Paper Airplanes and Aliens

Alex Rust

30 July 2010 | niue

So that night at sea we feasted on fresh Mahi Mahi that had been delivered, in the middle of the ocean mind you (S 18’15804 by W 163’52.331), by our south African friends on Whiskers. Winds were light at our backs and the seas were calm so we slept well as we drifted westward to our next destination.

The next morning brought more fair weather so it was to be a work day. With everything always being tossed about there are always things to fix, replace and organize. After changing out some blocks (pulleys), replacing a pin on the traveler and whipping some line in bad shape we moved inside to begin organizing the bookshelf. Going through the ships steward we found many redundant pages and after removing them we all started to make paper airplanes. We decided to have a competition and since we had a whole stack of paper at our disposal we had plenty of test flights to be launched before each having our own prize plane ready for takeoff. Jims plane won the event circling in the wind and even coming back to the boat for another flight. We have must have looked like little kids sitting there on a sailboat in the middle of the ocean throwing around paper airplanes. We certainly felt like little kids.

The winds got lighter and lighter and finally we decided it was time to raise the spinnaker. I had been leary about raising it with too much wind with the memory of the ‘spinnaker incident’,as it is known by those who were there, still lingering in my thoughts with every mention of the word, but with winds at only 8 knots at our backs it was time to catch some wind. We took down the Main and left the jib up poled out to the leeward side of the boat. I had never sailed with twin headsails but if it was ever going to happen now was the time. This particular spinnaker works by first raising a chute the length of the mast that has the sail bagged up inside it then after attaching the lines both fore and aft to maintain proper tension one pulls on a separate line that then raises the chute releasing the sail. It is quite an event when the spinnaker sail first fills up for a couple of reasons. One, the sail is HUGE, bigger than both the mainsail and the jib combined, and puffs out like a huge balloon when it fills with wind. When it fills for the first time you can feel the entire boat jolt as it accelerates the entire boat forward. Almost feels like you are being lifted out the water and flying. And second the colors, this particular sail is bright teal with huge three pointed yellow star bigger than the boat encompassing its surface. Plain and simple – its just pretty to look at. With both headsails up we were now moving at a nice 5-6 knots. Not bad for only 8 knots of wind.

With the new sail flying and being Jim and Joes first time seeing it a new energy overtook Bubbles. We cranked the music and started dancing. Jim got out his camera and decided we should make a music video. I adonned some pirate gear and started jumping around on the upside down soft bottom inflatable dingy at the bow that serves as a not-so-good-for-keeping-you-on-the-boat trampoline. All the dancing gave way to a hunger that had to be satisfied. Time to go to the galley.

In Bora Bora we had befriended the local athletes who train year round for the banana races where they run through the streets with two bunches of bananas tied to a log. One particular racer named Chi-chi had given us his bannas he had raced with for our next passage at sea and in turn we gave him one of our pirate flags. He will be missed. The thing with bunches of bananas at sea is that they all get ripe at the same time so instead of trying to eat 45 bananas each in a day we make banana bread. The bannas were ripe so it was time for the Bubbles favorite. We had made so much on our crossing to the Marqueses that Diego and Ross couldn’t eat a banana for a month.

By the next sundown the winds were starting to pick up and Bubbles was chugging along at 7 knots. I had been having trouble picking up my weather via the SSB but the last info I had showed nothing serious so we decided to leave her up for another night. The trouble with the spinnaker at night is that if the winds pick up and grab her the wrong way she can overpower the boat and get in quite a tangle and without proper lighting can be quite the job to get under control. It was a full moon night anyway which meant that as long as there wasn’t too much cloud cover it was be almost as bright as day and I’ve even read books under moonlight at sea. Just as the sun set, which is always a social hour on bubbles with everybody gathered in the cockpit to enjoy the color show on the sky, we looked back behind us to dark section of sky and noticed and orange orb floating off the horizon. It was far too big to be a sailboat and shaped improperly to be ship. Whatever it was it was coming our way and fast. Jim thought it was an alien vessel and I agreed. We must do something. I went below to grab the flare gun when Joe recognized the object to be the tip of the rising moon behind the clouds. Whewww! That was a close one. After enjoying the back to back sunset and moonrise we took down some chicken curry and devided up our shifts for the night.

Jim woke me at 1 am for my shift. I grabbed the helm and settled into watching the hue of the moonlight shine teel and yellow through the thin fabric of the spinnaker. Winds were now at 12 knots and increasing and were enough to dip the rail of the boat into the water bringing a wave onto the leeward deck. I knew it was time to take down the sail but I also knew that we were moving so fast that we could now make it to the coral island of Nui by the next days afternoon if we kept this pace. We charged along and I woke Joe for his shift and quickly fell asleep in the saloon.

I was awoken to the boat healing over 40 degrees and the sound of water rushing by the nearest hatch. I rushed to the cockpit where Joe was driving with all his might to turn the boat back on course. The bottom of the spinnaker was in the water. Apparently Jim had woke me up early telling me it was time to take it down but I told him it was all right and fell back asleep. Now it was definitely time to take it down as we neared a broach situation. I recalled a time in Annapolis with some experienced sailor friends of mine where we had flown the spinnaker in too much wind and broached almost sinking the J24 we were in. Out of necessity we cut the a sheet and ended up sailing 6 knots in reverse with water rushing into the open cockpit. We were in the Chesapeake then surrounded by other boats. I didn’t want to repeat the situation in the middle of the south Pacific. Jim and I took the spinnaker down and put it away then Joe turned the boat up into the wind so we could reraise the main. We unclipped the jib from the pole and jibed. We were now on a nice broad reach with nearly 20 knots of wind and with the distance covered with the spinnaker overnight it looked good for making landfall with sunlight to spare. Nui here we come….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *