“Normal sailors” – at least the sailors we know who claim to be normal – don’t sail against the wind. They wait for the wind to change and then cruise down wind to their destination.
But we were in Rurutu in the Austral Islands, three hundred miles south of Tahiti. The weather forecast was for very strong winds the following week and the small, badly protected harbour was not the place to be. The wind was from the north – directly against us – but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
Having left a message on the police station door saying “off to Tahiti!” we lifted the anchor and headed out to sea. The wind was against us but it was fairly constant and the swell was long and soft so we set the sails and enjoyed two days of leisurely tacking. Extended periods of lounging around in the sun or enjoying the stars were interspersed with the occasional tack. It was the perfect sailing holiday after the mountain biking on Rurutu.
But! This is the South Pacific and we have been here long enough to know that things are never that easy. The wind became more changeable and squally with both direction and strength varying permanently. With winds ranging between three and thirty five knots, we were once again reminded that sailing is a sport and not a pastime. Each change of wind direction had us changing tack to try and keep heading towards Tahiti. A lot of the time we could choose between sixty degrees wrong to port or sixty degrees wrong to starboard. The only sure fact was that within an hour of one of us going to sleep, the other one would need help.
On the fifth day the wind dropped completely and left us bouncing around in the swell. We waited and hoped and waited but eventually started the motor. Very shortly after we had a wind of eighteen knots directly against us so could go back to working our way north under sail. With Tahiti in sight the wind was coming exactly from our destination so we continued through to the sixth day heading west then east then west then …
After exactly five hundred miles (less than ten with the motor) and six days we reached Port Phaeton having achieved an effective distance of three hundred miles. Maybe crazy. But fun!