Wednesday, August 27, 2014
To my surprise September is almost upon us and, however content I am in Vavau, I will sail for New Zealand before the end of that month. The distance is about 1200 miles—1171 from GANNET’s present location; and the course 210°T.
This is potentially the most difficult passage of the ocean crossing. While the Bay of Islands climate is nominally sub-tropical, highs and lows chase one another across the Tasman causing New Zealand’s weather to change frequently and rapidly. I have long been on record as stating that if you are going to sail to New Zealand you should be prepared to face a gale. I haven’t always had one, but this is true any time of year. In the summer they are less frequent and cold.
I checked Visual Passage Planner, an application on my laptop that carries the Pilot Chart information, and is incidentally the only thing I have on board that shows local magnetic variation. Moving the cursor along the rhumb line route reveals 0% gales in September until a square at the New Zealand coast just north of Opua shows 11%. 11% is high, but looked at another way it means that nine out of ten days have less than thirty-four knot winds.
There is a fundamental problem with Pilot Charts which give historical averages when we are living through climate change.
Some of you will recall that I did have a gale on the nose the last day of my fifth circumnavigation on the final 2300 mile leg from Bora-Bora.
Checking THE FIFTH CIRCLE, I see that I sailed from Bora-Bora on September 15 and reached Opua on October 10, an extraordinarily slow 25 days, which included being caught under high pressure for the two slowest weeks of the entire circumnavigation.
That last day was one where I reduced sail and told THE HAWKE OF TUONELA that ‘the center must hold’, contradicting W.B. Yeats’s famous line, and she pushed through. I don’t know that GANNET could.
I received an email from Karl, a Moore 24 sailor who along with Gilles won their class in the recent double handed Pacific Cup race from California to Hawaii, in which he said that their boat was much happier beating in strong wind when they filled water bladders lashed to the windward side of the v-berth with 400 pounds of water. I carry a maximum of 240 pounds of water and will if I’m on a long tack again try to tie it all to windward, though that may be difficult to do underway.
I don’t know yet what I will do if I run into a gale from ahead. I’ll figure it out at the time. I may heave to and wait for a change. Change is the one constant in New Zealand weather. I may hand steer. I will in any event not cling to the rhumb line on this passage if falling off will make the sailing faster and easier. There is no need to when as we approach New Zealand the wind can come from any direction at any force.
I have been asked if I will stop at Minerva Reefs, two isolated atolls twenty miles apart four hundred miles southwest of Neiafu. The answer is possibly, but probably not. I have spoken to sailors who stopped at North Minerva on their way up from New Zealand earlier this year. They say that the pass is easy and can be sailed. One also said he was there with more than twenty other boats. The experience of being anchored in mid-ocean is special; but once I go to sea I tend to stay there. If I happen to be sailing past Minerva one fine day, I might go in; but I’m not going to divert or linger until dawn to do so.
Twelve hundred miles should be nine or ten days, and easily longer with severe weather or strong headwinds. Impossible to predict before I sail what the weather will be when I’m off New Zealand.
While standing in the companionway sipping South Seas Rum the other evening I tried counting masts and came up with fifty-one. Due to overlap and dim light, this may not be accurate, but it is close.
From my years with CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE and now with GANNET, I am used to having the smallest boat in harbor.
For several decades now I have been the most experienced sailor in harbor.
Apia and Neiafu have caused me to realize that I am now also the oldest sailor in harbor. I can’t be completely certain of that; but I do know that the few other likely contenders are younger than I.
There have been many odd things about my life, but that I who risked everything for so long have grown old is one of the oddest.
Another is that in a world in which billionaires cheat on taxes and billions of people don’t have enough of even the basics of survival, such as clean drinking water, I have had enough: enough time, enough love, enough money.
And what is perhaps even more unique is that I know it.
Monday, August 25, 2014
Three solo sailors sat at a table at The Aquarium Cafe last evening having a few drinks. They had a lot in common.
All were slim, fit men. Not incidentally, they had all arrived by muscle power: two rowing; the other paddling an inflatable kayak. This would not have been true of any other table in the crowded cafe. Or perhaps world.
With varying levels of experience, each had the self-confidence to find his own way and they discovered that they all had reached many of the same conclusions.
All had solar panels. None refrigeration. None powered much. All believed in getting adequate sleep. And in a harbor where the average vessel is around 45’, they owned by far the three smallest boats: 24’, 30’, 31’.
Neiafu has many cringing, depressed dogs, and many happy, snuffling pigs.
I often see pigs in empty lots and yards when I walk into town. Generally munching on vegetation or sleeping contentedly. There are some piglets, which are cute but elusive.
I have yet to get a good pig photo. If I do, I’ll post it.
I watched one pig wait on the sidewalk when he heard the sound of an approaching vehicle around a blind curve. When the car passed, the pig looked both ways before trotting briskly across the road. How, I wonder, does a pig learn to associate the sound of a motorized vehicle with danger without being hit?
This has become a sailing ‘blog’. Not a word that I normally use or like. I expect that is fine with most readers. But there is more to life than sailing. And less.
I, who in Evanston read five or six newspapers online each morning, have seldom read any since leaving San Diego. Here they take too long to load, and when I did see the front page of the NY TIMES a few days ago practically everything there would have been depressing had it not seemed so remote, as though happening on another planet. I’ve often felt that way at sea in the past when I heard the news on the BBC World Service. Now I don’t turn on the Sony receiver, though I will as I near New Zealand to try to learn about the weather. I don’t even know if the BBC World Service still exists.
However, if you want a view of a different world, you would do well to go to my friend, David MacFarlane’s site. As some of you will recall, David is a New Zealand obstetrician/sailor, who sails, works, and volunteers for Doctors Without Frontiers in Africa. He has done so previously in Ethiopia and South Sudan and is now on the other side of the continent in northern Nigeria.
The Internet here is slow and his photos don’t download properly, but his recent entries, particularly “The Hospital At the Bottom of the Cliff”, are exceedingly well written.
Saturday, August 23, 2014
It was windy here late yesterday afternoon. GANNET is back on Rik’s free mooring close to shore, but farther out the harbor was white-capped.
The Aquarium provided a television broadcast of a New Zealand/Australia rugby match at 8:30 p.m. and when at 8 I stood in the companionway, t-shirt and shorts were not enough, so I dug out a Polartec for the first time since leaving San Diego and comfortably rowed ashore.
Those who live here year round say that this is the coldest winter in Vavau they can remember, following the hottest summer. ‘Coldest winter’ does not mean quite the same thing in Vavau as in Chicago. ‘Cold’ here is temperatures in the low 70sF/low 20sC. In other words: perfect.
I overheard another example of the relativity of values yesterday when a man said, “Our boat doesn’t displace much—only seventeen tons.” He was being serious.
Yesterday’s foraging resulted in Camembert cheese; a box of something resembling Kleenex—I have yet to try them; two boxes of muesli, a cereal similar to my trail mix and uncooked oatmeal, but with sugar added and less substance; mixed with the oatmeal it does provide some variety in taste and texture; small boxes of what purports to be fruit juice, but is really only sugared water with perhaps a sliver of real fruit mixed into every hundred gallons; and the worst paper towels in the world. They shred at the touch, dissolve in water, tear unevenly, and the cardboard cylinder in the middle fell out when I was trying to put the roll in the paper towel holder. I did see paper towels at another store and will go back tomorrow in the hope that they are better.
I have not been able to find antiseptic wipes which I use to clean my hands. The single tiny pharmacy does not have them or denatured alcohol. I’m about to run out. Maybe I should start wiping down with South Seas Rum, which isn’t bad and costs only $14 a liter.
South Seas is distilled in Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga, and proudly proclaims on the label, which includes a native girl, a sailing ship—perhaps The BOUNTY—the mutiny took place here—and a drawing of a mountainous island and palm trees, “Since 1997.” Which as Rich pointed out is like saying,
In addition to foraging during the morning and watching rugby at night—congratulations to New Zealand; condolences to Australia—I read, listened to music, and did a little light maintenance, including sewing a seam in my sleeping bag that had opened.
Sunday here and all is quiet except for occasional singing heard from churches. I’ll go ashore after a while and have lunch at The Tropicana while using their Internet.
Two days ago the Internet here, always slow, came to a complete halt just after I uploaded the previous entry and I was unable to open the journal page to check it. When I could yesterday I discovered that I had uploaded one picture twice. I removed the second image and replaced it with the one intended, a panorama taken from the mooring at Lape.
Friday, August 22, 2014
August 18, Monday
I went ashore this morning seeking cheese, crackers, South Seas Rum and paper towels. I found the first three. And a can of Heineken and one of Fosters, an Australian beer.
I’m not sure there are any paper towels here. This is a serious loss. I believe that some of us are as tough sailors and any ever, including those iron men in wooden ships, but we have two distinct advantages: trash bags and paper towels.
I did see paper napkins. Perhaps they will substitute.
Back on GANNET, I put the Torqeedo on the transom, but tilted it up out of the water and sailed off the mooring under jib alone under a low sky and wind of 17 knots forecast, Raymarine tiller pilot 2 resurrected by Rich steering. Again my thanks to the tiller pilot whisperer.
Wind inside this archipelago is inconsistent. Blocked by hills. Slipping through valleys. Light to nonexistent. Strong gusts. GANNET’s speed varied from 1 to 6.5 knots. Mostly 4 and 5.
I’ve sailed this way before, most recently eight or nine years ago in THE HAWKE OF TUONELA when to my regret I broke my rule about towing dinghies. Before leaving the mooring I deflated the Avon and stowed it in the aft end of the cockpit. As we approached the north end of Kapa Island and had a three mile leg south in exposed white-capped water, I was glad I did. Towed dinghies are noisy, slow, and obstructive nuisances.
Before making that turn I also put on foul weather gear and partially furled the jib. Again wise moves. Flat water gave way to white-caps. Spray covered the foredeck. But the waves were only 1’ and GANNET powered through them without becoming airborne. These were exactly the same conditions I experienced in THE HAWKE OF TUONELA, and it was on this stretch in her that I regretted towing the dinghy. Even old sailors can learn from experience.
I hand steered on this three mile beat, tacking five or six times between islands.
Clear of the last islet, I was able to ease the jib sheet to a beam, then board reach and let the tiller pilot steer while I brought the anchor and rode on deck. Rather than carry this forward from the companionway, I’ve discovered that it is much easier to move anchor and rode in deployment bag to the v-berth and then pull them on deck through the forward hatch.
On the way to Vakaeitu, we passed nearby Lapa Island off which I saw mooring buoys. I may go back and take one tomorrow or the next day.
A few hundred yards off Vakaeitu, I lowered the Torqeedo into the water, started it, and furled the jib. I could anchor under sail, but like to circle around where I anchor, particularly since I am anchoring GANNET on mostly line rode, and look for coral.
No other boats were there when I went in.
I circled and let go the Spade in 32’ of water, first easing out 20’ of chain and 90’ of line, then after I was confident the wind had set the anchor another 30’ of line. This is less scope than usually considered appropriate, but GANNET is very easy on anchors and under normally prevailing conditions, Vakaeitu is well protected.
It had taken me three hours to cover twelve miles, not counting the tacks, and was now 1:30 p.m.
Time for lunch of cheese and crackers and Heineken.
After lunch I pumped up the Avon and put it over the side. This was a precaution. I do not have a boarding ladder on GANNET. I believed that I could get back aboard by tying a loop in a line secured to a cleat as a foothold, standing in it and pulling myself up. But I had never done so, and the prospect of an old sailor hanging onto to GANNET until help came is too pathetic.
Avon inflated and over the side, I climbed down, put on fins and face mask and went for a swim.
Coral, not spectacular, and some fish. Also not spectacular.
While I was in the water, another boat come in to anchor and I was pleased to see did so a reasonable distance from GANNET.
I swam back to the little sloop.
This was my first time to inspect the bottom since leaving San Diego.
In Neiafu I had seen some green vegetation growing near the bow on the port side and so had put a brush in the Avon. The growth was easily removed, as was some above the water line near the stern. There was some scum on the rudder, also easily brushed off.
Otherwise the bottom was clean and smooth. No hard growth at all. International Ultra is good antifouling.
I had to shorten the loop in the line from the port stern cleat three times before I got it right, but then left foot in, right in the circular hole in the transom I assume was intended for a man overboard pole and I was back aboard.
A solar shower.
Rum and tonic on deck accompanied by Shostakovich Preludes on deck; dinner of freeze dried Pad Thai, which actually tasted like Pad Thai in the Great Cabin; and I’m about to retire to the v-berth to read.
August 19, Tuesday
Late on a sunny afternoon and I’m about to go on deck and deflate the dinghy, which is presently floating upside down beside GANNET, drying the bottom after I scrubbed it. Vegetation obviously grows well in Neiafu Harbor and, in addition to the weed on GANNET, the dinghy had growth after little more than a week in the water.
From anchored GANNET blue to turquoise water is surrounded by land. I’m not sure how many islands I’m looking at. I think six. On all of them, only a few houses can be seen, probably not more than a half dozen. Last night after dark there were no lights visible on any shore. In fact the only light was GANNET’s anchor light. The other boat here didn’t turn his on.
This morning I finished rewriting the passage log from Apia into narrative form for a magazine article, oiled the tiller, cabin floorboards and the companionway bulkhead; scrubbed the deck; and rowed most of the way to a small, pretty beach on the other side of this cove. Only most of the way because as I neared, I left the protection of the headland and the water become white-capped and broke on a shallow ledge that prevented me landing. So I rowed back to GANNET, had lunch of cheese and crackers, and then snorkeled.
The coral is mostly drab, but there are some colorful fish and many colonies of sea urchins. The water is much cooler than in Apia, as is the air. Comfortable after a slight first shock.
I managed to climb from the water again via the looped rope and so will deflate the dinghy preparatory to moving somewhere else tomorrow.
I had the anchorage to myself for an hour this afternoon, but another boat came in and I hear the motor of a third.
I may only move less than a mile to one of the mooring buoys I passed off the small island of Lape on my way here. The location is appealing, but may be rolly.
So, a day at the office.
Almost five o’clock. Office hours are over. If you have been here a while you know where I’m going and what I’m going to do. If you are new: on deck for libation, music and study shades of green.
August 20, Wednesday
Atypically the wind was from the north this morning. Not strong in the anchorage at Vakaeitu, but we also had a low tide that exposed coral not far off GANNET’s stern.
Finally just before noon the wind swung southeast and I lowered the Torqeedo into the water and started pulling in the anchor rode.
I had tried to see the anchor while I was swimming, but visibility did not enable me to do so. Anchoring on line around coral is always problematic. As the 90’ marker broke the water, we were caught. I went aft and put the Torqeedo in forward gear. Still caught. Went aft and put it in reverse which broke us free. I am using eight strand 1/2” nylon, stronger than GANNET requires, because it provides more protection from chaff. As the rode came in parts were discolored by whatever it had been caught on, but not frayed.
For a single-hander from the moment the anchor breaks free of the bottom to when it is secured at the bow, his boat is adrift. GANNET’s 10 pound spade and 20’ of chain at the end of the nylon don’t weigh much. I can pull them up fast.
When I was able to move to the tiller, our bow was pointing toward the shore, so I reversed out until I had room to turn forward.
Letting the tiller pilot steer, I went forward and sorted out the anchor and rode, then tied one end of a dock line to a bow cleat.
As we neared Lape, less than a mile away, I spotted the three buoys off her northwest side I had seen on Monday. All were vacant as they had been since then. I picked up the one nearest the island. It is quite comfortable at present with only a little more motion than at Vakaeitu.
I can see the two boats anchored at Vakaeitu. Three others behind a small island to her east. And another at an island farther south.
I don’t recall if I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my Torqeedo batteries is no longer taking a full charge. No 1 stops at 88%. I have recently been using number 2, which does still charge to 100%; but it too seems to be discharging faster. The ten or fifteen minutes I had it in operation as I entered Vakaeitu and the half hour powering over today discharged it to 64%. Good enough for my purposes. But these batteries cost $600 and are supposed to last five years. Number 1 is three years old. Number 2, presently being charged, two.
The mooring at Lape was wonderful. Space and openness behind us, but protected smooth water. No one took the other moorings, so I had the place to myself. Two small local boats were at a dock a quarter mile away. There is a village somewhere on the island, but I’ve never seen even a glimpse of it. From the mooring Lape appeared uninhabited.
After a comfortable night I dropped the mooring at about 9:30 on a sunny morning and unfurled the jib.
The wind was much lighter than it had been, only 5 or 6 knots and from the east. I had to tack across smooth water looking for isolated patches of coral. As soon as I had enough room to let the tiller pilot steer, I raised the main, and GANNET had a wonderful sail all the way back, although all to windward. Perfect temperature. Perfect light wind.
The number 2 tiller pilot definitely works, but the wind is so variable off the islands and gaps between them that I hand steered most of the way, which was all to windward, moving forward with the tiller extension to handle the jib sheets when tacking, then back aft. GANNET sailed mostly at 5 knots, sometimes 6, and occasionally 2 when caught in wind shadows between islands. It was lovely.
Up the final three mile stretch of water leading to Neiafu, I tested Raymarine 3. It does not work. Doing nothing for a couple of minutes, then going hard over from port to starboard and back again.
I dropped the main and lowered the Torqeedo into the water after a tack a mile from Neiafu, earlier than I should have. Furled the jib two tacks later when the wind went soft, and Torqeedoed to the moorings.
In my absence, I’ve lost my free mooring. I thank Rik for its use. I’m now paying 15 panga a day, which is about $9 US a day.
Before leaving Cape I had set up the GoPro in its rail mount on the stern pulpit to take a photo every 60 seconds. It was a perfect day for it, with excellent sunlight and color on the land and water, and GANNET sailing close to islands before tacking. I expected to have some great shots. But when I went to upload them to my computer, I found that I must have had the settings wrong for there was only one photo of me when I pressed the shutter button. So it goes.
I’ll go ashore and forage later this morning. I am on my last box of Kleenex, my last roll of paper towels. I thought I had found boxed fruit juice, but it is only sugar water. Rich and Cyndi, who have left for Fiji, told me about a couple of stores of which I was unaware.
Another sunny, pleasant morning in Vavau.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
The missionaries were very successful here as in Samoa.
Today is Sunday and I had arranged a Skype call to Carol at 11 a.m. my time/5 p.m. Saturday hers. Until I rowed ashore, I did not realize that The Aquarium Cafe doesn’t open until late afternoon on Sundays; and as I walked the quarter mile to ‘downtown Neiafu’, shown above on a busy Saturday, everything was closed and nothing was stirring except an old sailor, until with relief I saw The Tropicana’s open doorway.
The Skype call worked, and the scrambled eggs, toast and coffee were good.
Some readers have expressed surprise that I’ve had trouble with GANNET’s limited electronics, while others have expressed surprise that the tiller pilots lasted as long as they did.
That the first tiller pilot steered for 4,000 miles gave me a perhaps false optimism. I did buy a waterproof bag that I thought I could use as a cover, but it was too big. I will try to have a cover made in New Zealand, and I will tape a piece of trash bag to the the tiller pilot arm and body leaving enough to enable movement; but there are clearly conditions in which an above deck pilot can’t survive long on GANNET. I’m going to have to go earlier to tying down the tiller or get serious about sheet to tiller self-steering. Or steer myself. Or heave to and wait for the wind to change.
Another concern is the Aurinco solar panels. Some of you have bought them based on my experience. However, one of six has failed and another seems likely to, which would be an unsatisfactory failure rate of 33.3%.
The problem is ingress of water into the panels at the point the two small wires transmitting created electricity exit them. These are factory sealed; but obviously not well enough.
This is a problem common to solar panels. I’ve had other brands on other boats fail because of water getting into the exit junction boxes.
The Aurinco panels are guaranteed for ten years on a pro-rated basis after the first two years. They will be inconvenient to ship back; but I expect I will do so.
I would buy Aurinco panels again for their low profile and ability to follow a slight curve in deck installation. But I would put extra sealant around the wires.
My slight problem with the Yellowbrick in no way diminishes my considering them an excellent product with excellent support. They probably were never intended to be used outside on a submarine.
The Blue Sky Solar Boost 2000e is functioning properly. Not having a back-up was a mistake I will rectify when I can.
Whatever was causing the Windex to stick was shaken away on the passage from Apia and it is now telling me the truth again.
Illinois boat registrations are good for three years. GANNET’s was renewed this year. I put the 2017 stickers over the old 2014 ones before I left San Diego in May. A few days ago I noticed that the new stickers have been washed from both sides of the bow. Looking back at past photos, I see that the port side sticker disappeared between San Diego and Hilo. I don’t know where the starboard one was lost.
Somehow I don’t expect this to be a problem outside the U.S. Or for that matter Illinois.
I expect to be away at anchor for the next few days.
For those interested I’ll send manual positions from Yellowbrick.
The tracking page is here.
Friday, August 15, 2014
I wrote the following yesterday afternoon then went on deck for a sunset rum and tonic and brie and crackers.
The temperature was lovely. The water lightly rippled.
I watched the sun intensify color on west facing hills while listening to three versions of “Raglan Road” which I’veI long had in my music library but was recently brought to my attention again by Shane who lives near Laphroaig country. I enjoyed the lyrics more knowing the story behind them.
It was all almost perfect. Only lacking was Carol to share the serenity.
Neiafu Harbor is about 1.5miles/2.4 kilometers long and .5 mile/.8 kilometer wide, almost land locked and very deep. The entrance is narrowand once inside you seem to be on a lake.
One of the many ways in which the harbor is more pleasant now than in the past is that rental moorings are available. I’ve anchored here. It is one of the deepest places I’ve ever anchored. 90’ is excessive.
After three days of overcast and rain early in the week, the sky cleared and the weather is perfect. A breeze blowing from the south and temperatures in the low 70sF/22C are in welcome contrast to my last three ports which were at least 20°F/11°C hotter and the slightest movement resulted in sweat. I am quite comfortable in mid-afternoon in GANNET’s Great Cabin and even sleep inside the light sleeping bag instead of on top of it for the first time since east of Hilo
As I have mentioned before, life here is also much enhanced by several cafes onshore, chief among these The Aquarium Cafe, which doesn’t have an aquarium, but does provide trash disposal and drinking water for small fees, free Internet and reasonably priced food and cold libations.
There are several others. I’ve eaten tapas at The Basque Tavern, scrambled eggs at the Bella Vista, and coffee and pastry at The Tropicana, which is presently doing my laundry.
Eating ashore is desirable because Neiafu has never been a good place to provision and still isn’t.
There are eight or nine one-room stores. Some pretentiously named.They are dark and unlit inside with two or three rows of the worst of canned goods and an abundant supply of cookies and junk food.
The only canned tuna is “tuna flakes” which has to be the detritus left when every other part of the fish has been processed. Mackerel is the only other canned fish available. I haven’t had the nerve to buy any. Nor imitation Spam or Vienna Sausages. Nor canned corned beef.
The only nuts available are cans of peanuts roasted in China. These are actually rather good and haven’t killed me yet.
This is the first place I ever recall where I can’t buy raisins—called sultanas in many countries; but unknown by either name here.
An obvious reason why there is little canned fish or dried fruit is that they eat fresh.
In an effort to preserve my supply of trail mix, I went to the open market and bought plantains to put on my oatmeal along with Chinese peanuts. Quite good, but I was pleased to find at one store ‘Cake Fruit Mix’ which does contain sultanas and other dried fruit. Though sugar has been added, it provides variety to the oatmeal.
I can buy oatmeal here, but may not need to.
Unless eaten ashore, lunch presents a problem. Again I’m trying to save my remaining cans of chicken and tuna for the passage to New Zealand.
I have found cheese in stores, but without refrigeration it won’t last more than three days on GANNET.
I have tried cooking a freeze dry meal for lunch, eating half then and the other half for dinner; but this is not appealing.
Generally I eat lunch ashore and today had a fish burger at the Aquarium. I bought some Brie and will have it and crackers on deck with libation and music at sunset.
If the weather holds, after trying to make a Skype call to Carol Sunday here/Saturday in the U.S.—the Internet connection may be too slow—I’ll sail to one or more of the many fine nearby anchorages next week for a few days snorkeling.
I’ve had several emails from Yellowbrick support who strongly advise me to keep the unit inside the cabin until I can return it to them for service. This means that I will be sending manual positions rather than having that done automatically. I tested earlier today and the position was successfully transmitted with the companionway closed.
The unit is functioning, but the battery continues to drain more quickly than normal. When not sending a position manually, I have it deactivated. I’ll try to remember to send a position from wherever I anchor.
On the passage to New Zealand, I’ll send a position when I get up in the morning, at local noon, and when I go to sleep at night. More even than in the past, failure to have a position on the tracking map should lead to the conclusion not that I’m in trouble, but that the unit is not working.
The top photo of me was taken by Rich, the tiller pilot whisperer, for which I thank him.
Monday, August 11, 2014
Rain, occasionally moderate but mostly misty, seems finally to be ending after two days. I was fortunate that Saturday was sunny and I could dry the Great Cabin.
Reportedly the wind is still blowing 20+ knots at sea and may finally decrease in the next few days, a week too late for GANNET and me.
With thick overcast I’ve had little solar charging, but with a bit more sunlight, the regulator seems to be working properly.
I emailed Yellowbrick and received, as always, a prompt and useful response. Most likely the problem is ingress of water at the charging USB port at the bottom. An O ring that should be on the cap isn’t. I don’t know when or how it could have been lost.
I have cleaned and dried that port and managed to get the unit fully charged. I activated it, and in twenty-four hours the charge has dropped to 93%, considerably more than normal, and a red light that flashes every ten seconds when the Yellowbrick is charging continues to do so even when it isn’t. I’m going to let it run another day. It is possible that it is working well enough.
Below is the passage log.
I had to type it into the computer yesterday. Underway I wrote it by hand in a water resistant notebook. I never removed the laptop from its Pelican case during this passage.
GANNET’s daily runs were remarkably consistent:
12 miles to noon the first day; then 112; 112; 110. For the three full days that’s a 4.6 knot average. More than I expected. I was always in damage avoidance and trying to slow the little sloop down.
GANNET’s daily runs since leaving San Diego now total 5200 miles. The remaining distance to the waypoint at the entrance to the Bay of Islands is 1,171 miles.
August 5, Tuesday
0915 Sailed from dock under mainsail with first breath of wind. No need to fit and then remove Torqeedo.
Once out in the harbor I engaged tiller pilot while I brought in and stowed dock lines and fenders, then unfurled jib and took the tiller myself to sail out pass. In ocean, engaged tiller pilot again.
1000 Sunny day. Broad reaching NW to clear reefs that extend far from shore. Windex which had been working at dock stuck. Tied short pieces of red yarn to shrouds as tell tails.
13°44’S 171°56’W Vavau 325 miles 201°
SOG 5.3 COG 260°
day’s run 12 miles
Rolling along at 5 to 6 knots under jib alone. Wind directly behind us. Fifteen miles to clear the west end of Upolu. Then 310 to Vavau and another eight to Neiafu harbor. Clouds over Upolu and the other big island, Savaii. Conditions rough an hour ago, but less wind now. I’m in no rush to reach the corner and have to harden up.
1400 In the lee of Upolu. Wind very light. Rolling in following seas. Seven miles to go before turning to 201°.
1630 Pounding into and falling off waves under reefed main alone close-hauled port tack.
I steered the strait between Upolu and Savaii. Chaos.
Strong gusts of wind. No wind. Jagged waves leaping up from all directions. Conditions like overfalls where seas of unequal height come together.
After we rounded corner, I remained on deck in foul weather gear trying to find the best path and sail conditions through rough seas. I’m hoping that as we move away from the islands the wind and waves will decrease.
I forgot to remove the American flag from the backstay. Fluttering wildly. Too dangerous to try now. I’m writing this in pencil in a notebook. Too rough to remove computer from Pelican case.
Good consequence: the Windex has been shaken free and is now functioning.
When on deck I had companionway closed and slat in place. No water down below. Now I have the slat out for ventilation and some water is coming in through that opening. But none from the sides, and we’re taking a lot of water over the deck.
1800 GANNET slowed so set some of the jib. Trying to balance having enough sail to power through waves without leaping off them with thunderous crashes.
1830 I’m sitting on the port pipe berth facing west. Sun setting behind clouds.
A wave just crashed aboard.
Sky smoke, sea pewter.
We’re moving along quite well. Still rough, but this has been about as I expected.
I smell of whiskey. I had just poured a plastic of Jameson’s when GANNET leapt off a wave. When she landed, half the pour leapt onto me.
August 6, Wednesday
0740 A horrible night. I’m not sure I got any sleep before 2330. I know I didn’t between then and 0400.
At 2330 wind accompanying rain rounded us up and and the off course alarm went off. I got up and furled the small amount of jib set. GANNET continued under reefed main alone, leaping off waves and landing with terrible thuds.
I lay on the pipe berth unable to sleep. Finally at 0400 after two especially shuddering landings, I got up, put on foul weather gear and headlamp and went up and tied in the second reef, which on GANNET is at the third reef level. This helped.
I sat at Central, what I call my usual location in a SportASeat on the cabin floor facing aft. Drank a box of apple juice and managed to get a little sleep sitting up.
Several episodes of brief, heavy rain during the night.
During the night something started to groan. At first I thought it was the rudder, but the sound is coming from the starboard bulkheads. No cracks. They look secure, if unhappy.
At 0615 first light I put on foul weather gear again and went on deck to look around and set a tiny amount of jib.
Wave just crashed aboard.
We’re now sailing under triple reefed main and a t-shirt of jib, making 4-5 knots, not pounding too hard, and have 230 miles to go.
The wind may have diminished slightly, but still far more than forecast fifteen knots.
Writing this by hand in water resistant notebook. Won’t risk removing laptop from Pelican case.
0845 Tiller pilot just died. Not surprising in these conditions. Only old Autohelm that came with GANNET left. I’m saving it. Sailing almost close-hauled with tiller tied down. But I have to be ready to go out at any moment.
Conditions very rough.
0930 I opened the tiller pilot housing. Not a lot of water inside. I removed water with paper towel and Q-tips. Closed it. Took it on deck. Hooked it up. Nothing. I also tried the Autohelm. It works. GANNET is sailing on course by herself.
15°18’S 172°49’W Vavau 214 miles 200°
SOG 4.1 COG 192°
day’s run 112
Still sailing with tiller tied down. Speed has dropped and am considering setting tiny bit of jib again. A crash just changed my mind.
1445 Slept an hour after protein bar lunch. Just out on deck in foul weather gear, unfurled part of jib and adjusted tiller line. Wind less than 20 knots. GANNET finds a smooth patch and accelerates quickly to 6 or 7 knots, then bashes into or leaps off a wave and stalls to 3.
1640 Wind maybe forecast 15 knots.
Set Autohelm tiller pilot to steer for night. Changing wind speed or direction would upset balance and take us off course with tiller tied down and I need sleep.
Still taking a lot of water over the bow, but it is not blowing all the way aft to the tiller pilot. Autohelm noisier than Raymarine. Low moan. Let’s hope it is more waterproof, too.
Whatever was groaning around the bulkheads has stopped.
1830 I have seen this so often before: what was so hard becomes with a change in wind force or direction so easy. GANNET is moving smoothly through reduced waves two and three knots faster than she was smashing into them last night. Timing, if not everything, is a lot.
August 7, Thursday
0830 Last night couldn’t have been in greater contrast to the night before. Wind moderate. Seas lower. Little angle of heel. I slept soundly until 0500, two hours before dawn, when the wind began to increase,
I went on deck at 0620, first light, disengaged the Autohelm and tied down the tiller again. Also furled more of jib.
We’re occasionally leaping off waves again and heeled 20°-30°. I don’t like 30°, but nothing more I can do about it. Water coming aboard and down below, though not nearly as much as before I unblocked the hatch drains.
120 miles to go.
I really wanted an easy day.
Not going to happen.
0930 Reduced jib to tiny scrap.
Wave just crashed into GANNET’s side. Not even a very big one. Thunderous.
1030 Very rough. Opened companionway—foul weather gear a given—and furled scrap of jib. No good. Just hobby-horse up and down in same place, so eased a bit of jib back out. Noisy. Leaping and pounding. Waves smashing aboard. Just have to get thorough this day and night.
17°04’S 173°29’S Vavau 102 miles 201°
SOG 4.7 COG 190°
day’s run 112
In cockpit to tie loops to tiller and position blocks for sheet to tiller self-steering in case wind shifts. Tiller tied down only works close-hauled or very close reach.
1420 Several waves in succession washed over us. I said 20+ knots of wind from ahead would turn GANNET into a submarine and it has.
1620 While I would prefer to steer an accurate compass course as we approach landfall, conditions are too rough to risk the Autohelm and I’ll leave the tiller tied down, unless wind and water coming over deck significantly decrease.
We’re 80 miles to waypoint off the entrance to the passage into the islands and 7 less than that to the north coast of Vavau, the main island of the group to which it gives its name.
Continued solid low overcast.
As we stagger on, I’ve diverted my mind from this bedlam with an early gin and tonic and working a jigsaw puzzle on the iPad mini. Just finished the puzzle—a drawing of San Francisco in sailing ship days—and the drink.
If GANNET continues to leap off waves—and if we are to make any progress, she must—I won’t get much sleep tonight. There are times I have figuratively said to the ocean, “All right, bring it on.” And to my boat, “I’ve eased your way as much as I can, but now you are just going to have to take it and hold together.” Thus far they have. But these landings are wrenching. I don’t see how GANNET holds together. How any boat can.
1700 A few patches of blue sky astern. I don’t know their meaning, if any.
Nights are long here. Thirteen hours. 1800 to 0700. 0600 still fully dark. We have a waxing gibbous moon. I saw it last night. Not at all the night before.
My left shoulder aches. Facing aft wedged into Central with the boat heeled far to starboard, my weight is on that shoulder.
1830 70 miles to go at unseen sunset. Total cloud cover.
I’ve never been on deck on this passage without foul weather gear and seldom even open the companionway without wearing it. However, I just did to reach out to bring the Velocitek below to change batteries, and two waves got me. Shorts and t-shirt soaked. Changed.
Wind remains 20+ knots.
August 8, Friday
0440 22 miles to waypoint.
A fierce night.
I went to the pipe berth at 2000, but no chance of sleep. GANNET and waves continuously crashing. Got up at 2130 and finished reading Ralph Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN. Back to berth at 2300. Lay there awake. Maybe a little sleep after 0200.
Just checked. We’re on course with tiller tied. Will hold off using Autohelm.
Cooler last night and now, though we’re at 18° South.
0700 Just set Autohelm to steer. At first it didn’t work. I checked the plug and saw corrosion around one of the two pins. Cleaned and WD40ed. Worked.
Vavau visible nine miles ahead. North and west coast 500’ sheer cliff. Darker gray island against gray sky and sea.
The pants of my foul weather gear slid from where I stowed them between the pipe berths to under the companionway. Wet inside. Wearing them anyway. Not going to bother to dig out my other set. Not too long before we are inside passage between islands.
1200 Tied alongside fishing vessel to wharf Neiafu. This is the smaller of two wharves, but too big for GANNET.
The entrance passage is wide but leads to the southeast.
We had to tack up it in lulls and gusts. I steered with the tiller extension from the forward end of the cockpit where I could reach the jib sheets to tack, then back to hold the tiller. Gusts of 25 knots buried GANNET’s lee rail. Waves were only 1’-2’ and we powered through them rather than leapt, often making 7 and 8 knots.
A couple of small islands in the passage. Off one of them I saw three power boats near what I first thought were exposed rocks before one of them spouted and I realized they were whales. The power boats followed the whales. I did not.
After beating up the first passage, I was able to turn northeast up another for the final three miles. Less wind. Engaged the Autohelm. Fit outboard bracket and Torqeedo. Lowered main. Prepared dock lines and fenders. Tried calling Neiafu Port Control on handheld VHF. No response.
Gannet was making six knots under jib alone across smooth water. Wonderful. As we neared the narrow entrance into almost landlocked Neiafu, the wind headed us. I started the Torqeedo fifty yards off the first channel buoys and furled the jib.
When we turned into the harbor, the wind jumped in force and I had to give the Torqeedo more rpms than usual. Two catamarans were tied to the fishing wharf on either side of a local fishing boat. Some men waved me to tie to the fishing boat. I came alongside and handed them my lines.