DIVERSION TO BAHRAIN

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, its an easy hop from Dammam in Saudi to Bahrain, I have accepted the job and have changed my plans for return to New Zealand.

The drive across the causeway from Saudi Arabia was a first for me.  Some years back I drove from Bahrain to Saudi across the causeway, but I have never done the reverse trip.

Heading onto the Causeway. Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce
Heading onto the Causeway. Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce

 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.

Approaching the Saudi Boarder Crossing. Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce
Approaching the Saudi Boarder Crossing. Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce

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.

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.

I am now 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.

View from Hotel Bahrain.Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce
View from Hotel Bahrain.Photo Ray Penson. Sailing Yacht Truce

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?

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.

WINTER SOLSTICE NEW ZEALAND

 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 radar.  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.

Inside Shrink Wrap. Photo, Ray Penson
Inside Shrink Wrap. Photo, Ray Penson

Boat Cover and Access Door. Truce.nz
Boat Cover and Access Door. Truce.nz

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 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 aluminium one and the previous lingering diesel odour in the wardrobe will be no more.

Refurbished Head. Truce.nz
Refurbished Head. Truce.nz

 Next week I will be travelling to Saudi Arabia for a short job, it should be quite warm and put some heat into my old bones.

 After that I am looking forward to getting stuck into the refurbishment and planning for the next seasons trip to the South of New Zealand.  At the moment my idea is to sail up the East Coast and around North Cape before heading down the West Coast to Golden Bay.  From there to Fiordland and Stewart Island before returning up the East Coast to Auckland.  My plans are pretty sketchy at this stage but one thing I don’t want to happen is to have any deadlines or schedules – just go with the flow.

ARRIVED NEW ZEALAND

The wind overnight was not as strong as forecast so in was a little slower than anticipated, I really wanted to make some miles and reduce the time in the strong winds closer to the Bay of Islands.  It turned out fine the wind picked up in the morning and I had a good thirty knots from the north west to blow me down to New Zealand.  I sailed with the storm staysail and a small jib at an easy six knots with Micky the wind-vane in charge as usual.  What a marvellous friend Mickey has been, keeping us on course in even the lightest winds and never complaining.

We rounded Cape Wiwiki and the outlaying Tikitiki Rock at four in the afternoon in gusty rain squalls.  A rough welcome but one that I relished.  It seemed fitting end to the voyage.  Soon we were motoring up the veronica passage to Opua where we berthed alongside the customs dock just after six in the evening.

A couple of boats came in after me, both New Zealand boats coming back from Fiji.  We all sat at the customs wharf overnight waiting for customs and biosecurity clearance in the morning.  It’s not possible to go ashore until customs clearance has been obtained but I was happy to stay on board and relax.   Now that truce was safely tied up and the voyage finished I had an extra tot of rum, reflected on the voyage and had a good chat to Ngozi now we are in phone range again.  I will sleep in the forward cabin this evening and luxuriate in the extra bed space.

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.

WORKING TO GET SOUTH

It’s a good job I made muffins yesterday – it would never have happened today, conditions are far too boisterous.  The day started out with a rain squall and front just after midnight.  Then a strong south west wind and swell set in and we have been using it all day make our way south the best we can.  Our starboard bow is in the weather for a change, pushing aside the SW swells and sending a deluge of spray all over the boat.

We are still looking at an ETA into Opua on Tuesday.  Hopefully just ahead of the thirty-nine knot winds that are forecast.

I was thinking about the motion on board Truce today and realise she is very light compared to when we started the voyage up in Canoe Cove.  Then we had on board provisions for six months and the weight of cases of soft drinks, beer, drinking water bottles, tinned and bottles provisions – a great weight.  The fuel levels are now quite low and water is about half full – no wonder the movement is lively.

ENOUGH WEST – TURNING SOUTH TO NEW ZEALAND

I haven’t posted a log for a couple of days.  I didn’t have much to say, Truce and I have been beating to the west to get around a am nasty patch of weather above New Zealand.  Same slog day after day.  After three days, we have gained enough distance to start turning to the south and hopefully benefiting from favourable winds on the last part of the voyage.

Of course, now that we have gained our westing the wind has disappeared completely and we are in an area of high pressure.  It looks like we will be motoring for twenty-four hours until we are clear and into a breeze.  I have my fingers crossed that the autopilot, engine and everything holds together until we reach the wind.

The yachts that I met along the way at Tonga and Minerva Reef are still waiting for a weather window to depart to NZ.  That is a good safe tactic if you have the time and provides an enjoyable quick trip in good weather.

I intend to clear through customs in Opua, Bay of Islands.  It’s the closest customs port if arriving from the north and once cleared in I can take a sail down the coast to Auckland.  It will be so good to be back on the spectacular NZ coats again with its snug safe anchorages.

At late afternoon we were six hundred miles from Opua.  If the last part of the voyage goes to plan we will be arriving there on the 26th September.

It seems I budgeted my beer stock just right.  I have sufficient to last until Auckland and an emergency reserve in case of delays or bad weather on the way.  One advantage of the cooler weather is also cooler sea water, beer laid in the bilge is nice and cool to drink now.

The last of my fresh Tonga vegetables has been consumed – only some onions and limes remain.  These will also be gone before we land in Opua, not allowed to bring such stuff into New Zealand.

A NIP IN THE AIR

Last night was cool, for the first time since Hawaii I had track pants on with a long-sleeved fleece shirt.  We are certainly out of the tropics now and I can expect more cold weather when we hit the south westerly winds later this evening.  I will dig out my thermals tomorrow – just in case.

Its only seven hundred miles to Opua in New Zealand but I can’t sail there direct due to weather.  So, we continue our foray to the west.  The sailing weather had been light but pleasant after a bit of rolling last night and we have kept moving nicely in the light airs.

For the past couple of days I have been cutting bits off my stock of carrots.  There is some rot that is turning them black and wet.  Unfortunately, the carrots are now so far gone as to be unusable.  I ate what I could (should be seeing well in the dark tonight) and disposed of the remainder.  The bread I bought in Tonga has also gone mouldy.  In fact, all the fresh food I purchased in Tonga is deteriorating quickly.  I suppose that’s the price you pay for nice fresh food without preservatives or radiation sickness.  No doubt if I had bought the food from an American supermarket it would still be looking fresh a month from now.

This evening I am expecting to pass through a front and the current northerly wind will swing to the south and increase.  Already I can feel a difference in the sea so I suppose the action is only a couple of hours away.

THE LONG ROAD BACK TO NEW ZEALAND

The anchorage at Minerva Reef turned out to be very peaceful, despite my initial misgivings.  I had a great rest and felt very refreshed this morning.  And what a morning, a glorious sunrise, warm sunshine and crystal-clear waters.

Sunrise, Minerva reef.

No sound except the distant thunder of surf on the reef.  I breakfasted in the cockpit on my last Tongan Papaya, such a pity that papaya doesn’t keep for more than a few days.

Later in the morning another yacht sailed into the lagoon and came over to say hello.  On board was Lance, also solo sailing from Tonga, heading to New Zealand.   He had also been waiting up in Tonga for a couple of weeks and also decided to stop in Minerva and wait.  It felt very good to have company in such a remote place.

I slept on the idea of sailing to the west before heading down to New Zealand.  Yes, I have decided to give it a go.  At least I will be moving and doing something – not just sitting waiting.  The plan is to sail to the south west before heading west, hopefully to sail above the strong southerly winds heading up from the south.  If that manoeuvre goes to plan I should then be able to turn and zig zag my way to New Zealand.  It going to take 12 to 13 days possibly – there are some light and variable patches along the way as well.

Before sailing out of Minerva Reef I went across and had a chat to Lance.  Like me he is frustrated and said he planned to stay at Minerva until the next low has passed New Zealand.  We wished each other well and I motored out of the lagoon.

As I was departing Minerva Lance called me on the radio, asking how far west I planned to go.  He said he may follow me to the west tomorrow.  I suspect he also felt the loneliness and isolation of Minerva when I had departed.

So, we are on the way again.  Sailing to the south west with light following winds.  Not going very fast, the following sea is rolling us around and spilling wind from the sails.  It feels good to be on the last leg of the voyage.

ANCHORED AT NORTH MINERVA REEF -WITH GREEN FLASH

If the previous night was a magical sailing night – one to remember, last evenings fare was from the other end of the spectrum and easily forgettable.  From six in the evening to nine I struggled to get Truce to hold a course, the wind and sea were all over the place.  In the dark I just couldn’t figure out what was going on.  We were moving about so much the heading reading from the GPS was going wild and I had to use the magnetic compass as reference.  Eventually everything sorted itself out, settled down and we continued slowly towards North Minerva Reef – to arrive in the morning.

North Minerva reef
North Minerva reef

I didn’t cover much distance overnight, I chose slow sailing comfort setting to have a good rest – we were in no hurry.  In the morning the weather was sparkling and an easy sail to Minerva reef, to be anchored for lunch time.  Minerva Reef is a strange place, a circular reef in the middle of nowhere with a large lagoon in its centre.  The surrounding reef protects the lagoon from the ocean swells bringing comparative calm inside the lagoon.

It’s quite surreal to be anchored in what appears to be the middle of the Ocean.  Truce is the only boat in the lagoon and it feels very lonely and desolate.  For some reason I don’t feel very comfortable here and will be happy to move on.

The reason I am at Minerva is of course the poor weather conditions further south, preventing me from sailing to New Zealand direct.  I decided to stop at Minerva and assess the conditions as it’s on the way from Tonga.  Unfortunately, there is a big low on its way to the top of New Zealand on the eighteenth / nineteenth bringing strong southerly winds and large swells on my route – that will persist for some days.

Bob McDavitt has suggested an alternative route to the west, almost as far as Norfolk Island.  This route adds considerable distance to my voyage but has the advantage of being something I can start on tomorrow if the forecast is good overnight.  Apparently, another yacht departed Minerva reef earlier today to sail the westerly route to NZ.  Anyway, as suggested, I will sleep on it and decide tomorrow.

This evening I took a rum and coke for sundowners in the cockpit.  I watched the sun go down and thought the conditions were ideal for a green flash event.  I picked up my phone to be ready to take a shot.  Bingo, there was a green flash and I took a burst of photos at the same time.  But the green flash can’t be seen on the photos – I wonder why.  That’s the second green flash I have seen since leaving Honolulu – very lucky.