Visiting Easter Island (Boat-Based)

A Perilous Getaway To Hanga Roa (continued)

Once we got out of the cove, we were out of harm's way, and we decided to motor around the island to get into the lee of the island. The old GPS route wouldn't be very useful, though, because it would take us the long way around the island; instead David asked me to work out a set of GPS waypoints to take us around the other way. For safety's sake, we decided to stay about two miles off the coast (among other reasons, to allow for discrepancies between the chart and the GPS). Below at the chart table, I plotted a set of waypoints on the chart and carefully determined the latitude and longitude, triple-checking the figures. I wrote the waypoint coordinates on a slip of paper which I placed in a ziplock bag, then I poked my head out of the hatch and passed the information to David, who was sitting in the dark cockpit dripping wet with rain. David punched the numbers into the GPS, and after reading the new heading from the display, dialed the heading into the autopilot (which was now doing the steering).

While David stood watch I monitored our progress from below on the radar screen, confirming our distance from land. Using the four-mile range setting, I could easily see the outline of the coast, including major features like points, coves, cliffs, and islets. I could also see broad fuzzy parallel lines on the ocean, which I assumed were big waves of swell, since they correlated with the known swell direction.

On our way around the island, at times it was extremely rolly and bouncy due to the heavy chop from the strong winds combining with the ever-present swell and reflecting off the steep cliffs ashore. Poor Marcie became extremely seasick and really suffered. David and I managed to do OK and didn't get sick.

We hadn't had time to stow the dinghy, so we were still towing it astern. Shining a flashlight astern, you could see the brave little dinghy skimming across the wave tops and dashing from side to side. Sometimes it would momentarily stop as the towline went slack; then it would suddenly jerk forward as the line went taut.

Sunday, May 23, 2004 (Day 11 at Easter Island)

After picking our way around the island in the darkness (assisted by the all-seeing eye of radar and the all-knowing mind of GPS) we finally got to the lee side of the island. Here the waves and swell were less bothersome, although it was still quite windy. What to do now? We couldn't hardly close the coast and anchor in the dark, especially with our wounded anchoring gear. Instead, we decided to spend the rest of the night slowly cruising back and forth between two GPS waypoints a few miles apart, just to kill time until daylight.

In our abrupt departure, we hadn't had time to rig the boat for sailing, so lines weren't deployed properly and the sailcover was still on. Due the short distance we were traveling (and the wild motion of the boat) it wasn't worth the trouble of rigging the boat for sailing (although we could do so in an emergency). Therefore, we motored the whole time, keeping the RPM's low to conserve fuel. When traveling with the wind, the boat would reach 5 knots or so, but into the wind our speed dropped to about 1 knot. Although we kept our running lights on, the lights on the bow weren't working. In a flashlight beam, you could see the bow light fixture hanging by its wires and swinging in the breeze. Somehow the fixture had been dislodged, perhaps by being smacked by a wave.

For the rest of the night, David and I stood watch, two hours on, two hours off (Marcie was uncharacteristically absent from the watch due to her seasickness). The time passed slowly but surely despite the dreary surroundings. Late at night I got chilly and had to put on warmer clothes under my foul-weather gear. During the wee hours of the morning, all you could see was dark and darker. The sky was dark but the sea was even darker, and the land darkest of all. Up in the clouds, I saw a few half-hearted flashes of lightning, not from a thunderstorm but just from the mean-spirited squalls assaulting the island.

Dawn arrived slowly and finally the dark and darker gradually became light and lighter. The land assumed detail, the sea took on breadth and perspective, and cloud levels visibly filled the sky. We could see that the wind by now was largely easterly, so we decided to abandon our nighttime waypoints and head around to the west side of the island, where Hanga Roa is located.

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