IN SAUDI ARABIA

I am in Saudi Arabia for a short job, inspecting a couple of ships.  Its quite warm and everything is covered in sand, not really my type of place but I should be able to top up the boat fund and carry on preparing for next summer.

Anyway, I went offshore yesterday and got marooned on a ship overnight.  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!

Main Street Pelican. Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce
Main Street Pelican. Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce

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.  Very enjoyable.

Fresh Salmon. Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce
Fresh Salmon. Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce

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.

Makeshift Mast Wedge. Sailing Yacht Truce.
Makeshift Mast Wedge. Sailing Yacht Truce.

This year I find myself offshore Saudi Arabia.  I haven’t been in these waters 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.  There are far more platforms, barges, rigs and workboats around than the old days – it’s a very busy place now.

Work Barge Offshore Saudi Arabia. Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce.
Work Barge Offshore Saudi Arabia. Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce.

By this evening I should be back onshore and writing up my reports.  Then its back on the plane in a couple of days, back to New Zealand and the winter weather.

10,000 MILES WITH TRUCE

Banging to windward all last night and today on starboard tack.  Getting to New Zealand is a battle, every mile must be won.  I am not complaining – some are still in the north waiting for a break in the weather and one yachtsman is sheltering at Raoul Island.

The daybreak this morning was beautiful and the day is sparkling but the wind is cool from the south west.  I am seeing more birdlife today, this morning we were visited by an albatross.  The bird circled a couple of times before flying alongside, looking us over with the beady eye of the ancient mariner.  What majestic animals.

This morning I was completing our voyage records and discovered that today Truce and I have just completed 10,000 miles together today.  We did 2,700 plus miles last year between Canoe Cove and Glacier Bay in Alaska.  This year we have done over 7,200 miles across the Pacific, from Canada to New Zealand.  I would say we know each other quite well although I still have much to learn.

Now less than 300 miles to Opua.  But we still have a calm patch and a gale to get through.  The maximum forecast winds for Tuesday have just increased from thirty-nine to forty-two knots.  Oh boy – I don’t fancy that.  I will hank on the storm staysail tomorrow.

RAIN ON SUNDAY, SUN ON MONDAY

Yesterday was a damp squid.  Rain all Saturday night and Sunday morning.  Sunday was overcast, wet and showery, cool all day.  Onshore it was very quiet, hardly anyone about, shops all shut.  I suppose everyone has gone to church and retreated home, the sort of day you want to have a nice fire and stay put.

Today is sunny with a nice cool breeze.  I walked over to the customs office and enquired about clearing out – particularly if I could clear out and anchor out for a day or two.  The first customs guy said no problem, I could have 24 hours after clearing out.  Then his boss with four stripes came and said no.  I would only have an hour to leave after clearing out and I could not go to anchor.  He said he had problems with other yachts clearing out and then anchoring for days and it must stop.

I would like to go out and anchor for a couple of days.  But if I need to come back into port for clearance its not worth the trouble.  I will hang around in Nuku’alofa until it’s time to depart.

The passing of the rain has unleashed a plague of Mosquitoes.  These are serious insects, cunning and tenacious.  I have the mosquito screens in place buy still they find a way in.  On board I have some mosquito and fly spray from Alaska, it worked fine in Alaska – stopping deer fly without any problems.  But – it doesn’t seem to worry the Tongan Mosquitos, they just keep coming.  One of the disadvantages of being tied up in port.

Later I wandered into town.  Everybody is very friendly and after being here for a few days people are recognising me (and me them) and the greeting are turning into conversations.  So many of the people I speak with have been to, lived in or have relatives in New Zealand.  It seems the remittances from family members in New Zealand plays a big part bin the economy here.

Previously I have extolled the qualities of Tonga bacon.  When walking about outside the main town you can see pigs and piglets running around, foraging all over the place.  They look happy, contented and plump.  Good bacon must be the result of such a life.

DRINKING RUM WITH OLD FRIENDS

The rain from yesterday evening continued overnight, finally giving way to some sunshine mid-morning.  I spent a few minutes bailing out the pig before we could go ashore – amazing how much water collected overnight.

By ten I had visited the customs and port office to clear out from the Vava’u group.  The tonnage dues came to less than ten dollars, all up the clearance into and out of Neiafu cost one hundred and thirty-one dollars.

Next on the ‘to do’ list was getting some fresh fruit and veg Fresh veg, eggs and topping up on a few dry goods.  The market down by the wharf has an excellent selection of fresh produce where we also got fresh eggs.

On the way back to Truce we decided to have an early lunch at Indigo café.  Our favourite café as they also seem to have decent WiFi.  Eggs and bacon for me and BLT for Jessica.  The bacon here is so good – unfortunately we forgot to buy some in the store.

Just after one in the afternoon we dropped the mooring and headed out of Neiafu harbour with a stiff breeze behind us.  We headed to Tapana Lagoon where a friend, Steve, was moored.  I met Steve last year at Warm Springs Bay, Baranof Island in Alaska.  Steve is also headed back to New Zealand but at a far more leisurely pace than mine.

At three in the afternoon we entered Tapana Lagoon and saw Steve’s lovely yacht ‘Rhapsody’ tucked up in the corner, nicely sheltered.  We were fortunate to find a vacant mooring close alongside and before long we were securely moored in a beautiful peaceful little bay, completely sheltered from the easterly trades.

The evening was spent on Rhapsody, chatting, eating and drinking Rum.  We were joined by Linda, a charming Australian lady who is sailing her yacht single handed.  Steve produced a surprisingly good Spaghetti Bolognaise – a great night was had by all.

Tomorrow morning we will rise early to head south towards Pangai in the Ha’apai Group.  We need to keep heading in the direction of Nuku’alofa to make the connection with Jessica’s flight back to Melbourne on the 29th.

THE PENULTIMATE NIGHT AT SEA

We have both got the channels – even worse than yesterday.  Last night the discussion turned to food again and the dishes we were going to eat in Tonga.  Then Jessica started showing me photos of the food she had been eating in Vietnam.  We both seem to be slightly obsessed with the food thing now.

Well, the sailing has been good if not spectacular.  We have been sailing in beautiful weather, (Inc. occasional rain shower), with the jib poled out for the last twenty-four hours.  The winds have been light overnight and filling in this morning to around twelve knots, a slow night but perfect sailing weather now.  I have not touched the self-steering or sails, we just keep heading down the track.  Almost as though Truce knows the way, like a horse sniffing the stables.

Our arrival time at Neiafu is still Monday evening.  I will slow down as we reach the coast and enter at daylight, hopefully going direct alongside the dock for our clearance into Tonga.

Last night I did have something on toast as predicted.  At the back of the cupboard I have two tins of kippered herring skulking about – they went to Alaska with me last year.  I thought it was time to try one.  It was dreadful and ruined perfectly good toast.  I will try and barter the other tin with some gullible person for something edible.

Fishing is slow.  The smaller lures I have been using are not catching anything.  Another lure has lost its hooks to something.  The small lure strategy is a failure.  I have concluded we have the wrong line and the wrong lures.  I will replace both in Tonga and then start catching fish like a pro.

The wind was light and the sky clear for last nights screening in the cockpit.  We watched ‘Snatch’, a UK film.  Very humorous if not a bit violent.  Not suitable for everyone, having a British sense of humour is helpful.  Total voyage distance 1,470 miles.

A DAY OF TWO HALVES

As they say in football – today has been a day of two halves.  From midday to midnight we romped along, reefed down, in twenty knot winds doing a comfortable six knots.  At midnight, we had clocked seventy plus miles and all was good.  After midnight we ran into a rain squall (probably a front) and after a brief flurry the wind disappeared.

Since midnight we have been ghosting along and now have the jib poled out to port and doing three to four knots in glorious weather but not much breeze.  The forecasters wanted to give us twenty knots again today – oh how wrong they got it.

It looks like this light weather has blown our planned ETA for the 21st in Neiafu, we will most likely arrive on Tuesday now.  Just another day to wait for a cold beer – maybe I should drink an extra one to compensate.

Last night we watched ‘Men in Black 3’ in the cockpit.  Great movie – they don’t need to make any more MIB’s.  The weather is still hot but absolutely no complaints.  Two fishing boats turned up last night, the first vessels we have seen since leaving Christmas Island.

At lunch time today we used the last of our eggs.  One was a floater so went over the side to Davie Jones.  Fresh food is almost finished now, all that is remaining is a large onion from Honolulu.  It still looks in perfect condition so suspect it has a similar upbringing to the atomic (never go ripe) tomatoes I experienced in Alaska.  Total Voyage distance 1,130 miles.

EIGHT DAYS OUT OF SAN FRANCISCO

Time flies when you’re having fun.  I just realised its eight days since I left san Francisco.  Days at sea run into each other, there is no demarcation or need for holidays or weekends.  When I look at the daily progress on the chart it seems so small but its steady and relentless, day and night until we arrive.

Two years ago, I was not even considering sailing across an ocean by myself.  I didn’t even contemplate going to Alaska on a yacht.  Once you open your mind to opportunities it’s amazing what you can achieve.  One can always find many reasons not to do something – but the fact is you only need one reason to do something.

Today we had the breeze from astern again.  Not much sail trimming to be done, just set it up and sit back for the ride.   It’s not the fastest sailing but it is relaxing – apart from the occasional roiling.  It will be nice if the wind holds steady through the night and not the up and down winds we have been experiencing for the past three nights.

The sun made an appearance after an overcast morning.  I had shorts on for a while until it became too chilly in the wind.  Still a wind chill, even at twenty-six degrees north.

I ran the engine for fifteen minutes.  Just to make sure the batteries are topped off.  Normally the solar panels take care of all the boats electrical loads and I don’t need to run the engine for electricity.  However, the last days have been mainly overcast so I just wanted to make sure I had plenty of electrical juice in the tank.

I just watched ‘A Fish called Wanda’.  An old movie and years since I saw it first.  Still quite funny as you would expect from John Cleese.  Quite a star-studded cast, even a young Stephen Fry has a part in it.

Beer o’clock will be beer this evening.  Last night I had Mount Gay Black Barrel rum.  Excellent rum, but pretty strong if you have to be up and down playing with sails all night.  Voyage distance 1,047 miles.

WET, WINDY AND COLD IN BC

It’s now a week since I left sunny NZ.  The first couple of days at Canoe Cove were not too flash, I caught some disease (United Airlines food poisoning maybe) and felt awful.  For two days I was pretty useless, feeling cold and miserable and couldn’t eat.  Luckily, I stayed at an Airbnb just five minutes walk away from the boatyard for four days so had a warm bed to return to each night.

A Cold Afternoon at Canoe Cove. Photo, Ray Penson
A Cold Afternoon at Canoe Cove. Photo, Ray Penson

Well its rained every day since I have been here, real spring weather, rain on and off.  When the sun comes out its glorious for a few minutes then the cloud and bitterly cold wind kick in again.  Not the best antifouling weather and it’s taken me 4 days to get the hull ready for the final coats to go on.  When I did the antifouling in Alaska last year I saved money by using Petit antifouling paint.  Well, cheap is not always good and I have spent a lot of time sanding and scraping the Petit paint down to a good substrate.  This time I am using International CRC paint and hope it will do a good job on its way back to NZ.

I just received a bunch of Pacific charts from Redwise ship delivery.  So kind of them, it will save me money and give me paper chart back up should my electronics fail.  Redwise is the company I do ship delivery for and they are a top quality outfit and very professional.

Looking back on the past week I don’t seem to have achieved much.  Truce is in a terrible mess, I have sail bags heaped in the salon and spare gear scattered all over the place.  I had a new shaft and dripless stern seal installed over the winter and want to leave the aft lockers clear for when we get back into the water so I can see if we have any leaks.  On Tuesday when we floating again I can start stowing things and getting shipshape again.

Tomorrow should see the first coat of antifouling finished – I cant wait to be finished with this job.

 

STEAMING INTO 2017

The start of 2017 finds me standing on the bridge of a vessel steaming up the Malacca Strait, passing Port Dickson.  It’s a beautiful balmy night with a faint offshore breeze bringing out the smells of vegetation and wood smoke wafting the water.

There’s searchlights ashore piercing the sky, must be part of the New Year’s celebration.  A few of the ships passing up and down the straits are giving New Year’s greetings over the VHF radio, they are a bit disjointed, it looks like they are on different local time zones.

I am now on my way to the UAE, delivering a new ship from China, a fairly routine voyage.  Looking back on the last year there has been a lot of water passing under the keel of various boats I have been on.  2016 has certainly been a year full of adventure and interest.

Sailing on a calm sea in the early morning hours is a great time to have a look back and reflect a while.  Since I took delivery of Truce last March in Canada I have had an amazing journey, visiting so many interesting places, awesome Alaska, wildlife, meeting so many different people and learning a new kind of freedom and peace away from everyday distractions that don’t add to the quality of life.

But it doesn’t take long to start thinking about the coming year and the return of spring to Canada and the preparation that needs to be done for the coming year.  In 2017 I want to bring Truce back to New Zealand, that will entail a long ocean voyage across the Pacific.  I have crossed the North Pacific countless times in ships and I have a deep appreciation of its awesome power.  The South Pacific is somewhere I have never ventured and I have not crossed any ocean in a vessel as small as Truce.

So, steaming into the New Year and thoughts turning to preparation for the next adventure.

REFLECTIONS ON ALASKA TRIP

The trip was a wonderful opportunity to get to know the boat and the systems on board.  In the early days of the trip I had to undertake a lot of maintenance as the boat hadn’t been in use full time.  During the trip I suffered no major failures and am confident the boat is strongly built, sturdy and a capable offshore cruiser.

The Dickenson cabin heater was wonderful on cold nights as were the two oil lamps in the salon, without their warmth it would have been tough on cold wet days.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get in any really consistent sailing for prolonged periods of time that is essential to really get a feel for the boat under sail.  But the sailing I did showed the boat to be well balanced and able to steer with the wind vane self-steering quite easily.  Not having a fridge on board was no problem in Alaska and BC, but I do worry how I will keep the beer cold when I venture into warmer climes.

A couple of people have asked me if I would do the Alaska trip again.  The answer is a qualified no.  I really enjoyed the experience, Alaska is an awesome place, wild rugged, scenic and spectacular and populated with some very interesting people.  The people I met along the way were predominantly American and Canadian with a few other nationalities thrown in.  The Alaskan people are very friendly, but there are quite a few who don’t really conform to mainstream America, characters, odd balls, eccentrics, or miss fits – call them what you will, but all were welcoming, generous and good fun.

An experience and adventure not to be missed and without the interaction of the local people the trip would have been merely a scenic cruise.  Alaska is also a place that can be wet, windy, foggy and cold, it’s not a soft place for single handing a sail boat.  As for wind, it tends to run up and down the channels and straits, a sailing boat usually has the wind on the nose according to sods law.  Significant motoring is required to make any significant headway.

To get the most out of a trip by boat to Alaska a motorboat is preferable, many people use heavier displacement trawler type motor yachts where they can be sheltered from the elements and still have a good view of the outside world.  It’s interesting to note that the people I met on motor boats reported more bear sightings than people on yachts.  I think this was due to the fact that the motorboats had good views from protected environment when at anchor.  A motor boat with a decent speed of around nine knots also makes passages between anchorages possible in a small weather window and allows strong tidal flows to be handled easier.  So Alaska is a place not to me missed.  Now there are so many other places calling and so little time.

Some facts and figures from the Alaska Voyages: –

Total distance – 2,753.7 miles (4,432Km)

Ports and anchorages – 97

Sailing time – 134 hours (non motor sailing)

Engine Hours – 563

Fuel Consumption – 764 Ltr (202 gals.)

Oil Changes – 3

Costs of living – NZ$35 per day

I will continue to post occasional blogs and updates throughout the year until I take off again in March on the next leg of the journey, south and west.