Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," from Port Townsend, Washington, USA. In 2009 we sailed north from Puget Sound up the west coast of Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii.) In 2010 we went back to the west coast of Vancouver Island. In July 2011 we left the Northwest, and in March 2012 we crossed the Pacific to French Polynesia, then on to the Cooks, Niue and Tonga. We spent several months in New Zealand, and in May 2013 loaded the boat (and ourselves) on a container ship for San Francisco. In June and July 2013 we sailed north along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts, and in August we arrived home. In October 2016 Sockdolager found new owners, and we are now enjoying Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. Plans are to head north. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)



Friday, August 31, 2012

Things are cookin' in the Cooks



We are still in Aitutaki, and plan to stay until Monday, because this place and its people have welcomed us so warmly.  And the sunsets, oh my!  Leaving, though we know we must, will be full of regret.  We've been trying to post this for a week, but the internet's been wonky.


We enjoyed a fierce game of Scrabble with our Australian neighbors Ivan and Louise aboard their very shippy little yacht, Brio.


Hello and thank you:  Everywhere we go people greet us with smiles and “Kia Orana!” which is the Cook Island Maori language’s traditional greeting, meaning “May you live long.”  We’ve learned to say thank you very much: “Mei taki atu paka!”  Cook Islands Maori, for which several dialects exist, was just declared by the UN to be one of the world’s endangered languages.  To declare something as endangered is to alert people that the world would be a poorer place without it.  We love hearing it spoken (and sung) here as the primary language, yet everyone switches immediately to English to talk to visitors.

The first thing we love to do in a new country is ask someone how to say hello and thank you in their language.  Not only is it fun to try speaking a new language, it’s also a conversation-starter, and it always brings a smile.   When you think of all the ways there are to say hello and what these greetings mean, it’s quite amazing.  Besides Spanish, French and Russian, I (K) can say hello in Marquesan (Ka Oha), Tuamotan (Ka Ora), Tahitian (Iaorana), Cook Islands Maori (Kia Orana), New Zealand Maori (Kia Ora), Chinese (Ni Hao), and Tibetan (Dashi delek).  Wouldn’t it be fun to collect the whole set!

Below you can see the inner harbor looking north, with preparations for the arrival of the island supply ship.  Its arrival means fresh vegetables and other goodies, yippee!


Deepening Aitutaki's entrance channel is planned:  With such a shallow channel the ship cannot come in, of course; instead, it waits outside in deep water and a small barge powered by two large outboards runs back and forth, exchanging empty containers for full ones.  When the tide goes out they have to stop and wait; at low tide there’s as little as 4.5 feet of water over a shoal area in the channel.  Common knowledge says you can get a 6 foot draft in here at high tide, but boats with 5’3” drafts have gone aground, and you already read about our adventures with Bob and Ann aboard Charisma.

According to a friendly Aitutakian named Paul whom we met at a local pub called the Game Fishing Club, 1200 boats a year give the island a miss because the channel’s too shallow, and they want to capture that market, with the intent of making this a better harbor than the one at Rarotonga.  This would mean big changes afoot for the island, of course, but the exodus of young people due to no jobs and low wages is a big concern, and the New Zealand government is willing to put up several million dollars over the next couple of years to make this project happen.  Dredging the channel is being planned, to a depth of 6 meters but only 15 meters wide, narrow for the purpose of minimizing impacts to the lagoon ecosystem.  Still, there will be impacts.

They don’t intend to have big ships come in; this channel will be primarily to attract yachts and allow easier access to their container wharf for the offloading barge.  They plan to build a marina in the spot where we are anchored now and deepen the basin where larger boats anchor.   At first they’ll put in moorings, but later on they’ll build a dock for med-mooring.  And this is important:  all overboard discharge of black water will be prohibited; instead, a small pumpout tank-boat (similar to Roche Harbor’s Phecal Phreak in Washington’s San Juan Islands) is being considered to be available on demand.  Since leaving Mexico we have encountered zero waste pumpout facilities.  You either wait until you get offshore to pump out your holding tank, or you pump waste directly into the water.  On more than one island we’ve seen cliffside dumping spots for waste; there’s not enough infrastructure to handle it.

Other changes afoot:  Another thing that will eventually change, according to Mike Henry, Chairman of Ports for the Cook Islands, is to better regulate the yacht traffic going to the island of Suvarov (also called Suwarrow).  Apparently there has been enough abuse such as anchoring in protected areas and damaging coral, even in a couple of cases planting marijuana crops with the intent of returning to harvest them, that the government is going to eventually require a check-in with Customs before proceeding to Suvarov.  It’s not clear yet how that will be done, whether a stop in Penrhyn will be needed first or some other way of checking in will be established, but there will be change in the next few years, says Mike.

We admit to loving the solitude that being a member of the shallow draft club affords us (no more than 5 boats have been here at one time since we arrived) and are glad to be able to visit before things change.   As if emphasis was needed, Moana, an Ericson 36-foot sailboat from Sweden, went aground in the channel, but by piling onto the main boom and heeling her over we managed to help this affable crowd of young Swedes get anchored (at which point they went aground again.  Oh well.)  But that didn’t stop us from all toasting to Jim’s birthday at the Game Fishing Club, a little drinking establishment with a fishing problem.  He had a big chocolate cake, which disappeared very quickly.

The Cooks have interesting coins.  On the right are the front and back side of a $2 coin, currency pegged to the NZ dollar.  On the left are NZ coins.  Both currencies are used here.


Haulouts:  While the crane was working on cargo containers, it also hauled a non-sailing vaka for a general sprucing-up.  A work crew descended on it and made it look gorgeous, for very good reason which will be explained later.


From Sockdolager this is the view ashore.  You can see a golden vaka (traditional Polynesian double canoe) behind the trees.  Her name is Te Au O Tonga.  This is the mother of all vakas, from which the measurements of the other seven currently sailing throughout the Pacific were taken.


Jim has been volunteering his time and carpentry skills on the restoration. Here he is with Ken, an Aitutakian in charge of the physical part of the restoration, just before she was launched.  We are very fond of Ken.


I finally got to swing a paintbrush to help get this sail training vaka ready, too.  Look closely at the sign next to Jim to see what the mast and sails will look like.


Work reached a feverish pitch… at least as much as that’s possible on island time.  All ages helped.  Here’s young Lucas and his friend Rupi, getting the masts ready for painting.  We hope Lucas is one of the young people who goes sailing on this vaka and learn traditional ways of navigation.  Judging from the way he swings a paintbrush, it's a safe bet.


Here’s a detail of the bows.  More carvings await re-attachment to the boat until later.  This vaka is 74 feet long.


This is one of the lashings used to tie the hulls and deck together.


Here’s a row of lashed deck beams.


And the view from astern.  An enormous steering oar will be lashed on a crossbeam which will also be lashed between the hulls.


Launchings:  We finished antifouling the starboard hull last Friday (a week ago), and spent the rest of the day working on various other projects.  Both the tourist vaka and Te Au O Tonga were launched on Monday.  Here she is in the slings.  That’s Ken pulling a line to steady her.


The crane truck picked her up and set her down several times, repositioning itself to advance her a little further toward the water.  It was a very windy day, so ropes and plenty of hands were needed to keep her from swinging, and to guide her past obstacles such as trees and poles.


It was a celebration!  Here a girl flies a homemade kite.


Here’s the final part of the launch.  It was a brilliant operation from start to finish, considering how often the crane truck had to reposition itself.


Yippee!  She comes alive!


Te Au O Tonga’s rig was installed on Monday and Tuesday.  Preparations continued into Wednesday.  Yesterday a crew of ten took her sailing, and we were part of it!  We sailed her for several hours across the Aitutaki lagoon, one of the most beautiful lagoons in the word, but this wasn't just an ordinary sail.  Meeting at a retreat on the non-sailing vaka beached at a small cay called One Foot Island were the Prime Ministers and Presidents of every Pacific nation, including Australia, New Zealand, and every island nation all the way to Kiribati.  The main meeting is in Rarotonga, (an island about 170 miles south of Aitutaki) with more than 500 delegates and their support teams from around the world.

Tahiti (French Polynesia) is making a bid for independence, and its President is holding up the Cooks as an example on how to do it right when it comes to self-governance as an independent nation with strong ties to the country (NZ) to which it once was a colony. Yesterday a man in a limo with a police escort stopped at the wharf where we were getting the vaka ready to sail.  I didn't know who he was, so I continued loading lifejackets and other items, but we smiled at each other.  Turns out he is the President of Tahiti.

Hillary Clinton landed in Rarotonga yesterday to attend the 43rd Pacific Leaders Forum, which this year is being hosted by the Cook Islands.  Today she is enjoying the Cook Islands, which means it's likely she's quietly over here.  Tomorrow a delegation of Chinese leaders comes to the wharf near where we are anchored.  They are quite involved in Pacific Island nations lately.  The military has also come--the Cook Islands has its own naval ship patrolling the Aitutaki perimeter, and rumor has it that several US Navy ships including the USS Missouri with jump jets aboard, are stationed just offshore out of sight.

Google the Cook Islands News for the latest on the Forum--and it's a darned good little newspaper, too.  Apparently several dozen media were at the Prime Ministers' retreat, and their cameras were snapping as we sailed by at 8 or 10 knots, so look for photos in Australian or New Zealand or Chinese papers today.  Google "vaka sails Aitutaki lagoon at retreat for Pacific Islands Forum," or something like that.  The internet's too slow here for me to find photos for you; I tried.

Climate change is one of the subjects being discussed at the Forum (let’s hope for more than platitudes), along with regional trade, the strategic value of these islands as stepping-stones across the vast Pacific, and something called The Pacific Plan.  Some of the political parleying may also be over potential seabed mining, which in this region of two- to five-mile depths and unexplored abyssal habitats scares more than a few people.  In fact, there’s a petition with more than 8000 signatures circulating at the Forum, asking for a moratorium on deep seabed mining until gaps in research have been filled.  The deep-sea bottom is a largely unexplored world full of new species no one has ever seen, and nobody can say what long-term impacts will be.  The area being marked off for exploration of mining potential is twice the size of the combined land mass of all Pacific nations.

Sailing a 74-foot vaka was pure magic, and we will post photos and a description as soon as we can.

It’s been good to be able to stay in one place long enough to get to know some of the people.  This has been the most wonderful break from constant movement for us.



Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Google Blogspot has indigestion

For a week we have been trying to post a new round of text and photos from Aitutaki, where we still are, but the blogspot software has other ideas, and is preventing it from saving or posting.  Evidently others are having similar problems, judging by the cries for help easily found via, ironically, a Google search.  Meanwhile, we will keep trying to post.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Do Coincidences Exist?



Aitutaki, Cook Islands:  Still here, still loving it.

Do coincidences exist?  Because if the adage “There are no coincidences” is true, then I’d better start humming the theme to the Twilight Zone.  It started back in California, when I (Karen) visited an old high school friend named Peggy, who happened to mention that she had taught school with Sue, another hometown friend with whom I had lost touch over the years.  Peggy gave me a school email address for Sue, and I wrote her a quick note. I remember singing at Sue and Jim’s (different Jim) wedding some 35 years ago, and was delighted to hear back and learn both are still happily together.  Sue, Jim and another person and I were best buds, and I still smile at the utterly undignified, silly lengths we were all willing to go to for a laugh.  Wise guys, this is for you:


Fast forward to more recent times.

Just before we left Bora Bora for the Cook Islands, a surprise email arrived from one of my former 7th grade science students, a kid with a memorable name and an even more memorable (read:  delightful) personality.  He had recently found one of my articles on the internet while researching something unrelated to sailing, and asked in the comments section if it was me, his old science teacher from the mid-1970s.  I wrote him back of course, delighted at the connection, and received a wonderful note back.  He is now searching for the two other members of the group of mischief-makers with whom he hung out, who made me laugh every day, and I hope he finds them.  It would give me great pleasure to remind them about the time one of them placed a beaker of water on a roaring bunsen burner... a plastic beaker.  Oh yeah, you never smelled such a stink.

At the same exact time my former student contacts me, another nice email arrives from someone who signs himself or herself only “d” with an email address that indicates what kind of boat he/she has or had.  My first reaction to this email was to say dagnabit, why don’t these people who write to us or post on the blog disclose their full blankety-blank names, huh?  Jeez, we’re not in the witness protection program or anything.   (We get a lot of emails and blog comments.)  So I forgot about “d” until a couple of days later, when at 2 am on watch (my best mulling time) I thought, waaaaait just a minute…  THAT type of boat?  d?  Been following the blog for a couple of months?  That wasn’t long after Sue and I got back in touch, hmmm.  Yep, turns out this ‘d’ happened to be The Other Best Bud with Sue and Jim, and, I learned later, he (Don) had just gotten back in touch with them after 35 years... this dates back to the exact same time I was teaching science to my mischief-makers.

Stay with me, it gets even better.  At the same time the other two emails arrive, another email comes in from someone I don’t know, but who once sailed aboard the JN Carter, a wooden, engineless, 66-foot bugeye schooner I captained shortly after leaving teaching in 1981.  Were you the captain, he wanted to know.  He was looking for information on the Carter.  Yes, I said, amazed.  So he sent me the photos below.  I don't know how he found me, but I'm delighted and amazed, especially with the timing.

Here’s the Carter with a small group aboard, in New Haven Connecticut where she was based at Schooner, Incorporated’s docks.  Schooner, Inc was at time in its infancy but had big dreams, and Peter Neill, who later ran the South Street Seaport Museum in New York, was her executive director.  Oddly, the Carter and her predecessor, a lovely Alden schooner, aren’t mentioned on Schooner Inc’s web site.  The woman with her back to the camera looks a lot like I did at the time, but probably isn’t me because she seems much taller than me.

Photo by Victor Peregolise Sr.

Here’s the Carter coming into New Haven’s inner harbor after a day of teaching, doing oceanographic research, and sailing.

Photo by Victor Peregolise Sr.

I have lots more photos of the Carter, but they’re packed away in storage while we voyage.  And there are other lives intersecting with the old JN Carter days, but I’ve been in touch with those dear friends for a long time.  Big affectionate hugs and hellos to Jane, Bill, Keith, and Colin!

This leads me to wonder how, scattered to the four winds after 35 years, these lives have managed to intersect again… at almost the same time?  The circularity makes my head spin, and it’s good to be back in touch.

Which also brings me to ask a favor.  If anyone else out there has information on the JN Carter, whose photo you can still see to this day on the front of cans of Penetrol, a marine paint and varnish conditioner available in most ship’s chandleries, would you please contact me with what you might know about her?  I’d love to know what happened to her, and if she’s still sailing.  And if any of you sailed aboard her, tell me your stories!  I’m writing a much longer piece, perhaps book length or perhaps not, on what it was like to be the second woman captain in New England at a time when women breaking into fields dominated by men were regarded as real oddities.  Your stories would enhance not just the memories, but also the enjoyment.  You can contact us at karenandjimsexcellentadventure followed by the symbol for “at” followed by gmail dot com.

Coincidences?  Confluences?  Whatever you call them, when they’re like these they’re wonderful.  Do you believe in coincidences?



Thursday, August 16, 2012

Aitutaki = Paradise Found.


Kia Orana from the Cook Islands!


We last left you at sea, on passage from Bora Bora to Aitutaki, a little jewel in the Cook Islands.  Well, we love it so much here that we’ve decided to swallow the anchor and stay forever.  Just kidding.


But because the entrance channel is so shallow and tricky, very few boats visit Aitutaki, and it’s easier to get to know local people here than it was in more populated places, like Tahiti and Bora Bora.  I love it when we’re on an island small enough where Jim can get all excited saying things like, “Guess what!  They’ve got CRUNCHY peanut butter at the gas station!”  Know what I mean?


As we mentioned, the passage was a little rough, 25 knots gusting past 30 with big seas and lots of splash in the cockpit.


Then, of course, the wind died, but we had fuel enough.  Our max surfing speed on this trip was 12.8 knots. We will be re-installing the anti-splash weather cloths for the next passage.  I (K) finally figured out how to take a video that shows the size of the waves as we see them, but still photos make them look like blue blobs, and you’ve seen enough of those.  Videos will have to wait until we get better internet—here you pay $7.50 for half an hour, or thirty-six bucks NZ for 150 gooey-slow megabytes.  Ouch.

Here’s the mooring we had in Bora Bora that was a little too close to some hotel bungalows for comfort, just before leaving.  But at ten bucks a night, what the heck.


Here’s Don and Deb on Buena Vista (a Peterson 44) leaving Bora Bora for Suvarov in the Northern Cooks, and then Samoa.  We enjoyed their company for several days.  Don’t know when we’ll see them again, but hope it’s soon.


Before leaving Bora Bora, Jim went aloft to inspect the rig.  Sockdolager got an A+.



500 miles and 5 days later:  Here’s the entrance to the Aitutake channel as seen from outside the reef.  Not easy to find in spite of all the stakes, especially on a cloudy day.  The electronic charts are about 300 feet off, too.  It's all eyeball navigation in there.


Here’s the north side of the channel as seen from a Tayana 37 named Charisma, out of San Francisco.  You’ll hear more about Bob and Ann’s big adventure shortly.  That’s a coral rock ledge near the surface, and Charisma is slightly to the right of center in the main channel, which is very narrow, maybe 40 feet wide, and nearly a mile long.

Photo by Charisma crew

Here’s the other (south) side of the channel, taken from Sockdolager in mid-channel, with our beam of 8 feet.  Big difference on a cloudy day.  If you go back a couple of posts, you can see a Google Earth view of this channel.  We stuck the Google Earth image on an iPod for quick reference, but didn’t use it.


It’s essential to transit the channel at high tide, and the range of tide depends somewhat on the moon and the wind, but it’s around 2 feet tops.  So, when they say a 5-foot draft should be okay at high tide but a six foot draft is pretty chancy, and you learn that Charisma draws 5 feet eleven inches, you can safely conclude that Bob and Ann are risk-takers… wait, better make that WERE risk-takers.  Stay tuned.  Here’s our reception committee in the inner harbor.


John and Lisa aboard the Vancouver, Washington-based Lagoon 44 catamaran Orcinius kindly let us raft up to them in the snug inner harbor.  Charisma was rafted to her other side.

Photo by Charisma crew

We’re still the smallest boat in most harbors.


Not only did they let us tie alongside, they had cold beers waiting for us!  Oh the joy of a coldie on a hot forehead and a dry gullet.

Photo by Charisma crew

We 3 boat crews stuck together on several excursions, the most memorable being a 3-mile, 3-dinghy ride to Honeymoon Cay (see top photo) for a day of beachcombing and snorkeling.  That’s John in the foreground.

Photo by Orcinius crew

The sand was smooth… cinematically smooth…


X-rated, even…


…and crisscrossed with critter tracks everywhere.  Here’s a highway junction for, we think, baby turtles…


…and an aerial view of a hermit crab oasis in the desert.


… and proof that even turtles (or coconut crabs) can do wheelies.


There is a kite-boarding school on the cay, and students were busy doing “field research.”  This guy actually wished for more wind as he whistled past.


This launch ramp must be on the final exam.


And then we went snorkeling, in two places bordering a mile-wide flat of shallow water you could walk across.  Jim (say, does he look totally buff in this photo, or what) plus Bob and John prepared for towing ops, and we ladies supervised it in, uh, comfort.


The snorkeling was astounding.  This giant jack almost let me touch it.  That’s one of the many giant clams (Tridacna) sitting in sand on the bottom, just underneath me.  It was more than 24 inches across.

Photo by Charisma crew

The water is gin-clear and the fish are friendly.

Photo by Charisma crew

The variety of color and pattern in these giant clams is unbelievable.


On one coral formation about 40 feet in diameter, I counted only the Tridacna clams that were bigger than 18 inches across, and there were 41!


These clams are being raised in a local marine research center and reintroduced to reefs where they once grew.  Hooray!


But be careful.  The image of anyone getting a hand or foot caught in one of the huge, meter-wide Tridacnas is sobering when you see how fast they can snap shut and resist all efforts to pry them open.  These are just a few of the color schemes that Tridacnas come in.  There wasn’t anyone to ask about this, but the colors probably come from different types of algae that Tridacnas allow to grow in their tissues, similar to the zooxantellae used by corals.  But how come a brown and green Tridacna will be next to a pink and black one and a blue one?


 All in all, a fabulous day.



Soon it was time for Orcinius and Charisma to head off to Rarotonga.  High tide was at 3 PM, and the getting underway operation was choreographed with military precision.  Then Charisma got stuck right at the start, and plans pretty much fell apart.

The Mother of All Groundings:  This is a photo of Charisma aground on the way into the channel; the Orcinius crew is trying to heel her over by hanging onto the main boom.  It worked, and she made it into harbor.  Getting back out, however, was a seahorse of a different color.  We were too busy to take photos of her misadventure; besides, you might not believe it anyway.


Try to picture a large group of sailors hanging like orangutans off the rigging to heel her over in far less water than this, with one crazed orangutan flooring it at the helm and two crazed orangutans being dragged astern on the main halyard, and you’ll get the idea.  You can also check the blogs of Orcinius and Charisma.

Okay, here’s what happened.  It took about 30-40 minutes to get Charisma out from her berth in the inner harbor because high tide was not as high as advertised that day, and she was sitting on the bottom.  There was a strong east wind blowing, which we surmise may have lowered the water in the lagoon, plus the moon was no longer full.  Charisma used her engine and the twin engines of Orcinius, to which she was tied, to worm her way through mud into deeper water.  We had re-anchored our own boat nearby, with a line to a tree ashore, but keeping the two big boats separated from the old Sockdolager as they slid sideways through the mud was a full-time job.  A pair of vacationing Aussies named Mike and Jo were very helpful from shore, as we pulled Sockdolager nearly into her own grounding.  But she did fine, and Orcinius dragged Charisma into deeper water, where they separated, with Orcinius leading the way out.

The clock was ticking… the tide would turn very soon… and you know the old saw about time and tide.

The plan was to have Jim and me in our dinghy between the two bigger boats, ready to run a tow line from Orcinius in case Charisma went aground.  About a third of the way out the channel, Charisma came to an abrupt halt on a shoal.  But then, several boat lengths ahead, so did Orcinius.  Uh-oh.

We dinghied over to Orcinius, where John said, “We draw 4.5 feet, and both hulls are aground.  High tide’s in 20 minutes.”  Lisa gunned the cat’s two engines alternately to “walk” the boat off the grounding area, and it worked.  But they radioed us saying they would not be able to tow Charisma, and headed out the channel to wait in deeper water.  Double uh-oh.

I went aboard Charisma and Jim hung off the end of her main boom, trying to heel her over while Bob gunned the engine.  We stayed hard aground.  Then Jim dinghied out the long channel to pick up John.  Lisa stayed aboard Orcinius, since they didn’t anchor (that area is notorious for losing anchors in coral.)  Meanwhile, back on Charisma, Bob and Anne stood on the bow while I (who weighed the least in a situation where every pound of weight counted) stayed at the helm trying to “walk” the boat forward with the engine and small turns of the wheel.  With the way we were stuck and just the one engine, it was impossible.  Bob had the boom way out to the side, and he stood on it, but it didn’t heel us over enough.  Jim was still enroute to fetch John.  Tick-tock, tick-tock.

It's coincidental that Lisa on Orcinius has the last name of, we kid you not, Danger.  She was a Captain in the Air Force (imagine the teasing), and her husband John (LeDoux) was a Major.  He told us the reason she retired as a Captain was so she wouldn’t have to answer to “Major Danger.”  We absolutely love being able to say, “We’ve met Captain Danger!” Okay, back to the drama, which will, mark my words, be made into a movie one day to rival the suspense of The Guns of Navarone.

Aboard Charisma, Bob, Ann and I tried unfurling the genoa and gunning the engine, but we were stuck very firmly.  I noticed the tide had turned and was vigorously ebbing. Triple uh-oh.

Soon another couple, Mo and Margaret from the Aussie-bound ketch Wadda, arrived, and Mo hung like an orangutan off the far end of the boom.  Jim had just arrived with John from Orcinius, and they took Charisma’s main halyard way out on the port side, to rig it up to heel us further over, but it still wasn’t enough.  “Bob,” I called, “The rudder’s not responding now.  Tide’s dropping, we can’t wait much longer.”  Fourple uh-oh.

Bob told me to keep trying, with 2500 rpms on the engine and, when they all got back into position so that the boat heeled enough to answer the helm, more worm-turns on the rudder.  Bob’s a big guy, and he inched further out on the boom.  Suddenly, a bump.  “We’re moving!” someone shouted, but then we stopped.  I eased the rpms down to idle, thinking we’re done, Charisma’s here for the night.  So many uh-ohs I’ve lost count.

Now John and Jim, about 75 feet off to port, had the main halyard and a long extension line rigged, but with no purchase on the bottom it didn’t heel us over far enough.  Then John had an idea, and it was jaw-droppingly brilliant.  Standing in chest-deep water, he used a dinghy anchor attached to a loop from the dinghy painter to get purchase on the bottom, ran the main halyard through the loop, stood on the dinghy anchor to secure it temporarily, and passed the end of the halyard to Jim, who swam, also in chest-high water, back toward the boat, cinched the halyard tight, and began climbing hand-over-hand up the halyard, like…  an orangutan.  The boat was now heeled over so much that Mo, at the far end of the main boom, was half in the water and there were perhaps 5 or 6 inches of freeboard left on the port side of this Tayana 37.

Big bump.  WE’RE MOVING! “Keep going!” shouted Bob.  “Roger!” I shouted back.  More bumps.  “Get her over to starboard!” shouted Bob.  “Roger!” said I.  Right toward the channel’s edge, but there was nothing else we could do, surrounded by even shallower water.  Heeled way over, we bumped and dragged the keel sideways across the shoal, suddenly straightening a little and picking up speed, now to 5 knots.  “KEEEEP GOIIIIING!” roared Bob.  “Rogerrrr!” roared I.

Then voices from astern alarmed us—John’s and Jim’s—we looked back to see John being dragged through the water, with the dinghy still attached to the halyard by its anchor, and him hanging on.  Jim had fallen off his perch on the halyard after John lost his grip on the dinghy anchor when Charisma started moving fast.  John shouted at Jim, “You’d better get over here or you’re going to get left behind!”  Jim swam as hard as he could (no mean feat wearing crocs) but just as he reached for the dinghy, it took off like a shot, leaving Jim standing there in chest-deep water watching his friends leave him marooned (alone and forlorn, he later claimed) as they sailed for safety.

But safety was not yet to be…

Charisma hurtled toward toward the next shoal, the same one Orcinius had hit, which we knew would be 4.5 feet deep.  Remember, Charisma draws almost six feet.  We were the utter embodiment of another old saw:  RAMMING SPEED!

“Should I slow down?”  I shouted at John astern, fearing he was in trouble, but he recovered himself into a more secure position and yelled at us to keep going.  He was still hanging onto the halyard, and actually managed to put on his dive mask and watch the bottom as we crashed over it.  The guy had such aplomb I swear he would’ve filmed it if he’d had a camera.  After checking to see that John was okay, Bob yelled keep going, so I did.

We hit that piece of shoal ground going 5 knots, Ba-BOOM!  We hit hard, bounced, and Charisma heeled over right to the rail, which may have been awash.  Shouts of keep going, shudders through the whole boat like you never, ever want to feel, and me at the helm thinking this could kill a lesser boat, and oh my god it’s like driving a tractor across a rocky farm field, and everyone’s hanging on for dear life because getting knocked off would have been so easy at that point when you’re sliding sideways over hard sandy coral.  I glanced at wide-eyed Mo, who by now had grown suction cups on his fingers out there in boomland, and Margaret, who was holding on from their dinghy, for dear life.  Bob was standing on the boom clinging to the main shrouds, which were now tilting over the water.

The land-based part of this journey seemed to take forever, but soon we were in deeper water.  Everyone’s adrenalin was stoked to the max.  We slowed down.  John called, “What do you want me to do with the dinghy?” and I yelled “GO GET JIM!” so while Mo and Margaret in their dinghy, and John in our dinghy, separated from Charisma, Bob took the helm, I climbed onto the now-straight main boom to better see the channel, and we safely got to deeper water where Orcinius was waiting.

Both skippers donned snorkel gear and dived under their boats.  Orcinius had no damage, and Charisma had only a deep scratch in the keel, in a place where its fiberglass was extra thick.  Both boats had no bottom paint left where they’d struck the putty.  John asked Jim if he had enough gas to get the dinghy back through the channel, which has a roaring current; Jim didn’t, so John fueled him up.  Jim picked me up off Charisma, and we started back, the dinghy barely making headway in the building ebb.

After stowing for sea, both boats raised sail for Rarotonga, where they arrived safely a day and a half later.   Jim and I went ashore and joined our amazed new Aussie friends Mike and Jo for an enhanced retelling at the local pub.  Karen was slightly hung over next day.



There are two morals to this story.
1) Time and tide wait for no orangutan;
2) The tide you had going in isn’t guaranteed to be the tide you get going out; and
3) Boats drawing more than 5 feet might want to wait a couple years before visiting Aitutake, when the channel has been dredged to 15 feet (as is currently planned.)


Jim and I rented a motor scooter, and toured Aitutaki for a more sedate form of entertainment.  We went everywhere!  This included a steep gravelly hill, for which I got off and walked. Below is a photo of Queasy Rider at the moment of wipeout.  Aside from a minor scrape on the elbow, there was no other damage, to bike or biker.


An unusual feature of Aitutaki life is the fact that in most front yards there is at least one grave.  It’s customary to be buried on one’s own land, and land ownership is passed down through families, never really sold; so it’s not unusual to see kids playing on and around the graves, or even picnic tables set up on them.  I doubt this will catch on anytime soon in US real estate markets, though.


There’s a vaka (huge Polynesian double-hulled canoe) hauled out at the inner harbor, undergoing restoration.  Jim has been volunteering on it, doing various carpentry and epoxying jobs, and we have learned about its illustrious history.  This is the mother of all seven vakas whom we first met in San Francisco, the fleet from across Oceania that’s making a Pacific circuit to raise awareness of the plight of the ocean (particularly the plastic pollution.)  All of their lines were taken from this original wooden vaka, which will one day be sailing again, training young Cook Islanders in seafaring and cultural history.  How cool is that.  We also learned that this vaka and its crew were arrested in a protest out at Mururoa atoll, over the nuclear testing, which was still going on at the time.


An Aitutake blue star communing with the baby Tridacnas.


And, for our wooden boat friends, we finally found... drumroll please... a genuine holystone!  The hole, through a piece of coral, was made by some kind of tubeworm.