Baited breath.

The sun rises over Blown Away approaching the the Marquises.

1st April 2024

09 50S 122 28W – Atuona, Tahauku Bay, Hivea Oa, Marquises, French Polynesia

Waiting with baited breath is usually considered a precursor to something fun and exciting. Sitting around the Christmas tree kiddies have baited breath waiting for their presents,while a groom has baited breath hoping his bride will turn up and walk down the aisle. As we limp across the huge expanse of the Pacific we have had baited breath whenever Ruffian rolled, each time we check our damaged rigging and whenever we read the updated weather. Sailing with baited breath is not fun and we can’t wait to breath a sigh of relief once the safety of Hiva Oa envelopes us.

Still with 1000 miles of empty ocean in front of us we continued with our usual offshore routines and continued nursing Ruffian along. We did everything we could to reduce the stress on our rigging and used all our knowledge of sailshapes, wind angles and Ruffian to ensure that our rigging wasn’t damaged any further. This however was to no avail.

As we walked the decks daily, with baited breath we checked the rigging, and worryingly, we saw strand after stand breaking and with every new break the chance of more failures became more probable. We thought our time with the mast upright was numbered and we started to prepare of the worst.

When our sails were not poled out we stowed the poles on deck (there normal position is up against the mast) so that if the mast did fall we could construct some sort of jury rig with them, we tracked the boats behind us thinking that if disaster did strike they could effect our rescue and we kept our grab bags to hand just in case the mast fell and holed in Ruffian. We moved the bolt croppers, hacksaw blades, and anything else we thought would be useful to a more accessible place. Never could we breath easily and for not one moment could we feel safe and secure in our precarious situation.

Even with disaster constantly on our minds daily life had to go on, hair still grew, clothes still got dirty, plants needed tending and eating was an ever present necessity.

As the days wore on Iain was looking more and more unkept and he was looking more and more like a monk as he head was simply growing through his hairline (or maybe he was just losing his hair). Taking him in her hands Fiona set the hair trimmers to their lowest setting and sheared Iain like a sheep. We watched as tufts of hair flew away in the trade winds and Iain’s virginal pink scalp was exposed to the sun. For Iain this was a poor state of affairs as under the bimini he froze while outside he the sun burnt the newly exposed skin, but at least he didn’t look like Friar tuck any more.

Although Ruffian was full of food we had been shamed by the boats following us into the game of fishing. Each and every boat seemed to have stories of huge Mahi Mahi’s being landed on deck, fresh tuna ceviche or fridges filled to the brim with Wahoo. We played out our lines and watched the lures dance about just like real fishies that were wanting to be eaten and simply waited to pull in our quarry.

Each day as dusk started to descend into darkness we’d reel in our lines and found that instead of pulling in glory our lines were not only bereft of fish, but also bereft of our lures. There were some big fish out there which were clearly playing with us and stopping us catching their smaller brethren.

With no fish on the menu and Ruffian slowly sailing in the failing breeze a movie date night was in the offing to celebrate our 14 years of marriage. Homemade pizza’s complete with lovingly tended fresh basil emerged from the galley into a cockpit that had been turned into a cinema. Under the stars of the southern hemisphere we watched ‘Rocketman’, blasted out great tunes at full volume and how lucky we have been to share this ocean together.

Watching the last miles tick down we also watched the weather forecast change. There was a huge area of no wind developing around the Marquises and we just hoped that we ‘d arrive within motoring range before it did. We calculated and recalculated how far we could motor all though a spreadsheet whose formulas got ever more complicated with every revision taking into account every scenario.

Right on cue the wind died and our speadsheet told us we could turn on our engine. We could almost feel the safety of Hiva Oa and looked forward to breathing a sigh of relief, but like all good stories we couldn’t breath easily just yet.

With Ruffian happily motoring along we performed our usual hourly engine checks and as we did we gasped with shock. Our usually bone dry biles were full of water and the engine bay was full of acrid exhaust gasses. The cause of obvious, there was a big hole in the exhaust.

The big hole (8mm) was where our exhaust alarm had once sat. After many 1000’s of hours of faultless use the alarm had decided this was the time for it to finally corrode through and fall out. Through the hole sea water had sprayed everywhere and fumes seeped out. Within moments Iain had clamped the alarm back in place, sealed the hole and the engine once again purred away, pushing us along.

With the first light of dawn the tiny harbour on Hiva Oa came into sight and the masts of anchored boats swung in the swell. After 1000’s of ocean miles, 38 days at sea and 12 of our lowers stands broken our anchor dug into the thick mud and Ruffian stopped. Finally we had found safety and at last we could breath deeply as relief flowed over us.

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Author: Iain & Fiona Lewis

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