I’m at the end of my fiction stockpile

A reasonable day today.

I was hoping for 100 miles, but the calms came in the afternoon, and I ended up with 80.

Otherwise it was a pleasant day’s sail, effortlessly close hauled into 7 knot east north-easterly.

I thought I was charging my house battery all, but now I’ve just realised that I’d switched over to my fully-charged starter battery this morning to get a bit more power for the radio and forgot to change it back. So I didn’t reap the benefits of a good days wind. Such is life!

The moon is incredible this evening.

There is little swell, and no wind. Just a quiet cool night with a perfect full moon reflecting in the water. It seemed to rise, just after sunset, exactly opposite where the sun had departed from. Shining so brilliantly that it was almost as if the sun had snuck around and was giving it another go.

I can see the occasional ripple of a gaggle of fish circling the boat. I’ve managed to catch a glimpse of them a few times with the big spotlight.

Otherwise it’s just a quiet evening out on deck with a cup of tea in hand.

I read Turn of the Screw, and Pygmalion today.

I suspect that My Fair Lady misses the point, although I’m not confident I got it myself, but perhaps they wanted to make their own point, which seems fair enough to me.

I also suspect that Turn of the Screw is best read with the simple wide-eyed belief of an innocent child.

I’m going to check my box of books, but I think thus concludes my fictional stores, apart from a volume of the complete works of Shakespeare.

Latitude: -16.355, Longitude: -132.675, Time: 05:11:25 30-05-2018 UTC

A history of my fishing endeavours

60 miles today!

You might scoff and say how paltry, but I’m quite happy.

At 5AM I’d done 7 miles overnight. So not a bad finish to a poorish start!

It was mostly light winds during the day, but they were to the north east, and thus slightly forward of my beam.

Sailing with the wind side on is much more effective in light winds, and I kept at about 4 knots for most of the day.

I should mention my fishing adventures!

I started out from Sydney with 4 lures, a fishing rod, 80 lb line and not a clue of what I was doing.

I still don’t have a clue, and now I don’t have any lures either.

I started off over the Tasman, dragging the lure behind attached to a cord tied to a cleat. Nothing much happened over a few days, so I decided to switch to proper fishing line off a rod on the premise that the fishies are too smart to grab onto a thicker line.

It didn’t take long before I got a bite, and even less before the fish promptly bit off the line attached to the lure.

At Wellington I purchased some purpose made stainless steel plastic coated wire to put between the lure and the line. 140 lb breaking strength.

As ‘Red’ the boat shop man said: there’s some toothy critters out there.

Into the roaring forties, I gleefully cast another lure out, but sadly no bite for a few days.

The swell of the roaring forties is not that conducive to running a lure, and eventually the lurch from a big wave caused the line to get caught in the wind generator which is on the on the other side of the boat from the rod and another metre higher.

The wind generator won in what was a short-lived battle.

With dwindling supplies I waited until calmer seas before running another lure. Same method, less lurchy seas.

I think the waters through the variables are not that fishy, as I didn’t see many birds.

The water was quite blue rather than green. My copy of “Crossing the Pacific for dummies” tells me that this means there’s no plankton and the rest of the food chain can’t prosper. It’s quite interesting, apparently you need upward-flowing warm water from the ocean floor to sustain life.

After two weeks, the line broke at the end of the rod. I think the friction on the end ring wore it away.

Another lure gone. And no fish!

With one lure left, I set it running yesterday.

I wasn’t taking any chances, so I sacked the reel and line, and went back to the cord. This time I ran the stainless steel wire as well.

I heard a splash last night, which surprised me as the seas were flat and there were no breaking waves. Nothing to seen however, and no further splashing.

Then I noticed that the line was no longer vibrating as it does when there is a lure attached. The line was slack as I drew it in, confirming that my last lure was MIA.

Part of the stainless steel section was still attached however, and it looked like someone had gone at it with a blunt pair of wire cutters.

There is a creature out there somewhere with a bad temper, a lure hooked to its mouth, and probably a notched tooth.

I’m not sure to which species it might belong, but I am glad it’s not still attached to the back of my boat.

Latitude: -17.604, Longitude: -133.021, Time: 05:47:27 29-05-2018 UTC

Bad dreams and little headway

It’s curious.

I’ve found that since the start of my second leg that I’ve developed an alarm clock in my sleep.

If the boat gets grossly off course and needs adjustment while I’m asleep, I find that I invariably have a disquieting dream and awake.

I used to own a 4WD that had brakes with flair of character.

When all is said and done, I must admit that they never failed me.

However, they constantly hinted that they didn’t see stopping as the primary job description. The steering also needed some coaxing, and sometimes these two systems would have a conference as to who was to do what when the brakes were applied.

Hence there was always a mild tension in the air whenever stopping was required. This has, for a long time, translated into my dreams, invariably with foot going through the floor with little effect.

Ultimately I completely rebuilt everything from the knuckle, bearings, brake lines, and cylinders in the hope of exorcising its demons. Sadly however, things stalled with hospital work, and I ended up selling her to the cruel knacker in preparation for this trip.

I’ve relived the brakeless experience a few times this trip, although a few days ago, I awoke from the intricate horror of being the protagonist of that TV show “The Bachelor” to find the boat stalled and hove-to.

So I guess this new found ability is both a blessing and a curse, as many things in life are.

I awoke this morning at about five from a vivid recreation of an another less than palatable event in my past, to find that I was entering a squall.

I had been running all night essentially becalmed in front of a particularly light tailwind, so I had full mainsail out with preventer and a poled out jib.

It must have come on relatively quickly, as the wind was coming from the front starboard quarter and both sails were backed. I would have expected the self-steering to have brought the boat round so that it was coming from the rear otherwise.

I shook the dream out of my head and set about fixing things as the wind and rain rose, I couldn’t just steer it back onto course, I had to furl the geneo, and then gently gybe the mainsail against the preventer before I could steer the boat.

I eventually had her running under just a double reefed main, and peace reigned once more. The heart of it never really hit me, and it soon petered out to a sunny windless day.

I don’t know if it was the dream, or the fact that I’ve made so little headway in what is supposed to be the trade wind belt, but my mood just didn’t seem right today.

I can quite honestly say that in the 50 odd days at sea so far, every day has had a positive mood, even, and perhaps especially, in the worst of the weather. I’ve always been happy when I’m busy!

I think one of the greatest gifts that humanity has is the ability to shut the eye and awake to a new day. There is a distinct rupture from whatever happened yesterday and we get to start again, so tomorrow will fix things no doubt!

I read a quote from Joshua Slocum last night which I quite liked.

“To face the elements is, to be sure, no light matter when the sea is in its grandest mood. You must then know the sea, and know that you know it, and not forget that it was made to be sailed over”.

Latitude: -18.525, Longitude: -133.227, Time: 05:13:56 28-05-2018 UTC

My love for you is like salt

One of the pleasures of the last week has been a re-acquaintance with Grimms fairy tales.

With a televisionless early life, there are only so many books in the book case, and we had a thick volume of the above, which I read many times over.

I have a few favourites, one of them being “Goose Girl at the Well”.

The gist is that a certain king asks of his three daughters how much they love him, so he can know how to divvy up the kingdom when he dies.

The first says: “My love for you is like honey”.

The second says: “My love for you is like sugar”.

The third says: “My love for you is like salt.”

Naturally the king banishes the third daughter into the forest with a bag of salt tied to her back, and divides the kingdom amongst the first two.

She goes off and tends geese at a random well until the prince comes along etc etc.

In the version from my childhood, I think she goes back to the castle in disguise as a talented cook, and cooks an entire banquet without using salt.

Everyone finds the food horribly bland, and the king summons the cook and asks what for?

The comparison of her love for the king is compared to the dishes, the king recognises her, all is forgiven, and she marries the prince.

You would think such a wise tale would have had an impression on me, but no.

For some reason, I keep forgetting to put salt into the pancake mixture at lunch. I think today would be the fifth or sixth occasion.

The crew is most displeased and is threatening to maroon the cook on an uninhabited island with a single pistol-shot the next times it happens.

It wasn’t the fastest day today, nor the slowest. 110 miles further north puts me level with Townsville.

I should be in the trade wind belt, but it seems to have temporarily moved northwards.

I’ll probably get light winds for the next two days and then pick up these much fabled winds on Wednesday.

Hopefully I’ll be at the equator by the 7th of June!

Latitude: -19.264, Longitude: -133.433, Time: 05:10:24 27-05-2018 UTC

A busy night filled with squalls

Herodotus recounts that the ancient Greek Amasis advised his friend Polycrates thus: “I know the Gods are jealous. For I cannot remember that I have ever heard of any man, who having been constantly successful, did not at last utterly perish.”

I had an awakeful night. Every hour or so, a squall would come through and I would go out, reef the sails, and then unfurl them in some short period. Finally I got to sleep at 5AM, and awoke at 10AM to a lovely day with a strong north-westerly, but relatively flat seas.

I finally achieved a breakthrough with my celestial navigation. I had found that I’ve been unable to get any more accurate than about 5/60ths of a degree, which translates to 5 nautical miles of latitude on the map. It was rather frustrating to say the least.

I now know that sextants have backlash error on the micrometer adjuster. This can be accounted for by ensuring that when you zero the instrument and take a sight, you consistantly arrive at the measurement by always making the final turn of the adjustment knob in the same direction, by convention from a higher angle. By chance, my habit was to turn one way for zeroing, and the other way for sight taking.

Today my noon sight gave me a latitude within half a mile of my GPS latitude!!!

I have all my music via a google music subscription, and today it all stopped working. It turns out if you haven’t signed for a certain period, it blocks your downloaded music in case your subscription is no longer valid. My phone now thinks that it is early May, and my music works again. I celebrated with a Bee Gees anthology.

The squalls returned a little in the afternoon with the ubiquitous accompaining rain, but a little more gentle than overnight.

It’s rather hot and skin is easily dried. So my new working uniform starkly constrasts with the wet weather clad gear of the southern ocean!

With the excitement of the squalls and the strong breeze abeam in the morning, I annihilated my daily run record:

151 miles in 24 hours!

Sir Francis Chichester advises to never brag about your distances sailed, or Neptune will get jealous and pay you back.

Naturally I scoff at such silly superstition.

My dinner of the last two weeks has been alternatively cous cous and pasta, fortified with pasta sauce and either tinned chicken or tuna.

It’s quite tasty and, as it’s techinically four different meals, I’m not sick of it yet. However, I decided to celebrate my record with a tasty Thai creamy curried chicken and cous cous.

I broke with my usual routine of eating directly out of the cooking containers and artistically dumped it into a bowl. I sat down like a celebrated epicurian to enjoy a fine dish accompanied with the proud mind of a record breaker.

Before I took my first mouthful, a wave came out of the blue, tilted my boat to a sufficient degree, and my fine dish migrated out of the bowl onto the cabin floor.

The scooped-up contents mostly tasted like Thai creamy chilli chicken and barely tasted like oily bilge sludge, which is better than the other way around.

Latitude: -20.965, Longitude: -134.006, Time: 05:16:20 26-05-2018 UTC

An island is beckoning to me

I think it was when I saw a bird species I’ve not seen before, that it really struck me. What an abominably foolish thing it is to be sailing all the way across an ocean, and on passing one of the most isolated islands in the world, continue right on.

I hadn’t anticipated coming so close to the Gambier Isles, but with the light winds of the variables, I ended up heading more north than north east as planned.

My small scale electronic charts where lost in the great SD card tragedy several weeks ago, so I only have my large scale ocean maps.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, I know the Tuamotu Archipelago to the north east are flat coral rings, you can’t see them until you fall on top of them.

So it was a little unexpected when I spotted the Isles off on the horizon while still around 40 miles away. Two bigger mountains, and then a smaller mountain to the south. Even at that distance, astonishingly clear.

So I’ve had her, and the a strange little white bird with an aggressive beak and what looked like a double tailwing, for the afternoon.

The wind was coming from the starboard beam, but I decided to set a course 10 miles to her north and pass with her on my port beam.

Not the greatest seamanship to pass with a body of land to the leeward side, but it would save me a few hours and the weather was good.

The Gambier isle lie right on the Tropic of Capricorn, and incidentally, marks the furthest latitude north that I’ve been.

I did a medical placement out in Barcaldine. Home of the tree knowledge and birth place of the Labor Party. Sadly the tree of knowledge is no more, but there is a massive dark green modern art canopy spread over it to acknowledge what once was.

Apart from that, Barcky’s most impressive feature today, is that for a town of a thousand people, there are seven pubs.

From memory, the tiny hospital had 12 beds, so it probably has the highest pub to hospital bed ratio in the world.

The summers are hot and dry, and every few years one of the pubs burns down. Every single pub site has been there since before the turn of the previous century, and every single one is a replacement of the original.

Another fascinating thing about Barcky is that it has a full 18 hole golf course without a speck of grass.

I remember driving out in my beautiful Troopy (may she rest in peace), and the 6 hour drive from Rockhampton follows the Tropic of Capricorn as per the various signs laid out. The wonderful thing about a dead east-west road is the fact that you spend a lovely part of each drive squinting into the sun.

I was there in the middle of summer, and I could never figure out if it was better to run from the accommodation 50 metres away from the hospital doors, or just walk. As you left the air-conditioning, it would feel like you were walking into the bowels of hell.

If you walked, it lasted longer and you would sweat more, but if you ran you would sweat more.

The other curious thing was that the hot water tanks, being insulated and not switched on, delivered cooler water than the cold tap.

Anyway I digress. I’m in the Tropics!

This means sunshine, trade winds, and tropical squalls.

Tropical squalls develop quickly, are fast moving, and bring about strong winds, for a short period of time.

Naturally, as I approached the lovely tropical Pacific island, twilight spreading her soft mantle over all, a squall showed itself on the horizon.

You can tell if a moving object is on a course to collide with your course by taking multiple bearings. If the bearing of the object is constant over time, then your courses will collide.

Sadly the bearing of the squall did not change.

Suddenly my lovely island was a leeward wall of death. Give me the open ocean any day!

I had two options. I could run with it, or I could beat into it.

Running with it would mean going back south west until I was safely to the lee of the island, probably a loss of 3 hours.

Or I could keep going my merry way and beat into it.

The entire crew cursed the navigator and captain as we presented a scrap of jib and a double reefed main and set to beating into a tropical squall.

It lasted about half an hour. A half an hour of dipping gunwales, dancing prows, and seas breaking over the cabin as we sped into the dark of the night.

Perpetual Succour loved it.

The real strength of the S&S34, with her 50% ballast ratio and wide beam, is her ability to run hard into a strong wind. I don’t think the winds got above 30 knots, and we made a few extra miles, hitting 7 or 8 knots.

Now I’m sitting 10 miles or so east of the island in a bit of a post squall lull, awaiting the return of that nice steady westerly I’ve had all day.

Despite the darkness and my state of chartlessness, the island is beckoning to me again.

The only way I can go on, is to promise that one day I will return in the daylight and lay anchor here. Sorry Mum!

Latitude: -23.154, Longitude: -135.228, Time: 06:11:33 25-05-2018 UTC

A sail! A sail!

“At first it seemed a little speck,
And then it seemed a mist:
It moved and moved, and took at last
A certain shape, I wist.

A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist!
And still it neared and neared:
As if it dodged a water-sprite,
It plunged and tacked and veered.

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
We could not laugh nor wail;
Through utter drought all dumb we stood!
I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail! a sail!”

It wasn’t death in the form of a ship coming to claim the lives of the crew, and my lips were not so dry that I needed to moisten them with blood to make a sound.

But I saw a sail nonetheless.

AIS informed me that it was a 15m French yacht with the MMSI (a unique ship ID) of 227553080, sadly it didn’t provide the yacht’s name. He was 8 miles to starboard with a bearing towards Gambier. With his extra 5m length, he had a knot over me, and I never got any closer. His sails looked a pretty white through the binoculars as they glinted in the sun.

I tried to hail him over VHF, but he never replied. Perhaps his radio wasn’t on, or perhaps he thought I was a pirate.

He remained in the distance for most of the afternoon, sails dipping above and below the horizon with the small swell, until I lost him at twilight.

The breeze returned yesterday afternoon, and has continued all of today, along with clear skies and sunshine to boot!

With such a lovely breeze, I made my way north east obtaining a respectable run of 115 miles, and I’m now parallel with Bundaberg.

I have good memories of Bundy from my Queensland days, It’s good to reminisce.

Latitude: -24.946, Longitude: -136.334, Time: 05:04:02 24-05-2018 UTC

A month since I departed Wellington

A month at sea.

I’m also the closest I’ve been to land in a month.

I’m a few hundred miles south east of the Gambier Islands, with the Tuamotu Archipelago to the north west.

To eyes that are accustomed to the blank white of the British Admiralty Chart with the occasional sea mount or depth indicator, it positively looks more crowded than Pitt street.

For now, no more setting a course and happily running 60 or 70 miles overnight without checking the compass.

I’ve favourable winds for the next few days, and the pilots charts promise that I’m right on the cusp of the south east trade winds. As well as variable winds, I’ve also been running against the westwards side of the massive counter-clockwise Peru current, which I’ve nearly passed.

But it seems to matter less than I thought it might have.

I have seen no external sign of humanity since day 2. No planes, no ships, No oil rigs, no floating rubbish.

What have I discovered in this journey of 5000 kilometres since New Zealand.

No ground-breaking theses of philosophy or knowledge.

Perhaps a greater familiarity with self.

I’ve experienced, but perhaps not understood, many paradoxes.

I’m further away from my family than ever, but never felt closer to them.

My world is an immense landscape of, sometimes deep blue, sometimes green-blue, ocean. But my world is also a ten by three meter cockleshell that is insignificant to its surrounds.

My stimuli has been much limited, but never have I appreciated or been so aware of the stimuli surrounding me.

Never have I been so far away from a destination, but never so rushed to arrive.

Never have I been so aware of my own weaknesses and failings, but never have I been so at peace with the history of my actions.

The list goes on. I think these things are to be experienced rather than understood.

My world changes around me. The wind is sometimes for me, sometimes against me. The current is sometimes favourable, sometimes unfavourable.

The climate is sometime a wild and raging monstrosity, sometimes a gentle nourishing angel.

I yield to what I must, I bend what will bend, and I harness what I can.

In all of this, I continue along to where I’m headed.

Perhaps the only useful advice I have to offer is this. Don’t wait. Do.

The only other advice I have is this: Becalm yourself in the variables with a good book in hand. It soothes the soul.

Latitude: -26.561, Longitude: -137.334, Time: 05:10:52 23-05-2018 UTC

I took my first full star fix today!

Ocean sailing really is a lovely thing.

The weather says that I’m not in a rush, so I’m not in a rush. The weather is bigger than I, so I don’t fight it.

We slid along until mid-afternoon at a leisurely two or three knots. The wind was a constant couple of knots from the starboard beam, so I didn’t have to constantly adjust course and sails.

I say ‘slid’, because that’s just what we did. The ocean was flat and Perpetual Succour produced neither bow wave or wake.

Just a few bubbles aft was the only sign that we were making progress.

I think around 2pm local time, a lovely 10 knot northeasterly presented itself, and I started flying along at 6 knots norwards.

My wind generator kept spinning up and dying away. I panicked, thinking that there was a short in the wires causing it to auto brake. I dashed for the multimeter, until I paused for a second and realised that my mainsail was badly trimmed and dumping turbulent air onto its blades. I trimmed the mainsail and got the much anticipated dulcet whirring tones of a charging battery!

In other news, I took my first full star fix today.

When you use a sextant to take a sight of a celestial body such as the sun, you don’t actually get a full position. You just a get a line on the chart, and you could be anywhere along that line. However, if you take multiple sights of the sun over the day, you can get multiple lines at different angles, from which you can extrapolate a position once you take into account distance travelled between the sights.

With the star sights however, you get multiple lines from multiple stars at the one time, so you can get a full position ‘fix’ in one setting by plotting where the lines intersect.

Rigil Kentaurus, the southernmost pointer of the two pointers, Capanus, a brilliant yellow star from the Puppis constellation, and Sirius were my stars today.

J.K Rowling fans will guess that Sirius is the brightest star in Carnis Major or Big dog constellation.

Taking a twilight star sight is quite exciting, as you have to spot and measure the altitude of the star in the time between the star becoming visible and the horizon disappearing. I’ve tried several times, but this is the first evening that I’ve been able to identify and take sights of three stars in time. Identification is a bit tricky as only the brightest stars are visible, hence you don’t have much in the way of landmarks as they show themselves.

I took advantage of the peaceful morning to do a stocktake of the water situation and refill the main tank from extra jerry cans.

I’ve used 80L in 29 days, which puts my consumption at 2.75L per day. I have 220L remaining, which gives me 80 days at current use. Although I’ll probably use more as I pass the equator and enter the summer of the northern hemisphere.

Up until now I’ve been quite liberal with using fresh water for cleaning, so I’ve plenty of room to move.

With the excitement of the afternoon breeze, I made a day’s run of run of 60 miles, which means I’ve finally drawn parallel with Brisbane!

Latitude: -27.473, Longitude: -137.296, Time: 05:27:27 22-05-2018 UTC

Monday, 21 May 2018 – day 58

A snail was once asked to a wedding and set out to go, but arrived at the christening. In front of the house it fell over the fence, and said: ‘Speed does no good’!

It wasn’t a day for records. Tacks, gybes, bearing on, bearing off.

I had a run of 25 miles today, and every inch of those 25 miles was hard fought for, with little puffs of wind from every point on the compass.

Not to worry, I have 830 pages of Grimm’s Fairy Tales to teach me to be content with my lot, but at the same time dream of great things!

It’s seems a little strange to be spending so much effort for a couple of miles, but I’m only 300 miles south of where the pilot charts indicate the trade winds will speed me to the equator with great gusto! Every inch is an inch closer.

I’ve been spending the last week getting to know the skies better. It’s nice to have names for all those twinkling things keeping me company! Acrux, Rigul Kent, Canopus, Sirius, Antares, Betelgeuse. All friendly as pie!

Latitude: -28.451, Longitude: -137.442, Time: 05:10:01 21-05-2018 UTC