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port phaeton to punaauia ~ first instincts

Posted by on December 17, 2013

July 26, 2013

Once the wind had settled down to less than 20 knots, we departed from the protection of Port Phaeton and did a short day sail to Commune de Punaauia, near Papeete. We bid a temporary farewell to s/v Sueño and s/v Flour Girl who were going to stay behind an extra day, but we sailed out with s/v MacPelican by our side. We would see s/v Sueño in a day or two, and we’d meet up with s/v Flour Girl in Huahine.

It was a Friday, and we needed to get duty free diesel from Marina Taina. Duty free fuel was only sold during the week, so we needed to get there before the weekend began. We were also expecting a package from Wil’s mom. And, since we were headed in that direction, we would be crossing paths with s/v Saliander for the first time since the Galapagos, and we were invited to have dinner with them. We couldn’t wait to see Pete and Rae!

Our plan was to anchor near Marina Taina, get our business done, and then move on to explore another island or two of the Societies. Our time in French Polynesia was running out, and we didn’t have time to see all of the islands. Therefore, once our business and some boat maintenance were done in Tahiti, we would attempt to visit Huahine and Bora Bora before clearing out of French Polynesia.

As we sailed up the west coast of Tahiti, the wind remained at our stern. We followed the curving coastline, and it didn’t matter how many times we altered course, because of the way it was wrapping around the island, the wind stayed behind us. It’s difficult to sail directly downwind with just the regular headsails, but at 15-20 knots, there was too much wind for the spinnaker. The wind was border line too strong for the genaker, but since we were on an almost downwind run, the apparent wind seemed acceptable and we chose the big sail.

Gradually, the wind began to pick up, and since we needed to navigate away from a reef with big breakers, we were having a difficult time keeping the wind off our stern. If we weren’t careful, we would accidentally jibe the genaker and end up with a bunch of unnecessary sail flapping that can be tough on the sail and rigging.

Since our situation was becoming a tad difficult, we started to question whether it was time to furl in the sail and crank up the motors. We couldn’t decide. Should we or shouldn’t we? We watched the wind indicator and the sail, and then finally we decided we should probably furl the sail. Wil had his hands on the furling line, and I was ready at the helm with a hand on the genaker sheet.

Suddenly, the genaker jibed and became backed by the wind. The wind was now closer to 20 knots apparent, and with a backed sail full of wind, it was difficult to roll it in. We needed to luff the sail in order to spill the wind, but because we were heading towards the reef and breaking waves off our starboard side, we couldn’t stay on our current course. Our only option was to send the sail back to its original side, so we’d have more time to let it luff and roll it in. The moment I turned the boat, the sail instantly flew back to the starboard tack, and we heard a tremendous rip. In a split second, we had a huge horizontal tear across the genaker. There was no time for investigation, or it would tear further. We quickly, and mournfully, worked to get the tattered sail furled. Wil’s mind immediately thought about the huge chunk of money that would need to be spent, and I worried about how we were going to get it repaired.

We were kicking ourselves for not having acted sooner. We should have gone with our first instincts to bring in the sail. We shouldn’t have hesitated. We probably shouldn’t have had the big sail out to begin with. We shouldn’t have been sailing too close to the reef. There were a lot of “what we should have dones” that day. The good thing was that we learned from our mistakes. The bad thing . . . we now had what was probably going to be a very expensive sail repair.

Even though we had to motor the rest of the way, the remainder of the trip was beautiful. Eventually, we ended up in the lee of the island with flat, calm waters, and the reef entrance to the Commune de Punaauia area was simple. The trickiest part came once we were inside the reef, and we had to dodge wake boarders, small power boats, kayaks, and canoes. It was obvious we had just entered a high tourist traffic area, and another whole new world.

We were successful at reaching Marina Taina’s fuel dock where we completely filled our diesel tanks, gasoline containers, and water tanks. We even sprayed a bit of water across the decks to rid us of some salt. Once our tanks were full, we found a spot to drop the hook amidst hundreds of other boats. It was a tad overwhelming to be in such a crowd, but at the same time, it was also exciting to see so many boats that we hadn’t seen in awhile. We spent the rest of the evening onboard s/v Saliander enjoying a wonderful lamb roast dinner and catching up with good friends.

a lovely frame of the anchorage near Marina Taina

a 7 meter tear in the genaker


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