Day 6

8/6/2014: At Sea – Keehi, Oahu

Wow! What a night! The halyard held up, but the wind was strong, the waves tall, and reefing scary. Mike and Natalie were passed out the entire night except a couple times when I had them come up to help steer while reefing. Thank you so much for pushing through the pain to help get this ship home!

The self steering was working well to windward so I didn’t have to steer the whole time. I kept our course a tad off the wind to help the ride and prevent pounding, but every once in a while we would rise up and slam hard onto an oncoming wave, the whole boat shuddering, falling off, then the steering vane creaking over the sound of the wind and the water to get us back on course. It was a long night, but there are snapshots of clarity I can still see in my mind’s eye.

I remember the half moon rising, illuminating the sails and the white-water on the cresting waves. At one point I was looking ahead into the darkness when a faint white line appeared way higher than it should have been. I was looking up at this white, floating line that seems half as tall as the mast approaching quickly with just enough time to think, “That CAN’T be a wave!” before the nose rose and rose until “SLAM!” and I was completely soaked as we were turned ninety degrees off the wind and accelerating down before the self steering brought us back up on course. The steering would slip once in a while, so I had to continuously reset it, but that was easier than steering. Eventually though, it just couldn’t keep up and I had to hand steer.

I remember another image at the mast as I attempted to put in a third reef on the main. The deck was rising for a few seconds with enough G’s to prevent taking a step before it was fall away weightlessly. Mike was steering and keeping an eye on me, but out loud I was repeating, “Falling is death, falling is death. If this hand hold fails, I fall. Hold the stay instead, it won’t fail. Here comes a wave, two hands!” I should have had a harness clipped in, and next time I make a crossing I will have one easily accessible. The thought of rummaging around the locker down below for the harness in these seas was enough to prevent me from wearing it.

Later, the winds were even stronger and the jib had to come in. I called up Natalie to help and we struggled to winch in the roller furling with the loud snapping of the slackened jib keeping our nerves on edge. Natalie later said she was extremely weak at the time from the food poisoning, but she pulled through and I couldn’t have done it myself. How do single-handers do it??

At some point, the seas became calmer although the wind remained strong and I was able to use the self steering again. I was pretty fatigued and went down for some rest after checking the horizon for ship’s lights. I set my alarm for 15 minute intervals to come above deck to check for ships. I was amazed how fast I would fall asleep! I would climb behind the lee cloth onto the wet mattress and immediately fall asleep. The 15 minute alarm clock would wake me from a dead sleep every time. AIS would have been helpful at this point.

The morning light was the most welcoming sight I’ve ever had, filling my heart with relief. The sun rose again! I doubted it ever would.

Holding the course a bit off the wind like we were, our course was putting us about 50 miles south abeam Barber’s point. But hard against the wind was too rough, so I decided to hold course until behind the wind shadow of Oahu and then pointing up. Once we hit the wind shadow, the wind completely died however, so we motored for an hour. The wind picked up for a half hour so we sailed full main and full jib, but it died again so we decided to just motor. It felt like cheating, but after over 30 hours of getting beat up I didn’t care.

We finally cleared Barber’s point and the wind filled in so we sailed the rest of the way to Keehi, slaloming through tugs and commercial vessels along the way. The wind was perfect for heading up the familiar Kalihi Channel to home sweet home, 42 hours after departure from Kauai. An entire day was availabe to secure the roller-furling, wrap the main’s sail cover with line, double-tie the dock lines and otherwise prepare for the coming hurricane. Oh, and time to clean the canned goods rolling around from popped cupboard doors, hang wet fabric to dry and scoop up the ankle-deep lentils from a broken tupperware container.

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