Saturday, July 7, 2012

Chinese water torture

Yes I shall miss this place!
Sapphire came out of the water yesterday as planned, and has a bright shiny “A Vendre” (For Sale) sign tied to the pulpit. Alongside her is another yacht with the same sign on it, but its been there so long the sign has faded to be almost invisible and the yacht itself has also obviously deteriorated dreadfully under the withering tropical sun, to now be virtually a wreck – her sails are in shreds, the halyards and sheets and lifelines all loose and rotten, the fittings rusted and doubtless unuseable, paint and varnish long gone to expose grey cracked and buckled timbers underneath, a once proud boat now a corpse.
This is the fate that I dread will be Sapphires, and I have stressed to the Agent that a sale is much more important to me than the Price. If someone makes an offer I will most likely accept it immediately no matter how low.

The workers at the Carenage were naturally surprised to see me back, and commiserated with me at my misfortune. But the most surprising thing I learned was from the guy who had done the work on Sapphire, which included work on the Hydrovane bolts. As previously noted on the Blog, they have been loosening and in need of tightening at intervals since they were first installed in Sydney 4 years ago, and to try to prevent it from continuing to happen, in Raiatea we put a second nut onto each of them, a locking nut. But we also replaced the Bolts themselves with new ones, and as Sapphire was being lifted dripping from the sea, I was told quite casually that this sort of thing happens because those Chinese bolts are such poor quality! I could hardly believe my ears! And he went on to say that its hard around here to get anything other than these poor quality Chinese ones!
The Bolt that snapped

It was too late to feel anger or shock or even disbelief. I just shook my head in dismay.

Later I remembered reading about a scandal involving Rocna anchors, of which I had two. Some owners complained the shafts were bending and were defective, and it turned out a batch had been made in China and the specifications had been ignored, and low quality steel used instead. I hadn’t thought to ask if the bolts were top quality – if I had known, I might have decided not to have them replaced but it seemed sensible to do so at the time.

This episode highlights for me the difference between the sort of sailor I am, and what I think of as a “Real” sailor. For me sailing in its purest form is about finding some sort of unity between a man and a yacht and the ocean. The yacht, to be perfect, is a thing of beauty and grace but is reduced as much as possible to the barest elements that will make it slide across that interface between wind and water – a hull, sails, a place of shelter for the sailor, and not much more. Nowdays of course yachts have a whole lot more than that – “Bathrooms” with hot and cold water , bow thrusters, touch screen GPS navigation systems, satellite TV, motors that have to be run all the time, refrigeration, and more.. Catamarans are increasingly popular in large part because the motion of the sea is largely obliterated by their huge width – and I noticed when sailing in one earlier this year that they all have a roof over the cockpit so its impossible to see the sails. How can a sailor not need to see the sail or feel the motion of the sea?

The sailor, to be perfect, knows everything knowable about his boat, himself and the sea. He doesn’t see the ocean as an enemy to be defeated, or a friend for that matter but a force that can be reckoned with. He can read the sea and the sky in the day and at night, use a sextant and a chart to navigate, he is self sufficient, a navigator and explorer and adventurer…..and I of course am almost none of these! But that is the dream one aspires to. …

All I was really planning to say was that if I had been more of a “Real” sailor, I might have known about Chinese Bolts, and the differing types of steel, and about the tremendous forces those Hydrovane Bolts are under, and maybe I would still be out there right now under the vast night sky, sailing the Pacific…

Monday, July 2, 2012

Wanted : New Owner

Feeling sorry for myself!
That Bolt was the last straw. To be honest I had struggled to get my head around the chaos I found in the boat when I came here in May, and when I sailed from Bora Bora my mind was in a fragile state. I felt nervous and anxious and could barely eat for the first two days. I remembered a video I made of myself in the middle of the Tasman sea, and looking at it again I had seen a really confident and positive sailor, and I wished I could feel that kind of energy again. I set off hoping that as the days went by and things went well, my confidence would return and in fact by the morning of the day when the Bolt failed and I was only about 250 miles from Suwarrow, I indeed experienced brief moments of  excitement as I started to believe it was going to work out after all. When the Bolt broke I was shattered; I felt like a person walking across ice that was supposed to be thick to find it suddenly cracking all round and creating a fear that at any moment it might all give way, feeling frozen to the spot and not knowing which direction to move in..Were the other bolts about to break and the Hydrovane disappear into the depths? Or was the transom about to be torn open  by the Hydrovane swinging round on its last remaining attachemnts, or perhpas it would twist around further and damage the rudder?  The headsail was poled out in 22 knots and the boat was trying to keep sailing downwind but the  Hydrovane rudder was sticking out sideways like a swing keel - what was going to happen next?  The nearest land was about 400 miles away - south west to Rarotonga or east to Raiatea. Its  not easy now, with hindsight to see what would justify  feeling that becasue a single bolt had snapped all hell was about to break loose – after all everything else HAD been going well – but we are not purely rational beings at the best of times, and less so when facing a challenge.

At the same moment that the  Hydrovane was disabled  so was my dream of continuing west alone, to Suwarrow and Tonga and Fiji as I had been planning , either then or at some later date after the Boat had been fixed up again . I felt I had taken on the challenge, given it a good go and failed, and I simply didn’t want to try yet again to do it. I had returned to Lord Howe Island with gear failure, overcome my disappointment and set off again and succeeded. I had returned to NZ with gear failure, overcome my disappointment and set off again and succeeded, but this time I just didn’t want to.  I was fed up with things going wrong, things needing repairs, being let down by my own ignorance , feeling nervous and worried all the time – this was supposed to be challenging but not something that felt like a burden, almost a compulsion rather than something motivated by a sense of adventure and excitement..
Even though for the entire 6 days it took me to get back to Raiatea I was convinced that I would put Sapphire up for sale as soon as I got back, I also realized that once back my perspective would probably change again, and all the arguments against selling her would suddenly have new authority so I have waited a few days to make sure that this what I really wanted to do.

I remembered a book I once read about resolving relationship difficulties called “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay”, addressing the common dilemma in which someone trying to work out what to do with a difficult relationship seems to end up with lists of equal size in the Reasons to Go and Reasons to Stay columns.  The book suggested various tests which could be applied to break the deadlock – and for me and Sapphire the test I eventually applied was a question : would I regret moving on from Sapphire ? – and the answer was no.

Anchored in Bora Bora Lagoon
The reality was that I had enjoyed owning this yacht immensely, and had a huge collection of happy and wonderful memories of everything I had ever done on her, right from the very beginning when I was learning to sail, to day sailing on Sydney harbour and the nearby New South Wales coast, to crossing the Tasman and the south Pacific to French Polynesia and even to my latest jaunt out into the Pacific again, and back. But Sapphire was becoming a burden to me, because now I realized I couldn’t leave her idle for months at a time and expect to find things as before. Indeed the inevitable result of  a continuation of this pattern of long lay overs and  brief spells of sailing would be gradual deterioration in her condition and probably more failures breakages and disablements of various systems on board, increased risk for me, more anxiety and less pleasure. Sailing and owning Sapphire would become a kind of burden rather than a joy. I am disappointed that I never got to Suwarrow or to Niue, Tonga and Fiji as planned but I am satisfied that I made a reasonable attempt at getting there, but it was not to be. It is sometimes said that youre more likerly to regret the things you didnt do than the things you did, but I would modify it slightly and say the things you regret might be the things you didnt even try to do, succeeding not being as important as giving it a go. Or maybe I am just rationalising and trying to justify my own failurre of nerve. In any case, Sapphire  needs a new owner.

So I am going to try and sell her here, and I hope sell her soon while she is still in great shape. I would be happy knowing a keen young sailor bought her and planned to make good use of her sailing these amazing waters or going further afield. I dread the thought of her languishing here for months as mold and corrosion and damp gradually reassert themselves.

I have emailed the Hydrovane people and received useful advice and suggestions in regard to what may have caused those bolts to loosen and to break – I think the whole transom flexes when under pressure from the Hydrovane when it is working hard and this resulted in loosening of the bolts and the when that was made impossible by having a second locking nut applied to each bolt, there was eventual metal fatique and failure. I am going to suggest fiberglass reinforcement of the transom before reattachment of the Hydrovane. Sapphire will then be fully ready to go sailing again with a lucky new owner.

My fascination with the sea and with yachts and sailing is undiminished, and will continue to be a passion. I would not rule out owning a yacht again one day, and certainly I’ll go sailing again somehow. In the meantime however I will return to work in Australia, and later in the year to Ethiopia, and next year for some of the time at least will be working with MSF – Medcin sans Frontieres  (Doctors without Borders)  I will be free to have holidays other than sailing ones for a while, - such as the south of France for example-but now without Sapphire as a home I might have to start looking for one on land somewhere.. The Next Beginning?