Serious Sea Miles

After joining us for almost three fun-filled weeks of snorkeling, scuba, hiking, and fine dining in Tahiti, Raiatea, Moorea, and Bora Bora, my wife caught a plane home May 21, and the “Nor’easter” crew went back to their routine of long passages, four-hour watches, and an austere diet of brie cheese, beans, rice, and when fortune smiled upon us, fresh yellowfin tuna.

We hated to leave Bora Bora, as we had grown accustomed to hanging out at the Yacht Club and enjoying fresh pastries at the local café.  However, crossing all three oceans requires keeping to somewhat of a schedule in order to avoid severe weather, and we wanted to visit as many special islands as possible.  We departed May 27 for Palmerston, a remote atoll home to just three families, 650 miles from Bora Bora.  Storms to the south of us had kicked up a serious swell up to 4.5 meters, which conflicted with the local winds from the opposite direction, creating nasty seas.  In other words, we had “perfect Swan sailing conditions.”   

After two days of surfing the southwest swell, I had just begun my 1200-1600 hour watch when my stomach started feeling a bit abnormal.  I finished my shift, retired to my cabin, and at 2000 hours took over again, feeling somewhat worse.  At 2200, the wind, which had been consistently blowing 25 knots, freshened to 35, and with the jib already reefed, I needed to take a tuck in the main as well.  However,  before I could act, I found myself hanging over the stern rail ridding myself of whatever it was that had made me ill.  My safety harness was secured to the boat, but puking on the boat’s low side while flying down wave faces with too much sail deployed made for a memorable experience. 

Safely back in the cockpit, I felt amazingly good, but I realized I had accidentally activated my man overboard wrist alarm, waking Travis.  I yelled to him that I wasn’t lost overboard, but could use some help, so he came on deck, we reefed the main, completely furled the jib, and the boat was under control again but still sailing at 8 knots.

The next day, we had gone 500 miles since leaving Bora Bora, with just 169 remaining to Palmerston, and I went off watch marveling at how we had no current issues with any of the boat’s systems.  Of course, thinking such thoughts on a yacht is generally the kiss of death, and this time was no exception.  The engine died on us that night.  Having experienced the same problem the previous month, we were unfazed, agreed to address it at during daylight hours, but should probably skip remote Palmiston and head straight to Tonga, 750 miles distant, where there were mechanics.  At daybreak, the wind died, we tore into the fuel system, but couldn’t find the problem.  With no wind but still a lots of swell, we both needed a rest, so we took down the sails and Travis went to sleep while the boat rolled and I fretted.

Becalmed at sunset 500 miles from anywhere

Feeling refreshed the following morning, we took some extra fuel hose I had on hand and rigged a “day tank,” running the both the feed and return lines from a 1-gallon jerry can directly into the fuel filters and engine.  This worked fine, but necessitated us refilling the tank every 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, we took apart the entire fuel feed and return lines, and discovered the “smoking gun,” a plugged fitting on the fuel return line where it enters the tank.  We cleared that, reassembled the system, and the engine was healed!  Travis and I were elated, gave each other a big hug, and temporarily suspended our “no beers at sea” rule with a couple cold Hinanos to celebrate.  However, Palmerston was 36 miles astern at that point, so we decided to continue on to Niue, another 300 miles distant.  With no wind forecast for the next three days, we were thankful our engine was functional again. 

With our meal selection becoming increasingly bleak after 8 days at sea, early one morning, as we motored in flat water, a fish hit one of our lines, and it seemed like a big one.  Travis grabbed the pole while I took in our second “hand line,” which is just attached to the boat, not a fishing rod, and found it also had a fish.  I brought in an 8 pound tuna, and Travis landed one twice that size.  By the time we had subdued both fish in the cockpit, our boat looked like the Manson Family had paid us a visit.  After cleaning both the fish and the boat, we enjoyed sashimi for lunch and steaks for dinner over the next several days.

Pure protein in hand

We found ourselves on track to arrive Niue in the middle of the night, so we stopped for 12 hours about 50 miles from our destination, slept, and arrived 0700 a day later.  With the engine fully functional, we were able to enjoy Nuie for a week and head to Tonga at our leisure.  We are both feeling pretty smug about our mechanical abilities, honed out of necessity at sea.

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11 thoughts on “Serious Sea Miles

    1. Thanks Holly. Say hi to everyone for me. Miss my pals at CP!

      On Mon, Jun 10, 2019 at 2:26 PM Nor'easter's (almost) Circumnavigati

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  1. I have mixed thoughts as I read your and Travis’s harrowing adventures from the comfort of my lounge chair with coffee in hand. I’m both glad I am here and you are there, and envious that you are on the adventure of a lifetime. So in awe of what you and Travis are doing. Also in awe of Jamie who said Yes to your “crazy” scheme! Glad she got to enjoy three weeks with you. Continued safe travels!

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    1. Hey Nancy, I’ve been at the dock in Vanuatu for almost 2 weeks, playing golf, scuba diving, drinking kava with the local boys (25-30 year olds) at their village, and tonight I’m going to a traditional Vanuatu feast one of the local van drivers is hosting just for me. People here are incredibly warm and welcoming. Haven’t played tennis since Hiva Oa in a March, but will once I get to Australia in 2 weeks. Gidday Mate!

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  2. Just enough trouble to keep things interesting. Glad for your quick recovery from the GI bug. Hope the tuna supply holds up !!

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  3. Hardy, the mechanical aptitude you and Travis have shown is impressive! It shows why not many can do what you are doing, since it takes soooo much more than the sailing skills to make it a successful journey. Just in case you’re interested, upon your return, I’ll bet several of the local marinas would love to put you on their marine mechanic staff . . . but they just can’t match the ambiance you two have had during your mechanical challenges. Sail on in fair seas and thanks for keeping us posted on your progress! — John Bacon

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  4. George, Greatly enjoyed your last post. Extreme adventure is an understatement. I just got home from attending the Newport Harbor Yacht Club stag weekend. My college roommate, Rusty Mc Donnell was my host. I knew you were a yacht broker, but didn’t know where and for how long. I certainly would have bandied your name around had I been aware of the location. Playing golf today at CIC. It sounds a little tame compared to self-prepared sushi in 15ft seas. Might as well end with an understatement. Jim

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    1. I worked in NPB 20 years and knew a lot of folks at NHYC. Jamie and I were moored there several days last December before we sailed for South Pacific.

      If you thought last post was good, wait for next one. We just sailed 265 miles Niue to Tonga and got hit by a rogue wave that knocked us completely over. Mast probably hit the water. Thought I was dead when I saw it coming, but Travis was safely below while I was driving. Wave broke over my head, but I got through it. Worst 2 days at sea ever, but exhilarating as hell once we got safely to Tonga. Got seriously drunk to celebrate being alive.

      On Fri, Jun 14, 2019 at 2:10 PM Nor'easter's (almost) Circumnavigati

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      1. You have guts (or Kahunas) I would never even dream of. The worst wave I took while in the Navy is an indelible memory. But I was on a 325’ destroyer escort. It was the North Sea and I was standing behind the midships pelorus on the bridge. I saw the wave at EYE LEVEL close aboard to starboard. The next thing I knew was that my feet were at shoulder level and I was doing a pull-up on the pelorus. I was lucky to have been there. Lots of people went ass over tea kettle. There were a few other unsettling moments, but nothing like your rogue wave.
        Bad timing re NHYC. I could have bandied your name about. May have had to duck a few time , right. :). I would suppose a couple of your boats were in the fleet. My college roommate is Rusty McDonnell. He had a 42 footer, but I don’t know where he purchased it.

        Be safe.

        Jim

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      2. Don’t recall Rusty, but know lots of folks at NHYC. I held one of my Swan regattas there in 1990 or thereabouts.

        Just glad I was sailing a Swan and not some cheap production boat. The chief naval architect at Swan, Lars Strom, once told me that as long as you can stay on board, you can survive almost anything nature throws at you, as the boat won’t fail you.

        On Sat, Jun 15, 2019 at 8:17 AM Nor'easter's (almost) Circumnavigati

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