This log is a bit of mixed bag. I’ve elected to let the truth be told- a bit of the downside of my job, and bit of the glory. Usually logs are filled with the positive nature of the expedition, but it’s not always a walk in the park. Then again, it always has its little rewards that come just when they are needed. This is a story of the dark and light side that make up our days at sea.
Our winds faded somewhere shy of where we needed them to. Already low on fuel, with flights scheduled for Bruce, Bjorn and his son Kristian and still 800 miles to go things were looking desperate. We had maybe about 300 miles range on our remaining fuel, with a horrid forecast. After ripping for a week in near-perfect conditions it was a bit of a let-down. But after motoring for 30 hours with mounting stress unforcasted winds returned and with gennaker flying and full main the chess games began anew and the mood greatly improved. Our 3,000 mile passage was ticking away in good form- we even looked to arrive with plenty of time to spare.
Not that there weren’t a few hiccups. The day the wind returned I flew our recently repaired light-air gennaker, while voicing very strict parameters to our crew for maximum apparent wind that the sail could handle. In other words- if the winds picked up, we’d have to pack it away. Of course shortly after, on my watch (oops), while reading rather than paying the attention I failed to notice conditions were in fact picking up and all of a sudden- BANG, the gennaker blew at the head, the same place it did the last time we flew it, ages ago on our first crossing with Discovery leaving Lanzarote in the Canaries. Twice I’ve flown this sail, both times I’ve blown it up. But this time we had some added entertainment. 5/6ths of the sail went right under the bow while making over 10 knots. Lars and Bruce jumped to the task of hauling it out from under the boat, while I took stock of the situation. The head of the sail, now detached from the portion being keel-hauled was banging around at the top of the mast. Still 800 miles out, it would reek havoc on our mast and needed to be brought down. We weren’t exactly in calm conditions, but as I was the idiot who blew it up in the first place, I had to retrieve the halyard.
We put a single reef in the main, detached the topping lift, tied me on and up I went. This video shows the circus act I went through to get it down:
Alas the winds took a nose dive yet again, although by the time they did we were in range on remaining fuel. We were going to make it. 16 days, 3100 miles all up- not a blistering pace, but all in all a terrific passage. If it hadn’t been for the 5 no wind days our average would have been around 10 knots. The day before everyone’s flights we got just enough wind to fly both the gennaker (the other one) and the genoa wing on wing dead downwind and sailed into the Gambiers with just enough light to spare. We put the anchor down at one of the outer islands (there are 5 main islands in the archipelago) and marvelled at our surroundings. I came to the Gambiers in 2001 and from what I could tell it hadn’t changed a bit. They are one of the most remote and unspoiled island groups in the world. There is absolutely zero tourist facilities, as there are no tourists. Not a single cafe or restaurant. In fact the only internet in town is the same as it was back then- at the home of the village’s friendly doctor Herve who had just moved here back in 01′. The 5 main islands are surrounded on 3 sides by a vast barrier reef, at times bare and at times dotted with sand and treed motus. The main island, Mangareva hosts the main village, Rikitea, home to some 1,000 people. The rest of the area is lush and left to little disturbance but the wind. It is stunning, made all the better knowing a bare handful of people ever get a chance to visit.
Ah, but the Captain’s reality was not one colored completely in magical hues. In fact, it would soon become one colored only in brown. On the final days of the trip, Kristian somehow managed to plug not one, but two toilets. Back before we instituted our “nothing in the heads but human waste” rule I was rebuilding the heads at an average of one per trip. This is not a pleasant task. You begin by detaching the various hoses, which then blast you with shit (literally), then you take apart a pump (impacted with shit), then clean the hoses and toilet (ditto), then soak yourself and head in bleach (ditto), then put it all back together. I find repeated and strong cussing is about the only way I can get through it. But thankfully since we instituted the rule some months ago the heads have been clog-free. As is often the case, the clients left the boat all smiles after a terrific time, while instead of enjoying a bit of respite after a 21 day trip I spent almost two solid days going through the above procedures. One head rebuild usually takes 3 hours, but in this case I had to actually remove the sewage outlet hose from the boat on both of them and crack the calcium deposits (nice way of saying hard shit) out of the hose by beating them on the back of the boat. To make matters worse, the reason both heads were plugged was because of toilet paper– which I explicitly demand doesn’t go down the heads (we even have a plaque on the wall to remind people). Needless to say, Kristian is not on my Christmas list this year.
But yesterday things all came right. Hannah, Lars and I scaled Mont Duff which is not only a terrific hike, but provides a 360 degree view of one of the most awesome places I’ve ever been. We summited about 9 am, but the winds were already a bit strong for flying. Never mind, our chef team brought out a plate of salami, brie, sardines and rye bread and we were more than happy to enjoy the surroundings. My distaste for walking down kept me on the summit all day (Hannah and Lars smartly descended after lunch), until the winds finally backed off to a reasonable level at 4 pm and I launched. The people in town confirmed what we thought- that this was the first ever flight in the Gambiers. I soared in what would have to be the most stable butter conditions I’ve flown in for nearly two hours. Here’s a little video of my view:
I landed at sunset on the local soccer field, dozens of kids screaming in hysterics coming up to me almost before I’d touched down. Their smiles and animated questions made the perfect flight even better, even though I couldn’t understand anything they were saying (French is not my forte). Lars and Hannah showed up, cold beer in hand. It just doesn’t get any better. My job often entails a number of “brown” days, but it always comes right and on these days I can’t imagine doing anything else.