There is absolutely no better sight in the world these days than seeing land after a rough offshore passage. Here is a shot of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands right before our landfall on Monday afternoon after a bouncy 535 mile trip that Sophie covered in 3 days.
I am not sure what was more eventful, the runup to the passage or the passage itself. We’ll let you decide.
When we last updated you, I was in diplomatic limbo in Seattle while awaiting word from the French government on whether or not they would issue a visa that would allow me to rejoin Jenna and the kids in French Polynesia. I flew down to the French Consulate in San Francisco a week ago Monday and was told I had to return there on Tuesday morning to see the Visa office, which was in another department across the hall. So I hung out with my college friends Phil and Peter Monday night in Oakland and then returned to the French visa office on Tuesday. I didn’t have an appointment so had to wait an hour, but finally had the opportunity to speak with the local head of the visa department, who got annoyed with me and basically said (from behind a glass security wall) “You’ve called me three times, I can’t give you an emergency visa, I wouldn’t even know how to enter it into my computer, you just need to get on a plane to Tahiti and see what happens …. Besides, that involves Customs, which is a different department than Visas, and I have no idea what they will do.”
Well, THAT made me feel good. I then flew down to Los Angeles with a ticket on the evening Air Tahiti Nui flight to Papeete out of LAX. When I got to the ticket counter, the lady asked me if I had a visa or a return ticket. I had neither, but I showed her my departure bond (which we got as participants in the Pacific Puddle Jump rally) while asking if it would be possible for me to buy an upgrade to Business Class. That seemed to change everything. I got my ticket, got on the plane, and flew to Tahiti. In Papeete, I was the first one in line at Customs, they barely looked at my passport, gave me a new stamp, and let me into the country. The next day I flew up to Bora Bora, and we were all together again.
What a relief.
Meanwhile, Jenna was holding down the fort on Sophie with the kids and the Riebelings in Bora Bora. She was worried (Leo thinks “worried” is an understatement) about me but at least was in the company of friends in one of the most beautiful spots in the world while I was in the States. This is a photo of the kids celebrating Canada Day at a potluck party at the Mai Kai with the local Canadian cruisers. Hazel and Leo don’t realize that they are 25% Canadian, but can’t you just tell by looking at the photo?
So on the Friday after I returned to Bora Bora, we left for Rarotonga with Karl and Hans Riebeling as guest crew. Tanya Riebeling had to return to the States the day before.
The trip got off to a great start. Twenty miles out of Bora Bora, we sailed through a couple of hunting birds, and I turned around and watched an electric turquoise blue Mahi Mahi arc through the air as it swam to hit the “Bad Boy” lure (which has been subsequently renamed “the German Flag”) which was trolling from our fishing pole. As the fish ran with the line, Jenna and Karl expertly stopped the boat but we (I) lost the fish. But the sight of that Mahi Mahi arcing through the air – specifically its intense blue color – is a sight I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
As a consolation, 30 minutes later we landed a 10 pound Yellowfin on one of the meat lines. It made us all pretty happy.
The weather, unfortunately, did not make us very happy. The wind picked up to 20+ knots that evening and remained in the 25-35 knot range through Monday morning. We were sailing southwest, and the wind and 4-5 meter swell was coming from the southeast, so we were getting hit hard by waves and wind from our port beam for three days. Friday evening we decided to play it safe and put a third reef into Sophie’s mainsail, which was a first for us. At some point later that night a tear developed in the mainsail right above the reefpoint at the mast. We got pounded and bounced around. It was pretty uncomfortable for all of us.
On Saturday morning, things became interesting.
While in Bora Bora, I had bought a new large squid lure called “The Hawaiian Breakfast”. When I was at the counter of the fishing store, I asked the counter dude why the lure had two small holes drilled into its face. He looked around, leaned forward, and whispered “because they create a stream of bubbles, and the bubbles drive the fish wild.” I was totally hooked. Anyway, we had The Hawaiian Breakfast on a new 200 lb. meat line on the outer port side, and it caught a 10 kilo Wahoo, also known as an “Ono”.
I was able to pull this in by myself. It was way cool, the biggest fish caught on Sophie to date. An hour later we had a double Mahi Mahi takedown on the two inner meatlines! (One of these was using a new silver and gray lure Hans had labeled “The Cougar”. For the life of us Jenna and I could not figure out how that lure had anything to do with being a cougar until Hans pointed out that it had the colors of Washington State).
So to celebrate the double takedown, Jenna took this photo of me holding the two newest fish. We were stoked! Over a 14 hour period we had caught 4 fish totaling 60 pounds. Our freezer was going to be full. But then as I set the 2 fish down, I accidentally stepped on this …
… the mouth of the dead Wahoo which was still on the deck. Its teeth were like razor blades, and they cut an uncomfortably deep distance into the bottom of my left big toe. In the civilized world it would have required immediate stitches, however we were in 30 knot seas 150 miles from the nearest rural clinic. So Jenna consulted on the phone with her sister Julie and my dad (both doctors), and she did a great job dressing the wound.
So there we were. Storm conditions, torn mainsail, lacerated captain (under treatment for epilepsy), seasick kids, and good friends. Living the dream.
It calmed down a little on Monday, and we turned on the engines to make Rarotonga before nightfall. I didn’t want to risk spreading the tear in the mainsail by shaking out the reefs, and none of us wanted to enter the harbor at dark.
We made the harbor by three in the afternoon. It’s very small and exposed to the wind and swell from the north. But we were tired and SO GLAD to be in port. Especially in such a friendly island where EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH.
We had radioed ahead, and the harbormaster drove me in his truck up the mountain to the local hospital. A doctor looked at the wound and said Jenna had done a great job keeping it clean. He then had a grandmother nurse clean the wound and change the dressing. She reminded me of my mother (also a nurse) up to the point when she was done with the shift and proceeded to wrap herself in a wool blanket and then hopped onto a motorcycle to drive home.
We love the Cook Islands so far. People are incredible friendly. We got the mainsail down and a local seamstress named Margaret is repairing it. The children made 6 new friends at the playground yesterday. Jenna bought drinks for the kids from a drink shack, and it didn’t have change, so someone grabbed her money then returned 5 minutes later with change, happy to have helped.
And the food is great. (That’s marlin sashimi right next to the smoked marlin.)
The only sad thing about the Cooks is that Karl and Hans had to leave us Monday night. We are blessed to have such good friends join us for almost 3 weeks. The Riebelings are a wonderful family, and we miss them very much.
We’ll spend a few more days here in Rarotonga, and then we are off to the island of Niue via a stopover in Beveridge Reef. The journey continues.