LOVE SONG HEADS FOR THE RED SEA
The serialized southeast tradewind filled the double headsails and propelled Love Song for a luxury sail across Ociania. WWVW and the U.S. Coast Guard in Hawaii gave the same reports of tranquil weather throughout the passage. During the final stage of the crossing, the list of defects for my 20 year old craft lengthened to the point where corrective action in port was required or undesirable consequences could be suffered. The bulwark permitted water to enter the cabin in numerous areas, the satellite navigator and rudder were malfunctioning, and the diesel failed to operate. Back to the old ways of sailing without electronic navigation and an engine. The bulwark is not new on the list of deficiencies; it was discovered years ago, but since short periods of time at sea resulted in small amounts of water collection, it was never considered worth the pain and strain of removing the teak cap rail. The thought of what it would be like beating upwind, in rough seas, day after day, painted a picture of a soggy mess in the living quarters. The handwriting on the wall announced that you have to pay to play.
Western Pacific visits were made in 2 vastly different islands. Tutuila, known abroad as American Samoa, is small, American influenced, and in many ways, similar to the U.S. Virign Islands. Pago Pago harbor is large picturesque, weather protected, and home port for many tuna clippers which supply 2, American owned fish canneries. Reasonably priced food, boat hardware, and fuel ($0.61/gallon) made this a major resupply point. During the Pacific crossing a common tropical staph infection, symptomatically detected as small boils, was contracted. The malady was promptly rectified by an antibiotic, prescribed by a hospital physician. his services were acquired by submitting the mandatory, lifetime, $1.00 registration fee. This fee, to be sure, supports everything from a bandage to surgery. A primary concern is illness or injury at sea or in a foreign land. The excellent, economical, and rapid service provided at the Pago Pago Hospital was wonderful relief.
Being at sea prevents my daily track workouts, which has been a habit for the past 27 years. I was surprised to hear about a 5000 meter race which was to be conducted over a beautiful seaside course. In the company of 2 Samoan runners and a resident American athlete, employed by the Education Department, easy workouts were endured for a few days to loosen stiff sea legs. The lack of time to obtain competitive form was overcome by stealth during the race. Desperately, I hung onto the pace of the lead pack, trying to look innocent until the final 400 meters when a sprint was made past all but one to earn a treasured second place finish.
Arrival in Port Moresby, New Guinea provided a sense of accomplishment as the completion of my first ocean crossing terminated successfully. Sightseeing in the second largest island in the world was sensational. Most of this sparsely populated island is inhabited by people who live in a natural state, untouched by the power of "progress". Meeting New Guineans was easy, and resulted in highly interesting travels to remote areas to observe cultural activities and artistry. Festive sailing excursions aboard Love Song to nearby islands with maximum capacity groups of newly acquired friends was cherished by all. They enjoyed the sail and I was in heaven when the home cooking filled the table. Sailing was refreshing as the strain of piloting in dangerous areas lessened with the help of passengers having local knowledge. The rest and relaxation in New Guinea prepared me for the interesting adventures that were to unfold in the Torres Strait.
Love Song responded to the vigorous climax of the southeast tradewind as she galloped 150 miles across the gulf of New Guines to pass north of Bramble Cay, the northern most extremity of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Of course, in keeping with the forces of nature, which seem to programLove Song , now 6 times out of 8, for nighttime arrivals at landfalls or important waypoints. This key waypoint was given a wide berth, allowing for strong current, reefs, and error. This occasion prompted registration of another memorable entry in the ship's logbook, as the long awaited moment had arrived to undertake the dangerous Torres Strait alone, and without satellite navigation and an engine. The Torres Strait is a 219 mile pathway between Cape York Peninsula, Australia, and New Guinea. This transit is made through shallow water and strong tidal currents, which is infested with enough reefs, rocks, and islands to make navigation a nightmare.
Timing is important when planning a passage from the Pacific Ocean, between Australia and New Guinea, and into the Indian Ocean. The dry season, from April to October, supports the mild, dry southeast monsoon. The wet season, from November to March, is the stormy northwest monsoon; hence, scheduling calls for entry into the Indian Ocean by my birthday, October 1. Lack of a positive position, darkness, heavy rainfall, and a fresh breeze induced me to reduce to bare poles, allowing slow progress toward Dalrymple Cay, where a vital change in course had to be made. As daylight arrived the only thing that could be seen in the overcast and rain was a 10 pound tuna on the fishing line, which was quickly placed in the oven beside the latest baking craze: wholewheat bread.
Perhaps, it was the quality of the breakfast that stimulated my brain to ponder the possibility that a stronger than normal current and the failure to see the light on Dalrymple Cay during low visibility may have resulted in by passing the critical waypoint. Prudence demanded sailing in the safest direction; in this case, where I came from. While making very little progress eastward, Mother Nature had mercy and allowed just enough sun to obtain a line of position which showed that the Cay was passed during the last 2 hours, and Warrior Reef could be as close as 1 mile. Moreover, a look through the binoculars verified the ominous presence of the eyesore with all 29 miles of length perpendicular to the easterly wind and current. An encounter with this infamous obstruction, the greatest hazard of the Torres Strait, could chew up a 35 foot plastic boat as a lion devours a double decker hamburger. The imagination does strange things at a time like this: usually exaggerating the situation; to wit, the gloomy agent of destruction seemed to be getting closer. Brave little Love Song and the Aires steering vane seemed to be acting in their own behalf as she slugged through the steep chop and 22 knot wind under abbreviated sails, while I viewed the reef in a state of amazement and disbelief that a tragedy was impeding. There was no use in worrying about the rig when progress could be more retrograde than forward. Only by hoisting more sail and smashing through the waves could forward motion be realized. Within 2 hours the decision was made to recover from that stirring event by anchoring in 60 feet off the reef which surrounds Arden Island. This is the typical situation for anchoring at islands in the Strait, and serious regard has to be given to the strong tidal current and the remote possibility of a wind shift. Standard procedure calls for anchoring in the only acceptable manner; that is, with the heaviest anchor practical and a chain rode. This is why Love Song is equipped at the bow with a 44 pound Bruce anchor, 300 feet of 5/16 inch high test chain, and a Simpson-Lawrence windlass. However, there are exceptions to the standard, as was the case in the Strait. It seems an impossible task, when alone, to haul in chain and sail out of a windy, reef-fringed, and current-beseiged anchorage without an engine. Having a Bruce anchor on a roller with 30 feet of chain and 600 feet of nylon line, permanently mounted in the cockpit proved invaluable.
Securing an island anchorage under sail requires the daring act of maneuvering close to the irregular surrounding reef and lowering the anchor in deep water. The entire process of dropping the sails and anchor, and hoisting the sails and anchor can be done from the safe and convenient cockpit. Daysailing is the most enjoyable and safest method for the solo sailor. There are at least 10 marginally safe anchorages en route. Slow daily progress, due to light wind and a strong current, made it convenient to anchor at Arden Island, Sue Island, and Twin Island. The shipping lane in Prince Wales Channel served as the unlikely station for 16 hours until a fair current during daylight delivered me to a safe haven where an additional 28 hours was spent awaiting suitable wind and current.
Some islands are inhabited by a small population, and all are off-limits to visitors. Controlled burning of vegetation in Northern Australia produces smoke which, along with placid water and low-lying islands, sets the stage for remarkable sun sets. The western end of the Torres Strait, recognized as Booby Island, was passed 6 days after entering at Bramble Cay. The Arafura Sea and the Van Diemen Gulf were traversed during the slow drift to Port Darwin. The VHF radio stood-in as a navigational substitute for the inoperative satellite navigation unit. Coastwatch aircraft, naval vessels, customs patrol boats, and fishing trawlers were frequently available on channel 16 to provide position reports, tidal information, and local knowledge. Maintenance, being a part of cruising and boat ownership, claims considerably more time than sailing; perhaps, 70% work and 30% play. The most worrisome defect recognized during the Pacific crossing was the loose rudder shaft. This problem disappeared with the installation of a locally-fabricated bushing. As an aspiring repairman, I'm good at dismantling mechanisms and then, hiring a specialist to diagnose and reassemble. This procedure was regarded appropriate as the head of a 2 cylinder, 11 horsepower, Kubota diesel was delivered to Steve's Engineering Shop. Steve, a brilliant diesel mechanic, welder, and motorcycle racer, promptly took remedial measures in the form of a valve overhaul and the installation of a newly fabricated raw water/exhaust mixer. Moral of the this event, as recited by Steve, while sharing grog at the pub: use it or lose it; don't treat the auxiliary power supply as ornamentation.
As a devotee of satellite navigation and a subscriber to the policy of having the odds in my favor prior to sailing towards the horizon, I had my Magnavox 4102 repaired. Salt water entered through the rear panel caused the destruction of the display unit and processor circuit card. Replacement and cleaning was done within days, and the technician raved about the survival capacity of the device. Appearently, the leaky bulwark accounted for the intrusion of salt water into the navigation station and subsequent advance along the antenna cable and into the set. Water has unfavorable migration characteristics for sailors. Once upon a time there was a 35 foot sloop with a leaky bulwark. The water was free to roam from the ocean to bulwark, and from the bulwark to cabin. This predicament existed until the owner one day, with tools in hand, conquered the aqueous condition after 103 hours of toil. The procedure involved removing the teak cap rail, extracting the wood spacer inside the bulwark, filling the area with epoxy resin and woven roving, and replacing the cap rail. Having a smooth operating engine, satellite navigation, and a dry cabin provided a sense of relief and heightened motivation.
Sail now, pay later became the motto in Australia; no other choice existed. The previously, undisclosed secret instrument: a Visa Card, salvation of the traveller, catalyst of financial transactions, last resource of economic continuance, left an impression on many registers. Execution of a $1,900.00 cash advance covered repair expenditures and, hopefully, will suffice until home port is in view.
Shopping, hiking an running are 3 avenues to sight-seeing, adventure, and meeting people. Shopping for universally familiar objects can be a complex chore; needless to mention the time and patience required to locate special items. Walking fingers through the yellow pages fails to accomplish the mission in many remote areas and one has to resort to the time-honored method of beating the pavement or dirt path and asking the local residents. This often leads to friendship and socializing. Examining charts and the World Atlas during quiet hours caused me to consider of the possibility of altering the planned route via the Panama Canal, Torres Strait, and Cape of Good Hope. After long deliberation, the single vote indicated the voyage would be directed north of Africa instead of south. Experiencing the Red Sea and Mediterranean, and taking a vacation in Middle Eastern Countries would be a reward for sailing the long solo miles. Certainly it would not be easier; the restricted waterway, heavy shipping, and variable weather conditions in the Red Sea and Mediterranean would offer problems not encountered in the open ocean trade-wind zone.
The entire month of August was spent performing repair work and, finally, on September 4th, Love Song cast off for the Indian Ocean, 4 weeks behind schedule. Armed with a boatload of provisions, a smooth operating engine, satellite, navigation, and a dry cabin, I felt in a high state of readiness and confidence. A charge was made late in the day to clear land by nightfall, but within the hour I fell victim to the typical dry-season pattern of light and variable wind. This time, thanks to an operable diesel, the boat motored out of the ship channel to a suitable anchorage on a shoal where the anchor found the bottom just as the current turned foul, sweeping all free-floating objects toward Darwin Harbor. Insufficient wind dictated occupation for the next 38 hours. Conditions were calm enough to permit a self inflicted haircut in the shower stall, a personal matter deserving attention, but neglected in port, due to the busy schedule.
Light headwind and calm continued throughout the 500 miles of the Van Diemen Gulf and Timor Sea. The halfway point in the circumnavigation, where the Timor Sea meets the Indian Ocean, was the dramatic locale chosen by Mother Nature to bestow a bonus package of exciting sailing conditions: wind, rain, and swells appeared with exuberance. The wind pumped at 20 knots with periodic squalls, 100% cloud cover prevailed most of the time, and rain fell in abundance. Love Song surfed supreme on the steep, swift swells, averaging 164 miles per day. The companionway remained closed most of the time as waves climbed over the transom and quarter section. Vigorous motion confined me to a bunk and a book, and the dense overcast required the use of a lamp during daylight hours.
At Christmas Island, a port of call en route, appeared, we were in full stride. Love Song experienced unbound freedom, surging with the gusts, lifting her transom while sprinting with the swells, as foam rushed alongside the hull and occasionally along the deck, and the song of the bow wave played over and over. We were not along during those enjoyable days: dolphins were attracted to the sleek hull and playful movement. Those darting, leaping, squealing creatures adopted Love Song as a playmate and devoted many hours, day and night, plowing through the water in concert with the fleeting object, using only a small working job to answer the call of the strong southeast tradewind. The sensation became captivating, and the experience incomparable. It seemed a pity to curtail all the activity. The island drew abeam and suddenly disappeared in a squall. When it reappeared, this time abaft the beam, still the person in charge remained in a state of euphoria and didn't move to alter course for land; then, another squall punched-in, enveloping boat and man, with a view of only sea and driving rain. The next occasion that my rest and resupply station was observed it was but a speak over the transom, to be seen only when Love Song lifted majestically to the crest of a swell. Onward to the Seychelles in the Western Indian Ocean, 3200 miles to sail, 3 more weeks until fresh food can be tasted. Reach for that seldom-used can opener, and pop open a can of spinach. The vessel seemed to be alive and in command of itself as the crew sat passive and amused but, secretly, I made the wish that upon approaching that acclaimed landfall, their exists no temptation to bypass.
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