PASSAGE REFLECTIONS

We have learned that cruising and in particular long-distance passages require among other things, a mix of risk mitigation, backup systems, resilience, adaptability and optimism. Both of us need to have this mindset to deal with unexpected events.

As we fix our first alcoholic sundowners in eight days, we reflect on the 8-day passage. We always do this, debrief what went well, what didn’t and what can we do differently or better next time.

Ted stopped working at Garmin on 31 December, and from 1 January Southern Star became his full-time job. This started with the haul out, which took three times as long as anticipated, and cost three times more than planned. But this was an important haul out, and an opportunity to have routine maintenance performed on all critical systems. Prop and shaft, which turned out to be a problem best caught and fixed in the yard, stabilizers, thrusters, water maker, engine mounts, life raft, and dozens of items (see separate blog on haul out) which we wanted to assess before the trip.

We had learned on a previous passage in the US the consequences of not having detailed and frequent weather updates on passage. Installing Starlink has been a gamechanger, in that we are able to receive daily updates from the Rally weather expert, as well as the customized and very bespoke routing from Chris Parker’s team at Marine Weather Centre, which gave us accurate forecasting and valuable guidance in our decision-making. We have the backup Garmin In Reach for weather, should our Starlink fail.

The decision to change course mid-trip and make directly for Savusavu rather than making the planned stop at Minerva Reef is a classic example of not getting locked into plans – things will change out there, and we need to recognize and discuss those pivot points, and put aside any emotional desire to stick with the plan, especially if the plan no longer makes good sense, or introduces additional risk to crew and vessel.

Joining the Rally gave us access to a wealth of information about passage making, including from sailors who have made the trip many times. We spent evenings watching the videos, attending the Zoom webinars and while a lot of the content related to sailboats, much was also relevant to us. We were reminded to review our Man Overboard and Abandon Ship procedures, and we spent an afternoon looking at our two ditch bags to consider what items we would want to add to these. Those bags sat under the dining room table in the salon throughout the passage, with a list attached to remind us of the other items to grab.

The Rally also provided additional comfort in that all Rally boats were being actively monitored by the weather router, the Rally organizer, and other participants. It is good to know that when we are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we have several sets of eyes watching your track and position. Signing up to Predict Wind enabled this facility, and also let us provide the tracker link to friends and family so they could see where we were, and conditions around us.

When underway and big seas or uncomfortable conditions hit, that is not the time to run around securing things. We spent significant time getting the boat ready for the passage. Ted spent a day in the engine room, securing all the additional oil containers and other items stored in the engine room and lazarette, to prevent movement, spillage and breakage. I spent several days going through every drawer and cupboard in the boat, considering what would not be needed and could be permanently secured, and what items might require access during the trip. As a result of this preparation, we had almost no noise on Southern Star, even in the worst conditions.

Another learning from a previous passage was that the large door of our Subzero refrigerator can fly open in very heavy conditions. We put an additional lock on the door to prevent this happening.

We always have an extra line on our anchor to secure it, but an additional line was run through the anchor and around a deck cleat to prevent any nasty occurrences underway. Any time on the bow while underway is to be avoided where possible.

An afternoon was spent securing the boat deck. The rollup dinghy was secured and tied down under the large tender, which had additional lines over the cover, and additional lines securing it to the deck. Kayaks sit in racks off the boat deck, and while these are high off the water, also had additional lines to secure them. While securing the boat deck, we checked the steering of the large Rendova rib, and this had seized again. We turned Southern Star around in the marina to enable us to launch the tender, and the team at Sea power in Opua towed it back to their shop and serviced it for us. Better to have discovered this now, than when launching the tender at a remote location.

Southern Star has storm windows, which are thick Perspex sheets that screw into fixings against each of the six large salon windows, to prevent heavy seas smashing the glass. While Southern Star was turned around in her berth, this gave us access to the portside of the boat and we were able to attach the storm windows on both sides.

In considering food for what was to be a five-day passage, items needed to be prepared that could be eaten cold, or easily reheated, and eaten. We have also learned that on passages, we tend to snack, rather than have large meals. With our four-hour watch routine, this means we are usually eating separately, although we try to share dinner. Hard boiled eggs, cooked chicken legs, cottage pie, carrot and celery sticks, snack bars, jerky sticks and Up&Go drinks all worked well. The large fruit cake prepared by our Bayswater friend Sandy, was a great addition to the passage pantry. In fact, the food we had prepared lasted us the full 8 days, supplemented by a few meals of fresh tuna.

We perform four hourly engine checks on passage, including temperature checks of critical components. These checks identified a leaking stabilizer, a temperamental bilge pump, seawater ingress into the lazarette through the hatch, a loose rudder bolt, and a blown-out fuel filter O-ring causing a fuel leak, all of which were promptly fixed and/or monitored throughout the passage.

Our Fusion stereo also had an intermittent issue, but in Nordhavn style, we have not one but two backup Bluetooth speaker options, so have had our downloaded music throughout the eight days.

We had swapped out our navigation computer last year, as it was periodically restarting and we thought it might be coming to the end of its life. However, the replacement laptop also started to display the same issue. We still had the old laptop and reconnected it after uploading the relevant charts and tracks. Interesting, the same error displayed, which appeared to be related to one of the devices connecting through a port. Once that port was disconnected, we had no further problems.

We appreciated our stabilizers, especially when watching Nyla pass us with no stabilization. Turns out, one of the stabilizers was not performing correctly, and we only identified this as sea state conditions deteriorated for a second time. We did a reset, and immediately noticed a significant improvement in the stability of the boat – should have checked that earlier – a lesson for next time.

We ran an ongoing list throughout the passage of tasks to attend to when we reached the marina. This included (in order of priority) diagnosing and fixing the generator, re-checking the water maker, cleaning up in the engine room and bilge from the fuel filter spillage, emptying out the lazarette and washing it down to get rid of any salt residue from the seawater ingress, wiping down every interior surface in the pilothouse and salon to get rid of salt air residue, washing the boat including getting a ladder out to reach the large spotlight and other equipment above the stack, which were covered in soot, finishing up blogs, removing storm windows to allow ventilation in the salon, doing laundry, and catchup up on sleep. Longer term tasks include addressing the ventilation issues in the engine room.

A few days out of Savusavu we learned of a fellow Rally participant who had run aground on a reef between Minerva and Savusavu. It seemed the yacht had been under full sail, and the location had been misjudged. The pictures were heartbreaking to any boater – the yacht heeled over with its sails still up, fully aground. The crew were safely offloaded, but the boat was lost. It was a sobering reminder that all our planned routes in Fiji would need to be firstly prepared on our Coastal Explorer navigation system, then downloaded and checked against satellite photos to ensure there were no uncharted obstacles or shallow areas. Any necessary adjustments would be made before the route was finalized and reloaded to our navigation computer for our trip.

Rally boat lost on the reef

These were some of the learnings from the past eight days. But there was a lot to appreciate.

Enjoy the moments. We loved the two evenings we were able to have a mocktail on the flybridge in relatively benign conditions. Several evenings after sunset we would stand together on the Portuguese deck and look at the amazing stars above us. And then watch a full moon coming up later each night, giving fantastic night visibility, even though there was nothing to see. Good rest became precious, even if only a few hours at a time while the conditions were comfortable.

We remain in awe of our Nordhavn 47, our little ship, that just keeps on trucking with all its duplicate systems and equipment. Our main Lugger engine hummed along comfortably the entire trip. At 1600 rpm we were burning surprisingly little fuel, and although consumption increased when we bumped up to 1800rpm to try to outrun the weather, it was good to have the ability to travel at over 7 knots to make landfall at the right time. And we had saved fuel by diverting away from Minerva Reef.

Neither of us suffered any seasickness. We both had no appetite the first night, but other than that, the discomfort was in moving around the boat, rather than feeling unwell.

We had incredible weather advice from Chris Parker and his team at Marine Weather Centre. Their initial predictions were very close to what we experienced the first few days, and when we sought an update and their guidance on whether to bypass Minerva, they provided what turned out to be even more accurate information together with a recommendation to make straight for Savusavu. We recommended Chris to N60 Ara Roa and N43 Opal Lady, still waiting in Opua for a weather window. He really understands what power boats require and has many Nordhavns as clients.

Also, we had no northerly winds or wave direction. Having experienced those conditions previously, we were very keen to avoid that sea state on the trip. In fact, Southern Star took no water over her bow during the entire trip. So even in the most uncomfortable conditions, we were very grateful these were following us, rather than us banging into them.

Our Starlink performed seamlessly. It is astounding that in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we were able to get up to the minute weather around us and ahead of us, current news, as well as being able to communicate via WhatsApp with other boats around us, with our ground crew, and with friends and family. We never felt out of touch.

Finally, we appreciated each other. There were times of frustration with the conditions, fatigue from lack of rest, disappointment in having to miss visiting Minerva Reef, and the various technical issues that occurred. But we supported each other, boosted morale and allayed fears, and celebrated our achievement in crossing almost 1200 miles in our wonderful Nordhavn.

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