Passage to Budi Budi Atoll

Alex Rust

07 November 2010 | Out islands of Papua New Guinea

We motored west out of Gizo on a sea of glass watching the fly fish leap from the underwater world to ours to perform their dance of escape with speed and grace leaving a trail of ripples the length of a football field as the ran across the water using their tail fins as feet and their their upper fins as wings to propel them forward. A few minutes later we watched a school of 50 tuna leaping out of the water from a foe Tree wished not to see. By midday I killed the engine and we drifted waiting on wind as we did not carry sufficient fuel to make the 700 mile trip to Madang in Papua New Guinea. It was hot, very hot, so hot you couldn’t think and the want of wind in the stale heat didn’t help. We all went for a dip to cool ourselves watching as we drifted past jellyfish in the clearest, bluest water you can imagine.

By midafternoon a honking breeze of 4 knots picked up out of the west/southwest. We changed our jib out for our genoa that hadnt been used since the Galapagos-Marqueses run and raised the main now clipping along at 3.5 knots though not in the right direction. By nightfall the wind increased to a screaming 5 knots with gusts of 6 and shifting favorably to the south allowing us make course at 4 knots. Tree cooked up some fish barritos and afterwords with the moon not being out yet and a clear sky we took to stargazing and seeing who could count the most shooting stars.

I awoke the next morning to a shredded genoa. The light winds causing the sail to flap throughout the night and the last burst of UV from the morning sunlight was all the sail could take and once the initial tear started it went along the entire leech reaching both head and foot. We took it down and I said a few words laying to rest the sail that had carried me on my longest passage. We then raised the spinnaker trying to catch as much of the 2 knots of wind possible.

Around midday I heard Benito yell from above deck what I thought was Tree in the water but in his french accent it was spinnaker in the water. Luckily there was no wind so we were able to recover the massive sail (now in a twisted mess) and i quickly learned that the light fluky winds had caused the halyard to chafe at the mast top. We went to work on raising yet another sail – this time the yankee and poling it out with the whisker pole but it flapped in the absence of wind and the furling line got a knot in it. The three of us tried to remedy every problem we came across but in 100+ degree heat it was hard to function and when I would call for a halyard line to be tightened a sheet would get loosened further complicating whatever we were working on. Being already frustrated by having lost two sails in one morning, I became more frustrated at the lack of response and running from one end of the boat to the other trying complete a given task on my own I nearly broke my foot on a block. I was about to lose it and breakdown completely when I noticed Tree beat me to it. I went to comfort her as she told me how she wished to be back home in Alaska away from the baking sun and the inescapable heat it brought. Oddly enough it was only the frenchie who seemed to being holding it all together.

It took all three of us to untangle the spinnaker and once done we spread it over the boom to dry creating a shield over the boat from the sun. This did wonders with the temperature inside the boat dropping it 15-20 degrees. There was still no wind as the sunset approached I pulled out a couple bottles of wine and cranked up some hot hits on the sound system. We jumped in and swam around to cool our overheated bodies and by midnight, with moon having just risen and morale back on top there came a 6 knot breeze from the south east – we were sailing again!!

The next day was another hot and sultry one. We were somehow still making two knots, a half knot of which must have been current, and trying to keep my mind off the non-existant wind I went rummaging through the v-berth looking for a project. I found a piece of marine plywood and after nearly losing a toe to the grinder resorted to using a pruning saw and a drill to shape the board and create handholds for my new boat dragging diving board. Tied to 40 feet of line from the stern I would let the boat drag me through the water with my snokeling mask on and using the board as a type of rudder I could get 15 feet beneath the surface and without exhausting any energy thus being able to stay there for a while before flipping the board up and shooting myself to the surface for air. This provided hours of cooling entertainment for me on an otherwise ‘equator style heat and no wind trapped on a bobbing boat makes you crazy’ kind of day.

By nightfall we were only 22 miles out from Budi Budi atoll and while Ben played the harmonica and Tree her mouth harp to celebrate the cooling air of night I contemplated how to time the boats position by morning on the opposite end of the atoll where the pass was…

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