Monday, August 31, 2009

Greetings from the Southern Hemisphere

On the morning of 31 Aug 09 at 0848 hrs, Mhadei crossed in the Southern hemisphere at longitude 090 Deg 23' E! King Neptune who resides at the equator took one look at us and remarked,"You two! Not again!" This being our third crossing since May this year. Slightly North of the Equator the wind shifted to SSE making us head North East so it was time to tack and head SSW, a course we will maintain till almost 35 Deg South, then turn East for the home run to Fremantle. Looks like we found the South east trade winds right from the word go as we have been getting a steady breeze since morning. It takes us back to West a bit but atleast we are moving. What a change from the last 11 days! Both the wind and swell are against us so we are bouncing nicely but thats better than wallowing around in light winds and worrying about squalls. It was good to cross the line finally! Changing tack on a long passage involves certain lifestyle changes. For example for the last 11 days I was doing everything leaning to the right, now my leanings have shifted a distinct left! Not unlike our politicians I suppose! My galley being to the Port side and the boat leaning on the same side I could leave one odd cabinet open while cooking, this morning while preparing breakfast the contents tumbled out because the boat had started leaning to Starboard! While the doldrums near the equator drove us nuts with the squalls and shifty winds they also showed us some spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The beauty of the human mind is that the bad memories get erased quickly while the good ones stay on. So the bad weather is already a distant memory while the vividness of the sunrise on 30 Aug will remain in my head for a long time.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Abbreviated Blog from Mhadei

We seem to have sailed into the heartland of squalls and all of them seem to be curious about us and intent on checking us out. Need to be on deck all the time. Looks like tonight is going to be spent in Rain gear!

Good night

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ten days and 1500 Miles

We have been at sea for ten days and have covered exactly 1500 Nm . Not too bad considering the slow start. The grand flag off at Mumbai, the hectic activity before that, all are distant memories as if they happened in a different world! This state of bliss after a few days of sailing is really interesting, because then you stop worrying about the distance to be covered, the speed you are doing and the creature comforts of a land based life. Suddenly you are not in a hurry to go anywhere. Today was another perfect day! Just as I was having a cup of coffee, admiring the equitorial sunrise, a school of dolphins dropped by. Decided to use the video camera instead of the still and managed to get some good footage. Starting the day by saying hello to dolphins seems to be becoming a habit. They generally play around for about half hour or so before going their own way. The sunrises and sunsets close to the equator can be quite spectacular. The visibility is excellent, the sea appears flatter than usual and the sky is coloured with vibrant shades. A steady wind of between 10 to 15 kts through the day with a following sea meant Mhadei cruised along through the day on a beam reach with the Wind Vane auto pilot steering her. Even the squalls let us be today! Two of them did come close but passed us by without disturbing us. A grand breakfast of suji halwa, rice cooked with dried prawns and dal for lunch, soup and curried tuna for dinner all interspersed with helpings of the last of the fresh fruits and siestas after every meal! Can there be a better holiday! Its a beautiful night outside as I write, a bright moon, cool breeze, gentle sea, good music on the national service of AIR. I think I will sleep outside tonight, doze off watching the moon. Lets see how long these blissful days last since as we cross the equator and get into the trade winds, we will need to do some serious sailing in strong winds and big seas. But till then let us enjoy the moment! 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Perils of Sailing a good looking boat

I have been complimented about Mhadei's good looks and seen her attaract crowds in a Marina but never thought that this ability will extend to attaracting squalls! Saw it first hand last night when I would see a number of cloud patches on the radar, slowly they would gather together right on top of us, stay there and vent their contents on us with a vengence. The contents are mainly 30 to 40 kts of gusty winds and tons of water. It is a nightmare to have this happen to you several times on a pitch dark night near a shipping lane. Luckily I had put in a reef in the main sail and furled the Genoa to minimise the damage. Still no choice but to be up on the deck in your raingear trying to control the boat. The entire night was spent like that and by day break I was absolutely worn out. The wind had died out almost completely so instead of taxing the autopilot and myself anymore, locked the rudder and went to sleep. Must have slept for a couple of minutes and was woken up by the boat healing over 30 deg. Another squall had hit and Mhadei was going all over. Started hand steering to control her when probably due to lack of sleep or poor judgement the boat went into an accidental gybe, the boom crashing on the starboard runner and the boat behaving even more awkardly. Tried to rectify my mistake and the boom slammed back to its correct position but in doing so the mainsheet got snagged with the boat compass uprooting it. The compass is undamaged but its stainless steel mounting has broken. One job for the next port. Also noticed that the top two battens have broken probably due the continous flapping of the sails in nil wind conditions. Though I have spare battens it will be quite a task changing them at sea so will probably do it in port. May affect the efficiency of the sails while going upwind but thats better than messing around things at sea. Things improved by afternoon and I even managed to get
 some badly needed sleep. In the afternoon my old friend Cdr Paresh Sawhney came visiting with his ship. We had served together in the Eastern Fleet in 1995 as Lieutenants and it was nice to see him commanding a fleet ship. The truth that good things have to follow bad ones has been amply demonstrated tonight. As I write, its a cool, clear night outside  with a brilliant half moon, the wind is blowing steadily at about 20 to 25 kts and Mhadei is cruising at 8 kts on a broad reach in a folllowing sea. Absolutely perfect sailing conditions!

Dosa special on Mhadei

Late last night we crossed the Indian penninsula and by morning had crossed the Gulf of Mannar. That and the fact that we had covered the maximum distance of 182 Nm in 24 hrs so far, called for a celebration. The skipper ordered the Chef who in turn decided to do away with the usual fare of rice and canned stuff for the day and instead serve hot Dosas and Kapi! So "Pan to Plate" piping hot dosas was the menu for B'fast & lunch. Washed down with some fresh coffee brewed in the Italian Coffee maker fondly gifted by Ottavio and Pai! Absolutely delicious! Another reason to feel good was that the Wind Vane autopilot was put to work for over six hours in the morning and worked without a whimper even with following wind and sea. Thats good news because now I can conserve my diesel and also have something to fall back on in the absence of electricity. Its quite a nifty gadget which uses only the force of the wind and water rushing past the boat to keep her at the desired angle to the wind. The day progressed nicely, big ships passing by, rainbows and all till in the evening saw the first of the equatorial squalls approach. Some sixth sense prevailed and I furled in the Genoa. It was too late to put in a reef in the main. The squall hit, strong winds of about 30 to 35 kts first but Mhadei responded to hand steering, then heavy rain, not too bad, I was planning to have a bath anyway! Just when I thought we had weathered this one the strongest of the winds slammed in. Mhadei almost went over and then turned into the wind and got stuck for good. It was strange, with the main sail fully out and the rudder hard over the boat was just standing there facing the wind on an almost even keel. A new experience for me! These were followed by two bone crunching gybes as the boom slammed into the runner and it was with some difficulty that we managed to get back downwind again. I was soaked and on the edge when suddenly felt the sun warming by back. Looked back in surprise to see an almost clear sky with the sun shining as if the squall never happend! First thing I did was to put in a reef in the main as that experience is not something you want to go through after dark. Found four dead baby squids washed up on the deck. Took a long time to clear up the mess inside the boat as a lot of things had taken flight during our violent manouevers. Its past midnight now and I am sitting in front of the radar keeping an eye on the squalls. Two seem to be closing in so I better stop this and get ready to face them.

Monday, August 24, 2009

No Monday morning Blues on Mhadei

One good thing about sailing alone for longer than a week seems to be the total absence of the so common " Monday Morning Blues"! Either everyday is a holiday or there are no holidays, whichever way you look at it, though I am inclined to go with the former. A fairly good day after a long night thanks to regular squalls followed by very light winds.  We made good progress last night and somehow kept moving through the day. It became unusually cool through the night and I actually had to get my sleeping bag out. We are travelling through a shipping lane so a bit of company of big guys passing us. I would anyday prefer them to the unlit fishing boats. Most big ships have the AIS, paint well on the radar and so far seem to respond to a VHF call keeping clear of our erratic course. Not much fishing traffic as we are over 75 Nm from land. In fact as I write we are passing Cape Comorin, more commonly know as Kanyakumari, the Southernmost point of the Indian penninsula. The last time we passed this route was in May on the way to Colombo with Abhilash for company. Hard to believe that it was just three months back. It was our first trip abroad and I can still remember our apprehensions as the wind started going over 20 kts. The wind is going over 20 kts again but I am confortably sitting inside writing this. Both Mhadei and me have sailed over 7000 Nm since then and the mutual confidence has grown by leaps and bounds!  Today's day though truly belonged to the Autopilots. The Raymarine autopilot started working after sulking for the last two days. Its steering the boat now and I am keeping my fingers crossed. The wind vane autopilot, probably the least used equipment on board so far was put to use for a couple of hours and worked well. Plan to use it through the day tomorrow to reduce my electricity consumption. The day ended with a sail past by INS Bangaram who had come to check us out. The whole Ship's company had lined up on the deck to wish fair winds to Mhadei! Its almost 2130 now. After a rather heavy dinner of a large Tuna, Potato, egg and onion salad washed down with some hot soup its time to get into the daily cycle of catnaps through the night. Looks like another long night ahead as the wind is picking up intermittently, some squalls are visible and the shipping traffic needs to be watched out for. Started picking up the radio transmission like every night, Goa AIR of all the places, which is really nice if one has to stay awake!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Post from Mhadei 22 Aug 09

      Its around 2130, the crew has been well fed on a diet of brown rice and dehydrated spinach while Mhadei is enjoying a cruise on a broad reach in over 20 kts of steady breeze with a following sea. Rain through the day has brought down the temperatures and the radio is still picking up songs. Almost perfect! Makes you wonder if last night actually happened!
      Last night soon after I wrote the blog, the wind died out making the sails flap around violently. Furled the headsail and lashed the boom and the wind picked up to 30 kts. Got up and set the sails and the wind decided to vanish again. The cycle of squalls with shifty winds continued through the night making me forget the number of jybes I made just to stay straight. In the middle of one such jybes the Raymarine auto pilot decided to strike work! Luckily the Jeffa autopilot held fort and we managed to come through. The extra winches fitted at the last minute came in handy. Looks like the trouble of clearing them from cutoms and fitting them was well worth the effort. As if the wind wasn't enough, the moths struck with a vengence. The constant shifting of sails must have disturbed them, so when I was not struggling with the sails and getting wet outside, I was honing my shooting skills with a can of insect repellant inside the boat. These shifty and light winds can drive one absolutely nuts. It also tends to damage things as I discovered in the morning. The mainsail clew shackle, and its a real heavy duty SS shackle, had come off. The siezing wire had broken off and the threads worn out probably due to the constant slatting of the mainsail. Luckily a pare was available. One lazy jack was off and entangled with the starboard runner; was lucky to catch it before it was too late. Will see whats wrong with the Raymarine auto pilot tomorrow.
     Morning was absolutely windless with some swell. In a way that was good as I could check out the damage of the night and replace the shackle etc. Been getting good winds since afternoon. Started with a squall but the wind has continued, from North West! And I thought it was the season for South West Monsoons. There are regular squalls passing over but they don't seem to go over 30 kts very often, well within the capabilities of my most important crew member, the Jeffa autopilot.
     Covered over 50 Nm in the last 6 hrs, crossed Mangalore about 65 Nm away from land and now passsing the Kerala coast 67 Nm to the East.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Late night post from Mhadei 21 Aug 09

Through the day I was becalmed, since 2100 cruising at over 9 kts in 20 kts of wind. There is a huge cloud mass on me almost moving with me and its pouring buckets outside. The rain screen designed by Abhilash and Ratnakar has already proved its worth keeping me and the insides of Mhadei dry. Looks like another long night ahead but atleast we are moving!
The Sausage Pulao was delicious and should keep me going through the night!

Post from Mhadei 21 Aug 09

19 Aug 09 - Finally left at 1645 from Mumbai. After all the chaos the media created at the flag off, frankly was glad to get off. By 1720 the sail was up, I was panting like a dog with the effort of putting up the main sail but Mhadei was sailing nicely on a broad reach in NWly winds, a bit unusual for this season with the SW monsoon still supposed to be around. The wind kept increasing and for a while we were doing a healthy 10 kts with plans being made to cross Goa in 24 hrs! The wind kept shifting through the night. That and the fishing fleets signalled goodbye to any sleep. By early morning the wind died out completely.
20 Aug 09 - Thanks to almost non exsistent winds, serious sleep depravation while on land and painfully stiff neck, "Sunday routine" was declared after making the mandatory position report at 0800. Didn't even need to cook breakfast as Manjiri, wife of my Tarangini shipmate Lt Cdr Atla Mohan had packed up some excellent "Halwa". A cocktail of Brufen & paracatamol took care of the neck. After having slept the whole day, plans of a good night's sleep were again dashed by shifty winds and most unusally, an attack of large sized moths over 50 Nm from the coast. The first one came around sunset and I was wondering about his sense of navigation when slowly more started descending. Obiviously attaracted by light they were allover committing "Harakiri" on the Chart plotter, Nav equipment, lights etc. Finally switched off the chart plotter and slept outside as the one's already inside couldn't find a way out. There was not much wind anyway andthe boat was hardly moving.
21 Aug 09 - Realised it wasn't fair to blame the wind yesterday. It could have been worse as I discovered today! A couple of hours of light North Easterly breeze and then quietness! The sea slowly turned glassy. Nothing you can do but furl up the Genoa, get the main fore & aft to reduce its flapping, switch off the autopilot and lock the rudder. In fact I switched off all the Nav equipment as it seemed pointless keeping it on with us drifting around. Made a nice lunch of Dal & Rice followed by the mandatory siesta. Out of habit went on deck between my naps to find Dolphins lounging around. Thanks to absolute stillness around could clearly hear them. Posting some of their snaps clicked using the fancy new camera on board. Its almost 1900 as I write. A NW wind seems to be making some efforts at moving Mhadei. In the morning I was "Off Goa", by dusk I am still there! Lets see where I reach tomorrow! Till then celebrating passing off Goa by having some "Goa Sausage Pulao", a favourite of my crew Lt Cdr Abhilash Tomy during our past trips, and listening to AIR Panaji.