Category Archives: Boat

Heading Down Under again, this time like the bird flies

Published October 8, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
©2016 Susan Scott
A wild sulfur-crested cockatoo pays a visit to the Honu at anchor off Hook Island, Whitsunday Islands National Park. ©2016 Susan Scott

A wild sulfur-crested cockatoo pays a visit to the Honu at anchor off Hook Island, Whitsunday Islands National Park. ©2016 Susan Scott

As you read this, Craig and I are on our way to Australia once again to explore the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park on our sailboat, Honu. People assume we’re setting sail when I say that and ask, “How long will it take to get there?” As the bird flies, Australia is about 5,600 miles southwest of Hawaii. Because Honu averages 5 mph, a voyage from here to there nonstop would take six to seven weeks.

In our dreams. At 64 million square miles, the poorly named Pacific Ocean generates endless variations of tradewinds, doldrums, currents and storms that can add weeks to a long offshore voyage.

But few skippers sail directly from Hawaii to Australia, or vice versa. We do it in hops. For my first voyage Down Under, I sailed via Palmyra Atoll, Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji and New Caledonia. The second time I added the Marquesas, the Tuamotus and Niue to the westward run. Because I took my time visiting those South Pacific islands and flew home during cyclone seasons, my answer to how long it took to sail to Australia is, “Ten years.”

Now Honu is in Australia to stay. The decision to keep the boat there was made easy by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, or GBRMPA. For sailing, snorkeling, diving, beachcombing and hiking among friendly hosts who make great food (meat pies, yes!), it’s as good as it gets.

That coral wall we all picture when we mention the GBR is superb, but getting out there in a 37-foot sailboat can be a challenge.

Usually we must leave the night before so we arrive in high sun, critical for dodging coral heads. And because the submerged reefs offer little protection from the open ocean’s wind and waves, flat, calm water is essential. That means motoring, which is fine as long as we have plenty of diesel fuel. And if the wind and swells start up while we’re out there, we hightail it back.

But not going to the outer reefs is an excellent option because the more user-friendly parts of the park — atolls, islands and mainland rivers — offer calm anchorages, drop-dead scenery, astonishing marine life and charming avian visitors.

Honu waits for us now in a marina in Townsville, the headquarters of GBRMPA. The lovely town is visitor-friendly and so close to coral reefs that I highly recommend a visit.

After 10 years of sailing Honu across the South Pacific, the fact that I can leave Honolulu this morning and sleep on the boat tonight feels nothing short of a miracle. This time when someone asks how long it took to get to Australia, I’m very happy to say, “Twelve hours.”

Huge sea life of great reef is too incredible to see solo

Published June 18, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott
A giant clam about 4 feet long was just one of the oversize specimens spotted in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. ©2016 Susan Scott

A giant clam about 4 feet long was just one of the oversize specimens spotted in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. ©2016 Susan Scott

BOWEN, Queensland, Australia >> Where fishing is prohibited here in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, I can describe the animals in one word: big.

I’ve seen turtles, invertebrates and fish so large I was happy I had Craig beside me as a witness or I would have doubted my own eyes.

One day off a Haslewood Island beach, Craig and I saw in the distance a mound of charcoal-black coral. We had never seen such a coral color and swam toward it. Then the hulk rose up and disappeared into deep water. As the enormous creature departed, we saw, to our astonishment, a pair of giant flippers. We both believe our “coral head” was a leatherback turtle.

Although leatherback turtles swim off most of Australia’s coasts, no nests have been found here since 1996. Maybe biologists will find a leatherback nest on a Haslewood beach.

In another area of the massive reef in Waite Bay, Craig and I each followed our own marvels and got separated. When I looked up he was barely visible in the distance, but I could see him motioning for me to come see what he found.

This had better be good, I thought, as I swam and swam, because I was passing some eye-popping-beautiful giant clams nestled in beds of corals as stunning as the most exquisite flower gardens.

We later laughed about my worry of missing the clams, because Craig had found the biggest giant clam either of us had ever seen, so old it had its own coral reef growing on its shells. The gaping mother of all clams was, we guessed, 4 feet long. We weren’t far off. The record shell size here is 3.7 feet long.

On another reef we spotted the father of all stingrays (clams seem female; stingrays, male) resting on a sandy patch in a shallow cave of corals. Stingrays aren’t aggressive, but seeing that the ray could escape its space only by swimming toward us, we slowly back-paddled. Never startle a snoozing stingray, especially one as big as an area rug.

And, oh dear, the fish. Schools of huge, rainbow-colored parrotfish roam the reefs. I’ve seen three 3-foot-long humphead wrasses and once found a giant black trevally hanging out under the boat. Even the squirrelfish are supersized, their dark eyes set like jewels against their brilliant red-and-white striped skin.

The weather has been so calm for snorkeling most of the past five weeks that my mask has given me face-ache. But now we’re having a different kind of adventure: knock-down wind. Honu is holed up at the friendly North Queensland Cruising Yacht Club as we wait out rain and impressive blasts of 30-35 knots. But I’m not complaining. On the Great Barrier Reef, even the tradewinds are big.

Great reef’s coral array, sea castles still awe explorers

Published June 11, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott

coral1HOOK ISLAND, GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARK >> While snorkeling here this week, I found myself thinking that there’s too much coral.

Capt. Cook thought so, too, in 1770, and he didn’t even know that the lagoon he was exploring was a vast channel paralleling the Australian mainland.

The concept of a barrier reef forming a passage came later. The open stretches of this so-called passage are about 100 feet deep. But sprinkled among them are coral-rimmed islands, free-standing reefs, atolls and peaks. Some reefs are visible, but many lie just below the surface.

Today we have GPS charts that point out most of them. But not all. Last week I came within yards of crashing Honu, at speed, into a tiny, uncharted pinnacle.

“Turn right!” Craig shouted from the bow. We avoided disaster only because he was securing the anchor and saw waves breaking ahead.

Today, corals are much loved and a frequent topic in discussions of global warming. But in the early years of exploration, no one knew what they were. Eng-lish Capt. Mathew Flinders speculated that corals were “animalcules” that lived on the ocean floor. When they died, other animalcules (love that word) grew atop, and so on, thus building “a monument of their wonderful labors.” The creatures’ care in building their walls vertically was to Flinders a “surprising instinct.”

What he didn’t know was that stony corals grow upright because they host algae that need sunshine to survive. That fact came to light 30 years later from another explorer, Charles Darwin.

My problem with the corals here isn’t running the boat into one of their “monuments” (although I’m more watchful now), but that I can’t take them all in.

The corals on these reefs look like mushrooms, wheat fields, brain tissue, antlers, cabbage leaves, chicken skin, grassy knolls and endless other shapes, colors and textures.

Some corals are hard; some are soft. Many cover their space like rugs; others wave greetings like anemones.

Among all the coral splendor here, one in particular stands out for me. On a white-sand beach I found pieces of a bright red structure of tubes known as organ pipe coral. In admiring the tiny pipes, which remind me of fairy castles, I’m in good company. Capt. Cook’s naturalist, Joseph Banks, wrote about being overwhelmed by the variety of corals, too, especially one he called Tubipora musica. That’s the scientific name of my organ pipes.

It’s clear to us modern sailors that this labyrinth of coral shoals must have been a nightmare to early explorers. It’s also clear why mariners, past and present, admire them so. What other animalcules build monuments?

Whitsundays offer preview of outer reef, more to come

Published June 4, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott

CoralWHITSUNDAY ISLANDS, Australia >> Our cruising guide calls these 74 islands “a tropical paradise in the heart of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.”

It’s no exaggeration.

The Whitsunday Islands, so named by Capt. James Cook because he arrived here the seventh Sunday after Easter, or Whit Sunday, are two mountain ranges cut off from the mainland by ancient geologic events. The teeming coral reefs that now surround the islands can keep a snorkeler busy for months. But beyond the Whitsundays lie the platform reefs most people picture when you mention the Great Barrier Reef. The islands, therefore, are a leg up for sailors who want to visit the outer reef. The nearest, called Bait Reef, is about 20 miles east of the easternmost island, a three- to four-hour voyage for our 37-foot ketch, Honu.

Bait Reef hosts the famous Stepping Stones, 18 flat-topped coral pinnacles lining the southwest side of the reef. Each round tower rises 50 to 80 feet from the ocean floor and stops 3 to 6 feet below the surface.

It’s easy to swim from one backyard-size coral head to the next, and each is a snorkeler’s dream. Confetti parades of tropical fish swim at the pillar tops, and enormous fish such as giant trevally and Napoleon wrasse hang near the drop-offs.

The Great Barrier Reef hosts about 350 species of light-loving coral, making competition for space fierce. When coral-eating fish and invertebrates leave bite scars, the larvae of sponges, worms, crustaceans, clams and corals quickly claim the space.

Every imaginable shape and color of stony corals cover the flat column tops, with soft corals and giant clams elbowing their way between.

An Australian researcher recently surveyed an area of coral reef off Port Douglas, about 300 miles north of the Whitsundays, and reported that 90 percent of the corals he observed have bleached (turned white). I’ve seen no bleaching here, but the study is a stark reminder that this largest living organism on Earth is at risk from climate change.

At the outer reefs, weather is everything. Being submerged and patchy, the coral heads offer no protection from wind and waves. Skippers head out when the wind is light, and keep an escape plan in mind should the weather change.

So, fingers crossed, out we sailed. Soon after our arrival the wind stopped completely, leaving the water so flat and glassy, we were able to spend the night. As we sailed back the next day, two humpback whales, up from Antarctica for the winter, put on a show of breaching.

Our cruising guide for this area is called “100 Magic Miles of the Great Barrier Reef.” I couldn’t imagine a better title.

Diverse array of ‘pennies’ comes from marine critters

Published May 28, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott
Australians call these foram shells mermaid’s pennies; they’re common on the Great Barrier Reef. ©2016 Susan Scott

Australians call these foram shells mermaid’s pennies; they’re common on the Great Barrier Reef. ©2016 Susan Scott

Goldsmith Island, Queensland, Australia >> While sailing north through the reefs and islands of Great Barrier Reef National Park, our routine is to sail in the morning, choose one of the nearly endless protected island anchorages, stop there for the night and explore. Although each island is rich with its own charming gangs of kangaroos, parrots and coral-ringed islets, we rarely spend more than one night in the same place. We just never know what this amazing park has in store for us down the line.

One day last week, for instance, after anchoring in a picture postcard bay, we headed to shore in our dinghy and struck it rich. Countless pennies lay scattered over the white sand.

Mermaid’s pennies, that is, according to Australians. To me they were puka shells, but odd ones. It looked as if someone had spilled a truckload of washers on the beach.

The shell washers ranged in diameter from so tiny I could barely pick them up to about an inch wide. The holes in the center also varied from none to most of the shell. Nor were these disks pure white and wavy like puka shells. Their flat surfaces came in all shades of gray, brown and cream. The shells are from a species of marine creature called a foraminifera, foram for short. Being close to the beginning of the food web, forams are vital for healthy oceans, and to human enterprises as well. Egypt’s pyramids are made of zillions of calcium carbonate foram shells squished together over geologic time. Geologists also use foram deposits as clues to the location of underground oil.

Forams deliver beauty as well, decorating some of the most exquisite shorelines on the world. Beaches in Hawaii, Palau, Bermuda and more are carpets of forams finely ground by ocean waves.

Forams are animals like bacteria are animals. They eat, reproduce, walk around, prey on other organisms and die. But even the largest ones are only a single cell. They’re like amoebas with shells arranged in countless shapes of disks, spheres, spirals and tubes. Most are too small to see with the naked eye, which is what makes the mermaid’s pennies (and the white puka shells of the South Pacific) special.

Forams line all ocean floors and drift in marine plankton in astronomical numbers. In his study, one researcher found an estimated 70,000 forams per square yard on the ocean bottom. The number is on the low side for some areas. In one place, “foram ooze” was 6,600 feet thick.

At this writing, we’ve explored beaches and reefs of about 10 islands and found shells of snail species we know and many we don’t. Curiously, we’ve seen no more mermaid’s pennies, but the handful I have make me feel rich indeed.

Putting a boat back in water can be adventurous in itself

Published October 19, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2015 Susan Scott

BUNDABERG RIVER, QUEENSLAND, Australia >> When I left my sailboat, Honu, here in July, it was in a slip in the marina. But while I was home in Hawaii, my friend found a problem that required taking the boat to dry dock. Colin repaired the boo-boos (fix one, find another), and that made my first chore here to splash the boat, meaning get it back in the water.

Splashing a 37-foot sailboat weighing 20 tons is accomplished with a contraption called a Travel Lift, a machine so huge, loud and odd-looking that it reminds me of a movie-style Transformer.

While I stood on the deck with Colin, workers drove this roaring robot over Honu to straddle her and fastened two giant belts under the hull, front and rear. When all was deemed secure, up rose the boat from its land supports, and off we drove to the launch site, Honu swaying in her slings.

During the short journey, I remembered boatyard tales of belts failing and boats dropping, but all went well and soon Honu was hanging over the water. Because boat engines pump seawater for coolant, you can’t start the motor before the hull is afloat. The driver lowered the slings and boat into the water, and it was time to try the repaired engine. The engine started right up — hooray — but when Colin and I dashed below to check for leaks, we found a geyser of that cooling seawater spurting throughout the engine room.

Quick, get the socket set!

Just as Colin finished tightening two loose hose clamps, plop, into the bilge fell the socket. The marina had assigned Honu a slip, and off I drove. I started out OK, but as I turned in, a gust of wind hit the boat on the side.

As a result, Colin couldn’t throw the rear line to a helper waiting on the dock, so he threw the front (bow) line instead. When the guy pulled on the bow, Honu’s rear end swung far from the dock. Nuts. I was going in sideways.

The result was six men shouting various instructions as Honu drifted askew. Fortunately, the two-slip space was large and empty. Eventually, with the help of my well-working motor and neighbors, I got Honu straightened out and tied up. In the wrong slip, but still.

The boat was afloat, and I didn’t crash it or hurt anyone in the process. Well, I hurt myself a little. I discovered three oozing scrapes on my right shin, a small gash on my left hand and a deep scratch on my thigh. I had no idea how or when each injury occurred, but my friend Alex maintains that if you’re bleeding and don’t know why, it means you’re having a good time.

We borrowed a Shop-Vac to suck up the seawater in the engine pan, and Colin drove to town and bought a replacement socket. When I reported to the office that I ended up in the wrong slip, the worker there did the typical Australian thing. Turning to the marina map grease board, she rubbed out the name Honu from slip 9 and rewrote it in slip 8. “There,” she said. “No worries.”

Now I’m provisioned, fueled up and at anchor in the Bundaberg River, the ideal place for our 2 a.m. departure. Yes, our. My longtime friend Colin, a shipwright and crackerjack boat fixer, said he’s heard enough about Pancake Creek and Lady Musgrave over the years that he wants to see them.

Alex is right about the bleeding. I’m having a blast.


Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean Watch”,
for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott

 

Saving Great Barrier Reef has been an uphill battle

Published June 22, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2015 Susan Scott

Bundaberg, Australia » My co-captain, Craig, and I flew Down Under last weekend to collect our 37-foot ketch, Honu, which we stored here in October. We have a month to explore some of the 900 islands and 3,000 coral banks that make up the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

To fully appreciate this 1,200-mile-long marvel of nature, I did some research on the history of the reef as a national park.

Because the GBR is so famous, most people assume it has long been protected from commercial fishing. Not so. When the Australian government created the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 1975, only 4 percent was off-limits to anglers, leaving most of the reefs, islands and inside waters open to commercial fishing. This included everything from hand-collecting aquarium fish to trawlers dragging nets across the ocean floor.

UNESCO named the GBR a World Heritage Site in 1981, but that didn’t give it more protection. By the end of the 20th century, overfishing, toxic discharges from nickel and coal mines, agricultural runoff and ship harbor dredging caused failing fisheries and gasping corals. The celebrated reef was in trouble.

Australian lawmakers rose to the challenge — and it was a challenge because fishing interests strongly opposed the creation of no-catch zones. Eventually, in 2004, the legislature increased the protected area of the park from 4 percent to 33 percent and created long-term conservation plans.

One-third of the GBR roped off (figuratively) for the recovery of fish stocks, corals and other invertebrates was, at 134,000 square miles, the largest protected ocean area in the world.

A year later, it became second largest. The first, at 139,000 square miles, is our own Northwest Hawaiian Islands, designated in 2006 the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument.

The protected part of the GBR isn’t one solid piece, but consists of separate zones based on ecosystems. Color-coded maps, widely available, show users what kind of fishing and collecting is allowed in each area.

Judges are serious about these rules. One commercial angler caught fishing in a restricted “green” zone received a fine of AU$40,000, or $31,000.

Like all large wilderness areas in the world, controlling human activity on the GBR is a continual uphill battle for Australian lawmakers and managers. Environmental organizations and people with tourism concerns pull one way; big business and fishing industries pull the other. And even when compromises are struck, there are cheaters.

When delving into the debates and disputes currently raging around protection of the GBR, or nearly any environmental issue, it’s easy to get caught up in the negative and believe that all is lost.

I choose to focus on all that’s left. I’m about to sail into a park that hosts thousands of fish and invertebrate species as well as being breeding grounds for seabirds, sea turtles and whales. Coral reefs, sea snakes, dugongs, mangrove forests and fantastic life forms I don’t even know (yet) thrive here.

I appreciate what people are doing to keep the Great Barrier Reef great. It is, after all, still very well-named.


Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott

 

The graceful green turtle inspires name for sailboat

The 37-foot French ketch. ©2014 Susan Scott

Noumea, New Caledo­nia » I’m on the road again, my road being the Pacific Ocean and my vehicle being my old friend Honu.

Craig and I bought the 37-foot French ketch in 1984 on the East Coast with the plan to sail it home to Hawaii. The first thing we did to prepare for the voyage was give the boat a Hawaiian name.

In nautical lore, changing a boat’s name is supposed to be bad luck, but that idea came from men who thought bathing made you sick and that women on ships caused storms. We ignored the superstition, registered the boat as Honu and had an artist paint a sea turtle on the transom.

We picked the word for sea turtle because the boat reminded us of those graceful grazers, their shells heavy and wide yet efficient and seaworthy. Green turtles can weigh up to 400 pounds with shells 4 feet long, yet, like Honu’s Fiberglas hull, they glide through the water like angels on wings.

It took us nearly a year, but the two of us sailed the boat to its new home in the Ala Wai Boat Harbor. As Honu’s original blue paint, cushions and sail covers wore out, we replaced them in green, even though green turtle shells aren’t green, but shades of gold and brown. The “green” in the name comes from turtles’ green fat, once prized in soup.

When we named the boat Honu, the word wasn’t widely used. But in testimony to the success of federal and state wildlife protection laws, today “honu” is common in Hawaii, both in term and turtles — but not in soup.

Honu Sailing

Honu Sailing

Honu and I have had some momentous passages together, and not just those of the sea. When I was 55 I sailed to Palmyra, Tahiti and across the South Pacific to Australia.

During my voyaging I discovered that the word “honu” also sailed throughout the Pacific. In addition to Hawaii, “honu” also means “green turtle” in the native languages of Tahiti and New Zealand. Cook Islanders call turtles “onu,” in Tonga they’re “fonu” and Fijians say “vonu.”

In all places, though, including here in New Caledonia, where Craig and I are preparing Honu for a passage to Australia, our boat’s name gets smiles of recognition. OK, it’s probably the turtle on the transom that draws the smiles, but the picture defines the boat’s name.

By 2012, in Mexico, Honu needed new hull and deck paint. I hired out the huge job, flew home and returned months later to find the painting top-notch — with one exception. The boat’s transom had a lovely new turtle painted below the name, but the O in “Honu” angled oddly to the right.

As I stared at the word, thinking, I must get this fixed, the American contractor said, “The O is a halo because turtles are angels of the sea.” He shrugged. “That’s what the artist said.”

Honu’s halo remains intact.

The previous pain on the transom. Courtesy Scott R. Davis

The previous pain on the transom. Courtesy Scott R. Davis

honu

Honu from the side. Courtesy Scott R. Davis

 


Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott

New Caledonia provides comfort after the storm

Published may 19, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

Honu’s jib during a similar storm in 2006.

Noumea, New Caledonia » After writing last week about our cushy cruise from Fiji to New Caledonia on our 37-foot ketch, Honu, the Pacific Ocean rose up to remind us who’s boss.

Craig and I could see trouble ahead, solid black clouds that grew taller and wider with each sunny downwind mile we sailed. We’ve sailed through such weather fronts time and again, but even so, it’s sobering business heading straight into such a menacing wall.

We shortened the sails, battened the hatches and zipped on our foul-weather gear just as 30 mph wind, accompanied by driving rain and rising seas, struck us head on, pushing us so far off course we considered making landfall in Vanu­atu rather than New Caledonia.

Honu beat through angry waves that struck the bow, washed over the deck and sprayed us with salt water. It was a long day and longer night, each of us hyper-alert to the boat’s sounds because a new screech, groan or bang requires immediate investigation.

We took two-hour watches that felt like four. What a relief to go below deck and lie in the downwind bunk.

At 5 a.m. I woke with a start. “What’s happening?” I said, poking my head into the cockpit.

Craig in foul weather gear, 2014. @©2014 Susan Scott

Craig in foul weather gear, 2014. @©2014 Susan Scott

Snake skipper

Craig in foul weather gear. 2014

“It’s amazing,” Craig said. “We passed through the front like a doorway, and in minutes the wind clocked around to the quarter (the rear of the boat). It’s still blowing hard, but we’re back on course and going downwind.”

Ah, the glory of following seas. On sailboats, direction is everything.

Dawn brightened our day even more, and by midmorning the adverse tide slackened, letting the blustery southeast trades push Honu into Havana Pass. We dropped anchor in a harbor just inside New Caledonia’s barrier reef, thanking Honu for seeing us safely through another storm.

Honu is now moored in Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, nicknamed Paris of the Pacific. It’s an apt name, the city offering fine French food, superb museums and one-of-a kind shops. Combined with the consistent friendliness we’ve experienced in all these South Pacific nations, Noumea is a great place to stop.

Snake skipper

Susan with New Caledonia in the background, 2014. @©2014 Susan Scott

Captain Cook was the first westerner to come across this island group in 1774, naming it New Caledonia because its hills reminded him of Scotland. (Caledonia was the Roman name for Scotland.) In 1853 the French claimed New Caledonia, using it as a penal colony. The island group became a household name during World War II when the U.S., New Zealand and Australia used it as a military base.

The main island in the cluster, Grand Terre, is the largest by far, about 250 miles long, 31 miles wide. Its barrier reef, along with those edging many small islands and atolls, make New Caledonia a premier snorkeling, diving and sailing area.

We are waiting out strong wind and rain in Nou­mea’s comfy Port Moselle. But the sea snakes, sea turtles, anemones, clown fish and even a dugong (they tell me) that reside right here in the harbor tell me what I already knew: New Caledonia is my kind of heaven.

As soon as the Pacific Ocean gets off its bossy high horse, Honu will be out there exploring.

New Caledonia

New Caledonia from Honu in 2006


Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott

Calm seas and light wind make for a pleasure cruise

Published May 12, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

Susan in the blustery conditions aboard Honu in 2006. Courtesy Scott R. Davis

In 2006 my friend Scott helped me sail Honu from island to island across the South Pacific.

“When I signed on for that trip,” Scott says, “I imagined baking bread and reading novels under sunny skies in a gently swaying boat.”

Me, too. But that summer the Pacific Ocean didn’t cooperate with our daydreams. Blustery southeast tradewinds and the resulting 8-foot seas made even standing in the galley an ordeal, and drenching squalls barred books from the cockpit. Both above and below deck, we hung on, longing for landfall and wondering who on Earth named this stretch the Coconut Milk Run.

Now I know. It was a sailor who had passages like the one Craig and I are enjoying right now.

We left Fiji nearly a week ago. Because that country’s entry and exit laws make visiting outer islands difficult for those of us with time constraints, we didn’t stop at any of the picture-perfect islands and atolls we passed while sailing to and from Suva.

Instead, we ate in Suva’s many good restaurants and visited the famous open-air market and museum. I don’t know why it ended up in Fiji, but the Bounty’s rudder, retrieved from the ocean floor off Pitcairn Island, is there, a thrilling sight for us sailors.

After a week of city life (and, yes, some boat repairs), we left busy Suva Harbor in a rainstorm, maneuvering between islets and around reefs toward our final destination, New Caledonia. The warm rain was a squeaky-clean relief from the salty state that we cruising sailors usually live in.

The wind was strong enough to sail but not so strong as to build up the seas. Enjoy this, Craig and I reminded one another. It won’t last.

But it has. For five days now Honu has been sliding smoothly downwind at 3 to 5 mph, sometimes propelled only by its billowing green and black sail called a spinnaker. It’s been so mild that I even hauled the boat’s soft salon cushion and our bed pillows to the cockpit, usually risky business for material that isn’t waterproof. Craig calls my cushy corner the princess bed.

With seas so flat, the marine life at the interface of air and ocean is crystal clear. As if shot from a gun, flying fish burst from the water, sculling along the surface to escape the tunas below. We know the predators are tunas because in their pursuit, they too leap clear, their heavy bodies splashing back to the water with loud belly-flops.

The commotion attracts booby birds and shearwaters, which appear like magic, snatching up the unfortunate fish trapped between carnivores above and below.

At night we have our own planetarium, with moonlight glistening on the water half the night and meteorites zooming across the pearly Milky Way the other half.

Honu’s running lights attract raucous sooty terns that announce their arrival by screeching their nickname, “Wide-awake! Wide-awake!”

With bunny rabbit clouds drifting over our rock-a-bye-baby boat, we’re devouring Kate Atkinson novels (highly recommended) and thinking that the Coconut Milk Run is well named.

All we need now is Scott to bake us some bread.

Scott in the galley of Honu, cutting warm bread; starfish potholder.

Scott in the galley of Honu, cutting warm bread; starfish potholder.

Scott in the galley of Honu, cutting warm bread; starfish potholder.


Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott