Waving goodbye

Blog posts may be sporadic in the next few weeks. Follow our progress on a map! Click here to see our position reports, with details if you hover over each map point.

Day 0: Our anchor was freed by an extremely kind diver who forgave the mistake of anchoring close to moorings. About 20 feet of the 3/4″ anchor line was ruined so we spliced in another eye and everything is skookum again.
After Tom got our Homeland Security exit clearance from Kahului, we ate “Maui’s best burger,” enjoyed a stroll through Lahaina’s tourist-filled night life and drank a fireball nightcap. We live a strange life.

Day 1: 96 miles
We agreed to have the boat ready by 7am, which really meant we departed at 10:30 after packing the bikes and dinghy. There was a keikei regatta getting ready in the harbour with kids filling sailing dinghies. Piggy brazenly sailed across the course before the race started and was yelled at by parents in a race boat, but it was in recognition for being a beautiful Wharram. “Where’s your next port?” “Samoa!”
Strong currents and light variable winds behind Maui made us meander slowly south and it took us most of the day to get free of the channels. We fished with no luck. Overnight the winds picked up and we were comfortably sailing at 6-7 knots (running theme: the wind always picks up during my graveyard shift).

Day 2: 26 miles
We caught our very first fish! A mahi-mahi big enough for 3 solid meals of barbecued steaks and fillets. Thanks to Cory in Lahaina for giving us tips on the best Hawaiian lures to use. Mahi-mahi (also called dorado) are seriously beautiful as they change colour after they die.
Unfortunately, maybe our lucky catch displeased Neptune as the wind decreased until the afternoon when we became becalmed. Again. It seems to be a running theme of losing all wind right after each departure. We drifted with the easterly current at 1-2 knots with Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea vaguely in the distance. We did our best to enjoy the time with swimming and eating delicious fish.

Day 3: 85 miles
After 24 hours of calm the wind slowly returned all afternoon. Sailing in light airs is a frustrating amount of effort for little return when you constantly trim and adjust sails. Steady trades are slowly returning. We’re still 600 miles from the Intertropical Convergence Zone or “doldrums.”

Finally, I uploaded short sailing clips:
Tom wears a gopro on his head

Watching waves between the hulls

A hui hou, aloha. Goodbye, Hawai’i.


Solar Weather

North America is buzzing with possible aurorae caused by two recent solar flares. Solar weather is a little bit complicated and I’m not a heliophysicist but there is an important connection between cruising and storms in space! This is a great opportunity to geek out and describe how the heck I’m blogging over several thousand kilometres using a length of clothesline wire and as much electricity as a lightbulb.

The sun is not a uniform thermonuclear reaction and it forms sunspots, which are magnetic surface storms that appear as cold spot of just a few thousand degrees C (compared to 5000+ C on the rest of the surface). With enough sunspots near each other they can interact and flare outwards. Flares are followed by an explosion of particles from inside the sun bursting out around 1500 km/s (this explosion can be larger than the Earth). The burning material is called a coronal mass ejection. The supersonic shockwave of material is followed by a gas cloud of particles from inside the sun, and until it settles down the cloud creates a burst of noise for about 30 minutes which is easily detected and measured by scientists.

After a day or two of travelling towards us, the shockwave punches the Earth’s protective magnetic “bubble” of our magnetosphere stretches and wobbles like a bowl of jello. This wobbling is a geomagnetic storm. In the common, small storms, people get to see an aurora at night. In extreme cases, satellites are damaged, radio is blacked out for hours to days (including GPS and sat phones), and pipelines, telephone and power lines corrode and burn out. This is a bit of a doomsday scenario! Luckily it’s rare and there is a large amount of sun monitoring and research – scientists have counted sunspots for about 300 years and quickly learned the relationship between sunspots and geomagnetic effects on Earth.

So, besides the obvious hazard of a radio blackout, what’s the connection from geomagnetic storms to boats?

My generation isn’t so familiar with AM radio, but it’s common to hear distant AM stations over “skywaves” at night compared to groundwaves during the day. Ham radio works similarly. The sun releases radiation across the spectrum, with the ionizing portion interacting with the upper atmosphere during the day (good thing, or else we’d be bathing in X-rays). The atmosphere separates into different layers of electron densities, and at night the electrons merge back into their molecules, and the process repeats the next day. These charged layers reflect ham radio frequencies, so radio waves from my radio bounce off the atmosphere towards the Earth, where they bounce again and continue for thousands of kilometers.

So, with more sunspots, more radiation charges the Earth’s atmosphere, giving better radio conditions for long-distance radio links. In the time between a solar flare (30 minutes) and the geomagnetic storm (1-2 days), radio conditions are greatly improved allowing longer radio connections. This is to my benefit, as I receive weather faxes through radio transmissions from California, Hawaii and New Zealand. The Winlink system over ham radio and volunteer “gateways” (a computer, radio, and internet connection) allow me to send and receive email across the Pacific using my laptop and ham radio.

Piggy’s batteries are charged by solar panels in the day, and our radio is connected at night via the atmosphere charged by solar radiation. Technical poetry?

Message to an Old Friend

Hi Wayne, this is Deg. Tom and Chener aren’t too excited about writing blog posts yet so I figured I’d give you a shout.

When we crossed the Alenuihaha channel between the Big Island and Maui we were on a comfortable reach with the genoa and main until the genny blew out. It turns out the sail (made in Quebec in ’79?) wasn’t stitched on the seam, with the zig-zag pattern missing the seam entirely.

Before departing Canada we dutifully cleaned your 1950’s sewing machine, added a motor, oiled and synchronized it and brought it along. It runs beautifully off Piggy’s solar power!

Thanks for the support.


Maui Adventures

We are anchored off the west coast of Maui. It’s only 15 km from the tropical rainforest of Iao Valley, but the rainshadow is ridiculous. Hilo gets over 3000 mm of annual rain while Lahaina receives only 350 mm. Maui is a great example of the diversity of Hawaiian geography and people – you can be in a completely different climate after driving 15 minutes and it ranges from tropical beach resorts to sugar plantations and hippies to cattle ranches and cowboys (complete with acacia thornbush in the arid regions. I was employed to control invasive acacia and was not pleased to see it halfway around the world from where I worked!)

Lahaina was the royal capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, then became the center of Pacific whaling, and now mostly caters to the nearby resort, condo and time-share communities and is filled with art galleries and dining options. After a day of exploring town, we used the convenient public transit to get across the island and rent a car for a quick tour. First up was a hike through the Iao Valley and provisioning the boat at Costco, then we ventured around the island to Hana and up the volcano.

We braved the famous Hana Highway – it’s only 80 km, but it takes several hours to cross ~50 single-lane bridges and hold your breath around ~600 hairpin curves. Every morning, 1000 to 2000 tourists drive to see the valleys, vistas, waterfalls and gorgeous tropical rainforest. We left late in the morning and skipped the overcrowded, easy-to-get-to attractions and found incredible sights with the help of an ebook travel guide. Unfortunately most rivers are diverted to irrigate sugar cane, leaving waterfalls and pools low or dry in late summer.  We still managed to climb through a lava tube cave, devour fresh guavas falling off the trees, swim at a spring-fed waterfall, and see enough vibrant shades of rainforest green to be sick.

Also, banana bread. Every roadside vendor sells banana bread.

Most people have seen images of Kilauea (rhymes with killerwhale) on the Big Island – it’s the volcano that has erupted continuously since the 1980’s, slowly increasing the island size by pouring lava into the ocean and occasionally burying roads and homes. Images of charred black rock come to mind. Maui’s volcano, Haleakala, is dormant but still active with the last eruption around 500 years ago, which filled in a valley that had split across the island. After 500 years the lava turns into something much prettier than charred black rock!

Haleakala means “house of the sun,” and it’s where the demigod Maui climbed high enough to grab the sun and slow down its progress, leaving us with 24 hour days. Now a visit to Maui is only complete with viewing the sunrise from the 10,000 ft summit.  Waking at 3:30am and waiting through the bitter cold at dawn may be questionable in the tropics but it’s worth it.

We are wrapping up our time in Hawaii now and preparing for a departure towards Samoa. We made a classic mistake of anchoring around moored boats in an open spot without a mooring. Go figure, we laid our anchor next to a mooring on the seafloor which was conveniently missing its float. Once we sort out our fouled anchor we will be ready to sail off to the big blue!

Hawai’i to Maui

It’s been tough to write for 3 weeks, not due motivation but wanting to avoid a cliché-filled post saying “we are having a fun time on vacation.” But we are having a fun time on vacation. Having to kayak/cycle to get internet is enjoyable but cuts down the desire for vanity-filled updates…

Repairs took time because of usual reasons – living in your workshop means it takes longer to set up and clean up, boat work takes time to finish correctly, and it’s the tropics. Some days you have to wait out the rain, some days you miss the closing hours of shops, and some days the intense sun forces you into the shade. It’s tough to complain while enjoying fresh pineapple and papya!

Food is a fun adventure — homemade ice cream, fruit and veg in the market, seafood (ono, poke, ahi!), takeaway from a “drive-in”diner, and even unmentionable sections of pig. We’ve had morning beers with paddle club partiers and afternoon samples at a microbrewery. Marchena and I cycled in all directions from Hilo and found botanical gardens, waterfalls, macadamia nut and papaya orchards, a few surfing spots and countless beach parks. One element that’s “missing” is coffee shops like at home – comfy environments to lounge, chat, drink coffee and check email. Maybe it’s different in other towns but internet is rare in Hilo (besides McDonalds). It’s hard to complain while riding past gigantic banyan trees that survived tsunamis and seeing the volcano observatories frame the sunsets.

Paddling on canoes, similar to kayaking and dragonboating at home, is everywhere. Every few days paddlers come into our bay and say hello to the catamaran – they are always paddling double canoes or outriggers. Our Canadian kayaks and double-bladed paddles don’t fit the traditional Polynesian style! And being on the water is rewarded by the sea life. We found small reef fish in the shallows, little corals behind the breakwater, an indignant puffer fish filled with air after being discarded by a fisherman, sea turtles, and banyan trees with roots overhanging a river like vines in a jungle. Fishermen are busy day and night on the breakwater (2.5 km long, it’s a wide harbor), catching crabs and bait fish and working their way up the food chain, and they tell us stories of resident reef sharks in our murky bay.

Hilo was a blast, but 3 weeks in a single rainy town pushed us onwards. We planned to sail to the leeward side of Maui on Friday night and we said our goodbyes to the paddle club (after a beer, cake and starfruit…), we started raising our anchor… and there was no wind. We spent another night in Radio Bay and departed at 6am. The downside to a morning departure was arriving in the dark and trying to find good anchorage in Lehaina at 3am. Other than that, we had a pleasant sail across the channel and averaged close to 7 knots until we burst a seam in the genoa.

We did a short road tour of Maui and plan to leave here in a few days. A couple more posts to come before then.