Sailing away from Oahu, Hawaii in the calm waters protected by the island was glorious but short lived. Makua bay lies just a couple of miles from the north west point and once past this the full fury of wind and waves slammed into us like a runaway freight train.
We did a radio check with a local sailing boat who had come into the bay the day before, they informed us that our AIS position was not being transmitted and in fact last shows us leaving Panama City, and our VHF broke up at 2 miles off. We had suspected a problem with the radio as the marina couldn’t hear us calling when we arrived to refuel, so it’s likely we have antennae problems on both. With all the lightening storms around and over us leaving Panama it’s really not surprising. Just another job added to the list for Sitka.
It’s amazing how exaggerated wind and sea can get when interacting with land, so we settled in for a rough ride until we were into deeper water. Sure enough after 50 or so miles the sea state eased and the wind resumed its trade characteristics. The wind eased for the next couple of days and we had some great sailing and our first encounter with a Black-footed Albatross, a huge dark brown bird with a wing span of around 7 feet. Albert followed us for a whole day, catching us up and coming in to land in the water beside us with his huge webbed feet dangling down beneath him. We would sail on past and he would sit on the water and watch us, looking as if he was either wondering what the hell we were or whether we were going to throw him some scraps, then an hour or so later he had caught us up again. Perhaps he was envious of the two birds sitting on the bow, one on the pulpit rail and the other on the dolphin seat. I think they were another variety of booby, a pure white body with brown edging on their wings, pale blue beaks with a pink edging at the base and orange feet and legs. They hitched a ride for a full 24 hours, preening their pure white fluffy feathers continuously (the down side of being white I guess) and occasionally taking off and doing a circuit or two of the boat before coming in to land again. I got very close to them, with the calm conditions I could do a spot of cleaning and they took no notice of me on the foredeck. I wondered what it would be like to stroke those soft white downy feathers but thought that would be pushing my luck. We thought that if they both took off for a bit we could set up the GoPro on the bow as a ‘Boobycam’ but there was always one present as if they were guarding their rest spot.
The weather deteriorated shortly after the birds took off for the last time fully rested, they were probably far enough away from their hunting ground and perhaps knew what was coming. The wind picked up to 25 knots gusting to 30 and the sea state changed with waves in quick succession. Lightening flashed in the cloud cover ahead of us as waves crashed over the bow. Our ‘Boobycam’ would have been a ‘Wavecam’. It was a sleepless night cocooned in the comfort of the pilot berth and the watches were cold and wet. The following morning during breakfast a loud bang announced a chafed jib sheet. After replacing the sheet the sail came back out again reefed as waves were still crashing on the deck. The only glimpse of the sun was as it descended in the sky and peeked through a gap in the thick cloud cover shortly before sunset, it was beer o’clock and we were engrossed in our daily Suduko challenge. Another loud bang made us jump, the second jib sheet had exploded. We rigged up a much heavier line this time as we still couldn’t put the full sail out in the conditions, hoping this would last the night. Our original sheets were old and pretty well worn so it was about time they were replaced. At 2.30 am a large rogue wave landed on the foredeck, tearing two of the four straps holding down a sail bag with our light-air reacher sail (wishful thinking, having a light-air sail ready to deploy on this passage!) and furling gear inside. Half the bag and contents went overboard, I woke the captain with the bad news and in full wet weather gear we clipped on to the bow and heaved it in, regularly doused in very cold salty waves. Sodden with water this huge sail is damn heavy, it took all we had to haul it back on board and along the side deck, lashing it down on the aft deck out of harms way. This was number three of our ‘bad things happening today’ and surely the last.
The transition from ‘bikini, shorts and bare feet’ to ‘thermal leggings, waterproofs, woolly hat, socks and Musto boots’ came quite abruptly. I had imagined the need to add layers gradually as we sailed north away from the heat of Hawaii, but this was not the case. Overnight it felt bitterly cold, the first sign was when we found the coconut oil had solidified at popcorn making time, when we got the thermometer out we scoffed at the 18°C reading, that couldn’t possibly be right, could it? Are we that soft after four years in the Caribbean?!
After 3 days of ‘orrible conditions but another two juicy tuna added to the daily fish menu, as predicted we entered the eastern edge of the centre of high pressure that had been moving west above us for the last week. This meant no wind but a much nicer sea state, and visibility was reduced to 1/4 mile in some thick fog patches. We motored through this patch for about 12 hours and as the high continued to move west we were out the other side and into the westerly flow of wind in the northern section of the high. I hate motoring but it was actually nice to spend the day relatively upright and get a few jobs done and catch up with some sleep.
The westerly winds settled in nicely at first but the easy conditions were short lived. After a few hours things became lively once again with near gale force winds gusting up to 35 knots. In the patchy visibility the radar and AIS first spotted another vessel during the morning, a huge car transporter ploughing east. He came into view at about 5 miles and passed behind us about a mile off. It seems we are receiving AIS signals at close range but not transmitting. Another very wet and cold night as waves broke on the side of Joy and forced themselves under the canvas of our cockpit enclosure. Dolphins leaped out alongside, oblivious to the conditions above sea level. After 24 hours the wind eased to 20’s and backed from WNW to SW, with the wind and waves aft of the beam we could ease sheets and run with the swell instead of against it. Rolly, but a much more comfortable ride. By nightfall last night the thick pea-souper rolled back in and more dolphins appeared perhaps as many as 100 surrounding Joy, leaping out playfully for a couple of hours as the radar kept watch for us once again. Today the strong winds have returned gusting to 37 this afternoon.
Our course is gradually arcing north eastwards towards Sitka, skirting around the high now returning eastwards beneath us and the lows and fronts above and to the west. Between a rock and a hard place, with 955 miles to go. As much as I am enjoying eating fish every day, I am now dreaming of hearty stews and warming whiskey macs.
Position report: 03:00 GMT 10/7/18