By John Wooldridge
March 2002 Motorboating
A five-day transit of the Pacific Ocean's wild western islands aboard
a Nordhavn 40 on a round-the-world voyage brings both pleasures
It was about 4:00 p.m. local time, an hour into my day watch in
the pilothouse of the Nordhavn 40, when 1 thought 1 saw the island
of Kosrae. A hard line appeared on the Pacific Ocean lion/on, rising
at a shallow angle from the left to (lie right. I started to say
something to Dave Harlow, the Nordhavn's skipper, who was perched
on a -stool, deeply engrossed in studying approaches to the island's
three charted lagoons. Then the line disappeared. Five minutes later,
it appeared again.
"Land ho." I said, just loud enough for Dave to hear me. I didn't
want to rouse Tom Selman who stood the watch after mine. or our
other crewmember. Ray Danet, not while they were trying to get some
badly needed rest. The building tropical storm around us that would
soon become Typhoon Faxia had blown 30 to 35 mph from the south
and west over the last 24 hours. It stirred up a beam sea that had
arrived at right angles to the predominantly following seas mat
had car ried us here from Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands chain
over the last five days. We were all in need of a good night's sleep.
"Where?" Dave asked, looking ahead after first glancing at the
Ray-marine radar screen and chartplotter"Just to port of the pennant
staff." I said. Just above the lops of the breaking waves, I might
have added, to be a little more specific. Follow the gray up to
where the whitecaps vanish, and watch between the swipes of the
windshield wipers before the next squall hoses our visibility down
to zero with the efficiency and force of a fireman dousing flames.
And keep looking as the next 10-footer lifts the boat up from behind,
then sets us down on the face of another beam sea.
"Beam seas, I love beam seas," Tom said as he sleepily climbed
the steps connecting the salon to the pilothouse, bracing his shoulder
against the wood-paneled deckhouse wall of this 40-foot trawler.
Before the roll could build speed, the Naiad stabilizers countered
the motion and took us across the top of the northbound wave at
a near-level attitude.
Moments later. Ray appeared from below just as I slid over on the
raised bench seat aft of the helm to make room for Tom. Seeing the
island's conical profile ahead, he looked to the GPS for information
on speed, distance to go and time to go.
"Looks like an approach right at dusk," Ray said. "I wonder if
the entrance through the reef is lighted?" Suddenly, everyone was
wide awake. The thought of spending another night at sea in these
conditions was not comforting. And very privately, I think each
of us asked ourselves why we were here at all, why we would subject
ourselves to these conditions and perils.
It's the experience, of course, the adventures to remember, the
photos to display and the stories to tell. For me, it was the chance
to revive the wanderlust of a modestly traveled youth. For my shipmates,
it was a mixed bag. Dave and Ray both work for Pacific Asian Enterprises,
builders of the Nordhavn line of ocean-crossing trawlers, and had
signed on as point men in an ambitious plan to take the 40 around
the world in 26 weeks (see page 98 for the route). Tom, a Nordhavn
50 owner from Everson. Wash., had logged plenty of time between
Alaska and home in his own passagemaker.
My part in this adventure began when I jumped al the chance to
join one leg of the circumnavigation. A trip chasing the sun across
the Pacific Ocean, with possible stopovers amongst the 2.300-plus
small islands of Micronesia that dot over 3,000 miles of sea between
Hawaii and Guam, instantly appealed to me.
I joined Dave, Ray and Tom aboard in December of last year in the
lagoon of Majuro atoll. I'd spent several days exploring the ring-shaped
island before their arrival following an extended 13-day. 1,963
nautical mile passage west from Honolulu. Majuro is the seat of
government for the Marshall Islands, with a 75-square-mile lagoon
protecting a large tuna fishing fleet and, at that time, about a
dozen cruising sailboats. Ashore, cruisers can find the fuel, stores
and attractions they need, whether planning to linger for a while
or to press on to the next island stopover.
Still, the character of Majuro is indisputably island-style.
You can flag down a taxi anywhere along the 20-mile stretch of road
that connects the jet-serviced airstrip on the south side to the
coral-and-cement ramp on the northeast side of the atoll that marks
the end of the road. The taxi ride will cost you 50 cents, and you
can expect other passengers to come aboard as long as there's room.
Stucco over cinderblock construction is a housing standard, and
every yard is shaded by tall coconut palms or huge breadfruit trees,
and accented with splashes of col or from the flowers on bougainvillea,
hibiscus and plumeria shrubs.
Our last day in Majuro was spent anchored off Anemwanot, a palm-studded
coral islet on the north side of the atoll. In the pass just to
the east, tall waves crashed loudly and spent their force on the
underwater coral barrier, [hen flowed across the shallows into the
lagoon. Exploring the island on foot required sturdy sandals or
tennis shoes because the sand and shallows were studded with coral
pieces of every shape, size and species. Beachcombing for marine
biology buffs is extraordinary everywhere in Micronesia. We snorkeled
and dove down to the cleaned-out, wingless fuselage of a DC-3 resting
on the bottom in about 20 feet of clear, salty water. I peeked into
the cockpit, remembering that my Dad flew an Army Air Corps equivalent
of this very plane during the war, and felt a tug at my heart. Tropical
fish darted into impossibly small coral crannies or the protective
arms of anemones attached to the airplane's aluminum skin at my
approach, then swam out to take a closer look at the newcomers to
Departing Majuro was bittersweet, but we were ready to push on
to Pohnpei, a popular island in the Caroline Island group seven
days to the west. But a string of westward-moving, low-pressure
cells just north of the equator had other plans.
It had rained intermittently with constant 10- to 20-mph easterly
winds every day in Majuro while we were there. Clearing the deep-water
pass on the northwest side oft' the atoll, we encountered 10- to
12-foot waves on the beam for about an hour before rounding the
northernmost portion of the atoll. Luckily, Dave had deployed the
towed, passive stabilizers before clearing the lagoon, giving us
the look of a commercial fishing boat on its way to harvest the
locally bountiful yellow fin tuna. Together with the Naiads, they
made the ride steady and comfortable, although somewhat slower due
to the increased drag. Finally, we turned west and put the full
fetch of the Pacific Ocean behind us.
The Nordhavn 40 proved to be a comfortable and reliable home
afloat. It's the smallest of Nordhavn's Heel of motor vessels. Yet
its modest size/.e does not limit its nonstop cruising range. Thanks
to a highly efficient, modified lull-displacement hull design-the
result of over three years of development and tank-testing-and a
fuel capacity of over 900 gallons, a heavily loaded 40 can cover
more than 2,400 nautical miles at an average speed of 7.4 knots
while burning a miserly 2.6 gph.
A little more than a day out of Majuro, we diverted to the island
of Ailinglaplap, a low-lying atoll typical of the region that is
solidly covered with coconut palms. The weather ahead was questionable,
so we opted to find a quiet anchorage. A small number of families
lived here, harvesting coconuts and splitting them open to let them
dry in the sun. The dried meat, called copra, is a significant agricultural
industry in Micronesia. Dave and Tom went ashore to check in with
the local authorities and found friendly people and happy children
in a setting right out of the movies.
Two unfortunate instances occurred shortly thereafter. The weather
changed for the worse, making our anchorage increasingly untenable.
And one of the locals who claimed to be the acting legal authority
tried to scam Dave for $1,050 for clearance. We had paid approximately
$100 to clear into the Marshall Islands at Majuro, but Dave was
prepared to pay local clearances as needed and within reason. The
local finally admitted that he had no clearance forms, no office
and no credentials. And since he also had no boat, he didn't bother
to swim out to where visiting boats anchored-in some of the most
beautiful water I've ever seen-to press his case.
We left Ailinglaplap with plans lo make the island of Pohnpei our
next slop. We were hoping to miss the tropical storm that was forming
to the northwest, about halfway between Kosrae and Pohnpei. But
the storm would have none of it, spreading its counter-clockwise-tuming
arms until it encompassed Kosrae, Pohnpei and our good little ship
in one giant blow.
Roughly four days later, the storm forced us to divert to Kosrae.
We all found a place in the pilothouse to watch the radar, check
the chartplotter and visibly scope out the opening in the reef.
It was dusk and raining on and off. With a pair of starboard-side
day marks spotted and the ends of the reef defined by breaking waves
higher than those breaking down the channel, Dave lined us up and
started into the channel. Suddenly, a rain squall obliterated visibility.
Without a moment's hesitation, he abandoned the effort, spun around
lo face the 10- to I2-footers and began climbing them slowly, making
just enough headway to hold station yet keep away from the reefs
Volcanic in origin
I left the pilothouse and went aft lo open the cabin door and
gel a breath of cooler air. As I looked to the south, light increased-the
last low rays as the angle of the sun dropped down. Amazingly, the
rain let up at the same time. I turned and yelled to Tom in the
pilothouse companionway to take a look. By the time 1 had scaled
the door and made my way forward, Dave turned the ship and faced
the reef once more. This time we all spoiled the markers to port
and starboard and Dave wasted no time surfing through the cut.
Between the whoops and hollers, we dropped anchor near two cruising
sailboats in the lagoon. That night, we celebrated. kept an anchor
watch and made plans to sleep in the following morning.
Like the island of Pohnpei that we had hoped to reach. Kosrae is
volcanic in origin, with a high central peak and slopes covered
in rainforest growth intermittently revealed and obscured by scudding
rain clouds. Kosrae also has a considerable protective ring of coral
built up around its submerged volcanic structure, making it another
attractive destination for the sport-diving enthusiast. There were
plenty of things to do and see, but since most of them were outside
or in the ocean, and the storm's ferocity continued to increase,
I settled on reading, writing and a little photography to carry
me through until my flight to Honolulu arrived.
I had to leave the Nordhavn 40 in Kosrae, but I left with a new
appreciation for the details that make a long-distance cruiser into
a safe and comfortable passage-maker. Dimensions in the cabins,
companionways and the pilothouse were generous, but not so wide
that you couldn't brace comfortably against a change in pitch, roll
or yaw. You could go on deck in the worst weather and he protected
by a high Portuguese bridge, stout safety rails and high bulwarks.
One of my favorite memories is taking a soothing freshwater shower
while seated in one of two built-in transom seats. With big saltwater
waves on every side that never came aboard, the Nordhavn 40 moved
predictably and steadily as I rinsed off a good lather.
Climbing out of (lie taxi at the airport, 1 heard wonderful music.
Three women were sitting on a bench behind a small fruit stand waiting
for business to [lick up as the next round of passengers arrived.
As one strummed a ukulele, they sang a gentle song in harmony that
revealed both island and religious influences. It was a soothing
and wonderful send-off for a weary traveler. I looked out at the
ocean, remembered my shipmates in the lagoon on the other side of
the island, and found myself wanting to leave and to stay.