Around The World Voyage : Commentary

December 14, 2001

After a departing Ailinglapalap bound for Pohnpei we once again had to seek shelter from the storm. The winds grew from 15 knots at Ailinglapalap Atoll to 27-35 knots with 40+ knot gusts. The weatherman said it would get worse before it got better so we elected to head for the island of Kosrae to hole up and wait the thing out. This would be a two-day run.

With the seas and wind building we were very concerned about an after dark arrival in Lelu Harbor, Kosrae. The harbor entrance is fairly narrow with reefs on both sides. We ran the boat a little harder than usual in order to arrive with as much daylight as possible. Most of the day was spent running on instruments as the heavy rains knocked visibility down to almost nothing.

We arrived a mile or so outside the harbor entrance at about 6:00 pm local time with heavy rain and 30 knots of wind. We made a very slow pass at the harbor trying to get our bearings and confirm our location in relationship to the harbor mouth. High seas and blowing rain made the radar reading a blur and with the chart plotter showing our boat high and dry on the reef ahead, we lost confidence in using the plotter. This would be a purely visual approach.

We had lookouts on either side of the boat, rain blowing sideways at 30 knots, 10-12 foot breaking seas on the reefs to port and starboard, one guy at the wheel and the fourth standing behind calling out depths. We had just confirmed the port entrance marker and were about 60 seconds from making a run at the harbor in the fading light…and then things started getting bad.

The wind increased to 35 knots and the visibility went to nothing. We called for a missed approach and turned 180 degrees and back to the relative safety of open water. The 35 knots of wind and 12-foot seas at our back were now at our front and everything that had previously fallen on the floor was now bouncing off the walls as we bucked into head seas.

The light was fading quick and we knew that we would have only one more pass at getting in if the rain would let up for just a few minutes. There would be no way to do this in the black of night, a second missed approach would mean going around the island to a smaller harbor in the dark or heading back out to sea. Both of these options were very poor.

We held station at a half-mile off of the island at about 1000 RPMs in order to keep close by if the rain should let up. We had been holding for about 30 minutes when a yell from the cockpit says that he can see the harbor. We waited to fall in between the waves and then went to full throttle, came about and throttled back to 1000 RPMs. We were running down wind again and just outside of the harbor. We picked up the port and starboard markers and sped up to maintain steerage through the passage. We were in.

Inside was fairly flat water, 30 knots of wind and pitch back. All signs of daylight were gone. We picked up a guy on the radio from a sailboat in port and he advised us of a good spot to drop anchor just beyond a second sailboat. Thirty minutes later we were hooked, engine off, gen set and all lights on, sitting on the aft deck eating baked ham and toasting Neptune for our good fortune.

I have heard it stated that upon living through a stressful or dangerous time that "it took ten years off of my life". I now know what that means. This last leg has left me bone tired tonight, but I feel ten years younger in spirit.

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