“A Vernal Passage Crossing Hemispheres, Tahiti Bound”

SailingOur vernal passage across the equator began a winters before in the dreary musty confines of our good ship.  Our passage, at least leg one would be destined to  be  considered complete only when one of the two great circles in our celestial sphere; having at its plane a perpendicular to the axis of heaven, where the ecliptic plane our planet makes around the sun intersects the vernal (spring) equinoctial. This occurred for us on March 21, 2012 as the sun transited O degrees latitude/the equator.  Our planned course of SSE, Honolulu to Tahiti would converge with our own equinoctial plane as the transit of the sun would move North and our transit of the earth moved South. When would this occur? And at what Latitude?  This would be the holy grail of LEG ONE of our voyage. Not unlike our Polynesian predecessors emerging with Darwinian hypothesis, our search and our treasure would lay in the convergence of nature, humanity and spirituality. Our honor and crown would be the accomplishment of a “Pono”, or “balanced” voyage.

In the wake of Cook, Bligh, Lewis, Mau, Thompson and countless other equinoctial transitioners, Tahiti and the South Pacific bear elusively south of Hawaii and not just a little bit. The journey requires 7 degrees of easting or  420 nautical miles, the negotiation of the  wind stricken channels of  Hawaii;  then the southing of 20 degrees or another 1,200 nautical miles of  Northern parallel, then the  inter-tropical convergence zone - the equator- with its elusive squalls; then the southing of another 17.5 degrees or 1,020 nautical miles of Southern parallels. The challenge thus equates to a total of 2,670 nautical miles negotiated through three weather systems. The hardships included a time warp disguised as a dimensional transit in the space/time continuum. We would find ourselves moving through three months of time in an instant.  For example as we crossed the equator it became autumn 2012, not spring 2012. We lost the three months of summer we had looked forward to. Our last challenge would be convincing the French Polynesian authorities, our spouses and girl friends where we were during our lost three months.

There were four of us, on leg one. Each strong, experienced - ocean mature with a unique set of skills. Each of our unique skills we would find overlap with the other.  Each of us had the ability to reach deep ensuring the success of this a two ocean equatorial crossing.

The Crew

Jeff Naus, owner and master: A skilled navigator and skipper has safely sailed his beloved vessel “Moonshadow” and others where few have gone. Jeff, not new to adventure has sailed across the S. Pacific before. He has sailed the Caribbean, Panama Canal, visited the Galapagos Islands, Marquesas, French Polynesia all the way to New Zealand and Australia.  As one of the most experienced and skilled members of our HYC Cruising and Voyaging Society he also served as navigator on several US Naval vessels. He has navigated at least three oceans - UNDERWATER!

Jeff related that as a younger man he would sail out into approaching hurricanes along the East coast, just to see what it would be like. He added that if there be such a thing as re-incarnation he would be rooted in the “age of sail” and that he likely sailed with Cook, or at least knew him. Later, during dog watch discussions of the matter he would pontificate that  ” Cook, the man, was not as pretty as history made him out to be…He, Cook was more like the rest of us, an average fellow  with a disconcerting and humorous slant on things”...

Bill Beadle, using his own words would sign on as Chief Chef “Moonshadow”.  However, Bill did not just chef; he stood equal watch atop his culinary chores and added entertainment for the crew with a very convincing George Carlin impression.  For those that don’t know George Carlin, George is a satirical comedian who found his fame in the 70’s and early 80’s.

Bill earned his knots with at least two North Pacific ocean passages. He crewed under power from Mexico to Hawaii (3,000 nautical miles) with Dave Cooper on “Swan Song”.  He also sailed from Honolulu to the island of Satawal (about 1 degree N. of the equator – on the other side of the date line) or about 2,400 miles aboard an escort vessel for our own Hawaiian “Hokulea” expedition. Bill also earned his USCG license for small passenger carrying vessels where he served as captain and dive master on several passenger excursion vessels around Hawaii.  He also held the “flag” for our own HYC Cruising and Voyaging Society. Bill proved himself a versatile good natured chap and always a helping hand.

Mark Chips was our “Johnny – Jack”.  Master of many trades nautical and otherwise. “Johnny Jack” would profess himself a reluctant seaman, but his natural abilities excelled him in things we call nautical and would prove himself a man of humility rather than hoopla. Regardless of what Mark could say, his can do spirit made him our “engineer in making” and a hero to our cause.

Mark together with Capt. Jeff rebuilt our eclectic generator about 3-4 degrees N. of the equator, twice.  That’s equivalent to riding a bucking bronc in a maelstrom all the while focusing on neutering the bull… I wasn’t the only cowboy Mark impressed. There was a Tahitian vahine…..oh can’t say that “what happens on the “Moonshadow” stays on the Moonshadow …” …Just kidding –poetic license… Mark, as exclaimed by Capt. Jeff is always well regarded…Mark accompanied Jeff on many a voyage covering thousands of miles. He earned his respect:  “What Mark want Mark gets. I’ll do anything for Mark”. This is Capt. Jeff’s mantra.

Skip Riley was the designated ships surveyor and dogwatch crewman. Skips job began many month’s prior the voyage beginning with the drydock survey of the vessel. Jeff said “no holds barred, Skip. Lets’ get this vessel shipshape. I want to know everything that’s wrong with her”. And so from mast step to masthead, chain plate to through hull, bung to butt the recommendations would pour forth. The next several months’ saw crew and professional alike engaged in vessel preparation. Chain plates were replaced as were stuffing box hoses/clamps. Through hull valves were serviced, and the rudder system repacked and adjusted. New navigational items, new batteries (some exotic) were placed aboard. New, most strategic sails were provided, a Code Zero and a cruising Spinnaker and finally a new Monitor Wind Vane which we installed.

Among Skip’s tasks aboard were the periodic general inspection of the deck systems and the operation of the Monitor Wind Vane.  On one watch, Skip discovered a deck securing plate holding the main sheeting system, boom vang and in mast furling system components about to fail.  The components were moved to another secure location. This undiscovered failure would likely of happened on the midwatch (2300 to 0300), and would have caused havoc, just in time for Bill’s watch. Thank you Skip! Though it seemed most calamities occurred on Bill’s mid watch, this one didn’t.

Skip is a nationally recognized marine surveyor with over 25years marine inspection experience. He is also a USCG licensed master on his 8th renewal (5 years per renewal – but insists he is only 45 years old?).  Skip has eleven Pacific crossings (now twelve); he has cruised most of the coast of Mexico – all the while proving that the “Mexico’s Baja Ha Ha” is accessible to Hawaii sailors. In his sailing “vagabundo”  life style, Skip has visited most every island in the Micronesia archipelago as far West as Palau - including Satawal. He has dined on breadfruit, turtle, fish and Tuba with many an islander, princess and king alike, all the while remained jovial enough with the simple relaxed pleasantries of sea life.  Skip did meet and party with Polynesian navigator Mau when (Skip insists) they were both young and good looking at this time (1971, May).  And most recently after becoming depressed with the Hawaii Yacht Club politics of the day founded the Cruising and Voyaging Society as a “leaderless group” coining the all-important HYC cruising mantra… “Just talk Boat”.

Leg One: Honolulu to Papeete, Tahiti

The original course around the Hawaiian Islands was a choice.  Do we go North of the islands or South?  If North we would bang our way up the Molokai channel to clear Molokai. We would then banter a refractive North Pacific back wash along the windward isles, but miss the boisterous venturi effect of the wind channels of the Ale Nui Ha Ha. Or do we choose going South across the lee side, risking the lulls, crossing the windy channels at their worst and perhaps lose a day of sailing. Choosing the leeward course would slow us down, but it would also offer a reprieve for us needing such a reprieve to develop our sea legs.  Capt. Jeff chose the southern route and at least two of us were gladdened.


We officially commenced our journey at 2300 hours on April 20, 2012. 2300 hours rang true as we knew there would be little to no sleep for those of us, all of us who had worked the boat in preparation for so long this last two days.  And so it was knowing the sleepless night was in store.  Skip manned the helm and led her across the south coast of Oahu. We passed Diamond Head (logging our time), crossed the Molokai Channel and persevered past Lanai and Maui.  We made it ½ way across the Ale Nui Ha Ha when the Mals de Mure reared his ugly head.  My helming, of course was no hero’s quest. It was simply hang on, concentrate and try not to lose what little my stomach contained.  The winds near 35knots and the seas, due to darkness were not very discernible. The rest was clear as I asked myself, who would win? Mr. Mal de mure or Ms. Sea legs.  In the end, thankfully Ms. Sea-legs won.  Mark and I particularly were thankful.

The skipper Jeff navigated in good steed. He would use his magic charts and determine wind speeds and directions all a head of real time, before we got there.  Jeff could amazingly just about determine what sails to hoist and calculate square footage as necessary before we got there. And so it was with a drive to adventure we drove our sweet “Moonshadow” SSE to a finish 2,650 miles distant.

150, 150 150 degrees West longitude echoed in Skips mind. It was Capt. Robby Buck who had made 75 crossings who would repeated in earnest. “No go 150 West and you cannot make the last run to Papeete”. That was the magic number and we drove our “Moonshadow” to weather to gain 450 miles of easting to gain the magic numbers for a good slant on T-A-H-I-T-I.

The weather charts were augmented by Dave Cooper of the “Swan Song”. It was Dave Cooper who ran the SSB shore station on Oahu. It was Dave who became the mystic voice of the airwaves. It was Dave Cooper who had gained his lofty view via computer and sattlelight. It was Dave Cooper in his melodic friendly tone who calmed the night. He, with our weather consultant that Capt. Jeff had procured laid out our weather windows.  Sometimes with reports in conflict, we could make lofty competitive bidding which would add spice to the dog watch of which we would share.  We plied our course near our hull speed at 7.5 to 8 knots. Not bad considering wind speeds of only in 10-25knots 15 to 18 on average coupled to 4-6-8ft combined seas and swell. Our course and speed was not a bad average.

Not to be outdone by “Moonshadow” nature would respond a contrast.  Almost nightly the skies would open to a rising moon which commenced in late April as a splinter then would develop over two weeks into the largest full moon in six years.  The seas would glisten at night in a report of a billion diamonds cast to windward and then to leeward. The glitter would start in the east after sundown and eventually spill into the sea around 0400 hours.  Skip and Bill who had the successive watches were the beneficiaries. Even the amazing spectacle would be reported over the “Pacific Seafarers Net”.  The “Pacific Seafarers Net” is a Ham frequency encompassing an early season fleet of “Pacific Puddle Jumpers” whom found their collective roots in the “Mexico Baja Ha HA” sailing event. This fleet too, was headed our way.

As we approached our own vernal equinox and the winds fell light it became time for a new challenge. Enter the Code Zero. The Code Zero, a daunting name is a sail specifically designed for light to moderate breezes under 12 knots. The sail is not unlike a cruising spinnaker excepting that it is cut more like a Genoa, but still remains cupped and full similar to a Spinnaker. The sail is clubless and generally easy to fly.  The Code Zero was Capt. Jeff’s baby and added ½ to 1 knot of speed to an already fine sailing venture.  Unfortunately the sail made steering difficult. The difficulty was mostly due to an overly stuffed rudder packing gland. However, we persevered our steering efforts but later gave way to our more normal tried and true double headsail rig. The following days brought forth the cruising Spinnaker. This fun sail was large and glorious. We each soon became proficient of her set. But the balancing act of the double headsail rig would trump. And it was this way we troubled her helm across the remaining 17.5 degrees of Southern latitude.

As expected a long trip, breakages occurred. First was our main sail in-mast furling. This, I believe was the most difficult and dangerous issue. Without the ability to douse the mainsail we could be in a pickle.  The roughened seas would make bolt (fastening) repairs difficult if not impossible. Fortunately, Jeff knew the ropes and the issue was handled. Other failure of equal frustration, but not as detrimental included the generator. The generator had suffered an immersion event before we left. The generator was required so as to charge the batteries such that the refrigeration/freezer could be cooled down.  Another was the refrigeration pump intake which required continued massaging simply to keep the raw water coolant flow from ceasing. We also lost the engines raw water pump impeller. Without it the engine could not be run. The positioning of this pump made impeller renewal a feat that could only be equated to an exorcism.

As Leg one progressed we lacked for little. We discovered resiliency in each of us as our skills overlapped …and so we had a happy crew. We only lacked for song , dance and the bonding only island dancing girls could bring.  Fishing became good with the landing of three delightfully edible fish. Bills  skill at fillet went unsurpassed. Anything more any of us could even hope for would be cold  frosty effervescent  beverages of the adult variety. Here we would have to wait, but not long.

Land Ho!

On May 6, 2012 at 0650 hours 16 days since our departure Skip  rang out the alarm “Land Ho”. And so it was. Here a thin green line was observed on the horizon echoing out four “Motu’s” surrounded by a truly turquoise lagoon, and surrounded again by pristine breakers streaking white with a spindrift of rainbows. Off in the  distance was the sight to be held.  In the portrayed  images of Gaugin we observed as many an adventurer before us, the high rugged volcanic peaks of Tahiti. Offing to the West was yet another high rugged series of peaks. Here bore the French Polynesian Island of Mo’orea. It’s caldron peaks could still be seen. It was only eight hours later we “discovered”, Papeete, Tahiti. Here  Jeff planted the flag of “our nation” the “Hawaii Yacht Club” at the yard arm. We had transited 16 days with many a challenge. We had become “Shell-backed” crossing our own personal vernal equinox.

Postscript

The crew of “Moonshadow” Jeff, Bill, Mark and Skip didn’t just make Tahiti, we earned Tahiti and five days later Mo’orea as well. LEG ONE,  Honolulu to Tahiti was completed.

The journey was “miracle” under a perfect sky with perfect winds and  perfect seas.. In Papeete we collectively took a much needed rest and worked on “Moonshadow” in preparation for the renewed crew and Leg two and three.