Thursday, June 15, 2017

With the Flow

From Kona, on the leeward side of the Big Island of Hawai'i, northbound boats are faced with the surprisingly not-straightforward task of reconnecting with the open ocean.

In one sense, we were on the open Pacific as soon as we left Honokohau Harbor. But we were also on the leeward side of the chain, and had to somehow get ourselves back to the windward side, where the tradewinds blow.

We didn't even think of heading south around the Big Island. That would involve miles and miles of travel straight into the trades.

Likewise the 'Alenuihaha Channel, which funnels the trades between the Big Island and Maui. We were content to just get ourselves into the tail end of that one and race downwind along the middle of the main island chain - past Maui, Kaho'olawe, Lana'i and Moloka'i.

The place names are surely one of the delights of this American Polynesia.

On our first night out I pointed the bow up towards the Kaiwi Channel, between Moloka'i and Oahu. On the midnight watch change a calmer head prevailed and we fell off to pass Oahu to starboard.

So we got to see the towers of Waikiki in the night. Where we saw rivers of lava pouring down the hills when we first made landfall on the Big Island at the end of the passage from Panama, on Oahu we saw rivers of street lights pouring down the hills in the night.

During the day I had the very pleasant experience of recognizing the towers in Makaha where my grandparents had a condo for years and years. A picture of my beloved grandfather from that place rides above the chart table on Galactic - him in 1980s leisure wear, feet up, out on the lanai, a tumbler of scotch and ice in his cupped hands, his ever-recognizable smile anchoring the picture. Neat in a closing the circle kind of way to sail by that spot all these years later, with one great-grandson he never knew, and another with whom he shared the briefest spark of mutual regard.

And thence through the very tame Kauai Channel, and to the tradewinds one last time on this voyage. All this mucking around on the leeward side taking us more or less no closer to Kodiak, as Elias was not ashamed to point out to me.

Once we found the trades they were fresh, and blowing dead from the east. So we fell off to the north-northwest, being completely unwilling to take fresh trades forward of the beam. From the beginning we have always seen travel under sail as a process of working with what the ocean presents us, rather than bending wind and wave to our will. I suppose all sailors look at it that way. And only a landlubber would expect that a boat could travel dead north on an easterly while beam reaching. Your apparent wind, which is the sum of the true wind and the boat's motion through the atmosphere, bends ineluctably towards the bow, and demands a falling off away from the wind in the interest of comfort and sanity.

So. That's us still, sailing north-northwest, and not much towards Kodiak, which lies just east of north from us.

With luck, though, we will describe a beautiful sinuous track back to our home port, as the winds begin to bend southerly around the North Pacific high, and we then pick up the westerlies of the mid latitudes.

Alisa began this passage quite sick, with a cold that flared up into fever and sore throat. I began severely sleep deprived by my final push to meet science work obligations. And so poor Elias, who is desperately keen to wet some of his new lures from the Big Island, has had to hold off on the fishing, as neither parent has been up to gaffing and cleaning in these fresh trades. When he did get lines into the water briefly he came within an inch of catching a petrel, and had to hurriedly pull out.

And now, the sun is rising with low clouds heavy with rain all around us. We are completely alone, as alone as you ever are on a small boat on this big big ocean, and completely reliant on ourselves to get where we are going.

Is it a wonder that land life might seem stale?

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

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  1. Fair winds, ocean wanderers. It must be a relief to be on the final push north to Alaska. We are following with interest aboard NZ Maid. And by the way, our Josh has just sold up house and sailing off around the world with Sara and three of our grandsons aged 4,7 & 8.

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  3. Fair winds, ocean wanderers. It must be a relief to be on the final push north to Alaska. We are following your travels with interest from aboard NZ Maid. And by the way our Josh has just sold up house and is heading off sailing around the world with Sara and three of our grandsons aged 4, 7 & 8. Maybe one day they will meet Eric and Elias.

  4. Ineluctably?! As an English major, I'm embarrassed to say that there is always one, often more, word in each of your posts that sends me to the dictionary.

    1. I'm glad you noticed that Michael! I'm no English major, but that was definitely a new word for me too! Your blog roll link led me to this most excellent blog - thank you! Have really been enjoying your posts Mike - what an incredible journey your family has been on!