We didn't want to worry our mothers, but:
Sat 2 Jul 2011 23:57
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 room.
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 it.
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 blood.
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 feeling.
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 recovered.
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 civilisation.
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 Doldrums.
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 mind.
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 - hurray.
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 of!).
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 steak dinners!