23 January 2011 | Somewhere near Palau
Ben did one last back flip off the government dock before casting the lines and raising sail. We had a good start with the wind and needed it in order to make it to the Toagel Mlungui pass 15 miles away with enough light to get out. We had two lookouts for reef as Bubbles slid smoothly across the flat turquoise water of the inner lagoon. A huge leatherback turtle popped up in between us and one reef as if to give warning and we tacked several times avoiding other uncharted reef of Palau’s inner lagoon before arriving at the pass. We made the channel with good light, raised our cutlasses and practiced our ‘yarrs’ to our friends on Jubulant who happened to make the pass at the same time (showing us a couple of full moons on the way). They were also heading towards the Philipines and we exchanged pirate jab on the vhf as both entered the open blue.
Neptune must have been pleased to see us again for within the first half an hour we had a Spanish Mackerel on the line for a fresh fish dinner and within another 15 minutes over a dozen dolphins were playing at the bow with several leaping in unison all the way out of the water. Shannon had never sailed before and it was good to see her so excited about the dolphins reminding of what awesome creatures they really are. By sunset we were still sailing making it the best wind we had seen since the Solomon Islands over three months before. With the autopilot still not working we split up into shifts driving the boat and I was finally able to go below and start to figure out where were heading. We knew we were going to the Philipines but with over 7000 islands and boat that could take us to any of them it was hard to pick a starting point.
The next morning the wind had shifted behind us so we rigged up the whisker pole but after a couple hours while I was below we were hit by a squall. I rushed on deck to the realization that we had to get some sail down fast and went straight for the line that released the pole from the working jib sheet. The line broke as I pulled on it and now not being able get the pole detached from the sheet I had Kirk untie the aft line and we started to furl in the jib with pole still attached. At this point it was blowing well over 20 knots and we still had full sail area up and seas were building. Then the halyard holding the whisker pole up tangled in the furler at the top of the mast preventing us from taking the jib in any further. In the meantime I was getting beat on by the loose sheet that was now whipping in the ever increasing wind. Knowing we had to get the jib in I started to climb the mast but when I got halfway up realized I wouldn’t be able to hold on (climbing the mast in these conditions is like riding a bucking bronco) and simultaneously untangle the line so I climbed back down and got out the bolsens chair and had Ben hoist me up. Riding at the top of a 64 foot pole in a rough ocean is quite the experience and while untangling the halyard atop the mast I thought what a fun carnival ride this would make. All the while I was instructing Shannon how the drive the boat in a straight line (not like driving a car with those land lubber wheels) and compensate for the weather helm so as not to hit the waves wrong and catapult me into the sea. Eventually we got it all figured out and were sailing along nicely in the driving rain.
Later that afternoon we managed to get the wind vane to drive the boat (after having just watched waterworld I was much inspired) relieving us of having to hand steer the boat. A large freighter passed by to our starboard and I decided to hail him on the VHF just for fun. To my surprise the captain responded and invited us aboard. When he heard there was four of us on an 8 ton sailboat he responded by saying he could get his crane out and simply put us on deck of his 90,000 ton ship. He quickly named me ‘Indiana Cowboy’ and we exchanged friendly jabber for most of the time we were in range but alas he had to get his goods down to Australia (he was coming from Taiwan) and we had good wind pushing us towards the Philipines (know simply as PI by those in this part of the world) and so we said our goodbyes and watched each other disappear over the horizon.
The seas built through the day and by nightfall we had consistent 10 foot waves out of the northeast. I came on deck at one point to the sound of Shannon yelling ‘WEEEE! WEEEE!’ as rode down the face of the waves. Better having fun with it than being sea sick. Speaking of which earlier in the day Kirk came running into the cockpit and performed a beautiful projectile over the side. Unfortunately it was into the wind and much of his puke came back onto him and the boat. At another point in the afternoon while Kirk was sleeping in the cockpit and Shannon and I were just sitting having one of those ‘how can we save the earth’ talks a wave smacked the boat just right and washed over the side soaking the three of us. Kirk jumped up in an instant exclaiming he was awake and it reminded me of how dad used to wake me up with water when I was late for the breakfast table as a child. On one deck inspection a six-inch fly fish hit me in the chest while I was walking back to the cockpit. You see them fly out of the water all the time but with the wave height now higher than the boats freeboard they occasionally land in the boat but this was the first I had ever been hit by one.
As the sunsets glow faded in the west the glow of the moonrise began to the fill the sky of the east and with the previous nights full moon still had quite the shine. A large booby took refuge on our bow pulpit and looked quite strange wobbling there as we rocked violently in the swell but must have been happier there than in the wind or waves. As the night wore on we were surrounded by several lightning storms and with each strike revealing the nasty black rolling clouds I had to stay on watch to see which would hit us first. It wasn’t until midnight that Kirk and I that did battle with the first by pre-emptively furling in the jib followed by putting two reefs in the main as the wind topped 30 knots. Luckily we are in the tropics and only 8 degrees north of the equator and so being wet with warm sea water or rain isn’t too big a deal but with the wind it still felt pretty dang cold at times and I tried to imagine what arctic sailing must be like. We were hit by another squall at 2 am and afterwards I went below to pass out turning the reigns over to Ben. I woke a little after sun up to find the wind blowing 20-25 out of the south west when I had went below it as 20-25 out of the north east. Ben described how in a matter of seconds the wind did a 180 and we were now sailing up wind while surfing down waves (go figure). Strange considering the grib files (weather forecast) showed 10-15 out of north east. In two days time it shows some nasty wind hitting us. Maybe we will be becalmed but I doubt it.