Underway to Easter

Kelly Wright
Thu 7 Jan 2010 15:34

Travelogue 2:  Underway to Easter Island (June 17, 2009)


Anna is quite a boat.  (See www.alwoplast.cl, the website of the Chilean boatbuilder, for photos and more info.)  My first glance at her – and my crew later had the same reaction – caused a doubletake and elicited the exclamation:  I’ve never seen a boat that color before!  She is a light green, or more properly “Aqua Mist” as the paint marketing people call it.  I chose the color thinking I wanted something unique, but I thought the green was only going to be painted on the hulls, like on a sportfisherman, and that the pilothouse was going to be the same color as the deck which is off-white (“Matterhorn White”), but somehow I failed to communicate my color scheme to the boatbuilder and so now the boat is overwhelmingly light green, with even the radar pole and the wind generator pole and all the external light fixtures on the aft deck that color.  The color I actually find quite pleasing – in moderation.  It’s kind of funny, really, and whenever I come up to her on the dinghy, seeing Anna in her full extent on the water, I can’t help but shake my head and chuckle.  Anna definitely looks like a boat from South America.


I am not trying to win a design competition, anyway, and my main concern is how she handles and performs.  I do not have the kind of close personal attachment to boats that others do who write love sonnets and elegies to their yachts.  A boat to me is like a car – first priority is performance, then comes comfort, and only lastly is the décor of any importance.   I don’t anthropomorphize material objects.


Besides being a unique boat in appearance, Anna is also quite a complex one.  From the sailor’s point of view she offers a lot of combinations with three fulltime sails and an asymmetrical spinnaker, but this also results in an enormous amount of rigging.  Here is a list of her running rigging (which you non-sailors may wish to skip):

7 winches, including two electric, one of which is mounted horizontally

24 cam cleats

13 fairlead blocks

2 barberhauler blocks

2 daggerboard blocks, each with an ingenious locking device

4 halyards, with the main being double purchase

2 topping lifts (one for each boom)

2 lines for the traveler

2 lines for the preventers for the main

2 spinnaker guys

2 spinnaker sheets

2 barberhauler lines

2 daggerboard looped lines

2 genoa sheets

1 mainsheet

1 genoa furling line

1 jib sheet

1 jib outhaul

1 jib furling line

1 downhaul for the mainsail


In the cockpit there are a couple of rails with a total of 14 half-inch-thick stainless steel hooks about 8 inches long and 4 inches deep to hang most of these lines on.


There are also 6 blocks and several lines for our dinghy davits, a long loop of line of about 140 ft. for use with the spinnaker sock, and a couple of blocks and lines to put up the awning on the aft deck.


I think that it all but I am not sure.


The gear is all first class, of course, but the lines are not color-coded well, being mostly green or red, which adds to the confusion.  I personally am not experienced with a horizontally-mounted winch. and it was my mishandling of the tail of the jib outhaul around it that caused our first problem, when we tore the sail. I later made a similar mistake and finally figured out that I was holding the line at a bad angle when releasing line off that winch, and now make certain not to repeat that again.


In retrospect we really should have undertaken an extra few days of training before we set off from Valdivia.  The launching of the boat had been delayed, though, so the sailing season was getting ever shorter as winter set in, and so we eagerly grasped at the first opportunity to leave, due somewhat to the natural impatience of our skipper.


All would have still been fine had we not been supplied with defective turnbuckles that attach the stays and shrouds – stainless steel cable and rod – to the hulls.  We would have made the same teething mistakes anyway, getting used to the gear and the layout, but we would not have been put in the situation we are in now, which is pre-crisis, preparing for the worst case of losing the boat, which is a remote possibility.


In my last travelogue I related how a one-inch thick bronze turnbuckle had broken and then ruined a furling drum, and caused our boatbuilder to fly technicians to Isla Robinson Crusoe to replace them.  Well, since leaving Isla Robinson Crusoe another turnbuckle has broken exactly the same but on another stay, and the turnbuckle manufacturer has determined after a metallurgical assay that his supplier supplied him with a defective bronze alloy – it has an Alpha value, whatever that is, of only 3 instead of 17 – and must replace them all.  We were told to add extra support to the standing rigging and mast in case of more failures because if just one more turnbuckle goes, we could lose the whole rig – that is, the mast could topple over the side.  And if the mast topples over the side it would still be connected to the boat by stainless steel cables and rods and high-tech lines so that it could easily punch a hole in a hull. 


We were also advised to reduce sail and sail slowly, avoid inclement weather, not strain the rig, and add supporting lines where possible. 


And we learned all of this when we were 1500 nm from our next port, Easter Island, with mostly headwinds back towards Isla Robinson Crusoe, making a return difficult and jarring on this fragile rig.


So now we are inching along at half speed on a circuitous bad-weather-avoiding route, trying to make Easter Island where the mastmaker who supplied the turnbuckles is going to meet us and replace them all.  Easter doesn’t have any marinas or docks where the job might be accomplished relatively easy, so we will have to do it at anchor.  The problem with that is there are no really good all-weather anchorages at Easter, and the cruising guides recommend that visiting sailboats keep someone onboard at all times who can move the boat and reset the anchor. 


So the dreamed-of idyllic cruising in the South Pacific is yet to come.  Now there is a certain amount of tension as we review survival plans in case we are holed, and there is also some frustration at having to creep along at such slow speeds in a boat made to go fast on a course that has taken us way off the direct rhumb line to our goal.  We also dread at least one solid day of tedious work helping replace the turnbuckles.  And when the winds die down and the sails begin slatting, banging back and forth, or when the waves grow and jar us with a hard smack, we wonder if that will be enough to break another turnbuckle and cause the big bang of the mast falling.


We have done all we can to attach other lines  to support the standing rigging with extra halyards and sheets serving as shrouds and stays, and dyneema (extremely strong synthetic line) strops around the existing but threatened shrouds, and we are almost certain to have a good outcome.  But still, the nagging doubts and the plodding pace do not make for an enjoyable voyage.


I had to go to the masthead twice, pulled up in the boatswain’s harness, to attach extra supporting lines.   I am so big that I kind of felt sorry for the winch that had to haul me skyward, but about ten feet off deck my sympathies quickly shifted towards myself.  As the masthead is 75 ft. high, and because I had to go up while under sail at sea, the amplified motion was pronounced – about 10 ft. of movement up there for every 1 foot on deck.  I must admit that the first trip aloft was the most heart-pounding, teeth-rattling, anus-puckering adventure I have experienced in many, many years. The second was less nerve-wracking, but after the pair of trips I am plenty bruised up from all the swinging and hitting the mast and stays and trying to hold on with a firm grip.


By the way, we have not seen a vessel of any sort since we left Isla Robinson Crusoe 11 days ago.  We even find it difficult to raise stations such as the BBC or Radio Australia on our shortwave radio. The only interesting marine life we have seen, other than the many fascinating seabirds which range way out here over a thousand miles from land, was about a one-mile-long patch of squid late one afternoon, floating listlessly as if dead near the surface.  They were rust and white colored, about 18 inches to 2 feet long, and must have numbered in the thousands, since they appeared to have a population density of about one squid per ten square meters (about 30 ft. squared).  There were also some small white objects that reminded me from a distance of cottonwood pollen in spring, much thicker in density on the ocean surface than the squid and spread over a much greater area, and so we theorize that either the squid were spawning and producing the white objects, or else feasting on them.


We have now traveled almost 2000 nm since we left Valdivia.  Whereas we left from an eastern longitude equivalent to the Bahamas, we have now traveled to the west so far that we are now on a line with Vernon, TX, near Wichita Falls, and our path has been a great deal northward and anything but straight-line.  Also for the first time I can recall I have experienced a totally calm wind showing only 0.1 knots on the anemometer!  We made very little headway for two days since we motored little as the calms arrived soon after leaving Robinson Crusoe and we had such a long distance and wanted to save fuel.  Also we have a terrific wind generator to produce electricity as well as four photovoltaic cells for the rare day it has not been overcast, so the only need to turn on an engine has been to run the desalinator (ours is engine-driven) to make potable water from the sea, and to heat up water to take a shower, which we try to do about once a week.


 We figure to arrive in Easter Island by Fathers Day.