Monday, 30 April 2018 – day 37

“Just when this world seems mean and cold,
Our love comes shining red and gold,
And all the rest is gone away.

Why worry?

There should be laughter after pain,
There should be sunshine after rain,
These things have always been the same,

So why worry now?”

I’ve been listening to Dire Straits album “Brothers in Arms” a fair bit over last few days. There is much symmetry to be found with it and ocean voyaging.

The soft vocal entry of “Money for nothing” transforms into an elated guitar riff that cries out with freedom. When Perpetual Succour has been becalmed all day and the wind hits, she sings her own version that melts the heart with joy.

The titular song “Brothers in arms” tells a story of filial love and one’s memory and love of homeland while in another place.

The winds came up with a vengeance not long after my last post. A single reef quickly turned into a second reef as the night commenced. I made the lazy mistake of not getting into my wet weather gear to put in the second reef, and returned to my cabin soaking as the waves started washing over.

The new reefing system works beautifully and I can put a reef in less than 30 seconds – A far cry from the 10 minute adventure out to the deck of previous times.

It was a bumpy night!

Ironically, if the weather had gotten worse, the experience might have been gentler. I would have a hove-to and ridden it out in relative comfort. With the sails set against each other, the boat drifts slowly leeward (away from the wind), creating a slick that helps to nullify the incoming waves. But good progress is good progress, and a bit of discomfort has its own joy. The weather comes and goes. “Why worry?”

As it was, we fought a headwind and rising sea for every degree, minute, and second of longitude all night. “We” mainly being Perpetual Succour and Bruce. I was a just a lazy passenger, giving over-arching directions every now and then. They handled the nitty gritty details. Even with the sea state they managed a course of 40 degrees to the wind!!!

My bunk has a board at right angles to stop me falling out, and I spent much of the night with centre of gravity somewhere in a v-shaped world formed by the right angle.

There was a constant water coming over the top of the deck and every now and then the starboard windows seemed to dip into the sea. A submarine with sails would be an apt description!

I didn’t get an excessive amount of sleep, but I’ve had a week of comfortable sailing, and I feel energised!

The morning brought larger swell and consistent winds. The interesting part of this is that in a smaller boat, it’s a nicer ride.

A big ship would be fighting to crash through the four metre rollers with the occasional set of six metre breakers that comes through.

To Perpetual Succour it is a different world!

The larger swell, formed over some time by constant wind, limits to some degree the direct creation of the choppy sea that she finds irksome.

Instead she climbs each gentle house-sized hill and gracefully slides down the other side.

The wind abates as she dips into the trough, and then returns to give a helping hand up the other side!

Every now and then she falls away, but you can feel it coming and grabbing on is now unconscious second nature.

I was covered in bruises coming out of Sydney from a similar sea state, now it’s just a part of life and I’ve avoided flying across the cabin so far.

The funny thing about a rapid lateral cabin traversal is, like a pendulum on a Grandfather Clock, that which swings left, also swings right. Invariably you end up back where you started unless you landed on a convenient grasping point. At least the bruises were symmetrical!

Having made it seem all dramatic, the current state is just life in the Southern Ocean. I think the wind was about 25 knots (just under 50km/hr) overnight, but my two wind gauges have failed so I can’t be sure. Not even officially a gale!

The overnight combat also paid off with a run of 65 miles overnight. I passed the international dateline at around midnight, and I got to re-live Sunday!

Latitude: -44.54, Longitude: -170.05, Time: 06:08:22 30-04-2018 UTC

Sunday, 29 April 2018 – day 36

115 miles today.

I’ve had pretty brisk headwinds, and eventually put in a reef mid morning.

You might expect reducing sail to slow the boat down, but on the contrary!

The trouble with going to windward in the ocean in a smaller boat, is that you inevitably get wave formation, especially if the wind is consistant.

Perpetual Succour is a pretty good windward boat, and she bravely climbs each wave and falls back down again. However, if the falling is timed with the onset of another wave, then the whole boat tends to stall and get thrown to leeward (nose away from the wind).

Bruce brings her back around and the process starts again.

When you have full sail hoisted upwind into a 15-20 knotter, the boat tends to lean over or ‘heel’. When this is added to the mix, the boat is much more likely to be thrown to leeward, creating the stalling effect.

Once the heeling is reduced, the bow tends to bite into the wave and you don’t get the same effect.

So, after putting in the reef, she went from a bucking and fighting 4.5 knots of passage to a much gentler 5.5 knots.

I’ve spent much of the day curled up on the leeward bench reading and pretending my world wasn’t on a 25 degree angle. My books stocks are dwindling at a terrifying rate.

The seas have diminished this evening, so I just shook the reef out. The headwinds should change to side-on tomorrow, but they’ll be a bit stronger. It will mean less bucking, but more rolling.

I should mention Bruce.

It is a tradition to name the steering vane. It is a beautiful, entirely mechanical, piece of engineering that allows solo sailors to exist. No one could steer across an ocean by themselves.

I called him Bruce to save confusion, as the philosopher Python suggests.

Bruce is much better at steering than I am and never gets tired. However Bruce has a wicked sense of humour and on occasion he aims for a breaking wave right when I’m in a vunerable position to allow the spray to drench me.

The advantage of the name ’Bruce’ is this. For some reason Bruce is quite an ameniable name to have a bunch of adjectives thrown in its general direction without guilt. Deep down Bruce knows that I don’t really mean it and he chuckles and keeps on steering!

Latitude: -43.81, Longitude: -172.53, Time: 06:15:36 29-04-2018 UTC

Saturday, 28 April 2018 – day 35

Happy weekend everyone. I hope you are all relaxed as I am.

I finally made more than 100 miles in a 24 hour run. The last few days have been between 60-90 miles.

The house battery is now fully charged with the input from the wind today, and it means I can now crank my stereo player back up to max and dance on the deck without worrying whether I’ll have enough power to run the AIS and radioes. I could always charge by running the engine, but that would be boorish.

I have been practicing my celestial navigation over them last few days. I found out I should have brought along ‘sight reduction tables’ and ‘Mercatorial plotting sheets’ for the latitudes that I’m working from. Not to worry, I have abreviated sight reduction tables which just requires a bit more work. I must confess I’m actually cheating in that I wrote a program to reduce the sights from scratch, but I know how to use the tables as well so it just saves time.

As for the plotting sheets, my large scale ocean charts are really too big to acurately plot the required angles, so I loaded up the latitudes on the chart plotter on my comptuter, and then traced the scaled latitudes and longitudes from the screen onto a piece of paper. I can now plot the angles on this paper and then transfer the calculated positions to the big charts.

Celestial navigation is beautiful both in practice and in nomenclature. I suspect once I get back to civilisation, I’m going to bore everyone with endless discussions of azithmuths, meridians and intercepts. You find it’s quite simple and intuitive once you’re actually doing it!

I’m not the best at it yet, but I seem to be within 5 miles odd of what my GPS is telling me, so I should be able to find somewhere even if I have a total power failure.

It looks like the weather is gearing up for some 25 knotters in a few days. Not exactly gales, but less comfortable nonetheless. It will be beam reach sailing, so I might get some fast daily runs in!

One of my core theories of life is: when you’re on a good thing, stick to it! So I had pancakes again today!

Latitude: -43.115, Longitude: -174.826, Time: 07:16:22 28-04-2018 UTC

Friday, 27 April 2018 – day 34

Sad tidings!

My new friend has gone to a better place.

He disappeared late during the night, and I found him belly up in the cockpit this morning.

The procedure to declare death in the medical world is, as per usual with medicine, a strange combination of the traditional, the bizarre and the practical.

It is a set out procedure, and the note usually looks like this:

Asked to see patient as unresponsive.
No heart or breath sounds heard for 2 minutes
No response to verbal stimuli.
No response to central stimuli.
No withdrawal from peripheral stimuli
Pupils fixed and dilated.

I declare Joe Bloggs dead at 18:56 on 27/4/2018.
May he rest in peace

It’s all very well set out like that, but when it’s the second day out of med school it’s a bit more of a challenge.

I suspect there isn’t a med student who when asked to listen to an obviously living (even to a med student) chest, has placed the stethoscope, heard absolutely nothing, nodded wisely, backed away, and tried to avoid any questions.

Two minutes is also an awfully long time to have a stethoscope placed on a dead man’s chest and it gets quite awkward if you’ve been silly enough to give the family the option of staying (I only ever made that mistake once)

Deep within the bowels of the hospital, there are many echoes as the cogs of the health system grind away. For some reason a recently deceased chest makes a perfect sound box for which to transmit these heart like sounds directly to ones eardrums.

As the world of medical training slowly chokes the life out of your hopes and dreams, the aspirations subtly shift.

The front page of the Daily Telegraph looks terrible on the CV and is to be avoided at all costs.

“Patient wakes up in morgue” “Incompetent intern loses registration”

The stress fades away with time as you become aware of what death looks, smells, and sounds like.

But on my second day, covering the wards overnight, the only doctor in the ward at 2:30 AM, I didn’t have this luxury of experience. He looked quite unmoving to me, but suddenly I was being asked to pronounce some of the most significant words every pronounced in the history of this patient before me. I wanted to be certain!!

The curtains were drawn and I listened to the chest. I stopped listening to the chest and was no more certain than when I started.

The ward was darkened and the bedside light was dim. I realised I wasn’t carrying a penlight. I got out my smart phone and hit the torch button. I felt a little silly and glad that no one was watching as I went from eye to eye. Nothing much happened. A bit more certainty now.

Central stimuli! A wonderful euphemism for inflicting pain and seeing what happens. I had never attempted to torture a corpse before and found it difficult. I half-heartedly rubbed the chest and squeezed the fingers. Then my medical conscience got the better of me and I did the old ‘dig the thumb above the eye, and try and remove a finger nail’ that the neurosurgeons love to do on comatose patients.

Nothing happened. Feeling a little more confident and quite glad no one had been watching me stumble awkwardly through this ritual, I parted the curtains and headed to the nurses station. The head nurse came up to me and handed me a penlight, “you might find this useful next time”.

My visitor didn’t require such elaborate rituals. He certainly wasn’t pining for the fjords!

I wrapped him in toilet paper as a makeshift shroud and he got a full burial at sea with the ‘Libera Me’ and ‘Benedictus’ sung as he drifted away.

The timing is a little strange, as today is the anniversary of my father death.

In other news, I tried pancakes today. The easiness to tastiness ratio is perfect!!

I also took a ‘Noon sight’ with the sextant to measure latitude. I was about 3 miles off which isn’t terrible for a first time sight, but I’ll keep working on it.

The sea and wind has picked up a little so the ride is a little bumpier. I have my hatches closed up!

This far south, the solar panel is less effective due to the angles of the sun, and my house battery was starting to get a little low, so it’s nice to hear the wind turbine generator spinning again!

Latitude: -42.574, Longitude: -177.081, Time: 07:00:42 27-04-2018 UTC

A guest arrives

The winds came last night at about 10pm and I had an excellent run of 65 miles overnight.

The phosphorous wake was there again and mirrored exactly the Milky Way spread across above me.

The morning came and with it light tail winds. I have been running a goose-winged main and poled-out genoa all day – It’s quite an elegant look and the first time this trip that I’ve run it for any significant period of time.

The Odyssey is finished. A rollicking read and well worth it. It’s funny to read of monsters hiding in cliff caves sweeping sailors off decks to gobble them down and Zeus’ thunderbolts wreaking revenge for the slaughtering of forbidden livestock, while here I go in gentle rolling seas with easy winds.

One thing I’ve noticed that every time someone comes into court and tells a good story, he gets rewarded with a good meal and sometimes even a passage home loaded with treasure. I’m sure Homer had no ulterior motive there!

A running theme in the Odyssey is to be welcoming to guests. And I have a guest.

This little bird first came and sat on my lines this morning.

Then he sat on my clock.

Then he went to sleep on my table.

He remains with me to now. Chatham Island is some a 130 miles to the south east, and New Zealand is more than 250 miles behind me.

I don’t know what his maximum range is, but I think he is quite glad of the warmth and comfort of the cabin.

He was quite shy at first, but gradually grew in confidence over the day.

This afternoon, I went out to the cockpit with my guitar and played Spanish romances and remembered the Alhambra. He sat there on the mainsheet traveller – The best listener I’ve ever had. Eventually he flew over and sat on my lap while I sang some of the Australian classics. I would have loved to have taken a photo, but I dared not move for the camera.

I haven’t been able to tempt him with any food, but he seems happy enough.

I’ve not been making record breaking runs, but the days have been pleasant. The temperature was quite a bit warmer today, which allowed me to air things out and work on my tan.

Things should start to pick up over the weekend. I also grow quite close to the international date line!

My little friend just flew over and landed on my head. Oh well, I’ll just have to send another photo!!!

Latitude: -41.831, Longitude: -178.525, Time: 05:46:28 26-04-2018 UTC

Day 32

A slow day today!

Just as subtle Oddyseus was returning home to wrought vengeance on those dishonerable suiters who were harrasing faithful Penelope (Homer doesn’t muck about with his adjectives!!) , the winds dropped and I had to go out and steer.

If the wind is light enough, the wind vane can’t keep a steady course, and I spent much of today sitting in the cockpit hand steering.

It wasn’t an entirely unpleasant situation as it was quite a nice day with sunshine galore and little cloud cover.

The ocean is the flattest I’ve seen it all trip. Without waves to break up the horizon, the immediate ocean becomes much more immense!

I’m still hand steering at sunset and it grows a little chilly, so I’m rugged up with ugg boots on!

The forcast tells me that I’ll have a 10 knot northerly at about midnight local time, I might heave-to or drop sail and cook some dinner before then, however.

I cooked damper for the first time – 1 cup of self raising flour, a pinch of salt, add water and mix until dough is formed. The dough is then placed in sealable tin on a trivet and placed in my primus slow cooker which is basically a big thermos with an inner saucepan that is heated on the stove.

The result was pretty good, but I might try longer than four hours next time!

Latitude: -41.616, Longitude: 179.304, Time: 06:13:07 25-04-2018 UTC

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The sun is setting on quite an idyllic day at sea.

Last night was a little busy. The conditions were easy enough, however the wind shifted a fair bit. I was forever adjusting sails and steering.

Two rather large tankers passed by through the night. They seemed to be more scared of me then I of them, and they skirted well clear of me.

It was a half moon but cloudless, so there was quite a bit of light. The moon eventually set and I realised that the wake left by Perpetual Succour was lit by some luminescent life like a streak of stars through the water. It was wonderfully beautiful and kept me entertained for some time while I watched the tankers flit by on the edge of the horizon.

Eventually I got to sleep at around 3am local time and had a hearty sleep through to 8 am.

I awoke to find I was a little off course and gybed the boat around to the south, where it as stayed for most of the day. With gentle following sea and a steady speed of 5.5 knots, I couldn’t really ask for nicer conditions.

I had music playing most of the day. In a day of large and varied music collections, it’s quite nice to listen to music in the form of an album. I capitalised on the injection of a few artists to the collection at Wellington and managed to get through Joe Cocker, BB King, Janis Joplin, Roger Whittaker and a bit of Ed Sheeran. I’m currently reading a translation of The Odyssey. It’s quite easy reading, which surprised me!!!

I’m going to heat up some Mexican chilli for dinner – I’m pretty sure my stomach is settled but I’ll find out. I ate about a third of my chocolate supplies today. The Aesop’s grasshopper is quite the kindred spirit.

Latitude: -41.892, Longitude: 177.787, Time: 05:53:15 24-04-2018 UTC

Monday, 23 April 2018

10 hours into a new start.

It was interesting to compare and contrast this departure with my previous departure from Sydney.

Waving family, hugs goodbye, familiar waters disappearing!

I think any voyage of this kind will bring about self-reflection, and it’s hard to admit wracking self-doubt to others or even to oneself when it comes to crunch time.

This time is quite different. I know what it is like to face a rising sea without any thought of running to land. I’ve grown to know every inch of Perpetual Succour. I can accurately assess sea and wind state while lying in my bunk just from the noises.

Today started with an early rise. I decided to avoid a last hot shower to get me in the mood. After settling marina accounts, I pottered around checking various, securing cargo, and warming up the engine.

I avoided breakfast, I have a theory that the inevitable sea sickness at the start of a journey is better handled with an empty stomach.

Customs in New Zealand are a little different than Australia, they actually like to watch you undock set off into the sunset. Which was nice in a way, I got some friendly waves and some good wishes!

There was very little wind in the harbour, I tried a few times to raise sail as promising puff would blow across, but to no avail! I ended up motoring for much of the first 4 hours, I was keen to get out of the strait and its currents.

Finally I had a nice 5-10 knot headwind and got the sails up and the auto steering working

Hunger eventually got the better of me, and I heated up some vegetable soup for a late lunch. This promptly rendered me a bit queasy, but I had the perfect solution. Down to the bunk and a nap for an hour sorted everything out.

It’s now dark and I’m sitting in the cockpit typing away as doing it down in the cabin would be bad for the stomach. I can still see the friendly flash of a light house on the southern-most tip of the north island and I’m playing chicken with the occasional light spray as a bigger wave hits, trying to save my keyboard from an unwelcome baptism.

The winds should stay fairly regular and I’m far enough from land to feel safe again, so hopefully a good sleep tonight and maybe just a light breakfast!

Latitude: -41.704, Longitude: 175.545, Time: 08:12:23 23-04-2018 UTC