Sunday, 19 November 2017
Looking at the weather forecasts for the coming week I can see that I will have to spend a couple of days in Richard's Bay before grabbing a weather window for the 90 miles to Durban. Here we will have to wait 4 days for the next weather window, which I hope will be long enough to get to East London or Port Elizabeth. After that it's going to be the same pattern I suspect, hiding in port until he southerly gale blows through, nipping out behind it to push on to whatever shelter we can find along the coast before the next depression comes through a day or so later. It's the most difficult and stressful section of our voyage, and I will be exceedingly glad to get safely to Cape Town!
Our distressing current leakage has stopped, and the terrifying flicker of red lights on the current detector, checked and logged every hour, have suddenly gone a reassuring green. I have been unable to work out what is causing this yet, but must do so some how once in port. Visions of the hull fizzing and dissolving inhabit my uneasy dreams at night.
Since leaving Madagascar I have been ardently reading books about South Africa before we arrive, starting with James Michener's "The Covenant" which shows how the original Dutch settlers, devout Calvinists, interpreted the Old Testament as a direct message from God that South Africa was the promised land and that they were the chosen ones, the new Israelites. The awful conflicts with England in the Boer War and with the Zulus and others on whose lands they encroached are vividly populated by several well drawn families. What is new to me is how the intense hatred of the English by the Afrikaner has been held close and fostered and grown from generation to generation, founded on the intense belief that they are God's chosen race. That each town has monuments to battles by perhaps thirty brave locals in the Anglo-Boer war and that the great injustices were constantly referred to by the Church kept alive that resentment. Somewhere along the way interpretations of the Old Testa
ment were used to justify the, ever more repressive, separation of races until the full horror of apartheid was instituted. It's at this point that Michener ends, before the great hopeful era of Mandela arose, and so it is to him I have turned next, reading avidly through his "Long Walk to Freedom". I find it very humbling to discover how little I know of these times and struggles, and rather urgently need to revisit my first attempt at a novel set in South Africa, "Black Sugar", for criticism of which I already owe much to a true South African, Robert McAdie, and to Rebecca (not enough sex!) However ten potential publishers didn't want it, so if I want to get the story to work I must obviously do several rewrites..........or did they just miss one of the great novels of our time??! Anyway next on my reading list is "Cry, The Beloved Country", and I need to revisit JM Coetzee, read long ago.
Now the real South Africa awaits us!
Friday, 17 November 2017
We seem to have lost contact with the other yachts in the radio net we briefly joined, and miss hearing the ketch Peregrine and solo sailor Jackie in her yacht Shanti. She reported rigging problems that were then jury rigged in Rodriguez with the help of the father and son crew in 28' Beguine, and the she had some further repair in Mauritius, but it doesn't sound as though it is properly fixed. I suggested dropping into Madagascar to wait out contrary winds, but I worry about her trip across to South Africa as it seems impossible to miss the storms that come through every three days.
We have just picked up another yacht on our AIS, some 7 miles astern of us. I gave them a call and determined that they have a rigging problem as well, which means that they have to stay on port tack till the weather moderates. Our own rigging creaks and groans a bit, bit seems to be holding firm. But the dreaded current leak is still with us and has got stronger, giving me nightmares about the hull dissolving away. So far nothing we can do has revealed the source of the problem. Time to get the meters out (especially a new ultrasensitve one sent to me by friend George) and start tracing wiring, but to be honest I still get queasy doing that in a big sea, so it has to wait till things calm down.
Anyway, the worst of this blow seems now to be over, and we just have to get across a big area of no wind, and then blow south in a northerly gale. I anticipate arriving in Durban on the night of 20th November, a where we will wait out the next southerly buster for two days, and then try to get south to Port Elizabeth before the next one three days later!
Thursday, 16 November 2017
Then the wind eased and the sun came out, and it feels very pleasant, so we put up a bit more sail. But the regularly updated weather map shows that in the next few hours we will get very strong winds from the south, known locally as a "southerly buster"!, accompanied by 5-6 meter waves. So we await this with a degree of anxiety, trusting that the good ship Tin Tin will see us through OK....
With luck we will emerge the other side on Saturday in one piece, at which point the wind will die and we will have to motor, until the next gale hits us from the north, blowing us down towards Durban, or maybe to closer Richard's Bay. There we will have to wait out the next southerly buster before trying to make our way to Port Elizabeth to meet Richard and get Justin onto his plane home on the 28th. We might just make it if the weather allows!
Fortunately Mark has been busy in the galley and we have enjoyed the smell of fresh bread baking, and then a banana cake to use up all the very black bananas in our fruit hammock. However with our freezer now dead, we have been hurrying to eat up any once frozen supplies, and a sad procession of mouldy food keeps flying out of the galley window as each watch tries to prepare a meal....most frustrating!
On the positive side the loss of the freezer means that our batteries are holding out much better and I don't need to jolt Justin awake each night when I fire up the generator, cunningly hidden under his berth.
Wednesday, 15 November 2017
Monday, 13 November 2017
Sunday, 12 November 2017
After a long night tacking south along the coast we finally dropped anchor in the little bay of Port Dauphin, narrowly missing an unmarked rock just below the water. The yacht Cesarina had motor-sailed and was anchored before us.
The scenery is spectacular, with mountainous Pic Louis rising beyond the white sand beaches, it's cliffs faced with great smoothly rounded slabs of rock. The town appears to include many half built structures along the beach. Lots of boys playing football on the sand.
No one seemed to pay any attention to two yachts anchored off the little harbour. Many large dugout canoes paddle out to sea to fish, but none approached us, although we managed to get someone to wave back from one. No outboard motors in sight, and no modern boats! Madagascar is rated by the World Bank as the poorest nation in the world not in conflict.
I rowed over to Cesarina and mentioned to Dietmar and Michael that I was going ashore, but they were horrified and said that under no circumstances would they do this because of the outbreak of plague! This was news to me, so I consulted Family experts in medicine and foreign affairs and found that the bubonic and pneumonic plague epidemic did not appear to be in the south. Nonetheless we stayed on board that afternoon, tired after our 550 miles from Reunion, and I spent time downloading weather reports and planning our next leg to South Africa. A big storm is on the way, and it is going to be tricky timing our exit to get across safely.
Having determined to stay at least another day, this morning I was determined to head ashore. Justin declined the risk, so Mark and I set off, rand to our astonishment our German neighbours hanged their minds and got a lift ashore with us.
Arriving in the crumbling harbour was impressive, with seventy long dug out canoes drawn up in a semi circle on the beach, and a rusting barge sunk in the inner harbour. We tied up and clambered onto the dock as the centre of attention of a crowd. As we walked up to town a smart pickup truck arrived and a pleasant young man got out to introduce himself as the immigration official. However he kindly waived the formalities on Sunday so that we could wander round, but asked that we didn't get into trouble as he hadn't issued visas!
Up at the town we strolled round, and collected a few hangers on, including a young student, Alexandre, who stuck with us all day as we explored. Our route took us round the headland to look into the next bay, and we spotted a humpback whale breaching out at sea.
It became obvious that things were in disrepair. There were restaurants and little hotels that had once been splendid but which were now ruins. We came across a few little roadside stalls selling fruit, and then surprisingly a patisserie which stocked pain au raisin and icecreams! However without money we couldn't buy anything. Back in town we found a hotel that had two or three guests having coffee and nearby aa ATM enabled me to draw out some local currency, the ariaray. The smallest amount was 20,000 ariaray but I was unclear how much that was worth in pound. However it turned out to be worth 4 beers at the hotel, and a euro seems to be 3,000. Here we got chatting to some South African contractors working to refurbish furnaces at the local mining operation, that produces illuminite, whatever that is? Mark kindly went back out to TinTin and brought Justin ashore for a beer, and then we returned for supper as the weather turned to mist and rain. Now, later on Sunday,
it has cleared and the sea is dotted with little lights as the fleet of dug out canoes bob around fishing for squid.
Tomorrow is my sixty fourth birthday.....a number that seems so unreal that I cannot relate to it. I am so lucky to be able be adventuring like this,, and to feel vigorous and moderately youthful. Thankyou to all my family and friends for making this possible!
Thursday, 9 November 2017
One hundred and twenty miles ahead lies Madagascar, and a change in the wind is due very soon as a front passes us and the wind goes from NE to SW. We should get thunder and lightning and rain.
Most of the day I seem to have been wrestling with weather forecasts and different passage plans. The tricky problem of southerly gales on the South African coast is still there, with all four forecasts showing different scenarii, making planning very difficult. If we carry straight on it looks as though we encounter 40-60 knot winds with waves in excess of 6 metres as we arrive off Durban. The Agulhas current will turn these into breaking monsters, and so that is not advisable. However if we stay a few days in Madagascar, then the next storm will be upon us a few days later repeating the difficulty!
At present my plan is to wait a day or so in Port Dauphin before I make a decision. Meanwhile Cesarina informs me that one ARC boat has turned back with rigging problems me and another has an injured crewman on board, is running late and s unlikely to get to Richards Bay before the storm hits. Apparently he broke ribs and shoulder mountain biking in Reunion!
Wednesday, 8 November 2017
It was a relief to set sail on Tuesday morning and to watch the great volcanic cone of Reunion slowly diminish astern. It had been wonderful to have a holiday in Mauritius and Reunion with Anne and Alice. The exploration ashore had been interesting, but mooring in the concrete dock in Reunion was rather grim, and as the days went by the anxiety of managing the difficult leg to Durban has been weighing on me. A 10-11 days voyage is too long for me to get a reliable forecast for the critical last hundred miles or so across the Agulhas current, but rounding the southern tip of Madagascar is only 4 days away, so that can be planned for with reasonable certainty.
Now after 24 hours relaxed sailing in sunny weather and light NE winds, our speed has been dropping from 6 knots to 5. When I came on watch at 06:00 this morning the sails were flogging nastily and we were down to 3-4 knots. Mark got the Parasailor out and we soon had it pulling away nicely, bringing peace to the boat without all the flapping.
We held a radio net at 10:30 with Cesarina, now 20 miles ahead, and Joshua, sailing about 6 miles astern, and discussed weather tactics. My plan is, for the first time, based firmly on the Predictwind weather routing system, which has got all four forecasts agreeing for once. It suggests a route towards eastern Madagascar, to 24S 48E and then sailing down the coast in the 2 knot current. We will pass Port Dauphin, site of the first French settlement, and reputedly graced with some excellent restaurants :-). There's a big depression coming past southern Madagascar and if needed we could find shelter there, and even get a new stamp in our passports!. Once the storm passes we will head south 100 miles with the wind from the West, and then as it backs to South and then East we can curve towards a South Africa.
However it is at that point that the trickiest decision must be made. The long range forecasts already show a second southerly storm due to come up past Durban. I must at at all costs avoid crossing the Agulhas current at that point, as gigantic waves can form which deter cargo ships as well as yachts,and we may need to heave to well beforehand and ride it out for a couple of days, or I could wait in Madagascar for a bit.. Timing is tricky as Justin has booked his return flight home from Port Elizabeth, so I can't delay that long. We are also meeting Richard there, but that's less of a pressure if we are a day or so late.
Sunday, 5 November 2017
Wednesday, 25 October 2017
Three hours sleep later at 8a.m. we were called by the Coastguard with a request to enter the port and clear in, and we found 8 yachts at anchor there. The Health inspector came out to give us clearance from quarantine, and then we dealt with Customs and Immigration ashore in the little row of dockside offices.
The town of Port Mathurin lay in parallel streets behind the dock, brightly coloured buildings with lots of decorative detail, including filigree strips along the eaves, and French iron balconies. Through dark doorways Indian and Chinese traders had stores stocked with an incredible mixture of goods from clothes to cooking pots, car parts to fishing tackle. I saw a car gearbox on Omel floor and even a top-end Mavik drone for sale, like the one Mark flies.
We found an ATM to withdraw Mauritian rupees, and at R$45/£ I suddenly had notes of R$1000 in hand, and trouble assessing the value of things. We bought SIM cards from Orange to get connectivity and then passed through the bustling Saturday market, overflowing with fruit and vegetables, and many stalls selling straw hats, wooden souvenirs, or pots of peppers done in a myriad of different ways. We replenished our vegetables supplies and I succumbed to a mango and papaya pie (which proved to be rather dry with 90% pastry).
We lunched at the only visible cafe by the bus station, where a row of neatly roofed shelters serviced a great fleet of gaily painted buses, called "King of the Road", "Prince of Love", and other great names. Following advice from the Noonsite web pages I hired a car from Mr. Wong Su in Jenner Store. He was certainly cheaper than the advertised rental companies and I handed over R$1100 for a day, in return for the keys to a Toyota pick-up. No documents to sign, no insurance. No fuel in it either, as we discovered as we drove up a steep hill out of town. Having tracked down the only petrol station with the help of a policeman, and put in the smallest amount I thought necessary, we set off to follow the excellent coast road stopping frequently at the lovely views of the pale green-blue waters of the lagoon, and the many picturesque fishing boats. Mangroves grow in the muddy inlets where rivers must flow in the wet season, and amongst their branches we found huge spiders webs woven from yellow silk as strong as fishing line, with great spiders hung hungrily at the centre, perhaps waiting for small birds?!
We had read about the Francis Leguat Tortoise Sanctuary, and eventually found our way there down wrought track across a landscape of jagged black limestone. The centre was very well presented and we were just in time to catch up with a tour, which included the 600m long limestone grottoes. Hard hats in hand we joined a group being led up a canyon full of giant tortoises. The indigenous species had been exterminated but Charles Darwin and other prominent scientists had petitioned the Mauritian Governor to rescue specimens from the Seychelles and ree stabling them in Rodrigues and Mauritius. Francis Leguat was a French Huguenot exiled here who wrote that "it was possible to walk a hundred steps across the shells of the tortoises without touching the ground", so densely populated was the island. His subsequent book detailed the now extinct Dodo-like bird, the Solitaire, and other fauna and flora. The tortoises, included a 150kg 90 year old, were very relaxed amongst the visitors, and even made their way slowly to you to have their heads and necks stroked.
Our cave visit was impressive too, with our guide pointing out the shapes of elephants, crocodiles and a turbanned Indian head as we went round, the hard hats saving Mark's head from serious injury on two occasions as we ducked under stalactites.
The centre provided a decent cafe where we refreshed ourselves before tackling the museum, which was superbly done, with interesting bilingual displays about the history of the islands, the fauna and flora, with a separate section on the postal history. All in all a satisfying start to our exploration.
We finished our tour at Port Sud Est, which had lovely white sand beaches fringed with casuarina and palm trees. The shallow lagoon waters were alive with colourful kite surfers riding the strong steady trade wind. We parked ourselves at the hotel terrace with a fruit cocktail and I enjoyed some sketching time.
That evening we had a nice visit from Matthieu and Stefan from Saba 2, bringing with them a clutch of beers.
The following day all yachts had to be up early at 06:00 to leave the port before the cargo ship moved out. We then had a pleasant day strolling around the town, ending up at the Anse aux Anglais in the Marlin Bleu, overlooking a sparkling sea and the casuarina shared foreshore of the little bay. Our Mauritian-Indian host was very keen on sport, and had many trophies of rugby and football which engaged with Mark and Justin. His knowledge of English humour was surprisingly colloquial despite never having visited the UK, with a particularly astonishing quip about Mark's allegiance to NORWICH!
After lunch I sat by the shady beach to sketch, and then went back into town to try, unsuccessfully, to pay my Health fees. Later we were invited to Saba2 to "boire un coup", which turns out to be several coups and lots of lovely small samosas and dips with Matthieu, Anne-Laure, Stefan and Isabel and the three children.
Our third night inPort Mathurin, and we were still cooking on board on our usual rota! The town seemed very dead in the evening with no obvious restaurants attracting us ashore.
Monday the need and we spent a couple of slightly confused hours going from place to place to pay bills and find officials to clear out. In the process we met Mark Tower who is sailing round the world with his 84 year old father in a tiny 27foot yacht, Beguine. After 45 days at sea since Darwin they have been anchored in Port Mathurin for six weeks and plan on two more as it is such a relaxed and welcoming spot. Now that is getting to know a place!
But we are off and away again, heading for Port Louis in Mauritius to meet Anne and Alice! The wind has died and our two day trip has turned into o we will only just about have cleared in by the time they arrive. Meanwhile I am reading Patrick O'Brien as I downloaded one of his many seafaring books called The Mauritius Command, based firmly on the British Naval capturing of the island. Rather fun to be reading about Capt. Jack Aubrey and his doctor Mathurin sailing from Port Mathurin to Port Louis as we are.
Thursday, 19 October 2017
In the calmer conditions today, and in the light of the slight uncertainty in the steering we got out the emergency beautifully chamfered and varnished by Stuart, and attached it with the cronky bit of metal supplied with the boat through a hole in the aft deck. It seemed to work fine, although the coupling has too much play in it and we will have to dream up a remedy for that.
The sky is blue, the seas are too, and whilst Justin is busy stitching up the man overboard retrieval system that was ripped off the rail, Mark is at the helm and I am devouring Dickens. Having never, ever read Dickens I had downloaded his entire works free of charge onto the Kindle. Running out of books to read I drew a deep breath and started on A Tale of Two Cities. This gripped me entirely and I read it in 24 hours, on watch and off. What a story! Dickens style is a bit too flowery but his characters are gripping and he doesn't spare the terrifying vision of The Terror in Paris. Enthused by this I went straight on to The Old Curiosity Shop, also done in a day, with some extraordinary characters and twists and turns, but too much verbose sentimentality for me.
Monday, 16 October 2017
When I came on watch again at 6 am the promised swell had arrived and long lines of crests were coming up astern, much taller than we have seen before, at about 5meters high they come part way up the mast. Across them the come the waves whipped up by the gale intersecting at a shallow angle and piling up on top to break noisily from time to time. The wind is pretty steady 35-45 with times when it gets to 50 knots, blowing spray off the wave crests and leaving long thin parallel lines of foam on the water. Occasionally one of the crests breaks over the boat and while Mark was on watch the plastic crate full of fishing gear was smashed on the aft deck and the man overboard recovery sling was torn off the rail, and the cockpit got a good wash through! Mark managed to retrieve most of the stuff from the aft deck, but one of my Crocs is now adrift in the Indian Ocean.
There's a dread fascination with the ocean as it marches relentlessly towards us from astern, higher crests shouldering above the skyline with breaking crests, like a crowd eager to see what's ahead. Trying to get a good photo of this impressive sight seems impossible as the camera can't convey the scale of the waves effectively. I tried sketching them instead.
Fear of what this mighty ocean can do, and at what point it becomes really dangerous, is a very real underlying anxiety. As the boat rises to each wave astern it adds to my confidence, but nonetheless we don't know what is yet to come. There's nowhere else to go so we must manage it as best we can. This is only a gale, so I'm glad not to be experiencing a cyclone.
Our speed is between 8-9 knots most of the time, but we have had some exhilarating rides down big waves at 12-15 knots with a record of 18.5! George, the autopilot, handles the boat very well, but we all spend time hand steering too for the experience. However in that process we have noticed that there is some slippage in the hydraulic system, so that's another job on the list when next in port.
Saturday, 14 October 2017
My phone alarm is set to remind me to write the log every hour, noting latitude, longitude, heading, course or the ground (COG), speed, speed over the ground (SOG), distance travelled, wind speed and direction, current speed and direction, barometric pressure, cloud coverage, general weather condition, water used, time of switching generator on/off and water-maker on/off plus a new column recording the comforting green or alarming red lights monitoring current leakage to the hull.
Then I reach up and pull down the Food diary and note the menus served for lunch and supper. Next the equipment log comes down and I review the outstanding technical problems, add any new ones to the list, and then fill in any detailed observations and solution on the page reserved for each item. My medical log notes any ailments and any drugs dispensed.
Then I try to write my blog before answering any emails, (keeping in touch with family and friends is such a great thing to be able to do at sea), contacting people for help with technical issues, or arranging to meet in the next port.
Looking ahead I set the laptop off to download the latest weather forecast, and then look at the red (windy), green (less windy) or blue (calm) coloured wind fields and the lines of dots suggesting recommended weather routes from the four weather forecast types received. Usually the forecasts differ quite significantly and the four suggested routes head off in different directions, so I ignore them and keep our course direct to our destination.
However for the last two days all forecasts agree that the high pressure to the south will push a big arc of strong wind northwards and the weather routes all concur to head slightly north of our course to make the best of the wind angles. So if you look at the website and the "Where in the World is Tin Tin?" link, the map should now show us heading due west. The significant wave height is forecast to rise to 5 metres, which means that once every three hours there is a statistical likelihood of encountering a wave almost twice that height - something that is quite a threat to us if not handled carefully.
Now at, lunch time, the wind has freshened but not from the East as predicted, but from the South, so there is a low pressure out there astern of us squeezing the isobars which may add some extra excitement!
Well, having bored you to tears with the fundamentals of my day, I must now get out my paper journal, add some entries and sketch a little dead squid which somehow flew aboard with all the tiny flying fish last night. Then it's my turn to cook supper, and with a freezer full of fish I should probably use that again!
Friday, 13 October 2017
However the wind picked up strongly again and we had 44 knots and a top speed of 11.7knots recorded despite being reefed down hard. The waves combine a big swell from the Roaring Forties, thousands of miles south, and the growing SE swell which this Trade Wind is driving. It's impressive when two combine to provide a clear green crest with light shining through it.
We caught our biggest fish of the voyage, a 1.33 meters long wahoo which weighed 13-14kg on my rusty old fishing scales. Stuart's long hooked gaff was used for the first time to secure the monster and lift it aboard. The fish was amazingly greasy as though covered with thick lanolin, making it hard to secure whilst filleting on a rolling aft deck. Our freezer is now stuffed with very fine white fish, and it's been on the menu at most meals.
For example, I produced supper last night with wahoo in a hot Malaysian Asin sauce (sachet from Cocos Island) with aubergine and tomatoes served with rice, followed by a pineapple (sadly a bit past it). Then for lunch I used the leftover rice mixed with wahoo chunks and parsley bound together with a couple of eggs to make a kind of tortilla, which I served with a salad of thinly sliced red/green cabbage and apple mixed with nuts and raisins in an olive oil and lime juice dressing. All our meals are served at the cockpit table, which folds away as the floor when not in use. We use a blue non slip material to try to keep things in place while the boat bucks and rolls. Occasionally we remember to remark on how extraordinary it is to be sitting at a laid table, while the wind roars and the ocean surges and breaks around us!
I have been reading solidly through two books; first "Sapiens", recommended by Justin, which explores what it is that makes Homo sapiens so dominant a life form, and then its sequel, "Homo Deus" which takes an interesting look at how changing beliefs and technological advances could affect human society in the future. The conclusion is that human decision making and self-determination could be overtaken by intelligent machines, which know us better than we know ourselves or our environment. This is already evident for anyone who has started to trust e.g. the Waze app to guide one through traffic more quickly, or Amazon to suggest books to read, based on past reading choices. On board Tin Tin I haven't quite got to that stage with the PredictWind weather routing programme, as it produces four options based on four weather forecasts, and the suggested routes tend to vary widely, and from day to day.
Our batteries are causing concern again. Since Darwin the length of time between charges (dictated by the voltage dropping to 12v) has steadily declined from 7 hours to 3 hours. During the day the solar panel does a great job and we can go from dawn to dusk without running the generator, but at night we need to recharge very much more frequently.. I think a Watt&Sea hydro generator sounds the ideal tool for these long ocean trips as it generates power continuously under way. Most boats that I've spoken to have said it meets all their needs whilst sailing at above 6 knots. The wind generator contributes well as long as the wind is gale force!
However that doesn't answer the question of why the batteries are declining. I think it is because they are not "long life, deep discharge leisure batteries", and this is because I have not been able to find any of that type that fit into the battery box under the floorboards. They are all a bit too tall, so maybe we have to raise the floor........ I hope that I can find something suitable in South Africa.
Settling in to this long leg, with eight more days to go, I really need to do something other than read, cook, write my blog and play Sudoku (tending to become obsessive against the clock). I must try to learn the Ukelele that the girls gave me......I saw Matthieu strumming his at Cocos and his fingers seemed as big as mine, so it must be possible!
Tuesday, 10 October 2017
The freezer had been getting steadily warmer, so yesterday I finally got down to investigate, pulling off pieces to find no cooling water flow. Eventually found that barnacles were blocking the inlet sea cock, and poked them out, but that still didn't get water through to the pump. More pipes off until I found one blocked by barnacles and cleared that. I still had to suck sea water through all the tubes to get it to the pump, which is better than siphoning petrol but still a bit nauseating! Anyway, despite imperfect cooling water flow the freezer is back down to frozen again today.
Now we just have to find and remove the slight electrical current leak, which comes and goes in a mysterious way. My heart sinks every time that red light comes on, and lifts when it shows green.
Last night was wonderful moonlight. The AIS showed cargo traffic on a reciprocal course just north of us heading for S. Korea. The three single handed yachts clustered about 5 miles south of us, and this morning we spoke briefly on the VHF with Wolfgang and Klaus, while Jackie was presumably off watch and asleep.
Sunday, 8 October 2017
However instead of speeding straight on to West island, where I was anxious to get my clearance for Mauritius, the ferry stopped at Home island and we had a two and a half hours to kill until it finally proceeded at 13:00. Home island is predominantly a Malay settlement, where families were cruising around in shiny electric golf buggies in the heat. We found a couple of small shops and then a supermarket, but nothing in the way of fresh fruit and veg. Wandering around we found the Museum (closed), the Shire offices (with tempting golf buggy with keys in), and sheds full of plywood sailing skiffs, all to the same design and painted identically in white with a yellow band and immaculately varnished inside below a heavy layer of dust. I counted 47 of these in two sheds! A young man working out in a gym explained that these traditional sailing craft come out for regattas at festivals such as Ide, or for weddings.
T West Island the ferry was met by by a cheerful bearded gentleman driving a bus, which for $0.50 took us the six miles to town. The single track Tarmac road bordered by wide well cut grass lawns, meanders scenically between thick forest walls. The settlement of neat bungalows, administrative buildings was very dead, but there was a stir of activity at the airport where the Virgin flight had finally landed a day late. However the only cafe was shut, so any thought of lunch had to be ignored.
We found the police station by the long grass air strip, which curiously is also a golf course. It was quite something to stroll out to the red flag on the first hole to watch the Virgin flight thunder past a few yards away without any fences or other hindrance.
A radio set into the wall of the police station invited me to call up the officer, and. Shortly afterwards he arrived to handle the paperwork. We got let off the harbour dues because he didn't have a method of issuing a receipt, which seemed fair given that no one had come out to Tin Tin to do the formalities and we had spent the whole day trying to get this done.
The community cultural centre had sofas and wifi and a shop full of colourful goodies for tourists who needed beach ware or souvenirs. A small museum section commemorated the Australian naval victory over the German warship Emden in 1914, which had been forced to beach on North Keeling.
Whilst Mark and Justin tackled the supermarket before it closed at 3pm, I spent a futile hour trying to find a postbox to post a letter to the Australian Tax office to reclaim tax on diesel that we bought in Darwin. In the process of walking up one long seafront road I spotted thick black smoke from wreckage out in the surf about a mile away. The town was deserted headed back to the police station concerned that some tragedy gas taken place with the outgoing Virgin flight. Once I found someone it turned out that this was the wreck of a derelict vessel which had drifted out of the wide Indian Ocean and smashed on the reef, catching fire in the process!
We caught the last ferry back across the lagoon and then piled into the waiting dinghy with our shopping for the choppy ride between islands.
We found a beach party starting with all eight yachts brining food and drink to the two big tables under the shelter. The big brick barbecue was fired up and we had a most enjoyable evening meeting new friends and sharing food and conversation. There were three single handed sailors, Jackie, Wolfgang and Klaus, who planned to sail in company to Mauritius taking turns to keep a four hour watch. Then there was Matthieu and Anne-Laure from Saba 2, who we had met in Ashmore Reef, travelling with their three children aged 10, 7 and 5 and two friends Stefan and Isabel. They have a ski shop in Pralognan in the Vanoise, and are ski instructors. It was a Proustian treat to have a taste from their bottle of Genepi which evoked strong memories of spending long hours trying to fax documents from the ski shop in Meribel, while young Kate struggled with her ski lessons in a blizzard. Ski instructors staggered in to thaw out and the Genepi circulated regularly. We also met crew from
Tangled Up - Nicolas, Madeleine, James and Marcus- all new to sailing and helping the owner take the boat from Darwin to Durban.
The party was celebrating the 8th birthday of Morgan, the son of Warren and Trish on Mustang Sally and we were thrilled to all get a chunk of birthday cake! Later a fire was built on the beach and Matthieu brought out his Ukelele and sang wonderful French songs, and then worked through English popular songs so that we could all join in. Nicolas brought out his guitar and added to the band, and Justin showed his talents playing guitar and singing Leonard Cohen songs..... Our beers had long gone, so the big bottle of Bundaberg rum came ashore and was steadily emptied. I have to say that I find Bundaberg is horrible, with strong overtones of aldehydes and esters that are the stuff of headaches, so I didn't touch it.....
We got back to Tin Tin at midnight and I struggled with email and then at about two a.m. managed to call Anne to find out more about Ioan in hospital.
Sunday dawned with less wind and we settled into the beach shelter to use the wifi. Mark and Justin explored while I tried to book marinas in CapeTown, and discover about customs formalities in Rodrigues, Mauritius and Reunion. Then I realised that I could make Internet calls using WhatsApp, and was able to speak to Ion and Kyle at their birthday breakfast, and to have a video call with Alice and see little Felix, and then to speak with brother William . Most satisfactory.
Our final act before leaving was to create a Tin TIn sign for which Mark found a fishing float which we decorated as a globe with our route marked. We then bid farewell to all and at 5 pm followed Tangled Up out to sea and set sail into the sunset for our twelve day voyage for the 1995 miles to Rodrigues hoping to arrive on 29-21st October.
Friday, 6 October 2017
Emboldened by this I returned to the centre-plate hydraulics, and started dismantling the mystery black box. But to get it off the wall I had to unscrew a wooden panel. The screws for this were of course hidden behind other things that had to be dismantled too. Eventually the mystery box was liberated and I could take it to pieces. I had assumed it made 12volts into 24volts to drive he 24volt motor, using a sophisticated state to turn DC into AC and back into DC again. But no....it was a couple of big solenoids which opened and closed switches. Puzzling! I put it all back together again and laboriously reassembled everything, drenched with perspiration in the tiny hot space of the engine compartment.
Not expecting success, we turned the power back on just as it was getting too dark to see, and Lo! It all worked again! But it's still a mystery that 24volt motor has been installed in a 12v system! Just runs slower I suppose.
Now I only have to solve the dangerous current leakage that is eating away at the hull.
A big gin & tonic to celebrate, will be followed by Australian meat pies for supper.
I have just finished reading "Sapiens" today which takes an interesting look at our species, and its development. The ideas resonate with lots that I have been thinking about relating to human control of genetics, and how this may shape our evolution, and with themes that have come out of "Beyond Reason" dealing with the way we think and "The Memory Code" about how we used to handle information before writing.
Then suddenly I feel too far away as Anne tells me that our dear stepfather, Ioan, is in hospital. Mark and I are anxious and feel helpless to respond. It has always been a risk to sail away for so long, but now that it has happened it feels very bad to be so far away........
The only problem is that the anchor windlass failed, so it is now a manual system. I hope we can fix it otherwise getting anchor and chain up again is very difficult by hand! Just when everything is going well another little problem arises. So now I have that and the centre-plate hydraulic system to fix, plus we have a mystery current leak again......aaaaaaarghhhh!
We will spend Saturday and Sunday here before setting off to Rodriguez and Mauritius some 2350 miles away. The winds look as though they will stay strong, so it will be a rough ride, but should be quite quick. I am really, really looking forward to getting there because Anne is flying out to meet me.... and then Alice is coming too!!
Thursday, 5 October 2017
The previous day was a holiday so we went exploring, and did about 5km along jungle tracks to Dolly Beach, which had been recommended to us. Sadly it was shockingly polluted with plastic bottles and old flip flops. Where had all these come from? The national parks have done very well in organising routes through the forest on raised board walks, presumably to protect the red crabs which are busy tidying up leaves on the forest floor. The roads have frequent cattle grids, which were a surprise as there are no cattle. However we then realised that the foot high plastic walls along the road edges was meant to channel the crabs to the culverts under the cattle grids so they don't get squashed. Patrols go and record every squashed crab with a big pink circle of spray paint on the road...in memoriam.
That evening we were treated to a barbecue at the Cricket Club, and enjoyed meeting new people, including French Australian, Herve, who told me that Christmas Island has plans to be a launch site for satellites, as it's perfectly positioned near the equator with lots of empty ocean for bits to fall into.
So we enjoyed Christmas Island very much and are grateful for all the hospitality and kindness we experienced. We waved goodbye to Ullar and Ellen on Troll, wishing them a speedy repair for their engine, and set sail the 535 towards the atolls of Cocos & Keeling. Winds are strong and being abeam we are making good speed, hoping to arrive in daylight on 6th Ctober.
Monday, 2 October 2017
Coming into a harbour at night is exciting because one is struggling to make out shapes in the dark against bright shore lights. We nearly rammed a huge metal mooring buoy for cargo ships. Then I dug out our high power spotlight and swept the harbour in a blaze of light. The most extraordinary thing happened. Wherever the beam went the water erupted with a dense arc of silver fish, so that as I swung it round there was a constant rainbow of fish ahead of the beam. It was even better than "painting" the sea full of luminous squid as we did a few nights ago.
The mooring we picked up was adjacent to the only other yacht, and we toasted our safe arrival with a tot of the best Black Label Mount Gay rum.
The following (Sunday) morning I was up at first light, excited to see where we were. The cove has undercut coral cliffs, upraised by previous volcanic events. At one end of the harbour a jetty and big crane link to red dusty covered conveyor belts which come down the hill from the phosphate mines. A modern jetty in the middle of the cove is backed by a row of low 3 storey apartments crowned with a densely packed line of identical satellite dishes, like oysters lined up in the Walrus and the Carpenter. With a cup of coffee in hand I grabbed my sketch book and had a happy hour before the crew woke, drawing the picturesque headland with the old District Officer's residence.
I rowed across to our neighbours, Ullar and Ellen aboard TROLL, their Amel from Estonia, and found that they had suffered an engine seizure, and we're waiting for the crankshaft and bearings to be machined in Perth before they could,depart. Ullar was repairing gouges in the glass fibre round the bows. They had arrived when the World ARC fleet were here, and as all the moorings were taken they had to use the big metal ship buoy with painful results.
Ashore we found a neat well appointed community. Barbecues and picnic shelters on the cove are provided with gas and electronic ignition, separated into halal and non-halal areas. The apartments are all growing vegetables in their front gardens, and seem to be occupied by Muslim families. We met Neil McGovern, the charming ex harbour master of Flying Fish Cove, who, In his soft Islay accent, told us snippets of the history in his 22 years here. He had now come on holiday to visit his Muslim family, and when we enquired about diesel supplies it turns out his nephew runs it.
The Tourist information office was still open and Karen was wonderful I helping us sort out various needs including wifi of course. The shop is full of Red Crab hats, soft toys, posters, T-shirts and other memorabilia. One hundred million red crabs are about to emerge from the forest in the next month and swarm into the sea. It's a major event!
We tramped some hot roads and were delighted by the huge red road signs, reminiscent of alpine designating which routes were open or clashed due to red crab migration.
It being Sunday the supermarket was shut but we found a cafe for a toasted sandwich for lunch. Here I made some phone calls and hired a car to explore with and soon we were off exploring on the excellent roads. Our first stop was signposted The Grotto. A track led downhill through forest, and we met our first red crabs, hard to see I the dappled shade on the path unless a sunbeam illuminates one. About four to five inches across they emerge from holes and under rocks, bright red with black and white marking that resemble a scowling face. Amazing!
I reached the grotto ahead of the other two and clambered down a knobbly limestone hole to a pool of clear water above fine white sand. A great whooshing noise and a blast of fine spray came through the cave as the swell pushed through the submerged tunnel from the sea. By the time Mark and Justin were silhouetted against the cave mouth I was floating naked in the pool, determined as always to never miss a opportunity for a strange swim. The last one was subterranean pools in Niue, I think. A very similar island of upraised coral.
The rest of the day we explored and discovers the huge Robber Crabs in the forest, fluffy Booby chicks waiting amidst sharply eroded pinnacles of limestone for parents to return with food, frigate birds harassing boobies to steal their fish. We also were amazed by giant fruit bats soaring like crows amongst the boobies and frigate birds on the updraft at the pinnacle of Margaret's Knoll, where a platform on the cliff top gave us a view out over the immensity of the Indian Ocean and far below us a pockmarked plain in the forest showed where the phosphate miners had been.
We headed back to a bar where rowdy Australians, some with yellow and blue painted faces, were watching the grand final of the Rugby League on the TV and drunkenly hurling crude insults at the opposing team. Melbourne absolutely hammered Northern Queensland, while we knocked back a few well deserved Victoria Bitters.
At 6 pm we all made our way to the Chinese Literary Association Mooncake Festival for free food and entertainment. There were singers, a dramatic Lion Dance with two great furry yellow beasts leaping an cavorting to the drums and clashing cymbals of the Kung Fu Club, and then the exquisite dances preformed by the Singapore Dance Troupe. We queued for some delicious food and thoroughly enjoyed our welcome to Christmas Island.
Monday is a public holiday for Territory Day, commemorating the handover from British rule in 1957, so no shops and no diesel available. I have to wait till Tuesday morning to restock. The Cove is going to be the focus of festivities with raft races and water sports, so we will have a grandstand view from our cockpit! The perfect opportunity to get out Michael Constant's full set of beautifully made ancient signal flags to dress Tin Tin overall for the first time.
Saturday, 30 September 2017
That night when I came on watch it was gusting thirty, and we still had all sail set. I considered reefing while I had Mark there on watch, but we were going so well making 8-9knots and there was no indication that it would get worse, so I foolishly held on to the mainsail. A couple of hours later it was clear that I should have stuck to the old sea dog's adage and reefed when I first thought of it as the wind was now 40-47knots and we were overpressed with a top speed recorded of 12.9 knots. Justin and Mark tumbled out of bed on my call (they were ready to go as they could feel it all going wrong) and we dumped sail in big breaking seas. Once the mainsail was off, the boat was much more stable with the Genoa poled out to port and the staysail to starboard, running down wind towards Christmas Island. Amazingly the current at this point was 3.8-4 knots going roughly in our direction, adding 90 miles a day to the ground we covered.
The change in weather brought thunderstorms and rain, and bigger seas, with the long 3m swell from the south now added to by equal-sized wind-waves from the south east. Now on the 30th of September the wind has eased back to the mid twenties, and we are making good progress towards Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island, which I expect to reach about midnight tonight. Occasional waves break over the deck and give us a wetting in the cockpit.
I have been in email contact with Dietmar on his beautiful blue Swan 55, Cesarina, who we met in Niue. They are in the World ARC and are now in Cocos & Keeling. As planned we have now caught up with the ARC fleet, and are running a week behind them. They had a rough sail from Christmas Island in the Force 9 we experienced, and it sounds as though there is a lot of anxiety in the fleet about more of the same on the 2350 mile leg to Mauritius. We will see what we get, and hope for the best. I feel confident in the boat, but it can be very wearing on the crew!
Wednesday, 27 September 2017
There have been intense flows of shipping passing up and down from Western Australia to the Far East with occasions with seven cargo ships passing within a mile or so as we cross the busy tracks.
At night there are groups of fishing boats with bright lights give a glow to the sky from far off. We had to do some emergency avoidance the other night when one kept coming towards us.
Last night we saw millions of glowing things in the water. They start to glow if we shine a light at them and we amused ourselves by painting the sea with our torches and then admiring the dense patterns of glowing blobs glowing across large areas. I suppose that they are squid. During this we had the strange phenomenon that our boat speed showed only 1 or 2 knots, as though the squid were affecting the speed sensor, or even slowing us down as if we were sailing through tapioca. Meanwhile the GPS said we were still travelling at 5+ knots.
The joy of having a strong current going our way is that every day it adds about 30 miles to the distance covered. We have been puzzled in the Atlantic and the Pacific by the absence of the expected helpful currents, and works still having it against us most of the time.
I tried making a fishing lure from an empty metallised packet of coffee - looks good but no fish so far. Meanwhile our last big tuna catch has now been enjoyed as breadcrumbed fried goujons, Catalan Fish Stew, and poached with ginger and garlic. Mark has excelled himself with coconut scones served hot at tea time.
I had the excitement of celebrating my 38th year of fatherhood and 10th year of grand fatherhood. Happy Birthday to Kate and to Ruth!!!
Monday, 25 September 2017
We lunched, snorkelled, visited the neighbouring French boat, Saba 2, and spoke with Matthieu who has been circumnavigating with his young children and another family since 2014. They headed off towards Cocos islands that afternoon closely followed by us heading for Christmas Island.
But before that we visited West Island, with a fringe of vegetation above a dazzling white strip of sand. As we approached we could see that the beach had four dense groups of birds at equal spaces. At the left hand point there were terns and boobies, then a group of herons and egrets, beyond which a black mass of noddies, and further on a flock of sanderlings or something like that. As we hauled the dinghy up the beach we saw massive turtle tracks above the tide line, and these led to great pits excavated under the bushes. Beyond the bushes, on which noddies had nested we came to a dry plain on which the palm tree grew. Beneath it were four graves, each with a stone surround, nautilus shells placed on the grave and a carved post in the Islamic style, with fading paint and writing. There is an MOU between Indonesia and Australia allowing Indonesian fishermen to continue their traditional fishing here and to visit the graves of their ancestors.
The three of us split up to explore and I wandered along looking for shells, and meeting tame boobies sitting on bleached white tree trunks on the beach which allowed me to get within hands reach before flying off. I spotted a notice board which proclaimed the area a nature reserve, and next to it a shiny stainless steel water pump stuck into the ground. It seemed a bit like a lamppost in Narnia, but a practical and lifesaving boon for anyone marooned here.
After a cup of tea and Mark's delicious drop scones, we refilled the tanks with diesel from our deck cans finding that we had used 240litres in 4 days motoring. Then at 17:00 we retraced our route out of the maze, and set sail for Christmas Island 1020 miles to the West. The wind had finally picked up after 4 days of motoring, and as I write, a day later we are making 6.1 knots in the right direction, potentially arriving on the 2nd of October. The wind is forecast to rise to a gale in three days time, so we may arrive earlier.
Meanwhile our batteries seem to be behaving as they should, giving 12+ volts for a long time as they discharge. It seems that we have suffered from several substandard batteries which dragged everything else down.
Saturday, 23 September 2017
Last night, on watch till midnight the surface became glassy smooth, undulating slightly as at the ghost of a distant swell slowly flexed the surface. Scorpio hung bright in the West, its curled tail and sting piercing the smoke of the Milky Way. Amazingly the reflection was as bright, but stretching and bending as it passed through the Hall of Mirrors made by the gentle rhythm of the ocean. Around us on all sides the reflected stars shimmered, stretched, fell apart like drops of mercury and then rejoined again for an instant to make mirrored constellations.
Justin came to relieve me at midnight but I stayed up for an hour enjoying the night, before going to sleep with the throb of the engine in the aft cabin. I'd been reading a book called the Memory Code, recommended by Tom, our guide In Kakadu to give insight into the extraordinary complexity of oral memory maintained by the aboriginal people through their "song lines". We discussed this for an hour in the starlight. The mnemonic methods involve walking through landscape attributing stories and songs to specific points along the way. The songs encode detail about thousands of species of insects and hundreds of birds and other animals, classifying them according to their value to the tribe and with instructions on how to eat them, and which to avoid. I've used very simple mnemonics e.g. to remember ten items in any order, but had never tried the walk through method in earnest. One needs to pre-structure the walk into clear stages, such as centuries, before attaching events
or names to each place. It works well if you make the association lurid, hilarious, ridiculous or bawdy. Astonishingly one can then forget the detail until you reach that place again, at which point the unusual image leaps out and furnishes the detail without effort. I remember suggesting this technique to Rebecca before an interview, and she used it to good effect apparently. Justin also recalled similar techniques he'd used to get through the MBA exams at Cranfield. As an experiment I am re-reading David Hopson's book, Beyond Reason, to encode the philosophers into a memory walk around the food storage lockers and underfloor spaces in the saloon. So far Copernicus is in the battery compartment, which is the 16th century at battery four with his new theory in 1543 that the Earth orbits the Sun. Newton is set up with the rice and pasta in the 18th century, with a bar of seven colourful spirit bottles and their optics, to recall publication of his book "Optiks" dividing t
he visible spectrum into seven, and poor Aristotle ( "a bugger for a bottle" to quote Monty Python!) is on the bottom shelf of the fridge at 4BC which he shares with a crate of Hippos and a Kos lettuce to remind me of Hippocrates, who lived on Kos. I will have to see whether I can successfully encode all the Information Into the saloon lockers and still recall it later.
Technical matters; our Raymarine VHF 60 radio thinks we are near Japan. Not much use if I need to make a DSC distress call to summon aid. So having tried emailing Raymarine for assistance, I phoned them with the Iridium satellite phone, and got through to Portsmouth. Each call lasted 4-5 minutes before the signal failed. Each time Jo on reception would put me through to Spike in technical support. Once I got straight through. Thereafter I got lost in the queuing system listening to Spike's appalling choice of music! Occasionally I got through this and in fragments we diagnosed the problems over an hour, and finally this morning it was fixed! Extraordinary to be able to call for a existence like that!
Sea snakes seem to abound in the Indian Ocean. Mark and Justin had seen several, and today I was at last rewarded with sight of two, each about four feet long and quite two inches thick. The bodies seemed pale tan with light black bands on the upper surface. Their tails are flattened for easy swimming. Looking them up in the Marine reference book, I find that many are bottom feeders, nosing around cracks in the rocks to catch small fish. Others may lie around in clumps on the surface till fish congregate round the "debris" and are then suddenly snapped up. All are 50 times more venomous than land snakes. The sea kraits lay eggs on land, but the yellow bellied sea snake gives birth to live young, which then swim to the surface for their first breath of air.
Meanwhile the Australian Border Force are keeping a close eye on us. For the past two days a plane has flown low and interrogated us over the radio, whilst today a sleek coastguard vessel powered past at 20 knots without calling us.
Our soundscape changed while I cooked chilli con carne for supper. I'd bought a few CDs in Darwin to give some musical variety, including Leonard Cohen who I had really not listened to since the Fifth Form. Amazing how music can evoke a particular time, place and emotion......like the song lines I suppose.
Thursday, 21 September 2017
Litchfield started with a crocodile viewing trip on the Adelaide River, with croc man Pat, whose huge beard, and wide brimmed hat immediately commanded attention, until you saw his large bare feet. His 4WD Toyota was appropriately numbered CROC1. Our small group made its way in pairs across the swamp walkway to the waiting flat bottomed boat, where we were protected from leaping crocs by strong mesh. Pat took us up river to meet his friends; a Aries of female crocs guarding their river bank territory were enticed out to see us by chicken carcasses dangled on a string from a long pole. Then in mid stream we met a nervous young male and later on were introduced to the mighty bulk of "Gnasher", a 900kg dominant male, named after comic book character, Dennis the Menace's dog. Apparently he could not detect that the boat was full of tasty humans, otherwise he would have been over the barriers in seconds! Meanwhile Pat held forth on the evils of the modern world, McDonalds and
processed food, and the lack of connection of modern man to Nature. All very entertaining.
Once in Litchfield National Park we climbed hot rocky gorges to find wonderful waterfalls and pools at Florence Falls, and other sites. The landscape dry, but full of bird life, and stunted woodland.
We got back that evening to Mindil Sunset Beach Market, full of colourful stalls, delicious food and cool jazz wafting through the warm evening air. A frustrated circus act struggled to hold his audience despite astonishing feats including running around in the bridge position like a demented spider (for which he holds the Guinness Book of Records title), and then after sword swallowing doing multiple back flips with the sword still in place. Terrifyingly dangerous! I talked to him afterwards, and he apologised for getting cross with children who wandered into his arena mid-show, and complained that he hardly collected enough money to buy a beer. Somehow he needs to find a way to make a reasonable return on his astonishing skills.
On Friday we had a rest doing maintenance again, but in the evening went to the Darwin DeckChair Cinema for one of the first events in the Darwin International Film Festival. The premier of the film "Barra; Westwind" was introduced by the filmmaker who had spent three years with the clan learning about their oral traditions. The clan then came on with their chief. Djalu, to dance the West Wind dance before the showing. Sat in the deck chairs with cushions provided for the head, an ice bucket of cold white wine between us and a sunset memory of a hot curry from the theatre cafe it felt an idyllic way to watch a film. The story was emotive as old Djalu struggles to pass on his vital tribal stories, songs and dances to his son Larry. Larry is struggling to fit between the Balander (white) society and the Yolnu society, and takes his traditional yidaki (didgeridoo) music into performance with his rock band. It left us with a sadness that thousands of years of oral tradition
will die with Djalu, and probably cannot now be carried forward for the tribe.
Next day we had another early start to Kakadu. Stopping at Fogg Dam for a sunrise view of the masses of birds there. Then a long drive in our 4WD truck towing the camping trailer until we lunched in a billabong under a searing sun. Onwards them to Maguk, where we climbed a hot red rock river gorge to swim in the Barramundi river pools, and font the braver amongst us ( Justin & Mark) to through rock tunnels. I sat sketching painting and then had trouble finding the group, resulting in lots of hot fast walking along trails before cooling off in the river again. From there Tom drove hard to get to our campsite before sunset, and while he set things up we sat, cold beers in hand, and watched the sun redden the Arnhem escarpment, whilst I frantically tried to capture the scene on paper distracted by maddening flies crawling in and out of my ears, nose, eyes and mouth.
Thankfully the flies left us and at the camp we found a blazing with meat sizzling over the embers, and pots on the boil. We erected dome tents of mosquito netting, and with only 6 of us out of 17 possible there were plenty of mattresses to soften the ground. After supper we sat looking up at the stars, and then Tom played his digeridoo, and gave us lessons. He makes his own, and I considered buying one, but my abject failure to evoke the wonderful vibrant resonant digeridoo sound (unlike everyone else) meant that I didn't get tempted. I'll stick with the flute!
We rose at 05:00 next morning for a very rough drive to the spectacular JimJim Falls gorge, and after a long walk up to the pool were there as the sun rose to I,laminate the red rocks. No water was flowing at he end of the dry season, and a croc in the pool put us off swimming!
Our final visit was to Nourlangie, where there are amazing rock paintings. I soon recognised
realised that I had seen these before when Anne and I visited in 2003 for our 50th birthday present. Very fascinating to learn more about the culture of the people, and how for millennia they have been managing the ecosystem to maintain productivity, encoding vast amounts of information in song,ones, stories and dance ritual to enable a deep understanding of the environment and how to manage it.
Back in Darwin we had a lovely encounter with Frances and Ted who have been sailing all their lives since children, and who invited us for a evening on their immaculate yacht Kaylie. Frances produced her beautiful log books, kept since childhood while sailing with her and amongst them Justin recognised boats that he had met in 1977, during his circumnavigation
I also had a surprise meeting with Andy & Michelle Goss who were up from Sydney for a few days surveying the marina equipment. Andy recognised our Cornish ensign and we soon established that he and his brother Pete Goss had sailed their Newlyn Lugger, Spirit of Mystery, to Australia, and that I had then seen her last summer in St Mawes off Tavern Beach. Pete has now bought a Garcia Expedition 45 to circumnavigate in, which I had been to look over under construction in Cherbourg. Small world!
We arrived at Cullen Bay Marina at 14:00 on 11th September, and squeezed over the sandbanks at low water to tie up on their very substantial pontoon. Here we had to wait for Biosecurity to pump pink liquids into every pipe to kill foreign molluscs. The next morning we were allowed in, and were given a nice berth close to the facilities and cafes.
We were sad to say farewell to Toby after his 2,711 nautical miles sailing since coming on board in Port Vila, Vanuatu and best wishes go with him for picking up with career and life in London.
Our time in Darwin was was mostly occupied with repairs, but we did I have 3days exploring the Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks. However our priority was first to get the mainsail repaired, track down spare parts and to get help with electrical problems.
- Scott did a good job overhauling our mainsail, and reinforced the temporary patch from PNG
- the chandlery found people to machine a new spinnaker pole attachment for Au$600, and supplied new Genoa sheets
- after weeks of emailing beforehand, Rob at Wichard Australia put me in touch with Remi at Z-Spars, France who confirmed that they could supply the spinnaker part. In the end I got hold of the U.K. Subsidiary on the phone and it arrived on 19/9/17 by DHL for a total of £78!!! Luckily we just caught the chandlery in time as we found they had taken the initiative to get it manufactured without authorisation.
- Unfortunately the shipyard electrician was so busy that he missed his appointment with us.
- in desperation I took three batteries to Leila at Supercharge Batteries to be tested over the weekend. One turned out to be dead, so I bought another. This still left the problem of the bow thruster failure, but I found that the batteries were only reading 6.2volts. Clearly had not been charging!
-A yacht surveyor recommended a company and the following morning we had Colin from Fronitier Marine Services identifying a failed diode which was blocking the charge circuit. This was bypassed and seems to work fine. So the bowthruster batteries I replaced in Tahiti have never been charged, but had enough oooomph to operate once in Tahiti and once in Port Moresby before dying. Maybe that's why we had to replace in Tahiti?!
- Meanwhile Justin hauled Mark up and down the mast dealing with replacement bulbs for navigation lights, and nylon sleeves for the Profurl swivelling mast track. Rob at Wichard had done a great job finding 4 of these discontinued parts and couriering them to us in time.
- Finally we did a big reprovisioning of the boat to cover the next 6000 miles.
However it wasn't all hard work, and I will make a separate blog about our impressions on Darwin and the Northern Territories.
Friday, 15 September 2017
Thursday, 14 September 2017
Sunday, 10 September 2017
We've now had a couple of days across the Arafura Sea with the wind forcing us south into the wide bay until it eventually went east and we gybed out towards New Year Island. It's quite entertaining to be sailing through a landscape of dates, some more memorable than others. Back in the Torres Straits someone even swapped the names of Thursday and Friday Islands so that they would run in sequence with the previous two days of the week.
I have just read "Any Human Heart" by William Boyd in 24 hours. Quite gripping and, on a different intellectual level, a bit akin to "The One Hundred Year Old Man who climbed out of a Window" in its parade of famous people that the central character meets though his life. The very personal insight into one man's hopes, loves, sexuality, mistakes, loneliness and death was rather voyeuristic, but left me feeling very bound up in it. I have a sad feeling that if my life comes down to no more than a series of journal entries, then I should strive to make them as interesting as possible. Carpe diem. When occasionally penned, my private journal rarely dares to be as candid as his. But then it is not intended to sell as a novel. Rare attempts at exploring my feelings on paper leave me aware that I have sown a mine field which an unexpected reader would detonate. This blog is about as candid as I get, normally.
More to the point this reinforces my knowledge that what counts in life is not the journal entries, which provide for later revival of lost memories, but the vibrancy of family and friendships and how one contributes to them. So I apologise, to all who care for my company, for vanishing to sea for two years, and am intensely grateful to everyone who has been able come to share the long blue sea-time of the soul aboard Tin Tin.