Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bikini to Rongelap/Rongerik Atoll

July 17-19, 2013

We finally saw a decent weather window coming up for the ~90 mile (as the crow flies) trip to Rongelap. We were anxious to get going at the first opportunity. We were hoping to be able to catch an extended window, make it to Rongelap, get checked in and get permission to go to Rongerik, see a bit of Rongelap, and make it all the way to Rongerik (another 30 miles into the wind), in the same light wind period.

So, we were all ready to go by Wednesday afternoon. The wind was definitely calming down and shifting a little more north of east, but it still looked a bit iffy. Stephen had run out to the point--in the clear, he thought--in his dinghy earlier and said it looked good.

We weren't quite ready when Westward II was, so they went ahead on out. As soon as they did, Dave said "Let's just wait a bit and see what they report." Their first report was "it wasn't too bad", so we went ahead an hauled our anchor. But we hadn't even gotten out of the anchorage before we got another VHF call from Westward II, indicating they were coming back. The wind had moderated but the waves were still big enough that motorsailing into them would be a problem.

So we enjoyed our (hopefully) last sunset at Bikini, and prepared to get up early and get going the next morning. Sure enough, after the dark, the wind lay down even more, and shifted to about 070 degrees. At dawn I got up and collected another weather forecast, and it still looked good. So we finished breakfast and our final preps, and set off from Bikini about 0915.

The direct route from Bikini to Rongelap passes just north of Alinginae Atoll. If the wind was down and the seas flat calm, we would have motored straight to Rongelap, passing norht of Alinginae. But once we got going, the wind and waves were such that we opted to use Alinginae would provide a good wind/wave break. Instead of motoring almost straight upwind on the most direct course, we motorsailed SE to the SW corner of Alinginae, then hugging the Alinginae coast as much as we dared at night, motored upwind in the lee provided by the atoll. It was a great plan, and mostly worked, but we found that the "lee" petered out about halfway up the south coast. Then it was slow-going... motoring into light winds, seas, and a light current. We only made 3.5 knots for a few hours.

We had wanted to stop briefly at Alinginae just to see it, but we had been delayed so long at Bikini that we felt we were running out of time. And the timing to leave Bikini and stop at Alinginae was not good for going on to Rongelap, if we found Alinginae untenable. And we are supposed to have permission from Rongelap to stop there anyway.

We had nearly a full moon and great conditions while motoring along Alinginae. There was enough moon to see the breakers off to port when we got in close. With the CM93 (CMap) chart off by nearly a half a mile, we were relying on the Google Earth charts that we had made, to keep us out of trouble. (The Navionics iPad chart was off too, and the Garmin didn't have much detail).

Finally about midnight we cleared the SE corner of Alinginae, and were able to tack (still motorsailing) up into the gap between Rongelap and Alinginae, where we got some relief from the wave action from Rongelap Atoll. All this time, Westward II was 2-3 miles behind us.

We had all along toyed with the idea of just skipping Rongelap altogether, and continuing on to Rongerik, which it looked like we could reach without too much trouble by late afternoon. For this reason, we had had Challenger, who was in Rongelap ahead of us, pay our $50 fee to the "acting mayor" at Rongelap, and get permission for us to go straight to Rongerik. Westward II, on the other hand, is on a different schedule than we are, and they opted to go to Rongelap no matter what.

So, while we were underway, we got another forecast, and it just didn't look like there'd be another window soon that would let us keep going eastward. The timing and conditions being right, Soggy Paws tacked off (still motorsailing) to head around the SE tip of Rongelap. While Westward II slowed down and headed for the SE pass at Rongelap, planning to go in at first light.

Both of us had mixed feelings about our choices...and still do. It's terrible to come all this way, and then have to skip places you'd really like to see. And neither Westward II or ourselves wanted to split up, as we've found we're very compatible in temperament, cruising style, and cruising speed. But we're starting to feel the time pressure to get moving, to be able to see all the other "important" (ie World War II relic) atolls down the way, and still get back to Kwajalein in time to fly out in early October.

Long story short, the predicted shift from ENE to ESE winds, which would make our tack from the SE corner of Rongelap to the NW corner of Rongerik a pleasant sail, didn't happen. Instead of 12-13 ESE, we had 15-18 ENE... right in our face. So it was a wet and windy day. We actually t-t-t-acked 3-4 times! But we arrived in the anchorage at Rongerik before sunset, exhausted and salty.

We again used our Google Earth charts to chose where we would enter through the wide western pass area at Rongerik, and to watch for isolated coral heads on the way across the atoll to the anchorage on the east side. With the sun behind us, it was easy.

Of course, almost minutes after we got our anchor set, the wind eased back to 12-13 knots and shifted SE, only a few hours late.

For a crow-flies distance of 116 NM, we covered roughly 145 NM in 32 hours, unfortunately having to motor at (mostly) low RPM's the whole time. Had we tried to just sail it, we'd have spent probably another 24 hours tacking around.

So we made it ~100 more miles to windward. Only 2 more hops to go before we make it to the eastern Ratak chain of islands. Then all our sailing will theoretically be at good sail-able angles to the wind. (Time for the wind to finally drop to zero, as Dave promised months ago :P).

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