25/11/2012, 12 03.637'S:153 25.052'E, Near Taluga Island -Louisiades PNG - Coral Sea
Monday 26 November
Hey folk, not sure how your weekend has been but it has been rock and roll central here
for the last 24 hours plus. Rain squalls, winds gusting to nearly 30k, ships in the night
(and day), and seas to 3 metres have all put in an appearance. We have seen almost no rain
(true!) since we left Brisbane in September, apart from the occasional spit of light drops.
But this was the real McCoy ┬- 10 solid minutes of heavy rain, pounding the sea flat and
creating a shimmering mist over the undulating surface ┬- beautiful.
Earlier that night a small squall had jolted Tone out of his watch reverie (aka doze), and
had me scrambling out of my cosy dry berth and back on deck as the rising wind vibrated the
sails and rigging.
Not long after we had wiped the rain out of our eyes and settled IM into a new rhythm I
spotted three lights on the horizon, and they appeared to be coming straight for us. Only
hours earlier we had both commented on the lack of shipping we had seen since leaving Torres
Strait. We were starting to wonder if our AIS (automated identification system - recognizes
ships in vicinity and displays on electronic nav systems ) was still working. Time to find
out - we quickly fired up the i-pad and sure enough Azur Fortune was bearing down on us, at
a distance of 3nm and with a CPA (closest point of approach) of 270 metres! When you┬'re
11.4 metres long and a 50m widex300 metre long ship is going to be less than its boat length
away, you want to make dead sure of its course before you decide on evasive action ┬- even
more so at night in 20-25k of wind with a 2.5 metre swell.
Over the years we┬'ve heard stories and read blogs about sailors radio-ing ships frantically
to no avail, but it was still worth a go. A quick call and immediately the ship┬'s master
replied ┬- ┬"ah yes, sailing vessel, I can see you on my radar, I will alter course to go
behind you┬". Confirming his message back to him, we watched in fascination as this huge
coal carrier┬'s lights, now less than a mile away slowly altered direction and we both
started to pull away from each other. Once we were a safe distance away we radioed back to
thank him. ┬"No trouble, safe travels┬", he replied in a distinctly South American Spanish
accent, before disappearing into the night.
Azur Fortune was the first of 9 ships whose paths we crossed over the next 24 hours ┬- at one
stage 5 at once within the same hour ┬- all of them heading into or out of the ┬'short cut┬'
channel we had been too chicken to take┬....still glad we didn┬'t given the sea state, the high
winds and dicing with those big girls in amongst the reefs and tidal rips would have been
fun ┬- NOT! We ended up radio-ing three ships and each time were promptly responded to and twice the
master changed course for us, a much appreciated courtesy, while the third one didn┬'t need
to - we both just checked the passing protocol. I was very impressed and reassured, who
says they┬'re all asleep on these big ships? As if the day wasn┬'t already action packed enough, the highlight came when we filled out our
log ┬- we┬'d finally managed to crack the 100nm in 24 hours, both boat log and course over
ground, a bonus of strong consistent winds, even with the rock and roll action they bring.
Watch out ┬'corner┬', we are coming to get ya! We are now less than 10NM from our corner
waypoint. Hopefully by the time we upload this blog and you are reading it over your
morning coffee (or during lunch, not sure about time zones anymore) we will be ready to
round Taluga Island and head towards Gizo ┬- 300NM away, and ease the sails for the first
downwind sailing since leaving Darwin (fingers crossed!).
Hope your week starts well!
Photo note: AIS on i-pad showing all the ships, we are the blue triangle just nicking out of the way!
22/11/2012, 11 08.267'S:149 30.157'E, Off Ava Point - PNG - Coral Sea
Friday 23 November 2012
Skip Tone has had a frustrating night (or rather early hours of the morning). He has been handsteering through the variable winds, been backwinded several times, and watched miserably as our VMG (velocity made good) disappeared into the negatives. On top of that he has not been able to get a clear enough HF connection to send off his GRIB request or check email so it will be up to the sat phone later this morning to deliver those (and this blog).
I┬'d gone below off watch hours earlier when we┬'d first lost the wind, happily falling asleep to the purr of the iron topsail. Coming back to the cockpit, with both of us half asleep, it takes time for each person to adjust to the changeover and reset their focus. No wonder those changeover conversations can be so fraught but also sometimes really weird┬... Tone is not a big seafood eater at the best of times so he must have thought I was still dreaming when I presented the option of calamari for breakfast. The wee creature had appeared overnight, as if to order, on the galley floor. The swell is only moderate (less than 1.5 metres, although the occasional set over 2 metres rolls by). We┬'d had a few rock and roll moments earlier in the night as rain and baby thunderstorms passed over, with gusts up to 20k, so I had closed all the hatches. I must have re-opened the small hatch over the galley when I came below at 2.00am, and the squid definitely wasn┬'t there then. How it had aimed itself so perfectly through that tiny opening, presumably in an accompanying torrent of water, without us noticing, is a mystery.
As, seemingly, is our ETA at ┬"the corner┬", our waypoint at the bottom of the Louisiades, still 254 nm away. Seeing our arrival date into Gizo stretching out, we have toyed with the idea of taking a short cut through the the Jomard Entrance north of the Louisiades. However the variable winds, tidal rips, strong currents, possible thunderstorms, and a chart warning showing heavy breakers, combined with a late afternoon arrival to negotiate the reefs makes that seem like a tired brain idea. So we will take the prudent (wimpy?) option and just keep ticktacking to our corner, despite the extra day at sea and extra 90nm. When we are on a ┬'good tack┬' (equals good VMG) optimism overrides the logistics of navigational reality and I can see us sipping on a Solly beer early next week. And then we inevitably turn back onto our ┬'bad┬' tack, and it feels like we will bob around out here for another month. The enormity of the ocean, stretching from horizon to horizon, compared to the pace we are sloshing our way across it makes it very hard to understand the scale of our journey. Tone piped up one afternoon - ┬" you know, TI to Gizo, it┬'s a bit like jogging from Melbourne to Brisbane. Put that way it doesn┬'t sound so bad.┬" ┬"Not so bad┬" I snorted into my coffee. ┬"It sounds plain dumb!┬"
Today┬'s weather forecast continues to look good, the reassuring - ┬"warnings-nil┬" - warms the cockles of my heart - as always. Bye for now from dumb and dumber in the beautiful (and bountiful!) Coral Sea.
19/11/2012, 10 28.947'S:146 09.059'E, Coral Sea - off Port Moresby
Tuesday 20 November 2012
We are not sure if the last blog (Sun 18 Nov) uploaded successfully through the HF radio winlink email system so apologies if some blogs are uploaded twice until we get the propagation sorted. Learning the intricacies of HF radio and getting to use it has added another great tool for us as we can now successfully download weather faxes and synoptics en route (for no charge), in addition to our GRIB wind files. We have been using the satellite phone and still have that for back up, but that becomes expensive after a while. Listening to the daily weather reports on the HF is now part of the boat routine. It still seems magic to me that a voice transmitted from Charleville thousands of miles away arrives into the little box on our nav station wall. Even though the voice is computer generated, the reassuring timbre tells us ┬"warnings ┬- nil┬" - a great way to start the day. The voice appears to be BBC Received Pronunciation (Queen┬'s English) and gives us a giggle, especially when it suddenly changes to Broad Australian on the odd word that has had to be spliced in. I must google and see if BOM have any info about ┬'the voice┬' next time we are in port and have internet access. I suspect the voice and I will be very good friends by the end of this passage. We have passed the infamous Ashmore Reef and are now dealing with variable light winds, 100NM off shore from Port Moresby. The sea is calm, with a slight swell. We ghosted along so silently last night, you could almost hear the occasional shooting star as it streaked across the sky. Last night was the first time in ages without cloud cover, so we looked out for the Leonid meteor shower, but think it is past the peak. We could also make out the glow of Port Moresby, even at this distance. Midday ┬- mid-afternon wind lulls have been the pattern for the last couple of days and we motored for 6 hours yesterday before a useful wind kicked in.
A night of mild thunderstorms on the way through Pandora┬'s Passage kept us on our toes on Sunday night, always a bit nerve wracking in case they get ugly, or fry our beloved electronics and connectivity to the outside world. It even got wet and cold enough to dig out the wet weather gear. Now that we are further off-shore and out of the Gulf of Papua we can see them flickering just over the horizon, a distant weather war bringing the wet season closer every day.
Yesterday we translated our passage planning into way points in the GPS, taking into account the actual dates we left TI (quite a few days later than we had anticipated!) From TI to Gizo in the Solomon Islands (SI) is about 1080 NM. From Pandora┬'s Passage at the top of the Great Barrier Reef to the Louisiaides Papua New Guinea (where we turn the corner north to SI) is about 500 NM. Our total distance so far covered on this leg is 268 NM , so are about a fifth of the way to Gizo! Slowly eating the elephant┬... Ciao for now.
Photo Note: The morning after the night before - it was a big night of rolling thunderstorms, and like all big nights, sometimes you just fall asleep where-ever you end up and in whatever you were dressed in┬....