Leg 5 - 2004 Rarotonga, Cooks; Apia, Samoa
September 11, 2004 0000
Moored Stern-To in Avatiu Harbour, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
HANGING ON FOR DEAR LIFE IN RARO!
In our weather classes we state that although high pressure generally means clear weather, with central pressure over 1030 millibars, one should expect gale force winds somewhere on the perimeter. Right now we have a 1040 mb high south of us and a 999 mb low that should soon pass over Rarotonga. The combination has generated gale force northerly winds and seas to 6.8 meters (20'), a direction that tiny Avatiu Harbour offers no protection from.
As the weather (and forecasts) worsened over the past days, every longline fishing boat and rust bucket freighter headed for this tiny harbour. Yesterday afternoon we had tense moments as Mana Nui, a 150' wrecker's yard freighter came into port just as a powerful squall struck the island. She managed to get a bowline ashore, but repeated tries at sending a monkey's fist, with stern line attached, ashore failed, and she started to blow down on us. Finally her skipper powered the bow into the wharf with a screeching of steel on concrete and her crew managed to get the stern line run ashore.
Last night the harbour was a continual surging beast exhibiting loud grinding noises as fenderless steel ships gnawed on each other and the concrete wharf. I had been occasionally catnapping between checking anchor, mooring and stern lines when at 0300 I heard the harbourmaster urgently and repeatedly calling four fishing boats (80' - 60' in length) that were rafted to one of the freighters. I looked out and saw every sailor's nightmare. The rafted boats had broken their bow line and were all pivoting away form the wharf towards a 40' Canadian sloop against the wall. John Fallon, the ever-vigilant harbourmaster had the security guards climb onto the heaving freighter and yell at the fishing boats, trying to alert anyone. In the end, they threw rocks at the boats to awaken the crew and disaster was averted when the boats powered forward together and connected a new bowline
Soon after there was a huge explosion and this morning I was told that the large steel roller door of the Public Works workshop on the wharf had blown in. Their solution was to stick the door back in and park a truck up against it on the inside of the building. An hour later there was a tremendous roar and bright lights on deck and I dashed up from the nav station to see an Air New Zealand 767 just above mast height. They had just aborted their third attempt at landing and were struggling for altitude in the buffeting gale. I later learned that they gave up after their third attempt and flew on to Tahiti. Aloha Airlines 737 also gave up landing and flew back to Pago Pago.
Early this morning when the forecast came through from Fiji, the harbourmaster ordered all ships and fishing boats out of the harbour by sunset until further notice. He later explained to me that with the forecasted northerly gale the ships wouldn't be safe from seas breaking in the harbour and that it would also not be possible for them to escape harm and put to sea because of breakers across the entrance. One by one the boats and ships jostled lines, poured on the throttle and went crashing and rolling out into a very angry sea. The locals lined the shoreline and wharfs, watching to see if the ships would make it through the surf and for awhile it looked like Miss Mataura was going to founder in the surf.
I really feel for the ship's crews. Tonight the ships will either be cutting donuts or be anchored in very deep water off the outer reef in the lee of the island. We just had a powerful squall with a 150 degree windshift and solid winds well over 35 knots. If they don't move quickly, they would be driven ashore in these conditions.
We're lucky. When we anchored here a week ago Gary and I spent several hours in the water checking the anchor and surveying the bottom. We were able to find the old large mooring of the harbour tug, a huge hunk of concrete with ship's chain leading to shore, so chained and shackled M.T to it in two places. Although now we only have inches under the keel at low tide even after moving rocks and rubble away from under the keel and rudder. I also wish our 60lb. CQR was further than 100' out (all chain), but it has dug in so well that the anchor has disappeared so I hate to disturb it. I looked at setting a second and third anchor, but when I daily dive to check set up it's all holding securely. Today the visibility was only 6" and when I was snorkeling down to 9', it's eerily dark because of all the stirred-up silt. I couldn't do much more down there if I wanted to.
On another note I'm thankful the engine is back to it's reliable 100% status. For the past year there's been a new rattley sound between 800 - 1000 rpm in slow forward or reverse. We thought it was the Max prop, but rebuilding it didn't help. Peter, owner of Ovlov Marine the main Volvo marine dealer in Auckland, suggested it might be the damper plate that transfers the engine torque to the transmission, and I remembered replacing that part on MT II at about the same number of engine hours, 6,500, so I had Peter DHL the part here to Raro.
Before the storm we removed the 62kg (110lb) transmission. Yes, it was a challenge, but with Amanda's clever rigger lashings and galley chopping boards as blocks, we slid it back to discover the damper drive had nearly sheered and was just hanging on by shreds of silicone rubber. The replacement part has been redesigned and should last for many more thousands of hours. Were we ever thrilled to get it all back together the same day and to hear a quiet and smooth engine when we shifted into gear. The other option that Peter had mentioned was that the entire gearbox might have to be replaced. It would have had to been airfreighted from Gothenburg to Auckland to Samoa and would have cost NZ$9600 excluding airfreight.
Now it is 0100, the winds have dropped to 15kts and the torrential gully-washing rains have tapered off to a drizzle. I think I can catch a nap now before the next squall. I hope the weather is better in the morning as Amanda has her heart set on competing in her second Rarotonga Half-Marathon at 0700. I was going to do the 10k run again that runs simultaneously, but it looks like I will be standing anchor watch instead.
Sept 15, 2004 1300 19.49 S, 161.25 W, Log: 82,033 miles, Baro: 1017, Cabin: 82, Cockpit: 82
Broadreaching at 6 knots with 15 kt SE winds and 140 miles to Palmerston Atoll
We survived yet another cold front and northerly wind blast, but it kept us aboard and Amanda missed her run Saturday morning. Instead we waited until a lull in the weather and headed ashore to fill six canvas tote bags with fantastic fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit. It seems that at least half of Rarotonga shows up for the market even on a stormy day and it was fun to see many old friends and view the Island dancing. We also succumbed to pearl fever! Tokerau Jim, a young, very successful pearl shell carver from Manihiki has really taken his art to the next level and this year his detail is incredible. We also visited Amanda's friends Temu and Lesley Okataki at their little Farm Direct pearl shop across from the harbour. We bought presents for everyone we could think of, plus extras for future expedition members to purchase. The prices are a fraction of Tahiti's and the settings that Lesley and Temu use are very high quality from imported from Germany.
As the seas and wind abated the harbor was reopened and the ships were allowed to return in a mooring pecking order throughout the day. Unfortunately all was not calm as two yachts lost anchors to props of maneuvering ships. In the storms wake Amanda and I worked flat out until late Sunday night and then until minutes before our new Leg 5 crew arrived at Monday noon. With nearly everything checked off our list and we settled into orientation with crew only to be advised that we would have to move by 1600hrs to allow Forum Rarotonga, the largest ship from New Zealand, to turn around and leave port.
As an introduction into being flexible crew spent the next 3 hours learning the finer points of releasing and securing a vessels as we detached all our storm trussings and positioned ourselves next to the just-returned patrol boat, Te Kukupa. Phew, we sure enjoyed a fun last night dinner ashore at Trader Jack's on a base that wasn't surging around.
Yesterday (Tuesday) was a blur. Between downpours we had several Palmerston islanders coming down to ask us to take drums of fuel, bicycles, 6 stalks of bananas and dozens of boxes of groceries, toys, clothes and school supplies to their relatives on Palmerston. Both of MT's heads are now stacked to the overhead with boxes, but we drew the line on the bicycles, 55 gallon fuel drums and 6 huge banana stalks. Meanwhile, I was clearing out with customs, trying to sort out all of our mooring lines and help a German yacht find their anchor that turned out to be wrapped around the patrol boats prop plus finish our safety orientation. By 1330 Amanda had completed mainsail orientation and exhausted, we sailed out the narrow harbour entrance, destination: tiny Palmerston Atoll, population 60, 270 miles NW of Rarotonga.