Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Crossing the Front

The front we've been waiting for has finally arrived in the form of 20 knots. It's bouncy but pretty easily doable. The last 140 miles should go blazingly fast, albeit a bit roughly. Weather is fascinating stuff. We could tell we had finally encountered the front by a very distinct squall line with swiftly shifting winds. Now that we're behind the high/low front line and into the anticyclone high, the skies are clear, the wind brisk and steady, the seas building gradually.

Our one concern with the current conditions will be getting through the pass in Ahe. All passes in the Tuamotus are dodgy, frankly. There must be a berzillion blog entries and cruising guide explanations on how to get through one or more of the Tuamotuan passes. I see no reason to add to that literature beyond documenting our own experience. On the other hand, writing a nail biting encounter isn't going to help the grandparents relax at night so maybe I'll just lie. The good news is that Ahe is supposed to have one of the easier passes, on the leeward side of this system, and there is only one day for the seas to build. The bad news is we're probably going to arrive after the mid-day slack tide and have to wait a few hours cooling our heels and splashing around holding station outside the pass until the evening slack to get in tomorrow. That'll be lots of fun. I sincerely hope that the atoll itself does a decent job of dampening the waves and swell while we wait.

A glance outside the window shows a sea condition that a year ago would have made me nervous. Five years ago, I would have been in my cabin quivering. Now, however, the family is calm, confident, and unworried. With good reason, Don Quixote, 20 knots just aft of beam, and 3 to 5' wind waves is pretty much a no brainer. Which is as it should be. If a boat out here (and a crew) can't handle this kind of sea, it doesn't belong on the ocean.

Which revisits an issue I've mentioned before, but it is worth restating. Crossing the South Pacific may be considered one of the easiest transoceanic journeys possible during this time of year, but it is nevertheless still a welcome-to-the-next-level proposition. Cruisers out here absolutely must up their game at any number of levels. Lack of services, enormous distances, provisioning challenges, and a complete lack of marine rescue support are obvious. Someone with weeks of experience cruising in the Pacific Northwest or around the San Francisco Bay area or jaunting out to Catalina for a weekend is probably not fully baked and ready yet.

Now this does have some of the properties of "how do you prepare for...<i>xyz</i>" where the only way to prepare is to actually do it. Yet, there are also aspects to this trip that we can look back to the last 5 years and point to an experience that taught us what to do and how to handle a challenge. Vancouver Island taught us how to provision for multiple months. The tides and passes of the Inside Passage will no doubt help us enormously timing and crossing the passes of the atolls. Anchoring in Desolation Sound taught us how to anchor deep while we learned how to quickly set and pull a stern hook on the Pacific Mexican coastline. Isla Isabella and similarly rocky anchorages taught us how to unthread an anchor chain from a bed of rocks, while DrC's insistence in sailing around in the Sea of Cortez during the middle of strong northers taught us that Don Quixote loves 25 knots, relax!

Which means, there must be challenges out here which will prepare us for the next level of cruising. So far, we've been extremely fortunate. Our passages have gone well, anchorages have been pleasant, and the most dangerous thing we've faced is a 5 foot sailfish in the cockpit. I can't say I'm looking forward to those challenges. I know that it may seem like DrC and I are adventurous souls who seek out danger and thrills, but it's just the opposite. We both work hard to minimize the dangers of our lifestyle. Personally, I find weather fascinating and terrifying. There is nothing I hate more than seeing a strong system forming in the gribs.

But here we are. Yesterday, the family prepared for this last mad dash to Ahe. We knew the weather was coming so in light breezes and calm seas, we cleaned the boat, stowed everything, took showers and rested. We did school and then secured all our books below. We aired out bedding, dried towels, and resorted out lockers to make room for everything that had migrated out of the box in the calm month in the Marquesas. Then DrC and I sat in the cockpit and shared a Tang and rum (better than it sounds actually) and took deep breaths as we watched the green flash of the sun set. The calm before a storm is worth enjoying, and we know now how to handle the storm.

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