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.)



Saturday, September 22, 2012

Arrived in Tonga

After a nice 2.5-day downwind passage we arrived in the Vava'u Island group in Tonga, and found ourselves in the middle of Regatta Week! What timing. Our friends from Buena Vista, Orcinius, Charisma, The Rose, Vadda, and several other cruising boats are here, and it's quite a gathering in Neiafu Harbor - could be as many as 100 boats here, but there's plenty of room. There's a nice atmosphere, very friendly, and we'll have more in a few days. Just wanted to let you know we arrived safely.

Sent via Ham radio

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Fair-Weather Passage (So Far)

At sea, Niue to Tonga: Seriously fine weather has plagued us (just kidding) since leaving Niue, and we enjoy it knowing that the next big passage, to New Zealand, will probably not be so fine. We're moving slowly, having covered 100 miles in 27 hours with 150 to go, but it beats 30 knots. Although Sockdolager is not big enough to dodge weather systems underway and therefore not able to employ some strategies suggested by a professional weather router, we still plan to use the services of Kiwi meteorologist Bob McDavitt, whose forecasts have to date been extremely accurate.

But for now we have a month to enjoy Tonga, a place where good anchorages are so plentiful that someone numbered them ("Meet you in Number Ten!"). Right now we're sailing wing-and-wing on a 6 to 10 knot easterly, doing 2.5 to 4 knots. The sun shines on a blue sea, cheery clouds race past, the swell's not too big, and life is good.

Jim, after Karen read the above to him: Jeez, sounds good, wish I was there... wait, I AM here!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ah, Niue Niue, Whoa, Whoa, Gotta Go Now!


Niue:  We’re at the tiny, friendly, beautiful, independent island nation of Niue, on a mooring in clear water among a group of about ten other boats.

Internet on Niue?  Phooey!  It’s gooey-slow!  So no photos this post.  We’ll have to paint word pictures instead.

The water is so clear that we can see individual pieces of coral in 54 feet.  The moorings are new and extremely strong.  Orcinius and Charisma are here, along with The Rose and several boats from Holland, Sweden, Scotland, and other countries.  Humpback whales are known to swim through Niue’s mooring field.  Several weeks ago a whale got itself caught in a mooring that happened to have a boat attached to it.  The boat’s crew were ashore.  In knocking the mooring off its tail, the whale dragged the boat through the anchorage and also knocked part of its bow off.  Repairs were soon made, and the crew of the Australia-bound Knotty Lady continued on.

To get ashore, you have to lift the dinghy out of the water with a crane and plop it on the concrete wharf.  Karen is loving the job of crane operator.  As long as the swell is only a foot or two it’s easy enough, though one needs some agility to leap to and from the dinghy.  However, a big swell breaking against the wharf will wash you right off the steps, and in that case it either becomes a touch-and-go deal where one person drops off another in a death-defying leap to the wharf, and then returns to the boat without landing the dinghy, or it’s impossible, and people get stranded ashore, as they did the other day.

Moorings are located in deep water on what is normally the lee side of the island, but when a tropical system goes through as one is currently doing, things get exciting.  Basically, when the wind comes out of the west or northwest here, the fetch is hundreds of miles, and you are literally anchored in ocean swells.  This tropical system, which is normal SPCZ activity, brought only 10 to 12, maybe up to 15 knots of westerly wind, but 4 to 5-foot seas, which at the wharf grew huge as they bottomed out, sweeping all the way up the 9-foot high steps and across the wharf.  Early on we didn’t like the look of the weather, so we stayed aboard Sockdolager, but more than half of the boats here had crew ashore, who then could not return to their boats.

You may remember a tale we called The Mother of All Groundings, several weeks ago in Aitutaki, involving the crews of Charisma and Orcinius.  It seems these guys just can’t slake their thirst for adventure.  Bob of Charisma had stayed aboard for the bad weather, but Ann, John and Lisa were ashore exploring, along with Pat and John from The Rose.  When they returned to the wharf they were surprised.  Seas sweeping the wharf made launching any dinghies impossible, so Pat and John donned their snorkel gear and swam out to their boat.  Later they admitted that without fins, masks and snorkels that swim would have been much more difficult than it was.  Wisely, they had left their boarding ladder down and could climb aboard from the water.

Meanwhile, a plan was hatched (again, with military precision) to rescue the stranded crews.  Bob would make a pass in his dinghy with 5 hp engine, and toss a line attached to some life jackets to John on the wharf.  No mean feat in itself, with those seas.  Then he’d make another pass, carefully timed to avoid getting caught in surf or thrown into the wharf, and as soon as he got close enough John would scream “JUMP!” and one life-jacketed person would fling themselves into the dinghy.  Bob made three heart-stopping trips and everyone got safely aboard Orcinius and Charisma.  The weather continued to deteriorate.  Bowsprits were plunging into the water.  On Sockdolager we added extra chafe gear and a third mooring line, and planned an exit strategy to put to sea if it got much worse.  Although our dinghy has an outboard, it’s only a gearless 2-hp that will stall if you try to idle it, so in these conditions it was not useful. We had not removed the outboard from the dinghy--a mistake as it turns out--and would have run the chance of losing it by trying to tow the dinghy, if the go-to-sea escape plan had been implemented.  However, had Bob and another cruiser not had their outboards rigged, none of the stranded crews would have been able to return to their boats, and it's likely that at least one boat would have been lost, as you will see shortly.

Several other cruisers stranded on the dock asked Bob for a ride, but conditions were getting so bad that he felt he could not risk it with people he did not know.  And then we noticed that an unattended boat nearby had chafed completely through one of its two mooring lines.  Karen called on the VHF radio to warn the other boats to be alert in case this boat broke free, because without intervention it looked fairly imminent.  Another unattended boat nearby was also chafing its lines; amazingly, neither boat had any chafe gear in evidence, and as we later learned from its owner, one of them had had a known, severe chafe issue with its bow chocks.  Bob decided to do something, so he fetched John from Orcinius, with a spare one-inch line, and in big seas John clambered aboard the 36-foot sloop while Bob rigged the mooring line from the dinghy, narrowly avoiding the plunging bow.  They literally saved that boat from the hungry rocks just astern, because that boat's remaining mooring line had already chafed halfway through.  John re-reeved the new one-inch line through the boat's anchor chock, but had to lift its anchor on deck and secure it first.

In my humble opinion, the designers and builders of a boat that eats its lines like that should be made to attend the boat during a full-blown hurricane.

There were still several crews stranded ashore, and it was getting dark.  A Dutch cruiser had heard the radio traffic and went into action.  He jumped into his dinghy and went to the wharf, where the crews from three other boats were waiting.  There was no way to get them all, and no way to reach the wharf, so three men dived off the wharf into the water and swam out to the dinghy, which then took them back to their boats.  Their wives spent the night ashore at the Niue Yacht Club.

Remember, the winds were only 10 to 15 knots during this whole time.

As it always does, the wind swung back to the southeast after about 16 hours, and the mooring field is once again safely in the lee of the island for the strongest winds of 25-30, which have begun to blow.

There are a few lessons to be learned from this story:
1)  This kind of event happens rarely enough that it’s easy to get lulled into thinking it won’t happen to you.  The last time we really needed chafe gear to this degree was at Point Reyes, just north of San Francisco, when a gale swept into the open bay.

2)  In big sea conditions at anchor or on a mooring, the worst enemy is line chafe.  Other boats breaking free can destroy your boat, so awareness of how other people have rigged their boats to ride out bad weather, and avoiding the ones who do a poor job, is wise.

3)  If you’re not prepared to combat line chafe, you can easily lose your boat.  Before we left Port Townsend we visited the local fire station.  They gave us 25 feet of lined canvas fire hose that had failed inspection, and this is the some of the best and cheapest chafe gear anywhere.

4)  If you know the forecast and there’s a chance you might get stranded ashore, consider options carefully before you leave the boat.

5) In this area, GRIB files notoriously underestimate wind strength in these little disturbances.  The wind was forecast at ten knots maximum, but even an extra couple of knots of wind over that made a difference in such a long fetch.  There are no other viable anchorages on Niue; the only other option is to put to sea, even if you have not been cleared out by Customs.

6) If you are expecting unsettled weather and are anchored or moored on what could become a lee shore, it's a good idea to make sure your boat is ready to put to sea.


Gotta Go Now:  Events have conspired to prevent us from seeing as much of the island as we’d have liked.  Though the swell is down, a supply ship is offloading and the wharf is closed to yacht dinghies today.  We plan to check out of Customs and Immigration on Monday, and sail for the town of Neifau, in the Vava’u Island Group of Tonga, about 250 miles away.  Neifau's harbor is land-locked, hooray!



What on Earth Does That Name Mean, Anyway?  It’s time for yet another post on the name Sockdolager; namely, about the fun we have when people encounter it for the first time.  Usually this is how it goes:

Immigration Lady:  Hello, may I have your ship’s papers, please?”

Jim hands them over.

Immigration Lady:  “Thank you.”  A smile.  Then the brow furrows, and we wait for it:  “Sock… Sock… Sock…?”

Jim, helpfully:  “Sock DOLL-ajur.”

Immigration Lady, looking up at Jim:  “Sock… Sock…?”

Jim:  “DOLL-ajur.”

Immigration Lady, smiling uncertainly:  “Well, that’s a memorable name.”

Karen, trying to be helpful:  “It means something outstanding or remarkable, a little knockout.  It’s a word from the 1800s that’s rarely used now, and we understand that Davy Crockett himself made the word up.  People back then would go, ‘THAT was a real sockdolager!’  Plus it’s the name of one of the rapids in the Colorado River of the Grand Canyon!”

Immigration Lady, staring blankly:  “Who is Davy Crockett?”


Think of all the fun you’re missing if you’ve given your boat a simple name!  Now if you’ve been following along on this blog, you’ll know this thought goes 180 degrees against what most would call “Advice For Normal People,” in which this writer has strongly cautioned, in print (48 North magazine to be precise) against such practices because they can reveal a degree of, uh, weirdness, even antisocial perversity, about the owners.  This post is by no means a recanting of such advice; let’s just call it an “augmentation.”  “Rationalization” might also apply.  The name of our boat, whose syllables when individually examined allude to an odd combination of beer and footwear, has been creatively mangled in lots of ways, our favorites being “Proctologer” (think of the anatomical implications!),  “Sockdology” (a pleasingly religious take), and “Sundolager,” which has a nice obscure meteorological authenticity.  But the best one, oh my, wait’ll you hear this.

This was a recent conversation with a couple of cruising sailors briefly met in some pub, we think the Bora Bora Yacht Club or maybe the Aitutaki Game Fishing Club,  but can’t recall.

Nameless Pub Sailors: “Oh, you’re off that little green boat, aren’t you?  We’ve heard you on the evening net, and the name of your boat… it’s… well, the name of your boat… uh…”

Jim, helpfully:  “Sock DOLL-ajur.”

Nameless Pub Sailors:  “Yes, well.  The name of your boat is, uh, VERY unusual and hard to pronounce.  When we first heard you, we thought the name was ‘Scientologer.’”

Karen, thinking this is cool:  “Really?  Scientologer?”

Nameless Pub Sailors:  “Yes, well.  It made us a little leery about meeting you.  We feared you might perhaps be a couple of religious nuts and all…”

Karen, thinking this is uber-cool:  “And you being the unconverted who would be subject to our scrutiny, right?”

Nameless Pub Sailors:  “Exactly.”

Jim and Karen, whose churchgoing consists mainly of Sunday mornings at Saint Mattress with dreamy sermons by Father Pillow, look at each other in amazement.

Fast forward to the mooring field at Niue, two days ago, before the weather went crazy.  The sound of a dinghy with outboard approaching.  Karen looks out a porthole and doesn’t recognize the person.  But here he comes.  Jim goes up to the cockpit just as the man goes slowly past the boat, about five feet away, staring as if mesmerized.  He keeps going.  Karen wonders aloud what that was all about.  The man sees us and, probably realizing it was odd to go by so close and not say hi, turns his dinghy around.

You need to visualize this man:  He looks completely normal.  Late middle-age, short haircut, nicely dressed, retired executive type, off the rather fancy boat moored behind us.  With his left hand he’s using a 3-foot tiller extension on his outboard so that he can sit in the middle of the dinghy away from the motor, because his right hand is holding a lit cigarette.  With both hands thus occupied, he sees the most practical way to stop and chat with us without releasing either hand, thus converting his dinghy into a traveling incendiary device, is to keep the outboard in gear and push the bow of his dinghy lightly against Sockdolager’s starboard side near the cockpit.  Sort of like a tugboat, and we, being barely over twice the length of his dinghy, begin to move in circles around the mooring.  Never mind, we are so astonished and intrigued that we are speechless.

“I say,” he says, glancing at our American flag, “That’s the most difficult name for a boat I’ve ever encountered.  How do you say it?”

Jim:  “Sock DOLL-ajur.”

Karen, trying to be helpful:  (See conversation with Immigration Lady.)

Proper Englishman: “Ah, yes.  But with the drawl you Americans use on the radio, it’s impossible for anyone to understand you!”

Karen:  “Yew Anglish ain’t alwus so dadgum compree-hensibull yerselves.”

He laughs.  “No,” he says, “I guess not.  But your name really does beat all on the radio!  Hee-hee!”

We ask him for the name of his boat.  “Alimintare,” he says.

Jim and Karen in unison:  “What?”

“Alimintare.”

"WHAT?"

Ah, we think, a French name for digestive issues?  Being a sharp-witted Brit, the man realizes what’s happening and is as amused as we are.  “It’s Druid for the goddess of spring water,” he adds helpfully.

Refraining from asking whether “Perrier” or “Poland Spring” might have been more suitable names because we realize that being British, he has obviously chosen a British goddess (They exist?  Who knew?) and later, when we get to know and like Jon and his wife Carol even more, we learn that the name of their boat is actually “Arnamentia” and that their home is within a stone’s throw of Stonehenge, so the name begins to make perfect sense.  It just takes knowing the back-story.

Besides, we’ve grown to like the idea that in spite of being the smallest boat in any fleet or anchorage, it’s nice knowing that a boat name like ours packs such a wallop.

We accompanied Jon and Carol to the local pub for “Sausage Sizzle Night” which also included a “Pub Quiz.”  The former were delicious washed down with NZ beer, and the latter we wish would catch on in the US.  The entire clientele of the pub divided themselves into about 7 teams of 4 each.  Karen and Carol plus two school principals, Kate and Ann, from Tasmania, named themselves “Team Supreme.”  The Publican read 40 questions on topics ranging from politics to science to gardening.  For some reason Team Supreme knew almost every answer, and not only won the contest but turned in the highest score ever recorded.  Amid much applause Team Supreme was crowned the winner.   Each team member was given a stylish Steinlager Beer bottle opener on a neck lanyard that so closely resembled the gold medals given in the Olympics that for a brief time it went to our heads and we sang the Olympics Theme Song and tried to make speeches.  Then Team Supreme gracefully congratulated the second place winners, a team consisting of Jim and three New Zealand ex-pats.

Last night the crews of Orcinius, Charisma, Sockdolager and The Rose got together aboard Orcinius’ very spacious accommodations.  While rain fell and wind blew outside, we learned to make delicious Naan bread, and had it with our potluck dinner, followed by John’s homemade apple pie with ice cream, then an evening of hilarity and shared photos and movies on a big screen, and finally some music.  Sometimes you get mighty lucky!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Messing About in Boats

At sea, about 120 miles west of Palmerston and 280 miles east of Niue: We've been sailing through a trough of cloudy, squally weather that reminds us a bit of the ITCZ except for an amazingly chaotic patch of ocean that resemble a huge tide rip. Probably the most confused piece of water we've ever seen. As the wind went calm, we fired up the iron genoa to get out of Nature's Maytag. Eventually the wind swung to the SW making progress slow enough to not be worth it (0.5 to 2.0 knots using the engine) so we bagged it, hove to and got a good night's sleep as the squalls blew over us. The wind changed early this morning with the last squall, and blew us right back to our rhumb line! So after a cup of coffee we'll get going again.

A dear friend and shipwright named John Appelt, 18 years gone now, can still make me smile just remembering him. During World War 2 he had to turn his Greenport, Long Island shipyard into part of the war machine, turning out a ship every two weeks. Ever afterward he would call wherever he worked on boats, especially his own, "The Slipshod Shipyard." No matter that his shipwright skills were superb and that he built the wooden 50-foot schooner Windsong, which later became my home, his was a self-deprecating humor. To visit John in his early 90s was to step back in time. He spoke like a shellback and sure could spin a yarn, whether about going up to Gloucester for the last of the great schooner races, or cruising in company with other schooners in the late 30s through the 60s, or or about being a boy in the company of great schooner captains like Zeb Tilton of Martha's Vineyard. It was full immersion in the culture of sailing in another era; it became my primary anchor, context for all other sailing.

John also reinforced my growing delight in the art of puttering. To squander one's time messing happily about in boats is to have feasted. With me in tow John would amble around town where everyone knew him. Usually we'd end up in someone's dark boat barn, me agog at the fleet of ancient wooden skiffs and shallops hanging from rafters, still ploughing wakes through the air, or some sleek Herreshoff beauty under restoration on a sawdusty shop floor, or a stack of fragrant boards awaiting the kiss of the sea. What is it about bygone days? Is it the forgetting of hardship or inconvenience or discomfort? Whatever it was, the air seemed so sweet that the high has lasted a lifetime.

Sailing is subtle (though sometimes, as now, it hits you over the head.) It's one thing in home waters, with a somewhat balanced combination of messing about, planning the next cruise, and a lot of destination daysailing. It's another thing entirely when 6,000 miles from home on an open-ended voyage. Last night as we sailed through a clear spot in the overcast I looked up at the Milky Way, at upside-down Orion, and at some bright first-magnitude stars cutting through the haze, and thought, well here you are, under a tropical night sky in the South Pacific, can you beat that? And the answer was yes, right now a hot shower and a good long nap would beat that. Or a cuppa at The Undertown, or a beer at Sirens with friends I haven't seen in over a year, or a long talk with my favorite cousin. Or a visit and a chantey sing with all our friends at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, which happens this weekend.

Immediately the rebuke came: Come on. Joshua Slocum made 73-day passages. The old sailing masters routinely called 90 days at sea good time. And us, unexpectedly at sea for 600 miles instead of 200? Big deal.

Aitutaki, as we mentioned, was our first real break from movement in a long time. We loved the involvement in community that only time can bring. A month went by like lightning, and now we're in motion again. You can't really putter much at sea. Reading is possible off-watch, but with just 2 of us it's more sensible to sleep. The meals I'd like to make are often reduced to one-pot mishmashes at best, bread and jam when it's as rough as it is now. There's no getting around the fact that in rough weather motion, a small boat takes it in the shorts. Still, I feel safer on Sockdolager than I would on many larger boats.

So here's an irony for you: maybe some of you are envious of what we're doing out here; maybe some of you think we're crazy; maybe a few are readying your own boats and making plans. Well, backatcha! Modern conveniences like hot showers, telephones, and the idea of staying in one community even for a little while without risking cyclone season, are enormously appealing right now. Lugging one's own drinking water and hand-washing all laundry is the norm, as it was in the olden days--it's still a bit of a novelty, but it's hard work, too. The subtlety about sailing is that when you do it all the time it becomes a way of life from which the occasional nostalgic longing for a break might be forgiven. We will take that break in New Zealand. In between are Niue and the archipelago islands of Tonga. That'll be a darned good in-between.

Sent via our ham radio

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Still at Sea

On Tuesday Sept 4 we left our beloved Aitutaki to sail for Palmerston atoll. Seas were rather rough--3 to 4 meters--and the motion was unpleasant but we flew along, making 100+ mile days. This morning we sighted Palmerston, and in a strong northeasterly sailed up to the anchorage, which today was a lee shore with big swells breaking. The local people always come out to meet you and guide you to a mooring, but the voice on the radio suggested we make a decision first before he came out. Tired as we were, we knew that putting the boat on a lee shore like that, with the reef less than a hundred yards astern of these moorings, was unwise. Two boats were leaving as we arrived, and no other boats remained. The signs all pointed to: keep going, it's safer at sea.

So we did. But when we mentioned on the radio that we had brought some corn flour because we'd heard the island needed some, the man on the radio said, "I'll be right out!" He drove his boat through reef surf and thanked us, saying "The island is out of food!" So if any cruising boats are headed that way, please load up on some basics--flour, sugar, can goods, and if anyone can find a spark plug for a 15-horsepower Yamaha outboard plus a volleyball (??) there will be 40 or 50 grateful people awaiting. Evidently their supply ship is late.

We're making good progress under fair skies toward Niue, 400 miles from Palmerston. Supposedly a weather trough was due to hit today (hence our desire to ride it out in a decent anchorage) but it may have been what we sailed through last night and this morning. If the wind doesn't cooperate we'll just heave to--plenty of sea room out here. But the skies look awfully nice now, and we're hoping the 7-day weather window following that trough is open.

This area is known for being the South Pacific Convergence Zone, so dodging the troughs and small tropical systems makes better passages. Sometimes, though, you just have to take your lumps. I remember one other time heading out to sea to face some bad weather because getting to safe harbor was not possible. It was in the Gulf of Alaska, and the night was rough but here's the thing: you can't hit a rock at sea.

Sent via Ham radio

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sailing a Polynesian Vaka


Here we are, still in Aitutaki, trying to tear... nay, to wrench ourselves away from this lovely little paradise in the middle of the South Pacific.  We could happily stay a lot longer, but we need to move on to stay ahead of cyclone season.  Intentions to sail today for Palmerston were delayed 24 hours to allow for the big seas to die down (the plausible public excuse) and also for, shall we say, "recovery" from the Mother of All Hootenannies at the Boat Shed Bar and Grill last night (the real excuse.)  We did it all, from Edelweiss to Honky Tonk Woman; we sang, we laughed, we cried, we hugged, we ate, we drank.  Especially the latter.  These Aitutakians can sure throw a party.  This morning Papa Rick, who I swear is channeling Ray Charles, and Tim, an excellent 5-string guitarist (who needs the sixth string anyway?) stopped by with some parting gifts:  3 ripe pawpaws (papayas), a bunch of bananas, a gigantic cabbage, limes and a special gift of a delicious Polynesian voyaging food called "ota." Sigh.  They've made it even harder to leave, but leave we will, on the tide tomorrow.  Really.

Meanwhile, let's post some of those photos of sailing this 74-foot amazing Polynesian double canoe.  At the top is our friend Ken in the stern of Te Au O Tonga, the mother of all the other vakas currently sailing the Pacific.  Ken is responsible for all the woodworking and carpentry that has restored the vaka.

Shortly after launching (see previous post) a crew descended on the vaka to set up her rig.  Here's how a bosun's chair works, Aitutaki style.


The deck crew got everything organized.  Note that on these vakas everything is done with lashings, which have worked simply and well for centuries.


The steering oar (formerly a large tree) was lashed to a crossbeam that was in turn lashed to the inboard edges of the hulls.  This arrangement is partly visible in the top photo.  Ken made some fine adjustments with a chain saw, and the whole thing was rigged in a few minutes.  Below is the pin and the steering oar with a hole drilled through it to accept the pin.  The large round end goes...


... into a socket on the crossbeam, and it's all lashed together.


The entire thing is so finely balanced that it pivots on the bearing, and can be easily manipulated by any enormously strong, very large person, which is not me.  Below you can see how it's set up.


Here's the vaka being towed out to the open lagoon.  (She has no engine right now.)


The deck feels like an aircraft carrier compared to ours!  Here's the happy crew about to raise sail for the first time in quite awhile.  That's the Cook Islands flag flying off a bamboo pole astern.  Standing at right is Ian Karika, brother of Ken and President of the Cook Islands Voyaging Society. He is also in charge of bird surveys, rat eradication and representing the Cook Islands at various international conservation meetings.  Ian sailed Te Au O Tonga to Hawaii, and the man at the helm (Clive) sailed her to Maruroa and Fangataufa atolls in the Tuamotus 20 years ago, during the protests of the nuclear testing.


Te Au O Tonga took off across the lagoon like a shot.  These vakas can really move--10 knots is common.  And there's no heeling!  Piles of stuff stay right where you put them, not something we can say about a monohull.  We dodged coral heads all day, but with a 2-foot draft it wasn't that difficult.  In the foreground of the photo taken from the bow is one of many blocks that serve as turnbuckles, or attachment points for the rope rigging that holds the masts up.


Here's an artsy view through that block, of activity on deck, which was vigorous at times.  Gybing is much easier than tacking this vaka, as long as you control the 2 booms.  It would be easy to break a boom if you don't.  Each sail has an outhaul on the boom plus a halyard, and each boom has a single set of lazy jacks for lifting it around other rigging during gybes.


Jim tries steering.  You have to wrap a rope around the steering oar to control it, and that can be heavy work.  On voyages, the crew on deck relieve the helmsperson every 15 minutes.  Here's the cool part:  if you lean hard on the oar it will lift the blade out of the water; whenever you do that, the vaka begins to turn to windward.  Then you let the oar bite into the water again, and she straightens out.  Not only that, but when docking without an engine the crew moved the steering oar so deftly that they turned this 74-foot craft almost in her own length.  Ian told us that most of the time the vaka will steer herself if her sails are balanced.


Just so you know, flip-flops are the perfect vaka boat shoe.  The owner of this foot did most of the steering, in case you haven't guessed already.


The steering oar in action.  A beautiful thing to see.


We sailed for 4 or 5 hours, back and forth across the lagoon past the Prime Ministers and Presidents of most of the Pacific nations, and we were all so happy to be there, happy to have helped, and proud to be part of Aitutaki putting on an island-wide show that dazzled them all.