Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Passage from Likiep to Ailuk Atoll

July 29-30

We really liked Likiep and could have stayed for a lot longer. But the horizon beckons...

In the last few hops, we've been traveling southeast, and so our weather watch was always for northeast winds. In this passage, we'd be going northeast, so we needed to wait for southeast winds.

The winds in the Marshall Islands in the summertime are somewhat similar to those in the Caribbean in the summertime. There are "tropical waves" coming from the east every few days. Each wave brings a "wiggle" in the winds. As the wave approaches, the wind goes northeast. When it arrives, it brings wet weather, and a wind shift to the southeast. So the trick is to catch whatever part of the wave suits the wind you are looking for. And to watch out "vigorous" waves (or mentions of "Upper level support" in the text forecasts)

As much as people revile the GRIB, we really rely on them here. There is no real local weather forecast office. So the big computer in the sky is all we have to go on. That, and our eyes, of course.

So we knew from the GRIB files to expect the wet, and the wind switch to the southeast in the middle of the day. We were all ready--goodbyes ashore said, dinghy loaded, deck canvas down, passage meals cooked, cabin prepped. So when the sky started clearing and the wind shifted, we got underway immediately.

The point-to-point distance on this hop is only about 50 miles. If it was downwind, or a reach, we could have managed it as a daysail. But upwind, and tacking on 5-10 miles on each end to get from the pass into the atoll to the anchorage, we made it an overnight.

We picked up anchor about 1:30pm, and were out the SW pass by 2:30pm. Once out the pass, we had to go straight east for about 6 miles to clear the SE tip of Likiep. We did the first part motorsailing really close to the Likiep coast, trying to take advantage of the little protection it offered. Then when we started feeling the waves, we fell off a bit and sailed ESE.

Finally about 5pm we tacked over to head for the pass at Ailuk. We kept the motor on for another hour, until we were really clear of the reef that sticks out the east end of Likiep. At first we were making about 30 degrees true, but we got into the current, and most of the night we only made 15-20 degrees true. At dawn we were even with Ailuk Atoll, but 20 miles west of where we needed to be. So we tacked over and spent the next few hours sailing to the SE. The waves were really choppy behind the atoll--waves coming around both sides of the island meeting where we were!!

Finally we got close enough to the atoll where the waves weren't so bad, so we turned on the engine and motorsailed in. We went in the middle pass on the western side of the atoll, using Google Earth charts to navigate through the pass.

As soon as we were inside, we hooked up the watermaker (directly belted to the engine, like an alternator), and made water while motorsailing the 12 miles down to the village at Ailuk. We have to motor at reduced RPM, and the wind was up, so for some time we were only making about 2.5-3 knots. We finally got anchored behind our friends on Opus about 2pm. But with full water tanks of beautiful reverse-osmosis water.

Our anchor spot was 10-13.43N / 169-58.59E

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