2018 – 2019 Commercial Work and Truce Work

TRUCE HAS A NEW HOME

February 5 2018

Since arriving back in New Zealand at the end of September last year Truce has temporarily been moored in Bayswater Marina in Auckland.  A perfectly good marina and close to the city – but more of a car park for boats than a local spot with character. Truce always looked a bit out of place among the mainly modern plastic boats moored around her.

Early in February we moved further up the harbour to Westpark Marina or Hobsonville Marina as some call it.  Where, I have finally bit the bullet and bought a marina berth.  Truce in now happily moored among boats of all shapes, sizes and vintages, she seems more in place.  Westpark also has a haul out and yard facility which I will need in a few months when the time comes for hull cleaning and painting – which is already overdue.   Even more convenient there is a ferry direct to downtown and a pub onsite for those times when a beer is needed to assist problem solving.

Now that Truce is securely moored in her own berth I can start to plan for the future.  Before the next adventure Truce will need some work done to bring her back to top form.  The hull and topsides are looking tired and in need of a new coat of paint.  The rig has had a hard couple of years and really needs new standing rigging.  The mast paint is showing sings of fatigue – I will need to take the mast out and do a complete overhaul.  So quite a bit of work to be done in addition to all the other general and preventative maintenance.

The sails are in pretty good shape.  I have had the jib and staysail patched up with the local sailmaker.  The staysail probably only has another campaign left in it – a pity, its my favourite sail.

It’s a little strange how the individual sails seem to develop their own personalities.  The jib is like a stroppy female factory worker, when she is trimmed correctly and the working conditions are just right, she works hard and doesn’t complain.  When the wind drops or the trim isn’t correct she shouts, flutters and flaps about making a great commotion, upsetting everything and everyone onboard.  The staysail is a little bulldog of a sail, never complains no matter how badly its trimmed.  It just wants to work and pull – nickname is Billy after the tank engine.  The mainsail is the boss, he calls the shots and when the jib and staysail get their act together he drives everything along in perfect harmony.

The next adventure – I am thinking about exploring the south of New Zealand.  Stewart Island and Fiordland in particular are areas where visiting and exploring by boat are the only real options as they are so remote.  I am thinking about it.

WINTER SOLSTICE NEW ZEALAND

 June 21 2018

21st June and the shortest day of the year.  Its wet and cold in Auckland and work on Truce has declined to a snail’s pace.  My casual job at Burnsco, travel for Marine Consultancy work and the short daylight hours all conspire to keep me off the boat for days at a time.

From now on the days will get longer and hopefully more productive.  I have a long list of maintenance jobs I want to complete this winter before my next summer of adventure.  The boat needs painting inside and out, the mast needs refurbishing, the rigging needs replacing and there are a thousand and one small jobs on the horizon.  One of my major tasks is to skim off the top layer of the deck and apply new epoxy and glass fibre cover.

To keep the decks dry and protected I have put a plastic shrink wrap over the boat.  It cost a few hard-earned dollars but is a lower cost option than hauling out into a shed and allows me to work on the boat at the dock.

So far this winter I have refurbished the toilet area or head to give the correct nautical description.  Everything looks nice and clean with crispy new white paint and new sanitation pump.  I am also in the process of painting the inside of various lockers and cupboards, a very time consuming, messy and convoluted process. 

A small leak in the filler hose for the Dickenson cabin heater had caused the outside of the ply tank to become saturated with diesel.  I will replace the old tank with a new aluminum one and the previous lingering slight diesel smell in the wardrobe will be no more.

HOBART TASMANIA

April 4 2018

Once again I am off to do a spot of commercial work to top up the cruising fund. This time to Tasmania. I have been to Tasmania many times on business but have only visited Hobart. Everyone tells me what a great place it is outside of Hobart but unfortunately to date I haven’t seen it. I have an idea Tasmania would be a good place to visit on Truce.

The job this time is to do some work for a company that farms salmon. I have never been to a salmon farm so this will be an interesting job. Fish farms are of course an emotive issue, on one side its supposed to be the future, farmed fish in controlled conditions bringing much needed protein to the world. On the other side its labeled a cruel ecological disaster and should be banned. There is no doubt its big business, just as other forms of farming are.

The offshore salmon pens are interesting structures using miles of dyneema rope to hold everything together. There are nets on top to keep the birds out and nets around the bottom to keep the seals, sealions and other ocean predators out. A high degree of technology goes into the farming, all very interesting.

After a week the job was complete and I departed Tasmania. It has been an interesting time and I have seen a bit more of the country. I also tasted the Salmon, its very good but not quite up to the wild fresh Alaska stuff.

IN SAUDI ARABIA

June 28 2018

I am in Saudi Arabia once again, this time for a short job, doing an inspection and pre-purchase survey on a couple of offshore vessels. It’s quite warm and everything is covered in sand, not my type of place but I should be able to top up the boat fund with a few $$$ and carry on preparing Truce for next summer. The last time I was in Saudi Arabia was in 2014 for a ship delivery from Jeddah, a difficult job, the mobilisation and repairs dragged on for months in challenging conditions.

Anyway, I went offshore yesterday and got marooned on a ship overnight, not an uncommon event in the oilfield.  With not much to do I started flicking back on the laptop through old photos.  I was surprised to see that I was in Pelican, Alaska on this date – TWO years ago! What a contrast to where I am now.

Pelican was an interesting place, the sort of place not many people get to as it’s off the beaten track.  I remember interesting and friendly people, a library with good WiFi, fresh salmon and good beer in the only bar in town.  Very enjoyable.

Flicking forward in time to one year ago I found a photo of the underside of the mast where it exits the coach roof, with bits of wood smashed up to make makeshift mast wedges.  At the time I was on my way from San Francisco to Hawaii, it was a bit disconcerting when some mast wedges dropped out and creaks started emanating from the mast.  I think the change of climate may have caused the wooden wedges to shrink a bit as we headed south.  I was happy to have fixed the problem and arrived in Hawaii where I made a more permanent fix once in port.

So, this year I find myself offshore Saudi Arabia.  I haven’t been in these waters in the Arabian Gulf since I was a young man working on a pioneering SBM project to service the super-tankers of the day.  We managed to achieve amazing things with very little equipment – maybe because we didn’t understand we could fail and there was no email to tell us it was unsafe.  There are far more platforms, barges, rigs and workboats around now than in the old days – it’s a very busy place now.

Its been a very full on day. Getting offshore and inspecting two vessels. Both Captains and crew were very helpful and had all the paperwork ready and spaces opened up ready for me to inspect, that made the job much quicker. By tomorrow evening I should be back onshore and completing writing up my reports.  Then its back on the plane in a couple of days, back to New Zealand and the winter weather.

DIVERSION TO BAHRAIN

June 30 2018

Life is full of Surprises.  A delivery job has popped up, delivering a ship from Bahrain to Trieste in Italy. As I am in the area I have accepted the job. Its an easy hop from Dammam in Saudi to Bahrain over the causeway connecting the two countries. My arrival back to New Zealand will be delayed by a few weeks. Not to worry, a few more $$$ for the boat fund.

The drive across the causeway from Saudi Arabia was a first for me.  Some years back when I was working in Sharjah I drove from Bahrain to Saudi across the causeway, it was quite new then. Going from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, the reverse trip was a first.

 The border crossing is an artificial island in the centre of the causeway.  Entry formalities into Bahrain are simple, the friendly immigration official issued me a visa for two weeks and welcomed me into Bahrain.

I first stopped in Bahrain as a cadet when flying out to Singapore to join a ship.  The airport was not much more than a hut at that time.  But one thing I remember is that there was a fish tank (couldn’t call it an aquarium) in the waiting area.  It was the first time I had seen tropical fish in a tank – a goldfish was exotic in England at the time.

In 1974 I visited Bahrain again and lived there occasionally when working offshore Saudi Arabia.  At that time Bahrain was the jewel in the Gulf, an informal place you could relax with friendly people.  We used to have a wonderful time, eating, drinking, swimming and parties, a great social life among the expat community. They really were the good old days.

Now I am struggling to find old landmarks and recognise the place.  The pace of development, building and roading has masked the Bahrain of old.  But, from what I have seen so far, the relaxed and informal atmosphere remains, all the people I have met seem happy and friendly.

This afternoon I am perched up fifteen floors in a new hotel overlooking the American naval Base and Harbour.  Although I can’t see much detail as there is a lot of sand in the air making it hazy.

Soon I will be preparing for a new voyage ahead.  Once again through pirate waters, then up the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal.  The weather for the trip should be good and the Mediterranean warm and calm at this time of year.  The rest of the crew should arrive in a day or two – I wonder who they are?

SHIP DELIVERY TO ITALY

We are all set to depart. The crew has arrived, stores are on board, fuel tanks have sufficient fuel to get us to the bunker stop in Fujairah, and all flag, class and safety, engineering and navigation matters have been attended to.

On a sunny afternoon we fired up the main engines, let go the shore lines and headed out from Bahrain to commence the voyage to Italy. Its always an interesting time when taking a new (to me) vessel to sea, I always expect the unexpected. Fortunately the voyage began without any drama and we quickly settled into the seagoing routine.

After the first night at sea the Cook delivered breakfast to me in the wheelhouse and announced that we had a cat on board. At the dock in Bahrain there were numerous cats around and one of them must have jumped on board as we sailed. I was not particularly happy about this as I could envision all sorts of complications further down the line. I told the Cook to get rid of it. He mumbled something and disappeared.

It turned out the crew had a meeting about the cat. They all agreed it would be a good idea to get rid of the cat but none of them wanted to undertake the dastardly act. The Chief Engineer and Mate also decline the chore so that only left me, who should really lead by example. Well, to cut a long story short the cat didn’t lose any of its nine lives.

Scrawny, scruffy and undisciplined ships cat. Photo Ray Penson

As we approached the Strait of Hormuz we rounded into the Arabian sea in the traffic seperation zone and proceeded down the Omani coast southwards towards Fujairah. Late at night we were approached by a fast boat from ahead, on a collision course with very bright searchlights on. I altered course to starboard but the fast boat also altered to keep on a collision course. The fast boat altered course at the last minute and then circled us with the searchlights blazing, then it switched off all its lights and headed northwards. Quite an alarming and strange encounter, I can only assume it was an Iranian fast boat of the type that frequents these waters.

Later in the morning we were intercepted by an Iranian Dhow that shadowed us for hours before disengaging as we approached Fujairah anchorage. I have no idea why they took an interest in us but felt happier when they disappeared.

At the Fujairah anchorage we took bunkers, sufficient to get us all the way to Italy. Fujairah is a big bunker port conveniently situated just outside the Arabian Gulf. Many ships use it for crew changes through Dubai Airport and a waiting point before entering the Arabian Sea to load cargo at the numerous oil ports.

Once bunkers were completed we headed out again, this time to pick up security personnel from the floating security vessel to accompany us through the pirate zone before entering the Red Sea. The next part of the trip down to the Red Sea was uncomfortable, we had monsoon winds and seas from ahead. The boat plunged and pitched into the short seas in a most uncomfortable manner. I considered heading inshore for shelter but as we were still making reasonable speed continued and endured the discomfort. During this part of the trip we erected the anti pirate razor wire defenses around the vessel, set up oil drums filled with sand around the wheelhouse, constructed a safe haven citadel and held anti piracy drills. An unfortunate element of modern seafaring in this part of the world. One positive from the nasty weather is that its too rough for the pirates small skiffs to operate effectively.

We passed the pirate area without incident and turned up into the Red Sea through the Bab-El-Mandeb straits. I remember passing this way as a cadet many years ago and the second mate on watch telling me that Bab-El-Mandeb was the Arabic for ‘gateway of tears’. I have since learnt that there are other meanings. A few hours later we dropped off our security guards at the floating depot and continued northwards on our journey. The anti piracy palaver was all deconstructed and the boat turned back to normality. We then had a few pleasant days sailing north in calm weather before entering the chaos of the Suez Canal.

Oh the Suez Canal, what an awful place. It never gets any better, constant badgering for kickbacks and demands for cigarettes and whisky from the pilots. I hate the place and have now vowed that I will never come this way again. Well we made our transit without too much incident but had an autopilot failure just before departing the canal at the northern end. The Mate was in the wheelhouse at the time and called me up as he has reverted to hand steering. I checked all the usual culprits for an autopilot failure but couldn’t fix it. We continued on hand steering and exited the canal before heading to clear waters and trying to fix the problem.

A few hours later and having acquired an intimate knowledge of the diagnostics of the gyro compass we had found the problem. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be resolved without a small electrical replacement part. We continued from Port Said to Trieste on hand steering.

Now you may think that hand steering a boat is not that difficult. But this boat doesn’t have a rudder, just two steerable (Azimuthing) propellors. Also the boats hull form is not designed to be directionally stable. Its a bit like steering a biscuit tin with an outboard motor on one side. The trick is to angle one propellor sightly inboard and steer with the other propellor countering the slightly inward turning tendency. Its very tiring to head in a straight line and requires constant adjustment and attention to the compass. The mate, an AB and myself took turns on the steering. Once or twice the boat took a sheer, resulting in turning a full circle before being able to continue on the course. What should have been a comfortable cruise from Egypt to Italy turned into a laborious chore.

Nevertheless, we arrived at Trieste on schedule and docked safely alongside for the usual customs, immigration etc. clearance paperwork. Then it was time for the first beer since Bahrain and packing bags to fly out after handing over to the new owners. Nobody mentioned the cat.