5 - Pacific Coast of North America - March 2002-October 2003

We set sail from Tauranga on 15 March. Though we've never been superstitious about Friday departures (How could you be after scores of RORC race Friday evening starts?), we nevertheless decided that we were close enough to crossing the dateline to declare our departure to be on Thursday, 14 March. We had mixed feelings about leaving NZ. It is a wonderful place with wonderful people, where we would seriously consider settling down - but there is still a lot to see and do in other places before we think about that. A chronological account of our passages across the Pacific is likely to enforce an early bedtime on any reader, so we'll just hit the highlights, with some comments.


Though there was a general feeling that it would be necessary to go down below 40 south to be sure of staying in the westerlies, we decided fairly early that the considerably greater distance was not a price worth paying unless some really huge, slow-moving high threatened. This turned out fine, as we initially had good following or reaching winds at almost the same latitude as East Cape, about 38 degrees. We then had to suffer a light spell as the high drifted over us, but things soon picked up again, though the winds were mostly forward of the beam rather than following. Inevitably, by the time we were ready to turn north, at about 155 west, the fronts were lining up to drift south and throw periodic northerly blasts at us. We took a half-day losing tack to the east, but we were still caught by one of these for six hours in 40-50 knots of NEly. As the latter was the direction in which we hoped to go, the simplest and most comfortable way of losing least ground was to take everything down and wait. We had never lain ahull before, so it was an interesting new experience. The boat lay beam on, or slightly quarter-to the wind and waves. Because the wind was only frontal and not backed up by a real system, the waves never got to any real size. Despite this, one came aboard with enough force to shoot water into the breather of a water tank and over the internal swan-neck. Fortunately, the tank was almost empty. It was a good way to ride out a short spell of bad weather, but we would be very reluctant to try it in a developed storm with large, cresting seas.



Despite months of careful preparation, we had a catalogue of minor, problems and failures during the first ten days or so. Fortunately, all were repairable or replaceable and we had the satisfaction of knowing that some foresight with spares had avoided more major inconvenience. In the repairs department it was also reassuring that Vicky's hand mended satisfactorily and she was soon able to shake Tom by the scruff of the neck in her usual manner. The last week or so of the trip was an increasingly pleasant reach, past and within sight of Tubuai, in the Australs, up to the familiar peaks of Tahiti. Coming from temperate waters, we had the usual first and last experiences - last albatross and first flying fish. We also had an uncalled for encounter with a flying squid, which left its marks all over the foredeck and both headsails. Fortunately the ink was less indelible than we feared and faded gradually away.


We arrived in Tahiti on 3 April after 20.5 days. The water was 87 degrees (F), the air was much the same and each was about as damp as the other. Papeete is not, in any case our favorite cruising destination and it took us less than an hour to decide that our visit would only be a pit stop. Fortunately, the fact that it was the off-season for cruisers meant there were no queues for clearing in or out. We fueled and watered the next day, bought a few expensive stores and a new print head cartridge. After a phone call or two we were ready to go - apart from a three day recurrence of Vicky's intermittent flu bug. Massed pirogue races kept us entertained while this worked its way out and then we were away.



Everything we had read stressed the importance of getting easting well south of the equator, so we skirted the western Tuamotus and reached 144 W by the time we crossed the line back into the northern hemisphere for the first time in three years. There were suitable muted celebrations - we still had a long way to go. All the way from Tahiti to about 7 N the winds were rarely south of east and mostly NEly. We had lots of squalls, some reaching 35-40 knots for periods of up to two hours. We broke clear of these conditions in about 7 N and reached the true trades at about 10 N. From here we had delightful reaching in 15-20 knots. Even the dinner-time squalls, which almost always show up just as the meal is being served, were muted or even entirely absent. We had originally intended to head directly for Honolulu in order to keep to our target of reaching Alaska by mid June. However, our very brief stop in Tahiti and the speed of our passage to Hawaii, which looked to be taking closer to two weeks than three, meant we would have more time for Hawaii. As a result we decided that we would head for Hilo on the Big Island, which had the added advantage of being about 100 miles closer. Vicky's catch of a mahi-mahi seemed to confirm that this was a good idea.

We anchored and tied to the wall at Radio Bay, Hilo on 26 April, 17 days out from Tahiti, having sailed 5253 miles from Tauranga in less than six weeks. Despite one or two minor gear failures, 'Sunstone' was in good shape. We were determined to get straight into preserving that condition and so varnished half the hull and the cockpit during our first couple of days in Hilo. We would never have attempted varnishing if we had been in Hilo longer. Those two days were the only mostly dry interval in a period of three weeks of almost continuous rain - for which Hilo on the windward side of the Island has an unenviable reputation. Otherwise, the town was welcoming, unpretentious and quiet, except on the two days a week when there were huge cruise ships in port. There were seven or eight other cruisers in Radio Bay, all from the West Coast of either the USA or Canada. We returned to gentle, cruiser-style socializing. We also got our land legs back exploring the town and rented a car to visit the Volcano National Park, where we hiked across a gently steaming crater and around its rim in order to break in Tom's new boots - or so Vicky told him.

As in the Canaries, the height of the islands and the relative narrowness of the gaps between them, turns these channels into wind factories, where a normal trade wind of 20 knots can easily become 30-35, with an accompanying high, short, confused sea. We took a window of somewhat lighter winds to head west toward Honolulu, crossing the major channels at night when the wind is supposed to be lighter. So it proved. We made brief but pleasant stops at Lahaina on Maui and Kaunakakai on Moloka'i. Note the apostrophes in the latter name. There should also be one in Hawai'i. These indicate glottal stops. Locals pronounce these names with a minute pause before the final "i", which is pronounced "ee". So now you know.


Following an alarmist forecast, we hurried over to Honolulu, arriving at 0200 in the Ala Wai Boat Harbor in heavy rain and low cloud. The weather pattern continued in this anti-tourist fashion for most of the next two weeks. Despite its cosmopolitan population and its cultured NPR radio stations, Honolulu is a one-track minded city. It is focussed on tourism, mostly Japanese and Korean tourism, to the exclusion of most other things. Almost on top of the Boat Harbor is the multitude of towering hotels at Waikiki. Right next door is what claims to be the largest shopping mall in the world. It certainly gives that impression as it is an almost impenetrable maze, in which one could wander in a retail delerium for days without the possibility of escape - until your credit cards were exhausted and you were forcibly ejected, until next month. To be fair we also managed to get sails repaired, buy a new autohelm and, unusually, get one of Vicky's teeth seen to - for about the same cost as five teeth in NZ! Of course, we also managed one way or another to get the rest of the boat varnished.

And we also managed to have a good time. The Hawaii Yacht Club was extremely welcoming and helpful both to us and other crusiers - we were even allowed a quick race fix. Despite the demise of the Kenwood Cup, its former organiser, Ken Morrison, was as busy as ever, organising local offshore racing. It was a pleasure to see him again after several years. In between restocking the boat with stores and getting some essential repairs and parts, we managed to do some biking, walking and sightseeing, getting right round the island to see some of the famous surfing beaches in the company of Joseph and Marci from 'Horizon'.

After a month in Hawaii we were ready to head north. Normally one expects to have to make some westing to get round the west side of the North Pacific High. As it happened the high was almost absent when we set off, so we headed straight north. It was slow going initially but soon picked up. Generally the seas were calm enough for us to see just how full of rubbish the North Pacific is - a distinct contrast to the South Pacific. Much of this is discarded or lost fishing gear. The largest and most dangerous item was a ship-size, rusty steel mooring buoy, at least 10' and possibly 15' in diameter and weighing several tons. We saw it in good light and calm weather. In heavy seas or at night it would be invisible until you hit it. At any great speed a yacht would be very unlikely to survive such a collision. We also saw a number of ships, unlike on most of the other longer passages we have made. It's a busy place.

We had our last salt water baths when the water temperature was still in the high 60's (F), just north of 30 degrees. Within a couple of days the water had changed colour from deep tropical blue to northern latitudes blue-grey and the temperature had plunged. By the time we got to 55 N it was down to 43 (F) and we were standing our watches 'maxed out' with at least eight layers and diving gloves. In our ignorance, we had thought that we had seen our last albatross in 30 S, but from 30 N onwards we had albatross, Laysan and Black-Footed, with us all the way to Kodiak. They would come soaring in for morning and evening inspections, sometimes less than a boat length away. We were also visited by huge pods of dolphins, one so large that we felt like we were floating on a sea of cavorting cetaceans.

We had had mostly fast, but pleasant, reaching conditions from about 30 N onwards. Toward the end of the first week of June the weatherfax started to show a huge and deepening depression, covering most of the North Pacific, heading our way. We decided that it was worth an eastward jog of 60-80 miles to try to stay out of the very worst of the winds pushed ahead of its associated front. This worked pretty well, though we still had one night - mercifully short at 45 N in June - of 35-45 knots from behind. As we ran the wind began to back to the east. It was clear that either the low was stalled or we were moving too fast and getting ahead of it - or both. So, for the first time ever, we ran under bare poles and the wind slowly came southerly again and gradually eased down. We had a comfortable, but rather wet ride, as more water came aboard when we were going slower. The low stuttered northwards and the winds eased intermittently until they died almost completely, leaving us to motor or motorsail most of the last two days into Kodiak. We arrived in a harbour packed with scores of fishing boats at 2330 on 11 June - just after sunset local time! 'Sunstone' had sailed 7764 miles from Tauranga and we had successfully completed another of those challenging but achievable targets. We drank to that and then slept, long and dreamlessly.

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