We capped off our stay in Maupiti by circumnavigating the island in Grin. Jonas, Andrew and I loaded up to explore the coral gardens. For the novelty of it, we walked from the island to a motu via a shallow sandbar that crosses the lagoon.
We snorkeled, and once again found new, and strange animals, coral or maybe plants. I’m not always sure what these things are.
Then it was time to get serious. After going up the mast to check our rig (and fix the wind chicken, who recently had started to dangle in a less than secure manner), Andrew helped Jonas inspect Alma.
By the next morning, (August 28) we were ready to depart. Exactly six months ago from the day, we left San Diego. Remember six months ago? I was grinding my teeth over every wave that rocked Sonrisa to and fro. I was bundled up in every layer of foul weather gear I had just to keep warm as we sailed along the California coast. Just the thought of having to go forward on deck while under way produced the terror-shakes. The weight of my harness and tether pulled on my shoulders and gave me headaches. How are we doing now?
A half hour before we pulled up anchor in Maupiti, Andrew and I took a shot of sea sickness meds. We systematically go through our checklist of passage preparation items: load up Grin, prepare lunch, clean up the cockpit, stow anything that might impale our skulls, review all running rigging to make sure it is aligned properly and not tangled. We are ready to go.
We slip on our harness and tether, familiar as yesterday’s socks. I warm up Sonrisa’s engine, and Andrew takes his place on the bow. He slips our mooring rope and off we go. With the tight Maupiti pass, we are a little more on edge than normal. We have been listening to the radio as several other boats made their escape this morning. Now it’s our turn. Andrew keeps watch to guide me around coral heads. As we near the narrow spot in the pass, we can see the large breaking waves on either side, and only slightly smaller standing waves in the middle. Sonrisa bucks and heaves, she gives a bull-snort or two as the waves toss us around. The current is in our favor this time, so we pop out on the other side into open ocean safely free of the coral jaws.
Now, we settle in. We set a triple reefed main, the jib and half of the genoa to balance Sonrisa perfectly in 18 knots of wind “on the beam” meaning 90 degrees to Sonrisa’s side. We know the sail configuration Sonrisa and Windy the Wind Vane like best. Sonrisa sails along smoothly at 6 knots. I take a nap, Andrew keeps watch. We have dinner; then I take my watch from 7 p.m. - 2 a.m. At first, it is moonless and filled with stars, but soon black clouds blanket any bit of light the stars are producing and douse me with rain. I go down below, watch the AIS and Radar screen, and pop my head up for a 360 degree view every 15 minutes.
I listen to music on my iPod to pass the time. I shuffle with a short attention span through multiple artists and albums. I can’t seem to settle on the right mood. The first night of the passage is always irritating, and I make little deals with myself about staying awake. I check the clock the first time at 8:30 p.m. It’s only been an hour and half? Oh, this is going to be a long watch. I check again. 9:00 p.m. I count the number of hours between 9 and 2 on my fingers just to confirm: yes, it’s five hours. I make a deal with myself that I cannot check the clock until I have listed to at least two full music albums. Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana. I check, and now it’s 10:30 p.m. I’m not feeling drowsy anymore.
The rain has stopped for bit, so I go back on deck out of the stuffy cabin below. Suddenly, it’s 11:30. That hour went quickly. I am still completing my 360 degree horizon scan every 15 minutes. In the pitch black, I strain to see what is out there. Boat lights are one thing, but we are now in the stretch of ocean that houses giant sea life. Huge whales are migrating between French Polynesia and Tonga. Sometimes, they sleep on the surface. Boats hit them every now and then, and whales can be responsible for sinking fiberglass boats. I am banking on two things: (1) Sonrisa is noisier through the water than her lighter, fin keeled counterparts so I am hoping she will wake the whales up in time to get them to move out of her way; and (2) Valiant Sailboat legend has it that one of Sonrisa’s sister ships survived a repeated attack by a whale who became angry or otherwise had some desire to smash into its hull over and over again. With these two hopes in the back of my mind, I relax into my steady hum of nerves. There’s nothing else I can do anyway. There is no way I could ever hope to see a whale in the water ahead and divert course. It’s just too dark.
It rains on me again at midnight. I pull the beanbag down below to keep it dry for Andrew’s watch. How about some Fergie? Fergie keeps me company until 1:00 a.m. I usually tell myself that I can wake Andrew up at 1:00 the first night if I must, but every single night at 1:00 a.m., I get my second wind and I easily wrap up my watch at 2. Andrew is a good sport about waking up in the middle of the night and soon the sea berth is open and available for my use.
With teeth brushed and face washed, I crawl into the nest of pillows we use to wedge ourselves in place. They are still hot and sweaty from Andrew. Gross. I give him a hard time about it, every night. Why is he so sweaty? Ugh. Soon, I lay down my own layer of sweat, and I can no longer feel the touch of someone else’s stink. Sonrisa rocks and jumps along with waves hitting her on her quarter stern. Water-gurgles pass against her hull, cans and bottles roll around in the storage cabinets like chaotic wind chimes. I smile a little bit as I am lulled to sleep by “the gentle fear of death” as our Kiwi friend Phil on Lufi puts it. It feels so good to finally get to sleep.
We repeat this process for four more nights. On the last night, the wind shifts directly behind us. We adjust sails by taking down the main sail and putting the big genoa out on a pole. This creates a large wing to catch the wind from behind. It also requires both of us to climb out on deck.
Harnesses and headlamps on, we creep forward. There are handholds on Sonrisa all the way from bow to stern. Her side decks are wide and easy to walk, but she continues to bounce in the waves. As I approach the bow, I stay low. I have my system down: attach a rope that holds the pole up, remove the pole, sit on the cabin top, guide the pole outward toward the sail, hold it steady while Andrew attaches it to the mast, slip the sail’s rope into the jaws of the pole, then walk myself from handhold to handhold until I am in place to adjust the rope that holds the pole up. Andrew pulls out the sail from the cockpit, and I adjust everything on deck as required. Before we know it, we are both back in the cockpit. My visions of watching Andrew fall overboard subside, and we return to our posts.
There you have it. Six months later and we still have nerves at sea. The nerves are light and warm, a friendly feeling we are used to harboring. They are the helpful kind of nerves, just enough to keep our senses sharp. And we are always happy to arrive safely on land. Ahoy!