Raiatea to Nuie 13 May to 22nd May
Wednesday morning we left after a trip to the local Gendarmerie to get our clearance papers (all negotiated in my restaurant French) and we left, despite the forecast of no wind for the next four days! Well the forecasts have been pretty poor out here so we left in anyway.
After 36 hours of motoring the wind filled in and we enjoyed some good sailing conditions in the sun and 500 miles to go to Suwarrow. It would be four days to get there at this rate - what could possibly go wrong!
The forecast started to show a depression building to the south of our route – 150 miles to the South so well out the way. The next day the foreast showed the depression building further joining with a low pressure system to the North and all the discussion on the SSB radio net was about this weather system which looked increasingly menacing. It was clear that not only was it going to be a vigorous weather system but it stretched over 300 miles and we would not be able to avoid it. The lightest winds were to be in the North so we all headed further North to avoid the worst of it.
The day before it was due, the weather was perfect – very few waves, a good breeze and a cloudless sky. The weather forecast again showed that the system had developed even deeper so would now 25-30 knots where we would cross it. We had two days to prepare the boat, lashing everything down that might move, checking the rigging, the engine and cooking a meal that we could just heat up on the day. We even caught a fish.
It was a relief when the storm did start at 6am as we had lived with the anticipation of it for three days. It started with 25 knot winds and built steadily to 35 knots during the day. Then the squalls started with horizontal rain coming across the boat and winds gusting between 40 to 50 knots. The autohelm could not cope and we took it in turns to steer the boat through the wind and rain. It was the first time since leaving Europe that any of us had felt cold due to the wet and wind. The sea became confused as the wind backed from East to West in about 12 hours so waves were coming in all directions.
In the middle of all this, the chart plotter stopped working, no doubt affected by the driving rain despite being both waterproof and under the spray hood. So we switched it off – we were sailing purely to keep the wind behind us and there was nothing out there to hit so we were not particularly worried.
By 8pm the storm had passed and we were in lighter winds (only 25 knots) so that we needed to unreef the sails to be able to sail again. Not ten minutes later we were once again hand steering through what would be the last of the big squalls which lasted 90 minutes. I helmed during this period and I was soaked, tired and incapable of any rational thought at the end of this so we put away the sails, put the motor on to keep a gentle pace and I had to go to bed for some sleep even though it was supposed to be my watch. We were all exhausted but Catherine agreed to take my watch so I could get some rest, well 3 hours sleep until I was back on watch but that was enough.
The boat coped very well with the storm and so did Catherine and Chris. Despite the winds and helming in atrocious conditions, spirits remained high and no-one gave any indication of being concerned. Everyone took their turn on the helm, sorted out any problems and we just got on with it. We all had several changes of clothes during the day to be dry for at least some of the time.
Making Suwarrow was not feasible given the wind direction and continued squalls in the North so we continued onto to Nuie. Our route was rather circuitous to avoid the worst of the storm as our plotter chart shows.
The next day was spent under sail and drying out our clothes and the water that had been driven into the boat by the wind. The chart plotter had dried out and was working again and we were all still very tired but happy to be through it and we had good winds the rest of the way.
We arrived in Nuie on Friday morning (22nd May) and had our first beer for 10 days. It may have been four in the morning here, but it was night time in the UK so it was definitely beer o’clock!.