I knew it was going to be a big night on Tuesday and it was. All afternoon we had been sailing toward an island and decided just as I sent the last blog to sail down the windward side as it was getting dark. Seas were big. I was on the helm and about two miles down wind I saw the surf line. We were sailing fast downwind straight for it so altered course 60 degrees to starboard but the reef continued out ...It was all eyes in the cockpit and the seas really started to build. Two sets around 6mtrs came through and I was forced to ride them downwind at 12-15kts. It was exhilarating but we were then sailing straight for the reef! Slowly we crept around the edge which looked to extend about four miles out. We all thought we were pretty dumb as we know about reefs but for some reason we just missed the obvious...it was dark - very dark.
After that and we had to use the compass and I decided to allow torches also as things were getting tough. About five hours later in the dark a BIG island appeared as a shadow to starboard. We could not tell how close we were as we did not know how high it was. Was it a little island close or a big island far off? Wind was 25-30kts and seas still around 4 to five mtrs. I had just gone off watch when Quilter called out. "TED I HAVE BREAKERS DEAD AHEAD!" I grabbed by harness/lifejacket and jumped up. They were close and the boat was already rounded up to port hard on the wind and waves. The surf was only a few hundred metres away downwind of us. You could see the phosphorescence in the water and we thought we could hear the thud of the surf above the noise of the sails and boat!! It was a tense time.
I grabbed for the emergency GPS chart plotter as this was very serious with no idea where the reef line would go. Within minutes I had it up and running but it seemed like forever. It showed us still on the reef line but it was only another 300 mtrs to the edge and we would sail clear which is what we did. This really made us realise what Bligh had done - was this nuts or what? We were doing this as volunteers - no chart, no nav aids. We had to sail at about 5-7 kts to stay safe in these seas and we were sailing downwind which means if you come across a danger it appears fast. Anyway we all agreed that if Quilter had not seen the surf it would all have been over in much less than two minutes - it was that close!! Maybe someone was looking over us?
We could not sleep easily because of that and the weather with many little challenges during the night. I was happy to see the light of day but then we could see the size of the waves. It had been building all night and now they took on a different shape - more confused and nasty. We were regularly surfing into the teens and averaging maybe 7kts. Talisker Bounty Boat is an amazing vessel and was handling it all very well. We were bailing out every 15 minutes and it was challenging to do the simplest things onboard but I continue to look at what we have and how well we are coping rather than the things we do not have or discomforts. If you start with nothing everything after that is a bonus, hey!
All the crew are working as a team so things are going well. When I was on watch at 12 noon, I was surprised at the sea. In the previous 4 hours the waves had become very confused and occasionally big - 6 or 7 mtrs. Wind was now up to 35kts at times and higher in the squalls so we decided we were now in a gale. We were headed north into the gap between the main Fiji Island and Bligh Passage which is littered with reefs. Our plan had been to go slow during the night even stopping and drifting and to sail during the day so we could see the reefs and islands but there was no way we could do that with this weather so we were headed up into a dead end gully. At 12.40 while I was on the helm a huge set loomed up. I had a problem as a squall had just gone through and the wind was only about 25kts.. We were sailing with a deep reefed main only, the headsail and mizzen both lashed.
The first wave hit the boat from the starboard side. I called for the guys to standby for wave! Then out of the blue as we were recovering from that another hit us right out of sequence. This one broke right beside us and right over us. I was watching it all in slow motion. The mast went down to water level and for a minute I thought it may go right over and we would have to put our training into practice! But no - she came up fast which was a delight to see. I called everyone to man the buckets. The aft part of the hull was full and just about awash. While they all got to it I turned the boat downwind and within about 6 minutes most of the water was out. I was looking over my shoulder not wanting another big one!! Everything down below is tied in but still flew around. I dislocated my little toe and took a big hit to my side. Fortunately there were no other injuries, a little damage to solar panels again and water into out books onboard which is a mini disaster. We all reflected that it was a good exercise and showed the boat has what it takes. We were all very wet but at least we were not swimming.
Conditions remained very challenging all the rest of the day...I made a decision that afternoon to again use the GPS chart plotter as we were running into danger with heavy winds and big seas behind us - not good for any sailor. So again I have to concede that Bligh is a bigger man than me. So Wednesday night saw us ride through the entrance of Bligh Waters with the aid of a GPS and turn left heading to a little island called NaiGai where we dropped anchor around midnight. Everyone was relieved. I had only had a few hours sleep in the past 48 hours. We were all hungry and have not been able to catch rain water so now on 1ltr a day. I am bruised and battered but very happy about the rest of the voyage. TBB and the crew are now one!
This morning I woke after a 5 hour sleep to see what a beautiful island we are at. We pulled the anchor, rowed ashore and tied a line to a coconut tree. We've been trying to catch fish all day, get some more drinking coconuts and have rigged the sails to trees to catch water but no rain yet. We have a fire ready for the fish. Everyone is very lethargic, no energy but we have some repairs to make and reorganisation before we set off - probably in two days.
I will let the crew tell you their impressions. This is a grand adventure and Bligh was a great man...Don from Nai Gai, Fiji