Tin Tin's Sailing Calendar

Friday, 16 March 2018

Electrical Meltdown!

The idyllic trade wind weather has us bowling steadily along at 6 knots under blue skies and little white puffy clouds with only the genoa and poled-out staysail. Just 180 miles to go to St. Helena this evening. The calms, and then stronger winds are behind us, and life revolves round our watch keeping, and meals. Fishing is a constant yet, so far, futile activity. We caught one very small dorado, which managed to spit out the hook, so I put him back. However we go through patches of dense flying fish which erupt from the sea like silver swallows. We also saw a shark fin passing, which was a rare moment, as it's only the second one we have seen in the whole trip!

Yet the calm rhythms of long distance passage making are being disrupted by a never ending battery management problem. We had new batteries when we left Portsmouth and yet I had replace them in Panama because they no longer held enough charge. Six months later we had the same problem by the time we got to Darwin. There were two completely dead batteries out of the five. I compromised and bought a single one to replace them with the expectation that they would all have to be renewed in Cape Town.

This we did, and yet just three weeks later we now have two dead batteries again, and hardly any capacity in the remaining three. I've turned off the freezer, as we did in the Indian Ocean, to try to conserve power, but even so I now have to run the generator for one hour in every three. What on earth is going on? These things should last 5 years with appropriate management. I originally worked on the recommended basis of discharging to 50% of capacity and recharging to at last 80%, with regular full charging to 100%. But then I found that, on Tin Tin, the batteries don't behave as detailed in the text books. We never managed to use 50% of the capacity before the voltage fell to dangerously low levels. Then after seeking advice we resorted to charging once the voltage reached 12.2volts, but in our case this only equates to about using 20% of capacity rather than 50%. The only recovery comes when we have been in a marina for a week plugged in to the national grid, yet marinas are few and far between, and non existent in the wide wastes of the South Atlantic.

Despite careful management and monitoring with hourly data logging and graphs, our new batteries are now nearly useless. I don't know whether we will have any battery power by the time we reach Brazil! Something weird is going on! The process that we experienced twice before has now accelerated it feels....

Leaving this problem aside, we should reach St. Helena on Sunday morning, and I'm very much looking forward to exploring the island and meeting people there.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

At last a breeze!

Tuesday 13th March 2018 Position 20 32.76S 006 03.88E at 06:05 GMT

After 333 miles we still have 722 more to go to St. Helena, but at last we can turn the engine off as enough breeze has arrived to drive us in the right direction at 5 to 6 knots. With it has come heavy cloud, with curving rolls of low dark purple-black behind us like a series of monstrous shark's jaws reaching out to engulf us. Off to each side there are grey curtains of rain, which we have so far been spared.

I have been devouring Joshua Slocum's book, "Around the World Alone" with great pleasure, enjoying his writing style, his wry humour and above all the knowledge that he made his voyage without all the paraphernalia that we use today. No engine, no electrical systems, no satellite navigation. However, as I travel with him I realise that the main difference is that lack of engine. In those days you sailed into your anchorage, and sailed out again. Luckily I do have some experience of this from teenage years, and from sailing Widgeon on and off her buoy or anchor, so If all fails I can do it, as I did once with Marta When with engine failure I sailed into Portsmouth and onto the marina dock.

As I spend time monitoring batteries, puzzling over another elusive current leak and so on, it seems as though it would be so much less stressful to have an old fashioned boat like the Spray! The lure of the golden age of sail!

Sunday, 11 March 2018

A mid-Atlantic dip

Sunday 11th March 2018
Dead calm again all day and we are motoring at a steady 5 knots about 20 degrees north of our direct course to St. Helena in the hope of picking up some wind earlier. The forecasts all agree that there may be a light 10knot breeze by tomorrow evening, but whether it will enable us to stop motoring is another question. It reminds me that this is exactly what we were doing this time last year, crossing the doldrums towards Galapagos with Emily.

Nothing much happened today, except that mid-afternoon we turned off the motor, chucked a fender and a line over the stern for safety and Mark and I went for a swim. Justin, as is his wont, kept a close eye open for large shapes in the water below us, but thankfully there were no alarms. Most refreshing!

Justin produced an excellent lasagne for supper, with which we ventured a glass or two of fine South African Pinotage, as there was little likelihood of anything else requiring our urgent attention. However a ship did briefly flash into existence on the AIS screen, but its closest point of approach was forecast as 99.8 miles away as it headed south east for the Cape.

Now as I come off watch at 9pm a zéphyr of breeze has enabled us to raise all sail while we still motor on and it adds a knot to our speed which is encouraging.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Getting Warmer

Saturday 10th March 2018

We are now in a near windless ocean, with just the lightest of breezes under a clear blue sky with a few distant powder puffs off cloud to the north. It is, happily, much warmer and the thermals, fleeces, woolly hats, socks and, yes, my ski gloves have come off and we are back in shorts and T shorts and bare feet.

The ocean is now a deep blue as we have left the cold green, nutrient rich, Benguela Current behind us on the desert coast of Africa. So too have we lost the birds, the great Shy Albatrosses on wings 10feet wide and the chunky White Chinned Petrels, all black except for the pale bill. Gone too are the regular visits from the Dusky Dolphins, leaping clear of the waves to look at us, their distinctive white lines making them easily identifiable. We are trailing two fishing lines, but the ocean seems empty of fish too.

However, this morning at sun rise I had a very stealthy visit from a few dolphins, hardly disturbing the quiet sea. But I did get a brief glimpse of one and was pleased to identify a Short Beaked Common Dolphin, with a pale patch on its fin, and a deep V shape in the black cape on its back. We are at its very southern limits here, unless it is the Long Beaked version which only inhabits the shoreline of the bordering continents.

Our water maker is now behaving as it should, making 90 litres per hour, the freezer is at -10 degrees C, and the batteries are behaving reasonably well, but there is a worrying little red light occasionally hinting at that current leak again.

I have been reading a charming little book called "Outposts" by Simon Winchester, in which he describes his mission in 1984 to visit the surviving relics of the British Empire, some of which he does in a small yacht. Of course he covers St. Helena and Ascension Island, which lie ahead of us, so I am thoroughly enjoying his beautifully written essays about them, and wondering how much of what he describes still remains.

He covers other places which I have been fortunate to have visited such as Montserrat which Anne and I sailed to in "Laros"in 2006. I found his description of the island before the devastating eruption very poignant, and was interested to be reminded our Quaker cousin, Joseph Sturge , who had invested in planting lime trees and freed all the slaves on the island. Montserrat Lime Juice was apparently a great success, until a hurricane destroyed the plantations.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Farewell Luderitz, Farewell Africa

Farewell Namibia, Farewell Africa

We finally set sail from Luderitz on Emily's Birthday, remembering that she was with us a year ago to celebrate in the islands near Panama. The wind was fresh and cold, but the sun was shining through misty skies. The pink and green 1915 German architecture of the town faded into the colour of the sand dunes behind as we sailed out past the bare rocks of Penguin Island, Seal Island and Shark Island. Dusky Dolphins came to play round us, leaping clear of the water to have a good look.

Our course took us up the misty coast all day staying about 5-10 miles off to avoid uncharted hazards, but at sunset we headed in to a mile off shore to see the great dunes that come down to the Atlantic. These were pale sand colour, unlike the bright orange-red ones we saw inland. The dark rocky headland of Dolphin Head, with its curved back and prominent fin echoed the shapes of the hordes of Dusky Dolphins cavorting round us, sometimes leaping clear of the waves to get a better look at TinTin. Behind Dolphin Head there was a little bay which tempted me for a moment, but the sun set and we turned out to sea to begin the 1,280 miles to St. Helena, which should take us about 9 days.

The night was bright with stars and phosphorescence fro the waves and we made good progress in 30-40 knots of wind. Then the moon came up and illuminated everything brightly. I was on watch at 0300 when a pod of dolphins came racing to join us, leaving phosphorescent trails in the sea, and then gleaming brightly as they broke the surface close alongside.

Reflecting on our time in Namibia, I am struck by the friendliness, the efficiency and the high standards of shops, campsites and restaurants. We hide a 4WD pickup from B.B. Cars and drove 3,500km via Fish River Canyon (second only to the Grand Canyon) and then up north to the Etosha Game Reserve where we camped and were delighted with vast numbers of animals; oryx, hartebeest, springbok, wildebeest, duiker, steenbok, zebra, giraffe, warthog, elephant and even lion! From there we took dirt roads south again to see the giant red dunes at Sossusvlei, which we climbed at sunrise. Extraordinary colours and shapes.

Our last day took us through wild desert landscapes which stretched to distant horizons, framed by mountains of dark bare rock, startling patches of orange or yellow sand dune, and then shimmering views of oryx and zebra through the mirages on the plains. The three year drought means that there is little vegetation, and we saw at least three oryx dead by the roadside.
The day was enlivened by getting stuck in deep sand, blowing a tyre in the remote desert, then having to cut the steering lock off to get the car going. We were rescued by two South African couples in superbly equipped desert Landcruisers. Pierre and Elsona and their friends, Ignatius and Audrey, were driving up from Cape Town when they stopped for us. Their extensive toolbox soon had the steering lock cut off, and we then eventually found out how to "hot wire" the car so that it would drive. (There's a secret radio transmitter in the key that has to interact with a hidden coil of wire.)

So once more we headed south, but now with a second slow puncture to worry us I was keen to find a phone signal to alert our rental company. Some 50km later we found what we needed in a little settlement called Bettem and I called B.B. Cars. Ben and his sons immediately set off to drive 300km north to meet us with a spare tyre. Reassured that we would not spend the night in the desert, we drove on and 100km later we found a garage that managed a temporary repair to the slow puncture. Ben met us after that and gave us the spare, and indeed we needed it because the slow puncture finally blew up just as we arrived in Luderitz at 2230. We did another wheel change and then Ben kindly launched his ski boat and his sons ferried us out to Tin Tin.

Now as we sail away, it's a relief to be at sea again. Justin is fishing, Mark baking banana cake, and I have just received visa approval to visit Ascension Island. Not an easy place to visit!

Friday, 23 February 2018

The Diamond Coast

Thursday 22nd February dawned under heavy cloud and with a dying wind. The Atlantic high pressure had steadily dropped all night and as it did the cloud came in. We raised the Parasailor and on a dead run made our way slowly north at 4 to 5knots. Eventually the wind died and the sail came down for the night. We motored steadily along, except that the engine kept suddenly dying unexpectedly. Rather worrying since we had just had it officially serviced by Volvo in Cape Town. Possibly water in the fuel we took on there.

Mark produced an excellent Malay curry for supper, which we washed down with Phoenix beers. I am definitely recovered fro my sea sickness!

Now at 2am the wind has picked up again and I have unfurled the Genoa. We are now about 10 miles from the Namibian coast and all along here there are huge dredgers scooping up diamond bearing sands washed down from the Orange River which forms the border with South Africa.

The chart shows a red line about five miles offshore with scattered signs like purple circles with three lines out of the top. On investigation these are marked as Minefields! Keep Out! It seems as though the diamond mining activity is protected with rather lethal defences. Or could it be a cartographic misunderstanding about the word "minefields"?

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Farewell Cape Town

Dawn was lightening the sky as we finally slipped out of the luxury of the V& A Marina at 06:15 on the 20th of February. The previous day had been spet in replacing the feed pump for the watermaker and dealing with other last minute items. I gave my MyCiti bus card to the security lady before we left as it still had credit on it.

It was great to finally be heading north after a delay of 3 weeks here. Table Mountain gave a massive backdrop to Cape Town as the first rays of the sun painted its ramparts pink, and shortly afterwards the sun came over the mountains to the east and warmed us.

There was no wind initially and we motored steadily out past Robben Island until we could finally set sail at about 11:00. We were soon making 9knots with 30knots of wind fro:the south east.

It took a little time to settle back in to living at sea. Our familiar lunch time began o remind us, as always at the cockpit table, with cabbage and trail mix salad, bread and butter, and other side dishes such as garlic hommous, or tomato and onion. Big seas from astern and an occasional splash on deck. The cold water of the Benguela current makes the air chill, and despite the sun I soon needed my long thermals, two fleeces, full Musto sailing suit and woolly hat to stay warm. Mark, meanwhile, has determinedly stayed in shorts!

We have seen lots of terns diving for fish, then little Haviside dolphins peculiar to the southwest coast visited us, with blunt noses, and little triangular fins. They have a distinguishing white ventricular trident, which is three white stripes, one each side of the tail and one below. Later we were visited by larger Dusky Dolphins and began to see albatrosses gliding fast and low on huge narrow wings, with a thin black margin to the white underside these may be the Shy Albatross. We also see large dark brown petrels, as yet unidentifiable.

Our first night came, and I decided that with the strong wind we should furl the mainsail and carry on under Genoa alone. It also allows us lay our course better downwind without fear of a gybe. It's always amazing how it seems relatively peaceful heading downwind in big seas, but turning to windward to reduce sail one suddenly feels the full force of it and is reminded of how hard it would be to return that way.

It's annoying that it's taking me time to regain my sea legs, and I'm feeling rather queasy and struggling with my appetite at meal times. So I have been sleeping a lot off-watch but also reading "Papillon" in readiness for French Guyana. It's an astonishing story, and one that has gripped me not least because it is autobiographical and deals with Caribbean places that we have visited such as Curaçao and Colombia.

It was my turn to cook supper tonight and despite feeling a bit rough I managed to produce beef and onions (tinned) with rice, spiced up with garlic, fresh onions, peppers and so on. Pudding was simple.. we had the luxury of frozen blueberry yoghourt as the freezer is working well in these cold waters.

Now I'm on the 9 to midnight watch with the crescent moon slowly setting in the West and the sky full of stars, with Orion leading us north, and the Southern Cross bringing up our rear. We are 50 miles or so off the coast with occasional cargo ships passing us within a few miles. Ahead where the coast bulges out to meet us from Namibia I can see lots of fishing boats on the AIS screen, clustered on the 100 metre depth contour.

Our new batteries are behaving well, but we were advised to change the charger settings, and now it takes at least 4 hours to recharge. I will have to judge whether this is the right way to operate to maintain their life.