The Alba Chronicles
Neville Howarth
Fri 24 Jul 2015 21:43



09:25S   145:27E


So far we've done 105 miles with 935 miles to go. We’ve got 100% cloud cover, with 18-22 knot SE winds. We’re on a broad reach, flying two headsails wing-on-wing.  


24 July 2015  Papua New Guinea to Indonesia (Day 1)

Sailor's tend to be very superstitious and a few people told me that we shouldn't leave on a Friday.  I'm not particularly superstitious, apart from knocking on wood three times if I say something that Jimmy God could use against me - like "at least there's no lightning in this squall".  So, I ignored the warnings and we left on Friday.


The day didn't start too well.  Customs and Immigration said that they'd come to the marina between eight and nine o'clock to clear us out, but didn't show up until half past eleven and then only after three "reminder" telephone calls from the marina office.  We were ready to cast off our ropes at nine o'clock, so by the time that they arrived, I was sick to death of waiting around.  In a stunning lack of forward thinking, the marina office staff only handed me the customs and immigration forms after the officers had arrived, so they had to stand around for ten minutes while I filled them in.


We finally managed to get away from Port Moresby by midday. As we backed out of the berth, I noticed the sound of cavitation on the propeller, but ignored it assuming that I'd only heard it because the water in the marina was so calm.  We motored across to the reef passage and out into a very pleasant 15 knot south-east wind putting us on a nice broad reach. 


The sun was shining and all was well, so at two o'clock, I had a shower and went to bed.  We always leave our engine gearbox in neutral when sailing, which means that the propeller shaft is constantly rotating, making a whirring sound that I can hear when in bed.  It's actually a very useful indication of our speed through the water.


Something didn't sound right when I lay in bed, but I tried to ignore it to get some sleep.  After 30 minutes, I'd decided that there was something wrong with the propeller - was it loose and slowly un-screwing, was the zinc coming loose causing imbalance? With a deep sigh, I climbed out of bed to investigate.  Everything looked okay in the engine room, so the only thing to do was to stop sailing while I snorkelled under the boat.


We hove-to, but by this time, we had 2 metre waves and 20 knot winds, so we were moving too fast through the water.  We rolled away the sails and lay a-hull, which was better, but we were still pitching and rolling alarmingly in the steep waves.  I put on my snorkelling gear and tentatively jumped in, grabbing the swim ladder to make sure that I wasn't swept away.  The stern of the boat was rising three feet in the air and crashing down making it very hazardous.


I couldn't see the propeller from the swim ladder, so I took a deep breath and dived down to find a length of one inch diameter polypropylene (floating) rope wrapped tightly around the propeller. Glenys carefully passed me a bread knife and it took me ten minutes to cut the rope free, constantly battling against the movement of the boat and being careful avoid our 12 ton boat crashing down on my head.


Back on board, I had another shower and went to bed again. I lay there thinking that's two unlucky things - delayed clearance and a fouled propeller.  Now highly superstitious, I was wondering what else was going to happen - bad things always come in threes.


By the time that I got up at five o'clock, the wind had picked up to 25-30 knots and the seas were very unsettled with 3 metre waves.  Glenys had already reefed the genoa and main, but with night approaching, I put a deeper reef in the main.  By eight o'clock, the wind had dropped to 15-20 knots and was slowly backing, making the genoa flog as the mainsail took its wind.

I spent a very unpleasant thirty minutes, hanging on to the rolling boat, rigging the spinnaker pole to port.  At night, when Glenys is in bed, I always wear a harness when working on the foredeck, which is a damn nuisance because the safety line is always getting caught or getting in the way, so it took twice as long as normal.  By the time that I'd finished, the wind had backed a further ten degrees and there were ominous flashes of lightning behind us, so I rolled away the main sail and we ran downwind with just the genoa.

The next hour was both frustrating and scary.  The wind continued to back - it went from south-east to north.  The lightning got brighter and then it started to rain.  Not heavy, but persistent.  The wind veered around, but stayed light, so we were down to 3 knots boat speed and rocking and rolling in the confused seas.  Glenys got up to find out what was going on. 

A huge bolt of forked lightning blazed down from the sky.  We started counting out the seconds, getting to sixteen before a massive peal of thunder shook us both into activity - only four miles away.  Glenys grabbed the iPad and I grabbed the satellite phone, shoving both into the oven, which theoretically acts as a Faraday Cage - we hope this will protect anything electrical inside if we have a direct lightning strike.

The lightning seemed to be north of us, so I headed south, guessing that the storm was heading downwind in a north-west direction.  It was frustratingly slow trying to sail away and we seemed to be trapped in the middle of the weird winds.  Eventually, the wind veered, quickly coming around to south-east again, but dropping off even more.

By the time that Glenys got up again at ten o'clock, I was motoring and the lightning had thankfully gone away.  One hour later, the wind had picked up to 15-20 knots and Glenys was able to sail again.  The rest of the night (Saturday) was lovely, drifting along at 4-5 knots on a broad reach.