Last week, we sailed from Tahiti east to the Tuamotus Island of Hao against the prevailing easterly wind. The distance between the two locations is about 500 miles. In order to get there, we actually had to sail over 800 miles and it took us nearly 5 and a half days. Normally Tahina can sail nearly 200 miles per day. Why did it take us so long?
The reason is that sailboats, and catamarans in particular, can not sail directly upwind. We had to zig-zag our way at an angle off the wind in order to keep our sails filled with wind. This zig-zag way of sailing is called “tacking” or “beating”. To complicate matters, when the wind is blowing, it makes waves. We were also having to go against the waves. Sailing against stronger winds makes things much worse. The wind is stronger which slows down your upwind performance, and the waves are bigger which also slows you down – but, worse, it also makes your ride VERY uncomfortable. Beating is the better term for describing upwind sailing in most sailor’s opinion. (See one of the blog entries from the trip).
Below is our GPS track of our sail to Hao. You can see the zig-zag pattern I’m talking about. You can also see how our 500 mile trip actually ended up being over 800 miles.
View 2010July9TahitiToHao in a larger map | View in Google Earth
The more astute among you will notice that we did go upwind a couple of times. This was near the beginning when we had light airs and wanted to make better headway, so we turned on the motors and just went straight upwind. We needed to charge the batteries anyway, so this was an efficient use of our energy source. Later, it was not practical to do this because the waves were too big, and the winds too strong, to try and go straight upwind. Also, you can see where we tried to visit the island Amanu first (you can read why we moved over to Hao instead). Skipping Amanu, our trip to Hao directly would have been about 800 miles.