Monday, September 3, 2012

International Cross Roads

Tom Neale, the Cook Islander who lived alone for many years on the island off which we are anchored, would have been shocked if he woke up one day to the sight of 25 boats floating in his lagoon. In Neale's time on Suwarrow, one or two yachts a year might visit this isolated atoll. The fleet of cruising boats that is here now includes voyagers from Poland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Canada, US, England, Norway, New Caledonia, France, Malta, Scotland, and Australia. The yachts range in size from about 30 feet to over 120 feet!

Last night cruisers on the Australian catamaran 'Fantazia' organized a Blue Moon potluck on the beach. We feasted on an inventive selection including curries, salads, pastas, and freshly caught coconut crabs and fish. Around dusk, we walked across the island to see the full moon rise and to watch the shark feeding. Stephan from 'Charlotte' stood on the edge of the reef throwing pieces of fish into water boiling with 20 frenzied sharks ranging from 3 to 5 feet. To give the watching cruisers a thrill, Stephan reached into the melee and lifted a shark out by its tail. The poor thing was most perturbed when it found itself hoisted out of its element and tried its best to bite the hand that had been feeding it, but without success.

Tonight we were invited on a French mega yacht for another potluck. We had seen this boat when anchored off Fare in Huahine a month ago where it towered over the rest of the fleet with its five spreader rig. It is the largest boat in the anchorage at 37 meters with an 8.5 meter beam. The owner, Christian gave us a tour before dinner, explaining how engineering a boat this size presents quite a different challenge from smaller production boats. The vessel was designed and built in Holland of aluminum. It can be sailed by as few as two people, but the loads on such a huge sailing ship must be very carefully handled.

Obviously it is impossible to cope with the huge forces on a 37 meter boat without a lot of mechanical help. All the lines are controlled from an electrical panel at either of the two wheels. Hydraulics are used to to power all the winches. The primary winches for the genoa and main sheets are about 18 inches in diameter (the size of end-tables). The mast and boom are carbon fiber, the boom being much longer than a typical suburban house and wide enough that one could sleep across its width. Despite its huge size, the boom only weighs about 1000 lbs because of its ultra-light construction. The mast is held up by rod rigging with tension of many tons on each stay. The stays have no turnbuckles to tension them, but instead the mast was jacked up until it exerted 8 tons of pressure on the hydraulic jack and then wedged in place. The sails are huge and weigh hundreds of pounds each - the genoa alone is 1500 square feet - twice as large as all our sails put together.

Down below, there are two seating areas each the size of a large living room and below these, cabins for the owner and guests. The interior was designed in Italy and finished in a beautiful hardwood, mixed with panels of a white composite and laminate floors. The crew quarters and galley are separated from the owner's quarters by a watertight bulkhead and door. We were briefly shown the engine room where a caterpillar diesel provides both primary drive through a massive shaft and a bow thruster for maneuvering. The muffler for this engine is larger than our entire diesel. There are also two diesel generators that run about 4 hours a day to handle the electrical demands and two large water makers to provide on-demand fresh water.

Unusually for such a large yacht, Christian, the owner is also the captain and is always aboard the boat while underway. He usually sails with a crew of three other people, including a Swiss first mate. Christian, and his friends Pierre, and Idi, joined us and Carol and Livia from 'Estrellita' for a moonlit dinner on deck. Much of the conversation was in French, but I did my best to keep up, and was able to contribute a small amount. Christian is an affable host and made us all feel at ease. The next day he visited us for coffee on Ladybug and we were able to give him a somewhat shorter tour of our little boat.

We are underway for Samoa in 3 meter swells and 20+ knots of wind - rolling and surfing down waves at an average speed of 7 knots. At this rate it will be a fast, if uncomfortable passage. Our position now is 13 29 S 165 20 W.

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