Illywhacker - Hawaii to Tuvalu


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Author Peter Aston
Date 5 Aug 2003
Map Ref Pacific Ocean , Hawaii to Tuvalu



After 3 weeks recuperation in Honolulu, Lyndall and I head off to the South Pacific - to our first sight of the Southern Cross in 5 years. Our plan takes us direct to Tuvalu.

10 days from Hawaii we finally meet the SE Trades
Click for a larger view


Passage Plan


As this wefax taken on the crossing shows, the sail from the Northern to the Southern hemisphere entails crossing not only the Equator but also the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). The convergence of the Trade Winds from each hemisphere results in a belt of hot winds from variable directions with frequent and heavy rain squalls. The width of the ICTZ varies and can be as short as 60nm, if you're lucky.

As one moves from the high latitudes to the Equator, isobar spacing on a weather fax Surface Analysis chart needs care when interpolating the true wind speed. The lower the latitude, the higher the speed for a given difference in pressure. The tropics will show such widely spaced isobars as to make determination of wind speed inaccurate. The NWS in Honolulu produce the adjacent Streamline Analysis chart which neatly shows wind speed and direction, not isobars - just what we needed.

The great circle distance is 2250nm and we expected to motor through the ICTZ. This chart was received a week out and shows NE 15 swinging to SE 10 - we wish! We allowed 19 days for the passage - it took 15.


The Crossing

From the Hawaii Yacht Club looking south the sea is calm as far as the eye can see since it is protected to the north by the mountains of Oahu. Soon after leaving the entrance buoy we set the long-suffering autopilot to 205degM and left it that way for the whole passage. The wind stayed NE at 15 to 20 for the first week. That meant it came from the aft quarter where the main tended to blanket the jib so we tried a new combination - jib and mizzen. That worked well and we achieved a run most of days over 140nm - not bad for 22 tons of home comforts.

As the wind gradually moved E we were able to set the main and the wind generator received free wind, unobstructed by the mizzen and provided enough power to run the autopilot.

On day 8 the wind showed it's first sign of an easterly shift dropping to E5 for a day then to SE10. It was on day 9 we had a severe dose of ICTZ. It was very hot, humid and the winds were frustratingly variable from 5 to 25 kts and from all directions. We had some very dark and scary squalls at night but amused ourselves catching water by day. We expected as our reward in suffering these 150 odd nm to burst into fresh SE Trades on the other side. However, days 10 and 11 were back to NE and predictably rolly with swells from NE and SE. It was so hot and so rolly that sleep was impossible for Lyndall who became exhausted from lack of it while I became exhausted from the many sail changes but could also sleep only fitfully. Our reward did come on day12 with gorgeous SE winds at 12 kts and we enjoyed these until an out of season Low appeared to our South - again causing NE winds which took us all the way to Tuvalu.

Jib, Main and Mizzen and windgen in full flight

Squalls were frequent in the ICTZ Trying to catch rain water from the cockpit awning


We sailed through the north entrance to Funafuti Atoll in daylight, our electronic charts seemed to be accurate and positioned us in the deepest part of about 6 metres - then we suddenly found ourselves in calm water after 15 days of wobbly boots - a great feeling. A call to the Port Captain had us anchored off the main dock to await the "boarding party" of Customs, Immigration and Quarrantine" (CIQ). He forgot to mention that they were waiting for us ashore so we slept the sleep of the dead until next morning when I had an efficient clearing-in at no cost.

It was pleasing to see signs of home here. The Tuvaluans - drive on the LH side of the road, use 240V 50Hz power, use AUD and send their kids to Uni in Aus. Many Aid projects are underway, sponsored by Australia, NZ and Japan and the new govt offices were being constructed by a Townsville firm. We met a friend of our eldest son James from the Environment Dept, Seluka who generally answered all our questions on life here. He also arranged for us to hire 2 motorbikes which allowed us to tour the length of Funafuti Island, a long thin strip of one side of the atoll.

Funafuti in Tuvalu has a height above sea level of only a few metres, a population growth of 1.7% and is fast becoming a modern, resource-consuming society. The elements of a looming crisis are present when all these factors are combined with the possibilty of climate change. Our friend Sleuka heads the Climate change section in the Dept of Environment and explained the key projects of waste management, water collection and production and reef conservation. The importance of this aspect of life in Tuvalu is high enough for the Prime Minister to have Environment as his key portfolio.

Sweet bananas cut for us at a local market Meals here were AUD$5 and up
Seluka in his office Lyndall taking a break from our bike tour
Funafuti atoll has only a narrow strip of habitable land Pandanus palm weaver

Sudden Loss

Whilst in Funafuti we received the news that Lyndall's sister Susan Harvey was seriously ill in hospital. This is something that all cruisers dread - being out of touch with family and friends when we are needed most. Fortunately, the communication was received in time and we were extremely lucky to have Lyndall aboard one of the twice-a-week flights to Fiji within 2 hours. She arrived in Sydney on Friday evening and went straight to the hospital where she was able to have Sue, though unable to speak, at least recognise her presence. Sadly, Sue died early the following Sunday morning.
Lyndall will now stay in Sydney while our eldest son James will fly out to Tuvalu and help me with the final passage home to Townsville.

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