Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Passage From Darwin - Part 2 - change of plan!


We were on Day Sixteen of our thirty-five to forty day passage between Darwin, Northern Territory and Ceduna, South Australia. I had just finished checking the weather on my day watch when all hell broke loose.

Begonia started shaking and banging loudly. I could see that both the mainsheet and preventer had gone slack. Normally, they oppose each other to hold the boom still. Now it was swinging back and forth until one or the other of the slack lines snapped tight and brought it to a stop.

My first thought was that the mainsheet or one of its attachment fittings had parted or at least come uncleated, but I could see all of the hardware at the end of the boom and everything looked fine.

Then I thought something must have happened to the mast. I half expected to see it in the water to one side, but as I popped my head out from under the bimini and looked up, everything seemed normal. The mast wasn't broken. The boom wasn't broken. All of the wires were in place. The spreaders were intact and the boom was still attached to the mast. Everything was fine, except the whole thing was shaking back and forth like a wet dog trying to dry itself off. It was as if the base of the mast had sunk and all of the previously tight standing rigging had gone slack.

Maryanne had been awakened by the noise, but thought I may have been tacking or something, which involves a certain unavoidable amount of banging and shaking before the flogging sails are pulled taut on the other side.

"Maryanne!!!" She could tell immediately by the tone of my voice that something had gone very wrong.

"What's wrong??"

"The mast!!" was all I could think to say at that moment.

I ran up the windward deck to the base of the mast, getting smacked by the slack shroud on the way. The mast was pivoting around on its base, crunching into the eyebrow awning over the main cabin windows. I released the main halyard and started clawing down fistfuls of mainsail. Maryanne appeared, saw the commotion for the first time and told me to get away from the swinging mast.

"I've gotta get the main down! Roll up the jib!" She blew the sheet and cranked away at the furler line.

With the sails out of the way and the boat stopped, we could get a better look at things, but everything looked superficially fine, except that the mast was still swinging all over the place. What the hell was going on? The eyebrow was still getting crunched, which meant the mast was leaning backwards more than usual. I looked at the toggle at the base of the forestay and saw that it was loose, even though the roller furling seemed pretty taut. The forestay had broken. The only thing keeping the mast from falling backwards onto us was the jib halyard and the luff of the sail itself.

I cranked the halyard as tight as I could, while Maryanne went inside to rummage for some big shackles. When she returned, we moved the spinnaker halyard forward and shackled it to a spare hole in the lower forestay tang. Then I winched it as tight as I dared, considering the strength of the line and all of the fittings along the way.

That pulled the mast forward enough to cut the swinging in half, constraining it to about one degree from the center of its normal position. One degree doesn't sound that bad, but on a near twenty meter high mast, that leaves 2/3rds of a meter of free play between stops at the top. That is a lot of swinging, which was horrifying to look at from below. We didn't imagine it could keep that up for long before something else gave way.

Our nearest land was Christmas Island, 450 nautical miles to the north. It is a dot of an island in mid-Indican Ocean and has no repair facilities, it is also currently in lockdown due to Covid-19. Next closest was Cape Range on the Australian mainland, just over five hundred miles away, but not so isolated - that seemed like the better option despite also being closed due to Covid19; there was no way we'd make it to South Australia. We had enough fuel to motor for almost seven hundred miles on one engine, but that was in calm conditions, like in canals. Cape Range was dead upwind and straight into choppy seas. Plus, we were presently in a current that was going away from the mainland at half a knot. If the wind wasn't too strong and the seas weren't too bad, I figured we could maybe make it somewhere between five hundred and five hundred and fifty miles. The current and the winds were setting us backwards at just over a knot. We had to get an engine started and start moving NOW.

Once we were headed towards land, we pored through our charts. The ONLY port within our range was Exmouth in Western Australia, another thirteen miles past the Cape. We only had a chance of making it that far if we were very careful with our fuel.

Before we left Darwin, Maryanne had recorded all of the relevant emergency contacts we might need along the way. Now she fired off emails to the Joint Rescue Coordination Center (JRCC), and to the Exmouth Harbourmaster, explaining our situation and telling them we were on the way. We knew we had been trying to avoid Western Australia, but now we were headed straight at it. ETA: six days.

The DOT Harbourmaster wrote back first, acknowledging our email and directing us not to proceed to Exmouth until he can get confirmation from the Police that it is okay for us to come in.

Yeah, right! I have unfortunately seen this movie before. This is the plot to "Die Hard 2" (which, by the way, is not worth the electricity to download it, even if you have solar. Also in this category: "Speed 2". You'll never get those hours back.) In the movie, terrorists hijack air traffic control, point big guns at the controller's heads and tell them to deny a bunch of airliners permission to land. The pilots, played by no actor who has ever touched the controls of an airplane, respond by saying something like, "Dammit, we're going to run out of fuel!! But...okay." (Airline passengers take comfort in knowing that not even the dipshit who finished dead last in ground school would respond that way.)

Our reply was something along the lines of, "We really have no choices here, we're coming anyway. We have six days to hopefully figure it out."

Our direct emails with the Police and the JRCC were much more encouraging. They both told us to take care of ourselves, keep coming and we could deal with any issues once we were safely in port. The JRCC were particularly good about sending us regular messages saying not much more than that they were keeping an eye on our progress. My spirits weren't especially buoyed by this, but I recognized that the purpose of these was to remind us that we weren't all alone out there. I thought it was a really nice gesture.

One of the things pilots are generally better at than the average motorist is not running out of fuel. Running out of fuel in an airplane is really, really bad - way worse than running out of fuel on a sailboat. I know to a pretty high degree of accuracy what our engine's specific fuel consumption is (i.e. how fast the engine burns fuel at each power setting). That and an accurate starting quantity allows us to calculate exactly how much fuel we should have at any given moment. {Maryanne: Of course the sea and wind conditions consipre to adjust those numbers. Note: we can (and do) also measure the fuel in the tank, but in bouncy seas that isn't so accurate either.}

Thus, my two new hobbies were poring over the weather and ocean current forecasts and figuring out how much fuel we had left and what our range might be. Every time I came on watch, I would start the data downloads, check the fuel quantity to see if it was tracking with our expected burn rate and adjust that range number as necessary, then I would calculate the time remaining to what is called Bingo Fuel in aviation. Bingo Fuel is not the point at which we would run out of fuel completely, but rather the minimum fuel needed at a specified point to complete the trip, plus reserve. In our case, reserve is the amount of fuel we consider to be unuseable at sea. Our fuel pickup is not at the very bottom of the tank and sloshing could cause it to suck air, which would cause the engine to fail. We may be able to use some of that fuel in calm conditions, but it can't be counted on and thus is deemed not to exist for our calculations. Thus, our time to Bingo Fuel was the time remaining until we had just enough fuel to arrive at the marina at reserve fuel, including enough to make the thirteen mile upwind trip from the tip of the Exmouth peninsula.

With the endurance (time) number, I could multiply it by an educated guess of our expected speed in various conditions to get a range (distance) to Bingo Fuel. I could then also calculate a minimum speed over ground, and with the help of the current charts, the minimum speed through the water necessary to make it the full distance. It was close. My initial calculations were that we would have about twenty miles to spare.

When it came time for my night off-watch, I knew I had to try to sleep, but that I wouldn't. Exhaustion got me maybe two thirty minute naps in six hours. Every time I heard a particularly loud bang, I would jump up with a start, expecting it to be followed by an even louder one and then a scream.

If the mast was going to fall it was most likely to fall backwards, so we agreed we would only go outside as necessary and would sit each of our watches inside, under the protection of the cabin roof, as close to the base of the mast as possible.

After I came on for my watch to give Maryanne her fruitless try at sleeping, I was sitting there cringing at the banging from both the mast and the slack shrouds when I had an idea.

I tied a dock line to each shroud and then ran it more or less perpendicular to the mast. Then I tightened it as much as I could when it went slack, That pulled each shroud tighter, kept the slack one from swinging and most importantly, acted as a shock absorber to slow the shroud as it straightened and pulled tight. That took another third out of the mast's free swing and changed the bangs at each stop into slightly softer thuds. 'Bang, shake' changed to, 'Thud, reverberate, thud, reverberate'. What would have been terrifying in the old days was now an improvement. That and a slightly calmer day than the one before quieted things down a bit. We should have slept better, but both of our minds were racing and wouldn't turn off.

Our progress had not been as good as I had hoped. While the seas were calming, they still seemed to be at that magic height that made it hard to push through, especially when added to the headwinds and especially on only one engine operating at reduced power. We had not been making our required minimum speed. Every revision of our range estimate whittled away at those extra twenty miles until they were gone altogether, Then we started falling short. I had to come up with a new plan.

After being hunched over the charts for a couple of hours, I had a plan. The last forty-three miles to the entrance to Exmouth Gulf should be with the wind aft of the beam. We could sail those miles, because the mast would be pushed forward by the sail, reducing the strain on our temporary stays. Before we got that far, we were going to be passing through a big area of favorable current. Instead of motoring through it, we could shut down the engine for a day and let the current tick away some free miles for us. That combination should put us back into the black, even with pessimistic speed estimates.

On Day Three after the forestay broke, conditions were somewhat calmer and I mentioned to Maryanne over breakfast that we could lower the furler to the deck so we could use the jib halyard as a backup for the spinnaker halyard. I wasn't sure it was a good idea because the furler was half of the hardware holding the mast forward and also because the furler was longer than the boat, which would make it more than a little unwieldy. Maryanne was all for it. As I was talking myself out of the idea, she was thinking it more and more the right thing to do. We decided to do the job together in daylight while the conditions remained relatively smooth.

Roller furling up, and then down

It was a bit of a palaver getting the thing down and stowed on deck while avoiding getting it caught in the shrouds and lines on the way. We stowed it on deck curved from one corner of the boat to the one opposite, leaving only about a meter sticking out at each end. It was already bent from the swinging around so we weren't too worried. I can't remember, aren't we supposed to tie a red rag to each end?

We lashed the jib halyard around the forward beam. Then I started cranking. Like with the spinnaker halyard a couple of days before, I cranked it as tight as I dared. That took some pressure off of the spinnaker halyard, so I switched to that and cranked that down some more. After alternating back and forth, we got them both bar-tight. That pulled the mast forward enough to take all of the slack out of the shrouds. With the shroud-bending dock lines re-tensioned afterwards, the mast and the hulls now moved together as if they were one solid piece.

{Maryanne: Having the mast so much more secure really helped. I went from being absolutely terrified that the mast would fall and one of us would be badly injured, to knowing I only need to worry about our fuel level from that point forward}

WHEW!! It wasn't until that moment that we realized how much anxiety we each had been carrying. For two very long days, we had been holding our breaths without even realizing it. Now we could let out a big sigh of relief. Oh, that feels good! I went to bed and slept for an hour and a half straight. Then my brain started worrying again and it was all over. Stupid brain!

My biggest worry was our upcoming period of drifting to save fuel. The wind was forecast to increase a lot when we got to that area and I was concerned it would either cancel out our progress or worse, blow us out of the good current into adjacent areas flowing the other way. With no engine running we would have little control and we didn't have enough extra fuel to start the engine. Back to the old drawing board...

At length, I figured out that if we motored directly upwind, which would slow us down a lot, we could eventually get a better wind angle to the Gulf, which would allow us to shut the engine down and start sailing twenty miles sooner. That eliminated the need for us to drift at all, which fixed the uncertainty of being able to stay in the middle of the stream.

To make matters even better, the wind died almost completely during the middle of the day. That allowed us to motor at 'canal' speeds of four to five knots, almost double our required minimum of 2.5. By dinnertime, we were looking at an extra fifty miles of fuel range. Now we were almost certain to make it with plenty to spare.

Around dinner we got an email from the JRCC asking us to call them. Maryanne got on the satellite phone. They told us they had diverted a container ship to our location and it would be arriving within the next thirty minutes to deliver some fuel to us.

I was hurt. I had done all of that work to bridge the gap and I was certain we could make it, even in the worst case scenario. "But we don't need any fuel", I said meekly. "I mean, an extra 20 liter jerry can would be nice for piece of mind, but we don't need it."

Maryanne ignored me. They were already on the way. We were taking the fuel. We had never explicitly asked the JRCC for fuel, although they were aware that we were concerned about it. At some point, they decided better safe than sorry and sent the ship.

{Maryanne: Kyle had spent so much mental effort on finding a way to make our fuel supply get us to Exmouth and believed he had the problem cracked. The approach to Exmouth has us going through a narrow channel between land/reefs and gas rigs, not a place to run out of fuel, so I was happy to have any extra precuations possible sent our way}.

Within ten minutes, we picked up their AIS target and then saw the bridge of the ship sticking over the horizon – just the bridge, like the Earth was curved or something. It was the "Jazan", en route between Adelaide (Australia) and Jakarta (Indonesia). On our system, most vessel's AIS data tags tell the length of the vessel in feet. A very small percentage of them, maybe one or two, are so big that the length is displayed in nautical miles because there aren't enough digits on the display. This was one of those ships. It was 308 meters long, or 1,010 feet, or, as our display said: 0.165NM. This was one of the small subset of ships that is way too big to fit through either Panama Canal.

Next to the bridge grew an increasingly high stack of shipping containers like plants sprouting. They were followed by the dark flower pot of Jazan's hull. The Captain called us and in a thick Russian accent, introduced himself and told us to maintain course and speed. He sounded good natured and happy to be of assistance.

The Jazan - approaches

Jazan started slowing from nineteen knots five miles before he got to us. By the time he told us to alter course to approach more closely, they were down to eight. We were at four. The Captain joked, "Why are you running away?"

We craned our necks to take in the enormous ship that, even though it was still a quarter of a mile away, already looked like it was looming over us. Interestingly, we had the reverse of the usual experience as we approached. We were calm and steady, the giant ship was all over the place. That's because we were on a long, soft 3m swell that slowly rose us straight up and then gently lowered us straight down. Jazan's stern was waaay back there on the crest of a swell while the bow was buried in the trough by us, so they were pitching and rolling what seemed to me like a lot to us.

The JRCC had asked them to deliver 20 to 40 liters of fuel – one or two jugs. The Captain asked if we didn't want one more. Nah. Twenty liters is great, forty is more than enough, sixty is just overkill. Maryanne grabbed the mic, "Sixty would be lovely. Thank You." Saw that one coming!

"Are you sure that is enough? How big is your engine? How much do you burn?"

Maryanne handed me the mic. "That's more than enough, thanks. Eighteen horsepower." A bit of quick math, "Thirteen kilowatts" (the metric equivalent). "We are burning about a liter an hour."

"How much!?"

"About a liter per hour." This was met with guffaws.

"Okay, we give you sixty liters."

He asked us how many were aboard. I told him it was just the two of us. He said we are "very risky", but he did it in an impressed tone, like he couldn't remember the English word for 'brave' or, 'intrepid', perhaps. He told us they had twenty-three aboard - "Not so much adventure". I asked about his engines and how much they burn.

"One hundred megawatts. (130,000hp) We burn one hundred tonnes of fuel per day." Great googoly moogoly, that's a lot of fuel! I did the math after they left and discovered that, to produce a given unit of power, Jazan's engines use one twentieth the fuel ours do. That means using a gazillion Begonias to deliver a Jazan-sized load of crap from Amazon would be way slower, cost way more and pollute like crazy.

As we were approaching bow to bow, then alongside, it took us a long time to traverse the distance to Jazan's stern. There, three green jerry cans wrapped in blue plastic bags were lowered from the side deck into the water (diesel floats). It dawned on me that the deckhand lowering the fuel from the deck was twice as high above the water as the top of our mast is. The Captain standing on the wing bridge was twice as high as the deckhand, maybe more. We must have looked like a little mosquito to them.

The Jazan (at a near stop) - lowering fuel

After they drifted forward half a Jazan length, the Captain called us to say his propellers were stopped and we could come pick up the fuel. Maryanne caught them with a boat hook and then I left the helm to help her fish the heavy jugs out of the sea. We called the Captain again to tell him we had the fuel aboard and to thank him and his crew.

"No Problem. Happy trip!" came the reply. Then the sea behind the ship bubbled to life. By the time we started putting the fuel into our tank, Jazan was just the bridge and a bunch of antennae receding over the horizon. I guess they don't need their empty jugs. {Maryanne: It had never occured to us that a cargo ship might be diverted to us, I'd assumed if we needed fuel, someone would deliver it once we got closer to Exmouth, maybe a local fisherman, or one of the dive boats. I can't imagine the extra fuel the Jazan must have used to simply divert to us, slow to a stop, and then speed up again. We were immensely grateful and in awe of the system, and all the people who arranged this on our behalf.}

The Jazan and Begonia drift apart
Ready for fuel pickup aboard Begonia

We had enough empty space in our tanks for two of those jugs. I opened the first one and, whew! That stuff is pungent! We had been given industrial diesel oil, while we are used to getting marine diesel. The diesel oil is the good stuff. It is thicker and slipperier, which is marvelous for the health of our engine, but I imagine it doesn't burn as clean as the thinner, low sulfur marine diesel. That smell will also make it easy to track down any leaks for a while.

Now we had no reason to worry at all about fuel. We bumped the engine up to our normal cruising rpm, which improved our speed overall, but especially when fighting headwinds and seas. We now had enough to motor the whole way to Exmouth if we needed to, although my solution of sailing the last sixty-seven miles was still predicted to be faster overall. Plus, why run an engine if you don't have to?

The wind picked up over the next three days, which, combined with building seas, slowed us back into the three knot range. We made good work of the patch of favorable current when we got to it, which helped us even more than expected despite the disadvange of the headwinds. The wind built and built through the night and, combined with a turn directly into it, our speed slowed to about a knot. We were crawling along, but we needed to get just a little further upwind to be able to safely raise the mainsail. Maryanne especially hates not getting anywhere and she was disappointed to tell me she had only gone ten miles during her six-hour night watch.

I checked the weather again after she went to bed and it looked like we had finally gone far enough to make the turn. Woo hoo! I hoisted the double-reefed mainsail, turned across the wind and started winding down our poor engine. What a difference! The motion was smoother. Our speed, even with so little sail up, was higher than we had seen since the accident happened. Best of all was that there wasn't the constant background grumble of a hard working engine. With a little selective forgetting, I could even convince myself that I was on a pleasant passage and sit back and enjoy the starry sky.

By afternoon, we sighted our first land in three weeks. Once we got a phone signal, we found that we had just (three minutes earlier) been given temporary entry passes into WA. Well, I'm glad we still weren't waiting on word five hundred miles back. Knowing we'd arrive after dark we had planned to anchor outside the harbour, but on our call to the Harbourmaster, he convinced us it was safe to enter in the dark and that we could tie up to an end dock at the marina; he just asked us not leave the boat until the Police saw us in the morning. He then gave us detailed information (pictures) on how to find our slip.

We rounded North West Cape, which is at the tip of the peninsula enclosing the Exmouth Gulf, as we ate dinner. Then we started the now-cold engine again, lowered the sails and motored to the marina in the dark. Our slip was waiting, cordoned off with caution tape. Once we were tied up and secure, we went to bed and slept like the dead. Neither one of us had managed to get more than two hours in a stretch, once or twice a day for six days.

Everybody was kind enough to agree not to come the next morning until 10:00. We could finally put faces to the names on the emails. After a brief preamble by the Harbourmaster, our Police contact started by saying she was so relieved that we were here and safe. Then she gave us our entry passes followed by a long list of the terms and conditions of its issue. We were told that we were required to self quarantine for the next fourteen days, which we could do aboard Begonia. We had kind of expected this, but were hoping some of our time at sea could count, since we had near real-time tracking of our whole twenty-two day voyage. No dice. The official who signed it had dated it starting today and that's the way it was going to be. Well, we tried. We had originally expected to be at sea way past then anyway. This was a little different, though. Ordinarily, I would be excited about fourteen days with just Maryanne for company. Now, we weren't allowed to step off of the boat except to adjust the lines or hook up the hose. There was this whole new place to explore which we can look at but is off limits to us. It's the first time I have ever felt cooped up on the boat. {Maryanne: We were so grateful to have made it to a safe harbour, we were more then happy to follow the 14-day self-quarantine required, especially so since it would be aboard Begonia and not in a hotel; we could use the time to rest and work out the full extent of any damge from the forestay breaking}

Well, now we had plenty of time to figure out what to do next. We had another late morning, just for good measure, and then I went up the mast to retreive the other end of the broken forestay. Comparing the two ends to each other I couldn't find any evidence of corrosion or long-term fatigue. In fact, the remaining wire appears to be in really good condition. The Sta-Lok fitting that anchors the wire is also in good shape and still clamped down hard on the strands inside. It looks to me like the wire may have simply exceeded its breaking strength, failing first at the twelve outside strands, then followed by the seven inner ones. The inner ones all broke at once, which I suspect was the source of the Bang! Our sail had been rough, but none of it had seemed that bad. Maybe it was the bad hit we took on Day Fourteen. I know for sure that I went up the mast and inspected the point of ultimate failure before we left Darwin. All of the strands were intact. If they hadn't been, we wouldn't have gone. Perhaps there was a material flaw in there that I couldn't see. {Maryanne: Kyle had also been inspecting the rigging twice daily while at sea, using binoculars to view the upper hardware. The area that broke would have been the hardest to see from the deck, blocked somewhat by the roller furling hardware. So while he checked and didn't see any issues, we can't be sure if the wire failed all in the same moment/day, or had been showing any signs for a couple of days.}

Now our days in self-quarantine are filled with recording the damage and coordinating with out of town riggers, repair people and our overseas insurance company. I will conduct whatever repairs I can and that poor engine is now way overdue for an oil change. Maryanne spends most of her day sending emails with attachments back and forth. As a snapshot, the last two she just sent were to the Harbourmaster about mail pickup and the Minister of Police requesting a change our Entry Permit status so that we can stay in WA longer. Her list seems to grow faster than she can tick things off.

I also managed to put our third jug of sea-delivery fuel into the tank. It turns out that had we not added any, we would have made it with fifteen miles to spare. That's just under 3% remaining. Talk about the needle being below 'E'! Cosmo Kramer would be proud. Still, I'm glad we had it because it saved me having to worry about it on a minute by minute basis the rest of the way. It also saved me from having to see the 'Told you so!' look on Maryanne's face in the event that my calculations had been off by more than 3%.

[Maryanne]We've had plenty of time to reflect on everything and think about what we could have done differently. Clearly once we had made it to Darwin, and when Western Australia (WA) keep pushing back their opening time for their Covid19 protection (especially after the big outbreak in Victoria), we had effectively shot ourselves in the foot. We had to move on and get away from the cyclone area and while originally that would have been well away from Australia, now our only choice was to go South. With WA denying our Good-2-Go entry permit, we felt we were best off simlpy sailing around WA. While it was a long distance, we had done multiple passages longer than that (in distance and time); we were not at all concerned regarding our own abilities, nor for the safety of the boat. Kyle had gone up the mast before we left Darwin to check on everything (as he always does) and we also had a professional rigger inspect the rigging earlier in the year. We believe the really mixed seas on the passage (where the waves come from multiple directions and rather than form gentle rolling hills, look more like the top of a lemon meringue pie) must have caused the stresses that led to the failure in the wire forestay, but I guess we'll never know. For now we are relieved to be safe. The logistics of getting everything fixed will be a relatively simple challenge for the coming months (when compared to the stress of making it to safe harour at least).

We've strived to be honest and clear in our accounts. While we welcome helpful advice, we trust that the armchair sailors out there won't be judging us too harshly, but can celebrate with us on our safe arrival, and share our gratitude of the amazing rescue services looking out for all mariners.

Summary of damage identifed to date

What follows is a summary of everything we've found since the forestay broke. Some may be cosmetic and of no concern, some can be repaired, others will need to be replaced, and this is what will be keeping us busy over the coming weeks (and months). Additionally we still don't have permission to remain in WA to complete any repairs (we are working on that too).

Rigging - based on our initial (non-professional) inspection

  • Forestay broken (wire) - temp fix/installation proposed as short term fix - full replacement when possible
  • Roller furling system - Proful - unit to be identified possibly LCI 42 or an NCI 42 - I've sent the serial number to Profurl for clarification.
    • Foils - bent? Stressed - lots of metal bits at all joins found when we first unrolled jib - need replaced
    • Upper bearing unit
      • "halyard wrap stop" part missing (fell off when forestay broke?)
      • holes/fixing hardware elongated,
      • bearing seem stiff (this would have taken a lot of seawater baths once it was stowed on deck after lowering).
      • Worn "Top Bearing Holder Stop" - should be round on upper edge but ground flat against mast.
      • Hardware ring/holes have all elongated from the stresses
  • Shrouds - expect to replace (since they took several days of quite miserable slamming around until we could better secure the mast at sea)
  • Mast - various areas of damage - inspect - fix? OK?
    • Damage at base - from rocking when loose and for the several days until we could better secure it.
    • Damage to upper section - ground around jib halyard sheave - looks bad
    • Damage to upper section - wear around forestay attachment point on mast
    • Mast - damage around spinnaker block
    • Forestay Tang - we think it looks OK, but the insurance assessor seems quite concerned about it.
    • Damage to spare halyard sheave housing
    • Sheaves for Jib and Spinnaker halyard may be deformed - to inspect/verify
  • Gull striker damage/wear - to inspect/determine - fix? Replace? Ok?

Jib - replace or repair

  • Sun cover - to patch/replace? - damage from lines used to help stop swinging.
  • Bolt rope - to replace - Multiple areas of damage (at foil joins)
  • Luff padding section - torn/ripped - to replace

Additional items

  • Damage to fiberglass/gelcoat behind mast (Cabin top 'eyebrow')
  • Damage to Bimini cover from boom (as mast fell back slightly)
  • Replace reefing lines for main (ground when mast fell back against cabin top)
  • Replace anchor ball halyard (broke in chaos)
  • Possible replacement of SSB antenna (tbd)
  • Replace SSB halyard line (broke in chaos)

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Passage from Darwin - part 1

[Kyle]Western Australia would not wiggle on their hard border closure, the opening date kept sliding, and eventually they gave up even suggesting a date; rumors indicated the border might not open until 2021. Our applications for a Good-2-Go (G2G) entry pass were repeatedly moved up the chain of command, offering a little hope at each step, before being rejected on the basis that we weren't Western Australians and we weren't essential workers and (according to them) this was not essential travel. We needed to get out of Darwin because Cyclone (Hurricane) Season would be starting soon. Arriving even before that would be the monsoonal Wet Season, which was already making itself felt with daily increases in relative humidity. What was hot but dry on our arrival had turned so oppressively sticky that it was not possible to do anything but wilt between 9am and 10pm.

A last night at anchor in Darwin,
and the approximate/planned route ahead to South Australia

Timing our trip south was a bit of a balancing act. The best time to leave Darwin with tailwinds down the coast is probably no later than late August. That works until about Perth. The next problem is getting around the corner at Cape Leewin into the Great Australian Bight. August is deep in Wintertime there, so it would ideally be better to wait as long as possible for Spring or Summer to take hold before doing that leg. That's why hopping down the coast would have been so perfect. As it was, the chance of headwinds were increasing by the day, so we were trying to go as late as possible in Winter to transition to the southern leg as early as possible in Spring. That left us with early September as the best time to leave, but of course we were waiting for our new propeller, so that date came and went as well.

By the time we finally did leave in late September, both the northwest monsoon and the southeast trade winds (which bend to northeast along this part of the coast) were canceling each other out as they filled up a big high pressure area to the northwest of the continent. Our best strategy for dealing with both the calms and the headwinds further down the coast was to head straight away from land until we were way offshore to the northwest at about 11ºS. There, we would exit the lee of Melville Island and could skirt the edge of the calms as we headed west to avoid the headwind squash zone along the coast. At some point, we would either turn southwest to pass around the headwind zone or, worst case, to avoid getting too close to Timor. We knew the Australian Border Force would be monitoring us. We were technically supposed to be on a domestic sail, albeit a long one. We didn't want to arouse any concern by skirting too close to another country's borders.

So, to take advantage of the nightly land breeze (as in: from the land), we left Darwin well before sunrise. In eleven hours, we managed to crawl thirty miles from our anchorage before the land behind heated up enough to reverse the land breeze into a sea breeze. We bobbed around for an hour before the stronger sea breeze bent our course to the west until the land breeze returned once again.

Hitchhiker at sea - a Brown Noddy (I think)

By late the second day, we made it to 11° and were far enough offshore to be out of the sea breeze/land breeze cycle. Our westbound turn brought the wind far enough aft that we could switch from our white sails to our brand-new spinnaker. It stayed up for the next two days, propelling us slowly but surely as the wind varied between just enough to keep the sail filled and nothing at all. Late on one of Maryanne's night watches, she got tired of watching the sail draping limply over our rigging and just brought it down altogether. When she woke me, I planned to 'fix' it and get us moving again. Most of these things pass in an hour or so.

It wasn't until 3:30 that I finally thought it might be worth putting back up. I unfurled it, which as super easy because there was no wind at all to fight me. The spinnaker hung straight down about two-thirds of the time. The other third, the tiniest of puffs would slowly inflate it into a nice balloon shape. We would then accelerate ever so slightly to catch up with the wind, leaving us with nothing moving over the deck. The sail would collapse, we would coast to a stop and then the whole cycle would repeat again. In this manner, I was able to clock almost a third of a mile in the next half hour. Subsequent hours were mostly better, but by the end of the day, our midnight to midnight run was only thirty-three miles. That is pretty tedious.

The weather system we were taking pains to avoid was approaching from the southwest and strengthening. We knew our period of calms and slow progress would not last forever, so we were trying to remind ourselves to enjoy the stress-free conditions while we could. Soon enough, we might be pining for the days when Begonia was gliding smoothly over a sea that looked like a freshly laid out bolt of blue silk. The lack of any real wind made it too hot in the daytime. The sun didn't so much shine as buzzed like a low-hung heat lamp. Our only respite was to cower from its rays in the shade of the bimini. The nights were glorious and cloud-free and perfect t-shirt temperature. With no light pollution and a mirror sea, it sometimes looked like we were floating in space.

Flying the new Spinnaker,
and our daily visit from Australian Border Force Planes

Once a day, just to spice things up, we were given a low altitude flyby by a Border Force plane, followed by a radio call to confirm that we're still doing what we told them we would do. If they had any skepticism about our story based on our heading smartly further from the continent and almost exactly the opposite direction for our stated destination in South Australia, they kept it to themselves. They were always polite and signed off by wishing us a good voyage.

At the end of Day Four, an AIS target popped up ahead of us. It was from gas well complex straddling the eleventh parallel. It was surrounded by a prohibited zone that we would have to avoid. Our best and shortest option would be to go north of it, but I was worried that if we lost the wind there, the current would push us into the prohibited area, so we elected to take the longer southern route.

Wouldn't you know it, almost as soon as we passed the point where we would be able to change our minds and go the other way, the wind shifted, pushing us into the complex. I held out as long as I could, but then had to start an engine to get us around the corner. There, I found a nice breeze, which had us skipping along at five and a half knots for exactly the time it took me to deploy and trim the sails. Then it died back again to nothing. That and our bit of motoring gave us our fastest hour of the day: 4.83 knots. Ten of the other twenty-three were less than one knot, including one six hour stretch of 0.00. Ugh. At least the current was going our way. It was accounting for over half of our westbound progress.

Some amazingly flat calm weather

At sunrise, as we were abeam the center of the gas complex, we received what I thought was a rather testy call from the processing ship within.

”Sailboat approaching the Bayu-Undan gas field, this is Libertade!”

I had a quick look around, because we were clearly, 'Stationary sailboat in the vicinity of...' I could see no other boats, so I answered. It was strange he didn't address us by name like other AIS-equipped vessels did.

”You must immediately proceed to and keep a distance of ten miles from the complex!”

No I mustn't. The charted Prohibited Zone consisted of three circles, each with a three-mile radius, connected by tangents to make a triangle with rounded corners. If they wanted us to stay ten miles away, they should have put a ten-mile ring around the place. This used to drive us nuts about the U.S. Navy. They put up a barrier saying “Do Not Cross!!” and then yell at you for even looking in its direction. If the line you really don't want us to cross is 200 meters from the barrier, then move the damn barrier!

“Okay. We don't have any wind at the moment, but when we do get moving, we'll stay clear of the Prohibited Zone.”

There was a long pause and then, “Roger”

I suspect that what happened was the guy got up, looked out the window and saw an unexpected vessel in his kingdom and as a gut reaction, he demanded that we retreat to a distance that is conveniently one which would put us back over the horizon out of sight. Had anyone bothered to look at their AIS display, they would have seen us creeping up eighteen hours ago, make a noticeable course change to creep around and then continue on a course that was clearly intended to creep away. Even if we had been headed straight at them, it would have taken us something like nine hours to get within match-throwing range.

We spent our slowest day within sight of each other. Occasionally, wind and current would conspire to push us sideways into the complex at 0.2 knots or something. They never called us back to complain, but I felt like I could feel them staring at us. It made me much less sanguine about not being able to control where we are going. Of course, we had a motor or two, which I'm sure they knew, but they never insisted on us resorting to their use. I wasn't about to offer because we may need that fuel later for something way more important than driving out of the imaginary buffer zone of a real buffer zone so we can bob around over there instead.

We had to get around The Bayu-Undan gas field
Pictures taken using a good zoom

Late that night, on Maryanne's watch, some reliable wind arrived and we were able to slowly resume our progress westbound. I was especially pleased to watch the gas complex recede over the horizon because it was really bright and it washed out all of the stars.

We were not the only thing floating around out here, The boat seemed to be 'anchored' in over 1000m of ocean depth

By Day Seven, we had made it to within fifty miles of the island of Timor. It was finally time to turn left to parallel the Australian coast, just under five hundred miles away. The wind veered clockwise from northeast to east and then southeast. We doused the spinnaker and switched back to working sail. We were now sailing across the wind. It was forecast to move even further forward and strengthen soon. Our days of easy sailing and gentle motion would be coming to an end.

Poor Maryanne. Twice a day after poring over the weather, I would modify our route to reflect my best estimate for where we needed to sail. The system building along the coast was increasing in ferocity. To avoid it, we would have to swing wider and wider to get around the worst of it. First, it looked like we would have to go to 110°E. Then it was 108°. Then it was 106°30' or maybe 105°15'.

We always enjoy the sunsets at sea

Every morning, as she prepares to send out our position update, Maryanne asks me how many miles we have sailed and how many left to go. For several days in a row, the sum of the two numbers increased, sometimes by more than we had gone the day before. She always seemed so dejected at the news and I started dreading the moment when she asked me to tell her our distance to go. The shortest coastal route had a distance of about 3,200NM. I had told her before we left Darwin that I expected us to actually end up needing to sail between 4,000 and 4,500NM to get there. We were in that zone now, but that seemed to offer her little comfort. I had to keep reminding her that sailing the long way would be a way better option than cutting the corner and going right into the worst of it. She knew that, of course, but she still didn't like the numbers.

The Border Force contacted us for the last time on Day Eight. This time, it was by scratchy radio only with no flyby. I think we have now exceeded the out and back range of their aircraft from the coast. The distance we can see ships on the AIS continues to amaze us (over 250nm). It seems it is not any special atmospheric conditions but a deliberate effort on the part of the Australians to identify and re-broadcast signals in this area; they must have a very high antenna someplace!

On Day Eleven, we crossed the busy shipping lane between Perth and the Sunda Strait (between Java and Sumatra). Most of the vessels passed too far away to see, but we did sight one every four hours or so. Once we were through the thickest of it, the winds slowly started to build. This was the far northwest corner of the weather we had been trying to avoid. Our speed picked up and we finally had the last of our sub 100 mile days.

Sure enough, by Day Thirteen, conditions were bad enough that we were indeed pining for the smooth conditions and fifty mile days of the past. The seas were building through four meters and the wind was regularly touching thirty knots (34.5mph). We were getting knocked around so badly that we decided to sacrifice an hour and a half's worth of progress and stopped Begonia to heave to for dinner and washing up. We were still bobbing around like a cork, but at least we weren't slamming into the oncoming waves anymore. The sea state was even worse after dinner, so we decided to stay hove to for Maryanne's watch and most of mine. We didn't get moving again until twelve hours after we had stopped.

Life while hove-to

Maryanne reported to me at watch change that she had watched a big fireball break apart and fall into the sea (over the horizon). From her description, it sounded like an extra big meteor. A few hours later, I saw one too! It was probably too slow to be a meteor (most extra-planetary bodies are going at about 100,000 knots when they hit the atmosphere), but it was going way too fast to be an airplane in the stratosphere. The Notices to Mariners delineated an area of space debris a few hundred miles to our southwest. We decided that we had probably been witnesses to satellite de-orbiting events. Well, since we probably won't be getting to a launch anytime soon... Of course, it could also be extraterrestrial aliens sneaking (poorly) down to probe us. That seems exactly as possible as the first because it is also one of the two things that I mentioned.

Later in my night watch, I felt something hit me in the shoulder. Oh, no! Something has fallen off of the mast. I shined my light up there, but couldn't see anything amiss. Looking around the floor at my feet, I found a carrot-sized flying fish wriggling around. Usually, I don't discover them when they are still alive, so I flung it back into the sea before it suffocated. What a story that one will have! When I woke Maryanne at sunrise, she pointed out the impact point on my shirt, which was still covered in scales and slime. No wonder I couldn't get rid of the smell. I must've washed my hands a dozen times!

By morning, the wind and seas were both still building slightly, but both had also backed counter-clockwise enough for us to be able to sail fast across the waves, rather than into them. We spent most of our watches inside because the helm station was regularly getting doused by the errant wave. One particularly bad one hit us worse than we have ever been hit (including the whale). I was asleep off watch and was awakened by being thrown into the wall. It felt like we must have rolled forty degrees, but it was probably only twenty. Everything that wasn't already resting against a starboard wall got thrown to the floor on that side of the boat. The sliding door on the starboard head was even knocked off of its track and thrown through the opening into the passageway. That has never happened before. I called to Maryanne, who called back to say she was fine. I went back to sleep assuming it was one of those rolls that seems much worse from the bed than it does at the helm. Only when I got up and she explained that she had spent the remainder of her watch cleaning up did I get it.

View from the helm-seat

We had two days of fast but uncomfortable sailing where our main concern was holding on. Mealtime stopped being a time to catch up and socialize over some nice food and turned into quick-and-dirty bare bones refueling events with long briefings about what to expect on the next watch. We were all business.

Early on Day Sixteen, in the middle of my night watch, the weather finally started to abate. By the time I woke Maryanne, I had unrolled the jib from three reefs to one, increasing its size from 9m² to 25m² . She was pleased to get the good news that I was expecting us to be able to turn due south within the next few hours. We would be able to avoid going any further west for the meantime, which should save us three hundred miles off of my last estimate. We would probably end up going just a little past 106°E.

By the end of Maryanne's day watch at noon, we were indeed heading south. The skies were clearing rapidly and she had unrolled the jib to its full size. The motion had improved dramatically, which had allowed me to get some nice, deep sleep for a change.

I checked the new forecasts. The consensus was that the storm was now behind us. Ahead would be a few days of light headwinds, followed by a beam reach to about 30°S. Then we should be able to catch some westerlies back to the continent and across the Bight. Since the beam reach would be in stronger winds, I decided to give us a better angle by eventually sailing just a bit east of south in the lighter headwinds. As the wind slowly decreased and veered clockwise, I would turn five degrees and then another five degrees into it every half hour or so.

At 2pm, I turned another five degrees to 55° to the apparent wind. I did my hourly checks and went back inside to look at the last of the weather data to trickle in – in this case the infrared satellite photos. It looked like we would be getting a few days of really nice sailing ahead. I was just shutting the computer down, when...