Christmas Island to Sri Lanka.
Christmas Island, Australia
Galle, Sri Lanka
Light winds have returned and also dead astern. My brother has suggested that I head further north to avoid the fishing fleet, but unless the wind changes direction I will have to revert back to my original route. I cannot have the sails flapping from side to side and the boom bouncing up and down. During the night the AIS monitor showed a cargo vessel passing ahead of me from my starboard side. It had in fact cleared well ahead of me and was some distance away from my port side. I believe the error to be down to the aerial that I had removed to use with the old vhf radio. When the Vesper Cortex went on the blink it not only left me without AIS but also no vhf radio. Consequently I pulled out the old radio and wired this up and used the aerial. Now the Vesper Cortex had no aerial and all of the monitors on the NMEA network were not getting a feed from this. As a result I have put the aerial back in the Vesper hub and have used the emergency aerial for the other radio. Not sure how good the signal and reception will be until I check with a passing ship.
A steady nights progress, 24nm covered in six hours. Not brilliant but with very light wind from the stern I can’t really expect much more. Today the wind has picked up slightly, now into double digits, but only just! Am expecting to cover around the 30nm mark for this six hour period, up to midday. Nothing seen on AIS, but then I didn’t really think there would be much around. The fishing fleet that my brother talks about is nowhere to be seen! A bit of luxury again this morning. That second tin of fruit cocktail that Cedric bought has been opened together with a tin of pineapple pieces (really I should have bought a different tinned fruit because the fruit cocktail is mainly pineapple!). Anyway, it’s been added to my yogurt and muesli, and it should last me for about a week. Also, I decided that I fancied some bread today so I’m baking another loaf, flavoured with chilli pepper flakes. Looking forward to that at lunchtime to make a change from the wraps I usually eat. Bread has turned out great and a couple of slices with cheese, ham, peanut butter and Dijon mustard. Perfect.
Up half the night avoiding ghost ships of the fishing variety. I was given a rectangle area that he told me was a high concentration of fishing vessels, and a Lat / Long that I should aim for to miss the majority. Nothing showed up on AIS and I believe that most of these targets, as stated before, or buoys with transducers sending signals to the mother ship which may or may not be near by. Anyway, after changing course (to keep my brother happy) I sat at the cockpit helm trying to spot any navigation lights. Nothing seen so back to bed around 04:00! Wind has picked up but has also backed so a soft gybe has been put in, but trying to maintain the same heading. The wind will improve my daily average, which currently stands at 98nm per day. Not brilliant but I was estimating 100nm per day for the passage. Have just cleaned one of the heads, last cleaned on arrival at Thursday Island. It’s surprising how quickly the mould grows in this hot and damp environment. I shall have to go through the whole boat before my arrival in Sri Lanka just to keep on top of it, and maybe hire a local to clean the boat in my absence.
Another sleep deprived night. I was told by Frank (my brother) that I would be entering an area with many fishing boats. (I was told something similar when passing PNG and Indonesia but there were just a few!). He gave me a heading to sail on to avoid most of the fleet. Around 22:00 I saw an illuminated area some distance directly ahead of my course. I got on the radio to see if there were any fishing boats ahead of me, I gave my position and bearing. No one answered so I maintained a constant lookout. After an hour or so I made out a mast light so I altered course by 10 degrees north. Not long after I got another message from Frank to head further south, so another course change. The fishing boat was passed on my starboard side, some 4nm away from me, but it had so many lights on board that it looked like a football stadium! Anyway, I cleared that and then tried to get some sleep. About 03:00 the alarm went off, this time it was the autopilot not being able to hold the course. The wind was gusting up to 25kts and swirling around from dead astern. As soon as the wind changed from one side to the other the sail filled on the new side, away from the wind, the genoa also started to flap, and the boat began to move off course. Initially I reduced the genoa, hoping that this might have helped but it wasn’t enough. The only other thing to do was to add the third reef. In a moonless environment, with the boat bouncing around it wasn’t something that could be done easily, and it wasn’t. I tried to drop the sail with the wind directly aft, which did work, but with the boat pitching from side to side and the sail filling from one side to the other, I struggled to get the back of the sail down to the boom. One last thing to do was to head into the wind. Engine started I set off to head into the wind. That was relatively easy, but the next part was the most challenging. I don’t have a third reefing line (in fact all my reefing lines have chafed through and no longer functioning!) so I had to clamber up on to the coach roof, crawl to the point of the boom where the 3rd reefing point was and then tie this down through the eye on to the boom. Eventually that was completed, next, raise the sail again. With the wind blowing from side to side the batten ends we’re catching on the sail bag lines. Finally I managed to get the sail back up, so now I’m sailing with three reefs in the mainsail and two in the genoa. One other thing, the sail batten by the third reefing point popped out of the end so until I get settled wind, probably at the ITCZ, I’m sailing without this batten in place. All of this meant that I finally got to sleep around 05:00, only to wake up at 06:00 to record the log!!
Yet again another sleep interrupted night. I was told that there were plenty of fishing boats ahead of me and to have my wits about. The alarm was set to go off hourly, and on the hour I got up looked around and saw nothing. This went on for most of the night until I saw an area illuminated again some distance away from me on my port side. One fishing boat and six nav aids in tow. The boat was moving at less than 2kts so wasn’t going to be a problem. After that I decided to sleep on rather than get up. Hopefully I am now away from what I was told was the worst area and I can get a good nights sleep tonight. I’m back on my waypoint before I head north towards Sri Lanka. It’s 666nm away, so another 5 days if current speed holds up. Then another five days, if I don’t get slowed down by the ITCZ (doldrums) before I get to Sri Lanka.
A quiet night on the fishing boat lookout again. Still getting up regularly to see if any are around. Just the one again and about three miles away when I passed it. At the time it wasn’t moving so it wasn’t really a problem. Wind has died down a bit so not getting the stunning mileage of the previous two days. As a result I have put the batten back in the sail and have shaken out the third reef. Now, a new problem or an old one returning. This morning the battery monitor was showing a low voltage on the starboard engine. When I got to the helm I saw that the engine panel was still illuminated. Now, whether I didn’t switch it off properly last night I don’t know. I tried to start the engine but it just wouldn’t turn on. It could be a flat battery, but then running the port engine should be able to charge it, but it hasn’t. It might be the earthing wire that is causing the problem, which was the issue in the Marquesas. I will check this tomorrow. I do need both engines for my destination to Sri Lanka as I will have about 700nm of motoring to do, if the winds aren’t favourable to me.
A peaceful night, no fishing or cargo boats around and the winds have dropped, so the boat isn’t slamming through the water. I still had the alarms set and had a look out every couple of hours rather than hourly. Not a single boat sighted. This morning I needed to try to sort out the starboard engine. Two things to check at the engine and one method to bypass the MDI unit to try to fire up the engine. 1. The fuse in the MDI unit wasn’t blown. Whether that’s good for me I’m not sure! 2. Check the earthing cable from the battery that is attached to the chassis of the engine. That too was in a good condition. I did clean up the wires as it has a small amount of rust on it which might not make a good connection. Tried starting the engine, still no go. Finally, the workaround to bypass the MDI unit. This was how I started the engine in the Marquesas back in May when it first started playing up. You tube videos are very helpful in this respect, however, I failed to save it on my phone and couldn’t fully remember which wires to short across. In my mind I had the colours red and yellow, battery and starter, but thought that I hadn’t had the difficulty of getting to both of these wires. They were the correct colours, the engine was switched on at the panel and I went back to the engine bay to short circuit the wires. Hey presto, I have a working engine. Brilliant, I have a workaround solution to starting the engine but not a solution to the issue of why the engine doesn’t work. Is it the MDI unit or maybe the starter button on the panel at the helm? Whatever it is I’m just thankful that both engines work. I have the best part of 600nm to cover when I get to my waypoint and then head for Galle, Sri Lanka. I’m sure I’ll have sufficient fuel on board, but only if both engines are working. What I don’t want to do, and I’m not sure if it’s possible, was to siphon fuel from the starboard tank if I only had one engine in use! Any breakage, the radar reflector has decided to go separate ways, the top from the bottom. This I’m not too concerned about as it’s not really the best reflector on the market and I do have a better one at home!
Not a great deal to report. Just one cargo ship passed by during the night. The wind has held and good progress is being made. I’ve got another 548nm to go before heading north for Sri Lanka. If the wind remains as it is this should take me just over four days. However, the closer I get to the ITCZ the more likely the wind will start to change, for the worse, ie, less wind, longer sailing time to get to that waypoint. I’m about 90nm south of where the ITCZ is expected to be, but this isn’t static and could be further south or north to my waypoint. Further north would be ideal, but it’s a case of take every day as I find it. All my fresh veggies have been eaten so now it’s frozen, a mix of carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. I’ve taken out the sea bass fillet and cooked this up with the veggies in butter. I might add some flavour to it tonight as it was a bit bland last night.
Had squalls yesterday. Two big blows, not overpowering but, just to be on the safe side, I reefed in the genoa quite a bit. The wind has been playing games again, moving from one side of the stern to the other, meaning that I had to keep an eye on the autopilot alarm yet again. After the squalls had passed through the rain continued all through the night and, as I write this at 11:20, it is still raining. The wind died down to under 5kts, which brought me back to the ground. I had been covering many miles per day and had texted Helen to say that every 5th it was one day less passage time for my estimated arrival. Well, the six hours up to 06:00 I only covered 23 miles and I’m still a considerable distance from my waypoint. So, fag packet calculations were called for to see whether I could use the engines sooner rather than later. The answer to that is no, I would run out of fuel on all but the waypoint start to go up north to Galle, and then it will be a close call to getting there before the fuel is finished! I have been using conservative figures, it’s pointless trying to use what I know the engine uses but I need to be cautious and not drain either tank. Even then I am down to my last 20 litres. I’m hoping that in the last 200nm, the other side of the ITCZ region there will be wind allowing me to sail in, or at least motor sail. If there is any chance of sailing then it will be a blessing. The same batten popped out of its holder yet again. With the light winds I decided to drop the sail again and refit it. After a while I managed to get the batten into the holder, tightened the other end as best I could and raised the sail again. I didn’t bother turning into the wind to raise it. The wind was more or less astern so I waited until the boom swung from one side to the other, in order for me to clear the sail bag lines with the battens. I’m getting quite adept at this, but is it me being lazy!
Another night with no passing vessels. Thankfully the rain has abated and there’s no need to put on the waterproofs each time I go out into the cockpit and see what’s around. Having had to set the genoa on the other side of the boat I went to winch in the starboard sheet to tighten the sail. I was intrigued by a number of black stains on the coach roof. On closer inspection a squid had decided to leap out of the water, by at least two metres, and rest for the remainder of its life by the genoa sheet track. But first leaving its signature of ink all over the roof. Another cleaning job to do today. As I get closer to the ITCZ I expected the winds to drop off, as they did yesterday. I’m exactly 300nm south of the equator and should be labouring with trying to reach my waypoint before having to start the engines. However, this morning I have been greeted with 14 - 16kts of wind, the sails are full, although two reefs in both, and the boat is moving along nicely. I’ve 346nm of further westerly passage to go before I turn north, so I’m praying that this wind will stay with me for the next three days. Back to baking again this morning. I do love fresh baked bread, and to this loaf I will add smoked paprika, and maybe some cracked pepper. Should be ready by lunchtime.
What a horrible night. After a perfect day with the wind it decided to desert me at night. The autopilot alarm went off, meaning that the boat was not continuing on to the waypoint that I had put in. To make matters worse there was no moon and light rain. The rain I could put up with but I needed some light to let me see what I had to control. Initially the boat started heading in the opposite direction, the only way I could bring her round was to start the engine. It got to a certain point and would go no further round as, what little wind there was had filled both sails and the power of the wind in the sails was greater than the revs I had used on the engine. Maybe more revs? Tried that, went too far and had to start over again. Before I did that I decided to roll up the genoa. Head sail furled I began again, this time with more revs. We got back on course, I switched off the engine, sat back to view what was happening, and it went again. This time I dropped the main sail before take 3. (Not easy in a dark night!). Engine on, turned the wheel to bring the boat back on course, and finally we got there. Sat back again to assess the situation and all was well for the time being. A text message from my brother telling me that wind was coming, not sure when, but it was coming. If that was the case I needed to have at least the main sail raised because it would be much more difficult to raise it in the dark of night and with wind. So, back out on the coach roof, remove the sail tie (used to prevent the sail from trying to lift out of the unzipped sail bag) and the pull up the sail with the halyard whilst sitting on the coach roof, pulling the halyard with one hand and feeding the sail past the lazy bag lines with the other. Main sail raised, the boat was still holding its course so I let out some of the genoa. Time now was 04:30ish so I went back to sleep for 1.5 hours, to get up to take the log at 06:00. Helen had been tracking my progress and had texted me when she saw the track left on her monitor to ask if everything was okay! Thankfully it is now, still no wind but I have a boat heading in the right direction. I have a further 256nm before I turn north. I have decided to run the engine for 24hrs or until the wind returns, whichever is sooner. Not sure if this is a good idea but time will tell!!!!
A quiet night in respect of looking out for ships of all descriptions, but not for me listening to the rigging swinging from side to side. The ‘promised’ wind never turned up and in the six hours between midnight and 06:00 i continued running the engine. However, I switched it off at around 07:00 and in the six hours between 06:00 and midday I covered a lowly 14nm. I think I could walk faster than that! (but not over water - unless it was frozen). Since leaving Christmas Island I have run the port engine for a total of 46hrs. My figures that I use to calculate how much fuel I have left is based on the engine using 1.5litres of fuel per hour. I know it’s less than this but I always err on the side of caution. This morning I topped up the port fuel tank and put in about 57litres of diesel in. Let’s round that up to 60. On my reckoning I am using 1.3litres per hour, so using the 1.5litre figure gives me a credit window of about 72litres in reserve, which is a further 2 days of motoring, if needed! By midday the wind speed has crept up to the 10kt mark. Not brilliant but I’m moving in the right direction and not using the engine. It will add a further day or two on my passage, so I might be in Galle for my birthday or maybe not! The days are very hot and humid and sleeping indoors isn’t ideal. I did try to sleep in the cockpit last night but it was uncomfortable. So, I’ve strung up my hammock, also in the cockpit and will see if that makes for a better sleep.
The hammock was not a success. Excellent if the boat is not under way or moving gently through the water. But with (what) wind blowing and the boat pitching and rolling, lying in the hammock was like being in a tumble dryer, not to say I’ve been in one when it’s been working! So it was back to sleeping inside the boat. As the sun set it did become more pleasant to be inside rather than during the day when it’s like an oven. Not to say……, you get my drift! Running the engine was cut back to 3 x 40 minutes to see if I could save an hour each day. The battery monitor told me I couldn’t so it’s back to running it as before. The wind is rather patchy, blowing up to 14kts and then dropping off to around 8kts. While I have the wind I have decided to head for latitude N03’ and longitude E080’, hoping I am able to get as close to this waypoint while I still have the wind. It also means that I cut down on my distance travelled thus saving me fuel when I have to use the engine. I now have a total of 537nm from current position to Galle, as opposed to 590nm. Not a considerable difference but it does make sense if I were to lose the wind by sticking with the original waypoint.
The wind is still with me and the boat is moving along nicely. Every now and again it drops below 10kts and shifts. This causes the boat to wallow around but, generally, within 15 minutes the wind is back over 10kts and she has picked up her pace. On the direct route there is less than 400nm to go, and via my waypoint not much more. I am within 33nm of crossing the equator again. There will be no dressing up or drinks to celebrate the event, in fact there wasn’t when we crossed the equator from north to south all those months ago. Wait a minute, I do have a can of beer that I bought in Christmas Island and I was saving it for a special occasion. Well it’s actually ginger beer (I don’t drink anything alcoholic when under way, especially sailing solo!) and this seems to be an appropriate place for a cold one. During the night lightning was seen some distance away on my port side. I remember seeing in my survey that it was recommended that the boat be earthed for such an event. I did ask my electrician in Trinidad to get this fixed (you know the one who couldn’t get my request right). Well it wasn’t done so I secured a length of chain around the mast and then put the other end in the water. Thankfully my grounding system wasn’t tested! This morning I’m baking again. I’ve located some more chilli flakes so these will go in before the second prove. The freezer has been emptied and will need cleaning once it’s defrosted. The only items left in there were a pack of tiger prawns, which I’ll have tonight with spaghetti, a pack of mince, which I’ll cook for tomorrow with pasta, some frozen onions and a diced carrot. I’ll make plenty of each to last me for the duration until I get to Sri Lanka. If needs be I still have the tinned food in reserve. For some strange reason the radar came back to operational mode. I haven’t done anything to get it working but it did, as too the radius rings for zooming in and out of the chart. However, this morning it is back to its fault mode. Can’t fathom why this happened, maybe it’s the battery power issue but whatever it is I can live without it for the time being.
Little to report other than the lightning was still around. I had taken in the chain that I had used the night before as my grounding and I thought I would get away with it. It did stay off in the distance. Shortly after crossing the equator the wind died down to about 3kts, not enough to move the boat. The engine went on at 22.20 and stayed on until about 02:00 when I woke up to find the boat speeding through the water and heavy rain. The wind had got up to 16kts, on the beam and she was going like the clappers. Engine off as not needed but it was back on a couple of hours later when the wind dropped off again. This morning, although I have around 10 - 11kts of wind it is on the nose, no good for sailing. Time for a change of direction. If I head directly for Galle I might just have sailing angle to go ‘close hauled’. It’s worth a try as my speed at the moment is about 3kts, with the engine! So, I’ve changed my heading and now have 15 - 17kts on a close hauled tack. With the engine off I am getting around 6kts of speed, which I’m more than happy with. Hopefully this will be with me for the day and the distance to Galle will rapidly decrease. At the moment I am surrounded by fishing vessels. Have tried to make contact but without success. Under 300nm to go so I ought to be in Galle by 31.08.23!
It should have been my brother’s 72nd birthday today and have accompanied me on this circumnavigation. It wasn’t to be but I hope he is looking down at me and cheering me on. Another regular night with nothing really to comment on. No passing cargo or fishing vessels. No rain or lightning. No wind - but that’s not what I want. The engine has been running for the last 20 hours and I expect to keep it running until I get to Galle, another 185nm. I actually have to slow down as at the current rate I will arrive during the hours of darkness. Not something I want to do in a strange port. So I’ve dropped the mainsail, it really wasn’t doing much and just have the genoa out on the 1st. reef. My arrival is still on schedule for 31.08.23 and probably around 06:00. As my anchor windlass is still not working I’m hoping they’ll let me moor alongside the quay. We shall see what the harbour master says when I call him up. Late in the afternoon I saw a couple of dolphins, first ones I’ve since way back around the Marquesas Islands.
Well the penultimate night was a wild one, and I’m not talking about parties. Sitting at the helm I could see that the sky on my port side was getting visibly darker by the minute. You could also see in certain sections of it that rain was falling. I had already dropped the mainsail as there was no wind to fill it and drive the boat forward. All it was doing was clanging from side to side. I had also put a sail tie around the sail bag but didn’t zip it up just in case I wanted to use it later. I put a second reef in the genoa, expecting a squall but not on the scale that turned up. Torrential rain and winds in excess of 30kts began around 21:00 and continued all night long until about 07:00. By 22:00 I ventured outside to reef the genoa even further, a little more than a handkerchief (as they say). The wind had veered and was now blowing around 30 degrees off the bow, too close for the boat to make any real headway. It was being pushed to the east, meaning that unless I could bring her back on course I may find it a struggle to make Galle without the engines. The seas were also rather lively and the boat was being thrown about and crashing down on the next set of waves. I would say that it was a restless night, constantly checking on what was happening weather wise and boat wise.
Again, the weather had turned from being dry and docile to wet and wild. The winds were up and down like a yo-yo-yo and the autopilot was unable to hold a course, or at least not the one I wanted! Adverse current was also opposing my heading and my speed was down to less than a knot. With around 40nm still to go I wasn’t sure if I would arrive in Galle within the next 24hrs, my chart plotter was showing that I wouldn’t. Nothing else but to get both engines running and motor the rest of the way. The starboard engine had to be ‘hot wired’ as it would not start on the button, so it was a case of going into the engine bay and shorting the battery and started terminals. Once both engines were running I was then able to make over 5kts, and got into Galle by 11:00. Not the prettiest of places and unfortunately the boat is going to be left here for the next five months while I fly back home. I have employed a secure guard to look after the boat in my absence but I have yet to see him (or her!). My agent has handled all the paperwork and by mid afternoon I was given clearance to go off the boat.
Friday 01.09.23 - Friday 15.09.23
1. Met Marlan and his tuk tuk taxi driver and I was driven to the bank to withdraw money and buy some essential supplies - mainly wine!
2. Sails removed from the boat and taken to the sail repairer. Cost of $260US
3. Anchor windlass removed and taken to a mechanic. Fully refurbished and working. Cost of $350US.
4. Engineer came from Colombo to fix the problem with the starboard engine. A waste of time and money. Engine still not working. Cost of $150US.
5. A day visiting places in southern Sri Lanka: Buddhist temple, a garden centre where they grow and sell their products. Ripped off at a cost of
£68! A tea plantation, entry $2US. Good value. Finally a gem museum and shop. Interesting but very expensive. Nothing bought.
6. Anchor windlass fitted but still not working. Have a mechanic coming to look at the engine and hopefully will sort out this problem too.
7. A walk to town and a few provisions bought.
8. New british boat arrives in the harbour. Introduce myself to the two 'young lads' and agree to go out for a drink the following night.
9. Trip to Galle cricket ground. Not able to see any cricket but had a couple of drinks in the 'members only' bar.
10. Anchor windlass taken to a different mechanic. Windlass refurbished at a cost of $350, a good price.
11. Mechanic booked to check the starboard engine not starting. Identified that the EVC control panel needs changing. Cost $300.
12. Further walks to town, a couple of ice creams bought and provisions for the week.
13. Invited for a meal by 'Marlan' at his house along with three other yachties. A good evening.
14. Another visit to Galle cricket ground with two tuk tuk taxi drivers and a visit to the beach where my daughter got proposed to back in 2004.
15. Cleaned the boat in preparation for my departure and the arrival of my 'security guard' who will stay on the boat until my return in January 2024.