Friday 15th August - Champing at the Bit

Jon & Carol Dutton
Fri 15 Aug 2014 08:21

Friday 15th August - Champing at the Bit


A fortnight ago we ended on the optimistic note to the effect that with a modicum of luck we’d be on our way to Fiji some time in the coming week following a local day-long sea trial.  Right.


The sea trial went pretty well.  We had a Force 5 - 6 out in the bay which was a bit hunkier than absolutely ideal but it wasn’t far short of it.  Nothing leaked and most things worked.  There was an alarming clunking noise from the steering gear whilst under auto-pilot but a quick unloading of the lazarette and some yoga inside it, whilst underway and armed with a couple of adjustable spanners, sorted that out. 


The next task was to re-calibrate both electronic auto-pilot course computers.  This involves turning the boat very slowly through a number of circles until the associated flux gate compass has sorted out which way is north and what the deviation curve looks like.  Do it too quickly and the display rather rudely says “Too Fast” and punishes you by making you carry on for a few more circles.   Once it is satisfied it then demands that you let it “Learn”.  You pass control to it and it sets off wiggling the boat in a number of sharp manoeuvres until it has established quite how the boat responds.  We had to go through this entire routine twice to satisfy both of our independent systems (one is a back-up).  The sea conditions didn’t make turning in very slow circles a real doddle so we ended up, a bit like Pooh Bear and Piglet, going round and round in circles, apparently following ever more woozles in The Hundred Acre Wood, for really quite some time. 


When we’d gone through this palaver in the Solent, just before departure from the UK, we’d elected to sport the Red Ensign because we knew that we would have attracted the lustily delivered criticism that comes the way of any White Ensign yacht doing anything unusual in the Solent.  That was a wise move.  We’d got shouted at anyway but that was fine.  However, here it is the middle of winter and most sensible Kiwis don’t go sailing – certainly not mid-week.  Moreover, most don’t bother wearing ensigns in their own waters.  So, we had plenty of room in an almost deserted bay and nobody around who knew anything about flags.  So, time and space to get the job got done and no external hassle.


However, two issues did emerge.  First, the chart plotter at the steering wheel, through which all the GPS and radar data is routed, was being pretty obstinate about communicating with the ‘black box’ permanently installed computer and its remote screen at the chart table.  It would and then it wouldn’t.  Then it might, or not.  This is not a show-stopper but, given the assault course represented by the route from the companionway to the helm’s position on Arnamentia, it is not very convenient – particularly on long passages - to have to go to the wheel to see what your electronic charting is telling you.  Moreover, it is useful to be able to plan passages and waypoints at the chart table and send them to the plotter.  So, for a short-handed crew on a boat such as Arnamentia, it’s a worthwhile enough feature to merit sorting but falls into the ‘desirable’ rather than ‘essential’ category.


As it happens we didn’t need to debate whether to wait until we’d got that fixed because the water-maker wouldn’t work.  How much that matters depends, of course, upon precisely what you intend to do.  But, since the main objective of returning to Fiji this year is to stooge around the Lau Group for a few weeks, a water-maker looks more than a bit handy.  Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you could do it some other way but it is extremely tedious and most don’t.  The population of the southern Lau Group relies on a ship arriving every month or two but otherwise survives on what it can grub out of the ground or the sea.  If you want to be able to anchor off for quite a bit and interact with the villagers, you’d better be self-sufficient in stuff such as water.


The water-maker expert arrived at the dock and fiddled about for about 3 hours before declaring that it would all be much better if he could pull the whole thing out and take it away to his ‘binch’ in his workshop in Auckland.  It was Friday, it was well after midday and he was, anyway, on leave the whole of the next week (so, this week).  Meanwhile, the only other expert was away during the same period doing a job in Tahiti or somewhere.  Our expert promises to return with a fully functioning water-maker on Tuesday 19th.  Hope so.


Meanwhile the chart-plotter-to-computer communication issue has been resolved although nobody, including the guys who ‘repaired’ the internal plotter connections knows quite what the problem was.  We’ll just pray that it all works because Mr Raymarine is not very interested in supporting kit that is not now wi-fi.  And, we are not about to ditch the whole caboodle (chart plotter, radar, auto-pilot, GPS, wind instruments, speed, log, depth, you name it) to enable the switch.  A totally wi-fi system would be a wonderful thing no doubt.  Arnamentia should look forward to that as a golden hello from her next owners a few years hence.  So, my girl, don’t you get all excited now.  It will all be so much better sorted out by then and you’ll end up with the very newest iPod in the class – for about a fortnight.


Assuming that all goes well on Tuesday we can get moving at last.  You may have noticed that New Zealand has been thumped by a succession of deep low pressure systems which have resulted in some pretty serious breeze – well in excess of 100km/hr or 60mph.  That is not good sailing weather.  However, these systems come through at something like 5 to 7 day intervals and in-between there are excellent windows of opportunity to get going and into the Tropics before the next system steams in to the south of you.  At the moment it looks as though Thursday presents such an opportunity.  So, we will see if we can get further north in NZ – Opua or Whangarei - before the next big blow comes in.  There to await a few days before we slingshot outta NZ on the back of the next low pressure system.


Well, it’s a sort of plan anyway!