This post is rated NFM (Not For Mom!)
If you read Captain Dan’s article from yesterday you read about the sporty start we had on our first day out of Fiji. The thing is, I read his account and just don’t feel he gave you a complete picture of what really transpired. No, he gave his typical straightforward, nonemotional account. So, let me tell you how it really was out there.
We left Momi Bay on the southwest side of Vitu Levu under a beautiful sunny sky. The bay was very calm but we could see that just outside the pass there were some decent sized swells. OK, no big deal….as long as they are not short frequency. Several miles away on our starboard side was a fuel tanker headed our way. We were both headed to the same pass through the reef only he’s doing just over ten knots and we’re doing five. Everyone knows these things don’t slow down or stop quickly so I was a bit on edge. To me the pass just didn’t look wide enough for both of us. Of course you know what they say about women and our ability to judge distance. We could see on the plotter that he would be passing us in about twenty minutes….just about the time we would be in the middle of the pass. Yes, Jilly was a bit on edge. Of course Dan said I was being nonsensical and I should just relax. Chances are he was right.
Before heading out of the pass we threw up the mainsail. We knew it would be a lot easier inside the bay. With the motor on and the tanker closing in on us we made our way to the pass. The tide was going out so the currents in the pass were rather strong. There were standing waves and whirlpool upwellings that were pushing us around like a toy boat in a bathtub. Believe it or not I wasn’t the slightest bit concerned about that as we’d been through atolls that were far, far worse. I just kept looking back at that tanker as it got bigger and bigger in our rear view. She eventually passed us just under two tenths of a mile to our starboard side. That’s a little too close for my taste but I do have to admit that Dan was right and I really had nothing to be nervous about.
When we hit open water the beautiful calm we experienced in the bay turned into 20 knot winds with 2.5 – 3 meter swells and they weren’t long pretty rollers either. In fact, the sea was rather choppy and a bit confused. Almost immediately we decided we’d need to put a reef in the main. This requires that we turn into the wind and swell. It’s my least favorite maneuver in seas like this because the boat rises high on the crest then slams into the trough of the waves. It’s hard to keep her in that position for long. While I’m doing that Dan is on deck hooking into the mast and tying the reefing lines down. If I fall off to much the boom could come slamming across the deck and throw him overboard so it’s a very intense moment. Since we’ve just started this journey we don’t yet have our vests out so he’s not clipped into the jack line making can me a bit more on edge. So here were are less than forty-five minutes into this trip and I’m already at my second stress point as I’m trying to control Dazzler while not taking my eyes off Dan. Fortunately Dan is quick to get the reef in and hurried back to the cockpit. I turn the boat back to our course while he starts working on the jib. Once the jib is flying Dan takes over the helm and I head below to settle in for the long trip.
It’s only just before 10 a.m. and I’m already thinking how much I’d like a beer to settle my nerves. Of course there’s no drinking underway so I’ll have to play some games or read to take my mind off the situation.
Now I realize that we’ve spent five months in Fiji making short, calm water passages so I do understand that I’ve probably lost my edge a bit but as I’m being bounced around like a pinball down below I’m wondering why we chose this particular weather window. I can’t sit around the table because we are on a port tack which means with every crash into the swell I’m being tossed out of my seat. I don’t want to go to the bunk because I want to be able to hear what is going on in the cockpit so I carve out a small space in the quarter berth at the nav station and curl up with my iPad. This puts me at the bottom of the companionway stairs so I can hear everything going on outside.
Of course I’m having a hard time concentrating as with every crash of a wave against Dazzler’s hull the boat is vibrating and if you’ve never been in rough seas on a boat, let me tell you something, the sounds down below can be truly frightening. There’s creaking and growning and even sometimes shrieks and I’m not just taking about what’s coming from me. Dazzler speaks a language all her own out here and it’s not always pleasant. Having logged over 15,000 miles on her I’m no stranger to her eerie cries but I will never get used to them.
After being crammed in the quarter berth for about a half hour I decide I’m going to try again to sit around the table where I can stretch my legs. I just get myself tucked in and wedged between the table and wall with pillows when I hear the loudest crash I’ve ever heard out here. It feels like a car hit the wall behind me and I’m tossed forward out of the seat. For a moment I thought we hit a container or whale or something. I let out a high pitched scream and looked toward the cockpit. The doors were closed and the hatch was halfway open. Before I can even call out to Dan I see a flood of water coming through the half open hatch.
I raced across the salon cussing like a, well, sailor while looking for towels. I’m grabbing iPads and phones off the nav station and tossing them into the galley to get them out of the flood on the desk. There’s papers and logbooks and other things there that are now sopping wet. Dan yells down to ask if I’m okay and somewhere between “Son of a bitch and holy hell” I manage to mutter, “Yes.” I spend the next fifteen minutes cleaning saltwater off of the radios, switch panels, pillows, floor, walls you name it. All the while I’m bouncing of the walls and stairs which will not doubt end in a Picasso of black and blue marks all over my body. I yell up to the cockpit, “I hate this! This is NOT the cruise I signed up for. I’m never making this passage again!” Poor Dan! I’m sure it’s not the cruise he signed up for either and now he’s got a screaming woman making it worse. Sorry my love.
Once my mess was under control I stepped up the stairs and looked into the cockpit. I see Dan leaning across to the deck moving things around, I asked him what’s going on and it takes him a second to gather his thoughts. He finally sits down under the dodger and tells me the entire cockpit was flooded with water like a bathtub. For the first time I saw a bit of concern and stress on his face. This puts me over the edge. Fear has now taken over and gripped me to my core. I look into Dan’s eyes and the tears begin streaming down my face, I can’t stop them. He looks at me with such helplessness because he knows there is nothing he can do about this. We have to ride this out and it’s going to be miserable for a while. He smiles at me with his handsome smile and says, “This is sailing Babe. It’s all good. Isn’t it fun?” As usual his comedic way of handling things makes me smile. It didn’t take away the fear but it did make me stop and take a breath. I know Dan is a highly competent sailor and would never put us through anything we can’t handle. I also know that Dazzler is made for this type of bluewater sailing. She can handle it. She’s a tough old broad. She actually looks like she likes it when we crash through a wave and the sea comes frothing up several feet on either side of her bow. It’s as if she’s saying “Look at me! I’m beautiful and strong! Just look at me!”
I also knew going into this that there are parts of this trip that will seriously suck! This trip is not for the faint hearted sailor. No, this is one for those who truly love sailing and are willing to take the bad with the good. Many cruiser wives refuse to even do it. Their husbands get crew and the women fly to New Zealand. But, I’m not one of those women. We are a team…Dan, Dazzler, Grape Ape and I. Okay, okay, so I know it’s time for me to put on my big girl britches, hoist up my bootstraps and dig in. I’m here for the long haul.
I won’t kid you. The rest of the day was still a tough one for me. I had moments where I just started crying. I tried to keep them from Dan as much as possible. He had enough to deal with in the cockpit. He didn’t need to be worrying about my sanity too. Two more times before the day was out we had water douse the cockpit so much that we ended up with it down below. Apparently the scuppers on the hatch are just too small to handle such large amounts of water coming in at one time.
The rough seas and high winds remained pretty consistent throughout the day. The winds reached up to 30 knots at times. I would poke my head out every once in a while to get some fresh air. We had to close up everything so it got a bit steamy down below. Twice when I came up we were seeing part of the pumice raft floating by. A couple of months ago an underwater volcano erupted near Tonga, it sent tons and tons of pumice to the surface. A cruiser I met at Musket Cove was one of the first to come upon it. It was several miles long and wide and in places it was so thick you could walk on it. That’s not something you want to take your boat through. If you’re running the engine it can foul your prop and clog your water intake. And the pumice is so sharp that it can literally grind the paint off your hull and cut into the fiberglass. That’s not a good thing. (Google 2019 pumice raft to see it. It’s amazing!)
While I wanted to see this with my own eyes I also didn’t want to see it. Fortunately what we saw was just ribbons of it scattered about the ocean. Sometimes we saw patches as wide as four or five feet square but that was few and far between. Of course after the day we’d had I was saying more prayers that this wasn’t just the beginning and that we weren’t going to encounter a large swath of it. Seems like at least that prayer was answered.
It was too rough to do any real cooking so we had leftover steak from the night before. I made Dan a steak sandwich or rather I made him a beef slab on a bun. I guess I should have cut it up but by this point in they day I’d had it. I slathered a little mayo on the bun and tossed on a whole slab of steak. I wrapped it in a paper towel put a granola bar with it and called it supper. Later he said he felt like some rabid animal tearing the flesh from a fresh kill. I told him that at least he got a bun. I literally stood at the sink in the galley with a slab in my hand tearing it apart with my teeth.
By the time feeding time at the zoo was done I was exhausted. It was time for me to go down for my pre-watch nap. The first night is always the hardest and as expected I hardly slept a wink. Before I knew it my watch was due so I donned my foulies, grabbed my Coca Cola, granola bar and apple and headed to the cockpit. This was going to be a rough watch. Dan said that four or five times an hour water was either slamming up against the port side and over into the cockpit or racing down the starboard deck hitting the winch box and pouring in on that side. Either way I’d be sitting under the dodger on the deck hiding out. It was too wet to have an iPad on deck and too rough to hold it anyway. For the next four and a half hours I would be sitting in the dark playing hide and seek from the ocean.
What does a person do for all that time? Well, I wrote this article in my head. I started to put a mental list together of things I want to get when we go to the states this year and I sang every song I could think of. Yep…I sang hymns, children’s songs, show tunes and even Christmas carols. And for the last hour and a half I not only dodged saltwater coming into the cockpit I dodged giant raindrops as we sailed through a few squalls, Oh yes…I also did an awful lot of talking to Mother Nature, Neptune and God asking them all to please calm the seas and make the rest of our passage go smoothly.
Yes, it was a really rough day out here and I feel better knowing you now have the full story. Hopefully I will be able to sleep and tomorrow will be a better day. Have I told you lately how much I love this sailing stuff?
By the way, where is that bottle of rum?
Until next time…