Saturday, November 15
It is getting cold. At the temperatures in the middle seventies it may
sound like an overstatement, but we have spent last five months in a very
warm climate. We are moving smartly SW at 6 knots, making only 2 - 3 knots
on our desired southern course to New Zealand. The wind, however, is right
on the nose at 20 - 25 knots from south, so we have to beat to the windward.
It looks like we are getting out of the grip of a strong west-flowing
current which has been pushing us from our desired course for the last four
days. "Sweet Weather" is running under the mainsail with two reefs in it,
storm yankee on the furling-less headstay and the inner jib. These are the
only two hanked jibs I have and it is great to have them.
It might not sound too exciting, but it is a welcomed change for better:
last night we were holding on under the storm yankee and main with three
reefs. I felt lucky to gain six miles southward over that night. The 35-knot
southerly gale started blowing on Friday afternoon, after ten hour calm. We
had to motor most of the day on Friday to get out of a small windless high.
The calm sea allowed me to safely go aloft to install the spare headstay in
place of the jury-rigged one, made of genoa halyard. Right on time, it would
be a disaster to loose the mast in the last night gale. But let us go a few
We decided to stop at Ceva-i-Ra reef on our way from Tonga to New Zealand.
A year ago, Andrzej lost his previous boat, "Atlantis", at that reef. It was
a tough blow of bad luck. The boat was not insured and, with the well
selected content gathered over the years, it represented most of his
earthly possessions. Andrzej bought "Atlantis" about fifteen years ago and
invested many years of hard work and a lot of money in preparing the boat
for his retirement cruising. He started full time cruising about five years
ago. After the disaster, he managed to scrape enough money to buy "Panika",
a 38 ft. steel cutter - a "handy man special". His wife, Krystyna, had to go
back to work, however.
We thought of it as a sentimental journey but there was also a chance that
some hardware could still be salvaged as Ceva-i-Ra is a rather remote reef.
The 1.5 mile long reef with a sandy cay on it looked nice and tranquil at 6
o'clock on sunny Wednesday morning. There was no trace of "Atlantis",
unfortunately. We did not have a chart of the reef, so after having paid our
respects to Andrzej's beloved boat we decided not to take the risk of
anchoring. Having circled the reef from east, north and west we put our
boats on the course to New Zealand.
The evil spirits of the reef were following me, though. At 7:15 am, with
the reef still in sight, we heard a loud, hard bang on "Sweet Weather". It
took me a good few moments to realize, that it was a port shroud which
parted at the turnbuckle! We tacked immediately to make the mast secure and
set about fixing the shroud. We made an eye at the broken end of the wire
and installed a length of 5/16th anchor chain between the wire eye and
turnbuckle. It did not look pretty but was certainly strong enough. We were
back on our course before the breakfast, a bit late that morning, only six
miles behind "Panika". After that, it was a nice sailing all the sunny day,
we were close-hauling against a 20-knot southeasterly breeze. The wind piped
up in the evening but I felt rather safe with three reefs in the mainsail
and the yankee fully unrolled. While in Tonga, I replaced my # 3 genoa
("working jib") with a smaller, tougher yankee, better suited for a rough
weather which may well happen during the passage to New Zealand.
My evening watch was very pleasant with the heeling boat moving fast and
smartly among the rising seas. Small altocumulus clouds were scampering
across the face of full moon. Then, about eleven o'clock - BANG! I jumped
out of the cockpit like mad and looked at the rigging and sails. My heart
sunk when I saw the furling arching back and the yankee strangely misshapen.
In panic, I jumped back into the cockpit, kicked the autopilot into standby,
grabbed the helm and turned the boat down the wind while yelling at the top
of my asthmatic lungs to my crew:
-"Przemek, come up !!!
A few long moments later a sleepy voice from below inquired:
- Should I dress? -
- Screw it, just come on the deck now!
Eventually, Przemek's head emerged slowly from the companionway.
- Why are you screaming at me? - he said with an air of hurt dignity.
Apparently, the panic in my voice did not make it across the Polish-Czech
language barrier. Besides, he was damn right. With the boat running down the
wind our mast was safe and there was no need for a panic rush. I cooled
- OK, Przemek, I am sorry. Get a jacket. Our headstay parted!
- What is "headstay parted"? - He was rather puzzled.
Przemek's English is still less than basic, after a year and a half of
studying and practicing it in the United States and aboard "Sweet Weather".
He was not any faster with acquiring the sailing terms in English nor
Polish. Unfortunately, we do not speak a common language, although Polish
and Czech are more similar to each other than Italian and Spanish. I usually
start with saying something in English, then, if not understood, repeat it
in Polish and Russian. Przemek has more confidence in my understanding his
Czech. If all these fails, Przemek pulls out his English-Czech dictionary.
We also use hands and feet. It works okay when there is enough time. In
emergency, it is often tough on both of us.
Upon push of a button the autopilot took over and we went to the foredeck.
Now, Przemek understood the problem and got quite scared. The yankee and
furling were hanging on the halyard. It took us a couple of hours to lower
all the mess, stow the broken furling on the deck and secure the mast with
the halyard. The halyard was too short, so we used a length of anchor chain
to make up for the difference. Then, we hoisted the inner jib and set the
boat on her course. It was a long night.
During our midnight radio session I told Andrzej what happened. None of us
could figure it out how he could possibly help me, so it was decided that he
should continue at his own pace. It was about 800 mile to Tauranga, and
about 600 miles to Opua, the nearest port of entry to New Zealand. We would
meet in one of these harbors, our final destination being Tauranga. I had
enough fuel aboard to motor some 300 - 400 miles if becalmed, but motoring a
sailboat against anything but a mild breeze would be awfully inefficient. It
is going to be a long passage to New Zealand under our reduced sails,
especially if the winds stay southerly.
Next morning, we caught a 5 feet Mahi-Mahi! It was certainly big enough to
keep us well fed for more than a week. Mahi-Mahi is a colorful fish, mostly
gold, yellow and green. I was holding it down on the deck with a gaff hook
when all the colors suddenly shifted to purplish, starting at the head. The
fish died. I love fish on my plate and Mahi-Mahi is my favorite, but this
play of colors of a beautiful animal being killed by myself saddened me
unexpectedly. It made not even a smallest sound of complain.
It was very fortunate indeed, that during the Friday calm I was able to
install a spare (old) headstay and our mast was safe (?) again. It appeared
that the wire, made new by the manufacturer of my furling, broke at the
swaged eye. I felt guilty about the parted shroud. Being short of money
before setting off on this trip, I did not replace some 20 years old
shrouds. But all stays were new, including the one which parted! I guess,
simply the banging and jerking of the rigging and flapping of the sails on
the frequently crossed big seas during our long passage to Marquesas took
its toll on the wires, the headstay being the most exposed to all the
jerking and straining. I will have to find out how to prevent such a damage
in the future.
Sunday, November 9, 2003. Position: S20*04'; W170*23' (about 300 nm W of
Vava'u and 350 nm of Ceva-i-Ra reef).
A mysterious force tried to keep us in Tonga: Clearing out took us all
Wednesday, as the Immigration official was not in his office and could not
be found. We bought all the provision needed, including excellent breads
from and Austrian baker at Lighthouse Cafe, took water and fuel, did our
laundry and made numerous trips to the Immigration office. Eventually, at
the end of the day, success! - The official was there! We cleared out, but
the day was very hot and we were quite tired. A decision was made to leave
the next morning. Well, it was raining quite heavily next morning. It
cleared right after lunch though, so no more excuses. Our anchor chain was
fouled up by some corals so it took a while to get the anchor up; "Panika"
left about half an hour earlier.
When we left Neiafu harbor channel I could see "Panika" waiting for us in
the last sheltered stretch of water of Vava'u Island. How nice of Andrzej, I
thought. Well, it was not exactly so. It appeared that his autopilot quit.
As he is singlehanding, it would be rather tough for him to sail the boat
without the autopilot, especially, that his Aries windvane was not exactly
operational either. It was 4pm. We decided to anchor nearby and do trouble
shooting. The motor of the drive unit was humming nicely, but the push rod,
which moves the tiller, did not move. The clutch, located inside the drive
unit seemed to be the problem. That was serious - we could not open the
drive unit, it was serviceable by an Autohelm shop only. We had gone through
the trouble shooting chart in the manual - no suggestion there. We have
exactly the same autopilot on "Sweet Weather". I checked the voltage on
clutch terminals of the Control Head - it was the same on both. Our only
hope was a faulty wiring. It was getting dark. We had dinner and decided to
continue with our sleuthing in the morning.
Next morning we checked continuity of the wires and bingo! One of the wires
was dead. How a double isolated wire could possibly loose conductivity (the
currents flowing there are rather low) it was beyond our comprehension. It
did, though, and a new jury-rigged wire brought the autopilot back to life!
We soldered the connections properly, got breakfast out of our way and were
ready to go. What a lucky ending! Since then, with strong wind on our port
quater and a favorable current pushing us forward at 0.5 knot, we are doing
on average 6 knots, which means 144 miles per day. These are the best daily
runs of the season! Moreover, sailing is quite comfortable for a change, as
the swell is mostly regular and coming from the wind direction. (The next
daily run was 152 nm!)
NOTE: Somebody sent me a very flattering SMS on my Iridium telephone the
other day: "You are a great author, I really liked your book, although you
need more dialogue...it has precious sayings..." . Unfortunately, the
Internet leprechaun cut off the end of the message, including the signature.
So, thanks for awfully kind words Mr.(or Ms.?) Anonymous. Would you care to
identify yourself, perhaps in another SMS? (NB: Have you noticed a dialog in
the latest entry to the Webdiary?).
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