Saturday
Nov032012

Port Douglas to Cape York...Australia

Part of our objective on this sector was to minimize the amount of night passages.  With just the two of us on board it can be quite tiring if they are for extended periods.  We generally worked four hour shifts, 7pm to 11pm, 11pm – 3am and 3am to 7am.  That worked quite well as we alternated each night.

We left on the 2nd Sept in the afternoon and spent the night at a little island called Low Islets  The next day we did a day sail to Hope Islands about 40 miles north.  That was quite pleasant in that there were a number of fish swimming around the boat.  Wasn’t all that comfortable though as the SE wind was around 25 – 30 knots.  In fact, it stayed that strength all the way up to Cape York and into the Gulf of Carpentaria. 

The next day we day sailed to Lizard Island which was about 60 NM north of Hope Islands.  That was quite pleasant (photo below) but still breezy.  We stayed there a couple of days.

When we left Lizard Island we had a great run to Flinders Islands about 80NM.  Ran the asymmetric spinnaker all day in about 28 knots.  Flinders Islands had a good anchorage but not suitable tor swimming because of the crocs!

We then did an overnight passage to Cape Grenville (about 160NM) and anchored there for a night.  Overnight passages inside the reef are easy because the shipping lane is well marked on the charts and if you have AIS the ships are easy to identify and avoid.  The reefs are marked with beacons.

Quite a nice anchorage at Cape Grenville, but once again no swimming because of Crocs!  We left in the early morning to sail to Escape river just south of Cape York.  (Escape river is about 70NM north of Cape Grenville).  We thought we should overnight at Escape river and catch the tide to get through Albany Passage by Cape York the following morning.  As it was we made good time and could have caught the late afternoon tide through Albany Passage, but I was curious to have a look at Escape River.

Escape river was a bit of a disappointment.  You need to go up about three miles into it in order to get an anchorage.  It was certainly peaceful and remote but you certainly wouldn’t want to dip your toes in the water.  Saw some croc’s.

The next day we left early in the morning to catch the tide through Albany Passage which is just south of Cape York at the NE tip of Australia.  There is a very strong tide rip through there so it is critical to time it right.  The weather was not great.  Strong SE winds with rain which cut visibility back quite a bit.  The below photo is just coming up to the start of the passage.

The pass itself is quite pretty and would have been delightful if the weather had been clear.

Gulf of Carpenteria and across the top of NW Australia.

After we rounded the NE tip of Australia we headed to an anchorage at a little Aboriginal settlement called Seisia.  Quite a pretty place and they have a supermarket there.  Note the shopping trolley on the roof!



Quite a nice little beach but not for swimming!  Actually they have a little memorial on the beach for someone who came ashore in their dingy and ended up as one of the local croc’s dinner!

We intended to sail out early the next morning to cross the Gulf of Carpentaria to Gove.  When we arrived there were a number of other boats there so we anchored outside the ‘last one’ as the space was limited.  But, I wasn’t careful enough where I picked my anchor spot and during the night the boat swung and the tide dropped and one hull settled on a reef.  Woke up in the morning thinking something felt a bit odd and when I went on deck found we were on a 45 degree angle.  No problem but we had to wait until midday before we could float off and leave.  No damage though.

I won’t make that mistake again!

The passage across to Gove over the other side of the Gulf was around 350NM.  The first day was great with 25 – 30 knot SE winds.  Then the winds moved around more to the south so that wasn’t so good, but not bad.  Arrived in Gove about midnight after two nights at sea.

Originally I had planned to sail further south before cutting across the Gulf as the winds often swing around to the south creating a nasty cross ‘slop’.  This is mainly a problem when the winds on the eastern north Queensland coast weaken, but as they were strong I figured we could go directly across.    Turned out it was the right decision as we did make good time and most of the passage was comfortable.

We anchored up just outside of the Gove Boat Club.  What a delightful place, and delightful people, Brad the Commodore was fantastic and very helpful and the couple who run the Gove Boat Club (photo below) were also terrific.  Some really nice people living on their boats there as well.

I had a problem with the auto-pilot in that the brushes in the auto-pilot motor had worn out and had to buy another motor and have it couriered to me from Sydney.  Worked out OK in that it was ordered from Sydney on the Monday and arrived on the Tuesday.  I was really lucky that it stopped working when it did as our next stop was West Timor (about 900NM away and in all practicality would not have been able to repair it again until Singapore, another 2,300NM away!

I was also lucky enough there to meet a marine electrician Marcus who lived on a Wharram Tiki 38 with his wife and daughter and worked locally as they cruise around Australia.  Marcus was very competent and sorted out the problem for me quickly.  Great people.  His boat was called Captain Jacko and he bought it in NZ and sailed it to Australia.

We stayed at Gove about three nights.  Some beautiful beaches up there, but they still have the ever present issue of crocs.  The bay we were in was visited by a shark which sent a warning around to the boats anchored there which were quite  a few.

When we set sail it was in very light winds and anchored at an island about 40 NM north of Gove for the night.  Really remote, but beautiful.  We then had to time our arrive at what is known locally as the ‘hole in the wall’ which is a gap through the Wessel Island group.  These are a chain of islands at the extreme northern end of Australia and stretch about 60 miles north of the mainland.  To get around them adds a lot of extra mileage but if you go through the ‘hole in the wall’ also known as the Gugari Rip then you can avoid having to go an extra 40 NM north.

But you have to time the tides right as the tidal flow through it is really fierce. 

Although the passage through the ‘rip’ is short it is really quite pretty.  In fact the Wessel’s would be great to spend time exploring.  It is hard to get more remote than these islands as there is simply no one there other than the local wild life.  I think that I will go back to Gove one day and charter Brad’s boat to do some exploring around that way.

Next stop was Kupang in West Timor 800NM away.

 

Saturday
Nov032012

Made it to Singapore!

We completed the big leg from Australia to Singapore about a week ago.  I have just arrived back in NZ but have to leave for the US today before starting the next leg from Singapore around the end of next month.  So, I thought that I should do a series of blog entries about the last leg which now follows:

Tuesday
Aug282012

The next 'leg' about to begin...

I've just arrived in Sydney from New Zealand on my way to Port Douglas just north of Cairns, Northern Queensland in Australia.

Marianna also flys in from Scotland tonight where she has been for a wedding.

Allowing one and a half days for provisioning we should be setting sail on Friday morning this week.  This is going to be a long leg as we will be first sailing up to Thursday Island in the Torres Strait by New Gunea and then across the Gulf of Carpenteria to Gove where we will check out from Australia.  Hopefully we will be able to anchor to odd night after that and leave for West Timor from Croker Island which is at the very north west tip of Australia.  Should be quite interesting as it is somewhat off the beaten track and very isolated.

Our port of call in West Timor will be Kupang where we can get clearance into Indonesia.  I would have rather have sailed to the east of East Timor and gone the long way round as we are likely to have got better winds that way round but it is not so practical at the moment as time is going to be reasonably tight as I have a business committment in the US during the first week of November, so we have to get to Singapore and have the boat settled in before the end of Oct so I can first fly back to NZ.

In the image above I have set out our proposed course as I see it at the moment.  Of course, weather, breakdowns (hopefully none) could change this, as could other knowledge from locals picked up on the way...but, for now that is the plan.

 

 

Sunday
Aug122012

This is more like it...

We departed Noumea intending to sail to Darwin via Thursday Island.  However, about 400NM north of Noumea one of the repairs that I had done in New Caledonia failed.  Knowing that facilities would be limited in Thursday Island we decided to divert to Cairns which at that time was around 800NM to the west of where we were.

For the bulk of this voyage we had excellent weather…20 – 25 knots East to SE.  For three days we dropped all sails and run under just the spinnaker and clocked up 165 NM in one 24 hour period.  The best part about it was that we were away from the cold weather that plagued us on the passage before.  It was really pleasant.

Even caught a tuna and a mahi mahi?

The wind moved around to the north for one day and dropped off so that wasn’t so good but it didn’t last long.  So, all in all a good passage with the most uncomfortable bit being the 20 odd miles once passing through the Great Barrier reef at Grafton Passage.  We arrived there at 4.30am and it was blowing 30 knots which was OK except that we had to change direction to avoid the reefs which put the wind 40 degrees off the port bow.  The wind kicked up a nasty vertical chop of about 2 meters. 

As a consolation we saw a couple of whales up close.  We also had some company for a couple of days going through the Coral Sea in the form of a couple of birds.  There are plenty of ‘homes’ for them out there as there is an amazing number of exposed reefs in that part of the Coral Sea just north of Chesterfield reefs.   If was nice to have the birds as passengers…and would have been nicer if they hadn’t shit all over the deck.

The Marina in Cairns was excellent and the Australian customs and quarantine officials were excellent and very efficient.  Only drawback was arriving on a Saturday we had to pay overtime for the quarantine people.  No charge for customs.

A few days later we took the boat to Port Douglas about 35NM north to have some work done on the stainless steel mast head which was not done properly in New Caledonia.  Marianna flew back to Scotland for a wedding and I back to NZ and Thailand to attend to business.  We plan to leave on the 29th of this month to head through to Singapore.

Saturday
Aug112012

How did Natural-High handle the storm conditions?

I have had a number of people ask me how Natural-High handled the extreme conditions between New Zealand and New Caledonia.  There were also some concerns raised by some who are considering building a 'standard' Wharram Tiki 38 about the loss of the rudder.

The short answer is that there is nothing to be concerned about.  The loss of the rudder was due to a human error with the wrong nuts being on the rudder fittings.  As Wharram owners will know I have departed from the normal steering system because I wanted the use of the aft deck so the problem with the rudder was a unique one for me and not indicative of a fault in either what I had modified or in the Wharram design.  Actually it has worked out very well and I am very happy with the aft deck arrangement.

Now that I have the proper lock nuts on the steering and all the other deficiencies that manifested themselves during the storm I am confident that I will have trouble free sailing from now on.  (As a matter of fact the boat is now in Port Douglas north of Cairns.  I will do a post on that trip shortly.)

OK...back to how it handled.

I have had power catamarans for 45 years ranging from 16' to 76'.  I also commercially fished my 28' power cat for a number of years in all sorts of adverse weather.  About 30 years ago I pioneered the 'Shark Cat' in New Zealand which was a power catamaran which was used primarily for commercial fishing.  I built and personally tested over 90 of them including demonstrating them in the worst weather I could find and on ocean bars.  So, I feel I have the experience to give an honest opinion on how a boat handles (particularly a cat) in adverse weather.

During that period I had been aware of the Wharrams and liked them but I was too impatient to own a sail boat as I like the speed of power.  My thinking has since changed, hence ‘Natural-High’.

In an earlier post I had already alluded to how the boat performed when we struck adverse conditions on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand.  I think that I used the word amazing!  I not only stand by that but am even more adamant that this is a correct description.

I'll try to expand on that further.

Firstly, the canoe shaped sterns are a major factor in their sea-worthiness in a following sea.  Not once did we have a solid sea break over the aft deck.  Had the odd occasion where we got a 'sneeze' through the decking.  In fact, I spent many hours watching the seas rise up way above the aft railings and thinking...this one’s going to dump on the aft deck...but, they never did.  Instead they would break just outside the boat, the stern would rise up and the wave would pass under.

In many cases the boat would surf down the wave reaching 14 knots.  BUT...this is the good part.  It surfed down straight.  In fact, when I compare it with all the other cats I have had over the years even the 76' one, not one of them would track like that.  They would all have a tendency to veer off.  The reason why the Wharram did not do that is no doubt in part due to the canoe sterns, and I am also sure the underwater shape of the hulls also contributes to the sea kindly actions. 

Even when then waves were coming from the aft quarter the boat would still track straight on whatever angle was being steered.  When the boat is running from the aft quarter in normal conditions it is pretty dry except when the seas are confused and you are falling into troughs or running into peaks.  Only rarely did the pod in the centre of the boat get hit with solid water.

However, when we had the seas on the beam or the wind was off the forward quarter, and the seas were still high and confused we did get a lot of crashing and had significant water coming through the decking.  After some days of this we had nothing dry on the boat, but part of that was due to the safety hatches and the dorades leaking, both of which have either been replaced or repaired.

When the wind was blowing really hard from the beam or forward quarter it was very wet, although only a couple of times did we get solid water roll over us and only once filled up the cockpit which is when we lost our electrics.

Even when the conditions were at their worse, over 50 knots and the seas were very confused and the boat was falling in ‘holes’ (and this was at 2am in the morning, with no stars or moon, and no lights) at no time did we feel  unsafe.  It was bloody uncomfortable but the boat was riding it beautifully and at no time was there a situation in which it didn’t something that put your heart in your mouth, thinking that was close.

The reason why I opted to put the sea anchor out was because we were getting very tired and that is of course when mistakes are made and the risks go up exponentially.

 In summary, although I didn’t enjoy it I was very pleased I was not in a conventional modern bridge deck catamaran.  I honestly don’t know how one of those would have fared.  Allowing the water to get through the decking, from top or bottom, even though it is wet is a major safety factor.

With what I have spent on customising this boat to my personal needs I could have purchased a much larger modern catamaran, but, because I intended to do ocean crossing I opted for the Wharram design…and I am glad I did.

Would I have done anything different based on what I have now learnt?  Yes, there are some things and I will cover them at a later time.  One thing which I would strongly advise on and which I intended to do but didn’t take my own advice because I was travelling too much and didn’t have the time…and that was to take it out in storm conditions to find any flaws.  Back in the South Island of New Zealand we frequently have southerly storms where the winds can reach 50+ knots off the end of Banks Peninsular with seas 25’+.   If I had spent a few days doing this I may have uncovered some of the problems and dealt with them before I left and saved a lot of discomfort and cost.

Monday
Aug062012

Repairs in Noumea, New Caledonia...

At Port Moselle, New Caledonia drying out the bedding...

What is always frustrating is when it is necessary to have to spend money on fixing things which break which would not have done so if I little more thought had been given to them in the first place.  I had several things like this happen which proved to be very expensive. 

By far the most expensive was the loss of all the electrics.  This proved to be about a NZ$35,000 problem.  As I mentioned in an earlier post I got some water in the electrics which in turn got into one of the motor legs and required a new motor which I had replaced in Picton.  The hatch where the water got into had not been properly sealed and the water got through a hole in which cables passed through into the other electrical compartment.

When the electrician finished the work in Picton the hole which allowed the water to get through was to be sealed with Sikaflex.  To ensure that there would be no water get in from the top of the compartment he sikaflexed the lid and sealed it with duct tape.  When I got back to the boat I asked him if he had sealed the hole but he had forgotten…but, because the top was so well sealed I said not to worry about it.  My $35K mistake!  Why?  Well, I forgot that there was a vent on the front of that compartment which would never be an issue normally, but when I filled the cockpit with green water during the storm it got through the vent, through the hole and back into the compartment again.  Not only did it damage the motor again but it also damaged two of the lithium phosphate batteries beyond repair…also the inverter.

Photo of the missing rudder below.


The other two preventable problems was the rudder which came apart because it did not have lock nuts on the two stainless supports, and the stainless masthead which the navigation lights were mounted on.  That fell down as it had no lateral supports and just broke off at the weld.  The lesson learnt here is that I should have gone up the mast prior to leaving NZ and inspected this but I had assumed that the engineers would have ensured that it was strong…but, as I have said for many years, one mustn’t assume…but I did.

One of the problems which we did not expect was in the forward section where the supporting blocks for the front decking is bolted to the hulls started coming apart.  Refer to the photos. This was due to the boat falling into ‘holes’ which put enormous stress on this section.  However, it would seem to be a weak section and so we repaired them and glassed them to the hull as well rather than just relying on the bolts.

Anyway, all the repairs will be done and we can resume our voyage.

Monday
Aug062012

New Zealand to New Caledonia...

Now in New Caledonia…but…a lot of repairs to do!

I always knew that getting out of the South Island of New Zealand and getting up to the tropics would be the most difficult part of the trip to Thailand.  Being in the middle of New Zealand’s winter is always a bit unpredictable.

Anyway, after the electrical repairs were completed in Picton we set sail on the first reasonable weather window.  Reasonable in that the grib files and the weather forecasts indicated maximum seas of 4 – 5 meters.  (13 – 16ft) and winds around 30 knots.  There was however the risk that a weather system could develop in a few days that would bring much more unfavourable conditions.  The two videos above were taken whilst the weather was benign, around 20 knots and 2 - 3 meter seas.

When we left Picton to travel up the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand the conditions were reasonable with a moderate South East wind.  We made good progress for the first couple of days although from the second day on the wind moved to a northerly quarter and the seas were not very comfortable as we had to contend with a cross swell of around 2 meters on top of about a 3 meter swell making the sea confused and lumpy.

We were covering around 150NM a day.

We left on Tuesday the 29th May and by Monday the 4th June we were abreast of Norfolk Island which is about 430NM south of Noumea in New Caledonia.  The sea conditions were continuing to get worse and were well above the projected 5 meters.  The height of the swells were not a problem and but the cross swell was still there making the seas very confused and creating ‘pyramids’ and ‘holes’ which the boat would drop into.

It was certainly uncomfortable and wet and pretty hard on the boat.

Whilst we were north of NZ the Auckland to Noumea yacht race commenced on Saturday the 2nd June as planned.  There were some very fast ocean racing yachts in that race and we were expecting by Monday that they would be catching us up.  Of course Marianna and myself were wondering how they would be getting on as they would no doubt be taking a beating as we were at that time. 

Conditions continued to get worse on Monday night and by that time there was not a dry thing left in the boat.  The force of the boat falling into the ‘holes’ had enabled water to come in the escape hatches and as a result all the bedding in both main berths were soaked.  Even worse was when we checked the forward starboard cabin we found three feet of water in it.  This was my fault as it appears that the deck hatch was only secured on the first notch.  Pretty stupid eh!  Anyway, we bailed out that compartment in which all our supplies were floating around in including our favourite chocolate…ate it anyway.

At that stage the wind in the high 40 knot region with gusts over 50 knots and the seas had become very steep and tumbling and we were getting hit from multiple directions.

Around 1am in the morning we took a wave right over the boat and lost our electrics.  No lights, no auto-pilot or navigation gear.  Fortunately we have a separate 12 volt  battery for the water generator and I was able to switch the important gear through to that system and run the generator to keep it powered up.

At 2am I made the decision to put out the sea anchor and ride it out until daylight.  Fortunately we had tested it before and were able to deploy it smoothly.  After deploying it Marianna noticed the port rudder flopping around.  The nuts had vibrated off the heavy duty stainless bars securing the rudder which in turn enabled the bolts to come out and broke off one side of the stainless supports and bent the other.  See in the photo.  I tried to secure it the best I could with lashings but when daylight came it was nowhere to be seen.

 

During the night we heard communications on the VHF that rescues were taking place with an 80’ race boat who was trying to make it to safety at Norfolk Island.  Fortunately they did, there were 18 crew on board including two guys I knew.  Details of this and the other boats that had problems and had to pull out of the race can be seen here.   http://sailnoumea.com/news/nz-update-evolution-sails-sail-noumea-2012-%E2%80%93-wrap-and-thanks

Only 10 of the 17 yachts that started got to Noumea, with the rest having to turn around and head back to NZ or take shelter behind Norfolk Island.

After daylight we resumed heading to New Caledonia.  The thrashing that we had taken over the previous days had loosened the beam lashings and the mast stays so we were getting a lot of flexing.  The wind fortunately had died down to the mid 30’s but the sea remained uncomfortable as the winds still were from a northerly, westerly quarter.  This was problematic as we were trying to do some claw ourselves further west so we could clear the south western reefs of New Caledonia.

Two days before we finally arrived in Noumea the wind gradually started to swing back to a southerly quarter so we gradually were able to point further round and ultimately cleared the south western tip of the reef by 5 miles.

Eleven days after leaving Picton we sailed through the passage in the reef and arrived at Port Moselle in Noumea a little after midnight.  The last 5 days Marianna and myself did not remove our boots or wet weather gear…so the showers that night were like heaven.

There was significant damage to the boat which was going to take time to repair so I arranged for my boat builder and electrician to fly to Noumea to deal with it.  More about that in the next post.

Sunday
May272012

Ready to go again...

The repairs have been completed and we will now check out with Customs tomorrow morning and leave early am on Tuesday.  Could really have left much earlier.  Today it is blowing like hell and raining.  Below is the current weather forecast for where we are in Picton just by Cook Strait.

It is looking good to have following seas on the run to New Caledonia which should be about seven days.

Coastal Forecast: Cook