Thursday, 21 November 2013

New Caledonia - Australia passage, 7/11 - 14/11

Nothing of interest lies between Noumea and Bundaberg. At least, we found nothing of interest on our voyage. Bruce, an ill-tempered whale who enjoys nothing more than broaching on top of small yachts, sunk under the water as we approached him, surprisingly good at making himself invisible for such a large animal. A rebel container capable of sinking the whole boat floated past 10 miles away, unbeknownst to us. A small band of pirates led by a large man called Darren was afoot, right in our pathway. He had changed his name to a more piratey 'Cut-throat Jack,' but it was him all the same. Apart from his crew of seven, his ship was home to a small cat named 'Mister' - a name which lacked imagination but was serviceable. If there had ever been a parrot, Mister had seen to it that he was properly disposed of. Old Cut-throat was heading right for us, but changed his course to avoid some squalls - just before our ship came into sight. A large school of flying fish, excited and ready to go on an adventure, rose above the water as one and would have landed on our deck if they had been positioned about 20 miles further to the West. But our ship was long gone by the time they made their escape. 

We saw none of this. We slept, we ate, we slept, we read, and we slept some more. The days passed quickly, all sunshine and pretty sunsets.

We trolled a line every day but caught nothing. There were no dolphins or anything else of interest to grace us with their presence. The most significant thing that has happened over the last seven days was that I was not sick. We were rocking and rolling with a nice breeze behind us for most of the trip, and I didn't even really get queasy. I still avoided throwing dance parties downstairs and was mostly sleeping in the aft berth or sitting in the cockpit on watch, but that is the nature of two handed sailing anyway. So that made the trip much more pleasant than previous offshore adventures, and is a promising sign for all trips in the future.

We both got through about a million books and I am grateful for the kindle. Though I suspect Garth has either lost his or is scared of losing it, because he's been working his way through our extensive paper library. I will start to worry when he has gone through everything else and pulls out the Spanish dictionary instead of going back to his electronic books.

Nothing much has broken for a change, which is exciting. The cleat for our spinnaker downhaul exploded when it became unhappy with the amount of pressure on it from our poled-out genoa. It literally exploded. There were bits of plastic everywhere. So that was annoying, but not tragic. Just another point to add to our long list of things to fix. And our navigation lights have stopped working again. But we were downwind for over a week, with the boat constantly rocking back and forth, so we're hoping the bulb has just jiggled loose like it did last time. We still had our steaming lights, although they can be confusing with our sails up, and back-up nav lights so we weren't too worried - they broke when we were only two days away from land. 

Our water supply packed it in just as we were leaving as well, but at least that wasn't new or horrifying. It wasn't even Mikes "temporary" repair to the bladder, although I admit that was our first assumption when we saw water everywhere. The bit that Mike fixed will certainly outlast the rest of it. The damned thing sprung another hole and we're sure it wasn't caused by the contraption holding the rest of it together, which is wrapped in rubber and has stupidly smooth edges. With just the two of us and only a week's journey ahead, we put a clamp on the damn thing and just didn't think about it. We had 50L in our small bladder and a heap of emergency 20L jugs in the cockpit, so we just decided that anything we got out of the broken one would be a bonus. The bilge pump has been going more than normal so it's certainly leaking, but it didn't run out. I also managed to snap the crumbling metal on the through hull that you have to open to fill the bladder, and there's a chance it no longer opens. So the whole water situation will need some fixing. It will give me an excuse to clean out the water pipes though, which are old and best described as icky.

I've decided that the most exciting part of any trip is in those last two days, when the VHF starts to crackle. At first it's just static, then broken messages, then constant chatter as we get closer and closer to our destination. We know we're almost there, but just before land comes into sight the VHF is solid confirmation that it won't be much longer. Everywhere I've ever lived there's that one landmark or area you pass on your way home from a long car trip that indicates you're almost there, almost at home and tucked up in bed after a warm shower - that's the noise on the VHF. 

Something scary did happen when we were two days out of Bundaberg though. Ships were popping up everywhere - I'd check the horizon carefully, twice. And then 10 minutes later I'd look up and there would be a giant cargo ship next to me, or a little fishing boat moving across my bow, or another giant cargo ship. They're not supposed to be that fast! Where are they coming from!? What are they doing!? Most of them have snuck up on me during the day, when we still keep an annoyingly careful watch with an alarm going off regularly to make sure we haven't forgotten to check the horizon. It's now been changed to 10 minute intervals instead of 20.

The first ship we saw was when I was on watch at night. I had been straining my eyes into the darkness all night, looking for a flicker of a light and staring skeptically at dull stars close to the horizon. I looked up at around 1am and there was a huge, blinding white light heading straight for me. I did not need to strain to see it. I wanted to put on sunglasses. There were no running lights, or if they were on they were overrun by the mass amounts of white. There were no mastheads breaking the boat up into sections so I could at least see if it was on an angle. It was just a ball of white ahead of me - I couldn't see how far away it was, what it was it where it was going. Not ok. I turned a few degrees to starboard, hoping to pass it port to port but unable to tell which way it was actually going - I thought it was straight on but if it was coming towards me at a slight angle I might have been just moving further into its path. Just as I was about to radio them it turned and I could see the outline of the boat around the bright light at the back. Boats shouldn't be close enough for me to see the outline of their cabin. Although it was so bright it was a bit like looking into the sun and it was hard to see much. I had thought it was a cruise ship the way it was lit up, which would make it far away enough for me to be worrying, but not close enough to start panicking. But I lined it up with a fixture as they turned away just to make sure we weren't going to collide, and it moved away very very fast. It had to be close to be moving across the horizon that fast. So that was alarming. I watched it disappear until it was just a glow on the horizon, which only took 15 minutes. It's supposed to take about 20 - 25 at fast speeds.

Then a panicked voice came on over the VHF. It was another sailing vessel almost the same size as us, calling for the ship to come in on the radio. They were about to be run over and the ship wasn't communicating with them at all. The skippers voice got shakier and more desperate as the ship got closer, and we listened with bated breath - there wasn't anything we could do. We contacted them when they asked for anybody who could hear their transmission - probably to make sure their radio was working. After a while they started calling out for a fishing vessel instead of just 'big ship'... So they must have been close enough to make out fishing gear.

All I could think to do was a mayday relay in case there was anybody on shore who could contact the vessel, but the ship finally came in on the VHF. After they'd gone past the yacht, only just missing it. The poor guys did a 360 to avoid the ship, and said they had been within 8 yards of being struck. I could hear the skippers voice shaking over the radio. The response from the fishing vessel at nearly killing them? "Yeah, sorry about that mate." When the skipper managed to calmly suggest they rethink their watch schedules the kid on the fishing boat just replied "Yeah, it's hard to see you out there." Which made me think a lot about what I would have done aside from turning on every light and shining a torch on the sails. That wouldn't even help if they're not actually looking. It was impossible to see which way they were going so it was impossible to know where to turn - the lights were SO bright and they were moving SO fast. Perhaps if his eyesight is that bad a parachute flare aimed at the wheelhouse would help.

The kid said he saw them and that he'd been watching out, which I guess is the standard response required in order to later claim it wasn't his fault. If he'd actually been around he would have seen and heard them, and hopefully wouldn't have almost run them down. I'm guessing they just had the radar turned on and were doing whatever the hell young boys do on a fishing boat just leaving port. That was another alarming thing - they said the yacht hadn't shown up on their radar. How the hell do we know if we're showing up on their radar or not!? You chuck a cylinder of metal up in the rigging and just hope that it's metaly enough to get picked up? That's scary. I've always just thought that the radar reflector was there and it had to work. What if it doesn't? We were going to invest in an AIS when we got to Australia, which tells you where all the big ships are. Maybe that would be best to do sooner rather than later...

So that was pretty horrifying, even second hand. We always keep a good watch and we have a 20 minute alarm set up 24 hours a day. But on that last night it changed to 10 minutes, and our noisemaker and spare flares were carefully pulled out of their respective hiding places and placed on top of everything near the nav station. What we need are small fireworks and a slingshot. That would wake them up. 

We got the boat tidier than its been in a long time for Australian customs - everything was scrubbed and dusted and packed away neatly. It looks new again! We'll see how long it lasts...

Xxx Monique

edit: This was the boat after Customs went through it... Sigh.


  1. Holy crap, that's horrible! like cars and bicycles, but worse... How do you grab the attention of someone who's just not looking...
    You guys take care for the next leg!

  2. Hey Cam! The standard thing to do is turn on ALL the lights and shine a torch on the sails - that makes a big white light. Then you try noisemakers and hand held flares. Then you start aiming the flares at them I guess... you can't get out of the way if you can't see where they're going, unfortunately. We're picking up an AIS from the Gold Coast, so hopefully that will make it easier! Xxx