“A Vernal Passage crossing hemispheres, TAHITI bound”
By Capt. D.J. “Skip” Riley, CMS
Our vernal passage across the equator began a winters before in the dreary musty confines of our good ship. Our passage, at least leg one would be destined to be considered complete only when one of the two great circles in our celestial sphere; having at its plane a perpendicular to the axis of heaven, where the ecliptic plane our planet makes around the sun intersects the vernal (spring) equinoctial. This occurred for us on March 21, 2012 as the sun transited O degrees latitude/the equator.
Our planned course of SSE, Honolulu to Tahiti would converge with our own equinoctial plane as the transit of the sun would move North and our transit of the earth moved South. When would this occur? And at what Latitude? This would be the holy grail of LEG ONE of our voyage. Not unlike our Polynesian predecessors emerging with a Darwinian hypothesis, our search and our treasure would lay in the convergence of nature, our humanity and spirituality. Our honor and crown would be the accomplishment of a “Pono”, or “balanced” voyage.
In the wake of Cook, Bligh, Lewis, Mau, Thompson and countless other equinoctial transitioners, Tahiti and the South Pacific bear elusively south of Hawaii and not just a little bit. The journey requires 7 degrees of easting or 420 nautical miles, the negotiation of the wind stricken channels of the Alenuihaha and South Point Hawaii; then the southing of 20 degrees or another 1,200 nautical miles of Northern parallels, then the inter-tropical convergence zone - the equator- with its elusive squalls; then the southing of another 17.5 degrees or 1,020 nautical miles of Southern parallels. The challenge thus equates to a total of 2,670 nautical miles negotiated through three weather systems. The hardships included a time warp disguised as a dimensional transit in the space/time continuum. We would find ourselves moving through three months of time in an instant. For example as we crossed the equator it became autumn 2012, not spring 2012. We would loose the three months of summer we had looked forward to. Our last challenge would then be convincing the French Polynesian authorities, our spouses and girl friends where we were during the lost three months.
There were four of us, on leg one. Each strong, experienced - ocean mature with a unique set of skills. Each of our unique skills we would find overlap with the other. Each of us had the ability to reach deep ensuring the success of this a two ocean equatorial crossing.
Jeff Naus, owner and master: A skilled navigator and skipper has safely sailed his beloved vessel “Moonshadow” and others where few have gone. Jeff, not new to adventure has sailed across the South Pacific before. He has sailed the Caribbean, Panama Canal, visited the Galapagos Islands, Marquesas, French Polynesia all the way to New Zealand and Australia. As one of the most experienced and skilled members of our HYC Cruising and Voyaging Society he also served as navigator on several US Naval vessels. He has navigated at least three oceans – and at least two underwater! Jeff related that as a younger man he would sail out into approaching hurricanes along the East coast, just to see what it would be like. He added that if there be such a thing as re-incarnation he would be rooted in the “age of sail” and that he likely sailed with Cook, or at least knew him.
Bill Beadle, using his own words would sign on as Chief Chef “Moonshadow”. However, Bill did not just chef; he stood equal watch atop his culinary chores and added entertainment for the crew as an impressionist. Bill earned his knots with at least two North Pacific ocean passages. He crewed under power from Mexico to Hawaii (3,000 nautical miles) with Dave Cooper on “Swan Song”. He also sailed from Honolulu to the island of Satawal (about 1 degree N. of the equator – on the other side of the date line) or about 2,400 miles aboard an escort vessel for our own Hawaiian “Hokulea” expedition. Bill also earned his USCG license for small passenger carrying vessels where he served as captain and dive master on several passenger excursion vessels around Hawaii. He also held the “flag” for our own HYC Cruising and Voyaging Society. Bill proved himself as a versatile good natured chap and always a helping hand
Mark Chips was our “Johnny – Jack”. Master of many trades nautical and otherwise. Johnny Jack would profess himself a reluctant seaman, but his natural abilities excelled him in things we call nautical and would prove himself a man of humility rather than hoopla. Regardless of what Mark could say, his can do spirit made him our “engineer in making” and a hero to our cause. Mark together with Capt. Jeff rebuilt our eclectic generator about 3-4 degrees N. of the equator, twice. That’s equivalent to riding a bucking bronc in a maelstrom. Mark, as exclaimed by Capt. Jeff is always well regarded…Mark accompanied Jeff on many a voyage covering thousands of miles. He earned his respect.
Skip Riley was the designated ships surveyor and dogwatch crewman. Skips job began many month’s prior the voyage beginning with the drydock survey of the vessel. Jeff said “no holds barred, Skip. Lets’ get this vessel shipshape. I want to know everything that’s wrong with her”. And so from mast step to masthead, chain plate to through hull, bung to butt the work list poured forth. The next several months’ saw crew and hired professional alike engaged in vessel preparation. Chain plates were replaced as were stuffing box hoses/clamps. Through hull valves were serviced, and the rudder system repacked and adjusted. New navigational items, new batteries (some exotic) were placed aboard. New, most strategic sails were provided. A “Code Zero” and a cruising Spinnaker added. Finally a new trusted Monitor Wind Vane would be installed.
Among Skip’s tasks aboard were the periodic general inspection of the deck systems. On one watch, Skip discovered a deck securing plate holding the main sheeting system, boom vang and in mast furling system components about to fail. The components were moved to another secure location. This undiscovered failure would likely of happened on the midwatch (2300 to 0300), and would have caused at least some havoc, likley just in time for Bill’s watch. Bill would exclaim “Thank you Skip!” as it seemed most calamities occurred on Bill’s watch, this one didn’t. Skip is a recognized marine surveyor with over 25years marine inspection experience. He is also a USCG licensed master on his 8th renewal. Skip has eleven Pacific crossings (now twelve); he has cruised the West Coast, most of the coast of Mexico – proving after a windward trip to the coast, that the “Mexico’s Baja Ha Ha” is accessible to Hawaii sailors -. Skip has visited most every island in the Micronesia archipelago as far West as Palau - including Satawal and Kapingamarangi.. He has dined on breadfruit, turtle, fish and Tuba with our island neighbors. He sailed with Mau, the Polynesian master navigator, when they were both young and “good looking” (1971-May).
LEG ONE: Honolulu to Papeete, Tahiti
The original course around the Hawaiian Islands was a choice. Do we go North of the islands or South? If North we would bang our way up the Molokai channel to clear Molokai. We would then banter a refractive North Pacific back wash along the windward isles, but miss the boisterous venturi effect of the wind channels of the Ale Nui Ha Ha. Or do we choose going South across the lee side, risking the lulls, crossing the windy channels at their worst and perhaps lose a day of sailing. Choosing the leeward course would slow us down, but it would also offer a reprieve for us needing such a reprieve to develop our sea legs. Capt. Jeff chose the southern route and at least two of us were gladdened.
We officially commenced our journey at 2300 hours on April 20, 2012. 2300 hours rang true as we knew there would be little to no sleep for those of us, all of us who had worked the boat in preparation for so long this last two days. And so it was knowing the sleepless night was in store. Skip manned the helm and led her across the south coast of Oahu. We passed Diamond Head (logging our time), crossed the Molokai Channel and persevered past Lanai and Maui. We made it ½ way across the Ale Nui Ha Ha when the Mals de Mure reared his ugly head. My helming, of course was no hero’s quest. It was simply hang on, concentrate and try not to lose what little my stomach contained. The winds near 35knots and the seas, due to darkness were not very discernible. The rest was clear as I asked myself, who would win? Mr. Mal de mure or Ms. Sea legs. In the end, thankfully Ms. Sea-legs won. Mark and I particularly were thankful.
The skipper Jeff navigated in good steed. He would use his magic charts and determine wind speeds and directions all a head of real time, before we got there. Jeff could amazingly just about determine what sails to hoist and calculate square footage as necessary before we got there. And so it was with a drive to adventure we drove our sweet “Moonshadow” SSE to a finish 2,650 miles distant.
150, 150 150 degrees West longitude echoed in Skips mind. It was Capt. Robby Buck who has made 75 Pacific crossings who would repeated in earnest. “No go 150 West and you cannot make the last run to Papeete”. That was the magic number and we drove our “Moonshadow” to weather to gain 450 miles of easting to gain the magic numbers for a good slant on T-A-H-I-T-I.
The weather charts were augmented by Dave Cooper of the “Swan Song”. It was Dave Cooper who ran the SSB shore station on Oahu. It was Dave who became the mystic voice of the airwaves. It was Dave Cooper who had gained his lofty view via computer and sattlelight. It was Dave Cooper in his melodic friendly tone who calmed the night. He, with our weather consultant that Capt. Jeff had procured laid out our weather windows. Sometimes with reports in conflict, we could make lofty competitive bidding which would add spice to the dog watch of which we would share. We plied our course near our hull speed and then some. We sailed hard at 7.5 to 8 and 9+knots. Not bad considering wind speeds of only in 10-25knots 15 to 18 on average coupled to 4-6-8ft combined seas and swell. Our course and speed was not a bad average.
Not to be outdone by “Moonshadow” nature would respond a contrast. Almost nightly the skies would open to a rising moon which commenced in late April as a splinter then would develop over two weeks into the largest full moon in six years. The seas would glisten at night in a report of a billion diamonds cast to windward and then to leeward. The glitter would start in the east after sundown and eventually spill into the sea around 0400 hours. Skip and Bill who had the successive watches were the beneficiaries. Even the amazing spectacle would be reported over the “Pacific Seafarers Net”. The “Pacific Seafarers Net” is a Ham frequency encompassing an early season fleet of “Pacific Puddle Jumpers” whom found their collective roots in the “Mexico Baja Ha HA” sailing event. This fleet too, was headed our way.
As we approached our own vernal equinox and the winds fell light it became time for a new challenge. Enter the “Code Zero”. The “Code Zero”, a daunting name is a sail specifically designed for light to moderate breezes under 12 knots. The sail is not unlike a cruising spinnaker excepting that it is cut more like a Genoa, but still remains cupped and full similar to a Spinnaker. The sail is clubless and generally easy to fly. The Code Zero was Capt. Jeff’s baby and added ½ to 1 knot of speed to an already fine sailing venture. Unfortunately the sail made steering difficult. The difficulty was mostly due to an overly stuffed rudder packing gland. However, we persevered our steering efforts but later gave way to our more normal tried and true double headsail rig. The following days brought forth the cruising Spinnaker. This fun sail was large and glorious. We each soon became proficient of her set. But the balancing act of the double headsail rig would trump. And it was this way we troubled her helm across the remaining 17.5 degrees of Southern latitude.
As expected a long trip, breakages occurred. First was our main sail in-mast furling. This, I believe was the most difficult and dangerous issue. Without the ability to douse the mainsail we could be in a pickle. The roughened seas would make bolt (fastening) repairs difficult if not impossible. Fortunately, Jeff knew the ropes and the issue was handled. Other failure of equal frustration, but not as detrimental included the generator. The generator had suffered an immersion event before we left. The generator was required so as to charge the batteries such that the refrigeration/freezer could be cooled down. Another was the refrigeration pump intake which required continued massaging simply to keep the raw water coolant flow from ceasing. We also lost the engines raw water pump impeller. Without it the engine could not be run. The positioning of this pump made impeller renewal a feat that could only be equated to an exorcism.
As Leg one progressed we lacked for little. We discovered resiliency in each of us as our skills overlapped …and so we had a happy crew. We only lacked for song , dance and the bonding only island dancing girls could bring. Fishing became good with the landing of three delightfully edible fish. Bills skill at fillet went unsurpassed. Anything more any of us could even hope for would be cold frosty effervescent beverages of the adult variety. Here we would have to wait, but not long.
On May 6, 2012 at 0650 hours 16 days since our departure Skip rang out the alarm “Land Ho”. And so it was. Here a thin green line was observed on the horizon echoing out four “Motu’s” surrounded by a truly turquoise lagoon, and surrounded again by pristine breakers streaking white with a spindrift of rainbows. Off in the distance was the sight to be held. In the portrayed images of Gaugin we observed as many an adventurer before us, the high rugged volcanic peaks of Tahiti. Offing to the West was yet another high rugged series of peaks. Here bore the French Polynesian Island of Mo’orea. It’s caldron peaks could still be seen. It was only eight hours later we “discovered” , Papeete, Tahiti. Here Jeff planted the flag of “our nation” the “Hawaii Yacht Club” at the yard arm. We had transited 16 days with many a challenge. We had become “Shell-backed” crossing our own personal vernal equinox.
The crew of “Moonshadow” Jeff, Bill, Mark and Skip didn’t just make Tahiti, Tahiti was earned and five days later Mo’orea as well. LEG ONE, Honolulu to Tahiti was completed.
The journey was “miracle” under a perfect sky with perfect winds and perfect seas.. In Papeete we collectively took a much needed rest and worked on “Moonshadow” in preparation for a renewed / relief crew and Leg two and three.
Patty Naus and Leslie Moore joined Jeff and Mark in Papeete for LEG TWO which would include Rangiroa, Raiatea, Huahine and Bora Bora. Additional crew would be requested the Cruising and Voyaging Society for LEG THREE, See The Return of Moonshadow by Capt. Jeff Naus.
We left the protection of the Ala Wai Small Craft Harbor at 0-dark-30 in the early morning hours of October 10, 2009, bound on a 9 day cruise around the inner-most Hawaiian Islands.
The weather was balmy, the air light. The smell of the land permeated the air, reminiscent of what we sense after a Trans ocean passage. All one had to do was remember. The weather service reported a break in the daily calms and high humidity of the past week. The forecast was 15-20 knots of NE winds. Certainly palatable. We cleared Diamond Head, watching the sun rise as we passed. The channel winds were felt and by Koko Head we had winds at 15-18 knots. As we approached mid channel, there was our 25 knots.
The “TUATHA” sailed well under a new Port Townsend built roller furling 100% Genoa. Her main too was from Port Townsend, and was already reefed. So we sailed on. I had recently rebuilt the self steering vane so I was anxious to exercise her. Under sail and self steering we forged our way. “Tuatha” herself had not been out in a year and change. This was only because of her master’s bout with a defective “weather leg” which failed me early in the year. So we both had to regain our pace.
We anchored our Westsail 32 in Hale Lono, Molokai after a channel crossing of 11 hours. Not bad at all. We rested here one day. I dove in and cleaned the vessel’s bottom while John Fitzgerald took watch on the sail bags forward. John has sailed with me far and wide – countless passages around Southern California’s Channel Islands, as well as a Trans Pacific cruise. When I came up from cleaning the bottom of the boat the entire cockpit was swarmed by bees. John and I fought them long and hard. Neither of us, for unknown reason, ever got stung, nor did we win the battle. The bees left about 4:30pm on their own accord. I have since learned they are attracted to fresh water. So “Beware the bees of Lono”
The wind settled and so did we. We left Lono in the morning on the 12th in a flat calm to Lanai. A more pleasant journey could never be had. We explored “Needles” and anchored finally in the commercial harbor at the southern-most point of Lanai. Here I watched the skill of the captain of the tug and barge. Amazing how these tritons of the sea maneuver those large vessels in such tight quarters, amazing. I secretly desired a turn on the helm.
Next day we rounded Lanai and anchored finally in Black Manele, off the harbor breakwater in 32ft. of water, just off the reef. Here I dove on what is called the most beautiful reef in Hawaii. It was truly beautiful. I also sounded the Manele Bay Harbor entrance. I saw no “rainbow rock”; I think it has been removed. The normal depth I got was 8ft., not the controlling depth of 6ft. So to those wondering whether to enter or not, be so advised; if your draft is 6ft. you’ll likely make it. But don’t take my word for it. This is my unofficial experience.
We then left for Maui, again in a flat calm. Enroute, we were surrounded by the “dolphins of Lanai”. Reported as the escort service, it appears that they admire us as we do them. After arriving at Maui, we anchored off Mala Wharf in 28ft. water. We spent two days here surrounded by others of like mind, just inbound of the Mala reef break. Here the surf broke 4-8 ft. and it was good. Both John and I paddled out. John did better than I did, due to my “Lolo” leg. It will be some time, if ever, before I will be surfing again. In any case the paddle was awesome.
The nice thing about Mala Wharf was the easy access to the surf, shopping center and restaurant. I think this is one of the better spots to anchor if you require any amenities. Can’t compare to Hanalei though. Thank you, Jeff Naus, skipper of “Moonshadow”, for that experience.
After two days we sailed back to Molokai. By now the conditions had changed and full trades were back. The channel forecast was for 20 knots. We left about 10:00 and hit the wind line about 11:00; 15 knots, then 20 knots. In anticipation, the headsail was reduced to 60% and the main single reefed. At 25 knots, then 30 knots combined with 4-5 ft. seas, the sail area had to be reduced again. Finally, at 30-35 knots the main was taken down. We “smoked” this 22,000 lb vessel downwind at 7.54 knots; quite a feat and quite an experience. As we reached down the Molokai Coast the seas built and the wind peaked at about 40 knots – we passed the Southern coast in style and “surfed” past Kaunakakai. As the day wore on the seas built, likely to about 6ft (Molokai Island protected us somewhat from seas). But added to this was a surf advisory for an 8-10 ft. south swell and I became concerned about our Lono Harbor destination. Lono, as we know, is exposed to the south swell. This time of year there is not supposed to be a south swell!
On approach to Lono entrance, the side wind increased and the surf cascaded onto the off-lying reefs. In 54 ft. of water the swells could be felt. This became very sobering as we made our approach. Three 8 ft. swells preceded our entry, the swells breaking on the reef on either side with, say, a 12ft. face. Atop these swells were the seas. If the wind had not been diagonal along shore I would never have attempted the entrance. As it was it was makeable. We followed the last swell in the set and, with the engine at 3500 rpm and half of the headsail up, we made our entry.
It was twilight by the time we anchored and mellowed out. Both John and I were glad we were “home” for the night. The unofficial caretaker Capt. Chuck of Hale Lone came over and we spoke of experiences and agreed that there would be little to our October story if we had not at least a mini storm to talk about... The next day we departed and sailed the 60 or so miles back to Honolulu. The weather was fine at 20 knots.
Bottom line, the preparation of the boat made our October
journey just about flawless. We had no
breakage, though the roller furling line chafed through once. But that was it. Preparation is everything! Click Here for more pictures
Mexico, our nearest neighbor, is just
east and south of us. Mexico and Central
America are the last great untouched, generally unregulated cruising grounds in
the Western Hemisphere. So if the spirit
of adventure and romance is still alive within you, read on. Let’s go south, down Mexico way.
The “Tuatha”, a West Sail 32, carries
eighty gallons of fuel (about twice as much as similarly sized vessels) and so
we motor sailed. The wind then became
ENE, this time to 30 knots. While we had
made good 35* to 36* North we were pushed south to the latitude of San
Diego. As expected the northing was made
up as we pressed on over the next 1,000 miles.
As we approached the mainland coast 600 miles offshore the weather
changed from clear to overcast. The sea
water temperature dropped into the 60's and the overcast changed to fog; chilly
by any standard. We approached the
mainland between Pt. Conception and San Miguel Island, but did not see land
until less than 5 miles offshore of Ventura on September 14th (three
days after the world had changed on 9-11...) We had made the coast in 28 days. Not a bad passage by cruising standards (Harry
Pidgeon - 45days circa 1950's). Here the
boat was attended to; sails were repaired, refinements made, and stores
replenished. I went to Ham radio school
(and dancing school) in San Diego. I
successfully learned both. After another
quest for crew “Tuatha” departed again on January 23rd 2002 for
The border crossing was very different as Mexico
is different. The difference is very
apparent even from 5 miles offshore. Gone
were the large hotels, bridges and business office buildings. Gone were the stately coastal mansions. These were replaced by older smaller buildings
and smaller, less conspicuous, homes. The smells changed as did the geography. In Mexico our wealth centered society gives
way to the more important family and community oriented values of the less
well-to-do Mexico. The people are
seemingly family oriented and deeply religious. Here Christian beliefs seem to permeate all
walks of life from business to recreation.
We approached the coast a day later
as expected and decided to enter San Blas. As usual it was dark on our approach, but the
Mantechen Bay which borders San Blas was so broad and protected, we entered it anyway
and finally anchored in 12ft. of water in a flat calm serene cove.
Two days later we headed for Banderas
Bay and Puerto Vallarta. This would be
end of the rode for one crew member and class mate Genie, who needed to get
back to work. This was also the
beginning of the prep work for our trans-oceanic voyage back to Hawaii some
2,800 miles to the West. The entrance
into Banderas Bay is a little tricky because the entrance is shallow in areas and
uncharted submerged rocks (big ones) are reported. I told my crew that we would not hit one
because they would inevitably name the rock after the first vessel which did hit
it. “Tuatha Rocks” did not sound good to
me. Banderas Bay is one of the largest
bays in the world and will some day inevitably become very populated. Currently small fishing villages surround the
bay along the NW and SE sides. Puerto Vallarta is on the most easterly side. It is also the center for the popular
MEXORC Banderas Bay regatta. We entered Puerto Vallarta, again in the
evening, and were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves at a berth with fresh
water and electricity - our first in over thirty days. Puerto Vallarta is a
cruisers’ mecca and here we met many cruisers from all over the world - going
to places all over the world. There were
mega yachts, medium yachts, sailing yachts and motor craft of many descriptions.
Here, too, were little cruising centers
with highly helpful x-patriot cruisers answering questions and providing services
-for a fee. Here, too, I found the
Hawaii Yacht Club burgee emblazoned onto a light house restaurant wall. In Puerto Vallarta I learned the bus system
and traveled into the old parts of town. Here one can purchase all kinds of silver
wares that Mexico is famous for. A
beautiful town with beautiful and industrious people.
On March 29, 2002 at 8:00 pm we made the Ala Wai Harbor and the Hawaii Yacht Club. Archie and Gilligan helped tie us up, not realizing at first who we were. My beard was over two inches long and scruffy I was. Upon the discovery of the end of a successful “Baja Ha Ha”-Mexico voyage we were soon joined by Tony, Larry, Lynn, Barbara and others. We partied well enough. For we had made the “Baja Ha Ha” successfully! The name Hawaii Yacht Club has been spread far and wide by the cruising clubs of previous generations. Signs of HYC Aloha were everywhere. I saw it. The HYC sailors are truly regarded everywhere there is wind and sea as steadfast loyal cruisers.
So why not Mexico by way of Hawaii? With thought, planning and will power the Mexico “Baja HA HA” is accessible to Hawaii cruisers. The entire journey can be accomplished in 7 months.
Capt Skip Riley