2019 Aus Bounding Forth to Bundy
Bounding Forth to Bundy
In the far distance we could see the slim tower of Amadee Lighthouse, for which we were heading as it marked the Boulari Passe and our safe passage between two reefs, Recif To and Recif Sournois. At the Maritime Museum I noted the lighthouse was built in Paris and dismantled into sections to be re-assembled in situ, guiding vessels to safety, ours included. A very elegant French building indeed and a gorgeous anchorage we would have loved to have spent time in, climbing the lighthouse and snorkelling the reef inside and outside the south lagoon.
The weather was total blue and the sea agreed that all was well in the 12 knot wind, but it didn’t last and we didn’t mind because as you know Zoonie likes a blow. Her mood rubs easily off on us so despite my unhappy tummy we were both happy as the wind rose gradually but determinedly to the top twenties.
Within 24 hours we had a wind of 26 knots gusting 28 and a delightful speed of over 7 knots. The day was bright and sunny but the night was cool and out came my leggings and NZ Warehouse black with gold polka dot slippers for the watch periods. We delighted in our zero carbon footprint and our zero chemical overboard regime. All our wash powders and liquids on board are now chemical free and only organic rubbish goes overboard. Our electric power came from the wind and sun and soon, with Greg’s Watt&Sea wave charger we will never need again to run the engine at sea purely to charge her batteries.
Zoonies whizzes along, tight as a well turned nut, working with the waves coming to her port stern quarter and 3 metre swell as an efficient machine and she continued to do so for four days as we crossed the Coral Sea over the New Caledonia Basin.
One night Rob saw a brilliant flash of light shining down onto the foredeck for about a second. It was too bright to see if there was anything above it being its source and it reminded me of the strange phenomenon of lights sometimes experienced by mariners, including our friend Neville de Villiers on Doumar when he was heading east from Sydney.
The following evening a feeding frenzy took place near us with birds above and dolphins underwater, working together for their supper. As soon as it finished some of the dolphins came to us for a visit. The sun was nearing the horizon and as I have done so many times before I could not miss recording the beautiful scene, after all no two sunsets are exactly the same. Imagine my surprise when, without my realising the dolphins were still with us I captured one in a sunset photo, leading us westwards to Aussie.
By this time the wind was weakening and it’s with a mixture of relief and regret that we adjusted her rig to suit our failing source of power. Around midnight the clatting of the genoa sheet in its block helped us make the decision to furl the sail safely away and start the engine. Rob set the auto pilot and disconnected Henry the self-steering gear and as a last check I went to make sure the wheel was unlocked and free to move.
The wheel usually has a little play in it when on auto steering but this time it went too far, in fact it went full lock without changing Zoonie’s heading. Something had broken or snapped. We dismantled the pedestal it is attached to and found the chain off the cog and the cable on the starboard side was loose.
So just before midnight, with his head torch on Rob handed me the entire contents of the lazarette which I laid along the side-deck. The steering quadrant was underneath a wooden hatch and as soon as Rob lifted the hatch we saw the splayed ends of the snapped cable showing us immediately the cause of the problem and the knowledge that the auto-pilot was working independent of the wheel and would now be one of the alternative means of steering, which also included the emergency tiller, Henry and his Hydrovane rudder and the bow thruster. The movement of the wheel is incidental to the functioning of the auto pilot but essential of course to the integrity of the steering cables.
Initially Rob thought that by connecting a continuous line attached to the end of the emergency tiller through blocks to the cockpit would enable us to fix the main rudder and leave the work to Henry but as there was now virtually no wind we would need to keep the engine on anyway and so might as well use the auto pilot and rig the steering ropes for when we needed to take over the steering.
It may sound strange but I felt the absolute security of being in a position almost three hundred miles from the coast and in 1986 metres of water; we could drift for as long as it took to get sorted out, which wasn’t long, but perhaps even more importantly we had time to mentally prepare and talk about our arrival procedure under the new circumstances.
Nearer to Bundy of course we would need to steer up the channel and into the marina, so how easy was it to steer with the ropes? In the light of a waxing moon we experimented and we both found it was no problem at all to steer Zoonie and even better, to know that the knot you can see in the pictures marked her rudder midship point. Because the tiller sits backwards over the rudder, then whichever side rope we pulled Zoonie would turn that way, unlike a tiller on a dinghy and that was a new experience for us.
As a precaution I notified Bundaberg Marina and John of the Go West Rally about our situation and asked if necessary could a tow be made available should the conditions require it.
Then we got on with the task of enjoying the rest of the crossing.
We worked out an ETA under different speeds and decided we should arrive during working hours in case we needed assistance. The remaining wind was in the right direction to fly the Diva but we needed her to give us a solo of at least 7 knots to meet our ETA which we know she can do in light airs. So first thing next morning up she went, filled her lungs but could only make 4.5 knots and thus went back to her seat on the foredeck after a very short aria. I didn’t even have time to take a photo. So it was back to Rupert the engine and the auto pilot.
The weather continued to be beautiful and we had two consecutive nights of rare perfect sunsets without a whisper of cloud anywhere near as the blazing sun sucked the light into its fiery furnace.
By now we were leaving the favourable easterlies riding along the top of a high into a wind vacuum, so we had to continue motoring which troubled me because of the carbon footprint effect, but at least we had sailed for well over half the distance. Small groups of false killer whales moved gently away behind us and more pods of dolphins appeared as we neared the coastal region.
Cleaning and food sorting ready for the Bio inspection was on the ‘to do’ list the next morning and was made so easy because of the calm conditions. This would be our last day out of sight of land in the Great Pacific; from after our arrival we would be coast hopping southwards to Tasmania for Christmas and sailing close to land with all its hazards is not as relaxing as the freedom of the deep ocean.
The wind piped up as we passed between the off lying islands of the Ladies Musgrave and Elliot and was back in the top teens and low twenties for our final course changes and blowing from the north across the Bundaberg river mouth while Zoonie slowly made her way in. As we passed the fairway post we smelled the unmistakeable smell of diesel and I hastily feared the engine might let us down as well.
Rob checked the tank pipe connections which were quite dry. Along with the other tensions of the moment I started to remember how, back in 2014 Zoonie’s engine had stopped (due to paint flakes in the old fuel tanks blocking the fuel pipe) as we approached a rocky coast in Spain in a brisk onshore wind. Zoonie’s sister ship, Nikita came out and gave us an alongside tow into the safety of Bayona harbour.
As I started to put the fenders out along Zoonie’s sides, there on the teak wood side deck was a small plastic yellow breather cap from one of her four 20 litre diesel tanks lashed to the starboard rail. Through the tiny hole some diesel vapour had escaped and alarmed further our already jittery nerves.
Pam in the marina office suggested we anchor for the night just by the marina as it was the Aussie celebration of the Queen’s Birthday (changed because of all the other public holidays in May) so our clearance would not be until the next day, and we thought at least that makes the initial stage easy. Rob went forward to get the anchor ready and Zoonie turned perfectly under first Rob’s guidance and then mine. Down went the hook and it behaved as normal with a good bite into the muddy bottom. All the tension of our arrival was dispelled so we celebrated and thought about the next stage which would be getting onto the Customs berth the next morning.
Much of the success of our safe arrival is down to the original design of the Oyster as a world girdler, which included the presence on board of the emergency tiller, an incredibly easy set up procedure and a system that worked. We can certainly trust it in the future.
How handy it would be, I thought if we could just up the anchor, do a little circle in the river and go straight into a really convenient available berth just behind us and not have to make two moves. Pam was thinking along those same lines the next morning when she allocated us Black 6, “I just wanted things to be as easy as possible for you,” she said with conviction.