Trip Reports

Current Mystery Clarified (04-May-2001-13-15):
1:15 PM local time (2315Z) Friday, May 4th. 16 26S 148 43W. Temp 86, Humidity 75, cloud cover 100%.

We're on the second day of a passage from Rangiroa to Tahiti and have had an uncharacteristically mellow trip, so far. We have been eyeing with some concern a tropical depression which was about 300 miles SW of Tahiti and heading east which has been affecting our winds, the concern being it might pass close enough to make the end of the trip a beat, and of course the more serious but, from what we have been able to assess, less likely concern that it might strengthen or move our way. We expect to be in the vicinity of Papeete tomorrow morning. We haven't timed our arrivals very well so far. We thought we were early to Hiva Oa and Rangiroa so we slowed our pace only to have the wind die. We don't have much fuel right now, so if it does get light we've left extra time to make it in tomorrow afternoon.

The day after we got situated in Rangiroa a 140-ft., 300 ton Brigantine named the Soren Larsen entered the same pass Maverick did, but under sail. The crew of Maverick met up with its Captain, Jim, ashore the next day, and were generously entertained by the latter's knowledge of the days of sail for quite some time. Jim was seventy, had been to sea since he was fifteen, and had his gold earring from rounding the Horn in the same vessel. The ship had covered up its GPS in Panama and used celestial navigation, and on one leg, Polynesian navigation, to find their way. They had 12 paid hands and 22 paying crew and were headed to Papeete, where they would haul out, from England. They invited us aboard, and on a tour of the ship they bet us a bottle of rum we wouldn't work out any celestial sights between Rangiroa and Tahiti. We took the sights but working them out hasn't gone so well, as out of practice as we are. I'm going to review my math tonight. We asked them the difference between a Brigantine and a Hermaphrodite and they explained it in a polite, clear way that left the crew of Maverick just as ignorant as before. (Someone out there know?) We discussed with the Captain his entry under sail, which he said was rarely possible and probably hadn't been done in a very long while in a ship that size, but this day the wind uncharacteristically had enough north in it to make the conditions perfect. He was asked how ships got in and out without engines, and he said that often there would be a wharf right in the pass itself. The ships would enter on a flood, tie up, and then at ebb slip the lines and drift out. I asked him how they could maintain steerage, and how they could get enough offing to hoist their sails and beat their way from a lee shore when they could only sail 75 degrees from the wind or so.

Jim shrugged and answered in his very low key way that they just floated out, and it didn't matter if they had steerage because the ship was going to go in the right direction no matter which way it was pointed, so if the current turned them and they went out backwards or sideways it was of little concern. As he went on to explain that in those days the sailors would routinely handle situations which today no one would dream of trying, I was having visions of 300 tons of ship sideways and what we would think of as out of control in a channel little wider than the vessel's length, drifting to sea as the crew prepares to set sail, all in a day's work. From his understated manner and confidence, I reckoned that Captain Jim, if the situation demanded it, would not shrink from carrying out this maneuver with his own ship.

I spoke with him about the tides and currents in the channel and we observed the local divers and how quickly they were drifting. His tide information confirmed what I had extrapolated, which I had also confirmed with a cruiser whose software did have Rangiroa; and he also mentioned a formula using moonrise and moonset that I later found in one of my reference books but had forgotten about. The problem is that often the slack is closer to high or low than one might think, as it was the day we came in, so even if you know the tides you might not have the currents. (On the day we left, I simply asked one of the divers, in French, when the current changed, as they certainly have local knowledge. He told me his dog was really quite difficult to understand, and he would explain when he had the chance.)

After our great conversation with Jim and the crew about things tidal and astronomical, we left the ship, promising to see them in Tahiti. Whereupon they weighed anchor and departed at max flood, exactly the wrong time, with no problem.

We really didn't see many tourists in Rangiroa after all, as we just went in to the local village establishments. Didn't get to go on that glass bottom boat, either. It was very pleasant but the crew of Maverick doesn't want the growth to get too thick on the bottom, so we're down the road.

In Papeete we will be met by girls bearing spare parts! Now you're talking!

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