Sunset demon

Date: July 28, 2016, 4 a.m. Position: 11 1.72 S, 109 41.05 E

We had yet another big mileage day–165 miles in the last 24 hours. For the past three days we’ve had 169, 168, and 165 NM. We are now fully 1 day ahead of “schedule” and may have to heave-to so as not to arrive at Christmas Island in the night.

We had another scare with a fishing boat today, when suddenly straight ahead it looked like we were on collision course with a dead whale! I quickly grabbed the Monitor vane line and altered course at the last minute. The whale turned out to be a massive styrofoam float with a rotten palm frond sticking out the top, with a smaller buoy attached. It wasn’t until after we passed that I looked back and saw another one of those pesky open boats attached to the buoy, several hundred yards away. We had sailed right in between the boat and the buoy, and presumably right over their net! The swells were large and the light blue boat camouflaged well in the waves. At this point, Kelsey and I are quite rattled by all the small boats out here, and almost expect to see one every time we scan the horizon. We’re on constant 24-hr watch.

It was shaping up to be another fantastic sunset and I was feeling very relaxed and good about the passage, when our good angels left and a little demon hopped aboard for the night. First, I re-broke my toe while climbing into the cockpit and lurching into a wave. Not sure if I wrote about it earlier, but on passage in the Coral Sea I slipped and cracked my “pointer” toe. It’s been catching on things because it hangs down slightly lower than the rest of them now. Re-breaking it was more painful than the initial injury! Let’s just say that Taz unfortunately learned a few new words from the experience, and at random intervals repeats the “F” word to me. We’ll try to ignore that one… “Yes Taz, we’re having FUN! FFFUN!”

Next, our propane ran out right at sunset, in the middle of dinner prep. Not a disaster, but the prospect of changing out the propane tank on the bow while at sea in big swell is a wet one at best. And my mind was a bit foggy from the pain-killers I had just taken. I opted to pop on one of our spare Coleman cylinders which will give us 2 days of usage, rather than wrestle with lashing the larger spare tank. As I was doing all that up on the bow, we heard a strange bang, and the boat started veering off course. I rushed back to the stern and saw that out Monitor line–the one we had just re-set–had parted again. Strange. And then I discovered a problem: one of the turning block brackets had bent and sheared off at the base. This was definitely a problem that couldn’t be solved at sunset, and a fix that will require some SS metal work. Our beloved Monitor, steering us faithfully for tens of thousands of miles, has suffered her first (minor) breakage. Fortunately, we are only 200 NM from Christamas Island, but we now must rely on our small electric tiller pilot.

Kelsey and I had a meeting at the beginning of the night watch: The reality is that if the winds build (which they are forecast to do) the inferior electric autopilot will become overwhelmed, and we will need to hand-steer for 2 days. We were not happy about that prospect after our Nelson to Opua experience in NZ… We decided to double-reef the main and reef the Yankee, to make a nice small sail plan that the electric pilot could handle easier. The biggest drawback to electric autopilots is that they steer a perfect course, but do not allow for changes in wind direction. This means that if the winds shift and get behind the mainsail, the boom could unexpectedly jibe over. The Monitor vane automatically keeps us on the course our sails are trimmed for, whereas the electric pilot will require constant attention to wind angle and a new course will have to be punched in manually every time the wind shifts. Since we are wing-on-wing the main is already sheeted out, so very little adjustment can be made to sail trim. We just have to maintain the tricky line to avoid a jibe. We cracked off a bit to the south, so that the winds favored the downwind pole side of the boat, rather than the boom side.

The bad luck happened in a quick set of three, so hopefully things will return to normal. We never did see that sunset…too busy adjusting to our new set of passage rules. Kelsey woke me up at 2330 hrs to tell me she’d seen a light. Somewhere up ahead of us, I saw it too. A flashing red and white light of some sort. I guessed it was a fishing buoy but I’ll have to look it up. We saw it flash a few more times up ahead, and then nothing. Needless to say, it had us very worried. It was almost as if the lights were there just to scare and annoy us! After all these fishing boats and clutter in the water, we’re feeling pretty rattled about collision at sea.

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