We departed Nuku Hiva on May 12, bound for Kauehi Motu part of the Tuamotu Island group, roughly 535 nm, 4-5 day passage southwest of NH. The morning squalls rolled across the island mountaintop just as we upped anchor. Our buddy boat, Sababa of Portland, departed an hour before us and reported back “lumpy seas and rain”.
We headed out of the harbor, sure enough right into 6’ lumpy seas with 8 second swells, heavy rain and 15 knots of wind. Konami rolled and pitched as we got the autopilot set (AP), sails in order, tidied up the cockpit and checked for loose items in the cabin. John unwound the fish line and 15 minutes later we had a large fish on, jumping out of the water. It was a Wahoo, 45” long, about 30 pounds of mean fish, two rows of nasty teeth, with a 6” dorsal fin similar to dangerous porcupine like needles. A delicious, very mild tasting, firm white meat fish much like the NW Halibut. We didn’t expect to catch a Wahoo and had no idea how to deal with it, but speaking from experience, we knew NOT to bring a conscious fish aboard! John pulled it along side the boat and just looking at his piercing eyes made me shudder.
Please stop reading if you’re squeamish or a vegetarian. But for those cruisers and fishing wannabe people like us, follow along to learn more about landing a crazy Wahoo in rough conditions.
With the boat on autopilot we focused on landing the fish. We struggled with the fish net (first item purchased in Tahiti) to get him up out of the water to wrap a rope around his tail; nearly lost him as he thrashed and jerked backwards, leaving him dangling and wiggling violently from the leader line. The boat rolled from side to side, rubrail in the water, throwing us around as we changed places to get a better grip. Determined not to lose him, we firmly pulled him back towards the boat and took a couple more swipes at him with the net. Finally, John swooped it down under him and caught him balanced in the flopping net. He was ferocious – jumping, thrashing and snapping his jaw. I was afraid of him. With both of us pulling on the fish net and pole end John managed to get a rope tied to the tail with one hand. That made the fish even madder, slime, slobber (not sure who was slobbering) and blood was spraying everywhere! At this point I thought maybe WE should give up and clip the hook before we became injured.
The fish book says “club it to death before bringing it into the cockpit since the Wahoo has been known to bite and thrash about so violently that a fisherman was seriously injured.” Great, get the bronze winch handle… Now, some people use methods of spraying alcohol into the gills or covering the heads with a bag to calm them down, either way, we couldn’t get close enough to his head and weren’t taking any chances of a drunken or half suffocated fish biting us. Sounded really cruel but we followed the instructions, and 20 minutes after the catch we hauled the unconscious fish aboard. Doesn’t look so big and threatening here though.
Even after cutting through his gills, his heart continued to beat. Oh that was awful, we felt really bad but this is the food chain here. We struggled to get it onto the cutting board attached to our stern pulpit, the darn thing wanted to slip away while the boat continued to roll and pitch as we hung onto everything within our grasp to stay upright. An hour or so after the initial catch, we had 6 large bags of beautiful fish in the empty freezer.
As we dealt with the fish, the seas had continued to build and the wind shifted. The boat was headed nearly 15 degrees off course, the swells were hitting directly on the beam, and the wind had slightly decreased. It’s no wonder why we were rolling so badly but the fish had taken all of our attention. We regained course and settled down. Another boat hailed us as they had just departed the harbor and were reporting wild squalls of 30 knots and steep seas. We looked back and watched nearly 15 miles of squall line spanning between us and them. Wow, we had good timing of getting out when we did and caught the fish just before the mother of squalls hit!
We were lucky to stay just enough ahead of the monster squall line for the next 24 hours. The other boat should’ve turned around, his wife was sick and they had the stuffing pounded out of them. As the passage continued the seas improved and we had a lovely sail for the next 2 days. The sun came out, winds were perfect 10 – 15 knots, we sailed fast and easy. On the 3rd night at 11:30 John came on for watch. I had just gotten into bed when a muffled “bang” brought me upright. I listened for other sounds, nothing. Sounded like we hit something, a metallic “boing”. We never want to hear a metallic sound, especially at night! John was already looking around as I came up. All deck lights came on as he went forward to check the rigging. The inner stay wire (sail hanks onto it) was loose and dangling. It is attached to an eyebolt that goes through the bowsprit. Crevice corrosion had caused the end of the bolt head to break off . Fortunately we didn’t have a sail hanked on at the time and we had a spare – thanks Dave King! Heavy breathing subsided and we continued on.
Also on the 3rd day out we had decided to change direction and enter the S. Fakarava pass to stay with Sababa. It added another day to our passage, and the timing of tide and current meant we had to slow down to no more than 4 knots the remaining distance to avoid standing offshore in the dark for 10 hours. Of course the weather wouldn’t cooperate. Great winds and sea conditions and we have to slow down. When we want to get there asap – shitty conditions! That is the sailing way. We reduced forward sails, still going too fast, we reduced the mainsail even more.
The frustrations of sailing- just when you think you’ve got it made, mother nature lets you know who is really in charge. The last evening out, the rain squalls set in. No significant wind – good thing there, but the rain was torrential. John was shivering in wet clothes and got out his rain gear, not sure why as he was totally soaked in those too. I came on watch at 12:30 a.m. and huddled in the cockpit in just my underwear. No sense in having 2 sets of soaked rain gear to clean and dry. There wasn’t a dry place on the boat, the rain came straight up our aft end – right into the cockpit, beating on the cabin doors, hard onto the cabin top, rain water sprayed upwards and outwards. The raindrops flattened the waves and there weren’t any other sounds besides the rain. I couldn’t hear the wind, the sounds of the boat moving through the water nor the rigging sounds. Nothing, nada but rain and water. The entire ocean seemed to be overwhelmed. It lasted until 4:30 a.m.
At 10:00 a.m. we had sight of Fakarava, just coconut trees jutting upwards out of the ocean. By 11:00 we had the entrance timing made, the sea condition had settled down enough that we didn’t have breaking waves . Coral reefs on both sides of the pass, in 19’ – 25’ of water above the reef line we were on high alert as we scanned the water ahead for bommies (coral heads), watched our chartplotter, and followed the channel in. The pristine blue water was breathtaking, transitioning from deep ocean dark blue to emerald green to light brown coral, and white sand. We got lucky and picked up a mooring ball so had no worry about snagging or wrapping the anchor and chain around a bommie. Safely tied to the ball, we shut down the engine and gave our hugs and thanks to each other for a great passage, thanks for the easy pass entry, not hitting the coral reef, a freezer full of yummy fish, good friends tied next to us, and PARADISE waiting for our arrival!