Monday, 15 August 2016

//WL2K - Passage: Palau to Ninigo

Dear Friends;

We arrived at Mal Island in the Ninigo Islands, Papua New Guinea, anchor down and set, at 2321 UTC (0921 local time) on Tuesday, August 9, 2016. During our challenging passage from the Republic of Palau we averaged 3.1 knots, about the speed of a brisk walk. Our fastest speed was almost 8.5 knots and our slowest, 0 knots. Our average speed for this passage was well below what we would normally expect, but considering we had days of almost calm conditions and Carina was carrying such a heavy payload, we were pleased we got here mostly under sail, using fewer than eight gallons of diesel.

Of the 12 days and 883 miles at sea, we had about 7 days of light winds where we were sometimes only able to coax Carina to speeds of 1.5 kts or so in the right direction. Our most frustrating 24 hour run found us only 30 nm further along on the trip. Other days we spent in near gale conditions with driving rain that reduced visibility to a point just beyond our bow. We barely squeaked by one approaching squall with roiling black clouds that could have made footage for a movie about Armageddon.

We had a few failures en route, as we always expect, and only a couple of those were of concern. Our mast collar developed a leak - an annoyance, our man-overboard pole flag retainer slipped down the backstay - only a problem for the service life of the flag, our apparent wind indicator appears bent - perhaps by a boobie trying to land on it, though we haven't yet been up the mast to check on it so we really don't know what's up. Three of the four bolts on the fairlead for our starboard main boom preventer failed, and we broke a Monitor windvane steering control line on day two. The last item was the only one that created a stressful repair underway. We solved the preventer fairlead failure by re-rigging both sides with new blocks to the genoa track. This is actually a better configuration than the one we were using.

The Monitor windvane control line failure is our own fault. We DID check the lines before departing, it is on our list to check, but we determined them to be serviceable. In hindsight, a poor judgment. The main problem was when the Monitor Windvane steering control line broke under tension in an intense squall, the line came completely out of the framework of the unit and was dangling in the water astern, and our self-steering was disabled. At the time we had waves of 2 meters or more, confused seas and winds at near gale force.

We immediately rolled in the genoa and hove to, lashing the wheel to windward (rudder to lee). This makes the situation much calmer, though Carina, bow to wind and "parked", still rode up and down the large waves that often buried parts of the windvane. We have a liferaft, anchor and outboard engine stored astern when underway and other bits such as fenders. Moving the movable, we attempted to reach the windvane to snake a new line through. Not. Using a stiffer line of the same size got us almost there, but again, we failed to push the new line out the bottom turning block so we could run it to the paddle. It finally became apparent one of us would have to climb out onto the unit on the stern of the boat, during the storm. Leslie, being more nimble, did so.

Tethered to the boat by her harness, she climbed over the pushpit and wiggled her small self onto the windvane's frame. Squatting on the frame, one hand gripping the pushpit firmly, she could not reach the block where the line was stuck, so she sat down on the frame and hugged it with her right arm, sticking her legs out the other side. As we struggled, Carina's stern was frequently sunk into wave troughs and Leslie's butt was submerged. In what seemed like hours, but was only minutes (with Philip gripping Leslie with white knuckles), she firmly grasped the end of the new line and pulled it through the hole in the frame and into the fitting on the paddle. Handing the line's end to Philip, he pulled it aboard, still gripping Leslie tightly until she came back over the pushpit. Breathing now, we tied a slipknot. The line we had fed through the frame was not the line we needed, so we still had to hand sew and tape-to-smooth the new line to the "messenger" and feed it through. This went smoothly and our new "Amsteel" single braid, stronger than steel, line was installed. We then replaced the undamaged starboard line since it was a twin to the line that had broken. The whole repair took us about 2 hours.

In an area of thousands of square miles of Pacific ocean, you would think that potential collisions would be astronomically rare. But on this journey, we had three huge cargo ships - of the dozen or so we saw - whose reciprocal track was EXACTLY 180 degrees from ours! This meant that, unless one or both vessels altered course, a collision was likely. This is a bit nerve wracking at 0200 on a "dark and stormy night".

It was here where our AIS instrument really shined. For you land lubbers, an AIS (Automatic Identification System) is an electronic device that every deep draft vessel plying international waters, and most pleasure yachts, carry. Many nationally-registered vessels, such as fast ferries in Indonesia do not have an AIS. And, even if an AIS is legally required that doesn't mean the vessel will actually turn the device on. Our buddies on the mega-purse seiners rarely show an AIS signal. But, when a vessel does transmit, and most large vessels we encounter do, they put out an electronic signal that shows the vessel name, flag, port of call, destination and - much more importantly - the speed and course which is translated by our instrument into a closest point of approach (in nautical miles) and a time to the closest point of approach (CPA, TCPA) relative to Carina. Carina's AIS puts out a similar messages, though we are a class B unit appropriate for our size, so we don't have as much power or as many details.

Because of this information, whenever it is necessary, we are able to call the other vessel by name on the VHF radio on the international standby frequency, channel 16, apprise them of our presence if they haven't already seen us, and discuss a possible course change. When we are under sail, we are supposed to be the stand-on vessel, meaning we have more difficulty maneuvering. In this regard, the motor vessel becomes the give way vessel and is supposed to change course. The captains or watch officers we talked with on this trip may all have had heavy accents but all spoke English and all were polite and professional and altered course by a few degrees to pass us at a distance of 1 to 2 nm. Once we realized that our chosen passage almost exactly followed a busy shipping area to Asia, our watch-officer - one or the other of us is on watch during the entire 24 hours - became even more diligent about scanning the horizon frequently.

Our passage from Palau was during a waning moon and we had many nights of inky skies where even the stars were hidden by clouds. It's a bit disconcerting to be rolling along at 5 to 6 knots without being able to see anything ahead of you except for what might show up on radar with the rain gain nearly maxed out (rain return being subtracted in an attempt to see a ship hidden in a squall.) We did see, in the daytime, two FADs (fish accumulating devices) along the way. These are large, metal floating cylinders about three meters long that are tethered to the sea floor sometimes, 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) below. FADs are unlit and won't generally return a signal on radar unless you are just about to hit them. Some fishing vessels with attach themselves to a FAD and have small boats fishing or tending to smaller floats. FADs were a constant worry for us.

Just eighty-some-odd miles from our destination, we paused long enough to toast King Neptune with a healthy tot of rum as we crossed the equator under sail for the 11th time.

Our arrival at Ninigo corresponded with dawn and as we motored against a light southerly wind down the western side of the atoll, its motus began to become visible in the rising sun. Checking and re-checking our position on a satellite photo we pointed Carina's bow towards the pass, ran its rapids and were soon inside the protected lagoon and at anchor. It seemed almost impossible to believe we were finally here at Ninigo after months of planning and our longer-than-expected passage. We were soon enveloped by the island community and it has been a great stay so far...we have much still to do and many stories to tell. Until then...

Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake

At 8/11/2016 and 7:16 UTC (GMT) our position was: 01°23.54'S / 144°10.80'E

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