The first storm was very bad and it was not to be
the last we saw of very high seas. For anyone unfamiliar with sea states, very
high is 2 levels above very rough, with wave heights of 9m, which look like land
on the radar and seem very solid.
Before this our forward head became blocked and the
pump broke and our kettle broke, leaving us having to go to the back cabin in
heavy seas, then we got part of a wave in the cabin and had to clear that up.
Our working jib sail went to holes around the shackles which was a bit worrying
as in the next storm 3 sliders in a row went in the main sail leaving it
unusable. The storm blew up quickly and the Hydrovane couldn't cope, so Murray
had to steer while we waited hoping for a break in the wind. This was in a
freezing cold hail storm with force 7-8 winds. Our hands went completely white.
The main sail damage happened when we took the sail down. This horrible wind
blew in straight from the southern ocean.
The first storm had put water in the bilges, and
two bilge pumps and a hose broke. There was literally a wave in the engine
The salt water pump also failed, so damage was
building up fast and was a considerable worry to us as we were thousands of
miles from any safe port. On top of all this we didn't know if the engine would
run having had a salt water bath, but had to wait for calmer seas to try
Calmer seas found the engine to be working, but the
next 2 storms switched on the ignition - no idea how. The engine was then
running at too fast an idle.
Murray fixed the idle and then the other bilge pump
failed - it's not looking good is it!!
However, on the bright side, Murray had sewn some
spare sliders into the mainsail quickly and we were without it for only a few
days, in a storm when we couldn't have used it anyway. Far worse was to happen
in the next storm with very high seas.
Caroline lost her balance when a wave hit the boat
and fell twice, injuring her head. The pain was incredible and Caroline thought
she had fractured her skull. Worst of all for Caroline was the sinking feeling
as the hand she put to the back of her head came away sticky with
Muray had to cut and shave the hair from around the
open wound, revealing a gash which looked like it would need about 12
stitches, but with no medical help this was just not going to happen. Caz had
her head steri-stripped and bandaged and for the whole of the night stayed in
the foetal position without moving. We had suffered various damage and had only
one fully fit crew member. For Caroline the worst experience was having the skin
pushed back together to be steri-stripped - a very unpleasant
For five days Caz was too unsteady on her feet to
go on deck on her own and headaches and pain continued for a 6 weeks. The injury
also caused sleep problems for Caz and she struggled to wake up for her night
helms for a month. Even worse, Murray needed help with the genoa in a squall at
night. She woke when he called her, dressed and then sleep-walked onto deck.
Caroline was just standing there holding a rope on the wrong side of the boat,
fast asleep. Fortunately Murray realised something was wrong quickly and managed
to safely wake Caroline. Sleepwalking on deck in rough seas is potentially
incredibly dangerous. Thankfully, after a month Caroline was pretty well
Was this the end of our woes? Unfortunately not.
The engine then stopped working and the hydrovane developed a serious fault. We
couldn't afford to be without the wind vane self-steering with only one fit crew
member, and we certainly would need our engine. Was anything else going to stop
working we wondered, but not for long. The fresh water supply pump, the salt
water pump and the watermaker all failed together. Thankfully as a precaution we
had fitted a sight tube to the fresh water tank, which could also be used to
take water, as running out of fresh water is even more frustrating if you have
plenty but can't access it!
Were we ever going to have good news? We were also
experiencing adverse wind directions on top of numerous storms. Well, starting
with the important jobs, Murray managed to fix the kettle by glueing the handle
back on - in two attempts (Caroline can't do without her coffee!), repaired the
head (hurray) and the fresh water pump just needed a replacement connector. The
joy of having fresh water from a tap is very much taken for granted in western
The engine needed fuel filters replacing and the
hydrovane was repaired using a bit of wood, a strip of metal and a couple of
pieces of wire, along with the obligatory duct tape. This left us with no water
maker, no salt water supply tap (oh well, there's always a bucket) and only
manual bilge pumps. As we now had limited fresh water, we both reduced washing
to a minimum, though Murray's minimum was a lot less than Caroline's! This was
not pleasant! The bilges were kept dry by regular
hand pumping and so we carried on.
The joy of reaching far enough east to leave
latitude 35S and head further north increased our morale in proportion to the
rise in temperature. As we left the rougher seas, opened up our cabin and let
the damp cold condensation running down every surface evaporate in the 15F
warmer air. Two obstacles left now, the South Pacific High and the
Caroline persuaded Murray to fish and instead of
the rod, Murray chose Caroline's hand line. When Caroline asked him if he had
caught supper yet, he replied that it was just eyeing up the lure. A few seconds
later we were both surprised when the line went taught and a few seconds later a
tasty speckled sea trout was landed.
The South Pacific High area is basically and area
which can be hundreds of miles wide and long with no wind. We were dreading this
part of the journey as the risk of becoming becalmed for anything up to 10 days
is quitereal. We got 3 weather forecasts twice a day and plotted our course
across what resembled a wind bridge very carefully. At one point we had to make
5 knots for 24 hours or be becalmed for about a week. We made it! It was quite
exciting, having to go to set waypoints based entirely on the weather forecasts
or get stuck. To our astonishment, this part of the journey really was 'plain
sailing', and we quickly got through to what should be a trade wind area before
hitting the doldrums
We sailed across this area, gradually making our
way further east slightly upwind in the SE trades, until reaching the start of
the potential doldrum area, from Carnegie ridge off Ecuador to Panama, with
often long spells with no wind forecast. In the middle - the Columbian island of
Malpelo, renowned for being one of the least windy places on the planet. 1,000
miles with no real idea of how we would get across it.
We sailed well(ish) for 6 days, then went a bit
slow, but everything was, in Kiwi speak, 'all good'. (After fixing the hydrovane
yet again, using a couple of jubilee clips, a piece of wire and the obligatory
duct tape to overcome the effects of corrosion on the vane frame.) We spent
our days watching M*A*S*H and playing cards. Murray developed a really lazy
fishing method, looping the line round a glove wedged in a handle to indicate
any pull on the line. It worked! Fresh fish for tea again. We reached the
Malpelo Island area and there was no wind. We had also not gone as far east as
we had wanted. The Panama Basin has a circular current, south on the west side
and north going up the Colombian coast.
We were inspected by a pod of 10 pilot whales and
the speckled dolphins sped round the boat at night putting on a spectacular
light show with Red Arrows style trails of luminescence. The tuna literally jump
out of the water here and taste very yummy!
We started to motor the last stretch and expected
to reach Panama the next day, with a final fuel calculation confirming we had
enough, a cheer from both of us and a plate of steak and chips came to
So near and yet so far!
The engine ground to a halt. Inspection eventually
revealed that our earlier sudden water ingress had corroded the washers sealing
the fuel injector return pipe, causing a fuel leak into the engine bay. With
diesel spewed all over the engine room, we had no chance of fixing it ourselves.
We were close to some pretty big ships with not a breath of wind nor any
forecast. We were without any means of propulsion, close to the main Panama
shipping channel. If only we had managed more Easting earlier.
We contacted our insurance company as we were a
potential hazard to shipping. They said they had no contacts in the area and we
had to source a tow ourselves. We asked for a quote from one company and, to cut
a long story short, they claimed we had ordered a boat and it would cost $750
per hour for 12 hours, money we just don't have. We emailed them back - we asked
for a quote, not a boat, we cannot afford it, don't send one! They reply they
already sent it and we owe them money, and so on.It was horrible, we were stuck
and this company was trying to railroad us into being towed somewhere we didn't
want to go for an extortionate price. To make matters worse, we were very low on
food, having eaten extra believing we were on the last day. While we were being
hassled, a storm squall arrived and we had a 2 hour sail towards our originally
planned route: Enough to get us away from shipping and the strong south current
The forecasts for very light winds were, for the
first time, accurate. We were moving at 0.2-2.5 knots most of the time,
with squalls giving us 3-5 knots occasionally, for a few minutes or a couple of
hours at a time. Enough to get there, but after 4 days, neither of us had eaten
enough food and morale was at rock bottom. The insurance company had not come
back with any offer of help, so we put out a PAN PAN non-urgent assistance
request and US Warship 51 turned up! We are truly grateful to the captain and
crew of this vessel who supplied us with food (see separate blog entry) and
spent a good deal of time trying to fix the engine. Unfortunately they tried to
manufacture replacement washers out of steel and trying to use these resulted in
the fuel return pipe breaking.
Day 5 we had nice stormy sailing through the night.
The lightning here is mostly sheet and so is not dangerous. The squals can have
winds up to 45 knots, but none were over a force 4 for us. To our astonishment,
when we were just 50 miles from our destination and perfectly in the current to
get to our anchorage, a tow boat turned up, arranged by the insurance. We
thought about declining the tow, but they promised a surveyor and an engineer
were as on standby to fix the problems and an email from the insurance company
agreed with this. This boat also brought us some emergency food (sort
We have now been anchored for all of Saturday and
have no expectation of seeing the surveyor or engineer before Monday, by which
time we could have got oursleves here. We have ordered the parts ourselves, so
some progress is being made. We still have about enough time to get through the
canal within Murray's career break, if all now goes well.
Having made it to the anchorage we found walking
difficult - we couldn't walk in straight lines and everyone looked at us as
though we might be drunk - even before the botttle of wine with our dreamed of