The Bora Bora to Niue Passage

This was an interesting passage. As a friend currently in the Caribbean recently wrote us, we haven’t been having a lot of fun on South Pacific passages recently. With some twists, this one seems to have changed our luck.

Sitting in Bora Bora looking at the weather, we were all dismayed at the procession of lows and fronts coming at us from the west. Some friends of ours left four days before us, a few boats the day before, and some others were still dubious of the weather when we left. We looked at a passage forecast straight to Niue and another heading north toward Suwarrow then turning south toward Niue. The northern route looked best with maximum winds of 29 knots for a few hours, the rest pretty good. We left on the northern route.

The first couple of days we ran through some pretty stormy weather as we passed through two fronts. No surprise since we’d seen them on the New Zealand fleet codes, but the wind was in the mid-thirties for a few hours. A boat just behind us tore their mainsail and hove-to for 12 hours while the front passed. On the third day the weather seemed to settle into the mid teens, very sail-able even if the wind was further south than normal.

The rest of our passage was a standard tradewind passage with winds in the teens, clocking from south to the northeast. We jibed the sails once, somewhere around day seven. We were actually quite enjoying the sail and agreed it was one of our better passages since leaving the Marquesas.

Meanwhile, the boat that left Bora Bora four days before us, and sailed a route 150 miles further south, tore their mainsail in some more stormy weather. Another boat heading into Suwarrow met with 40 knot head winds, shredding their main. A ketch that left a few days before us also tore sails and are looking for a sail maker in Tonga. We know of two boats that had sails shipped into Bora Bora after ripping them in the Society Islands.

So what’s behind this rash of ripped sail cloth? In some cases the difference between cheap manufactured sails from Taiwan and Thailand and robust hand-made cruising sails from sail makers like Hasse are the difference – the cheaper sails don’t last as long. Of course, at a fraction of the cost you can buy several sets for what a hand-made sail costs, so the decision is a wash. But you do end up shipping more sails around with the cheaper ones. The other reason is age. Two of the boats on the passage have been cruising for around 10 years, another is on his third South Pacific loop. Ten years is about the lifespan of a sail in the tropics and the sharp wind shear we’ve had in the fronts and squalls is particularly hard on sails. Our Hasse sails pulled right through the stormy weather and we’re happy a fire drill in the middle of the night was unnecessary.

Since we arrived in the South Pacific we have realized the number one priority in safe sailing for us is to be able to shorten sail quickly. Especially at night with one person sleeping. Our roller furling jib has been getting a real workout since it’s much faster and easier to roll in the jib than go forward and drop the hank-on staysail. We are seriously considering converting the staysail to roller furling so we are using our all our sail combinations in various wind strengths as intended. Just need to talk to our sail maker and rigger to see what our options are for our hank-on storm jib.

So that’s it. Out of the four boats we kept in contact with on this passage we seemed to have had the best of it. While I’d like to claim superior weather knowledge, it just wouldn’t be true – they’ve all been cruising for 10 years or more and have the same weather tools we have. I think we were just lucky, for a change.

And one last thing, I seem to remember Teresa reporting an Epiphany in her log the other day about watch schedules. I can only say, if you get awakened twice during the night, it’s because you had two times you were asleep. If you only get awakened once, it’s because you only slept once. Whiner :-)>

Today on Yohelah we are rolling around in the anchorage at Niue.