Voyage Log – Auckland to Easter Island
Deckhand Robin Falvey recounts a very memorable passage...
"We didn’t make it! I can’t believe it! The magnificent great circle route across the vastness of the Southern Ocean ended up with a pirouette that Dame Fontaine would have been proud of and a mad dash north to sunshine and safety.
All began well, and deteriorated from there. We left Auckland on 25th March, amid cheers and waving, a little nervous perhaps but looking forward immensely to the challenge of a lifetime.
Right from the start the winds did not play along with our plans as first we were forced to motor into a headwind, then forced south as we sailed away from the New Zealand coast. Finally as we neared the halfway point we struck good winds and were bowling along, optimistic, anticipating a fine sail for the remainder of the voyage.
Then came Dirty Gerty.
A weather fax printout heralded the unbelievably swift formation of a truly massive low pressure system.
Eyebrows shot up and complexions paled as we realized that we were facing what the New Zealand Met Office described as a ‘Monster’.
Captain Barry gathered us all together and explained the situation. There was only one thing that we could do. Prepare.
I have listed below some of the things on Barry’s checklist, which provide something of a glimpse into the serious nature of our predicament.
Storm stow sails
Rig ‘Crew strainers’ amidships
Safety lines led forward and aft
Double lash the boats and everything else on the deckhouse roof
Storm cover and lash all hatches
Storm stow everything below decks
Lash the windlass cover in place
Make up a grab box of engineering spares
Move mooring lines aft to use as drogue anchors
Make sure plywood, saws, screws and mastic are ready to grab
Soak oakum bags in fish oil ready to stream (to pour oil on troubled water)
Over the next few days the weather slowly deteriorated. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Met Office who assigned senior forcaster Bob McDavitt to personally weather route us to avoid the worst of the storm. Following his advice we motored some four hundred miles in the wrong direction, then doglegged east, before finally turning and running north before nine meter swells, in force ten gusting winds.
It was ferocious but we avoided the worst that Dirty Gerty could have thrown at us. Battered and bruised and not a little relieved, the storm finally began to abate and we began to turn our thoughts towards the remainder of the voyage.
Captain Barry after much deliberation and consultation decided to abandon Easter Island as our destination and instead continue north to Tahiti. (The additional motoring had put us the just the wrong side of our fuel calculations to make Rapa Nui with enough of a safety margin.) While we were all disappointed at not realizing our dream of sailing to one of the worlds most mysterious and alluring islands, we all knew that we had just had a lucky escape from a monster storm.
At last the weather Gods began to smile on us. We had a terrific sail north, with great steady winds, climbing temperatures and ever rising spirits. When we eventually made landfall at Tubuai, one of the Austral Islands, we were all keen to step on land again, although after a month rolling around on the Soren Larsen, I did initially have problems walking in a straight line!
The Tubuains, unused to tall ships turning up in their beautiful lagoon, made us very welcome. Gifts of fruit also proved extremely popular, cabbage being the only ‘fresh’ food left aboard at that point!
The majority of us enjoyed a couple of days of rest and recuperation after the long voyage – apart from our delightful cook Tatyana, who having obviously had enough of us all attempted to desert. She went for a quick walk and that was the last we saw of her. We sent boat after boat ashore to see if she had arrived back at the wharf, but as night fell, it was clear that we were down to one cook (good job we packed a spare). At first light we were keen to see if the feisty Russian had returned and it was with some relief that as I ran the first boat ashore, I spied a bedraggled figure clutching a bag to her bosom. Tatyana was back. Her story was that she got lost, waded though thorn bushes, scrambled over rocks and eventually, benighted, fell asleep hugging a tree in a swamp. We were relieved and pleased to have her back safe and sound – but how we laughed!
The final leg of our trip from Tubuai to Tahiti was completed Polynesian style, using only the stars, sun, moon, wind and sea to guide us. This for me was one of the highlights of the voyage. Navigating without using a compass creates a heightened sense of awareness of the stunning environment that is the ocean. You feel the wind on your cheek, check the ship’s position against the stars and suddenly begin to realize what voyaging is all about.
What is it about?
Come and see."
See Picture Gallery from this voyage