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.
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.
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.