Archive for 'Namibia to St. Helena'

Nearing Land

Lat: 16 28.742′ S
Lon: 4 50.770′ W

After 10 days at sea, we’re finally approaching our destination; by sunrise tomorrow St. Helena should be in sight. Light winds have remained the norm, although the daily cycle has changed a bit. We’re now getting cloudy skies and stronger winds in the mornings, and this morning we actually had a bit of rain when we sailed near the edge of one of the four or so localized rain showers that we could see around us. The settled weather has been great for laying in the sun and having a pleasant passage in general, but it’s not the best for trying to make Recife, Brazil by Carnival. We’ averaged just a little over 5 knots, which must be one of our slower long-distance ocean passages, and the news from those ahead us of is that we should expect more light winds.

We did get a welcome interruption today when Lauren checked the fishing lines and found we’d hooked something. As I pulled the fish near the transom, we could see it was a beautiful male Mahi-Mahi (also known as Dorado or dolphin), and was much larger than the one we’d caught earlier in the passage. The fish we’ve caught in the past (tuna, wahoo, barracuda) have all been pretty tired by the time they reached the transom and it’s been pretty easy to gaff them and haul them into the cockpit for their last rites. Although the Mahi Mahi have been smaller, they’ve also been much more lively. We’d lost the last one when it shook the hook while thrashing about as I was holding it in the air and trying to gaff it or at least let it calm down a bit. This one was just as lively, so this time I though I’d leave it in the water until it either drowned or tired a bit. Unfortunately, the result was the same. After only a minute or two it shook the hook as well and we saw our beautiful catch swimming away.

mahi1 The one that got away

We were pretty bummed (especially since it was lunchtime and Lauren had just been wondering what to make), but tossed the line back in and within 5 minutes we had another fish on! This one was a smaller female Mahi Mahi and I resolved not to make the same mistake twice. I immediately went for the gaff and eventually got a good spot right behind the head before it could thrash itself loose. With the gaff securely set it was only a matter of time before Mrs. Mahi Mahi was turned into a cajun-spiced lunch with leftovers for dinner. Our process is generally for me to bring the fish on board, kill it by cutting the spine, remove the head, and then hand it over to Lauren to do the rest. This time, when the head came off I had a bit of a surprise — I’d actually severed 4 heads at once. The Mahi Mahi was so full of small silver fish that three were still in her throat and in face were at the point of having their heads sticking into her mouth. Apparently even with a stuffed belly and a throat jammed with fish as well, our red squid skirt lure looked too good to her to pass up. Tracey did a nice job of her first cleaning as well. The other boat we’ve talked fishing with on the radio has had the same story in the Atlantic so far — wily Mahi Mahi and big lure-stealers.

mahi3 The one that didn’t

If two fish in 5 minutes wasn’t rare enough, we’ve also seen another sailboat. It’s only the second time on our trip that we’ve seen another yacht at sea out of sight of land. Our brief chat on the radio confirmed that they’re also headed to St. Helena, are French-flagged, and have four on board, so we’re looking forward to saying hello tomorrow.

Doesn’t seem like much, but big news out here: we caught a fish and saw a boat. Wow. Our tans are also coming along nicely.

Western Hemisphere

Lat: 18 54.181′ S
Lon: 00 36.476′ W

There were two pieces of big news this morning. The first is that we’ve entered the western hemisphere again for the first time since briefly crossing back across the dateline between New Zealand and Fiji. The other is that unlike the last 5 days or so, which have been characterized by light winds and clear skies or small, puffy cumulus clouds, today the sunrise found the sky overcast with mid-level cumulus cloud banks and the wind gathering strength. By 7:30am we dropped the spinnaker and started running downwind wing-on-wing, with the jib off to starboard and the double-reefed main out to port. We don’t often use this point of sail because it can be a little tedious and finicky (especially since our main doesn’t get out very far before it’s blocked by the cap shroud), but it’s been working out OK today as long as we keep the wind almost exactly behind us. For now our speed is back up and we’re only about 10 degrees off course.

wing Wing-on-wing (or goose-wing as the Frenchies say)

We haven’t had any more luck fishing, but apparently there are some big ones out here. Yesterday one of the lines came back with no lure, leader, or swivel — the 300 lb test monofilament was broken cleanly.

With such calm seas, doing boat work has been almost as easy as it would be at the dock, so with the exception of our damaged spinnaker, this may be the first time that the boat arrives at the end of a passage in better shape than it started. Just in case the sailing life has sounded too idyllic lately (and it really has been) I’ll have to relate the description of yesterday’s repair (see step 9 for the short version). The electric port head has been on and off my list of repairs for the whole trip and when cleaning hoses and the discharge elbow (both joyful jobs) stopped showing improvement, we finally stopped using it and relied on the manual starboard head, which to date has been old faithful. I’d already tried all the easy stuff so I knew that a teardown and pump rebuild was the next step. Here are the basics of how that went: (1) flush plenty of fresh water through the system, (2) remove hoses and discharge fittings (No worries, just mop up the water), (3) remove front cover (Oops, it’s plastic and so old and brittle that it broke into pieces so if the old owner kept a spare we’re saved, otherwise no port head until we can get parts. Spinnaker sheet is over the hatch for the spare parts locker, so just keep going and check later.), (4) unscrew the macerator blade off the threaded shaft to get at the flexible, replaceable pump wall, which probably needs to be replaced (Impossible. The threads are completely caked with hardened build-up and just try getting a tight grip on a sharp round blade in a tiny space and turning it. Half an hour trying to clean the threads doesn’t work, so gonna have to pull the entire pump apart to improve access.), (5) pulling the whole pump requires pulling the whole head, so take off the electrical connections and the intake hose, unscrew the head from the floor and carry the whole thing out into the cockpit for cute photos and the next round of work., (6) now with a bit of work the macerator blade can be removed and guess what, the pump wall isn’t just worn, it’s completely missing! That explains a lot., (7) use a spare line and put a rolling hitch on the spinnaker sheet then cleat off the spare line so I can take the tension off the sheet and fetch spare parts (I’m in luck, the previous owner held onto a used front cover!) (8) try putting the new pump wall in, but it doesn’t fit properly because there’s too much hardened buildup that I’m deciding to call “calcium”, so a nice long session with dental picks, screwdrivers, and sandpaper in barely accessible places is required to see the bronze surface again, (9) now several hours into the job, I finaly install the new pump wall, (10) clean out hose fittings, sand down mating surfaces, and replace several gaskets, (11) the old spare front cover turns out to be labeled “cracked, OK for emergency”, so more scraping and sanding of buildup is needed to make sure that it will go in smoothly and not break during insertion, (12) reassemble the rest of the head, clean off all the mess my scraping has created and carry it back town to re-install it, (13) re-installation goes smoothly until we give it a wet test and find that the discharge elbow with its new joker valve doesn’t want to stop leaking. At this point, it’s time to call it a day. It’s a typical 1-hour boat job that’s become a multi-day project. The good news is that with the new pump wall installed it now sounds like an industrial machine instead of a car’s electric window and dispatches water like we’ve never seen. Once I sort through a couple more leaks we’ll again be a household with two 1/2 baths instead of one.

head Now to find out what’s inside…

Still Visualizing

Lat: 20 52.480′ S
Long: 02 59.541′ E

It’s Day 6, and all is well on board. Today is definitely not our fastest day, as we are struggling to top 4 knots with both the small kite and a double-reefed mainsail, but we’re still moving in the right direction, and last tonight we passed halfway to St. Helena.

By this time, each of us has settled into a routine, although the timing of our activities changes from day to day as a result of our rotating watch schedule. We do 3-hour shifts throughout the day and night that rotate 3 hours forward each day. Of course the 9 p.m.-12 a.m. shift is the favorite of the night shifts, as it gives you the chance to sleep through the night (for 6 hours, anyway). There is less agreement about second best, but for me, it is the 3-6 a.m. It usually begins with tired eyes, reluctant to stay open, but as the sky begins to brighten, so does one’s energy level. Having never been an early morning person, I haven’t seen a great many sunrises in my lifetime (except for the odd one or two in college viewed after a long night — of studying, of course), but I believe that the ones that we have a chance to see out here with nothing but deep blue sea between us and the horizon are hard to beat.


Tracey and I were able to share this one during our shift change

When we’re not dozing or keeping watch, each of us has our preferred activities. I can usually be found in the galley or with my nose in a book. Dallas has been hard at work, completing minor repairs so quickly that Tracey and I joked that we need to break something to give him more to do. Tracey continues to have a voracious appetite for learning, both from books and from the skipper, and likes to give her brain a break by watching movies from our diverse collection. She also has drawn a couple more miniature “vision boards”, inspired by the obvious success of her first one which led us to catch our first mahi-mahi! If her other vision boards work as well, then we should have smooth spinnaker sailing from here on out with whale and dolphin sightings and plenty of time to get to Brazil for Carnival!

mahi Our first mahi-mahi

Although not the subject of a vision board, we had some good news about the rigging. Dallas spoke to our rigger in Florida (Colin with Mack Sails) who informed him that having two toggles crack under strain would be like “lightning striking twice”. He suggested that what seemed to be new cracks in the port shroud toggle might just be superficial scratches. Dallas filed and sanded them down, and sure enough, they disappeared.

Well, that’s all for now. I need to get busy either reading in the sun or taking a short nap. Decisions, decisions….

Lat: 22 49.567′ S
Lon: 6 44.348′ E

There’s a good question that nobody’s asked us yet: Why did we have to stay in New Zealand for nearly 6 months to dodge the cyclone season there but get to leave South Africa after only a couple of months? The answer is that the South Atlantic is unique among the six hemispheric halves of the world’s three big oceans in that it doesn’t have any cyclones. If the Pacific Islands were here, there would have to be an armada of billy-club-toting anchorage cops telling long-lingering sailors to “Move along, move along. You’ve seen plenty here. Keep it moving.” As it is, there are only three islands in the South Atlantic tradewind path: St. Helena, which is isolated, steep-to and not a typical tropical isle, Ascension, which until recently was an off-limits military base, and Fernando de Noronha, which we’re told lives up to the ideal of a beautiful cyclone-free tropical paradise but is run by Brazil as a nature preserve with hefty per-day fees for the boat and each person on board. Our itinerary currently calls for stops at both St. Helena and Fernando.

We were told that the South Atlantic would bring some beautiful, tranquil spinnaker sailing and so far it’s done just that. We’ve had our second, smaller kite up for about 24 hours now and it’s been wonderful, with speeds generally between 4.5 and 7.5 knots. The wind seems to pick up a bit after sunset and start to die down after midnight, with a generally steady and pleasant 15 knots or so during the day. With winds like that, the seas have stayed calm and it’s added up to one of the most pleasant 4-day offshore runs we can remember.

As you might expect, everyone’s been in a good mood. Sunbathing, boat work, movies, books, naps, and chats with each other and on the radio fill most of the day and the nights have been mostly clear and star-filled. Tracey is learning constellations at an alarming rate. There may be a virtually infinite number of visible stars out here, but the Greeks were definitely finite in their imaginative ability to group them into constellations and at the rate she’s going she’s going to achieve lecturer status before we make St. Helena. The chow has been excellent as usual. Last night Lauren went for another first and turned out an amazing stir-fry with (fake) beef, butternut squash, onion, and sweet red pepper, and Asian noodles.

We just entered the tropics last night and right on schedule, the occasional flying fish we’d started to see has turned into consistent groups of 30 or so this morning, bursting out of the water beside us and flying away from our splashing hulls. The number of ships on AIS and horizon has dropped to virtually nil although we did have a close encounter yesterday with a cargo ship called “Glorious” (didn’t look it, and the officer on the bridge was unusually curt). The sea birds seem to be in short supply as well, which is rare. At least one sea bird has almost always been in sight for our entire trip so their absence feels a little strange.

bird1 A rare, rare sight on this passage

We have had a couple of issues to bring us back to reality. One is that the new port cap shroud toggle (the same part that broke and nearly brought the mast down in the Indian) is cracking. This time the cracks are much larger, but they’re in a different place and look like less of a problem. I’ve marked the cracks with a Sharpie and so far they don’t seem to be growing. Even though only one of them failed in the Indian, I replaced both of them, so now we have one old “good” one as a spare that I’m planning to swap in at St. Helena unless it looks like we need to do it sooner.

crack Not again

Our other “problem” is that the fish aren’t biting. As far as we can tell, neither of our lures has had even a nibble. Tracey did the modern version of a rain dance and drew up an artistic “vision board” depicting us catching a Mahi Mahi that’s supposed to move things along, but so far we’re still pulling in empty lines at sunset. I’ve been identified as the weak link in the effort to achieve by visualizing our catch, and since I also put the two fishing rigs together, I guess it’s time to start making excuses. At least nobody else we’ve talked to is having much luck either.

We did managed a couple of milestones yesterday. One is that we passed 75% of the way around as measured by longitude. The other is that we entered the 0 Zulu or Greenwich Mean Time time zone. All sorts of things aboard an offshore vessel are done in GMT (aka UTC), so we’re always keeping two times (and often a 3rd “Skype time zone” to track friends and family back home). For now, radio skeds, navigation, etc. are actually the same time local time and GMT. Pretty mundane stuff for the reader I guess, but I’ve been tracking things in this time zone for nearly two years, so it’s a bit of a milestone to finally sail here. Thankfully we’re a good deal farther south than Greenwich.

Goodbye Africa

Lat: 24 49.362′ S
Lon: 11 03.883′ E

When we returned from our road trip after sunset, we found ourselves facing a small problem. We were on the dock and our dinghy was behind our boat. We’d loaned it to RDJ while we were gone instead of leaving it tied up at the dock, and the other boat we know in the anchorage had locked their dinghy to the dock before leaving town on their own road trip, so had no chance of borrowing it or calling for a ride. I was half disrobed and planning to swim the few hundred feet to the boat, but I was feeling pretty chicken because of the large jellyfish we’d been seeing washed up on the beach. Sharks are one thing — they have to sort of choose to attack you, but jellyfish are another, as all you have to do is be in the same place at the same time to have a bit of a problem. While I was wavering, Tracey found a kayak paddle to borrow at the yacht club and I borrowed someone’s dinghy from the dock to go and fetch ours.

Luderitz isn’t a very common stop for yachties, but it has been pleasant and is also a really safe place compared to Mozambique and South Africa. It was fine to leave our dinghy behind the boat at night and we could walk around at night as well with no worries. The only downside to Luderitz is that the wind can be pretty intense. We were really fortunate in that although we had gale force winds on our way into the port, we never experienced the 40-60 knots winds that are a common occurrence in the anchorage. Everything we you might need for a stop is within easy walking distance and there’s even an internet cafe where the internet works most of the time.

We’re a bit behind schedule and had already spent longer than planned, so we checked out the next day for a Saturday departure and started going though the usual list — water, provisioning, internet, last hot shower, etc. Lauren and I took time for a dinner out together and then we stopped at the convivial yacht club for a final visit. A cruise ship with some fuel problems had decided to turn a typical afternoon stop into an overnight visit and so the yacht club was filled with passengers watching rugby and crew enjoying an evening out. We joined up with some of the crew and visited a couple of local night spots that were fun and friendly, but definitely had a small town feel to them. Talking to the cruise ship reminded us of how much closer we’d come to the Somali pirates than we’d wanted to by sailing through after the monsoon change. Their ship was chased by pirates in Mozambique waters this month and last month several ships were chased and one taken hostage near Bazaruto, an area we’d sailed through about halfway into our trip down the Mozambique coast. The increase in the pirate operating area has been incredible this season. When I got back to the boat, and checked email with the sat phone, we had two urgent messages from Martin on Anima. He and 20 other boats were anchored in the Maldives on the way to the Gulf of Aden, but were now deeply concerned and undecided about what to do due to the recent escalation in pirate activity. It sounds like some of them may alter course and head for South Africa, but we just heard from Martin today that he’s finally decided to join a convoy and head for Salalah, Oman. We wished him luck and will be keeping in touch until he’s safe in the Red Sea.

Before leaving, we nearly caused a riot by taking some local kids for a dinghy ride and then finally giving away all our cheap soccer balls that we’d purchased in Bali for kids in Madagascar. Like Lauren said, I guess the good thing about giving out some soccer balls is that although there aren’t enough for everyone, they’re no fun to play with by yourself. We also had an unexpected treat for lunch when Tracey cooked up a Durban-style beans bunny chow. I didn’t think I’d be having one of those again anytime soon, but I loved them in Durban, and this one was excellent as well. It took a bit of work to get the anchor loose from the thick mud in the harbor, but before long we were on our way with favorable winds.

bunny Mmmm.  Beans Bunny.

On a bit of a side note, we ended up sailing away with only one engine. Lauren freed the port engine of fishing line our first day in Luderitz, but the starboard engine was acting pretty strangely on our arrival (enough so that I was prepared to turn and head for St. Helena if things went wrong during our arrival in gale-force winds). It’s been hard to start, fuel consumption has gone up, and it was idling at 1500 rpms instead of 850 when we came in. When I finally found the time to look at it on Saturday, I found the throttle lever on the engine seized. Unfortunately, the entire gear housing at the front of the engine would have to come off to work on it from the inside, so I was a little bummed at first. However, after a bit of WD-40, physical therapy, and hot oil splashing around the inside of the engine, I was finally able to work it loose and it now moves better than ever. Now I just have to crawl back down in the engine room and get the idle and throttle cable re-adjusted properly and we should be back to two engines. Although all the maintenance can be a chore, I definitely don’t miss the old days of owning a monohull and only having one engine to rely on.

The waters near Luderitz are teeming with seals and it didn’t take long before we were sailing near them again. They are mostly in groups of 20-40 and when they see the boat they do little spy hops in groups of up to four or so, swimming upward with enough force to push nearly half their body out of the water, head turned toward us, for a quick look as we sail by. We actually sailed right through one group of them. They stayed at the surface until we were within a few meters and then dove out of sight.

seals2 The seals are active when we’re around

Yesterday morning I was treated to several groups of pilot whales and our first Atlantic flying fish on my morning watch. The day turned out to be a beautiful sunny one that reminded us how close we’re getting to the tropics. Unfortunately, it wasn’t without tragedy. We kept our large, beautiful tri-radial spinnaker up a bit too long when the wind picked up and blew it out, ripping off the entire reinforced clew. We’re already looking marginal for making Carnival in Brazil as we’d hoped to do, but hopefully our second, smaller spinnaker will be enough for us to keep our speed up in light winds. For now, we have a pleasant beam reach in calm seas under full main and jib and are enjoying shorts and T-shirts during the day. The water has turned that clear, beautiful offshore shade of blue, and this morning I woke up to Lauren in the midst of a yoga session on the deck (try that on a monohull). Now if only we could entice some fish to have a bite of our lures…

pilot2 One pilot whale blowing while another’s fin breaks the surface

spinnaker What used to be the clew (aft corner) of our large spinnaker

yoga Did we mention seas were calm?