Racing Oneself Around the World
From where The Hawke of Tuonela lay swinging peacefully in French Polynesia on a mooring off the most recent reincarnation of the Bora-Bora Yacht Club, it was 2,149 miles to her home at Opua, New Zealand.
From the beginning, I'd intended to complete this circle, my fifth, in less than 18 months. However, along the way I discovered that I was ahead of the pace of my first circumnavigation, 203 sailing days, at that time the world record, and I must admit that I now wanted to beat that time. If I could cover those 2,149 miles in less than 33 days, an average of only 65 miles a day, I would do it.
A former raceboat, The Hawke of Tuonela sails well. My Heritage One-Ton sloop has many more 24-hour runs of more than 160 miles than under 100 miles, and to that point in the voyage, she had only one day's run of less than 65 miles. As I sat on deck the night before I left and watched locals paddle pirogues across Bora-Bora's beautiful lagoon, I was confident.
Two and a half weeks later, I wrote in my ship's log, "I might not break Egregious' record after all. It was inconceivable that I'd make a passage this slow, but it isn't any longer."
Between the vision and the reality falls the shadow.
It began well enough.
I dropped the mooring at first light and powered across a smooth lagoon and out the pass, and when I set the main and genoa and turned southwest, my 37-foot green sloop made an easy six knots with the southeast trade wind on the beam. It was an easy return to the sea.
The wind weakened that afternoon, then strengthened after dark, giving us a rougher but faster ride for three days, with noon-to-noon runs of 137, 150, and 150 miles. On the fourth night, I saw the loom of light from Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands; the island itself was visible 16 miles to the south at dawn.
We were making a fast passage. And then we weren't.
The wind faded. The Hawke of Tuonela began being thrown around on leftover seas. Rarotonga is a high island, but it's not that high, and we were too far away to be in its wind shadow.
To stabilize us, I set the big asymmetric on the gennaker furling gear. It worked. My own white cloud got us moving at five knots, though 20 degrees high of course.
In midmorning, I jibed to point us west instead of south on what became, despite a falling barometer, a classic high-pressure day: pure blue sky, decreasing wind, smooth sea.
I took a solar shower in the cockpit, then listened to music on deck as The Hawke of Tuonela, heeling a few degrees, glided ever more slowly onward. By mid-afternoon, the wind was down to six knots, and our speed over the ground from the GPS was hovering at only around four knots.
Meanwhile, 7,000 or 8,000 miles behind us, my high school class was holding its 50th reunion. In absentia, I was given an award for being the person who'd traveled the farthest not to be there.
Before a passage, I'm often asked my plan, and my invariable reply is that "I will do what the wind lets me." I look at the pilot charts, although I know that these are averages that may have no relevance to a single event. And after all these years and voyages, I hold the world in my mind. On this circumnavigation, I'd previously visited every place except the Cocos, or Keeling, Islands, so I generally know what to expect. Then I go and I adapt. Beyond Rarotonga, what the wind wouldn't let me do was sail to New Zealand.