December 15th 2010

For the first time in 5 days I’m feeling able to write… Ralph finally collapsed last night so sensibly he ‘hove to’ (Mum, this means you turn the boat until the headsail collapses across the bow and you turn the wheel to support it, the resulting effect is the main turns you one way…the headsail turns you the other and lo and behold you end up balanced and pretty much staitionary) and we both had a good 4 hours rest, just keeping one half open but keen eye on the radar, barometer and wind gauge. So we’re both perky enough to enjoy a steady starboard breeze of 10 knots as we glide along the New Britain coastline towards the mainland again.

We’ve had something of an action packed couple of days.

Within about  24 hours of leaving Kiriwina the engine gear box died! So to cut a rather long story short we have a perfectly functioning engine but no means of getting any power to the propeller. Without any mechanical assistance we have been wholly and soley dependent on wind.. when there is none we bob and when there is some we simply change tack. That has meant the anticipated 36 hour journey to the Southernmost coast of New Britain became more like 3 and half days….coming within sight of Fulleborn harbour on the morning of my 42nd birthday after a rather hairy night spent trying to find a safe place to heave to whilst waiting for some rather strong thunderstorms to head past us over land. We had been using the edges of thunderstorms to help our passage so had found the heavy grey clouds rather a blessing, however they gather strength close to land and there was no way we could have gotten through the freakish waves and encroaching lighting that was somewhat swamping us the closer we got to land (shallow water makes large waves huge) so we hung around about 10 miles off the coast til daylight.

We were hoping to be able to sail in close enough to reach shallow enough water, simply turn into the wind, slow down and drop anchor…no engine remember! Alas… twas not to be. We had fantastic wind taking us into the bay but it died in the ass waaaay to early to allow us to reach anywhere anchorable….and then of course there was the other dilemma of not being close to anywhere that could provide parts or even phone reception (don’t think there was even a road leading to the villages around this bay). We gave it one last bash with Ralph using the tender to tow the boat downwind thinking even just to anchor would at least allow us a rest, but that wasn’t gunna happen so we turn tailed and sailed out….but where to now?

Weighing up the options when you’re absolutely wrecked is no easy feat…head up wind and battle slowly with wind, waves and current to reach a closer, perhaps more suitable anchorage point closer to Rabaul or head downwind, towards the mainland…more options by way of parts and assistance but many more days of sailing.

After a little sample of the upwind option we headed straight for the mainland, immediately feeling the impact of a steady aft wind and favourable currents, reaching peaking at 7 knots within minutes and even with lighter winds and the use of Ralph’s home made whisker pole still hitting 5 knots… so now we’re heading for Lae (PNGs second largest town), knowing it will not necessarily be much of a holiday destination but feeling much more refreshed and ready for the next couple of days at sea…enjoying them again even.


NB: Blessing

Sailing in difficult conditions continuously is physically demanding and I have found this challenging at times. Currently I have 2 infected mosquito bites on my leg. They were swollen to such a degree that I began a course of antibiotics for minor skin infections. This has meant standing for hours at the helm while Ralph gets some rest has been somewhat of a trail at times… Ralph has been absolutely incredible, taking far more than his share to allow me to rest and raise my leg, but becoming increasingly exhausted in the process. Making difficult decisions in such conditions is only possible with calm, wisdom, maturity and complete trust. As I watch Ralph trimming the sails to get that extra inch of speed and stability I feel quite certain our decision is the correct one and truly blessed to have such an amazing partner on this journey.


December 21st 2010

Bobbin’ and more bobbin’….. 42 and a half nautical miles from Lae. It’s taken us 7 days to travel a grand total of 180 miles (FYI, that’s shit) from our ill-fated attempt at anchoring a while ago but it feels waaay longer.

The Solomon sea in a transition season is a fickle companion. We have had days of nothing….I mean no wind whatsoever and/or gales of 30-40 knot winds.

Our initial brisk skip along the New Britain coast was, in retrospect, a flash in the pan. We hit some kind of invisible line of latitude we couldn’t pass for ages….simply drifting along with a 1 and a half knot south easterly current ….away from our westerly destination….we tried whisker poles, sitting it out, blowing in vain at the sails, but alas we couldn’t arrest our drift, until we tried storm chasing…. There are mini thunderstorms all across the Solomon Sea and if we were lucky enough to hit one they generate enough of a blast to propel our little vessel along it’s edge in a clockwise direction. Timing is critical though and staying just close enough but not too close is a tad tricky otherwise they become a little hard to handle. Luckily Ralph had his head around this and we managed to get over our little vortex in small hops clockwise. Eventually we ran out of suitable storms and had to run through a couple of wet ones that were not what you’d call small…. 3 metre waves and 40 knot wind gusts taking Hafskip beyond hull speed to an 8.4 knot high…..Hafskip eats up that kinda weather though and aside from a rather uncomfortable heel for 12 hours or so it certainly let us cover a bit of ground.

While we were approaching the Huon Gulf Ralph had managed to establish contact with a radio network in Australia…the Coral Coast Earlybird net….and had requested from them the phone number of the Lae Yacht club….with the idea that when we were within mobile range we would ring and ask for assistance with a tow into harbour. These guys not only obtained the number but also notified search and rescue in who then also hopped in and contacted Lae. Interestingly Port Control in Lae did nothing at all but the yacht club monitored our progress and I think engaged the entire yacht club community in our dilemma….lots of garbled radio talk back and forth.

Right at the edge of the Gulf we managed a glimmer of mobile reception and called the yacht club, who attempted to arrange a tow for us. Unfortunately 40 miles was a little too far for anyone to feel inclined to come and help… so here we sit waiting….waiting and waiting ….for some more wind….within reach of our goal but no mechanism to propel us any closer.


December 23rd 2010

We made it. Exhausted but safe and sound in Lae Marina (yes they have a marina). We’ve had a decent night’s sleep and besides feeling stiff and sore we’re blissfully relaxed, with no movement whatsoever aside from the mooring ropes stretching back and forth against the pier.

Our last night on the gulf was pretty hairy. We finally got some steady winds that enabled a fair amount of progress but encountered one last whopper of a storm. We saw it gather strength on the radar and tried to outrun it by turning south but the prospect of it taking us backwards rather than forwards Ralph turned to face it.

Accompanied by a colourful array of language from Ralph at the helm we drove right through the eye of the damn thing. With gale force winds and blinding lightning strikes we passed through it in record time all in one piece minus our centre hatch, which had blown off earlier, rescued, returned but unsecured couldn’t hang on through the storm. Prepared for the drenching we’d moved all the cushions and equipment away and covered the open hatch with garbage bags, so we had a manageable mop up, thankfully.

Riding the residue winds from the storm took us with 2 miles of the harbour, so all we had to do was drift back and forth until our tow arrived.

We passed the time watching vessels depart the harbour wondering which of these would be coming our way until finally our white charger arrived, a 40 foot speed boat called Tribal, with ‘Bob’ at the helm and a heap of fenders alongside. Bob manoeuvred Tribal alongside and with a couple of crunches and scrapes we were tied together side by side and nudged along into the harbour at a rather alarming rate of knots….. By some amazing feat of boat handling (not to mention some yelling at nearby boats to get out of the way we were swung around into our mooring and tied off onto the pier. Unfortunately our last swing around was a little fast, with Tribal surging on her wake up onto Hafskip breaking and/or bending our port side staunchions (Lucky Hafskip is steel otherwise who knows what damage would have been done), but in the grand scheme of things a couple of staunchions are a small price to pay.

Once our heart rates had returned to normal we stepped off Hafskip onto land for the first time in 12 days and headed straight to the yacht club bar!

With a beer and a cigarette in hand we sat facing a gentle breeze chatting with Dennis the club manager, who not only shouted us the beer, had arranged the local marine mechanic to come and visit to see what needed to done. This meant that not only were we safe but we already have assistance in resolving our gear box issue meaning we may even be able to either order the appropriate part or repair it prior to the Christmas shut down. We definitely made the right decision in coming to Lae, had we turned north towards Rabaul it is highly unlikely we would have had the same facilities available to us.