"Arctracer" Letters

Broken Shroud Blues, July 2004

We had a lovely celebration crossing the equator at 14:53 on Thursday, July 8. We opened champagne, and remembered to give a tot to Aeolus and another to Neptune before finishing the bottle ourselves. We were at 168 deg 47.3'E so had gotten almost ten full degrees east of Pohnpei and now had a good wind angle to sail to the Santa Cruz islands in the eastern Solomons. This was our fifth equatorial crossing under sail, and a very pleasant occasion.

We sailed merrily along at about five knots in light easterlies until 15:10 the next afternoon when our starboard lower shroud broke. This is one of the wires that holds our mast upright and keeps it from wiggling too much. We still do not understand why it chose to break while we were sailing quietly in light winds and seas on port tack, when there should have been almost no load on that shroud. It must have been mostly broken before then, just hanging on by a last strand of stainless steel until one more little strain caused it to give up entirely. We soon had all sails down and some ropes over the port spreader tied to starboard deck fittings so the mast was relatively stable again. We were very fortunate that it broke in nice weather! If it had been dark and stormy we might have had more problems.

But now what? We were still 580 miles from our destination in the Solomon Islands, and that port has no facilities for getting things fixed, and might have trouble getting a new shroud imported. The nearest land was Banaba (Ocean Island), but that's a little rock with not much in the way of facilities either. We decided to motor to Tarawa in Kiribati, 300 miles away, where we know there are decent communications, shipping companies and airline connections. Also, our course towards Tarawa was northeast, back across the equator, so we should not have convergence zones or other strong winds to worry about. So here we are today, Monday July 12, in Tarawa, Kiribati (used to be called the Gilbert Islands) at 1 degree 22 minutes N, 172 degrees 56 minutes E. It was pretty boring motoring for that distance. We mostly had light northeast breezes, but some big black rain squall clouds always seemed to appear in the afternoon and night. We managed to miss almost all the rain and encountered no winds of more than 20 knots. We used about 30 gallons of diesel fuel, but that can be replaced here.

We need to check in with the authorities here, as usual, so called "Tarawa Port Control" on our VHF radio as we approached, but got no answer. Then we remembered that they were very fussy about their name, called "Tarawa Radio" and then they talked to us. It is a holiday here! Bad luck for us, since none of the officials are in their offices. Tarawa Radio tried to organize them for us, even though we said we would just as soon wait on board until tomorrow. Apparently it was impossible, since it is now 5:00 and we have heard nothing more from them. Tomorrow is soon enough. We are anchored in exactly the same spot as we were last December.

Now we need to replace the broken shroud. We have already written a note to our friend Pete in New Zealand who helped us replace them all in March 2003. Probably we will get the same rigger to make the new shroud, and get it shipped here via DHL. There are several other options if that one doesn't work out. You can bet we'll be working on that over the next few days, so our stay here won't be too long.

Our friends Luis and Marli on the Brazilian boat "Green Nomad" are at Tikopia right now. They are having a great visit, and keeping us informed by email. They knew that we are planning to go there, and told the locals. The chief would like us to run some errands for him before we get there, and we will try to oblige. They have almost no transportation to or from their little island, so picking up a few things may be very helpful, and they will certainly be grateful. We'll see what we can do.

Now you can stop imagining us sailing slowly through the doldrums and start visualizing us sitting at anchor in a coral atoll waiting for parts. At least there are towns here large enough to have fair grocery stores, banks with ATM machines, and hardware stores adequate for most of our needs. And when we leave here we should have a great angle on the expected winds for our next attempt at getting to the Solomons.