Hand steering the final miles

We are now 140 miles away from Hiva Oa. This is getting tantalisingly close. The weather is unreasonably agreeable and the sea almost completely flat. In the current conditions, our speed is anything but impressive, and we decided earlier today to slow down and arrive Monday morning, rather than trying to pull all possible stops to make it before sunset tomorrow (Sunday).

I love sailing. I like the long stretches of open water, the feeling of being disconnected, the endless horizon keeping on for week after week. I enjoy every bit of it. I am in no rush to get to the other side. Still, I’d be lying if I pretended to not be just a little disappointed about postponing our arrival. We have been pointing the bow in the same direction for rather a long while now, and our speed has ranged from quite decent to excellent, but the last few days have been very quiet.

As these thoughts mulled in the back of my head, the autopilot sounded an off-course alarm, declared that the battery voltage was low, the drive unit disconnected, and all manner of other troubles. This, quite absurdly, was the second time in 48 hours it happened. The previous time, the error had been a broken drive unit. We were now running with the backup, which had somehow managed to suffer the same fault within two days ? after steering without fault since we left the UK last summer.

Two drive units down, and equipped with a not particularly cooperative windvane, we were relegated to hand steering for the last 250 miles. (A windvane is an odd contraption of pulleys and counterweights steering the boat through no force but the wind; a thing of true beauty when it works as intended. Mine does not.)

Hand steering across large stretches of ocean is a borderline scary proposition, but our current predicament is not particularly harsh. After more than three weeks out here, it’s easy to get a bit stuck in the monotony, to not really notice the millions of stars above at night, to think of flying fish landing in the cockpit (and our beds) as a mere nuisance rather than the absurd spectacle it is.

Ignoring our surroundings is no option when stuck at the helm. Though I strongly hope I will be able to find an extremely robust autopilot drive unit and someone to install it in Tahiti, I’m going to take the technical breakdowns and late arrival as a last minute opportunity to take in all that the sea has to offer.

The autopilot is gone, the going is slow. This would be an excellent occasion for swearing and frustration, but I struggle to conjure any such feelings. The Pacific crossing is probably the longest one I will ever do, and we just got a chance to enjoy it with an extra level of intensity, for an extra day. What a ride.

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