Leaving the river and problem solving.

Wed 1 Feb 2017 05:23
02:17.835S 109:46.834E

Sitting on the side of the bridge deck we tossed little scraps of paper into the water, watching them slide slowly upstream on the smooth brown surface of the river. No, not yet, there was still a little time to go. We were waiting for slack tide, when the river flow changes from upstream to down. That way we would be just pulling up the weight of the anchor and its chain instead of having Lochmarin pull back at the same time, which is important just now as our electric windlass has given up the ghost, for good this time. We've nursed it back to life four times but now has come the time for it to end its mortal toil. So we are lifting our anchor hand over hand then using our manual windlass, a rather laborious and longwinded process which can use all the help it can get.

With the anchor up we set off down the slick dark river, letting the turning tide help the engine as we go. It's overcast so no stars help us but we can make out a dark band where river meets bank and pin pricks of light are dotted about. Some are shore buildings, some anchor lights of tankers filled with palm oil, three vertical ones mark a tug with his tow and others are the catch-me-if-you-can will-o'-the-wisp lights of small fishing craft. A few are even markers, guiding our passage. Phil delights in unraveling the clues, working out which are moving and which just appear to move as we do, which to worry about, which to ignore. I stand on the bridge deck and faithfully keep my eyes on the ones he tells me to watch, trying not to be distracted by the occasional firefly that meanders by, flashing on and off as he goes, or by the incredibly bright single line of phosphorescence that scrolls away from either side of the bow, drawing green-white curlicues on the black canvas.

Just to keep things interesting, when we got to the 'tricky bit' at the mouth of the river, where one has to cross the bar then turn sharply to starboard and run along parallel to a sand spit before finding the deeper water channel out, there was a tug and tow just heading in and a massive raft of logs anchored. Having manoeuvred our way past them we thought crossing the bay would be plain sailing but there was a whole other game to play.

The bay was littered with small fishing boats, all too small to show on the radar, tiny lights everywhere you looked. Some were steady, some came and went, some were flashing: red, green or the cycle of red, blue, green that we'd come to recognise from the solar powered Chinese LED lights small craft use. Some of the lights were on boats. Some were on marker buoys on the far end of a net. It looked like chaos but there was a system of sorts. Most of the boats didn't show any light until you got close, then they'd flash a torch at you, expecting you to flash back to show you've seen them. If you get close the flashing gets more insistent so it's a good indication of how far away they are. The continuously flashing LED lights are (mostly) on the end of the nets, but it can be very hard to work out which net belongs to which boat, so once you've flashed them back, they'll shine their torch on the sea surface in the direction their net is set in. We got through without hitting anyone or fouling our prop but it certainly took a lot of concentration and course changes!

Happily, they were only in the bay so we were able to settled down to retrace our wake from last week. Night rolled into day, bringing grey skies, milky green seas and squall after squall, day rolled into night, pitch black except for the loom of the lighted up fishing boats on the horizon, and bringing more squalls after squalls after squalls. But our system of keeping close to the land seemed to work again and we missed the worst of the squalls until we rounded the South West corner of Borneo.

It was my fault: I was on watch and I had got complacent as we'd managed to skirt the last few squalls with nothing worse than a bit of rain and 20 knots of wind. I was flying the jib when I saw a squall 4 miles away in the radar. I furled some rolls in the jib but left it out, watching the wind speed. Looking up the black cloud seemed a lot closer and glancing in at the radar I saw it was just over a mile away now, there was no way we'd avoid it. I called Phil for help but we were too late: the squall hit and we had real difficulty furling the jib, having to let it flap to get it free enough to wind in. The poor thing flogged itself whilst we battled it in and ripped. We had no jib to fly.

Now, you have to remember that we are punching into the wind, waves and current. With the engine on we can manage about 2.5 knots. When the wind is far enough off our bow we can use the mainsail and staysail to motor sail, giving us another knot or so. With 500 miles or so to go at around 3 knots that would take us a week, non stop, day and night. Too long. When we can fly it the jib gives us speed, doubling it to 5 or 6 knots. We needed a solution.

We do have another jib; we keep a second so we can fly them both poled out each side on downwind passages. However, to put it up we'd have to unfurl the torn one, drop it onto the deck, flake and bag it, hoist the second jib and unfurl it (it's on a code zero furler so wound up like a sausage), drop it on deck, take off the code zero furler, and hoist it again. These jibs are nearly 700 square feet and we'd be doing it in stormy seas between the squalls with just two of us. I think not. That'll have to wait until we get some calm.

Phil came up with a solution. Remember the removable inner forestay that broke (and caused Herman to come on board)? We'd not been able to get it fixed as we've not been anywhere we can get parts yet but if we could rig that up we could hank the staysail on (we've been using the storm jib for a staysail) and use that as a jib. We managed it. It was quite exciting, working on a fore deck that is going up and down 12 feet every 3 seconds and awash with waves every time it dropped. When we were finally done my legs were wobbly as we came back to the cockpit and my arms aching fiercely. At least the water was warm!

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