Need For Speed

Recounting two passages--one rough, one calm-- Alvah Simon compares his adventurous approach to cruising with the more cautious style preferred by his wife, Diana. "The Roger Henry File" for September 28, 2007

Alvah Simon and Family 368

Alvah Simon and his wife Diana along with their crew Halifax the cat.

Since setting sail from New Zealand, Diana and I have had either very good or very bad passages, little in between. The old adage, “A sailor with time always has a fair wind” suggests that it could be my fault.

The run up to New Caledonia was into gale force head winds against current. I never once in 10 days got to ease sheets to see how my brand new suit of sails performs.

The passage from mainland New Cal to the Loyalty Islands was via the
notorious and much dreaded Havannah Pass. I was blase about the pass because we had timed our arrival perfectly, less than an hour before slack low water, thus we shouldn’t have wind against tide, and would have a little kick offshore when the flood began.


Diana yelled to me below, “Is there supposed to be a reef ahead?”

“Absolutely not. Why?”

“Because there is a wall of breakers port to starboard!”


That got me on deck. Ahead was all fury and foam. Fortunately, we were far enough to the southern side of the passage to tack over onto starboard and take the square snarlers four points off the bow. The [i]Roger Henry[/i] is low slung with a fine entry, so it punched through the waves smartly. But the decks were awash from the stem to stern.

The motion was terrible, and Halifax immediately hurled a disgusting load of vomit all over Diana’s pillow. I think my efforts to convince Diana that I am the only man for her, and this is the only life for us suffered a slight setback just then.

I didn’t advance my cause with the passage from The Loyalty Islands to Port Vila, Vanuatu. I told Diana the winds were a trifle stiff but essentially manageable. She thought I was being a bit of a cowboy, and that we should wait for the winds to ease before setting out. I prevailed.


Even reefed way down, we made the 200-plus mile run in under 30 hours. I was pleased with our performance, but Diana begged to differ.

I had almost convinced her that she had just lost touch with what the average trade wind passage was like, when our very experienced friend,
Gerald, from the big steel sloop, [i]Momo[/i], came over. He told Diana that in all his years of sailing he had not seen such seas, and that the winds were gusting well into the gale force range. Thank you for that Gerald.

However, two glorious runs from Vila to Havannah Harbor (not to be confused with Havannah Pass) brought back all the memories of lazy passages, billowing white clouds, smooth cobalt seas broken only by schools of flying
fish exploding off our bow.


Di and I talked over our differing approaches to sailing. For me cruising is our main focus. That means my core interests are travel, cultural exchange, and natural history. And yes, the [i]Roger Henry[/i] is our home, and we can’t afford to damage the boat or it’s systems.

Still, when that mains’l goes up, I just can’t help myself. And inexplicably, as I get older, it is getting worse. When that speed log drops a tenth of a knot below what I know the [i]Roger Henry[/i] is capable of, I get agitated. I start tweaking strings and looking for more canvas to set.

I wonder, “If I tilted the bimini a little forward could we nurse just a little more out of her? Perhaps if I unfurled the overboard flag.”

Diana is always monitoring the inclometer she so subtly bought me for
my birthday. “I want to enjoy the passage.” Diana protested. “You go down into that galley and prepare a meal standing on your head while the boat is slamming into waves!”

Quite reasonable really, so on our passage yesterday from Nguna Island
to Epi, much to Diana’s surprise, it was I who suggested a second reef in the main.

She smiled thinking that perhaps she was making a little progress with me. We were sailing along ever so serenely when that darn sail appeared on the horizon. Watching him fetch us up with full sails set was just killing me, but dare I suggest we shake out those reefs?

You can’t hide a thing from Diana; she is usually about a day ahead of
me. Maybe that comes from being born on the other side of the International
Date Line.

“It is not a race, Alvah,” she said firmly.

“A race? No, of course not, Honey. I don’t want to race. I just want to
optimize our performance relative to that sail on the horizon.”

Epi Island, Vanuatu

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