17:44.35S 161:17.08W Heeding th e warnings – Palmerston Gale

Sun 4 Sep 2016 19:59

17:44.35S 161:17.08W  Heeding the warnings – Palmerston Gale

“You swam with lemon sharks!” Exclaimed the attractive Austrian lady with long, black wavy hair. “When we were in San Blas [off the Colombian north coast in the Carib Sea] a friend of ours was cleaning his waterline when two lemon sharks swam along either side of him and head-butted his lower back. He was up into his cockpit pretty quick.”

Ten of us were sat in the bay window at Maikai Marina for a totally impromptu evening of happy hour chatting. “We were warned by the locals that the lemon sharks are aggressive and we should not swim, so we all stayed clear of the water.” They heeded the warning.

“Was there any sport fishing in the area?” I ventured and when she confirmed there was I suggested that animals know when they are being hunted and are under threat, maybe that’s what changed their attitude towards them.

In Bora Bora there is only small ‘scale’ (!) fishing for food and locals realise there is more to be made from playing with the sharks and rays non-aggressively than killing them. In fact their marine industry would be seriously affected if the sharks, that delight so many visitors annually in their social behaviour, were to become threatened by the greedy and wholly destructive sport fishing industry.

In fact Bora Bora is a playground island. Much of its history destroyed by zealous Protestant Missionaries it cannot entertain the visitor with a culture from the past as the Marquesan islands do, and so makes the most of the natural beauty of the island in its present form.

I remember from when I lived on the Isle of Wight and ran my B & B business how many of my visitors wanted to sail, walk and ride around it and it was the same on Bora Bora.

With their religious heritage gone I suppose their wholesale adherence to the Christian faith is understandable. For a modestly educated and island based population religion has its place and they have their need for it, proudly Protestant some are while others are Seventh day Adventist folk, but the loss of their historic Gods seems wrong to me.

The Sabbath is paramount and the only profit making businesses open are the supermarkets. The waters are quiet too, no buzzing pangas or friendly waves from motor boats on a Sunday!

Ahead of us we are approaching a vast area of live volcanic activity. Beyond the Tonga Trench (deepest area I could find on the chart 10,632 metres below sea level) the Tonga Archipeligo is a range of volcanoes that have almost sunk below sea level making them amongst the oldest in existence but the new volcanic activity is creating new volcanoes in this geologically hyper-active area. In September 2009 the eruption of a submarine volcano abruptly ended the peace in a favourite anchorage causing a tsunami that devastated the area.

However, it is activity of a different kind we have experienced over the last 36 hours, which started with a phone call home to wish Sue a Happy Birthday.

The Satphone suddenly lost its connection and when Rob went into the cockpit we found one possible reason why, “Hey up we’ve got lightning!” One of the modern mariners’ worst fears is being struck down the metal mast and having all the electricity powered instruments destroyed.

The satphone and handheld VHF radio went into the oven, which hopefully would protect them as it is gimballed within wood. A box of bank notes that were near the wiring in a cupboard were relocated on the bed in case of fire and the computers and portable GPS were moved well away from the control panel with all the wiring behind. We heeded the warning!

Brilliant white flashes illuminated threatening dark clouds rising sheer from sea level into the atmosphere above, down Zoonie’s starboard side. Like a pair of defensive meerkats our heads moved from side to side catching each flash and assessing whether the whole threatening area was moving towards us. It seemed to be on a parallel course moving ahead at a greater speed than Zoonie, so we began to feel we were out of risk until a flash lit the sky on Zoonie’s other side. My immediate reaction was to look ahead, ‘were we running into the storm?’

Strangely, the diva cruising chute was up at the time pulling us nicely forward at 6 knots or so.

During the night the wind dropped and when I woke it was to the sound of the engine. Something big had sucked the wind away and very soon we found out what.

It started with rain, which quickly became heavy and was joined by a rapidly increasing wind from Zoonie’s port stern quarter. The waves stayed subdued because of the heavy rain pressing them smooth but then they started to build, unable to resist the power in the air.

We sat on the windward berth, wedged in place, watching the white wave crests being set in flight and long areas of beautiful turquoise water amidst the grim slate grey, reflecting the sky above.

Suddenly on the chart plotter little black Zoonie was flipped 180’ to face the way she had come. If we hadn’t seen it on the screen we would only know it had happened because the auto pilot electric steering system alarm went off, there being no sails out to tell us.

We watched the screen to see if the Auto pilot could get us back onto the course we had just reset. Unfortunately it tried to do so by pushing the bow through the wind, which was just too strong. So Rob brought her round manually.

This happened twice more, then we decided to give the AP a rest and go and steer ourselves.

Not since Biscay two years ago have we taken it in turns to hand steer her in a gale. Still under engine with 40 knots of wind up our bum we were neither shaken nor stirred and in fact were thoroughly enjoying the cocktail mix of wind and sea. We could have done without the rain but it did a great job of polishing the stainless steel.

By late afternoon we let out a kerchief of genoa and let Henry the Hydrovane take over the steering.

It was by good fortune that I had made a Thai Purple (Red cabbage) curry with coconut milk the day before to last for two suppers as cooking in the galley was neither practical nor physically possible. Heating up a couple of pans on the gimballed stove was nice and easy.

As I write this Zoonie is trying to decide which side of Palmerston Island she should go, as the wind keeps changing her heading. She has 100 miles to make up her mind and then the last waypoint we set will be for north of Niue, around 390 miles away.