Illywhacker - Canada to Hawaii


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Author Peter Aston
Date 4 July 2003
Map Ref Pacific Ocean , Vancouver to Hawaii

From Vancouver, Canada, illywhacker heads for Townsville, Australia, a journey from the North American continent to our own island continent. The first leg renews our respect for the big ocean.

  View from the bar at Hawaii Yacht Club

Passage Plan

There are quite a few yachts that make the trip from the US West Coast and Canada to Hawaii. Every 2nd year the Victoria to Maui race is run and on alternate years the Transpac is run from Los Angeles to Hawaii. Conventional wisdom says the weather is most settled in July/August when the North Pacific High sits at about 35N, 140W. This means boats heading to Hawaii should take a southerly course enjoying northerly winds to about 25N before meeting the NE Trades and swinging west to avoid crossing the centre of the High and running out of wind. Yachts heading home from Hawaii follow a northerly route to the west of the High with winds astern or abeam then swing east once the top of the High is reached. Sometimes however the High splits in two or moves SE and it is possible to sail a rhumbline course. If you have the fuel it can be a good strategy. We opted for the curving route, south then west since it was also recommended by our Pilot Chart program, VPP.
  Click for larger view

The Crossing

We enjoyed a rollicking northwesterly for the first few days and kept the wind off the stern on a course of 204 degrees True. After a week we found ourselves too far west and motored for 680nm. We found the Trades at 28N then followed them downwind to Hawaii, a distance of 2450nm from Victoria BC. This sounds idyllic but illywhacker had spent too much time motoring in the calm waters of the Inside Passage to take the open sea without complaint. With our fuel half spent, we were lighter in ballast and she tended to roll from side to side as each following wave lifted the stern and rotated the hull a few degrees causing a roll to one side. Our autopilot corrected madly and we'd roll over to the other side. Everyone knows that the way to correct this is to travel as fast as the waves and for 2 days we had the problem solved. With the headsail poled out to port and the MPS (multi-purpose spinnaker) to starboard, we travelled comfortably at speeds touching 7 knots. Unfortunately, the halyard parted due to chafing at the masthead and we lost it inside the mast. We were back to headsail and staysail which reduced our speed to 5.5knots, not bad but more rolly. Coupled with the rolling, we experienced sea swell from varying directions so we learnt to live aboard a washing machine!

Sunset after a week at sea It's not always like this!

Breakages and fun at sea

Motoring across the High gave us some exciting moments. At all times we could see floating debris, very similar in content to that we noticed when sailing Asian waters, perhaps the North Pacific currents circulate it all. In any case we were twice forced to dive over the side and cut the prop clear. This process required use of my dry suit as in Alaskan waters, we hadn't arrived in the Tropics at that time. The second time was a monster knot which unscrewed the prop anode and bent it's mounting shaft.
Motoring also raised the spectre of another monster that lives in the bilge. A slight oil leak and a few litres of water from slack maintenance on the rudder shaft stuffing box were the ingredients. An automatic bilge pump that I keep closed at the outlet to avoid surprise oil spills ran continuously and created an emulsion not unlike blancmange which grew alarmingly until the cause was discovered. Another time a loud screeching emanated from the stern gland and this turned out to be the prop shaft rubbing on the stern tube. Raising the engine mounts corrected it but a new cutlass bearing is defintely indicated.
More disturbing, the rolling motion apparently placed pressure on the top of the water tanks and several litres were forced into the adjacent gutters. Lyndall was sleeping on the saloon floor over the tanks (traditionally the position with the least motion at sea) but luckily remained dry. On top of this our ever-reliable GPS suddenly went blank - it was like a Yachtmasters' exam where they continually surprise you with the unexpected!

Floating debris cut from the prop Large tanker en route to Persian Gulf

Life Aboard

While I kept the boat together as best I could, Lyndall and Jo our crew provided gourmet meals and we all kept regular 2 hour watches, looking out for shipping (there were 10) and wind changes. The meals were so good - we had salads and ice cream for the first 15 days with so many great pre-cooked stews or fresh stir fry that we could have been at a classy restaurant. Jo was sporting a red hairdo at the time and there was a plot aboard to have me undergo a beard-dyeing - luckily I am fleet of foot around the deck.

Jo having a hair rinse (red) View of the HYC bar from illywhacker


We were understandably very pleased to see Koko Head on Oahu Island appear on schedule and from there it is an hour's sail around Diamond Head to Ala Wei marina and the Hawaii Yacht Club. What an amazing transition. After 19 days, the rolling stops and we glide to a stop against the dock with strangers calling their welcome "Aloha's" and tying us up. All around are the exotic towers of Waikiki apartments, blue seas with waves breaking on white sands while the Yacht Club sits on a peninsular surrounded by palm trees, frangipanis and cool, green grass.

From our boat we are just a few meters from the bar, showers and terra firma. Will we ever get outa here?

  Looking out to Waikiki
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