ALAN SITT "SAILING TO RAPA NUI ON ADVENTURA WITH JIMMY CORNELL"
By Thomas Takao
It was 1976 and Alan was sailing his Hereschoff H-28 ketch "Escape" on a singlehanded day sail out of Callao, the Port of Lima Peru. Casually viewing 180 degrees in front of him with an occasional look back, he spotted a sail on the horizon. As it came closer Alan noticed the British flag waving at the stern of the ketch, curious to see someone from so far away he released his sheet (line) from the jam cleat and proceeded to let the boom swing over and take in the opposite sheet of the jib and completed the tack and gradually sailed alongside. A cordial hello and a conversation developed as the two ketches sailed toward shore on a sunny afternoon.
The captain of the boat introduced himself as Jimmy Cornell, alongside him was his wife Gwenda and their two young children Doina and Ivan, 9 and 10 yrs old as Alan waved back to the waving children. They sailed for about two hours talking back and forth about where they have been, who they were, customs, clearing immigration, and where to anchor. The Cornell’s would stay around Lima for a month. When they wanted to go to the interior of South America, Alan would keep an eye on their boat "Aventura”, a 34 ft. ketch that they had built up from the hull.
When they returned from their sightseeing trip they became good friends and when they were two weeks from leaving they had asked Alan what they could do for him, since he had checked on their boat everyday making sure things were Ok. So, they mentioned they were going to Easter Island, (Rapa Nui) on their next leg of sailing around the world. Alan had always been curious about Rapa Nui since Thor Heyerdahl (whom he had the good fortune to meet once) and Kon Tiki, so he asked if he could go and they were pleased to oblige.
Alan had a suspicion that there had to be waves on Easter Island and to his foresight there were. Getting back on board it took them 20 days to go 2200 nautical miles, all navigation was celestial using the sextant during the noon day sighting and star shots, way before GPS mentions Alan. Also they had a self-steering Aires wind vane that was really a piece of art Alan recalls. It is a piece of equipment that steers a boat without anyone having to be at the helm.
Ivo Hanza Pico Alto Tratada
About two weeks out they had two days of relatively calm wind and glassy huge swells. They weren’t going to break and by calculating using simple geometry, side angle side, that they were in the hundred foot category. When Alan returned to Peru his friend mentioned the huge waves that broke two weeks after the swells Adventura went through. As they sailed out of that window and after 48 hours the seas became normal once again. One day they spotted a pod of Orcas and would follow them for a while.
A few days out and nearing Rapa Nui, they caught some Mahi mahi on a hand line with a chicken feather lures that had been made previously. When Alan was bringing in the fish next to the boat they could see the flashing colors of aquamarine blue turning to turquoise, yellow gold turning to cadium yellow green with tints of silver sparkling as it turned to get away. After the hard work and preparation, a delicious fish dinner was had by all.
They never saw another sign of life on the vastness of the ocean until they reached the Island of Rapa Nui at 6 am. As they sailed down the coast they were being followed by a jeep on shore, when they rounded the point into Hanga Roa, the wind got really strong, so strong that it blew out their mainsail. One moment it was a canvas mainsail, the next moment it was like a paper bag that just pop. Gwenda really impressed Alan at being such a good seamstress and sewed that sail right back up in a couple of days. The reason for the blowout was the stitching had worn out on the panels and there was no rips in the cloth.
As they approached their anchorage Alan could see the swell was about ten feet, and the waves at the left point were having the tops of the wave blowing straight back. After dropping the sails, they would motored around for another two hours before anchoring in about 60ft of water. They waited for the health officials to come out and after they boarded Adventura, Jim and Alan found out that they were the ones in the Jeep.
As soon as they were cleared to go ashore, Jimmy and Alan inflated the Zodiac raft and put a 2 (two) hp outboard motor on it and headed in. The wind was still causing white caps and the waves were stormy and the conditions were rough. There is a narrow channel next to the beach where a small cove is located with a few boat tied to a block dock. This is where Jim was told to go. With adrenaline flowing Jim waited for the right moment to gunned it in between sets.
With Alan at the bow of the Zodiac a couple feet away from Jim, they timed it right and got pushed up on the beach at Hanga Roa small harbor. They made their way to the local harbor master and fill out the necessary paper work and returned back to Adventura. After the rough weather, the family would visit the island and see the many Moai.
Alan would spend his time near the boat and go surfing alone. He had a 8`6 pintail, and a 7`6'' pintail with wings, both were single fin surfboards.
Not to toot his own horn, but there was always a crowd there to watch him surf, while they sat on the cliffs Alan could hear them cheer after finishing a ride. (He guessed some people are easy to entertain) Hanga Roa is a bay with rocks in the middle. If you wanted to go right, you would line up on the right side of the rocks, and vise versa if you went left. When he was there it was usually about 6 to 8ft., a fun wave in Alan’s option.
There were other places to surf Alan mentioned, but this was pre-leash days, and the coast is very rocky. If you fell off and lost board, you could say adios to surfing for the remainder of the trip, so he only surfed at Hanga Roa. His stayed on Rapa Nui would last two months, one month on the boat and another month at a Bed n Breakfast place. At night he would hang around with a fisherman named Arsenico, who had a guitar with 2 strings missing. Not a problem for Arsenico, he was a self-taught master. Alan surfed alone every day, but was not alone with his fans on shore. Besides surfing Alan did some snorkeling and did his deepest free dive ever, 60ft, in water so clear you could see the anchor chain fade into the sand.
He would spend Easter Sunday on Easter Island listening to Easter Services in Polynesian, a moment when Alan was in balance with the people, the land and with God. There comes a time when a chapter ends and the adventure continues. Jimmy and his family would sailed off one day and Alan felt sadden about the departure. The Cornell’s went on to Pitcairn Island, then to Tahiti and around the world several more times after that. Alan would return to Lima Peru and would move to Hawaii where he would build some surfboards with his friend Ivo Hanza. Currently having his own plane and being a pilot towing gliders. Occasionally shaping a few surfboards on his time off from flying.