Our Moitissier Special
We left North Minerva Reef almost 24 hours ago and embarked on stage three of our journey from New Zealand to Fiji. Minerva offered us an excellent anchorage for three nights in the middle of the ocean, while we waited for more favorable winds to develop, caught up on some sleep, and Devon made more delicious bread. We shared the anchorage with 3-4 other boats on their way to either Tonga or Fiji, also here for the same reasons. It’s a bit like a well-known oasis in the desert, where travelers following long established trade routes stop for rest and recuperation.
Just prior to our departure from Minerva Reef, Anson climbed the mast twice to check the rigging; he addressed a chafe issue where the jib halyard exits the top of the mast and declared everything else shipshape. We unround the anchor chain from the small coral heads around which it had snaked. Anson, in the water with a mask, directed us which way to go. Devon was in the dinghy near Anson to provide a quick exit option should the 4 meter tiger shark spotted the day before decide to make an appearance. It didn’t. Then we took off.
The first day of this stage has gone well, though we did have to motor five hours yesterday evening (after a several-hour long spinnaker run). Then the southwest wind filled in and the rest of the night, until Kim’s watch, was pretty fast squall sailing with full jib and double reefed main.
I call this blog Our Moitissier (sp?) Special because aspects of our journey from Opua resonate with the approach to sailing of the legendary French sailor Bernard Moitissier. One of his most well known accomplishments was to be the first to circumnavigate the world, non-stop, single handed, in the highly publicized race sponsored (I think) by the British newspaper The Globe in 1968. Famously, rather than sail back to England to receive the accolades and public recognition (and probably prize money as well) that were his due, Moitissier just kept on sailing. Having completed one circumnavigation, he chose to eschew the limelight, follow his own compass course, and continue west to round Cape Horn a second time, eventually reaching French Polynesia, where he spent quite a bit of time over the following years. His point, as described in his book “Tomata and the Alliance,” was that for him, sailing, being at sea, was in and of itself a rewarding experience, which could sometimes be of equivalent (or greater?) value to actually reaching a destination. Certainly sailing alone, nonstop around the world and then choosing to keep on going, is an extraordinary illustration of that perspective.
Our journey to Fiji from Opua has been extraordinarily long. Our dear friends Diego and Marina did it in 6.5 days at the beginning of the month. We’re on day 16, with probably two more days before arriving. The vagaries of weather combined with our inability to motor into headwinds and seas account for the length of this passage. As with sailors of yore, we pretty much have to wait for sailable wind. We’ve been most fortunate to do this at Raoul Island and Minerva Reef, where we spent three nights at each place. Our vulnerability to the weather has lengthened this journey way beyond our initial expectations. Had we remained attached to a reasonably fast passage we would have gone loony with frustration. Instead we’ve adopted a more process-oriented approach and this has brought with it a bountiful share of Moitissier-like benefits associated with the highs and joys of sailing, of being at sea for days on end. The star-studded night watches that we all have been awed by (including Devon, who began standing watch on this trip), the hours-long spinnaker runs that we’ve been privileged to enjoy, the extraordinary immensity of the ocean, with its varying moods and unforgettable deep blue color, the ways in which the four of us must work together to keep the ship and us running and in good order – these are all unique and marvelous experiences that we will have for the rest of our lives. Accepting and appreciating these gifts of passage making are some of the ways in which, perhaps, our attitude towards this journey resonates somewhat with Moitissier’s philosophy.
But lest I be accused of being a ridiculous romantic, let me also repeat the adage that a fast passage is a safe passage because the longer one is at sea the greater the likelihood of gear breakage or injury. And we have not gone unscathed. We’ve ripped our light spinnaker, possibly beyond repair, our auto pilot stopped working last night, and Devon’s finger got knocked by a winch handle during a hurried spinnaker douse yesterday. Fortunately, in the scheme of things, these are non-essential issues – we have a second, heavier chute, our wind pilot (not the auto pilot) is our primary steering method and Devon’s finger is fine this morning. However, a closed isobar tropical depression packing strong wind and rain is forecast for Fiji Sunday, May 26 (Fiji time) and we definitely want to avoid being at sea when that arrives. So we need to cover approximately 300 nautical miles before Sunday noon, which should be no problem under current and predicted wind conditions. In fact, we will probably get there sometime Saturday – so all is good. The happy anticipation of landfall will certainly far outweigh any desire to keep on going, but that’s ok because this journey has taught us more about the joys of being at sea.
A bit more about Moitissier:
He had an interesting childhood, growing up in French colonial Viet Nam, where his father was an importer and merchant. It’s compellingly described in Tomata and the Alliance. He also wrote other books, including one about the circumnavigation, which I’m looking forward to reading someday.
Several events have been organized to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his epic circumnavigation (this year). I believe The Globe is organizing one of them. Interestingly, in France organizers have put together a commemorative solo circumnavigation rally capped at 50 boats of less than 50 feet in length. It’s already fully booked. In the spirit of Moitissier’s approach, the rally has no winners, awards or prize money; the idea is to solo sail around the world for the sake of it. Sadly, one of the key organizers of the event was lost at sea last year (I think) while crossing the Atlantic, but the event is nevertheless proceeding.
21 degrees 49 minutes south; 179 degrees 37 minutes east