THE FAILED TRIP OF "BIRD OF AZURE"
(previously published in the 1999 Multihull Yearbook)
Our idea was to go down the coast of South America, on the Pacific side, and sail harbour to harbour. Yet we could never imagine that sailing, only by sails, always with the wind on the nose and the icy current of Humbolt was so demanding.
Two Currents, Two Climates
What surprised the navigator, leaving the coast of Equador for the south, is that in less than 100 miles the temperature of the water and the air go down by 10 degrees. We left the “El Nino” current when we cross the Gulf of Guayaquil. By 3 degrees south latitude, the “Humbolt” current take us in his arms. Then, we must search for the breton-cap in the cabin. Yet it is not very warm along the Peruvian coast, but you will never see a drop of rain. A climatic phenomenon named “tropical aride”, especially liked by people sailing on a small boat.
Disadvantages ... advantages
As reward, we discovered a lot of dream anchorages. Every year, not more than one or two sailing boats venture along this coast. In the little bay of “Los Zorras”, the fishermen never saw in their lives people sailing for their pleasure. They thought, sincerely, that we came here to fish for anchovy. To navigate along the Peruvian coast, it’s like finding the English coast in the sixties.
We were received like princes in the yacht clubs of Ancon, Callao and Pucusana. When you come in these privileged places, only the rich people can go there - from the sea, you are welcome with the habits and customs of the antique yachting.
Today, in the yacht club of la Punta in Callao, the value of my catamaran is less than the dues to enter in the club as a member! And yet, what a warm welcome.
All the facilities are put at our disposal - mooring, boat to go ashore with a driver (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) showers and guard of our boat if we wish to visit the Manchu-Picchu, lost high in the mountains. All free, who say better!
In the Direction of the Southern Cross
Phew! I have still the knees that bang together! On 22 December 1995, the night was black. At the height of Paracas, all the sails were on the deck, dead calm with a heavy fog. No hope to see some navigation lights, in this fog. In any case, in Peru, few boats have them. And when they have them, you don’t know what you see and which direction the boat goes. We have seen a trawler with a green light on the front and a red one on the back!
Like a Sign from the Gods
This night, on the high sea, we heard an engine purring. Nothing alarming, the noise seems to ease. Incredible! Half an hour later, I see a trawler’s stem appear suddenly, like a ghost. Without noise, like a bad spirit, she heads for our catamaran. I see that I will lose my boat, and perhaps our two lives. My hands turn the helm to tack, a useless motion in this dead calm. Miracle! a little swell shakes the catamaran ... one metre .... two metres ... we move back. The steel mass pass fast touching the front pulpit.
I have seen nobody, simply heard some voices speaking Spanish. A little after, I heard the engine running again, and then I began to be frightened. When the day broke, we were always in this terrible fog. I light the primus to make some coffee, and I asked myself what we were doing there. When I took breakfast with Florence, we took stock of the situation on the real goal of our trip in the South. For the answer, when the wind came back, we sailed with the wind back to Lima. Oh what a pleasure to go from one place to the other, without having to tack against the wind!
If this trip failed, we had still all these nice South Pacific islands, that we have liked so much on our first circumnavigation, to visit again. Like we were not in a hurry, we stay with our friends from Lima for Christmas and New Year. As the Peruvians are very charming, if you speak three words of Spanish, it’s with sadness that we left South America.
On 10 January 1996, we hoist the sails for the Archipelago of Gambier, 3,400 miles away. It was dream crossing. We sailed 35 days on the kind sea. One evening, we were between islands with the wind dying, tired of having so much blowing in our sails. As the sun set down in a red sky, we dropped the anchor in Rikitea.
It’s the only village on the island of Mangareva (in the Gambier, French Polynesia). In the bay, there was only one sailing boat and ashore the Chinese shopkeeper waited for us in his shop. Ah ... my friends ... the high prices! Yet it was a nice stop and the Polynesians take the life very easy. Not one day passed what we didn’t receive a bunch of bananas or a basket of fruits. And for the grapefruits you just needed to pick them up. Florence began to make some good marmalade.
When we walked and it was the time for the meal, we couldn’t pass a house without being invited to eat. We must say to our advantage that we speak French but we are Swiss. Our French friends hadn’t this chance. Their President Chirac was just finishing his nuclear tries. And the Gambier are the islands more close to the atoll of Mururoa.
Ten Days .... more ten days of sea!
We wanted to visit the southern islands Rahivavaé and Tubaï. On one of these islands, a rare tiki, cut in the volcanic stone, had survived, miraculously, the black eye of the missionary. Unfortunately, the Polynesian Gods were afraid that we continue the destruction, and they refused us access to the pass. When we arrived in the front of the island, the swell break everywhere with hollow of more than four metres. We were taken by a mountain of water, but fortunately, the wind was light. We get back north to search the trade winds. We were too early in the season, so the winds were unsettled, sometimes in one way and sometimes in the other. We suffer a lot of rain with very bad storms. No complain Florence ,... nobody send us on the high sea!
In the archipelago of Cook and Tonga, we met the first maories. Compared with the Polynesians, they have curly hair and their skin is much darker. Thousands of years ago these big navigators came from India with their dugout canoes.
The purest race live in the Kingdom of Tonga, in the islands of Vava’u. If today the maories don’t eat their enemy, they live always in houses without furniture. All the family live in one room on the ground on mats. You sit on the mats to eat the food served on the tree leaves.
We sailed three months in this quiet paradise.
From Fiji to Noumea and Pin Island, apparently all the islands of the South Pacific look alike. Yet every time we discover a new land, our hearts beat faster. After struggling against the sea and the winds, we never tired of sighting another island about this immensity of water. That’s the extension of our adventure. Like this, one day, after having sailed for months in the Pacific towards the west, we arrived in Australia. An island ... how different of all the ones we have seen during the year 1999.
After having been one and a half times around the world on “Bird of Azure” we sail along the great Australian Barrier Reef, to pass Torres Strait to reach Darwin, to cross the Indian Ocean and to pass the Cape of Good Hope at Christmas time.
by Alain Jacot-Descomes, Florence Roost and “Bird of Azure” April 1997