Passage to Australia and drama on the high seas

28/6/14

Cairns Marina

28 June
 Arrived at our anchorage point just opposite the Cairns Marina around midnight. It was dark and hard to see so we anchored at the end of a line of yachts, leaving enough room for Oda and Stormvogel who were an hour behind us. Stormvogel had trouble with their anchor winch so had to raft up to us, they arrived around 1.00am. We had a couple of drinks and crashed. Woke up at 8.30am and then straight into our marina berth where the customs officer was literally waiting at the dock for us. This was our first customs visit (in Vanuatu you had to go looking for them and they never boarded us) They were lovely and it didn’t take too long. We complete the same arrival card as you do when you fly in. Then the quarantine guy came, he went right through the boat and he took our fresh food that was left on the boat. Checked the alcohol, but didn’t take any thank goodness, and gave us a bill for $618, an extra $300 because we cleared in on a Saturday! Bit of a rip off we thought.

Had dinner with Oda, Stormvogel and Michelle Black, a good friend and work colleague. Michelle has a fantastic new job, she is now a FIFI (fly in fly out) and works two weeks in Cairns and one at home on the Gold Coast. Was great to see her and catch up on all the news. Have just met Sam who flew in at midnight so will now get some much needed sleep.



27/6/14

Our approach to Cairns – Yippeeee

27 June
Was a tricky night with bad weather, a front came through which brought stronger winds and big waves. We had to negotiate through a group of 3 reefs, with current, tide and wind all against each other. Had to offset our course by 8% to stay on our rhumline. Neither of us got much sleep, super tired and looking forward to hitting land tonight around midnight.



26/6/14

Monkey on Oda

26 June
Getting closer to Australia each day, we are getting excited. All 3 boats making better speed than we thought and we expect to arrive late Friday night now. It’s lumpy and we had a bit of rain which is good to wash all the salt off the boat. We got a call from Elizabeth on the VHF to say they had an animal on board, Per was prancing round the deck of his boat in a monkey suit! We should be paying this guy he is hilarious.

Pacific Dawn passed behind us today, we have seen her a few times on our travels so far, and this lady sure gets around. Weather deteriorated and is not comfortable cruising at all. Huge swells and up to 30k winds we are getting pushed around, it’s impossible to do much as it’s so bad. We didn’t even eat dinner. We are really tired now.



25/6/14

Slurpee’s and trees

25 June
Reasonable cruising today, had to be on our best lookout mode as there have been lots of container and cargo ships passing in front or behind of us. None that we have had to change course for or contact though. Opened the fridge to get lunch and discovered a can of coke had frozen on the bottom shelf, and exploded. I think there wasn’t one thing in the whole fridge that didn’t have slurpee on it. That was fun cleaning the fridge in a sea roll, the door keeps wanting to close on you so one person has to hold the door while the other one does the clean-up. Eventually the door holder went and got a couple of elastic tie down straps and held it open that way. We sat up on the fly bridge for a short time and Robbie spotted something sticking up out of the water. Looked like half a dozen thin poles. He wanted to divert and investigate and I didn’t, being the scaredy cat that I am I said no what if it’s some sort of fishing line and we get it around the prop. So he took photos instead.(and he called me a worry wart!) Turns out it was tree branches, and I would say there was a log underneath it as there were lots of birds flying around also.

Stormvogel are going well and now Robbie and Peter and Per are making plans for the repair job in Cairns. Paul Grace has organised the lift out, the engineering shop and materials for a new shaft. We are hopeful the repairs or rebuild can be completed as quickly as possible so Stormvogel can continue on their journey  through Indonesia with us.



24/6/14

Secret to sailing

24 June
I finished watch about 3am and actually went into the bed to sleep. Normally on a long passage I sleep in the pilothouse, on the lounge behind the chart table. I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning, 17 knots of wind but the swell was only 1 metre so it was gorgeous cruising conditions. We had some chitchat on the radio with Stormvogel and Oda, discussing the previous day’s events. They are in good spirits considering what they have just been through. We are all so relieved it has been such a good outcome for Stormvogel, it could have been so much worse. The cement has set and there is now only 2 or 3 litres of water coming in per hour. Peter and Heidi had to manually bail the water out overnight as they didn’t want to ruin the bilge pumps with the mucky water from the cement. Paul Grace is doing some preliminary investigating for Peter as to where he can get the boat on the hardstand in Cairns, and who he can get to repair the boat. This may mean they cannot now participate in the Sail2Indonesia rally. This will be so disappointing for them, but also for us, we just love the company of Oda, and Stormvogel, we have all become good friends, even more so after yesterday’s adventures. They all have such a fantastic sense of humour. Just one example today ( there are many every day)

Per was radioing Stormvogel, who didn’t answer. So he radioed us, and I was on watch.

JoJo, he says “I have a sailing secret to tell you, I am not going to tell Stormvogel now because they didn’t answer me. I am going really fast now as I have all my sails up, but the big secret is that I have Elizabeth’s breast holders up too and we are really flying”!! He just cracks me up so much.

We are now over half way to Cairns! Yay what a great feeling, I just can’t wait to see land, and the kids again. This morning I saw a sea snake over a metre long on the top of the water. I wasn’t sure it was a snake but it was quite close to the boat and I could see its head. Welcome to Australian waters! Robbie had a good few hours sleep this morning which is good. It’s now 4.00pm and the wind has dropped to 12 knots, it’s just lovely for us motor cruisers but not so for our sailing companions – their speed has dropped to 4 or 5 knots. We will slow down also to keep within a mile or two of them, all the way to Cairns.

 



 


 

23/6/14

Mayday Stormvogel

23 June
At around 8.00pm last night we got a call on the SAT phone from Per on Oda to say that Stormvogel was talking on water and may sink, can we turn around and come back to assist. We thought he was joking at first, as Per is a first class comedian and has us in stiches of laughter every day. But Alas, he was not joking. Robbie immediately turned around, this is scary in the swell and the pitch darkness, and there was no moon. We were 35 miles ahead of them by now so it was going to take us a while to get back to them. Robbie pushed Southern Star as fast as he dared, it was a scary time for me. It only took us a couple of hours to get to them. Paul Grace rang the Australian rescue for us as we were in Australian waters but they were already aware of the situation as I had emailed (through the SAT phone) Maritime NZ to notify them that we had turned around, and why and gave them our new position. After consultation with Peter, Per and Robbie it was decided not to do anything in the dark of night, it was just too dangerous. To get our duck off is a mission even in daylight, let alone in the night with the wind and waves, and trying to navigate across to Stormvogel would have been extremely dangerous.

Peter had got a bilge working and had discovered it was broken bolts in his centreboard where the leak was. Peter had gone to bed and heard an unusual water noise. When he investigated he discovered they had water up to the floorboards, the bilges were full of water. Of course they did not know where it was coming from at first, so it must have been absolutely terrifying for them, in the middle of the Coral Sea between Vanuatu and Australia and no land anywhere near. Once they discovered where it was and got the bilge working they could make a plan of action. Peter had asked Per to initiate a mayday call and he set off their EPIRB also. Per contacted Norwegian emergency services and got things underway, which also included notification to Australian Rescue who in turn organised a container ship in the vicinity to divert to Stormvogels position, and a plane to drop off rescue equipment from Vanuatu, if needed. Once it was ascertained that the amount of water coming in was under control they were able to cancel the boat and plane and turn off the EPIRB. We all maintained a 2 hour radio sched, (a scheduled time to contact each other on the VHF radio) all night to ensure that Stormvogel was OK and that there was no change in the amount of water coming in.

Around 8:00am Robbie got the duck off and went and collected Per. Because it was so dangerous Robbie and Per had formulated a plan that if Robbie fell in the water, Oda would be right beside us while he took the duck off and Oda would execute a 90 degree turn across our stern with a fender on a long rope off the stern of Oda that Robbie could grab. Per did a couple of practice runs and I have to say he handled that Yacht like it was a speed boat. Robbie went and collected Per from Oda, Per had timber and tools from Oda and Robbie had a spare new bilge pump, tools and rubber pipe for the bilge. So they boarded Stormvogel and spent some time evaluating the best way to reduce the water flow, it was decided to put more, bigger timber against the end of the shaft to load up the seal and then installing the 2nd bilge pump. Earlier Peter had asked me via VHF if we had any cement. It was suggested from his friend in Germany that he could support the centreboard by cementing it up so it could not move and allow more water in. While the boys were doing this I was getting a call every hour on the SAT phone from Australian Rescue Centre. They were so helpful and he asked me what he could do. I said a couple of bags of cement would be good, not even dreaming that he could produce this. However, he rang me back half an hour later and said there’s a container ship the “Kweilin”, on the way coming to drop two bags of cement off, it is 44 miles away and will be there in about 3 hours. Wow, I was blown away with this. So I informed the skippers and they continued securing the bilges, running wires and pipes for the bilge pump. After discussion it was agreed that Robbie and Per would go alongside the container ship in the duck to collect the cement, then they would drop off the cement to Stormvogel, then drop Per back to Oda and then try and get Robbie and the duck back on Southern Star. The captain of the ship agreed that he would wait and we could complete these manoeuvres on the leeward side of the ship, so we had some protection from the wind and waves. First of all, Robbie and Per went alongside the ship in the duck to collect the cement, which was roped down to them in hessian sacks. Then Stormvogel manoeuvred into the calm spot (which wasn’t that calm) and Robbie and Per delivered the two 60kg cement bags. Then Oda, being skippered by Elizabeth had to manoeuvre into the calm spot to allow Per to board. Elizabeth handled this like a true professional skipper. It took only a few seconds and Per was safely on board. Then it was my turn.

I had to drive up to the container ship, go alongside and hold her there in the leeward side for Robbie to get the duck on and secured. This normally takes 10-15 minutes in calm conditions! It was terrifying, the ship was drifting towards me, it was still windy and the duck was flying about on the crane out of control in the wind it was so dangerous. Then the ship drifted so close to me I had to break off and go around and do it all again. We eventually got it on although we did some damage to the duck and the boat but Robbie didn’t care too much so long as everyone was safe. It was terrifying to watch Robbie try and control a 500+kilos of duck flying around on the winch and spinning wildly around, hitting our boat and Robbie. I was trying to keep Southern Star in position and not hit the ship. Eventually Peter said put it on autopilot and go and help him. So I put her to a 90degree angle to the ship and went to help. It was horrific and we couldn’t get the duck to sit on the 3 cradle chocks. In the end we got the front on and the back of the duck sitting on the deck, it was the best we could do. The whole time there was about 20 people standing on the deck of the ship, taking photos. Once Robbie was back in the pilothouse I burst into tears (you all know I am a big sook) I was shaking like a leaf. This had really tested my nerves, and my boat driving skills. I consider this comes under technical, and I warned Robbie when we very first met that “I don’t do technical”!

We all radioed the Captain of “Kweilin” to thank him and his crew for their fantastic service. (Peter and Heidi had put a bottle of scotch and some Euro’s in a bag and sent it back up on the rope for them.)

It was a huge relief to get underway again towards Cairns. Although, the whole time this was going down, we were underway, slowly heading in the direction of Cairns, albeit very slowly. Peter had found that the water leak was minimal if the boat was underway and on an even keel.

Poor Peter and Heidi then spent a few hours mixing the cement and getting it into place, and then having to clean up. They must have been absolutely exhausted and worn down. We are so very impressed with how they handled this disaster.



 

22/6/14

Ships in the night

22 June
Didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, Robbie was really tired so he went down to the stateroom to get some sleep. I just felt like lying down on the lounge in the Pilothouse at around 3.30am I was so tired. Surely I could just have a wee doze. I glanced at the Furuno AIS monitor and there was a target, 8 miles from us. A ship underway, the Trans Future travelling at 19.3 knots per hour. That soon woke me up! The Mac computer with C-Map gives us their course, our course overlaid on the chart, and some information on the ship, name, speed, cargo, mmsi number and heading. It was very obvious we were on a collision course. I didn’t want to wake Robbie as he badly needed the sleep but I was scared, it was so dark and the swell was 3-4 metres and still pushing us around. I went and spoke to Robbie and he muttered just slow down you’ll be right. So I monitored, and watched, and worked out that it was going to be a very close call. I tried to wake Robbie and he just wouldn’t wake up. So I made the decision to speed up, rather than slow down. We were pushing current against us and only doing 5.4 knots, to slow down even more makes steering a nightmare and I decided I would rather be in front of the ship than beside it. So I upped the revs from 1650 to 1800. It seemed to take forever for us to increase ground and the ship seemed to be flying towards us at a great rate of knots. I radioed the vessel – Trans Future, Trans Future this is Southern Star, Southern Star on channel 16. Good morning Ma’am, how can I help you was the reply. Just wondering if you can see me on your AIS, we are going to have a very close crossing, I said. I am monitoring you on AIS was his response. I have sped up I replied, hoping that he would either slow down or turn slightly to the East, so that we are both taking evasive action. He said it will be OK. I could see his lights getting closer and the ship looked huge. He crossed behind our stern, about a mile behind us. He had changed his course slightly thank goodness. Everything is just that bit scarier in the dark. Thankfully we have Radar, and the AIS. If you were just relying on sight alone it would be stressful and difficult to tell how far away the ship is and even the direction it is going can be hard to tell until it’s quite close. I suppose as we complete more ocean crossings this will become easy and not stressful. In my inexperience I found it quite stressful, but I was pleased I was able to leave Robbie sleeping and handle it myself. Once I would not have been able to do that. I am getting braver!

Most of the day today was big, messy swells again and the wind picked up again to 19 knots. There were also rain squalls around, not good for Oda and Stormvogel, they are now 24 miles behind us. We are in radio contact with SSB only now, at 6.30am, and 6.30pm each day. I am sending a position report each morning via email through our SAT phone to Maritime NZ, John Martin the ICA organiser, Paul & Tracey and our close family.

About 3.30pm the swell subsided so we did a few jobs and I put the roast lamb on, for a belated birthday dinner. There’s a nice cool breeze, it’s been hell having all the windows and doors shut with the rough seas. Tomorrow we will be nearly half way. We are hoping to hit Cairns on the 28th.

We picked up a hitchhiker around sunset. A young chick, but quite a big bird sat on our bow sprit for a few hours. Once we got the call to turn around to Stormvogel it was too windy for him and off he flew.



21/6/14

Robbie’s birthday

21 June
Robbie’s birthday today, and our wedding anniversary. I gave him my present which was an underwater camera. He also had a gift from Jessie, a lovely T Shirt and from Peter and Heidi a Vanuatu handmade bag with balloons, a can of beer and a “head light” – a head band light which all the yachties have and are fantastic for night excursions in the duck, you have torch light but your hands are free. Per & Elizabeth had already given Robbie a gift before we left on Wednesday night. He also has one of the “Weipa annual fishing classic” shirts from Kristie which he will receive when we get to Cairns. These are great shirts and this will be his 3rd one. He loves them to bits and wears them all the time. The weather is improving thank goodness and we now have only 13 knots of wind and the sea is slowly easing, only about 2.5m swell now and they are a bit further apart so it’s a much gentler ride. Well that didn’t last for long. Wind picked up again and the horrible messy swells are back that pick up the boat and turn the arse around.



20/6/14

Let’s go surfing

20 June
Had a pretty rough night and not much sleep. We shared the watch. Robbie likes to sleep in the cabin, I don’t. I sleep in the Pilot house on the lounge behind the table. The sea is rough and big swells are frequent, they lift the back of the boat and turn it around and then we surf down the wave. They are close together and it is not nice. It’s extremely hard to do anything in the galley, I am so pleased I cooked a lot of meals and froze them. It’s even difficult just to heat them. Can’t do it in the microwave the plates slide around too much. We have to heat it in a pot on the stove, we have special pot holders we screw onto the cooktop and they keep the pot from moving. Found a decent size flying fish in the cockpit today.



19/6/14

Departure from

Vanuatu

19 June
We left at 11:00am from our mooring at Aore Island Resort for Cairns. There was very little wind at the mooring but once we got out of the channel the wind was up around 25 knots and the swell wasn’t too bad to start with but quickly got worse, to between 3 and 4 metres. It was messy and very uncomfortable. The first night on a passage seems to be the worst and you don’t get much sleep. I was on watch around midnight when the motor made a definite strange noise and feel. I called Robbie (he bounds up those stairs in seconds) He checked it out and could hear it too. We think it was rope or fishing net round the propeller. We have a spur cutter on the prop and it did come right. We also had some fuel filter pressure issues. Robbie has been polishing the fuel continually and he has had to change the main filters. We believe the fuel we got in Luganville is dirty.

 

 

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