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!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Goodbye to the Tropics

          Mhadei crossed the Tropic of Capricorn at 0742 this morning saying goodbye to the Tropics and warm weather for the next six months. The sea has calmed down so it was a pleasant day onboard with fairly good progress in light winds. The only worry is that we are still drifting too much to the West and will have to cover all this distance once we get Westerly winds which may still be about two days away. We are also heading for the permanent High Pressure system in this area which would mean light winds till we manage to dodge it. Not complaining much though after the bashing in the Trade winds! Good to take it easy for a change because the present forecast shows the Westerlies blowing at 35 kts, about 10 kts more than the Trade winds! Hopefully we will have to negotiate them down wind and down swell so things should not be that bad. We will just have to see as it comes as this is uncharted territory. Will need to start taking out cold weather clothing from tomorrow as its already becoming quite cold as soon as the sun goes down.
          The comments on the blog indicate a fair amount of curiousity about Mhadei's crew and their metamorphosis over the last three weeks at sea. Posting some snaps of the Skipper, Cook, First Mate, Publicist etc etc lounging on the deck, satiated with a heavy "Dosa" lunch  and enjoying the good life aboard a Million Dollar yacht in the middle of South Indian Ocean!
          Had a new type of bird for company in the evening. So far the ones that have been following us were dark brown with a yellowish beak. This one was greyish white with a much longer wingspan. Difficult to click good snaps as they keep moving constantly, often a hair's breadth from the water even in the worst of sea conditions. Makes a land based human mind wonder as to how they survive as the nearest land presently is over 1000 miles away! Posting some photos of sunset which are nowhere close to the spectacular ones we saw at the Equator but then it gives an idea as to why the Equatorial ones are so special. My gmail account which should have received my plotted position by now is refusing to open so will just have to wait for the next blog. Very roughly we are about 80 miles South of the Tropic of Capricorn and almost exactly below Chennai!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

20 Days and 3000 Miles

          It has been 20 days since we left Mumbai and we have covered over 3000 Nm so far. Not too bad! More or less what was expected. Though we still have over 2000 Nm to cover once we get in the Westerlies and start making some Easting. As I was making my position report in the evening, I realised that despite covering almost 80 Nm through the day, the distance to Fremantle had remained constant at 1900 Nm miles since morning! It may actually start increasing if we don't make any easterly progress soon! Well such are the ways of Sail boats! Covering these 3000 miles also means that Mhadei has sailed over 10,000 miles in her brief service with the navy since 12 Feb 09. Thats 10,000 miles in less than 07 months with hardly a whimper! I think the credit entirely goes to her builder Ratnakar Dandekar and his team at Aquarius Fibreglas, Goa. I hope atleast now the "Great Indian Bureaucracy" will relent and pay up the rest of the money due on the boat!
          As we near the Tropic of Capricorn the seas have calmed a bit and the wind has reduced. At the cost of coming down in speed a little I am still keeping the two reefs and stay sail on through the night just in case the wind decides to change its mind and starts blowing again. While we have done sail changes and reefing at night it is always avoidable & uncomfortable, specially now that it has also started getting cold. I think we are away from the opperesive tropical heat till next year! In fact henceforth the sun will be welcome, as I discovered this morning when I saw a cloudy sky and remarked to myself that its going to be a cold day and it would have been nicer if it was a clear sunny day! 20 days back I would have said the exact opposite!
          The covering of the 3000 miles passage was duly celebrated with an impromptu recepie of Corned mutton garnished with Onions and Gherkins. When the cook decided to serve the same fare for dinner because he doesn't like wasting food, the Skipper had had enough and decided to wash it down with some soup first followed by the last can of Phoenix Beer from Ile Maurice from the last trip. No more beer on board till Freo but a good stock of South African Vines and Cognac for the special occasions!
          The improvement in weather was also celebrated by the screening of the movie Chicago! One of the crew's all time favourite! Since morning all that has been watched are the promos & and behind the scenes sections etc. The actual screening is scheduled on completion of this blog when the battery charging will be over, the engine cut off and there will be silence on board to enjoy the fabulous soundtrack!        

Monday, September 7, 2009

And the Battering continues..................

          Its been four days since we headed into the trade winds and started thumping South South West. We are still at it and if the weather forecast is anything to go by will continue for the next couple of days! The winds have remained a steady SE about 20 to 30 kts gusting to about 35 kts. Normally we should be able to sail a Southerly course with such winds. Unfortunately the winds have also whipped up a swell of over 4 mtrs. Trying to sail closer than about 50 degrees to the wind means heading right into the swell, making the boat to stop dead with each wave while making her slam hard which may cause avoidable damage. So we are heading SSW aware that we are actually increasing the distance that we will need to travel eastward once we get out of the trades and into the Westerlies.
          The cook has finally relented and started doing limited heating so we had hot coffee in the morning and some hot soup and ready to eat Biryani for dinner.Yesterday was some homemade heat & eat Upma with dry fish. Absolutely delicious! I think my mom seriously needs to apply for a patent for her dishes before someone steals the ideas!
          It has started getting cold after sunset reminding us that its the winter season in this part of the world. At present course and speed we should be crossing the Tropic of Capricorn (23 1/2 Deg S) by tomorrow night and will remain South of it till next year when we are back in the Indian Ocean heading home! So as much cause for celebration as the Equator crossing I suppose!
          My tracker for the project seems to be busy tonight so giving this morning's updated position. Have a good night.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Romping turns to Battering

Since this afternoon Mhadei is being battered by strong winds and big seas. The winds are blowing to 20 - 25 kts with regular period of gusts beyond 35 kts. This has build up a large sea of over 4 mtr and Mhadei is heading into all this mayhem! The weather forecast is predicting the conditions to last for a couple of days more so we seem to be in it for the long haul! The cook has flatly refused to do anything with fire because while the gimballed gas oven keeps utensils steady against rolling, it does not have any solution to keep them on when the boat thumps itself on a wave and the pots tend to fly off vertically! So the skipper is left to scrounge for himself by nibbling various tidbits in the galley! Mhadei bashes on regardless and all the skipper can do is sit and give her that sagely and time tested advice,"this too shall pass!" 

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Out of the Doldrums Romping in Trade Winds

Yesterday afternoon, becalmed after going through yet another squall, we drifted across an invisible line and finally stumbled into the Trade Winds! The wind picked up in a matter of minutes and stayed with us. In fact by midnight it became a bit too much for comfort necessitating another reef in the main and replacement of the big Genoa with the smaller Stay sail. While the trades make you move they also build up the sea. Also since they are blowing from exactly the same direction we need to go, we have to sail close to them and the resultant swell. The result is that Mhadei has been tossing and slamming around as if possesed! Needless to say everything onboard has to be done slowly, mostly with one hand, the other being busy holding on to the nearest handhold. Often the waves wash over the boat so all Port holes need to be closed, making the insides warm & humid and you get drenched with salt water sitting on the deck.
     This state is likely to continue for a week atleast with the weather forecast promising 26 kts of breeze and 5 mtr waves in the next two days! We are also getting slowly pushed to the West due to the direction of the wind and the waves which means once we are South of the trade winds we will need to travel that much more to the East. Well as of now there is nothing much we can do about it but grin and bear it or on the tossing Mhadei it should be "grip and bear it"! Though this is anyday better than the wallowing around in the doldrums. The squalls have reduced in their frequency and intensity. Also since we are already moving with reduced sail, when a squall hits it cannot do as much damage as when under full sails. The cook has started serving quick fix meals of almost ready to eat food instead of the elaborate menus of dosas and hot "Dal - Chawal"!
     Tonight, as I write, there is a glorious full moon up in the sky. We left B'bay on a new moon. Its been 15 days and 2200 Nm so far. Wondering whether we will make it by the next new moon!                       

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Doldrums still clutching Mhadei

The doldrums made their presence felt again with a squall last night and then very light winds through the day. I had let down my guard and kept the full mainsail up at night with the Wind Vane steering the boat. Got up past midnight for a routine check and found a squall almost on top of us! Hectic activity of reefing the main and getting the Wind Vane off  followed and we just about made it through! Need to remember that we are still very much in the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) commonly known as doldrums. Another day or two and we should be out hitting the trade winds. Light and shifty winds through the day which died out completely by afternoon. The sea was also fairly calm so made use of the opportunity to change the two broken battens from the Main sail. That involved getting the entire sail down, climbing about 3 mtrs up the mast a number of times to remove the pieces of broken battens, and finally sitting on the boom and mainsail to insert the replacements. I think my horse riding skills, unused since passing out of the Academy 21 yrs back, came in handy in trying to sit on the boom of the rolling boat and working with both hands. But that was a task that required to be done before getting into the stronger trade winds. The broken pieces have already damaged the sail a bit and in sustained strong winds the damage could only increase. The battery monitor, an instrument that tells me the amount of battery capacity I have and when I need to charge them seems to have gone off finally. It had become erratic since
yesterday so thought of removing its connections and cleaning them. But having done so its just refusing to revive itself! Now I don't have any idea how much battery I am left with or when I charge whether they are actually charging. I think I will just run the generator every 12 hrs to ensure that they never run out of charge. May increase the diesel consumption marginally but with an efficient generator that should not be a cause for concern. Started the Watermaker for the first time during the trip as one of the tanks had become half empty. Not bad for 13 days of sailing! Another round of spectacular sunset in the evening with an already bright moon to the East. Looks like another sleepless night ahead as the wind keeps dying out every now and then. When it dies out you need to get on the deck and tighten the main sheet to stop the boom from thrashing around and when the wind picks up you need to rush and ease the mainsheet as otherwise the boat starts healing too much! Its also been a warm and clear day so a lot of moisture must have gone up which will eventually come down as a squall during the night and knowing our penchant for getting under every squall in the area we better keep our guard up!