Flat seas, easy sailing

Date: July 19, 2016, 4 a.m. Position: 12 11.54 S, 124 16.05 E

Before dawn a magnified orange moon dropped from the clouds and dipped into the ocean, in what was the most fantastic moonset I’ve ever seen. It looked like it was melting into the ocean swells. And it was so orange that the unexpected observer would take it for a perfectly formed atomic mushroom cloud–a startling apparition on the horizon. At sunrise a tug passed within a mile of Privateer, towing what appeared to be a large Indonesian fishing boat. Ashmore reef is a popular spot for asylum seekers arriving in Australia, and my guess is that they were towing the boat into Darwin.

Another day of effortless sailing as we glided along at 6 knots. It was rougher in the anchorage in Darwin than it is out here at sea today. Hardly even a whitecap out here. I tried to whistle up a little more wind, but my efforts failed and by midnight the winds dropped to about 3 knots variable direction. Luckily, we are only 15 NM from the entrance to Ashmore Reef. It’s been a great 500 NM sail but all good things must come to an end. We’re currently motoring in 800 foot deep waters at the edge of the Australian continental shelf, making water, and charging up the batteries. We’re moving very slow so that we can time our reef entrance for daylight, when we can see the coral heads underwater.

There are thousands of birds as we near the reef, and we saw a sea snake swimming aggressively along the surface of the water. It was well over a meter long and as thick as my wrist. The sea snake is one of the most venomous snakes, but their fangs cannot pierce human skin easily, so we should be relatively safe. I’m hoping for a good snorkel when we get to Ashmore–we’ve read that the coral is “magnificent” around the reef, and that there is a genetically unique species of Dugong that feeds there.

Taz had a funny moment today when he climbed in between the two lee cloths and cocooned himself in the mesh, suspended. He reclined and got quite comfortable, telling us “night night!” He’s getting 4 new teeth now–must be rough having those things slice through your gums. We gave him some frozen mangoes and yoghurt which he let linger in his mouth to numb the pain. I took the winch drum cover off the mainsail winch today, and confirmed my worst fears when half a broken gear dropped out of the casing. Damn! It would be potentially dangerous to continue using the windlass to hoist the main, especially reefing in bad weather. As necessity is the mother of invention, I jury-rigged the halyard to lead past the broken winch and into the cockpit, using the lazy jib sheet drum to take the tension up on the main halyard. All it took was a few snatch blocks and some spectra webbing and voila! I almost like the setup better than winching it on the mast, which is always kind of awkward. At least we have a working solution to safely reef the mainsail as we cross the Indian Ocean, if we can’t get a part shipped in to Christmas Island or Cocos Keeling. Despite the frustrations of breaking gear, it’s satisfying to come up with an on-board solution. It’s what pioneering (or Privateering) is all about!

We’re going to rest up for a few days at Ashmore reef and wait for some solid trade-winds to develop, so we can have another fast downwind run to Christmas Island, now only 1,000 NM away.

Leave a Reply