Samoa to Thursday Island, Australia.
Thursday Island, Australia
Distance: 2827nm (solo)
Leaving day today so up early to get a good start. Meals cooked for the next 4 / 5 nights. A walk in to town to buy some ATF (automatic transmission fluid) and back to the boat for final checks before leaving. Water checked in both engines, oils had been checked yesterday. All mooring lines set to slip for an easy getaway from the pontoon and finally take in the electric cable, which was redundant as the power wasn’t working! Tai had brought me lunch that he had prepared and cooked himself. Lovely Samoan beef, a Samoan sausage, noodles, coconut milk and herbs wrapped in taro leaves and a taro root. All was fantastic….. except the taro root that I tried but found it difficult to eat. At 12:00 I said my goodbyes to Fred and left the marina for Papua New Guinea, a passage of some 2500nm. About 10 miles out I saw a whale, probably a pilot whale, about 300m away from me. Tried to photograph it but couldn’t get a good picture. Plenty of fish leaping out of the sea being chased by larger fish! Not too much wind so the engine has been running for all the time so far. This cannot continue as I don’t have enough fuel for the full journey.
The wind has been light all through the night and I’ve had to gybe frequently just to keep some wind in the sails. I thought I would try flying my parasail so I set up all the sheets and guys (the lines needed to fly the sail. Then I got the sail out from under the bed and began to set it up on the trampoline. I thought everything was going well, I even managed to get the sock fully raised, which wasn’t possible the last time I tried to fly it. And then disaster struck. The sheets and guys got tangled up with the sheets for the Genoa. Having sorted this out another problem arose and in the end everything went wrong. The sail twisted round, all the sheets end up like spaghetti and frustration set in. I had spent the best part of two hours trying to get this up but in the end gave up. I will have to repack it and hopefully have a better understanding of what to do next time!
Still no improvement in the wind, mostly between 5 and 8kts and directly astern. Without the much needed pole the genoa collapses as the boat turns from side to side under the influence of the waves. The main sail is not much better so I had better see if my parasailing sail will fly. With the engine on for the last two days I will not be able to make Papua New Guinea at this rate. I have taken the decision therefore to call in at one of the Solomon Islands (about 1500nm from current position) to fuel up. The only problem is that they expect all necessary paperwork to be sent in advance and I do not have this facility on board. Now if I had starlink, but that’s another story! Water maker has been run and both tanks are full (600l). Another 42l poured into the port diesel tank. Not quite full. Fishing line out and hopefully will hook something! Off to make some yogurt now. I have found a solution to the absence of a pole. Having set up the sheets and guys to fly the parasail i wondered whether I could use one of these to stop the genoa from collapsing. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I attached a sheet from a block running from the bow to the clew of the genoa. This sheet was lead back to a winch on the coachroof and tensioned up. It now prevents the sail from folding up towards the centre line of the boat, essentially acting in the similar way a pole would. It is not perfect by any means but it’s certainly an improvement over the previous setup. It is easy to remove if I want to tack / gybe. I can either remove the snap shackle and move the sail across, not ideal, especially at night. Or I could loosen the tension on the sheet and then let the sail cross from one side to the other of the boat. I would next to have sheets set up for both port and starboard side, which I can do, and maybe this is a better way of doing it, considering the safety aspect. All sorted, now we just need some wind to get this craft going!
Woke up to find that I had 25 messages on my Garmin InReach (160 characters per message) all from my brother. Two were about the weather, lack of wind and course changes, the others, all formalities about arriving in the Solomon Islands and the documents they requested. I’ve sent him the answers to the questions and have given access to my emails so that he can retrieve the documents that they have requested. Also he tells me that there are only three ships showing up on AIS in a 9000 square mile area around me. Now that might sound horrendous but basically, at the borders of the area it’s only a maximum distance of just over 47miles away, and at the vertex of the square about 67 miles if we look at me being in the centre and the three ships being on the perimeter of the square. Not as bad as it sounds! Showered off the back of the boat. Might as well as nobody is going to see me (with only three ships in 9000sq miles of me)! Checking over the boat I see that the 2nd reefing line has perished. I haven’t checked to see if there is an end that I can use to pull a new line through at the mast. What I have done is to hook the reefing ring to the ‘rams horn’ to secure it at the mast. That’s both reefing lines chafed through and the outhaul on the boom. One of the genoa sheets need replacing and probably the topping lift too! Later this morning I shall siphon the automatic transmission fluid from the starboard sail drive. It appears ‘milky’ again, which is a sign that water is getting in from the seal. Not possible to drain the sail drive whilst underway. Tried doing it but the propeller is rotating, even with the engine off and it caught the suction line. I did extract some oil but this needs to be done properly, and I’ll return to the task in Honiara, on one of the Solomon Islands. Just under 1400nm to go and this wind had better turn up soon!!! I have company tonight. One of the seabirds has decided to join me on the guardrail by the helmsman seat. When I went off to get my camera it flew off but the settled on the rail at the port bow, by the seat.
Not sure if my company is going to fly off this morning but it had a good rest overnight. The wind has picked up slightly. It’s now registering around 7kts. Yesterday I don’t think I saw it climb much above 3kts, and for quite some time as low as 1kt! It did mean that the sea was flat and we went through it better, but I would prefer to sail rather than motor. I’ve put the water maker on just to top up the tank. I will have to cook another 4 night meal later today. The spicy sausage casserole that I made before leaving Samoa on Sunday was finished last night and I will make the same, but maybe add a few more ingredients to give it a bit more‘kick’. Making my food this way saves on cooking and food prep time and gas, but then, what else have I got to do? 09:49 my seabird company has just left me, it must be time to catch his / her breakfast. Wind is up to a startling 7kts! Let’s see what speed I get through the water when I turn the starboard engine off. Engine off at 10:00 (523.0hrs). Boat speed around 3.6kts. Actually as the day progressed so did the wind speed and for once we (I) were sailing unaided by the engine. A different boobie decided to rest on the boat, but decided not to sit on the guardrail or the solar panel, but on the wind vane arm. Of all the places that I wished it wouldn’t land on, that was it. Damage to that and I would be in trouble. No indicator as to where the wind is coming from, although I could cope with that, but not knowing what the wind speed is is of greater concern. Thankfully when I got up the following morning as was still working. In the 9000sq mile area that only had three ships in it, well one was closing in on me! Eight miles off my port side and was heading straight towards me, closest point about 130m away. I got on the VHF radio and called them, Nord Savannah. They were very good, could see me on their systems and would change their heading. Problem sorted.
The heading alarm went off just after 03:00. The wind had dropped and shifted from blowing from the port side to the starboard side. Sails set on the opposite side and the engine started to bring the boat around to the correct direction. Unfortunately if the boat speed goes below 2kts the autopilot is not able to hold its course and the alarm sounds. Not a problem but frustrating because of such light winds. The boobie has flown off and the wind vane arm is still intact, thankfully! Wind is around 7 - 8kts and boat speed just over 3kts. I’m assured it will strengthen either later today or by tomorrow. The parasail was brought out again to see if it would be any better this time. Eventually all the lines were untangled, not quite as bad as the last time. The sail did fly (of sorts) but the wind I feel was too light to hold it open properly, in only 5kts true wind. Thus it was taken down and bagged up again. Maybe third time lucky? My change of plans to divert to Honiara on one of the Solomon Islands might be scuppered. It appears that they have had a measles outbreak and all arrivals must show that they have been vaccinated. Unfortunately I do not carry any certificates as proof so this might be off limits. My brother is checking the position of PNG. There was no questions regarding this when I applied for my Evisa, which hopefully has been processed and sent to my Yahoo email account. Not that I’ll be able to access it until I get internet connection! If there are problems in PNG then the only alternative is Australia, Cairns, which is 300 south of my current position. Not ideal but then I may have no other options. Okay, more options (and problems) have arisen. To get to mainland Australia I need to get a visa and do it via the internet, as they will take a mugshot. Not feasible. Apparently the alternative is to get to Thursday Island, about 300nm on from PNG. I’m informed that, although part of Australia, they don’t have the same level of entry as the mainland, so I’m now heading there. From my current position it is 2196nm away. Something about 24 days sailing. Ought not to be a problem as I have food, water and gas sufficient for this period of time. My problem is getting my gas bottle refilled, which I don’t think is possible here. I’ll need to get my brother to check this out. Another boobie tried to get a lift but had difficulty finding a suitable landing spot so decided to sleep on the water!
Slow progress has been made in the last 12 hours, only 38nm. Not the 50nm I would expect to cover. It’s 08:57 (local time) and the wind has picked up, blowing now around the 15kt mark. This is good news all round. More speed through the water, and both the wind and water generators will be charging up the batteries. In addition, I will not need to run the engine, save for an hour later to make some water. Rain is on its way so time to go inside! You become a creature of habit on a long passage like this. Every six hours, from midnight, I record the lat / long, wind speed, distance covered in that time period and total to date, heading and barometer pressure. At about 07:30 I will have breakfast, usually yogurt with muesli and a cup of tea, Earl Grey of course. If I am to cook, and that’s only once every four days, I will take something out of the freezer, let it defrost, while I prepare the vegetables, potatoes, carrots, an onion and some greens. These will be cooked up in my Mr. D’s cooking pot for about 20minutes and then placed in a thermally insulated container to continue cooking until I decide when to eat. Around 10:30 I will have a cup of coffee. Any cleaning jobs will be done before lunch, which I will have between 12:30 and 13:00. This is either some savoury biscuits with cheese and sliced meats or a tortilla wrap (with the same ingredients). Another cup of coffee at 15:30 with a couple of biscuits and then by 18:30ish it will be time for supper. The first night the meal will be hot but the next three nights the leftovers will be eaten cold. I don’t bother to reheat the food, it’s just as tasty cold or hot. Generally I run the water maker first thing in the morning as soon as I get up. But now I have to monitor the fuel consumption so will decide what time during the day to do it. If the sun has been shining on the solar panel and the wind has been blowing then I will leave it just before bedtime, around 19:30! If the night passage has been slow due to lack of wind, then it will be run in the morning. To occupy my ‘spare’ time I usually read, but I’ve finished all of the books that I have on board (apart from the two that Helen and Bridget left), so I play Sudoku on my IPhone or cards.
I have covered 35nm since midnight, which is excellent. However, it does mean that the sea is more ‘lumpy’ (nautical term?) and moving around the boat becomes more difficult. One has to be more careful with every step just in case your balance is compromised. Had a message from a lovely sailing friend from way back when I first started sailing in the Mediterranean and in particular Greece. We met on the island of Syros, having taken shelter from the meltemi. Over the week on the island we got to know them well (Cath and Roger of the Black Rose, and also Terttu and Heikki - who have sold their yacht but we are still in contact). When we left Syros, intending to go to Mykonos, we met up again in Poros, and they were following us from island to island. When I bought my last yacht, the Bavaria37C, and was sailing it single handed from Patras to Ithaca, it was Cath and Roger I met crossing the Ionian Sea. We’ve remained friends since. Anyway, Cath is following my progress and wanted to know if I had pictures of my progress and if my blog was updated. Pictures are mainly on Facebook and I haven’t posted my blog yet! Yesterday I changed the joker valve in the port heads. Not a pleasant job but one that had to be done. I thought that waste water wasn’t clearing fully when I tried to discharge it, ie, the valve remaining slightly open to allow the water to flow back. Now that it’s changed hopefully the water in the bowl will remain clean! Informed by my weather guru (my brother!) that it’s going to blow in the coming hours. Sea state will get rough - worse than what it is right now (!), although strictly speaking, it isn’t too bad at the moment. Although my main sail has three reefing points it is only set up for two, and both of those reefing lines have chafed through. So, ever the optimist, I have taken the hook off the 2nd reef at the mast and hooked this now on the 3rd reefing point. At the other end of the boom / sail I have tied down the eye of the reefing point to the boom to secure that end of the sail. Hopefully all should be well if the winds do blow quite strongly. I’ve also shortened the genoa, so both sails should be balanced in terms of sail area. Let’s see!!!
Well the proverbial winds never materialised. Having shortened both sails I lost out on speed over the next 12 hours, covering only 42nm whereas the previous 12 hours I managed 61nm. I let out a bit of genoa to gain a little bit more speed, but until the winds come not a great deal of progress will be made. My sleep during the night wasn’t as good as it should be. I sat up at the helm to midnight, listening to my classical music. I would normally be in bed by 20:00 at the latest. I also woke up at 05:00. The was little point trying to go back to sleep so I ran the engine for a couple of hours to charge the batteries and the water maker for an hour. At 08:00 I decided that it was time to cook the food for the next four days. It was a choice between noodles and tiger prawns or a pork casserole. When I looked at the pork in the freezer it was slightly thawed so the choice was pork. I just hope that it doesn’t give me any trouble! By 09:00 the winds began to pick up and by late afternoon they were in the high teens. The miles are being clocked off but I still have close to 1700nm to go (that’s to Thursday Island). Permission has been granted for me to land there, which is a relief but ideally I’d rather go to Port Moresby, PNG. It’s closer, easier to get in to (Thursday Island is a nightmare!) and I ought to be able to get provisions and gas more easily. But, having applied for my EVisa I am still waiting for a decision.
Well that was a wild night last night! No, I’m not talking about having a party on my own but the winds and sea state. Winds gusting up to 30kts and 3 - 4m crashing in to the boat from the side and stern meant for a restless night. Items were falling off tables and shelves despite thinking they were secure. No sooner had I picked up one item then another fell down. In the end I left clearing them up until daylight. On top of that it was raining and I had left the door open to get some breeze in. Still, the floor did need a clean! However, the winds did give me a fast passage for the last 18 hours, something that I had been waiting for since leaving Samoa. I’m informed by my brother that I can expect to see a lot of fishing vessels in about 300nm. That’s about two days away so hopefully they’ll have filled their tanks and have moved on. I doubt it somehow. Winds have dropped off a bit and the sea state is a bit calmer making it easier to move around the boat. I’ve left the reefs in the sails as I believe the winds are going to be blowing later. My concern about the slightly defrosted pork I cooked yesterday was a non starter. The food was fine, I’m fine and I have three more meals of this before I cook up the rest of it!
Winds have dropping rather than rising! I still have three reefs in both sails but as I’m doing over 5kts an hour I’m quite happy to leave them as they are. No need to overload everything, especially if the wind blows as forecast! However, having said that the genoa is playing up. It can’t decide whether to have it as a broad reach, both sails on the same side, or goose wing, where the genoa is rigged (generally with a pole that I don’t have!) on the windward side. The wind is swinging between 110 and 130 degrees, and it isn’t able to settle down one way or the other.just checked the supplementary health form that I completed and sent off to PNG for my EVisa. It appears that my ‘nationality’ has been left off. I know I added it as, generally on these forms, it doesn’t like British to be used. I’m hoping that my brother will be able to resolve this problem. He’s sent them a couple of emails and they will reply back within five days. I’ve got over twice that before I even get close to PNG! A bit of repair work, or modifications today. Previously I had bypassed the regulator and dump valves on my water generator as I thought that there was a conflict between this regulator and the ones used for the wind generator and solar panel. The wires used was not of the correct gauge and the fuse blew a couple of times. I’ve now found the correct gauge wire and have connected it up, directly to the batteries. I’m hoping that this will make a difference and the battery monitor will show this to be the case.
Never had to switch the engine on overnight to charge up the batteries. The monitor never went below 12.5v, which is much better than previously. Hopefully this will remain the case and the engine will now only be running for the water maker. Winds have been blowing around the 12 - 15kt mark, with the occasional burst up to 19kts. I’m told that it will progressively get higher, with gusts up to 30kts. Sails have been set to take this into consideration and, apart from the sea state becoming rough, there’s not a great deal more to do. The SSB radio that Wally installed and setup was switched on yesterday to see if I could listen to the BBC World Service programme. I did pick it up but the clarity of sound was lacking so it was turned off. I’ve taken to re reading my GOC notes and sailing books just to pass time. However, it just shows how quickly one forgets the information if it isn’t visited on a regular basis. Fishing line has been set up as a nice piece of white fish would be a treat and a change from my usual suppers. Not that I’m complaining but it would make a lovely alternative. More minor repair changes made. I had put a new mixer / shower tap in the port heads as the old one only pumped out hot water. Not good! However, the new one was a different fitting and when used the spray head got in the way of the sink. I have now removed the old spray head and placed the new one on its fitting. This way it can be articulated over the sink if required or used to shower with. The old shower head has now gone in the starboard heads where the rubber covering the spray button had perished. Sorted!
Another fast and furious night on the water. Winds not blowing particularly hard, up to 25kts, but the seas were kicking in from all directions and the boat was being tossed from one direction to another. It did mean that I covered plenty of miles during this period, which I wouldn’t complain about. It’s just 07:21 (local time) and I have seen land for the first time since leaving Samoa. On my port side there’s a small island called Vanikolo and I believe there are people living on it. And on my starboard side an island called Utupua (not quite Utopia!) Not sure if anyone is living on this island. The sky doesn’t look too promising, dark rain clouds are in ascendency so it’s time for me to go inside and start cooking. I never did catch that fish so it’s a blend of the finest condiments on board to serve up a curried pork casserole dish. I had to throw away the last fresh carrot as it was looking rather shady. Just as well I froze all the others before leaving Bora Bora. Wind is down to between 15 and 17kts with occasional gusts up to 22kts. I’ve taken in most of the genoa as it couldn’t settle on one side of the boat. I’m still getting over 6kts boat speed, and that’s with a third reef in the main. Second fishing boat seen on AIS since leaving Samoa, Zhongshui 702. It’s 7nm directly ahead of me. Hopefully, in the next 30 - 45 minutes it should have cleared my path, net included! Apparently this is a long line fishing boat, puts out miles and miles of a single line with hooks regularly placed all along it. Thankfully it has cleared my path!
Well, I mustn’t complain as I did ask for wind! The last four nights have been pretty crazy but then you expect that in these seas. The boat (and I!) are handling it well, and the increased speed brings down the passage by at least a day or two. I’m getting in the region where there are quite a few fishing vessels. Another one came up on AIS in the early hours of the morning, but again this passed on my port side, by about 8nm. In the next day I should be passing the south end of the chain of the Solomon Islands. I had thought about stopping here but reconsidered after being told that they had a measles outbreak and I had to have a medical certificate stating that I had been vaccinated. I have, but not the certificate with me. Still waiting for confirmation from PNG that my visa has been granted. This morning I’m doing my washing. I have twice the normal amount to do as I didn’t do any yesterday. That’s two pairs of shorts! The weather today is cloudy, overcast and with rain in the air. Will I be able to hang my washing out to dry! The AIS alarm has sounded again. Zhongshui 778 has passed on my port side, about 2nm away. It has now turned 90 degrees and is passing my stern, giving me plenty of room. I had tried to contact the ship to get an update on the weather but they haven’t responded. The AIS is also showing another ship, HOSM AIS test ship. Not sure what this indicates but, again, no response from them either. It’s been a day of trying to keep under cover. With intermittent rain for most of it, not heavy but enough to be annoying. Worse still we’re the breakers come up over the side and stern of the boat, giving me an absolute drenching each time it happens. You’d think that sitting high at the helm it wouldn’t reach you, but I can assure you that it does!
Another wild night on this rollercoaster of a sea. Kids would pay a premium for a ride like this at Thorpe Park or Alton Towers, and they’d get the pleasure of being soaked at the same time. Not sure how long they’d last on the ride before they became a victim of mal de mar! Had to go round this morning picking things up off the floor and putting them back on the work surface where they had leapt from. Even one of the cooker switches had come off! I’m heading now for an island called Rennell. I think it’s part of the Solomon island chain. It’s about 120nm away and, if my bearing is correct, I will pass it on my port side. Then it will be across more of the Coral Sea towards PNG. Talking of the Coral Sea, that was part of the name of the cargo ship that passed astern of me during the early hours of this morning. Coral Islander II, a cargo ship that services the islands with their provisions and other goods sent to them.
Up half the night passing between the two islands, Rennell and Bellona. There were no lights seen so I’m guessing that they are not inhabited. Despite there being nearly a full moon I couldn’t see either, even though I was within six miles of them. As I was unsure if any vessels were in the area, AIS didn’t show any, I couldn’t be caught unaware so every so often I would come up to the helm, have a good look around and then go back to bed, setting the alarm for the next hour! I’m about 100nm south of Guadalcanal Island, which is where my first thoughts of stopping were (Solomon Island - Honiara) but not this time. Conditions are some breaks in the cloud but the sun hasn’t managed to break through them yet. I’m going to have to check the water generator fuse to see if it’s blown. The battery monitor level is lower than expected, especially since we are experiencing high winds and a good speed through the water. Fuse checked and still functioning so not sure what caused the issue (again!). Winds have been holding up, which is great, but they are backing and veering, to the extent that I’m constantly trying to set a course or sailing on a broad reach or goose winged. I have to take into account that there are some 17+ long line fishing boats to the south west of me, about 30nm away. At the moment they are static but I don’t want to get in the middle of them when they are chasing down the skipjack tuna! I do need to go a bit further south but I’m relying on my brother to keep me posted as to their movements. My thoughts are that they will probably head south. If they are laying out 60 - 70 miles of line then heading East or North will give them insufficient room before they have to change direction. That only leaves West or South. West they have 240nm before arriving at PNG but going South it’s 1000’s of miles before land. That’s my conclusion. We’ll see how right I am tomorrow!
I quote from Jimmy Cornell, the author of World Cruising Routes who said…. “Most routes crossing the Coral Sea, an area known for boisterous winds during the SE trade wind season, will have a fast but rough passage, as the winds blow strongly”. I can certainly vouch for this as my average daily distance sailed has increased day by day, from under 100nm to over 120nm. Every time I step out into the cockpit I am wary of the next breaking wave either coming from the port side or from the stern. If I ever get my EVisa for PNG I should be there by the 16th, on current progress. However, I think I’m resigned to go to Thursday Island, a nightmare of a place to enter, so am looking for landfall on the 18th, in a weeks time. Each day there’s a walkabout check on the rigging. I know I have to replace the outhaul and two reefing lines and one of the genoa sheets has been chafed. On my current setup I’ll leave the outhaul and reefing lines until later but must replace the genoa sheet. Food for the next four nights has been cooked and my Mr. D’s slow cooker will keep it warm until this evening. It’s mince beef with potatoes, carrots and cabbage, spiced up with a mixture of condiments and curry powder. Well that was an interesting position with LuruYuanYu118! And what a name for a fishing boat. The boat came up on my AIS monitor when we were about 7nm apart. It was travelling at a slow speed but was on a collision course with me. I tried calling her several times but she never answered. I tried one more time when she was visible to me (that’s how close she was!). Eventually she answered my call but I’m afraid I didn’t understand what she said. A standoff, although strictly speaking, she had right of way. However, as she had set a longline out behind her I really wanted to pass ahead of her. When she was ‘in touching distance’ she turned to port and gave me free passage to pass her bow, thankfully! I still have several other targets showing up on AIS but I think these are all static markers for the boats to use as a measure of their trawl through the water.
Passed through another time line. Three hours have been gained since leaving Samoa. I don’t bother altering the clocks as it would upset my daily records, much easier to stick with six hour intervals than subtract an hour every 15 degrees of longitude I pass through. Been playing dogems all night with these pesky Chinese fishing boats. As mentioned, there’s one boat and a number (I’ve found it to be four) AIS indicators attached to it. However, my AIS monitor cannot determine which is boat and which is not. Therefore everyone is a potential threat and the alarm goes off. I could either reduce the radius of the risk ring or turn off the alarm altogether. Both are extremely dangerous and I don’t think that is the best solution. As such, I am up and down like a yo-yo, checking positions, calling the fleet, only to be ignored on the radio, and hoping that they will make the moves necessary to avoid a collision. In the end they do! After the fishing fleet have gone it’s the turn of commercial traffic. I had two boats aiming for me, one from the port side, White Arrow, the other, Tachibana II, from my starboard side. Both about 10miles away, and all three of us would meet about 40mins later unless avoiding action was taken. I first called Tachibana and they said I would pass their bow. Then White Arrow said they would alter course. This they did, and that was fine. However, Tachibana left it until the last minute to alter course, but thankfully they did. I’m now closing in on the islands just south of PNG and will be making a northerly approach to run parallel to PNG but remain mid ocean, the safest option to take, single handed. First sighting of dolphins today, since probably leaving the Marquesas. I did go down to get my camera but by the time I was back in the cockpit they had decided that I wasn’t that interesting. (But then a lot of people say that!)
Mid afternoon yesterday I switched on the engine as the wind had died down to around 7kts. As I’ve been a bit frugal with the fuel I thought I could motor a bit as I’ve under 600nm left to go. After a couple of hours the winds began to pick up again, to the low teens. I thought I was going to be in for a comfortable night for the first time in days. Alas, it was not to be. By the early hours of the morning the wind alarm, set at 28kts true wind, was frequently going off. There was nothing more I could do, sails were well and truly reefed, so it was ‘sit it out’ time or try and get some sleep. I was also given coordinates for a cargo transit line and was told that this was very busy. As this was going North / South and my passage East / West I had to be aware of this movement. Not so. My AIS alarm went off once, the offending ship quite some distance away from me and clearly giving me a wide berth. By about 03:00 (local time) I had passed the corridor and panic over. I’m now entering the channel between PNG and the northern tip of Australia. I tried to take the coastal route but my sails wouldn’t settle in a satisfactory position so now I’m in open water where I am able to adjust for wind changes… not that I want to! But, having said that, the wind has backed, so now I’m more or less heading for the coastal route, but haven’t quite got the wind angle to go there. So it’s ‘piggy in the middle’ until either the wind backs further round or it veers back to its original path. It’s 20:30 Samoan time or 17:30 local time. Sun is beginning to set, the seas are much calmer than they have been for some nights, so maybe a peaceful nights sleep? Good night everyone.
What a lovely nights sleep I had, for the first time in over a week. No banging and crashing through waves, no alarms going off, wind or AIS. Just the gentle rolling of the boat going through the water and ahhh! Up at midnight and 06:00 to record the log details and then back to sleep. With the boats clock being 3hrs ahead of local time it’s not until 08:45ish that it starts to get light. So after recording the log at 06:00 I may as well get a few more hours of sleep! Today it is overcast with rain soon to arrive. I have had my shower and have been through the laundry basket to get my dirty clothes out. So that’s one more pair of shorts cleaned and hung out to dry, provided that the rain doesn’t come too soon.
Well after the lull came the proverbial storm, well not quite. The previous night was a delight. Plenty of sleep, uninterrupted by any external distractions. Last night was the exact opposite. The winds, not exceptionally strong, we’re still gusting over 30kts. With this came the large rollers that were crashing into the sides of the boat and the seawater through the door that I kept open. Before I could get the chance to close the door an almighty deluge appeared from nowhere and, once again, the galley floor was given another wash. At least it’s fresh water and not salt water. A bit of mopping up before trying to settle to sleep again. I think I probably had about three hours sleep between 20:00 and 06:00 so sometime during the day I shall put my head down on the pillow! Decision as to whether to take the VTS route to get to the anchorage at Thursday Island or chance it through Pandora’s Pass. Back of the fag packet calculations said I’d arrive there around 01:30. I would then have to sit around for daylight before entering. The alternative is to travel a further 40 odd miles NW and enter through the VTS passage. It would mean arriving just before daylight which is what I would like to do. The only problem is that it’s another 80nm to the anchorage and I don’t think I will get much sleep the night before. I’ve also been told by my brother that wind and swell will be strong until the following day making it a bit riskier than usual! Well it’s going to be another bumpy ride tonight. The wind and seas are already starting to build up. Wind blowing around the 23kt mark with at least a 3m swell. Sitting in the saloon and looking out at the stern of the boat you can see this wall of water approaching. Sometimes you just surf down the other side of it. At other times you get kicked to one side and the autopilot goes into action to bring the boat back on course. No wonder my batteries are running low! (But with all the wind my wind and water generators ought to be topping them up!). Supper tonight was a vegetable curry, but not for vegetarians! Potatoes, carrots, 1/2 a cabbage and an onion. A tin of coconut milk, a few tablespoons of the spices that Cedric donated to the boat and a sprinkling of other spices from the cupboard. Added to that enough chicken gravy granules to thicken up the sauce, and voila, food for the next four nights. I had thought about adding some fish but I’ll save that for another time. Hence a vegetable curry not fit for vegetarians. Delicious.
It was a relatively quiet night for me. The expected arrival of the higher winds never came and I had a good sleep with few interruptions. Still another 1.5 days before I get to Thursday Island but the miles are slowly getting crossed off. Although the visibility has improved I’m too far off PNG to see it. This morning I topped up both fuel tanks and have about 50 litres left in the jerrycans. I don’t know if they have a fuel station I can moor up to but I’m hoping they do, otherwise I will have to get my jerrycans in my dingy and take them ashore, which is another problem. The outboard engine is on the guardrail bracket and it’s quite an operation to get it on to the dingy single handed. Maybe I will be able to call for assistance when I get there on my VHF radio. I may have another problem. I’ve been told that I need a measles vaccination certificate for Indonesia which I don’t have with me. If that’s the case I will have to try and get a shot somewhere on the island. That’s provided there is anywhere!!! You know that feeling when you start to get close to your destination the longer it takes. Well that’s exactly what is happening right now. The wind has dropped off and so has my speed. Doing around 4kts now, as opposed to 5+kts earlier today and 6kts the last few days. You can taste that beer on the back of your throat but someone keeps moving the glass away from you. Still, what’s an extra few hours when I’ve been at sea for the last 20 days! I must be getting house (or boat) proud. Have just given both heads a thorough clean in preparation for the bio security inspection that will happen once I drop my anchor in Thursday Island bay. Also tried to give the chrome a clean but I think I need some industrial cleaning fluid for this, or at least something better than the fluid that I have.
What a very strange collision warning I received yesterday evening on my AIS module. It was around 21:00, having sent the wind figures off to my brother. I had a good look around, nothing in the vicinity that I could see and certainly nothing showing up on AIS. Within minutes of going down to the saloon I got an alarm sounding off with the message ‘collision warning’. I went back up to the cockpit to see what was around, and nothing. I then went to look at my AIS device. There was clearly a warning. Looking closer at the information it was a SAR (Search and Rescue) helicopter, travelling at 414kts in my direction, only that it was 156nm away! Now that’s advanced warning. However, I can only be accountable for an incident on the water but not in the air. It came to within 10nm of me, hovering for about 5 minutes off my port bow before going back from where it came. Strange to say the least. I’m coming up to the tricky part of the passage now, working my way through the Great Barrier Reef to get to Thursday Island. Still 150nm to go, approximately, so I reckon I should be at anchor around 22:30 tomorrow night. Not great but cannot be helped. A bit more housework today. Cleaned the saloon and galley, including walls and ceiling. 15:00, first bit of Australian territory seen. Passing Stephen’s Island which 4 and a bit miles on my port side. Nearly there, we’ll just over a 100nm to go, I think! (Make that 125nm)
What a night. Not one to repeat when you’ve had little sleep the night before! I had about 150nm to go in order to get to Thursday Island. Working through the initial part of the Great Barrier Reef wasn’t a problem. Nice wide open channel. A few cargo ships but they weren’t really a problem. Then, with about 80nm to go you hit the main part of the reef system and get to the VTS zone. The channel narrows and the ships become more frequent. By about 23:00 the heavens open up and there’s a massive downpour. On top of this the wind blows through, gusting up to 25kts. The wind wasn’t the problem to begin with. It was on the beam and we, the boat and I, were making progress. Then the wind direction changed to on the nose. For a sailboat this is not good. Dropping sails in the dark (no moon) in the pouring rain with winds up to 25kts is not ideal, to say the least. Sails taken in and under power of both engines, we were doing about 4kts. Still many miles to go. Trying to catch 40 winks while trying to avoid the reefs is an art not to be taken lightly! With daylight approaching and the wind backing I was able to get the genoa out. By around midday I was in the bay approaching the Thursday Island harbour. I radioed in and they told me where to anchor. Now, this is where the problems begin. All set to drop the anchor, it wouldn’t. Tried different remote and handheld devices, still no go. Called port authority to let them know of my problem and told them I needed to go out to deeper water to sort out the windlass. (Deeper water means no boats around). Still no joy I decided that I could manually drop the anchor, so I returned to the spot where I initially was told to go. I dropped the anchor but it started to drag, and as it started to drag I got closer and closer to a very old fishing boat to my stern. I decided to drive forward and then see if I could go in reverse to drag the anchor away from the fishing boat. With a very strong current I ended up the other side of the fishing boat with my anchor wrapped around his mooring buoy. Could I free it, no. By this time Thursday Island control centre got involved and in the end we decided that a diver was required to free the anchor. In the end we dropped the anchor, chain and rode in the water to collect at slack tide the following morning. I was helped to get on a customs mooring buoy for the night and then I started to fathom out why the windlass wasn’t working. Then I found that all the domestic units weren’t working either. For some reason, which I found out at 01:00 the use of the windlass trips the domestic units. By starting the engine they come back on again. This needs solving, as does the windlass system!!!
Wednesday 19. 07.23
Up early today, 06:00. Still dark so went back to sleep for another hour. Had to rig up a system to get my outboard engine off the guardrail bracket and on to the tender. Using the mast for the wind vane I attached two safety lines to take the weight of the engine when I took it off the bracket. A locking block was used to lower the engine to the height of the stern of the tender to enable me to manoeuvre it on to the stern of the tender. Job done, what a success. I’m hoping I can use the same method to reverse the process. At 08:00 the diver, Martin, collected me so that we could retrieve the anchor. When he went down to assess the situation he told me that the anchor was no longer fouled on the mooring buoy and was clear to be hauled into his boat. We then returned to my boat and have put the anchor, chain and rode on the trampoline. All I need to do is feed this back through the tube and into the anchor well. Not an easy task. Still have problems with the windlass and the domestic electrics. Contacted ABF at 10:00 as I hadn’t heard from them. Apparently they had been calling from 09:00. Have I got a problem now with my VHF radio? Went ashore to complete all the formalities with Customs, Immigration and Bio Security. All very pleasant and easy to do but took the best part of an hour to complete. Got a map of the island and set off to the supermarket to get some provisions and a SIM card. Provisions turned out to be a box of Earl Grey tea bags and a bottle of wine, more about that later! Called into the medical centre to find out about getting a measles shot, which is possible, but lab results for a blood test would take over 10 days, so probably going to give that and Bali a miss. Called into the local to use their Wi-Fi to connect my SIM card. Have put the SIM card in, paid for the data and had an acknowledgment that it was all connected. It isn’t so I’ll have to go back to the local tomorrow to use their Wi-Fi again to sort out the issue. Bought a glass of ginger beer, less than a pint. Cost $12. Very expensive to say the least! Back to the boat for lunch, well late afternoon tea! Feed the anchor rode and chain through the pipe and into the anchor well, then remembered that it needed to go through the windlass and started again. By this time it was getting dark so it was time for a drink. Started off with a cup of tea, very British. Then the wine, a lovely bottle of Shiraz. The first glass tasted a bit lacking in something, couldn’t quite work out what it was. Then read the label on the bottle. It was alcohol free wine . I could have saved myself $10 and just bought a bottle of juice. Need to wear my glasses next time I go shopping.
Fun and games today. Wanted to go into town to get Wi-Fi so I could get my SIM card working. Put the dingy in the water, with the spare fuel tank, just in case. About 100m from leaving the boat the engine conked out. Now there’s a very fast flowing current here and it was either end up miles from where I wanted to go or try to head for the wharfs. Oh, I should have also mentioned that some ba**ard/s had stolen my oars. So, quickly trying to put fuel in the tank, and the starting the engine by pumping fuel through the fuel line, I noticed that the fuel line was split. The engine wasn’t going to start. Thankfully I managed to get the hooked up to one of the pilot boats at the wharf. I explained my predicament to a couple of, (I think) pilot boat crew and they drove me into town to get some spare parts. I then called into the same local as yesterday to use their Wi-Fi in order to get my SIM card to work. SIM card now working, back to the dingy to repair the leaking fuel line. On the pilot boat I was tied up to, down in the engine bay were a set of tools, a vice and a saw. The saw to cut off the old split pipe, the vice to hold the connector firmly while I tried to get the pipe on it, and a screwdriver to tighten up the jubilee clip. Once all completed it was test time at the outboard engine. Fuel primed and engine cord pulled, she fired into life. Great, I’ll move her now to where I should gone. Dingy tied up at the dingy dock I then returned to the local for lunch and a beer. Fish and chips lunch, fish delicious, chips overcooked. Having consumed about 2/3’s of my (less than a) pint an almighty ruckus started off right next to me. Four burly policemen were trying to arrest a man wanted for burglary on the mainland and there was an arrest warrant issued for him. About five minutes and one spilt 1/3 of a glass of XXXX, the police had cuffs on him and escorted him out of the pub. I then went up to the bar to see if they would let me have 1/3 of a glass of XXXX, to which they gave me a full glass. Result. Oh, and the sergeant came back to apologise for the incident. What a gent.
Tried to clear out this morning but leave Monday. Rules are rules so will need to go back to ABF 08:30 Monday morning to complete all the paperwork. Not really a problem but I thought I would check. Enquired about fuel. Looks like I need to fill up the tanks with what I have left on board and then go into town to get diesel. The port is only set up with high speed pumps, not suitable for sailing yachts. Getting the laundry done now and then I’ll have to go back to the boat as the driers are not working. There’s plenty of wind to dry the washing very quickly! I’ll have to leave the shopping until either later today or do a couple of trips tomorrow.
The sooner I leave Thursday Island the better. What can I say that’s good about the place. Well, everyone is very friendly, welcoming and helpful. Is that three things or just one! Let’s say it’s three because I honestly don’t know what else I could add. Now the not so good things about the place. Beer and ginger beer is very expensive and not a full pint. Food is very expensive. Just went shopping and got hit for £75, and I need to go back again tomorrow (or Monday) to buy my meats! I’ve just tried to get fuel for the yacht, taking 8 x 20 litre jerrycans by taxi to the fuel station. The station was closed - half day Saturday, but they had a card machine. It declined three of my cards. It’s closed on Sunday so I will have to return on Monday. The taxi journey, to the fuel station and back to the wharf, probably a mile and a half in total, $20. He must have seemed me coming. Worse part of being here. Using the tender to get from the boat to the quay. The current is running at about 5kts, wind and waves all in the same direction. Going to the quay isn’t too bad but the return trip is horrendous. I get soaked on every trip. Today I got soaked twice! Then when I get to my boat it’s a struggle to try and hook up the boat to the davit lines to take the boat out of the water. The current is constantly fighting against you and the waves, hitting the side of the boat and / or tender, will give you another soaking. Tomorrow I will make one more trip to shore to get the last of the provisions and the a final trip on Monday to get fuel and clear out.
Last minute prep for the departure tomorrow. For the first time since my arrival on the mooring buoy the wind has calmed down and the waves are lower. This has meant that the trip to the wharf and back won’t be half as bad. First stop, ATM to draw out sufficient money for the fuel. Going to cost around $500Aus. Next port of call, the Catholic Church. Thought I would pop in to see the inside and stay for the mass. IBIS, the supermarket was next, to buy the frozen food. I bought some sea bass filets so that will be a nice change from chicken or pork. The local was closed - doesn’t open until midday, but I only wanted to use their Wi-Fi as I had a large file I needed to send to my grandson. It will have to wait now. Back on the boat the oils, water and belts checked. And that’s about it for the day.