water paddle strike an object.) Our vane came with the boat and is twenty years old. This break was due to crevice corrosion in the weld, which is not unexpected given its age and life in saltwater. Since Patrick had a safety line attached as per the operation instructions, we did not lose the paddle. However, we are now without a steering vane for the rest of this passage. It's times like these when I think of our friends Noel and Litara Barrott, who completed not one---but two---circumnavigations entirely by hand steering. We're not in their league yet, because we still have the autopilot!

357 nautical miles to go. ETA Hilo: Wednesday

Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Fanning to Hilo, Day 8: In the Shadow of Clouds

Although we are technically on the other side of the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone), Silhouette is still traveling under heavy cloud cover and is surrounded by rain squalls. The clouds and precipitation in the forecast seem to be following us north. We are sailing along in gusty winds (15-24 knots) under a double-reefed main and staysail. Our speed is only 2.5 to 3.5 knots over ground. It would be nice to shake out a reef to increase our speed, but at our current angle of heel and with gusting winds, it would not be advisable. We are back in the 2-3 meter swells that characterized the first two days of this passage, and our rail occasionally dips into the seas as Silhouette shoulders her way through them.

We are currently headed almost due north. Based on the forecast, we decided not to continue all the way to the arbitrary waypoint we were heading to (10 deg N, 150 deg W) while trying to get in some more easting. We will continue north until somewhere around 14 or 15 deg N latitude before turning northwest towards Hilo. The wind conditions should be such that the home stretch will be more of a reach than a beat, a comfortable ride.

In the meantime, both Patrick and I agree that beating into the swells under sail beats listening to the incessant drone of the engine---as we did for over 24 hours while motoring through 3-8 knot winds---and rolling from gunwale to gunwale in the ITCZ. In most conditions, we can sail quite nicely under full canvas in 6-8 knots of wind; but when the swells are that big---two meters, steep, and on the beam---it's impossible to keep the sails full as the boom crashes back and forth and the sails flog helplessly.

We did have a doozy of a wind for a short period while we were in the ITCZ. Two nights ago, we were traveling through an area with a lot of electrical activity (lightning) but no thunder. Thankfully, the lightning wasn't too close to the boat. Other than lightning, there was nothing to see by, as there was no moon and cloud cover masked the stars. As Charles Schultz's Snoopy used to pen, "It was a dark and stormy night..." On the first evening watch from 7 to 10 p.m., Patrick was overtaken by a rapidly moving squall. Prior to the squall, we had been motoring in 3-4 knots of wind with no sails up. At about twenty to eight, Patrick summoned me out of the pilot berth and told me to get dressed and stand by. By then, the wind had built up to 40 knots, but we had been crashing and rolling around so much before that anyway, I hadn't really noticed.

Patrick had started out by steering up into the wind, but as it quickly built to 40 knots, he could no longer steer the boat effectively. (At that point, having a sail up would have helped with steerage, but the conditions were now too rough to go out on the foredeck and hoist the stays'l.) By the time he got me up, Patrick had centered the helm and lashed it. We were still motoring ahead at that point, but since the sea state hadn't built up, we decided to to shut the engine down and simply lie ahull. (Lying ahull means just letting the boat drift with no engine or sails.) Lying ahull is a storm tactic, but generally not a popular one due to the danger of broaching when a wave hits the boat broadside. A boat that is lying ahull will typically orient itself beam to the seas, and Silhouette did. Since squalls are fast moving and short in duration, they don't generally build up the sea state to a dangerous breaking-wave level like gales and storms do; but rather, the sea surface is often beaten down by the wind. In this particular case, the squall actually improved the sea state from what it had been before by flattening it somewhat, so lying ahull worked fine.

The squall was a huge one and took over an hour to pass. On my watch following the worst of the squall, the winds were still in the mid-twenties to low thirties. It was a shame to be motoring when we could have been sailing, but we decided to wait until conditions were better to send someone out on deck in the dark. The wind had come down enough so that we could steer using the autopilot if we steered north instead of to our course (which was northeast at the time.) When the wind dropped down to 20 knots at 1:00 a.m., I woke Patrick and he hoisted the staysail. (I would have gladly gone out on deck to hoist the sail, but in rough conditions, Patrick feels it's his responsibility as skipper to protect me from them.) It wasn't long after, from my bunk in the pilot berth, that I heard the iron jenny start up: The wind had completely died again.

We are glad this zone of fickle winds and tempestuous weather is behind us: Although we are still in the shadow of clouds, we don't have to wonder which of them may be harboring 40 knots of wind.

In other news, we've caught no fish, except for flying fish, which routinely land on deck or in the cockpit at night. They are not really big enough to eat, so we throw them back. I've had three sightings of a mysterious solitary large dolphin or small whale that seemed to be following the boat for awhile. We've also had two large schools of dolphin as escorts, including a visit from the spirit dolphins---my name for the ghostly silver forms of dolphins, sheathed in bioluminescence---streaking through black water like beneficent spirits in the ink dark night.
Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

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