October 20, 2011

Peril at Cook Reef

We're at anchor at the base of 4 inactive volcanoes. They rise steeply and greenly from the coral strewn water and when the wind rushes between them the roar and howl echoes around their cliffs. In the stronger gusts the whole boat thrums while we rock in the wind waves. Yet it seems peaceful here. Which makes you realize that when you come *this* close to tossing your boat up on a reef, anything less than tragedy is tranquil.

The reinforced trades are still blowing and are predicted to stay. This made us realize we could either use up our days in the relative tameness of Port Havannah or we could hurtle ourselves into the maelstrom (where conditions are even more windwardly and windy than yesterday) and see what I've been dreaming about.

I hate going to windward. And windward in huge seas and 25+ knots is decidedly unfun. But we headed out-each of us cowering in our corners and we endured a better, faster passage than we expected. Who knew our staysail would work so well? Not us.
Because we don't go upwind.

As we closed on Emae, we realized that the poor charts and cruising guides for this area had us approaching the island from too far down wind and far too close to the leeward side of Cook Reef-an ancient volcano that went through its atoll stage and is now simply great for diving and killing boats. We also discovered the area has some ripping evil currents which were rapidly hurtling us reef-ward. (For those of you not following sailor-talk-we were going through a channel between Emae and Cook Reef-the wind was coming from Emae and blowing us toward the reef.)

This seemed to be a good moment to add a little engine to the situation but when Evan went to fire it up the ignition switch shattered.

I don't know what spare parts you carry-but this isn't one we have in our tool box. It's not even one we've heard of breaking before. So as Ev coped with the engine-I kept easing us upwind-trying to gage if the next big sea would push us too close to the reef and watching to see if we could clear the edge of it and get into safe water.

Tacking was out-in these winds and these seas we tack like a catamaran-a slow, indecisive process that would also be hampered by the fact we weren't using a mainsail. Falling off and turning back was a marginal option. Using our outboard (our in-harbour manoeuvring engine) was the last ditch plan-but in the big seas it would be repeatedly dunked and pulled out of the water.

I was trying to decide whether or not to pull up the leeward daggerboard (it looked like we could mostly clear the reef) when Evan sorted out the engine issue and was able to jump it with some assistance. We revved it to redline and turned away from the frothing seas and toward the volcanoes.

Where we anchored. The wind moans and the seas are lively. And it's one of the most peaceful anchorages I've ever been in.

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1 comment:

Deb said...

We actually had the same thing happen to us but fortunately it happened in the security of our slip at the dock. All it cost us was a day of sailing and a trip to the local farm store to buy a tractor ignition switch. We had to rig a separate glow plug switch out of an old horn switch we had laying around but it got the job done. I think the plastic ring holding it in just finally succumbed to the UV damage of 30+ years. Good luck with fixing it.

S/V Kintala