Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Going Troppo

I haven't seen the sun for five days now, so its no wonder things down below - I'm talking about the boat - are a bit damp and gloomy. Nothing seems to be getting any drier, as yet again today we've had a uniformly grey sky and intermittent showers of rain. Rain seems to be able to get in to places that splashes of sea from the front of the boat mostly miss, so my usual possie up under the Dodger on the Port side is wet, as rain spatters directly in or else drips off the aft end of the dodger. So I cant sit there as my shorts will just get wet, and if I put a cushion there instead - well it will get wet as well so apart from sitting on my haunches there, or standing in the cockpit - both of which I do - I am sort of confined to the cabin - and again I am limited where I can sit because of previously mentioned soakings. Nevertheless I find things to do - such as read the newspaper from the week before last that I have been keeping for such a time - and I haven't started on its crossword yet as it's the only one I have aboard - I'm treasuring just having it there unsolved for now! I have increased my daily chocolate ration and other snacks too, and earlier, when the wind was light and there was no rain went round the boat and checked all the bits and pieces I could think of to check, finding one shackle nearly undone but everything else fine.

Progress has been slow , but we are getting there though with frustration today. The wind is light and variable, mainly around 6 -8 knots with an easy swell . The boat is having an easy time of it, apart from the rain, rolling along at 2 to 3 knots and up to 5.5 when theres a gust. Numerous times since last night I have thought the wind was about to change, or to set in at a steady pace, or the showers have finally ended and the boat is going to get dry and the sun is going to come out - all to no avail, as the wind dies off again, a new shower drenches the boat, the wind stays light and from the North, our speed drops back to 3 knots and the sun remains invisible behind a dense cover. And at night there are no stars, no moon, not even some luminescence in the sea, which seems barren and empty during the day as well, hardly a bird to be seen. I am reminded of what happens in the Northern Territory in Australia around September or October I think it is, where they endure something known to them as "the Build Up" - this is the transition from Dry Season to Wet season and is a period of rising humidity, building cloud, thunder and lightening that then recedes, off and on over a few weeks to finally end with thunderous tropical rain and great relief to Territorians who apparently go a bit troppo whilst waiting for the rain. I say this because I feel a bit troppo myself, I feel I am having my own Build-Up waiting for the forecast wind shifts, the end of the showers and the return of the sun.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

A Milestone

I caught up on lots of sleep last night, because the wind stayed constant and the sea continued to settle. Locked up in the cabin at night it can be surprisingly restful if the boat is not being buffeted by the sea but is instead sailing at a steady rate, rising and falling comfortably with swells which are smoother and consistent, and it can feel sometimes as if all that's happening is the boat is gently rocking up and down - very conducive to sleep when weary. Whenever I wake - and I wake spontaneously rather than to an alarm - I get up and check progress, make adjustments to sails or Hydrovane if needed, then return to sleep. It may be an hour later if I need to wait to see how Sapphire responds to bigger changes in sails or direction, but sometimes its ten minutes to observe, change nothing and then back to sleep. Once, last night I slept continuously for 4 hours, waking at 3.30 to go back to sleep after a 5 minute check! It was lovely to have wind at about 12 knots and the boat doing 4 through a really dark night with no need to change anything, as the showers were continuing.

And today ? Well I finished off the Cous Cous I started for tea last night, had my usual muesli - well no a different pack of the stuff because the other lot was too dull - with fruit, had coffee, and through the day noodles, biscuits and cheese, dried apricots, an apple, lots of water and some lollies. I've been reading my book and having a few rests, not too much excitement today, which is quite fine as a matter of fact.

The steady but light winds have continued - 8 to 12 knots- , along with the showers which are light but yet to stop altogether and there has been no sign of the sun which is hidden behind a low grey sky. If there had been sun today it would have been just about perfect, but nothing is drying out very fast as we wait for a warm sunny day. Sapphire has been heading east, on port at an easy 4.5 to 5.5 knots with all sail out but I see as I have been writing that Sapphire is turning to the NE so the wind must be going west, as expected. I shall make adjustments shortly.

The Big News is not that there are no more leaks - there aren't - but the Big News is that this morning we passed the half way mark, and right now we have 975nm to go. Woo Hoo!

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

No fun today

I can hardly write , my mind is almost at a standstill, because I've had another night of little sleep, and the day has been sunless drab and wet with showers. Very light winds were forecast and I anticipated a chance to rest, as the boat would probably stop sailing if the wind was under 10 knots. And indeed it was like that for a time and had a short nap, but within the hour the wind had returned and much as it would have been nice to ignore it, I felt there is a greater need to press on. So here we are on starboard still, a reefed main and half rolled up headsail, making about 5.2 knots to the east.

There were two problems last night - the first, the most depressing and demoralizing, was to find as I slipped into the sleeping bag that it was soaking wet. And so was the foam mattress underneath. And so was I by the time I realized what was happening and peeled the damn thing off me. It turned out another leak had quietly been filling a locker space beside the bunk, and now this was spilling out and being soaked up by the foam, unseen. I emptied all the tools and bits and pieces out of the locker - all soaked and dripping wet - put them on the floor and sponged out the locker - a tiny trickle only - but over preceding days while on port, it had been collecting. I restowed the tools in other places and left the locker empty so I could sponge out from time to time, and sponged up the floor which has remained damp ever since. The mattress will never dry in the present conditions so I cant sit on it even. Fortunately I had dry things in waterproof bags so got a blanket and curled up in the quarter birth, the one by the Nav Station.

But not for long as an anticipated front arrived with dramatic winds, massive thunder and lightening and downpours of rain. Going out to adjust sails meant sprays of seawater into the boat, and dripping wet weather gear on return , so the whole boat has become damp and depressing inside.

And outside horrible rainy squalls have continued, not as vigorously as last nights Premier Performance, but often enough to need me to pop up and back with a new set of drips, and prevent anything from remaining anything other than damp and unpleasant. However the nav station has remained dry, and yesterday till0900 today we took another 94nm off the journey.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Night School

Last night about this time I looked at the wind instruments - 21 knots - "oh shit" I thought. Tonight I looked at it again - 21 knots - "Oh good" I thought. In between the wind had risen steadily to 26 knots and gusts of 29 knots and the sea state became increasingly chaotic as a more northerly swell was whipped up and clashed with the easterly one. I had only ever sailed in wind over 22 knots twice before and both times it was a downwind ride, a very different state of affairs from what I was doing last night, trying to maintain some sort of close reach, and into seas much bigger than I had sailed in before. So it was a tense night as I edged my way up another steep learning curve, trying to manage the boat to minimize the crunching drops off short steep waves in the first part of the night, and minimize the number of inundating deluges that erupted off the bow and swept along the deck, often splashing down onto the dodger and into the cockpit. The real problem was the confused sea state which by the morning had evened out somewhat. I decided early on that all I wanted to do was keep the boat moving enough so that it could maintain a safe angle to the oncoming swells, which were certainly 2 if not 3 to 4 metres high at times, Therefore I took in a second reef on the mainsail and rolled the headsail up to almost nothing, then after observing the response, gradually let it out till I had the desired result. We moved at about 3 knots and maintained a nice angle to the predominant swells, the dropping off of waves stopped and eventually we got drenched by a gig wave from the side about once every 20 minutes. The headsail was quite tiny and it amazed me how little extra needed to be unfurled to get the boat moving . Another thing that amazed, even startled and gave me serial frights was how physical and loud could the bangs be as waves collided with the boat - at times it was as if you had been T-boned by a truck on an intersection! The whole boat would shake, sometimes lean over a bit more, seem to stop momentarily and then plough on. So this went on all night, I hardly slept, and for most of the day it hasn't been much better. However in the last 2 or 3 hours the wind has started to moderate though the swells are still challenging, and I expect tonight will go a little better.

Not surprisingly with all that water flooding across the boat, the tiniest little gaps have permitted annoying drips to appear at various places, just enough to dampen things and add slipperiness to the cabin sole (floor) But the Bilges and the stern gland remain dry, and the Hydrovane bolts firm. Really the boat is working its way through the sea quite wonderfully, and after sitting out in the cockpit and observing how it all works, I am always reassured.

One last thing :I haven't been able to do any reading today, but I remember from yesterday an amazing fact about galaxies - of which the Milky Way is one - there are now thought to be so many galaxies in the universe, that if they were all reduced to the size of a frozen pea ( why frozen and not unfrozen I am not sure) they would fill the Albert Hall. That's a lot of galaxies!

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Plugging On

First I have to say thanks to all the wonderful people who emailed me with suggestions and advice and encouragement after my little crisis yesterday. A guy with 40 years sailing experience emailed me from Devon, England - wonderful - and he and the other experts seemed to agree I had the problem sorted but would have to take the clips off, or at least loosen them if I was to use the motor - which is fine because I only plan to use the motor for short intervals, such as getting to an anchorage. It's now a day since I put those clips on and not a single drop has emerged from that spot - I watched it closely for the first few hours, believe you me.

So we trundle along on Port. Harder sailing today as the wind has increased to 20 knots and the sea has risen accordingly. I have reduced sail and altered course away from the wind slightly so that our motion is as comfortable as can be expected and so that we maintain a reasonable speed through the water, which is around 5 knots. Much less than that the boat seems to wallow and buck like a rocking horse, and much faster is just too much bashing and crashing. Even so occasionally a big splash lands in the cockpit but if I am tucked up under the dodger, I stay dry. The sky is covered almost completely by a thin high cloud sheet with a cobbled sort of pattern, Its not cold and I have been wearing shorts for several days. I had baked beans for lunch today, reminding me of the days when I worked full time in Australia, south of Sydney - every single day for several years my secretary made me a toasted baked bean sandwich for lunch . I had read they were good for cholesterol, and I never got sick of them.

It's a pain having to zig zag towards our destination, bashing into waves and wind all the time, always having the wind coming onto the boat from in front, as this is the slowest way to get there. I checked our course from yesterday for 24 hours to this morning and we traveled over 100 miles. However we ended up only 62 miles closer to Tubuai. Today will be better I think.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

More Leaks

Today has been eventful to say the least. I had been planning a dissertation on the life of a flying fish, of which 5 were extinguished on the foredeck overnight. I was also going to explain why I tacked to the SE putting us on Port for the first significant time in the trip. I was going to mention the lovley suny weather and how much I am enjoying Bill Brysons book "A short History of nearly Everything" And I was going to remark on how the last time I sailed nonstop in this boat for nine days, I went from Lord Howe Island to New Zealand, but instead I will append a copy of a letter I sent rather urgently earlier, to real sailors that I know after I had discovered a new and concerning leak in the boat, this time at the aft end. I have fixed it, and not a drop of water has appeared in the Bilge since, but he whole event was again for me massively stressful, and I am still waiting for my hands to stop shaking and my heart rate to settle down to normal. This is my letter:

I need some advice ASAP. This afternoon water started leaking in through the stern tube- at least I think hats what you call that black somewhat conical rubbery fitting over the prop shaft between the end of the gearbox and the place where it exits the hull about a foot further back.. It half filled a bucket in about 20 minutes so was more than just a drip, it was a steady stream coming out of the front end of the fitting. I noticed the black tube is wider at the aft end and theres a sort of ridge going round like a collar midway along, and behind it were two hose clamps. They were easy to tighten but doing so seemed to make the leak worse so I stopped. There were no hose clamps forward of the collar - should there have been? - in any case I put one around and tightened gently and the leak stopped. Then I put another one to be sure. There have been no futher leaks at all. The boat is fine right now and no leaking at all. Theres never been water from that place before, ever.

My question is should I do anything else - probably theres little I can do but what if the leak returns? Other than start bailing of course. What would happen if I started motoring? Why were there no hose clamps on the front half of the fitting?

Should I alter course for nearest harbour? (Tonga?) Any thing else you can suggest or should this be OK now?
Sorry to burden you with this. Its worrying me. I'll check email again in a couple of hours. Also sending this to a couple of other yachties in case you don't get this tonight


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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

One Week In

It would be fair to say I've had a better start this time, but I am not going to jinx myself by predicting what might happen next. The pattern of the last few days is repeating itself today it would seem, a quiet start slowly building to a steady 12 to 14 knot breeze and Sapphire making 5.5 to 6 knots in the right direction. Subtle things change daily though, and today those majestic ocean swells, 100m apart and 2 and sometimes 3 meters high have begun making an appearance, silently surging forward across the sea and lifting us to a vantage point from where, briefly the distant flat horizon is seen . And then we ride down into the trough, a wide valley between the swells where the horizon is the next advancing swell. These ones are not huge and not threatening but it is impressive to watch their powerful and silent advance. Eventually the wind is expected to go east, in front of me, so I shall turn right and head SE for a bit, and follow the wind around as it swings to the north , perhaps on the weekend., after which a front is expected before the wind goes south . We shall see!

Meantime, another day at the office, though a bit more bobbing about today with these larger swells. Hundreds of tiny flat bottomed clouds everywhere, like dodgems, and lots of sun. There have been some odd lulls in the wind as well, for a couple of hours during the night and a few times during the day when for no apparent reason the wind drops right off and we slow almost to a standstill. Indeed during the early hours today, we drifted for an hour or two as I wrestled with the idea of using the motor to keep us going, imagining at that time that the wind was going to stay weak indefinitely. I sat under the stars instead, listening to the silence and soon enough as I waited a shooting star streaked across above me. The Milky Way, so aptly named, is never as milky as when viewed from out here, and is a stunning feature in the crowded night sky when the moon is yet to rise. I have seen it from outback Australia where the air is cold and pure but still, at sea, the Milky Way is even more wonderful, as is the whole of the rest of the night sky which reaches down right to the wave tops.

Shortly after returning to the cabin for more sleep I heard a small slap on the deck above then a fluttering sound and remarkably, within a few seconds, the strong smell of fish. A Flying fish was stranded, flapping in the scuppers and doomed except that I went back outside and picking it up by its shiny long "wings" dropped it over the side. I'm told they are nice to eat but the smell would put me off. Eventually the wind returned and we carried on, but not before I had to rescue a second flying fish.

The water is definitely warming, as is the daytime temperature, and sea life seems less here than further south. I've seen few birds today, and unlike my trips in the Tasman where numerous times I saw dolphins , and even whales, so far in the Pacific, nothing. I suppose the warming air is responsible for the outbreak of mould on my bread, and even on the margarine, and for the rapid ripening of the last of the mandarins which I finished off today. Soon there will be no fresh food left. But I am about a third of the way across. Cant complain.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Tubuai Taxi

Another night and day of plain sailing, with no major or even minor dramas to report as Sapphire trundles across the ocean at 5.5 -6 knots in a north easterly direction, sometimes heading directly for Tubuai, at others a little north depending on the exact direction of the wind. which has been 12 - 14 knots since yesterday. In fact, I have hardly done a thing other than read my book and eat my meals. We've been on starboard more or less the entire journey except for when I made my panicky little tack across the Kermadec Ridge, so the actual sailing that I've done today has consisted in letting out the rest of the main sail early this morning shortly after a spectacular sunrise. So far I've actually been at the Helm for about an hour or maybe two at the most in the entire journey, because for all the rest of the time the Hydrovane has been noiselessly ad ceaselessly keeping the boat at just the right angle to the wind.and the sails full - nothing for me to do. Like being in a Taxi. So I sit here, sit there, sit outside sit inside, stand here and there leaning against support, checking sky and clouds, wind speed and direction now and again, just killing time. I listened to my music for the first time this trip, the Dixie Chicks and then Bic Runga, I did a bit of tidying and hung my socks out to dry and aired my pillow and sleeping bag and put my garden lights outside to recharge themselves for the evening ( I bought these garden lights at Bunnings - they are meant to sit in the garden and illuminate your feature rockery and garden at home but they work well as cabin lights) The Hydrovane bolts are fine and the bilges are dry.

My food today has been muesli - a rather dull blend with far too much bran and hardly anything else - with a small container of diced fruit over it, the last avocado, the last of the cherry tomatoes, the last of my treasured feijoas, a fresh orange and an apple, bread salami and a cup of Spicy Thai Instant noodles, a few lollies and a biscuit. I feel a little hungry still so might have a tin of something more substantial tonight.

With no dramas there is plenty of time to observe the clouds and the sea and the sky. Ive noticed definitely fewer seabirds today, where there were always one or two of the brown ones - I think shearwaters - today hardly any, but Ive seen several of a kind I hadn't noticed before at all, slightly smaller ones that flap their wings a bit more , pure and bright white underneath but dark on top. And a sad little squid that had landed on the boat overnight was dead and drying in the sun when I noticed it this afternoon. - buried at sea of course.

I also observed a dark cloud with rain streaming from its flat underside in a sloping dark veil to the sea, dead ahead for some time and I thought we might get wet but it slid sideways, to the west and behind. And so another day goes by.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 6 : Mind Games

Today was one of those days that you imagine ocean sailing is like. The sky is blue with nice little scattered clouds, a flat horizon all round with nothing to be seen on the ocean anywhere apart from birds wheeling across the swells, its warm and the sea is blue, the waves are benign and not falling on top of each other , splashing onto the boat rather than crashing, the wind is steady and not too strong, the boats motion is easy and more gentle..

I had lots of sleep last night, in many small pieces, and had dreams which I now forget except for one about walking in a shopping mall. Perhaps in my mind, a shopping mall is about as far away from being alone in a yacht in the south pacific as one could get. So I awoke refreshed, having needed to alter nothing with the sail plan overnight as we edged our way north east along the Kermadec Trench with the Kermadec Islands 60 miles away to the North West. After breakfast and coffee, I went out all wrapped up in my wet weather gear, harness and tether and prepared to let out more sail and get the boat moving at a speed closer to what she is capable of in 15 knots - around 6knots and we were doing 5. But then I thought about how pleasant it was having breakfast at 5 knots, how relaxing it was not to have the boat straining and creaking at every wave, heeling further over so that at times water was over the windows on the hull, and big splashes landing on the Dodger and splashing into the cockpit every so often. I thought about the joy of sailing, the importance of the journey not just the destination, and calculated I could save a day every five by pushing hard but then the sailing would be grim. So Ive had a reset of my thinking - this is not a race - but if it was, you win by getting there - I am not in a hurry and I don t need to hammer the boat. So I left the sails as they were, started reading a book and had a beautiful day at sea.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Curse of the Star of Bengal

A physically and emotionally tough day today after a long worrying sleepless night. There IS romance in sailing the seas , and I have experienced it but this feels horrible. Last night as the sun went down all was fine and I was about to cross the Kermadec Ridge south of the Star of Bengal Bank, Then thick black cloud covered the sky and it was very dark, the wind abruptly increased and changed direction, it poured with rain and then after 30 minutes of chaos, everything stopped, including the wind. I waited, had a rest for half and hour and the boat drifted. Slowly the wind returned as before. Next, when I saw where we would be headed, my heart sank : the shallowest part of the Bank, a little blue circle on the chart perhaps 50m deep. I pondered what the sea might be like there, could there be giant waves or breakers - I didn't know and I couldn't see, though it was still 20nm away I decided to tack to the SW and cross the ridge somewhere else. Knowledgeable sailors may well have ignored the frightening contours of the sea floor below but not being sure exactly what they meant for the sailor, I decided to stay away. But I couldn't sleep and kept checking our course till early this morning we were safely across and I tacked back to the NE again. And heres a weird thing - last night I decided to have a meal from a tin - the first time this trip - I reached into the bin and randomly pulled out ….."Butter Chicken"

So this morning I received wonderful emails from many wonderful people and especially wrenching were the ones from my children. I shed a few tears. I had a breakfast of scrambled eggs and later tried to get some sleep.

After lunch p avocado sandwiches, fruit, water, a biscuit - the wind had poicked up and I took in the first reef in the main. The sea sell was rising and becoming uncomfortable. I did my little round of checks - the hydrovane - ok - and the Bilges. Yesterday I mopped out less than ¼ of a bucket, but today there was a dramatic increase, to my horror yet again, several buckets full. And as I mopped, more appeared. Terrible thoughts of dread and doom flooded my thinking, something bad had happened somewhere fpr sure. In the foremost bilge, under a grill in the floor of the little place near the Head (Toilet) I saw the water streaming in - from the Bilge Pump! It wasn't "on" was being forced back through from outside, and there was no valve on this tube. Fortunately it was a long and flexible hose and I bent it back o itself and passed a hose clamp over to secure it shut. No more leaking. Such frights like that I could do without.

Tonight there are no obstacles real or imagined in front of us as we bump and wallow through boisterous and uncomfortable sea with the headsail half rolled up and the first reef still in. I could do with a good sleep. It will be nice if the wind eases off a little after sunset.

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

9 miles from Yesterday

There were no dramas overnight, other than reducing sail at about 2.30. This takes a long time to do because first of all when I wake up, lyng there in the dark listening to all the sounds of a sailing yacht - creaking ropes, gurgling and splashing of the sea, , the whining of the Air Breeze generator, occasional bang of a wave on the hull - I have to decide if anything feels different, or wrong, and if I should get out of my bunk. Which I don't want to do - so I lie there debating with myself, listening, thinking knowing I will never get back to sleep, getting anxious abiout what I might have to do, what might go wrong, wishing it would all settle down, round and round in my miond it all goes. I am warm in bed - who ever wants to get out from that place at 2.30am?. So I get up - and to get up you lever yourself up and prop yourself against a bulk head gripping all the while with one hand and looking with the other for the light, or another handhold, then your overtrousers, your harness, your jacket, your gloves…and then with a sigh after sliding the hatch back from the companionway and reaching out to clip yourself to the nearest safe point, you heave yourself up and out onto the blackness of the cockpit. But last night it wasn't all black - there was an almost full moon and no clouds so I gazed along a silver highway of moonlight across the sea to the west in a sea of matt black waves , waves not as big, not anywhere near as big as I had been imagining. I sat and watched the water, the wind speed, the boat speed, the sails and the clouds and then deciding to go with the teaching from Sailing School, that if you are thinking about reefing you should have done it ten minutes ago , I reached across and clipped myself to the jack stay, a safety line running the length of the boat. I would do it. So after tightening the topping lift and letting out the main halyard till it reached the mark I had inked on it signifying the first reef, I went forward on hands and knees , was delighted to see the reefing cringle right where it should be, beside a stout hook on the mast and I slipped it over. Back in the cockpit I cranked the sail tight, cranked the reefing line tight - and the knots are NOT coming undone this time, - and then it was all good. Later I realized it was all a waste of time because the wind didn't increase as I feared it was going to, but then, I slept better. So it was worth it.

Today a steady breeze, not much more than 15 or 16 knots, it went east for a while and I tacked back to see where that would get me but decided to go back to my original course once I had gained a little progress further east. This meant that I would not hit Esperance Rock later tonight, a southern member of the Kermadec group of islands , Good to miss things like rocks! But instead I will be crossing the Kermadec sea ridge, on the other side of which is the Kermadec Trench, deeper in parts than Mt Everest - so had better not drop anything overboard, it would be hard to get back from there. The undersea terrain round here is extraordinary - I'm crossing the Ridge just south of the Star of Bengal Bank, a place where the ocean rises to as little as 50metres and probably best avoided but in the benign conditions currently prevailing I imagine it will be a non event round midnight. Right now we are pointing almost directly at Tubuai, but its still 1703nm away.

I crossed something else today, at about 3 this afternoon, the International Dateline so I am back in Friday now and once again, its my Birthday tomorrow!

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Friday, May 20, 2011

A Better day

I started sleeping at about 7 last night because it was dark and I didn't feel like doing anything else. I woke every couple of hours, checked the boat and then slept again, om and off till I got up at 4 because the wind had moderated considerably, as had the sea and so I unfurled the rest of the jib and then an hour or two later as it got light, I raised the main for the first time this trip, initially to the first reef but eventually I had it all up. The wind had dialed around from SW to S, then SE and then to East which is about where it is now. Sapphire accordingly had altered her course, as I expected towards the NNE. GRIB files say a High is moving this way and light winds forecast in the middle of it so heading a bit more to the north than the direct route might help me keep some wind - well it has today, in the 10 to 15 knot range, for a while dropping back to 8, but fortunately not for too long..The sun has been out for much of the day, so Ive smeared stuff over my face and lips protect them. And taken off the red wet weather gear - jacket and trousers and boots. The first two days were really cold so heading north to warmer latitudes appeals.

My appetite has increased a little and I enjoyed my scrambled eggs with tomato and fresh (ish) basil, along with coffee and bread and honey. Disastrously, I haven't been able to find any peanut butter - I distinctly remember looking at the various types for sale in the supermarket a few weeks back and thought I bought two containers of crunchy, but now I cant locate them. Maybe they rolled out of the bag into the recesses of the boot of the car and are still there…terribly disappointing.

The main news however was the appearance behind me at breakfast time of another yacht, bigger, faster.A cutter rig maybe 42 feet, always a good 2 or 3 miles away I would guess, she slowly overhauled me during the day and has now disappeared over the horizon in front. I left my VHF on hoping they might call but they didn't so as they began to pull ahead I called them up. The yacht is Atticus, theyre going to Tonga, getting some "easting" in before turning north, and Motor Sailing - which surprised me. Don't think I'll have to worry about hitting them in the night.

I'm 240nm from Marsden Cove and just under 1800 from Tubuai. And the Hydrovane hasn't fallen off, so cant complain. And tomorrow its my Birthday.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day 2

From a purely sailing perspective its been a good day. We are making 5-6 knots and even sometimes 6 to 7 more or less along the great circle to Tubuai, 2009 nm in total from Mardsen Cove. There hasn't been any rain, the sea state is less chaotic than yesterday but its still a bit chaotic the swell from the south and we're tracking more or less parallel to it so lots of wild rolling and slewing from side to side, altogether making it rather less than champagbne sailing. In fact Ive been feeling sick most of the day, sea sickeness doesn't usually affect me but I think the wildness of the sea yesterday set me off - not spewing just feeling nausea. Slept reasonably OK but appetite today still reduced but managing with water, one coffee, muesli and UHT milk, bread and honey, a few mandarins, cherry tomatoes and strictly rationed, Melvas biscuits.

One small drama : the Hydrovane Bolts which loosened in the Tasman and were secured with new Locknuts at Ashbys in Opua - theyre loose again! I noticed to my dismay - horro even - the whole unit once again coming loose and moving where it shouldn't be. So I had to lean over the stern to tie the Vise Grips to the external bolts then squeeze my arm through the transom inspection port with a wrench also on string, and tighten them up again. It sounds easy but it took about one and a half hours, as the boat is rolling about and to clip on and unclip every time you remember you should have got whatever tool/spanner size etc etc

That's all for now. Writing worsens the nausea. Thanks to everyone who has emaild - I wont reply personally just yet - it's a struggle just getting this done - but I will when I feel better. Please do keep emails coming though.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

This is mad

Well I am back at sea. The wind is strong and the sea rough and the boat is pushed around and bumping and rolling, with the odd wave crashingagainst the side and flooding the deck. And I am thinking what the bloody hell am I doing out here? I cant remember what reasons I gave myself for ever thinking about doing this, they were obviously stupid ones. I feel sick with anxiety and worry, my appetite has disappeared, - but what can I do? Just keep hanging on and waiting for things to settle - which they are forecast to do. In nearly six hours since I left Marsden Cove Ive almos reached the point it took me 2 days to get to last attempt. A ship went past. It will be dark soon…what was I thnking..

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Another beginning...tomorrow

Coastal Forecast: Colville

This is the forecast for the NZ coastal region I'll be heading into tomorrow, so it should be a pretty dynamic start, but I'll be going with the wind more or less behind me, so should get me well on the way, out and across the shipping lanes and into the ocean where I can relax at last. It will be two weeks since my first attempt, and though initially it was depressing and deflating to have returned so soon, somehow I feel much more positive about this Beginning. If I have to come back again I will have to resign myself to never doing it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Prolem Solving

Marsden Cove Top Centre;Town Basin bottom left
I stayed at Marsden Cove Marina for three days. Yesterd Tuesday, enjoyed a most leisurely 14mile sail up the harbour and twisting river to the Whangarei Town Basin Marina, sailing at 3 - 4 knts on a warm sunny day till I was 100 yards from the marina. We were given B6 - a marina Berth not a Vitamin, and will stay there till I decide what to do next.

Whangarei and Marina
While at Marsden Cove I took the Boom off the mast to sort out the reef lines, and I dismantled the Ray Marine wheel pilot and reassembled it, possibly more carefully than I did a few weeks ago when I might have not quite put it back together properly, possibly explaining why it overheated  ! I used it to steer the boat all the way up the harbour and it worked poerfectly - so, as they say, "my bad"  I also read the vast Sailmail FAQ/Troubleshooting file, and came across a few interesting suggestions which may explain the difficulties I was having, but have yet to fully work through these. I also  realised that the SailMail problems only started after the new Solar Panel was installed so will need to investigate the possibility of some sort of electrical interference related to that. I left Marsden Cove because it is isolated from all the loal marine services whereas the Town Basin is right in the middle of them, and it is from them I hope to get advice and suggestions about my communication difficulties. I am going to get the Toughbook checked just to make sure it hasnt got a Bug, and I am going to download some special software that will enable me to get weather reports independent of Sailmail.

Today its pouring with rain, and I am scurrying about under a tiny umbrella trying to stay dry while tracking down various Computer and Radio people. Ive looked at the weather maps for the next few days and there are some promising forecasts for early next week....

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Day Three: Back to Square One

I know a man who sailed alone in a sinking yacht round Cape Horn, across the South Atlantic, decided to keep sailing it past South Africa where he could have got help, sailed across the Indian Ocean and decided to sail past Australia where again he could have got help, sailed across the Tasman  Sea and finally stopped for repairs in New Zealand before continuing on. How do I know the boat was sinking? Well every day with a bucket he bailed several TONS of water out of it. This same man also sailed an open boat 18 feet long across the entire Pacific and most of the rest of the way round the entire world - one wonders if such a being is indeed a man or perhaps a superman?

As for myself, not being a superman but a mere man, and an admittedly inexperienced one as well, in so far as sailing is concerned - well I turned back to NZ from 50 miles out in a yacht that was sailing perfectly. My problems were trivial by comparison but I didn't feel confident to continue without proper  communication. Several other small problems that developed but didn't on their own deter me, in combination made it seem sensible to turn round and get them all sorted. So that's what I did.
That Rainbow
I did however have one exceptional days sailing in winds up to 35 knots, I saw the Moko Hinau Islands again, and I think the most intense rainbow I have ever seen, a complete semicircle of colour that Sapphire appeared to be sailing under. In wild weather yesterday as I returned to Port with my dodgy reef line in place and no headsail on a broad reach there was often water all over the boat which remained dry. I was soaked by a couple of waves which crashed against the starboard side and sent water flying up into the sail or into the cockpit and we surfed some of the waves and reached 7.6 knots on one occasion - this way too fast for Sapphire- but I always felt the boat was safe. It was exhilirating sailing but I felt depressed to be heading back
Moko Hinau Lighthouse

AIS Warning : Sapphires track Top Left

The problems that I encountered, in order were firstly overheating of the small electric motor that drives the wheel autopilot. That hadn't happened ever before, I don't yet know  why but I realised I could easily manage without it. Next, at about 2am Friday when I went to reef the main in winds getting up to 20 knots, the line replaced a few weeks ago came undone at the boom end and disappeared up its track in the boom from where it could not be retrieved. I used a mooring line to lash the sail at the first reefing cringle, and it worked well but was less than ideal though I felt was manageable. Thirdly, in the morning, Friday morning, Sailmail wouldn't work. This also hadn never happened before and  meant I couldn't send or receive email - which I could live without though realising it was important to me, and to the people following the trip - but more importantly I couldn't receive my weather files (GRIBs) and I did feel I needed to. I tried rebooting the Computer, tried reloading the Sailmail software, tried restarting the Airmail  after and before and during activation of the PACTOR Modem...nothing would make it work. All these frustrations and problems and I had only made about 50 miles, as the wind wouldnt go north to where it was supposed to be. So I turned back. 
Dramatic Northland Coastline, NZ
Today Saturday I have to check back in with Customs and then plan my next moves. The range of possibilities that have suggested themselves to me in the last 24 hours include selling up,giving the boat away  or sinking it, fixing it and living here permanently, or going somewhere else, or just sticking to the Original Plan. Right now none of them seems attractive to me, but I have been given food for thought by the bright yellow steel  yacht nearby that arrived last night with no mast after being rolled west of North Cape a week ago on their way here from Lord Howe Island. The point is, they made it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day Two

Another day of sunshine and light winds from NE and easy seas. During the night I slept infrequently, as we more or less drifted NE at about 0.3knots past Coppermine Island the easternmost chick of the Hen and Chickens. The AIS alarmed twice with ships coming close but the nearest passed 1.5nm astern heading in to Whangarei. I wondered why so many of the details broadcast by each vessel were missing, such as the vessels name? I didnt enjoy the night and was relieved to eventually see the sky lightening, but we were only a few miles out to sea and there was no wind. I debated with myself - well yes, there wasnt anyone else was there? - the benefits of motoring vs waiting and eventually decided to motor for an hour just to get out a bit further and charge the battery a bit. Having the computer and AIS on all night drains a fair bit out of the battery and there was neither Sunlight for the Solar Panel nor wind for the Air Breeze - I'll be watching that closely. AT the end of the hour I put up sail and ever so slowly a breeze built that kept the sail full and the boat moving but usually only at 2 or 3 knots. Its forecast to reach 15 tomorrow.

So I had coffee and muesli and two Feijoas and later during the day Raisin bread with honey, nuts, an apple and an orange, lots of water and for evening meal will have a cold meat pie. I bought 4 on Tuesday. During the day I found things to do, such as try out the spinnaker pole, tidy up, realign the Hydrovane and so on but inside I felt strangely anxious. I think this will last a while yet, at least until we are clear of land and shipping lanes, and at last making some progress . The wind is dropping as the sun sets behind me, the wild Moko Hinau Islands in silhouette - I passed qute close to them and remembered the last time I was there was 34 years ago with my father in his little motor sailer. I took some photos, probably wont be many more to take till I reach land again.

Right now we are making 3.7 knots in 8 - 9 knot breeze, pointing as high as I can to clear the northern tip of Great Barrier Island. It seems to be a rule of the sea that the wind will come from the direction that will make it impossible to sail where you actually want to go.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011


A quick one : I left Marsden Cove at 1400hrs today, very light winds which picked up to 12 knots for a couple of hours but now since sunset, no wind at all.. Now close to Hen and Chicks using motor to clear out of the traffic which is unnerving.
Beautiful sunset, lots of schools of fish and blue penguins. Its been a long busy day and will be a long anxious first night back in the sea berth,

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

2011 - Getting Ready

Sapphire in the 50 ton lift.
I finished my Locum in Darwin in March and returned to the boat in Opua. I had a big list of things to do on Sapphire to prepare her for my trip out into the Pacific Ocean, a trip I planned to commence in May once the Cyclone Season was over. In the  picture above, Sapphire is tucked in among the SuperYachts at Ashby's Marina. She came out to get her bottom cleaned, at which time inspection revealed a crack between hull and keel from which water drained when it was prodded with a screw driver. After much deliberation and opinion of various boatbuilders and sailors it was decided the keel had to come off to fully investigate the problem. As it turned out the original  - now 30 year old glue holding the solid lead keel on with the help of seven long keel bolts was degraded and powdery and only effective in about 20% of the interface between keel and hull - so it was all cleaned up and the keel glued back on. What you should have noticed in the photo is the mast is also off - this became necessary when we discovered that the last keel bolt was directly under the mast, so out it came as well! This then provided an opportunity to thoroughly check the mast and the mast seat inside the boat and to recondition the boom, which I had damaged in an accidental gybe  in mid tasman. Once the keel was back on the hull was cleaned and repainted with antifoul, the mast replaced and two weeks after coming out of the water for  a 2 day visit for antifouling, she was finally back in the water. Living on-board a yacht on "the hard" is a strangely disorientating experience as the usual movement and  swaying  is absent, the boat is rigid and lifeless.

The next big job was installation of a Solar Panel above the cockpit canopy. I investigated mounting it in such a way that it could be rotated to point directly at the sun - this would make it work at its most efficient - but decided I would rather have it firmly mounted and not have to worry about fiddling with it, so a stainless frame was made and the 85watt panel attached, quite fortuitously fitting in perfectly behind the backstay and in front of the aerials and cockpit light. I have already discovered that the Solar Panel had made a huge difference to the power economy of the boat and I wished I had installed it long ago.

The Air Breeze wind generator on a pole off the back works really well and can generate more power in strong wind than the Panel  can in bright sunlight, but even in dim light the Panel puts out a little charge whereas in lighter wind the Air Breeze hardly any. Its a sort of Hare and Tortoise thing - in the end the Tortoise wins by being steady and consistent. I asked the Marine Electrician to supply me with a spare set of blades for the Air Breeze and he informed me as they were the older style "white" blades, the Air Breeze company would supply them free as the original white ones were prone to degrade in sunlight, become fragile and disintegrate dangerously! When I reached up to see what mine were like, I discovered they were indeed brittle and fragile, so I replaced them immediately with the new black plastic ones and coated the old ones in several layers of paint before stowing them to use only in emergency.

"Prop Speed" on the folding propellor keeps it clean for much longer 
The other jobs included replacement of the original spinnaker pole with a brand new one made of modern materials making it light enough for me to feel happy abou trying to work out how to use it! The original one was too heavy and therefore dangerous for me to ever contemplate using it on my own. I also had chafe protection added to the life lines and shrouds, I had the sails at a Sail Loft for checking and minor repairs, I bought 50 meters of anchor chain to replace the mostly nylon rode of my existing "ground tackle" and I bought an "Anchor Buddy". This simple device is a 13kg weight that slides down the anchor chain and significantly increases the holding power of your anchor. For me, without a windlass to pull in the anchor and chain it seemed the best way to increase holding power without getting an even heavier anchor, of which I have two. They are both Rocna anchors.

I also had fittings attached to boom and deck to enable a Third reef line, reattached a Vang, and for the removable inner forestay purchased a new fitting to make attchment and tensioning much better than it had been with the block and tackle arrangement originally provided by Sydney Rigging. I also cleaned out the fresh water tank and removed and resealed the leaking clear panels that were supposed to only let light from the cockpit recesses into the cabin.

All that remained was to go for a test sail, then stock up on food and water, wait for a weather window, and cast off.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Update : What I did in 2010

2009 ended just after I  completed my first solo bluewater sail  (my blog about that is here)  across the Tasman Sea from Sydney Australia to the Bay of Islands in New Zealand., with a stop off at Lord Howe Island on the way.  I went back to Australia and worked in Darwin but had two months off in April and May.I went on a tour  with Zoe from Alice Springs to Uluru....

Uluru Sunrise
 ..and back in NZ sailed the northland coast between Whangaroa and Tutukaka - north and south respectively from the Bay. I had three more months off from September and went sailing to Whangaroa and back again and then had an amazing month backpacking in India  (read my Blog here)

Working in Darwin with indigenous Australians and a really hard working group of  supportive colleagues, and visiting outlying communities in a twin engined plane as part of my job was a real privilege. In my time off I was able to visit Litchfield National Park and the Katherine Gorge, I went to the Tiwi Islands for the Footy Grand Final and annual Arts Festival, and I explored Kakadu National Park, visiting Nourlangie Rock three times, and Yellow Waters and Ubirr twice. The wonderous wetland scenery, the wildlife and the extraordinary indigenous rock art thats thousands of years old makes this whole place utterly incredible. The contrast between Darwin in the "wet" and in the "Dry" makes it seem like two different places.

A Heron at Yellow Waters, Cooinda, Kakadu

The Vastness of Kakadu National Park from Nourlangie Rock

Ancient Indigenous Rock Art, Kakadu
Despite all that adventure and excitement when the year ended I was heartbroken -  Sue had left me for someone else and the lovely home we had designed and built was finally sold off. Sapphire was all I had left.