Easter Island – A non-visit, reinforced trades and tuna
26:52.70S 111:29.00W – 1000 nm East of Pitcairn
Excuse the typos we are bouncing a bit! We have a few events to report on this week; a close cruise past Isla Sala y Gomez, a tuna feast and a non-visit to Easter Island.
On the 6th March during a beautiful afternoon we sailed close along the north shore of Isla Sala Y Gomez. This isolated island located about 26d 28’4 S 105d 21’7 W about 700 metres on its longest axis and presumably mobile as the nearest charted position that we had to its actual position was about 3 Miles out, the furthest just over 5M in error. We were sailing along in very light air with a very calm sea, unusually, very little swell (although the swell was breaking heavily all around the island) and passed about half a mile off of the island. The sailing directions describe it as “not much more than a pile of rocks” and it’s very difficult to find fault with that statement. It is actually a pile of rocks with a light house on top. Rat Tailed Tropic birds and Brown Boobies breed there and the Boobies in particular came to check us out and fish in our wake. We saw a lot of pelagic fish in the water presumably taking advantage of the food in the upwellings around the seamounts but couldn’t fish for them as the birds were after our lure too.
The next day, clear of the birds, we caught a nice Big Eye tuna of about 8kg. That’s several kg of tuna fillets but even though we don’t have a fridge or freezer none was wasted. We baked a big fillet for lunch and made the left-overs into fish cakes for supper. Half of the remainder was canned and the rest Paula made into escabeche (a kind of pickle that originates in Spain we think). My new, sharp as a very sharp thing, gaff worked as advertised this time.
We raised Easter Island around midday on the 8th March and were sailing along the north coast by evening. We stood off to the West overnight and sailed into Hanga Roa the next morning. The light breeze was blowing onshore from the North but forecast to become fresh South Easterly which in theory should be the ideal direction for Hanga Roa. What we didn’t know about was a large weather system centred to the SW that was generating a big swell and sending it right towards Easter Island and into Hanga Roa. The swell steadily increased after we arrived and there was no chance of going ashore. The crew of one yacht already there that had earlier gone ashore were stranded until one of the local pangas could take them home.
We studied the forecasts we had and took advantage of having internet access via the phone to check a range of forecasts; it didn’t look as if conditions would improve for the almost a week so we decided to ask to be cleared out so that we could just leave and continue our voyage. Unfortunately the officials were not available to clear us so we spent a very rolly night in the anchorage in the company of two other cruising yachts; the one local yacht had slipped out and gone to Anakena on the north coast. The next morning the wind was firmly in the SE and fresh but the swell wasn’t as bad prompting us to decide to try and hang on and at least get some fuel and a few kg of flour before leaving. One of the other cruisers was dragging anchor and couldn’t reset it so also headed to Anakena closely followed by the other boat; leaving us alone.
An Armada officer and an official from the SAG (the fruit police) came out in a panga to clear us in and while aboard the Armada officer told us the forecast was for a very big swell in Hanga Roa the next day and suggested we move to Anekena too. We were reluctant to move because that bay is small, there were already three boats there, the combined forecasts showed that the wind would become more easterly, and our forecasts didn’t agree with the Armada’s (the Armada forecasts for Easter Island were not very good in our limited experience so far). We asked again if we could be cleared out so that we could leave but were told that the officials were busy at the airport.
Respecting authority and local opinion we decided to also head for Anekana.
By now the ESE breeze in Hanga Roa was a steady 20 knots so we expected a good sail along the west coast and a perhaps a stiff beat the last four miles East along the north coast to the anchorage. However as we approached the NW cape of the island the wind steadily built until it was regularly hitting 50 knots in the gusts. We tried to call the boats in Anakena to check on their conditions but couldn’t reach anybody (we later found that our masthead vhf antenna had broken off and switched to the handheld radio). Suspecting a local weather effect around the Cape we decided to reach offshore but found no respite even 5 Miles out. We had now spoken to the boats in Anakena and they were having a tough time from the waves building in front of the breeze and were considering leaving too.
At this point there was no going back to Hanga Roa either so we called Pascua Radio to advise them that our only option was to put to sea. They could see the logic in this but not through the red tape and wanted us to come back to clear out formally as we couldn’t leave without them giving us a paper copy of the zarpe and stamps in our passports. As they had already visited the boat, filled in the forms listing all out safety equipment, counted heads, looked at passports etc. one would think that they could have given us verbal clearance, but no.
The final result was that they agreed that we had no choice but to leave in the interests of the security of the vessel and that it was my decision as captain to take that; but that we would have to regularise the situation with the Policia International on our return to Chile. The Armada would advise our next port that we had no clearance papers due to force majeure so hopefully that won’t cause us an issue.
Well we are on our way, getting thrown around by that SW swell and the wind waves from the SE but at least it is blowing in the correct direction. Next stop Pitcairn but only if it is flat calm and there is no swell in sight! We couldn’t top up on diesel but have sufficient so that’s not a problem, the same with water. We have under-budgeted on white flour though and are going to have to severely limit our bread making – What am I going to do without toast and marmite with my morning coffee?
The Maoi will just have to wait!