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Tuesday, 19 July 2016

A Week of Diving

Here we are at the Great Barrier Reef ... we have spent a wonderful week - six days of diving, and one day off hidden away from some bad weather in Nara Inlet. Here in the tradewind belt, showers and strong winds can be expected. In Nara we met some other 'cruisers' on their boats. Most of the folks here are on Charter holidays and are 'temporary' sailors and don't tend to socialize outside their 'group'. As we swung at anchor, we went out on deck in the beautiful moonlit night. Next morning we heard the distinctive chuckling of the kookaburra.

For six days now we have gone from one favoured dive location to another. The Australian government has made secure moorings right next to the dive spot. They have done this to prevent careless destruction of the coral. It is very easy to accidentally ensnare coral with an anchor ... not while actually anchoring, but because the anchor chain will drag across the coral while the boat moves around at anchor. The government also regulates the size of boat and the time (2 hours). Last night we were lucky enough to get to this safe anchorage just before 'closing time' (around 3pm) so we have been able to stay overnight. The added bonus is that we have internet here so I decided to post a small record of our time here.

This post consists mainly of photos. Larry has taken between 50 and 70 photos on each dive, and I then edit them. Here are some of our favourites and the dive location.
Butterfly Bay mushroom coral

Maureen Cove

Maureen Cove dive 2 crinoid

Manta Ray Bay Maori wrasse

Manta Ray Bay branching hard coral

Cateran Bay Rainford's butterflyfish

Cateran Bay - homo sapiens

Blue Pearl Bay - 6-band angelfish & lemon damsel
Blue Pearl Bay 

Friday, 15 July 2016

Diving every day

Please forgive the poor quality of the accompanying image. We transmit these images by low-bandwidth short wave radio and must be content with pictures of very low resolution.

After arriving here in the Whitsunday Islands and having an overnight rest, we have spent three quarters of an hour SCUBA diving every day since. Underwater visibility is much better on these Whitsunday reefs than it was when we visited six years ago and the beautiful coral forms and colourful fish are a treat to both the eye and the camera. In contrast to the cumbersome drysuits we wear diving in frigid northern waters, neoprene wetsuits a few millimeters thick keep us comfortable for long periods in the water.

Mary Anne mentioned our autopilot troubles on the trip down from Townsville. All that is now behind us; after substituting an onboard spare for the failing part all seems to be fine. The grammatical error I introduced on proofreading M.A's blog posting is still with us though - at least until we have some internet service again. We can post blogs from out here but we can't change them!

Monday, 11 July 2016

... a star to steer her by

I must go down to the sea again - to the lonely sea and the sky
And all I ask is a tall ship …. and a star to steer her by

Last night we had to take turns hand-steering. Earlier, the GPS had hiccuped - but the Captain got it working again. And then just around nightfall, it autopilot failed altogether. I found it took some skill to master hand-steering again. At first I could only concentrate for 35 minutes. However, knowing we had another 14 hours of steering, I needed to do my share. So from about 11pm until 5a.m. we each took hourly turns.

Starting out, I found plenty of stars to choose from. You just need to pick a couple who are in a close relation with each other and concentrate totally on keeping them in the same relative position to each other. Every now and then, you check to make sure the heading on the compass is the right one (ours was 120 degrees) and you correct for it and then look for your stars once again.

As the night progressed, I kept having to adjust my gaze upwards because the stars closer to the horizon disappeared and I had to choose new and more elevated stars as clouds appeared on the horizon. I developed a 'crick' in my neck and sciatica …. when I had my off-time I couldn't sleep for the pain.

So now I could no longer use stars as navigation aids, in order to steer 120, I had to gaze and concentrate fully on the compass. I was in such a state of deep concentration that had a humpback whale appeared next to the boat and sprayed me with it's fetid breath, I would probably not have noticed. At 5am I asked Larry if he would mind switching to 2-hr relays as some sleep now seemed essential.

When Larry woke me at 7am, it was light out. I was able to use some clouds to navigate by. Using the small patch of blue between a baby whale and its mother did the trick for a while, as did staying just to the left of a chicken hurrying away to the west. The horizon became more clouded with just a few patches of blue. But I was able to keep a seam allowance of 5/8 inches between the forestay (it forms a straight line exactly in the middle of the bow of the boat) and the edge of a cloud to the right of it. Sewing is an unusually useful skill on a boat!

We both memorized the John Masefield poem while we were in grade school in the Edmonton Public School system. Who would have thought this could benefit a prairie school child? … certainly we didn't at the time. It's just an example of why a fine general education for each and every child (with plenty of Music and Arts) is so important in a democracy. Of course, as a former Primary school teacher I am somewhat biased.

At 7/12/2016 03:24 (utc) our position was 20°04.35'S 148°55.71'E

Friday, 1 July 2016

Too much excitement

The last thing Mary Anne and I were interested in after 55 days of taking turns cooking en-route was preparing another meal aboard Traversay III.

So, in the early evening, we set out towards Zizzi's, an appealing Italian restaurant with a familiar name from our London days.

We had walked no more than ten paces down the dock from our boat when a flicker of light caught our eye from a nearby powerboat.  In less than a minute, the flicker had turned into a serious conflagration.  As neighbours came running and unrolling fire hoses, I called the fire department.  We quickly realized our tiny fire extinguishers would be useless and efforts were more concentrated on protecting the adjacent boats with sprays of water than in any serious belief that the fire could be controlled.  Hoses were advanced when they seemed to be having some effect and a hasty retreat declared as various butane bottles exploded with a sharp crack.  Diesel fuel, cabin woodwork  and fiberglass fueled a bright and smoky fire.

In a short time, the firemen arrived and tamed the flames with their much larger hoses.  Of course, unlike in a house fire where all that water flows away or fills the basement - it sinks a boat lower and lower in the water!

By morning, the bow was all that was visible; Traversay III sits a few slips down in the background. Fortunately, a favorable wind direction [for us] spared us any of the acrid smoke.

And as if all this excitement weren't enough, the dive team then arrived to tidy things up.

At first, all their busy-work seemed to have little effect as they started various compressors and a hard-hat diver positioned air bags around the sunken hull.

Then, very quickly, more and more of the cabin started to appear.  The diver rushed to and fro adjusting the bags as the emerging hull tried to roll over first one way and then the other.

Finally, diving was done and pumps emptied the remaining water from the hull, The derelict was subsequently towed away to a lift where the insurers could begin to contemplate the nature of their loss.

All was again quiet and tidy in our Townsville marina.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Arrived Townsville

At 3pm, 55 days out of Victoria, we tied at the customs dock in Townsville, Australia ... 7400 nautical miles on the log.

At 6/27/2016 05:14 (utc) our position was 19°15.08'S 146°49.39'E

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Birds should know their place!

Our trip is drawing to a close, and in addition to the normal watch-keeping and domestic duties, we are having to make decisions - some pleasant like deciding what to wear when we get ashore ... and some less pleasant like deciding which meals to make as all our meat has to be thrown out because of the Australian agricultural rules.

Bird visits reached a crescendo last night. For the second time, there was a bird who insisted on landing on top of the mast (he was silhouetted against the red mastlight - but flicking this on/off had no effect whatsoever). In addition a collection of very LARGE birds (far larger than seagulls) had mastered the ability to land on the solar arch without being inconvenienced by the large wind turbine. We used the air horn on them, but this didn't bother them in the slightest. We considered trying to fashion a slingshot to shoot frozen chicken breasts at them thus - getting rid of two problems at once - but in the end, they seemed to have gone.

It was later (at 0300 on my watch) that I went out geared up to do my exercises. I was startled by a large CROAK, the furious flapping of wings and a horrible smell. One of the big guys had obviously gotten trapped in a small space behind the wheel in the cockpit and could not take off. As this already happened to me a few years ago with two quite small birds, I rushed forward and got out my plastic music stand (music CAN be a useful skill) On that occasion, I'd gently lifted them with it and lofted them into the air. I still remember their huge, scared eyes as they looked back at me from where they'd settled in the boat's wake.

This time, however, I had a presentiment that matters wouldn't be so simple so I woke Larry out of a sound sleep as I rushed forward to get the plastic stand. Sure enough, when Larry followed me out he found the bird was far too heavy to lift with the stand. Larry explained that the ghastly smell was primarily the stomach contents which the bird had regurgitated in an effort to make himself lighter. That way he could take off on the impossibly small runway that we'd provided. {Larry knew the technique. In his fire-bombing days in Alberta in the 60s they left the bomb bay doors unlocked so that if they needed to gain altitude, they could drop the load of mud.}

We considered the tiny space, and decided we should somehow give him a 'platform' from which he could step up onto the top of the companionway steps and take off. So we released the lifeline gate back there, and Larry took a full garbage bag (that way if the bird imbued it with that horrific odor, we could place it in another garbage bag). With some more encouragement from Larry and a lot more rancid fish oil (these birds preen themselves with regurgitated oil, so every time he beat his wings he spread more of it around) the bird hopped up and took off - seemingly unharmed.

When I got up this morning, Larry was finishing cleaning a huge mess left on top of the solar panels which had to be scrubbed with a long brush. There were also the huge globs in the cockpit itself. The various birds who have found the top of the mast a welcome roost had not only left huge piles of feces beneath them, but had damaged the inexpensive visual wind indicator at the top of the mast. Mercifully, they left the pricey electronic version and the radio antenna unharmed.

That makes at least six birds who have inconvenienced us on this trip. There was the smaller black land bird who actually zoomed into the interior and past the sleeping Captain twice in one night, there were the two shearwaters who landed and spent the night together on the bow, there were the two birds who pole-sat on the mast and now this huge fellow.

Birds should know their place!

At 6/22/2016 23:20 (utc) our position was 17°28.71'S 156°59.04'E

Friday, 17 June 2016

The last Islands

When a pilot is lined up on the final part of his approach to a runway, the appropriate action if all is not well is to pull up and fly around for another attempt or to go elsewhere. This action might be taken because of an alignment problem, an obstacle on the runway, poor speed control or any number of other reasons.

With this in mind, the fading light of early evening brought us an amazing display of flying technique by two talented aviators. A pair of shearwaters first identified our solar panels as a suitable landing field for an overnight rest stop. The more conservative of the two went into a holding pattern a short distance away while the other made repeated approaches to land. The approach was made into the wind and runway alignment was carried out some distance off. Control appeared to be very precise notwithstanding the pitching and rolling of the boat. Had this bird observed carrier landings? The first few attempts were broken off some five meters before landing. Were they perhaps planned as an initial reconnaissance or was the wind turbine towering over the solar panels correctly identified as a serious danger? This bird was an obvious master in the air but wasn't going to risk getting hurt in the final stages of the landing.

After a few observations, each preceded by the same careful approach, the shearwater concluded that his required standard of safety could not be met.

Reconnaissance then shifted to the bow railing. This provided a clearer uncluttered overshoot [if the approach wasn't working out] but offered the disadvantage of greater turbulence around the headsail in the final part of the landing. Our genoa sail denied us a view of the final part of the approach but we observed that the first attempt was abandoned just before touchdown due to a sudden pitch down of our bow. The third attempt was successful.

The companion shearwater must have been watching and learning. It made no attempt on the stern and its only failures on the bow seemed to result from the first bird serving as an obstacle. Attempt three was successful for it too.

The two birds spent the night on the bow railing, perhaps feeling it safer than floating on an ocean sprinkled with the occasional submerged predator. In the morning they left and were not seen again. It only took me twenty minutes with a stiff brush and the seawater deckwash hose to erase all evidence of their stay.

* * *

Mary Anne asked in her last posting " ... where are all the other boats?"

Ships always seem to appear at 3am and the Liberian registered "High Venture" was no exception. He appeared directly behind us on the same heading as us and making twice our speed. Obviously someone needed to do something.

When we are in a sail configuration that makes maneuvering difficult, we do not hesitate to call large ships on the ocean and invoke our privileged position to ask them to alter course [under international rules, vessels under sail have the right of way]. On this occasion though, with our current sail situation, it was easy for us to alter course to allow a safe distance between us. The tanker, bound for Singapore, subsequently passed two miles away and looked very large even at that distance.

So why a ship here when there have been so few? Ships are funnelled into defined routes by natural obstacles. They are to be found in large numbers off convex coasts [like South Africa or Central America leading to Panama] or at channels through island chains. In this case, we are heading to pass through a 25 mile wide gap between some islands in northern Vanuatu. We want to split this gap dead center to be as far from island insects and local boating as possible; clearly the ship had the same plan.

As an aside, a book we have aboard authoritatively mentions that the last human was eaten in a mountain village in Vanuatu [then New Hebrides] in 1956. We weren't particularly worried as dietary habits have no doubt changed considerably in the intervening sixty years.

* * *

In the golden age of commercial sail, large cargo carrying square riggers averaged about 100 nautical miles a day on passage. Certainly those ships could be very fast under a sky of canvas in the strong winds of high latitudes but they had slow days too. In an efficient modern sailing vessel like ours, we plan our voyages on an average of 135 miles a day ... 160 miles is reckoned to be a good day; 100 to be lackluster.

Our progress has been mostly disappointing in light winds since Samoa with most days hovering around the 110 mark. The winds now seem to be back and the day's runs should pop back up to 150. Morale on a sailing vessel is very connected with progress [and food] so the improvement in winds is a good thing. The food, of course, has been excellent all along!

* * *

Today is our forty sixth day at sea. That matches our longest trip to date, our 2004 non-stop from Strait of Juan de Fuca to New Zealand. This trip will probably prove to be eight days or so longer than that.

We have lots of food aboard and 250 liters of fuel remain ... good for some 400 nautical miles of motoring [but there is lots of wind to fill the sails so little of it will be used]. The cashews are all gone but a good supply of Lindt chocolate bars remains. Rum is gone but gin and wine remain. All paper products from toilet paper through paper towel to ink-jet printer paper are abundant. We're very happy with the provisioning!

After these surrounding islands of Vanuatu fade astern, there is no more land until Australia somewhat over 1000 miles ahead. Some precision in navigation will be required as there are still a number of reefs to avoid but it truly will feel like we are on the home stretch.

After almost two months at sea, an arrival will be welcome!

At 6/17/2016 21:14 (utc) our position was 14°37.95'S 167°38.10'E