The long story isn't really long, merely nautically technical. During our mid-morning watch, the wind starting picking up as predicted. However, instead of slowly rising from 10 to 20, it blew right through 20 and on to 25, pausing for an hour or two to consider the situation before proceeding to 30 with gusts from 32 to 35. We took this largely just aft of the beam with everything reefed down and the jib down to a steerable scrap. Along with the wind came a nicely formed, really rolly wind wave with lovely foamy fear inducing spray filled white caps.
Then the squalls rolled in.
So remember yesterday what I said about learning new things by confronting new challenges? Well. Now we know how to read the radar and identify squalls. Bully for us. I don't know how many times we passed through a squall cell. I lost count. I got tired. I actually briefly fell into a sleep so deep that DrC hove to for a half hour, and I didn't even feel the change in the boat. Steering was dodgy at best for Jaime, impossible for Mera and Aeron, so DrC and I took the brunt of the watch schedule. Jaime was game and tried, but she would saw back and forth in the waves and the dark so we had to pull her off after an hour or so. The wave slap as we surfed over the top of breaking surf was driving us nuts. She did try, though. Give her credit for that. And when either DrC or I needed any help, from changing a sail to getting water or securing some sliding bit of equipment, she popped up to help.
Then we entered a race.
The race was between Don Quixote and the tide. Passages into atolls should -- and frequently must -- be taken at slack tide. We had two windows to get into Ahe today, one at about 9:15AM the next about 3:30PM. Obviously, we wanted to get in on the morning tide as going in at the later slack would mean hoving to outside the pass and bobbing around in wind and swell for another 6 hours. We realized very early on last night that we had to push the boat to make it. However, given the conditions, we were not taking any risks or putting out any canvass more than necessary. But by an hour before dawn, it became clear that pushing ourselves and the boat hard, we could make the morning pass window. Now when I say hard, I mean harder than we are used to, harder than we knew we could do. For the last two hours, we boldly put out about a 1/3 of the jib and surfed at 8 to 8.5 knots. We covered 16 miles in about two hours, arriving just as the mast of our buddy Loose Pointer disappeared in the gap in the trees.
Then we went on a roller coaster ride.
I stand by my words last night that atoll passes are very similar to the passes we took in the Inner Passage up in Canada. You have to time them, the edges are scary, they narrow in frightening ways, currents can be fierce, and wind makes everything worse. I didn't realize until this morning that they can also have an element of crossing a bar such as those we did off the Oregon coast and in San Blas, Mexico. The pass went quickly, thank you all that's holy at sea, but as Dan of Loose Pointer noted, "That was one hell of an E ride!" Jaime took a video from the mast which is alternately horrifying and amusing as Don Quixote bounced up and down 15 feet in the steep standing waves.
Then we anchored between a rock and a hard place.
The anchorage here in Ahe is very small, made smaller by coral heads and a pier that must be kept clear for the weekly supply freighter. It is one thing to read about threading a course through coral heads and another thing entirely to navigate through them when the wind is blowing 17 knots and fetch waves are rolling through the lagoon. Crossing the lagoon by playing dot-to-dot with the markers was spooky, but fortunately once we got into the tiny harbor, we found it surprisingly calm and even somewhat sheltered from the wind. We managed to hook a rock/bommie on our very first try. A half hour of swimming, shouting, backing and circling later, we got off that first rock and set the hook firmly in sand with a bommie float to keep from recreating our first encounter. Ultimately, we ended up just barely out of the channel, just barely far enough away from Loose Pointer to keep from banging into our buddy boat and just barely in front of another coral head. We have room to swing, we have about 20 feet to drag (but Seamus, be kind!), we have room to avoid our neighbors. Barely.
Finally, we slept. All afternoon.