And Still Rolling

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Sun 8 May 2011 22:33
Noon Position: 18 48.9 S 160 14.8 W
Course: West nor' west, Speed: 6 knots
Wind: East sou' east, F5-6 fresh to strong breeze
Weather: Overcast, occasional rain squalls, warm, moderate seas
Day's run: 101 miles (127 sailed)

Last night was definitely one of those times I was grateful for the modern technology of GPS as there was no way I would have made landfall safely using celestial navigation. Since leaving Tahiti I have had only fleeting glimpses of the sun maybe two or three times and the opportunity for star sights have been nil, not to mention the hazard to life and limb trying to take a sextant altitude with old Sylph continuously rolling from one side to the other, at times violently. As it was as we closed Aitutaki I peered anxiously into the gloom willing a light to appear where it was supposed to be. Eventually the lights did appear but I have sometimes found that it is easy for my eyes to trick me, seeing things like dark masses of land and glimmers of lights when there actually is nothing at all, maybe a cloud and a glint of reflected light on the stainless steel pulpit. But all went smoothly and by midnight we had Sylph tucked in behind the lee of Aitutaki under a double reefed mainsail. It was good to be out of the sea and swell even though the wind was as strong as ever, the low lying island and atoll doing little to break its force. Running towards the south took us to the end of our shelter quite quickly, in about an hour, but turning around to retrace our path the wind was forward of the beam and we made slower progress which suited me fine, taking about two hours to get back to where we had started from. During the night we completed two runs up and down the length of the atoll, and while I could only cat nap for about 20 minute stretches during this time, the moderation in Sylph's motion was very welcome. I even took the opportunity to have a shave.

This morning dawned as windy as ever, I pulled my little windometer out, a gift from some dear Annapolitan friends, and measured the wind speed, a steady 25 knots at deck level, a little more than I expected. I did not like the look of the scene at all; the narrow shallow reef strewn channel, strong wind and overcast conditions did not bode well for an easy entry into the very confined anchorage reported to be inside the reef. As daylight grew brighter I made a call on the VHF radio. “Any station, any station, any station. This is sailing yacht Sylph VI, Sylph VI, Sylph VI. Over.” I immediately received a response from Pelican Pat, an Australian yacht at anchor off the reef just outside the channel. He had been there for three days and advised me that the channel was not safe to enter in these conditions, that in any event locals had advised him that the anchorage inside the reef was too shallow at low tide and had very limited swinging room. The anchorage where he was was safe but required 70 meters of cable and was not very comfortable. Overall this did not sound at all appealing. After sailing closer to the channel entrance and looking over the anchorage where Pelican Pat lay, I decided the safest thing to do was to simply continue on our way.

I pondered my options. Initially I set course for Tonga but I sat looking at the Cook Island flag I had laboured for much of yesterday to make, thinking what a waste. A Union Jack in the canton, which I had salvaged from a worn out Australian flag, on a blue field with 15 small stars in a circle on the fly. Now I was quite proud of this achievement, sewn together in very difficult conditions on my antique hand operated Singer sewing machine. 30 small stars, 15 on each side, had taken quite a bit of patience, it wanted to be flown.

I looked at the chart. Palmerston is only a little out of the way, 180 miles to the west nor' west. I checked my information and while not a port of entry I could stay there for three days without formally clearing in to the Cook Islands. They have moorings and the Marsters family which occupies the islands have a reputation for hospitality (though with some tarnish of late due to some factional rivalry). A rest for a few days would be very welcome and the solar panels have stopped charging, undoubtedly a broken connection again, so a stop here would allow me to fix them. And maybe if we sit still for a couple of days this horrible weather will move past us.

I have adjusted the wind vane and gybed the jib. Next stop Palmerston – I hope.

All is well.