Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Murphy Strikes!

I tend to get a little wary when things start going too smoothly and sure enough, just as I was congratulating myself in the morning on finally getting out of the Easterlies by slamming NE through the night, both the electronic autopilots went off in quick succession! Hove to, had a quick breakfast of Oats & coffee and got down to finding a remedy. Four bolts holding the Starboard autopilot motor have sheared off making the motor rotate around itself  instead of steering! By end of the day managed to lash up the motor as changing the bolts will involve dismantling the entire steering gearbox and make it impossible even to use the Wind vane. Not sure how long it will hold specially in stressful conditions, for the autopilot that is, so will keep it for using in an emergency. Looks like the rest of the leg will have to be done using the Wind Vane or hand steering. No more comfort of push button steering from inside! The wind played truant through the day so we were more or less drifting around till midnight. Finally started getting a 15 kt NNW breeze and we are back to an Easterly course with the Wind Vane maintaining course.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Oh these maddening Easterlies!!

For the last two days we have been getting strong Easterlies forcing us to head South instead of East. This is something totally unexpected for these latitudes where the normal wind direction is supposed to be Westerly! By evening we had almost reached the latitude of Cape Horn, and the end of the Skipper's patience! So tacked and now making slow NE progress against a swell. Not the most comfortable way to sail with the boat falling off the swell and hammering in the troughs every now and then, but there didn't seem much choice unless the destination was Antarctica! It has been drizzling throughout making everything damp and cold. Hoping for the wind to shift, well it has to eventually, in any direction but the East!

          Since Jessica mentioned my blog on hers there seems to be a sudden increase in comments and questions. While it may be difficult to answer all from a bouncy boat, here are answers to a few common ones. I do not have any HF communication so all communication is by normal e mail using Fleet Broadband. I started from Mumbai on 19 Aug and stopped at Fremantle & Lyttelton enroute. Plan to stop at Port Stanley and Cape Town before heading home so one can say I am around the half way point of my trip. My boat Mhadei was named after the old name of the river she was built on. The river is called Mandovi these days and runs through the state of Goa on the West Coast of India.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A memorable Christmas!

This year we are bringing up the rear as far as Christmas goes with the rest of the world barring Polynesia, Hawai and Alaska having already passed on to boxing day as I write. One can be a little flexible with dates at sea, specially so close to the date line and alone. Jessica Watson, the youngest solo circumnavigator, sailing 600 Nm ahead of me and the closest human being at this moment confirmed that she was planning to celebrate Christmas on 24 Dec, local date, as it would be 25 Dec at her home in Australia. Deciding to follow suit on Mhadei, some excellent cake, so thoughtfully handed over just before departure by Mrs Fitzgerald of Lyttelton, was cut and devoured for breakfast. A good lunch and dinner should logically have followed but with Mhadei bouncing around in 30 kts winds the cook wasn't really feeling upto something elaborate. He did make up for it today though, serving some excellent Thai curry with dried prawns and hot steaming rice. No prizes for guessing the desert! Christmas cake naturally! And so shall it be so for the next couple of days!

          Looking back, it was just two years back on this day that we had a little ceremony at the Aquarius boat yard to start the construction of Mhadei. I had barely made it to the yard having had my car smashed up a few days back while attempting to drive down to Goa from Mumbai. The building contract was yet to be signed and Ratnakar flew down the next day to Delhi to sign the contract with the Navy! It may sound funny now but I had never seen a boat being built, Ratnakar had never sailed or worked with the Navy, I dare say the powers be at the Naval Headquarters who were paying for the construction had no idea about either! Warship construction and dinghy sailing yes but Yacht construction and Ocean sailing most certainly no! And here we are, two years later, merrily sailing half way across the world as if it is the most normal thing to do!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sailing in the Fearsome Fifties

The unexpected Easterly and North Easterly winds in the last couple of days pushed us South earlier than expected but after being becalmed for over two days moving anywhere was welcome! The wind is still oscillating between North & NNW making us sail a narrow reach to run the longitudes. Today was an  exceptionally good day with a clear sunny sky and 15 kts of Northerly breeze propelling us almost dead East at a healthy 7 kts. Lets see how long the good times last and the Fearsome Fifties start showing their true colours!

          Finished reading "A voyage for Madmen" by Peter Nichols which is an account of the Sunday Times Golden Globe race of 1968, the first Solo round the world race! I think sailing today is a cakewalk compared to what the participants of that race went through! After reading such a spellbinding book almost without a break, it was time for some light entertainment so watched "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", that evergreen musical comedy with Marlyn Monroe!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Stuck in High Pressure!

The last two days have probably been the most sedate so far. Unexpectedly, we are stuck in a High Pressure area with very little winds and it feels as if we are just drifting around! Luckily there isn't much swell and clear skies so it is fairly comfortable though we would rather be moving along! The cook is having a field day cooking Dosas, Bhepuri, Prawn Curry, the works! While the skipper spends sleepless nights looking for every whiff of wind and hand steering often when the autopilot gives up due to very slow speeds and erratic wind direction.

     Finished "The Glass Palace" by Amitav Ghosh. Excellent book and the second I have read by the same author on Mhadei. Coincidentally I was wallowing in the doldrums near the equator on my way back from Mauritius earlier this year while reading the first one! It does help having a good book to read to keep your mind off the frustrations of wallowing around on windless days. Wondering which one to start next, though the wind seems to be picking up slightly. Heading on a more Southerly course in an effort to get out of the High pressure system and also reduce the distance to destination by sailing closer to a great circle route.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Goodbye Lyttelton - A Little Town with a Large Heart

Mhadei sailed out of Lyttelton harbour at noon on 12 Dec 09, exactly a year after she was floated in her namesake river a year back. She was seen off once again by Adm Sureesh Mehta, this time as the Indian High Commissioner in New Zealand and a number of well wishers. I am saying a number of well wishers as there are far too many to name! We couldn't have chosen a better Port for a stopover than Lyttelton. This large hearted little town looked after Mhadei and her crew so well and made us feel at home that it became a bit difficult to say goodbyes. The Indian Navy tried to enlist the services of an agent in the Port to look after the boat & the crew but landed up getting a godfather in Capt Peter Rea, a Master Mariner & experienced Yachtsman who took it upon himself to ensure that both the boat & the crew were well prepared for the journey ahead! The Port waived off all the fees, the boat was blessed by a minister, stocked up with fresh fruit & goodies for Christmas, the crew  honoured with a traditional Maori welcome at Christchurch .........the list goes on! But then all good things have to come to an end and it is the lot of boats and seamen to move on! Giving some links of the departure below meticulously collected by the Indian Naval advisor Capt Jatinder Singh who went out of his way to look after us both at Fremantle & Lyttelton.







          Crossed the International date line today 14 Dec thus making it the longest day! A full 48 hrs as we will continue with 14 Dec tomorrow too. Suddenly from being 13 hrs ahead of GMT we are 11 hrs behind! The sea has been kind so far with about 15 to 20 kts of breeze, sunny days and clear nights. In fact almost got becalmed a few times! We are heading in a ESE direction and should cross Chatham Islands tomorrow, the last bit of land till South America almost 4000 Nm away.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mhadei chased by a Seal

I was told to look for mermaids before I started and today we were actually chased by a creature that would come closest to being described as a mermaid! A seal kept chasing us for over 15 minutes, coming quite close, stopping, taking a good look with its head bobbing above the water and as it fell behind, chasing us again. The sea was calm and we were doing an easy 6 kts. It was quite a sight, seeing it jump out of water and also swimming underwater when it would come close to the transom. A totally different experience than being followed by a dolphin.

Looks like this will be the last post of this leg. As I write we are about 30 Nm from Lyttleton harbour and need to reach there by 0530 to meet the pilot and our agent for the Port. The Defence advisor has planned some photography etc as we enter, so will show off a bit around the harbour and then enter by 1000 h. Judging by the links below we are more than expected in the harbour and looking forward to it!


This will be the end of leg II, the shortest of the legs. We would have covered over 3200 Nm in 20 days across the Great Australian Bight and the Tasman sea. Barring a few days while crossing the Tasman sea where the Southern Ocean showed a hint of what it can throw up, I must say we have had exceptionally good weather through out the leg. Trying to remain awake tonight as this if the first time since leaving Mumbai that we are sailing so close to the coast at night. Luckily it is warmer than the last few nights so easy to stay on deck all bundled up alternating between regular cups of hot soup & coffee.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Land Ahoy after 18 days

Sighted Snares Islands, a small group of Islands and rocks at the Southern tip of New Zealand, this morning. Very barren, thanks to the harsh weather they are exposed to throughout the year, but teeming with bird life I am sure. Small wonder that they have been declared a wildlife reserve. So this is where the Albatrosses & Petrels that have been following me come to nest! Started heading North East after crossing the Islands, the first time we are heading North in this trip. The next time will be after rounding Cape Horn and all the way home!

          Good following breeze and seas today translating into good progress. The winds are expected to start heading and easing from tomorrow which will slow us down so trying to make as much progress as possible while they last.  Spent the better part of the day making list of work to be done during the stopover. Unlike Fremantle, the planned stop is for two weeks so will need to get the work done quickly. The sun came up nicely in the afternoon and it was nice to just sit out and watch the birds putting up magnificent displays of their flying skills. Another 300 Nm to go but with a forecast for light and head winds difficult to figure out if we will be able to cover the distance in two days and one night or will require two days & two nights.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Heading for Southern tip of New Zealand

The gale that really rattled Mhadei and the crew for the last few days finally subsided. The winds reduced first and it took another day for the swell to come down so by morning it was fairly calm with about 2 mtrs of swell. The winds have started picking up again to about 25 kts and so has the swell, about 4 mtrs. But both are from behind making us do good speed towards the Southern tip of New Zealand. We need to go round Stewart Island off the Southern coast and then start heading up the coast in a North Easterly direction for the next two days to reach Lyttleton, the port for Christ Church.

          Made use of yesterday's calm weather to open up the broken steering assembly and put it back. While it will require work in the harbour presently it seems to be holding with an adhoc arrangement of securing with a bolt and some good rope. Also managed to have the first hot meal in the last few days with a menu of Sarson ka Saag, steaming hot rice and generous quantities of homemade Mango pickle! It is getting increasingly cold by the day. There were reports of sightings of Icebergs about 200 Nm South while we were going through the Gale. Usually I would be very curious to see an Iceberg but on a pitch dark night with the boat screaming downwind I would rather stay as far away as possible.

          Giving two photos of the different moods of the Southern Ocean taken in a span of less than 24 hrs. We were becalmed in glassy seas and then in less than 24 hrs struggling with 9 mtr swell and 50 kts winds!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Surviving the First Southern Ocean Gale

Since the last three days winds gusting to 55 Kts, Swell - 8 to 9 mtrs, temp below 10 deg C. Stay sail came down yesterday probably due broken halyard, waiting for winds to reduce to put it up. Starboard wheel had to be disconnected as the base holding its ram connection to the rudder broke in heavy weather so one electronic autopilot less and no Wind Vane autopilot. Port, and only, autopilot groaning badly and threatening to rip its base out! Doing over 8 kts with just 1/3 of main sail, 03 reefs, and still getting overpowered at times! Forecast predicts winds to reduce after tomorrow, keeping my fingers crossed!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pumps & Pancakes!

The day started with a nice sunny morning, putting the cook in a creative mood after a long gap. A grand menu of hot "pan to plate" pancakes & honey, fresh orange and freshly brewed coffee followed. The best part was sitting out in the sun and having it, bare feet & without any woolens! The calm following sea with a light breeze enabled the cook to cook in relative comfort and the Skipper to enjoy the breakfast without worrying about spilling things. The catch, and there always has to be one, was that despite buying the smallest of the ready mix bottles, the quantity of batter was enough to last for a couple of breakfasts! So a bit of experimentation followed for lunch, different combinations with cheese, chutneys, pickles etc! No prizes for guessing tomorrow's menu either, weather permitting of course!

          One of my bilge pump seems to have gone "Whacky" and I mean literally. Realized it was not working in the morning so checked all electrical connections, strainer and everything that could be checked without any luck when finally gave it two good whacks out of sheer frustration, rather than any technical competence, and it came to life! So till the next port the starting procedure includes, in addition to putting the switch on, opening the floor boards and whacking the pump while muttering a silent prayer! Having been somewhat lucky with the bilge pump, the confident electrician decided to tackle the fresh water pump next which had stopped working soon after Freo. Found a blown fuze that needed replacement, but then Murphy started acting and every fuze except the required 15 Amp one could be found. Confidently used a 30 Amp one as a substitute, started the pump and saw a wisp of black smoke rising near the pump! The supply to the pump was promptly switched off and the electrician sacked even faster! So no watermaker, which isn't a problem really as I have enough for more than a month, but the worse, no hot water baths! Which in this cold effectively means no baths till New Zealand! Looks like the Indian Defence Attache who has promised to be at Lyttleton before me will be able to sniff me out before I get alongside!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

One Week since Freo

          Completed one week since leaving Fremantle. I have found the first week to be the hardest to pass, letting go of the land ties, after that the days start passing faster. Unfortunately one needs to go through the first week afresh after every halt!

          Another calm day of sailing. Less than 20 kts of following breeze and a following sea making the boat move sedately, sometimes so much that one forgets that she is moving at all! Very glad that the preventer is working otherwise I would have been at my wit's end trying to stop the boom from thrashing about in these conditions!

          Watched a movie after dark and got out to see a nice starry sky. The first time in the past week! Can't sit out and admire it for too long though, due to the cold. Nice sunset earlier. Not often that you get to see the sun going down in the sea all the way!

Friday, November 6, 2009

A nice calm day in the Southern Ocean

Looks like a Cold front coming from the South met a Warm front from North not too far from us today. The result was a foggy day with intermittent drizzle, light winds and fairly calm sea. The wind didn't die down completely as I feared it would and we managed to keep moving at a leisurely 6 kts on a beam reach. The preventer rigged at Fremantle proved its utility as now even in light winds with a quartering sea  the boom does not thrash and the boat keeps moving. I had tried rigging it up during the earlier leg but ended up without much success and a mangled snatch block! The flaw in my arrangement was pointed out by Jon Sanders, a veteran at Solo circumnavigations, at Fremantle and looks like he was spot on!

          A sedate day, some quick cook Rissoto for dinner followed by a movie on the laptop. A far cry from being hosted by Pip & John last Friday to a dinner of gourmet Pizzas at a fancy place in Perth followed by a nice drive through the King's Park Botanical garden!  

Thursday, November 5, 2009

First Night in the Roaring Forties

We crossed 40 Deg S latitude today, home of the "Roaring Forties"! The wind has slowly backed from being Easterly last night to Northerly through the day and is now blowing from the NNW about 20 to 25 kts. That gives us a nice fast reach to sail onto the Southern Tip of New Zealand. It also means that we are not thumping into the swell any longer but cork-screwing about due to an almost quarterly swell. It has been raining on & off since morning with a thick cloud cover making for a cold gloomy day and a colder dark night.
          Saw a Ship's AIS icon on my chart plotter after lunch at about 3 Nm. Couldn't sight him visually and realized that I was yet to fix the VHF MMB set that had stopped functioning the day after leaving Freo. If the Ship wanted to call me or warn me there was no way he could, so got down to figuring out the loose wire that was the culprit. Not so easy on a jumping boat and with my terrible skills as an electrician! First managed to shut off the Chart plotter by pulling some wire, cause for real concern! Then managed to create enough sparking to panic and switch the mains off only to switch off the auto pilot with them! Ran out to get the boat under control, got the auto pilot going and spent the better part of the day sorting out the connections. Thankfully everything came on line by evening. Just another day on board!          

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rounding Cape Leuwin - Finally!

As I write this we are crossing the longitude of Cape Leuwin thus effectively rounding the first of the three "Great Capes" that make for a Circumnavigation. The next will be Cape Horn followed by the Cape of Good Hope. It has been a fairly uneventful day with a decent breeze that has been backing from ENE to NNE making us sail in the direction we want to go at a healthy pace. The wind has been picking up for the last couple of hrs and is expected to back further which will allow us to gradually starting reaching and  picking up speed without slamming around too much.

     The mystery of the broken clew of the Genoa and subsequent shredding was finally solved by John Sharpie, our good host at Fremantle and an experienced sailor. He reckons that a big wave must have hit the Genoa as we were slamming through the waves making the clew part. We were, when the incident happened, sailing upwind in a fairly large sea and had waves washing over the boat. One wave too big and that was the end of the sail!

     On the day I left Fremantle I met an old friend Timothy Ettridge. We had worked as part of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston's support crew during his Velux 5 Oceans race in 2006. It was quite a coincidence that he arrived at Fremantle the night before I was leaving and was there to see me off! Giving a link to his blog (here) for some photos & philosophy!  

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Goodbye Fremantle

Mhadei left Fremantle as planned on 01 Nov at 1030 local time on a nice sunny day after a sojourn of 05 weeks. The stay at Fremantle proved to be an excellent break for both the boat & the crew. However, it was time to move on before the land legs became too strong and the sea legs started fading from memory!

     We ran into head seas soon after rounding Rottnest Island North of Fremantle. It was almost a beat for the next two days in winds between 20 to 25 kts. The first night the Clew of the Genoa parted making the sail flog uncontrollably. By the time I could furl it the poor thing had shredded itself! The winds finally eased today and I managed to take down the torn sail and replace it with the spare one. Luckily we bought the sails from New Zealand and the repairs can be carried out at the loft it was made. Survived on some scrumptious Bologenese sauce so thoughtfully packed by Pip Sawyer till today's breakfast . I was supposed to have it with pasta but the boat was bouncing around so much it was much easier to have it with bread instead! Tasted as good!

     We seem to be sitting in a High pressure system since morning which means light and shifty winds. For once I am not complaining as otherwise it would not have been possible to change the sail. The weather forecast is predicting backing of the wind to Easterly and then NE direction which should start taking us towards New Zealand our next destination. 

Sunday, October 4, 2009

One Week in Fremantle

It has been little over a week that Mhadei sailed into the Fremantle Sailing Club escorted by a powerboat bigger than herself with the wind blowing over 35 kts. She was well received by representatives of the club, the Australian Navy, the Boat's agents and the mandatory Customs & Quarantine officials who finished off their inspections in no time and made us feel at home. Mr Jon Sanders, with four Solo Circumnavigations under his belt dropped by to check us out. Next afternoon we had a little reception at the club with the Hon Counsel General of India, the Indian Naval Attache, CO HMAS Stirling and a host of retierd Indian Naval & Army Offrs in attendance. My crew & lone support team Lt Cdr Abhilash Tomy fetched up the next day by air. Mhadei had beaten Air India by a good two days! Giving a link to an article published in the main newspaper in Western Australia.

We are presently enjoying the hospitality of the club & the City of Fremantle with Mhadei at a secure alongside berth and self at a serviced appartment not too far away. The club is planning to have their Opening season event on 11 Oct and we are invited for the sail past. Probably the first time an Indian boat will be taking part! Started working on the boat, cleaning up, changing chaffed lines, sending sails to the loft for minor repairs, a mast climb to check the fittings on top and a dive to check the bottom. Like the old adage,"a housewife's work is never over", the work on a boat is never over either, you always find something that needs to be done!

Apart from working on the boat there are small pleasures to be enjoyed! Like sleeping on a bed for the entire night instead of a bunk & a sleeping bag, making a cup of coffee and breakfast in the morning without bracing yourself for the next roll, having a hot water bath daily without having to worry about the watermaker, going to a vegetable market and buying fresh fruit, taking a long brisk walk without running out of walking space and the list goes on.........! Funny how many things we take for granted on land! Staying in a serviced appartment means I can mess around in the kitchen and my crew is the only & obvious guinea pig who eats whatever is served to him with a smile including some juicy Kangaroo steaks two days back!

     Looking forward to attending a concert by Jagjit Singh in the evening at the invitation of the Hon Counsel General!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Land Ahoy!

Mhadei got alongside safely at Fremantle Yacht Club Marina at 1630 (GMT + 8). More later as it is difficult to do "Elbow Bending" and blogging at the same time!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Over 5000 Miles Sailed 225 to go!

Looks like we are close to Fremantle finally! While 225 miles is almost the distance between Mumabi & Goa, after 5000 miles it does seem close! The wind continues to play its games so still not sure about the time it will take but two more days should be a fair guess. If the wind holds tonight this will be the last quite night before reaching as by tomorrow we should start encountering some traffic and would mean keeping a watch to avoid collision. Didn't write anything for the last two days. While the main reason was pure laziness, there was also little happening with light and shifty winds, an overcast sky and a feeling of heading nowhere! Kept myself entertained watching old Holywood moves so thoughtfully stocked by my crew Lt Cdr Abhilash Tomy. While I am enjoying my vacation on the boat the poor chap is running around from pillar to post in Delhi getting his deputation arranged for joining me in Fremantle as the support crew. The plan was for him to be present before we arrived so that things could be tied up better, but looks like we will beat him to it! The boat builder, Ratnakar is leaving aside his business and planning to drop by to get the boat ready for the next leg, which is when me and Mhadei will have our first brush with the Roaring Forties. So far it has been smooth sailing but things will get serious once we enter the Southern Ocean.         

     As I write, the Sun would be crossing the Equator and entering the Southern Hemisphere. It is the Autumnal Equinox today, the beginning of summer in this part of the world. One of the considerations for starting in Aug from Mumbai was to get maximum summer time in the Southern Hemisphere and we seem to have achieved it, just a day or two late!

     Tried clicking snaps of my feathred companions, without much luck! Difficult to capture their grace on a camera. Looks like there is no substitute but being at sea to really admire them! When I started writing and uploading the photos, I was keeping an eye open at the shifty and light wind which was barely able to hold the boom from thrashing and making us sail almost 40 degrees away from Fremantle. By the time I finished writing the wind had crossed 25 kts, making me run and put a reef in the main and I am still wondering if I should have put another reef! Looks like it will not be as quite a night as I thought, not complaining though as the wind is making us head straight for our destination at a healthy 8 kts!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

One month at Sea

It has been exactly a month since we left Mumbai which needless to say is a distant memory. Feels almost unreal thinking about it! There have been so many changes! For one when we left Mumbai it was so hot I couldn't wait to get my T shirt off, now I think twice before getting out of my clothes to go to the loo! The doldrums have been replaced by the "Coldrums" and the equatorial squalls by the cold fronts. We have covered over 4600 Nm so far and still need to cover about 750 Nm. Not really in a hurry, not that it would make any difference if we were, since our progress entirely depends on the winds. Good winds of 25 to 30 kts through the day with a large following sea making us do almost 90 Nm through the day. Another front passed us couple of hours back. Getting used to them now, which helps in reefing and getting ready to face them so much easier. The day was duly celebrated onboard with a "Bhelpuri Brunch"! Looks like another long night ahead with the winds regularly touching 40 kts and a large swell following us. the last time that happened, we were becalmed for the whole of next day! Lets see what tomorrow has in store for us. For now enjoying the fast progress towards destination!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Encounter with a Cold Front

We had our first encounter with a Cold Front last night. Having lived in the Tropics all my life this was my first experiece. Luckily I had read about the various stages of approach of a front in the morning so could understand what exactly was happening. I was watching a movie on the laptop late at night when suddenly the boat crash gybed with the boom slamming on the windward runner and the autopilot gave up. Realised that the wind had suddenly shifted making the boat gybe on her own. Got the boat under control, setting her on autopilot again, this time on the wind vane option to avoid any more accidental gybes. We were already sailing with one reef in the main and the Genoa, enjoying good speeds through the day. My wishful thinking that the wind shift was a one off occurence and that we will continue to enjoy steady winds came to a naught as the wind kept rising and shifting direction. By around 3 AM the wind was blowing over 35 kts with gusts of 40 kts, while backing slowly, making us head North instead of East with the boat almost out of contol! No choice but to reef, furl up the Genoa and then Gybe to get back to an Easterly course! By the time all this was over, dawn was breaking and I was desperate to get in the sleeping bag! The night had just gone by!

          My feathered visitor of yesterday had managed to get inside the boat during all this and must have been quite petrified what with me jumping around every now and then and the boat moving around changing her heel making it go skidding from one corner to another. Got the bird out at noon and helped him climb up the cockpit as sitting inside the boat, though safe, it would have starved to death. It spread its wings as if stretching itself in the sun, went to the stern and when the next wave lurched the boat, was gone! There were other birds around so couldn't make out which one was our visitor. My best guess is that it accidently landed in the boat at night instead of landing on the water and then couldn't take off as it needs space to do that. Or was it a real smart guy who sensed an approaching gale and rode it out in absolute comfort! We will never know!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Passenger on board!

Another good day of sailing! With a 25 to 30 kts of NWly breeze and 2 to 2.5 mtrs of SWly swell, Mhadei cruised along through the day clocking almost 100 Nm  since morning. If only these conditions last for the next couple of days! Though the forecast is for lighter winds for the next two days and already the wind seems to be reducing in strength. Its amazing how much difference sailing downwind makes as opposed to upwind. With similar conditions upwind we would have been slamming around as we did in the Trades, now, going downwind, anything below 20 kts is suddenly a cause for concern!

          This evening as I was making dinner, I heard a loud thrashing in the cockpit such as I have never heard before on the boat. After almost a month of solitude it made me jump, so left everything and took a look outside, only to find a passenger onboard! Not sure if the bird is hurt, tired or just missed water and landed onboard. Being a hospitable boat had to offer him something so in the absence of fresh fish, which I presume is its only diet, tried some dried prawns but it does not seem to be interested. Doesn't seem to be too scared of me as I discovered when I patted it a little and took these snaps. It tries to go out of the cockpit once in a while, needs a bit of help to climb up but then comes back instead of flying away. Not sure if it is unable to fly because it is hurt or it requires a running start to take off as I have seen them doing when they land on water. These type of birds have been following us for days now and we have developed an unspoken companionship so they are always welcome to hitch a ride! I think I will just let him be for the night. Will need to watch my step if I need to go out at night if the wind shifts or dies out lest I step on the poor thing. Maybe Adm Awati will be able to figure out what bird it is! 

Monday, September 14, 2009

Surprise Visitor!

Another good day with decent progress towards the destination. The 15 to 20 kts South Westerly wind made us head straight for Fremantle at a steady 7 to 8 kts through the day. Unfortunately that seems to be dying as I write. There is a Cold front couple of hundred miles to the South causing gale force winds, the swell created is rocking us nicely, unfortunately there is a huge High pressure system advancing on us from the West which will stop all wind. So we are going to have a deadly combo of swell and light winds. Really bad for the boat!
          Had a surprise visitor this morning in the form of a large fishing boat. I was on deck repairing some of the blocks that had got deformed due to the wallowing in the "Coldrums" when suddenly on the port beam saw this large fishing boat, less than 100 yards away! I had been working on the deck for over an hour, making trips to the mast etc but just didn't notice him till he was that close! It is the first ship or boat of any kind sighted since over a week and I had grown complacent about keeping a watch as there was no one to watch for nor did I expect to find anyone over 1500 Nm from the coast away from shipping lanes. Will need to start being more careful again. With the winds dying out, tonight seems to be another night of frequent trips out to take in or ease the main sheet. It is quite cold now so every time I go out I need to be dressed in warm clothes with shoes and by the time I get out of them and get in the sleeping bag it is time to go up again! What an exciting way to spend a night!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Out of the Coldrums finally!

The last three days in the High pressure system were probably the worst since we crossed the Equator! The sky used to be completely covered with clouds, no sun in sight, virtually no wind and enough swell to keep the boat rocking and the sails thrashing about. The nights were the darkest I have seen! Despite a half moon somewhere in the sky, its light just wouldn't pass the thick clouds. Difficult to sleep as either you are going up and tightening the main sail to prevent it from thrashing about or easing it as soon as you feel a whiff of wind. The autopilot would keep getting confused and start beeping every now and then leaving no option but hand steering. The auto pilot needs the boat to move to be able to steer her, once she stops moving it suddenly doesn't know what to do and starts calling your attention. Also in such light winds with swell the wind vane sensor keeps moving in all directions due to the rolling of the boat, the autopilot tries to follow it for a while and then gives up! These nil wind conditions are definitely more taxing to the boat and the crew than the blustery Trades, as I have started realising from the damage that has been inflicted on the boat in the last three days.
          Amongst all the frustations of the "Coldrums" something interesting happened late last night. It was drizzling slightly and I had stumbled out in the cockpit yet again, barely awake, to tighten the main sheet as the boom had started thrashing about. Suddenly felt as if a live 230 V wire had touched my face and I almost jumped out of my boots! How on Earth could I get a shock so strong with the whole boat wired for 24 V. Lightening? But I hadn't seen any lightening since the Equator! Fully awake by now, it slowly dawned on to me that it was static electricity! There is a small strop that keeps hanging from the end of the boom. I keep it there as it comes in handy to hold myself when the boat is healing. The strop was wet with the drizzle and had been swaying around due to the thrashing of the boom, developing a large amount of static which it promplty discharged the moment it touched my face! What a jolt!
          After the three dull days, today turned out to be an excellent day of sailing. The clouds cleared and the sun came out finally. The sea was calm, light cool westrely breeze just enough to make the boat move in the right direction and the sun just right to warm oneself sitting on the deck. It was an absolute pleasure to shed the woolens, sit in the sun and do some minor repair work. Plenty of birds around, counted atleast four different types. Its fun to watch them come and sit on the water. As they are about to land they lower their webbed feet and skid on the water almost like a waterskier. While taking off they almost start runnng on the water till they are airborne. Its a pity that it is almost impossible to capture them on camera in a moving boat.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Whales Ahoy!

          Yesterday was another windless yet busy day. Changed and reset some chaffed ropes in the morning, cleaned and arranged the boat a bit after the bashing of the trade winds. In the afternoon when it looked as if the wind was picking up a bit went up and as I was easing the mainsheet saw one of my worst nightmares coming true! The Padeye holding the mainsheet block had uprooted itself! This strong fitting basically attaches the boom to the boat and if it gets uprooted there is no way to control the boom which would start thrashing about causing serious damage including a possible dismasting in strong winds. Tried to tighten the padeye only to realise that two out of the four bolts attaching it to the boat had sheared off. Immediately shortened the sail and temporarily attached the boom to another padeye on the Port side. Consultations with the Boat Builder over the phone followed, with a conclusion that the only way to carryout any repairs was to cut a large hole under the Roll bar on which the padeye was attached. Sailing was stopped forthwith, the Shipwright summoned who spent the next couple of hours drilling a large enough hole in the roll bar to approach the padeye. That done the broken bolts were removed, new bolts fitted and all bolts secured with nuts to keep them in place. Thanks to Ratnakar's foresight all the necessary tools and spares were available and by midnight we were ready to sail again. The Shipwright with bruised fingers and glass fibre all over himself, with the resultant itching, had managed to do a fairly decent job and salvaged an otherwise tight situation for which he was duly awarded an "On the Spot" commendation and more importantly a hot bath past midnight!

       Another sleepless night followed in the shifty and light, often non existent, winds. Getting up and easing the main everytime the wind picked up and securing the boom to prevent it from thrashing once the bit of wind died out. We are close to a High pressure system and this is expected, the strong Westerlies lie to the South of this area. I have started calling it the "Coldrums", a colder version of the Doldrums! Thankfully the squalls are missing. The sky has been completely overcast since the last two days and it is getting colder by the day. The warm clothing is out and shoes are being worn at all times except the rare occasion when inside a sleeping bag. As I was having my morning cup of coffee Mhadei was greeted by the local residents! I counted atleast four whales who came quite close and I could hear them snorting. Thankfully they didn't want to play around with Mhadei, lost interest after giving her a lookover and went their way! Just a curtsy call perhaps!!