French Frigate Shoals
August 8-16, 2017
Day 1 – Tuesday, August 8, 2017
At 7:35 AM, I was ready to raise anchor and sail northwest to French Frigate Shoals. I had a nice stay on Kauai, short as it was. The amount of traffic on the islands makes me sad. It’s time for me to sail away from the crowds for a while.
I had intended to sail north and then around the northeast tip of Kauai before heading northwest. The wind was coming from ENE and I was too close hauled on the sails to stay on course. I decided to turn south and go around the south part of Kauai. It’s about the same distance, but I think the wind angle will be better. The winds are about 12 knots and Tahiti Dream is doing 7 knots. It’s a good way to start the voyage.
At 9:30 AM, I was sailing along the south coast of Kauai. My speed was down to about 6 knots, but I expect the speed will increase when I have left the shelter of Kauai.
I made it around the south side of Kauai and headed between Kauai and Niihau. At 1:15 PM, the wind was down to 8-9 knots. I figured that Kauai was still sheltering me from the wind, since Kauai was the direction the wind was coming from. As I pass Niihau, I will turn 5-10 degrees to port, with my next waypoint being near the tiny island of Nihoa. Nihoa is the first of the Northern Hawaiian Islands I will reach. It’s only 171 acres in size and is not inhabited. Before I planned this voyage, I knew very little about the Northern Hawaiian Islands.
Later in the afternoon, I passed by Niihau and got a glimpse of Lehua, a very small island off the north tip of Niihau. I passed within 5 nm of those 2 islands and continued northwest bound. By about 4:30 PM, I was about 15 nm from Niihau. I looked carefully at my planned course and the wind forecast. The forecast is for the wind to move more from the east in the next few days. Since my course would turn more west after passing Nihoa, it looked like I could risk having wind directly astern for about 130 nm. That thought wasn’t very appealing. I decided to play it safe and sail direct toward the reef around Necker Island, which is just east of French Frigate Shoals. It’ll take me a little over a day to get to Necker Island and I should have a better wind angle. I figured I could always check out Nihoa on my way back to the windward Hawaiian Islands.
I decided to turn in around 8:30 PM. The wind had increased some and the boat was doing an average of over 7 knots. I set the helm to maintain course and I figured I’d check on it if I got up some time during the night. The helm alarm would notify me of anything pressing.
Day 2 – Wednesday, August 9, 2017
I was up at about 4:30 AM. The wind had increased a bit more overnight. It was now blowing near 15 knots, but the wind angle had shifted a bit to the east. I checked my course and saw I was about 5 nm north of my intended track. I decided to head south for a few hours in order to improve my wind angle for the current leg to Necker Island.
I watched a beautiful sunrise and turned back to the northwest at around 8:30 AM. Once the sun came up, the wind speed dropped back closer to 10 knots. The wind is forecast to be 10-15 knots most of the day with the direction moving more toward the east. I decided to work on a slightly different route that would increase my speed.
I had a very relaxed day of sailing. The wind speed and direction were mostly consistent. After considering some alternate courses, trying to increase my speed, I chose to continue direct to Necker Island. Changing course toward Nihoa would have caused me to tack back and forth, adding about 60 nm to my journey. I decided to just go with the wind as it was now. My speed was averaging between 6-8 knots, which was acceptable. At 5:30 PM, I was 112 nm from Necker Island. The GPS estimates I will arrive at that waypoint around 9:00 AM tomorrow.
There is something that is so peaceful about being in the middle of an ocean and knowing there is no one else nearby for 100 miles. I can scan 360 degrees around the horizon and all I see is ocean. Today started mostly cloudy, but it ended mostly clear. The temperature is a balmy 80ºF. It’s nice to be able to sail in short pants.
I called it a day at 8:30 PM. The helm was set to stay on the heading of 295º. As long as the wind and current don’t change much during the night, I should still be on course in the morning.
Day 3 – Thursday, August 10, 2017
I was up early again at about 5:00 AM. The sky was mostly clear and the stars were something to see. The waning moon gave off enough light that it was not completely dark. The wind was 13-15 knots, which was a bit stronger than when I went to bed last night. I checked the helm and made a correction a couple of degrees to starboard. The GPS said 37 nm for the turn north to Necker Island. I should be there in about 4 hours.
I was sitting at the helm facing aft when the sun broke over the horizon at about 6:50 AM. I have 16 nm before my turn north toward Necker Island. At that point, I will be right at the southwest edge of the reef that surrounds Necker Island. The depths on the navigation map show 3-4 meters in places. This simulator is iffy when it comes to navigating in depths less than 5 meters. I decided it was safer to cruise along the edge of the reef. Once I get to my closest pass of Necker Island, which will be about 5 nm, I’ll be looking for the island. I probably won’t see much because I don’t think Necker has much elevation. At that point, I’ll make my turn toward French Frigate Shoals.
At about 10:30 AM, I was projected my arrival time at French Frigate Shoals and it worked out that I’d arrive there at about 1:00 AM in the morning. That wasn’t a good plan because I didn’t want to negotiate the reef in the dark. I decided that I would sail into the reef area that surrounds Necker Island. I took a close look at the chart and plotted a course right up to the southwest coast of the island, then I would depart the reef to the northwest. This should add enough time to my sail that I will arrive at French Frigate Shoals after sunrise tomorrow. I can spend the day anchored near the reef and then head back towards the windward Hawaiian Islands in the evening.
At 12:40 PM, I made my closest approach to Necker Island. It’s interesting to sail past an island that is uninhabited. I furled my foresail as I approached and had my speed at 2-3 knots and I passed less than a quarter mile from the island. After viewing the island for a bit, I turned northwest, unfurled the foresail, and headed for the edge of the reef at a little over 7 knots.
The wind had shifted during the morning and was nearly direct out of the east. Since French Frigate Shoals was nearly west of me, my speed would have suffered if I set a direct course. I decided to sail north of French Frigate Shoals, then when I was about 10 nm out, I’d be able to turn southwest and sail to my anchorage point. I will continue to watch the wind and my course during the afternoon.
I had an enjoyable sail this afternoon. The weather was perfect, 81ºF, clear skies. I did run into a problem, though. No matter how I adjusted my course, I was going to end up arriving at French Frigate Schoals in darkness. Ultimately, I had to adjust course to the southwest for several hours, then I turned northwest around 6:30 PM. I will tack to port again in about 9 hours and that should put me about 20 nm northeast of French Frigate Shoals. If need be, I can adjust my speed in the morning so that I arrive just after sunrise.
This trip has given me some new experiences. One of them is that, up to this point, I’ve been trying to get the best speed out of the Tahiti Dream. Today and tomorrow, less speed will be preferable. I set the helm to stay on course. I have an alarm set to wake me before I get to the next waypoint. The boat is doing a steady 8 knots with a sea that is not too rough. I should be able to sleep well tonight and be rested for my arrival at French Frigate Shoals in the morning.
Day 4 – Friday, August 11, 2017
At 2:30 AM, the alarm on the auto-pilot sounded and woke me. I was about 15 minutes from the scheduled turn to the southwest. The boat was making 8 knots and I set course directly for the entrance into the reef near the small island containing the airstrip. I had at least 3 hours before reaching the reef, so I went below for some additional sleep.
I was up again at 5:30 AM. A check of navigation showed that it was just under an hour to the reef. I got my cup of tea and then prepared for my arrival at French Frigate Shoals.
When I was about 4 nm from the reef, I furled the foresail about halfway, which dropped my speed to about 5 knots. I decided to continue at this speed until I reach the reef, then I will slow to around 3 knots.
I dropped anchor at about 7:00 AM. There really isn’t much here. The island is fairly flat and, since it is a national preserve, I can’t go ashore. I started plotting my return to Hilo and came to the conclusion that, because of the wind angle, it would likely take me about 5 days for the return trip. Since I needed to be back in Hilo by August 16th, I decided I should not remain here too long. Once I had my course plotted, I decided I should get under way.
I plotted several different possible routes, one taking as much as 940 nm. The route I settled on was to sail northeast for about 24 hours, then I would be able to turn southeast toward Kauai. Provided the wind stayed as forecast, I would be able to sail along the northeast coast of the islands until reaching the Big Island sometime on Wednesday. As with all voyages, I will adjust the navigation plan as necessary. At 7:30 AM, after a very brief stay at French Frigate Shoals, I raised anchor and headed northeast out of the reef.
During the afternoon, I tried different courses to see which gave me the best angle to Hawaii. Unfortunately, the wind is blowing almost directly from Hawaii, so I must tack all the way back. Each time I tried a southern course, it added about 100 nm to my voyage. I pretty much settled on the idea that I would continue to sail northeast for a day and, at that point, I should have enough of a wind angle that I can sail directly toward Hawaii.
The wind increased in the afternoon and was gusting to 16 knots at times. My speed is less than 7 knots because I am sailing a close reach. This is giving me some experience with this type of sailing, which I will likely need when I head to the Marquesas in a few weeks.
For the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, I had the helm set to keep the same angle to the wind. At 50 degree wind angle from the port side, I was getting 6-7 knots and was generally headed NNE. At 8:00 PM, I still had over 140 nm before my turn towards Hawaii. It will be interesting whether I can make it back to Hilo by next Wednesday. On Thursday, I leave for Washington IRL (In Real Life).
I left the helm on the same setting. Since I’m going in generally the right direction, I should be good until morning. Time to turn in.
Day 5 – Saturday, August 12, 2017
At about 5:30 AM, I awoke to a welcomed surprise. During the night, the wind shifted to the north. The shift was enough for me to turn directly toward Kauai. If conditions hold, I should arrive at Kauai on Monday. The wind change saved me a couple of hundred miles. I was also able to steer closer to a beam reach, which meant my speed was over 7 knots. What a wonderful morning!
By 7:15 AM, I had to deal with another wind change. The wind moved more east, which caused my speed to suffer. I changed the helm over to follow the wind at a 55º wind angle. With the way the wind is blowing now, it will keep me centered on my course to Kauai and still keep my speed up. Who knows what next hour will bring?
At about 9:00 AM, I check my position in relation to my intended course. I was about 10 nm south of the course, so I turned north for about an hour. When I returned to my ESE course, I was only a couple of miles of my course track. The wind keeps shifting and I have a course track that is a little farther south than I’d like. I’m thinking I’ll just leave the helm at its current setting until tomorrow. I had intended to travel around the north side of Kauai, but I may end up on the south side, which will be fine.
In the evening, the wind and course were basically unchanged. On my current course, I will have a chance to sail right by Nihoa. I will just have to be alert if this is the case because of shallow waters as I pass through the reefs. I missed Nihoa on the way out. Maybe I’ll get to see it on the way back through. At 8:30 PM, I made one last check of the helm and then headed below for a good night’s sleep. The winds are down around 12 knots, so it may be a smooth sail tonight.
Day 6 – Sunday, August 13, 2017
I was up at about 5:30 AM this morning. I made some good progress overnight. I am 185 nm WNW of Kauai. Leaving the helm to follow the wind and maintain the same wind angle has worked well for me. After sunrise, the wind shifted more to the north. I decided I would just enjoy the sail today and watch where the wind takes me. I may or may not transit the reef surrounding Nihoa. I checked the chart and the depths are good on either side of Nihoa. I will just have to be more alert while I’m in the reef. The wind is 10-15 knots, so my speed is 6-6.5 knots. It’s not fast, but it’s getting me there.
As the day wore on, the wind didn’t really cooperate. It continued to be mostly easterly and my speed continued, on average, to be below 6.5 knots. At about 1:30 PM, I was a little over 40 nm to Nihoa. With the current wind conditions, I won’t reach Nihoa until after sunset. If that’s the case, there’s no point for a close pass because I would see much.
The wind continued to sag me south of my course line. After making a couple of tacks to the NNE for about an hour, I decided I would just stay on my SE tack and go where the wind sends me. Since the wind continues to be mostly easterly and I need to be in port by Wednesday, I decided to make port in Honolulu instead of Hilo. The advantage of Honolulu is better access to supplies. Once I return from my IRL trip, I want to start for the South Pacific as soon as possible. It should take me about 2 weeks to reach the Marquesas and that will get me up to my next IRL trip.
After a final check of the helm for the evening, I turned in around 8:00 PM. I passed in between the Nihoa reef and the reef to the west of Nihoa. I’m on track to reach Niihau tomorrow afternoon.
Day 7 – Monday, August 14, 2017
I was up at 5:00 AM. The wind moved a bit more to the east overnight, so I was a bit farther south of my course track. Since the wind has me angled too far south, I decided that, once I reach Niihau, I will tack northeast and sail around Niihau. Then I will sail in between Niihau and Kauai, which should set me on a good track toward Honolulu. I may experience a drop in the winds being on the leeward side of the islands, but I have 2 days to get to Honolulu, so I believe I’m in good shape.
I had a peaceful day of sailing. My speed was consistently 6-7 knots. The wind didn’t cooperate much. It was 10-15 knots, but it was blowing almost directly from Honolulu. It’s very hard to get a sailboat to sail against the wind. At about 3:00 PM, I was still 3 hours away from my turn northeast, off the south coast of Niihau. I’m glad I chose to stop at Honolulu instead of Hilo.
At about 5:00 PM, I caught sight of Niihau off in the distance. I was about 15 nm away. I continued to adjust my course to Honolulu. The wind continued from the same direction as it had been all day. I turned northeast a little earlier than I had planned because I didn’t want to risk getting too close to Niihau during the night in case the wind shifted more to the south. It’s not forecast to do so, but I’m being cautious.
Once I made my course adjustments, the GPS reported that I had 250 nm to go for Honolulu. I should be able to make Honolulu by Wednesday morning. My next turn to travel between Niihau and Kauai is in about 6 hours. I will either get up for that or I’ll just let the helm take me north until I awake. There’s no harm in going farther north. It’ll make the trip a little longer, but it will give me a better close reach angle in the morning. At 8:00 PM, the helm was set to follow the wind and my true wind angle was 57º off the starboard bow. My speed should be 6.5-7 knots if the wind stay the same. Once the auto-pilot was set, I headed below for the night.
Day 8 – Tuesday, August 15, 2017
I was up at a little before 2:00 AM. I had sailed past the point where I would turn to sail in between Niihau and Kauai by about 6 nm. I looked at my options and decided I would just continue sailing NNE for another 3 hours. Then I would turn southeast and would sail past the northeast coast of Kauai, in between Kauai and Oahu, and then south of Oahu, before turning north into Honolulu. The navigation actually showed this to be a shorter route by about 30 nm. I left the helm as is and went back below for a few more hours sleep.
At 5:45 AM, I was back up and only slightly past my turn north of Kauai. I decided to set the helm to follow a set course, even though the wind is tending to be directly from the east at times. For the most part, my speed was 6.5-7 knots. It would occasionally drop to about 5.5 knots when the wind dropped more to the east. I’ll sail in this configuration until I pass Kauai, then I’ll re-evaulate my course. Once that was done, I enjoyed watching the light come up and watching for Kauai.
At about 9:45 AM, I spotted Kauai. It was good to see land again. The wind has picked up quite a bit. It’s blowing 12-15 knots, gusting to 18 knots. I’ve had to reef the mainsail a couple of times with the strong gusts. The GPS says I’ll be at Kauai in 4 hours. It feels like I’ll be there sooner. The wind is still mostly from the east. I had to switch the helm to follow the wind a couple of hours ago because the wind angle was just too far east. I may have to tack to the northeast at some point in order to get around Kauai.
I was ultimately able to sail right down the coast of Kauai without tacking. The wind shifted more to the northeast and I had a vary good sail past Kauai. The new wind direction allowed me to set the helm to follow the wind, which pointed me almost directly at my final turn to Honolulu.
Sunset was at 7:09 pm. I was nearly 2/3 the way from Kauai to Oahu and I had 83 nm to go. That’s about 11 hours of sailing, so I should be in Honolulu first thing in the morning. It’ll be good to be anchored for a while. I have been sailing most days during the past month. I will repair, refresh and re-supply in Honolulu in preparation for my sail to the South Pacific.
At 8:00 PM, I adjusted the helm to go direct to the waypoint south of Honolulu. Even if I should overshoot my turn north to Honolulu, I will only be 10-15 nm away at that point. That’s a walk in the park. The seas are a little more rough than they have been. I headed below to get what sleep I could.
Day 9 – Wednesday, August 16, 2017
I was up at about 4:00 AM to check my progress. I had reached the southwest coast of Oahu. The wind had shifted again more from the east, so the boat speed was down under 5 knots at times. I changed the helm to follow the wind and to keep a close reach. I estimated that I would be able to turn toward Honolulu in 2 or 3 hours. I went back below for a couple of hours more sleep.
I was up again at 6:00 AM and watched the sunrise at 6:16 AM. For a change, my arrival worked just right. Since it’ll be light, I will get a good view of Waikiki on my way in this morning.
At about 6:30 AM, the wind was shifting dramatically from NE to E. I decided to turn toward the coast and follow the wind. Once I got to within about a mile of shore, I could tack to starboard and cruise the coastline.
At about 8:30 AM, I was about 5 nm from my anchorage. I turned southeast again because I was still too far to the west. At about 10:00 AM, I dropped anchor just off Magic Island, near the Ala Wai Boat Harbor.
This was a fun trip. It taught me a lot about sailing against the wind. I’ll stay here for about a week and plan my next voyage.