Sunday, September 20, 2015

Images from the Coral Sea

Sapphire Breeze at Bundaberg Marina
I tidied the boat up and dried everything over the next few days then came to Sydney to visit family. My amazing contact, Amber, in the Locum Agency found me work in no time, and in the almost perfect location, a few miles  north from Bundaberg, at Gladstone for two months. I will return there in a week and on one of my weekends off will sail Sapphire up to the Marina at Gladstone. It will be an unusual experience to be working and having the boat nearby. There are many little chores that require sorting out, mainly electrical things such as the Inverter which stopped working and the Cabin lights and Bilge pumps.

Next year I will sail further south, but not in a mad dash, and perhaps eventually back to Sydney.

Monday, September 14, 2015


Well it did work out much as I had hoped. The wind stayed strong and we moved into the coast where I had hoped for some easing but when I was close to the beinning of the amazingly well marked channel into the River, it was still a steady 24 knots. It was drak and the sky was clear and beautiful. There were lights along the coast but the navigation lights and a lighthouse made it all quite simple. I dropped the sails and motored in to calm water and follwed the channel to the marina, where with a torch I found an out of the way spot and dropped the anchor at about 1030pm local time. Its amazing those first few min utes when the motion and the noise all stops and you savour the moment of having at last arrived at a much anmticipated destination. I was worn out but decided to have some milo and a couple of biscuits before creeping into my grotty damp bedding and quickly falling into a sound and dreamless sleep.

The Customs and Quarantine people eventually arrived today, Monday, and the Biosecurity people were incredibly thorough, spending an hour and a half going through every thing on the boat, opening all the lockers and storage spaces, pulling everything out and peering into the darkest recesses for bugs and vermin.

I wasnt able to leave the boat till they had finished just before 2pm when I went ashore to a nice Marina Cafe and had mediterranean salad and lamb cutlets, and a beer! Hardly ever does one enjoy a meal so much as that one after a passage existing on tinned junk as I do!

I will get organised in the next couple of days and post some photos on the Blog once Ive cleaned myself up, dried the boat out and organized Internet.

That was a great voyage!

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Things that go bump in the night.

I hate the unnecessary noises of things in storage banging about, or sheets flapping or stays and halyards vibrating in the wind. One knocking nn oise seemed to come from a storage space right by my head when I lay down to rest or sleep and three times Ive shifted stuff round to try and stop it, or to find the source. I checked other places and moved everythig there around as well but to my intense frustration the noise continued unchanged. Eventually I relaised the stoprage compartment has some sort of false floor and theres a space between its bfloor and the roof of the compartment below but its not accessible except by cutting a hole inot it - aand in there some solid metalic object rolls about and knocks and taps and is driving me insane.

Another knock developed during the night, a much louder and heavy one that sounded ominous to me when I first heard it - something solid and metallic and heavy was creating a bang that went right through the boat. Eventually I tracked it down to the anchor locker and went out there , safety harnessed, at about 2am, got soaked for my efforts and found it was a heavy lead device - I think about 6kg - called an ANchor buddy thats lived in there since 2010 and never moved or created a sound - somehow it finally wriggled its way out from its cranny and started rolling and banging around. In the middle of the night. Oh and the anchor locker hatch fell onto my face when I first peered in and neglected to hold it open against the inevitable lurch.

Mother nature isnt giving me a nice easy time of this last day, though it looked as if she would early in the day, when there was full sunshine and I dried my dripped on sheet and damp pillow out in the cockpit, and the sea state and wind made the sailing really wonderful. What a great way to finish up I thought to myself. But since about 11am - its now 4pm - we have been asailed by a series of squalls moving over under their individual clouds, bringing rain and reduced visibility and wind increases from a pleasant 18 or 20 to 24 and 25 knots with their accompanying short steep bumpy seas and cold air. Some have passed in front and others behind but others we went through or caught the edges of, and then the boat gets splashed and wet again, the annoying drips return, moving about becomes hard and the direction we are heading also varies, usually in the direction of Lady Alice island and some nearby shallows which would be treacherous. In fact we are now past them, with about 35 miles to go, thumping along at 6.4 knots on the outskirts of another squall.

I hesitate to predict what may happen but my intention is to continue right in to Bundaberg, which is up a river. The river entrance seems very well marked with buoys from well out and the marina with the quarantine buoy is on the port side just round the first bend. With luck I will be there round midnight.

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Ocean Sailing

Yesterday I kept waiting for conditions to ease and the sailing to become a little less of an endurance test. After that calm I mentioned yesterday the wind returned after half an hour at its usual force and we lumbered on with the doubly reefed main and the headsail all but rolled up. And then in the dark, about 9pm the wind shot up to 30 knots again, the vane on the Hydrovane jammed across and unable to bring us back on to course and me cursing and swearing with the fickleness of it all, deciding we needed to reduce to the third reef and then heave to...oh yes and it was raining! So I clipped on and struggled up to the mast, yanked down the sail and slipped the reefing point over the hook and crab-like inched back into the safety of the cockpit...oh yes my headlight stopped working just then too! I tidied up the lines and then...and then I was going to try and bring the boat through the wind, probably with the engine...and the wind died just like that it all went quiet again....I watched and waited, it went to 14 knots, and we were almost motionless in the water...and then it slowly picked up to 22 and stayed there. I decided to do nothing for an hour and see what else might eventuate but nothing did, so about 10.30 I went back to the mast and unhooked the ring and pulled the sail back out to its second reefing point, re-engaged the Hydrovane and off we went, back on course but slowly. I had already decided I was happy to go slowly and reduce splashes and crashes and reduce the drips getting in and make it more tolerable in the cabin. It wasn't a race! And so it continued till morning and ZI had a couple of good sleeps.

This morning it was grey and still rough but slowly conditions have improved to the point where its now the sort of ocean sailing most would enjoy. The wind ranges from 18 to 22 , I haven't taken out the second reef but let more and more headsail out and we are running at a nice low angle up and over moderate swells from the south, some still 2 to 3 meters, on a beam reach. I watch and marvel at the amazing way the sea mounts up into walls and troughs and peaks and ridges and then transforms into a valley or a roller makes it all flatten out. Sapphire rolls up and over them all so easily, but now and again we cop one on the side, a slap that sends the water up and over the boat , we twist a bit sideways and then over and down into the next trough.

The rotten weather slowed us down : 24 hr run to thursday was 126 miles, but to Friday it was 85 and to noon Saturday, today, 96. Tomorrows run will be ok but we wont get to Bundaberg before dark. As I write this there's 150 miles to go.

Tinned mackerel with tomato sauce, and rice for tea soon. I always follow up with some fruit, often a confectionary banana or a lemon or orange fruit jelly. And Milo.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Things come to pass

Bobs prediction about the crap weather was amazingly accurte - he warned me to expect it around 9pm and for it settle by noon today or therabouts and thats pretty much nwhat happened. AT 20 to 9 last night I was thinking maybe it wont come an I will be OK - and five minutes later the boat strarted bouncing and bashing about and the wind noise increased and when I looked at the wind instruments -= it was 26 knots. He said gust might be up to 35 but I didnt see anything over 30 but it was pretty wild. I rolled up the headsail except for a tiny scrap and reefed to the second on the main then eased it out to depressurise it and we moved slowly forward all night quite comfortably - I was waiting at first to see what else would happen - I was thinking of heaving to if it got much worse - but it didn't so I decided to wait it out and try to sleep. With daylight in 9 hours we had travelled 20 miles and though the wind was still strong , it was still pretty wild but I decided to start sailing now I could see what to do, and we increased to nearly 6 knots by letting a small bit of the headsail out and pulling the main in a bit. Midmorniung I saw the first lull at 20 knots and guessed the worst was over and it seems to be the case, though we have had a couple of squalls where the wind and sea sprang up remarkably rapidly to 27 and 28 knts again and I felt a certain despair that there was another long slow night of being bashed about ahead of me again. I was sleep deprived for sure. The second squall arrived and I rolled up the headsail again, getting completely soaked in the process and decided to try and sleep after vdrying off and changing my shirt as the boat sat quietly. I couldn't sleep but after 20 minutes it all seemed too quiet I went up top and the wind had fallen away to only 15 knots and the amazing sea, so recently a carpet of white and spray and hills and valleys had evened out to have almost no whitewater anywhere. So amazing! I thought I mighht write this whist all was calm - God only knows what will happen next but what I am hoping is this lighter wind is the one predicted and we have an easier sail for the next couple of days to Bundaberg - now 250 miles away. But who knows what might happen next?
BTW during the night in one of my many checks on wind and boat speed and everything generally I surpised myself to find a ship going by, just the lights are visible of course, a single one at the bow and way further back a cluster at the bridge and the green starboard light . My AIS wasnt on but when I turned it on he didn't appear - not sure if the AIS was at fault or the ship! Another night I saw a very peculiar light on the horison that turned into a sort on line of light and then a vague yellowy sail shape that slowly disappeared - it was the moon rising behind clouds!

I am developing huge confidence in the Boat and have blessed myself repeatedly for having gone back to Fiji to have the rigging checked and fixed as its taken a hammering this last 24 hours!

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Thursday so far OK

Sailors dont intentionally sail in seas like this, 2 meter rough swells, lots of white water everywhere, occasional bangs and slaps to the boat as waves happen to break against the side, the cockpit getting flooded every now and then. Allt the sailor can do is get himself into a place where he needs to make the least effort to stay there. Moving about is tricky and involves reaching from one handhold to the next, getting food other than ready to eat things olike biscuits nuts sweets and left-overs is tricky as things tend to slide about and spill. ANd the constant irregular motion makes it hrd to read or do anything much at all other than lie in the bunk and watch the clock, listen to the wind and the sea roaring, the boat creaking, things knocking in storage....and watch the clock. I think for me the hard part is not knowing what the sea and the wind are going to do next - if I was told this weather you have now is what youre getting till the end of the voyage, just like this, I would be delighted - the boat is reeefed down and sailing nicely through the sea as a good boat does, the ocean to look at is mighty and turbulent and impressive and I am perfectly fine. The gusts are up to 25 knots and the boast is travelling at 5.8 to 6.2 knots. But according to Bob tonight its going to get rotten - but how rotten? It may turn out better thsans forecast - or worse? Its the uncertainty that's killling me.

Our exact position right now is 20 degrees 20 minutes SOuth, 156 degrees 2 minutes East.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015


Sleep is very broken, necessarily, because I need to check progress and make sure we are not too far off course and heading for the various reefs which litter the coral sea, and which have determined my route to Bundaberg.I try to sleep in he day but almost never can so at might whenj I finally do sleep its different to my usual experience because I have amazingly vivid dreams. One night I dreamd I was walking along the beachfront at Bundaberg and pointing out to sea and telling someone I was actually way out there on my boat and was having an amzing out-of-body expedience, but would have to go back there, reluctantly, soon. Last night I dremaed I was talking and joking with Muhammed Ali - in earlier times - as we were doing some sort of physio in a swimming pool. LAter I dreamed of a world cup rugby match between the All Blacks - wearing pale blue - and England, also wearing pale blue. It was raining and a crowd of English supporters were holding umbrellas over the English team as they packed down for a scrum.!! Work those out!

Today started calmly and then about 10 I noticed we were off course - the wind had strenghtened and gone South agaiun, so the Hydrovane naturally swung us toi the north west. The wind strengthened quickly to 22 knots and short steep seas built up as I reset our course and went below to a much more unpleasant ride, much more bumping and banging and the noise of wind and the waves and crashes and slaps and splashes of water...Bob had predicted strrengthening wind and the worse days of the trip to be tomorrow and friday as a "squash zone" develops above a high moving across the Tasman. I decided it was beginning to make its presence felt and looking ahead was a big wall of black cloud. By noon there was rain and stronger wind and it was all horrible but nothing was wrong, it was just going to be a rotten couple of days ....starting now.

IN fact it all settled a couple of hours later and we are back to 14 knots of wind from the south east and all the headsail is back out, the boat is moving more easily again...I guess the squash zone hasnt arrived yet...maybe tomorrow.

We have passed the second waypoint and are now a little over half way to Bundaberg. I couldnt raise Sailmail this morning so I hope reception is better this evening - the window seems rather small. If tomorrow turns out as Bob predicted and its rotten there might not be a Post till Friday night.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015


We continue on port towards the next waypoint which is above the Bampton reefs now 66 miles away. Overnight the wind was steady and went around towards the east so by this morning we were once again going almost dead downwind. It eased off so much I took the reef out of the main to maintain boat speed close to 6 knots but this afternoon have reefed again as the wind returned twoards the SE and increased to 16 again and gusting to 20. I sail cautiously I know - on one hand I am keen to makle good mileage yet on the other I dont want to push the goat hard and have something break. Which could be me even, becasse going hard for the boat makes it hard on me as well. Its amazing how I am sometimes caught unawares and thrown across the galley, hands flung forward to stop my head crashing into something. All the bony prominences are bruised - elbows, knees, ankles hips....And sleep becomes harder the more the boat crashes round...

Never-the-less our noon to noon run was 129 miles now at 4 pm we are making 5.5 knots. No dramas on board but a booby bird tried landing on the bimini yesterday. I nearly caught it in m y hands and wasn't going to allow him to land because once before when I did, the bird stayed a long time and then left the canvas covered in crap. The sky has mosly been cloudt today and Ive seen a few clouds t
trailing rain but none has landed on us so far. My exact position right now is 18degrees 20 minutes South, 159degrees 49 minutes East.

By morning we will have cleared the next waypoint and the halfway mark of the journey. So far so good but some strong winds are forecast for the end of the week . ON my latest grib they look to be possibly furher north than my track to Bundaberg so maybe I will miss them..

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Monday, September 7, 2015


Well those conditions are much the same but the sea has gradually increased to 2meter swells and lot of them rumbling forward into whitewtaer. Ive reduced the headsail further as we were making 6.5 knots and hitting the water hard. Our noon to noon run was 121 miles, We passed the first waypoint during the wee hours and I was checking the GPS frequently as the waypoint was about 10 miles off Huon reef, which as always the boat seemed attracted to. Now we are in the Coral Sea and the next wayppoint is north of Bampton reefs 198 miles away right now. Its a hard slog alright, too much motion to even read now and stronger wind forecast in a day or two I am not looking forward to. However this is trade wind sailing I guess - albeit stronger tradewinds than I would prefer.

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Sunday, September 6, 2015


The light wind and east slow sailing continued till just after lunch today when there was an abrupt sift from 10-12 knots to 18 -22 knots in half an hour witrh a corresponding changhe in sea state. Steep waves quickly developed and the motion if the boat changed. I refed the main and later rolled in some of the headsail and we were making just u8nder 6 knots in stead of 4.5. It was no longer easy to sit ouitside so I came below and lay on the bunk and frequently checked our position as we are closing in on the first way point. I expect to go past it during the night and then angle a little more south heading for the next one, 252 miles away. Thgeres more south in the wind than I would prefer do its forward of the beam already, I am hoping it will go more to the South east. We made 111 miles noon Saturday to noon today but I expect we will cover a little more in the nezxt 24 hours though a lot less comfortably. The forecast is for this sort of weather to continue all week so it will just be a long weary slog. At leas the sun is still sining!

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Day two

From noon yesterday to noon today we sailed 102 miles which was more than I had thought we would because the wind had been so light and at times we were barely doing 3 knots, wing-on-wing dead downwind. When the wind is light it tends to flick around a bit so I was often up to adjust and readjust the hydrovane to keep us on track for the first waypoint north of the last of the chain of reefs and tiny islands that extend northwest from the northern tip of New Caledonia.

During the night the wind almost dies completely, and then abut 3am a heavy black cloud covered much of the sky and it started to rain but not very heavily. AFter it passed, the wind was a little stronger and there was more south in it than before so we could continue on a broad reach. I pulled the pole in and set the headsail off the starboard side. And so it has continued all day, with the wind a little stronger but not much more than 14 or 15 knots in the gusts, and our speed has mostly been closer to 5 knots.

Not much else to report : a few sea birds, no more whales, bright sunshine and a low easy swell. Great sailing weather really!

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Friday, September 4, 2015

On MY Way

I dropped my mooring line this morning at 9am and half an hour later after motoring out past all the ICA Yachts that filled the mooring filed in the last two days. turned off the motor and began the 1000 mile sail from Port Vila to Bundaberg Queensland. Today and tomorrow the winds are predicted to be light and indeed mostly we have only been managing just on 4 knots. Frustratingly the wind is almost directly behind me, an easterly so the headsail doesnt fill properly and flaps and bangs about. I poled it out for a while and then the wind direction altered to render that plan redundant but now 2 hours later the wind seems to have returned to its former more easterly quarter and the banging has started again! ...

Its a lovely day at sea, half a meter swell and wind only 8 to 10 knots, lots of sunshine.

An hour ago I got a huge shock to look up and see four whales only 50 feet from the boat. They were moving slowly in the same direction as I was, they were very close together and blowing intermittently. Just after I had passed them they lifted their tails and disappeared, and I nervously watched round the boat to see where they might have gone. Ten minutes later I saw their blows again well astern, so I was glad we were clear of them.

Right now Vanuatu has vanished behind me but in 7 hours have only made 30 miles.

I think the voyage will last ten days.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Wreckage in Port Vila

Sapphire Breeze in Port Vila, just to the right of centre. 
The shore of Iririki Island just behind is littered with boats wrecked by Cyclone Pam

What an irony it would be , after all the places Ive been and the sailing Ive done in the last 7 years if I was killed trying to help on someone elses boat, in Port ! Yet that’s almost what happened! I am unharmed but it could so easily have been a different story!

Yesterday I came out of the shower by the sea wall and a man was standing there looking at a modern almost new huge (56foot) yacht stern to just in front of him. But the mast was missing.  We chatted. The man was Wally, a Kiwi farmer and the boat was his. The mast had been removed to fix a relatively minor breakage of the in-mast furling system and in the morning the Crane would be back to lift it back on. He was going to need a few extra pairs of hands – would I be free?

This morning at 9.30 I turned up, along with a few others and quite a crowd of onlookers as the Crane  was attached to the mast with a thick strop. Slowly and carefully  the strop took up the strain and then lifted the massive mast up into the air. I was given a thick heavy wire backstay to manage, and followed it slowly onto the boat and down to the stern where Wally attached it. I moved forward to the base of the mast where several men were trying to coax it into position, onto the mast step. I went forward to help Wallys wife and Scot, my American solo sailor friend get the forestay and heavy attached furling gear into its place. It was two inches away when suddenly with a huge crack the strop snapped and all hell broke loose: the bottom of the mast first crashed down onto the deck and then skidded forwards and to port, towards us, like a huge battering ram as the mast toppled backwards and to starboard. Shrouds and stays and sheets went flying and the furler hurtled forward past the three of us as the mast plunged into the water, the crushed lifelines, stanchions and toe rail acting as a sort of fulcrum, flinging two men who had fallen over the mast ten feet into the air. One immediately scrambled to his feet but the other lay motionless on the foredeck, and I ran forward to him. Blood was streaming from his head over the pristine deck, but he was conscious, and I quickly checked him over – the scalp laceration was not huge but as is typical with them, bled profusely. One leg was bruised and his knee was hurting, but luckily no serious damage was done. Miraculously nobody else was hurt. By this time Sirens were wailing in the distance and soon an older English woman came bustling on board, and pushing me aside announced she was a Doctor and then proceeded to ask the guy the same things I had already asked him, and examine him as I had already done, and then announce as I had already done that he was Ok, nothing serious! She ordered me to maintain pressure on the head wound – as I had been doing since before she arrived - and then when someone turned up with some crepe and some bandages she took over and rebandaged it. We stood him up and as a precaution he went off to the Hospital.

Poor Wally was devastated. A little problem with the furler and now his mast and the radar were under water, the deck was gouged, the toe rail buckled and torn, the stanchions bent double and his sailing season and checkbook under serious threat. A little later the mast was pulled out of the water, the broken strop flapping about for all to see - I just hope the Crane operator had paid his insurance premiums!

As for my Plans, well I’ve decided to head back to Australia this month. One thing I’ve had enough of is trying to fix things in developing countries and being at the mercy of the dodgy operators we are forced to deal with.  Between Fiji and Tanna one night I broke the 10mm thick Perspex board that closes off the companionway – nothing major, but a local guy quoted me around $200 to replace it – basically all that was needed was to trace round the old one and cut it out, then drill a hole for the lock!  Labour was going to be $60! And I just decided to hell with it I will glue it together and bolt some timber across to hold it together till I get back! And yesterday the Inverter stopped working – again not serious or important – I use it to charge this laptop and the Phone and  not much else – and unfortunately the Dinghy IS still leaking – not much but I have to pump it up tight  every morning before I come ashore – and only one light still works in the Cabin….an accumulation of little things that diminishes my enthusiasm for heading further into the unknown.

But the Solar Controller that I bought and fitted works fine and I was very pleased to have sorted that out.

So I am restocking water and food, and replaced the 6 liters or so of Diesel I used getting here from Fiji, - mostly at Aniwa - and looking for a weather window.

This is a 56ft yacht called Udder Life. 
The mast has just crashed into the water after the strop securing it to a crane broke.