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.