MAKING BAD THINGS INTO BETTER THINGS WHILE SAILING ON THE OCEAN OF YOUR DREAMS
When we started sailing around the world, we had no experience in offshore sailing or heavy weather. By the time we had sailed half way across the Pacific, we still had never sailed in conditions that were exceptionally arduous or challenging. We were unproven and the behavior of our yacht in adverse conditions was unknown.
When we left Bora Bora in French Polynesia, we sailed five hundred miles to an atoll in the Cook Islands called Suvarov. This atoll is unique because only one family lives on it.
The approach to Suvarov is hazardous; if you miss the entrance to the atoll, you hit the reef and wreck your yacht.
As you approach Suvarov, you can’t see the actual reef. You only see a wrecked vessel rusting away on top of the reef warning you of its presence.
Inside this atoll, there are hundreds of large coral formations called coral heads that dot the lagoon and lie just below the water’s surface.
Suvarov has been compared to a Venus Fly Trap. The lagoon looks inviting, but it’s extremely hazardous in unsettled weather.
Once inside the lagoon, you pick a spot to anchor among the coral heads. If your anchor holds, and the wind doesn’t shift, there’s no problem.
If your anchor drags, or if the wind changes direction, your yacht may hit a coral head.
In the daytime, you can see the coral heads, and a wind shift isn’t a problem. At night, there’s no way to tell the location of the coral, and if your anchor drags, you may hit the reef and lose your boat.
The weather was unsettled as we approached Suvarov. We knew conditions in the lagoon would be marginal because the winds were blowing at about twenty five knots. Nevertheless, we decided to enter the lagoon in order to rendezvous with cruising friends anchored there.
We found the pass through the reef and carefully sailed among the coral heads inside the lagoon until we arrived at Anchorage Island. Once inside it became clear that conditions were marginal.
We put down a big anchor and hoped for the best.
Fortunately, our anchor held through the night. By the next morning, conditions had deteriorated further, and we decided we should exit the atoll before things became totally unmanageable.
Many boats have been lost on Suvarov, and we didn’t want to become another statistic.
The bad news was that conditions outside the atoll were also rough.
We got underway in the morning when the light was good enough to be able to pick our way through the coral heads.
As we headed out, we passed a large commercial fishing trawler coming in for shelter. Conditions were rough, and they decided to come in for a rest. Later we heard the trawler dragged their anchor and hit a cruising yacht anchored inside the atoll.
We cleared the reef and turned west for a five hundred mile sail to Samoa.
The winds were gusting thirty five to forty five knots. We decided this was our opportunity to learn how our yacht would behave in marginal sailing conditions. We ran before large seas for three days under modest amounts of sail, and let the autopilot do all the steering. Although it was a rough ride, the yacht handled the high winds and seas without a problem.
We came through this experience with more confidence in ourselves and in our yacht.
Our experience in the lagoon at Suvarov could have turned into a disaster.
The sail from Suvarov to Samoa could have been a three day nightmare.
Both of these experiences could be classified as potentially bad ones. Nevertheless, we learned from them and turned them to our advantage. We made them into something better.
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