Monday, 31 August 2015

Rodrigues Inbound Day 14

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 19 07s 65 24e sailing at 6.5 knots on a course of 270M. The wind is 20-25 knots from the ESE with a 2m sea, short 2m SE swell and long 2m SSW swell. We are sailng under triple-furled yankee and double-reefed main. Our day's run was 140nm and we have 115nm to go.

Yesterday the winds remained 20-25 knots all day. Later in the afternoon a line of thunderstorms came over the horizon bringing more wind. By late evening we were down to a handkerchief of yankee and no main, in a squall of 40 knots plus with rain. I left it a little late getting the main down and suffered the consequence of being well and truly drenched while eventually doing so. This squall provided the worst weather we've seen on this passage so far, but not as bad as the gale on our way to CKI. The winds were similar but the sea state not as bad last night.

We continued to sail with yankee only for the rest of the night, rolling and unrolling it as other squalls came and went. With a stiff breeze we weren't rolling too badly and slept very well. 8-10 cargo ships passed us during the night, only two coming into visual range. We appear to have been crossing the lane from the Cape to India.

This morning Nicki was on watch in the companionway while I was at the navstation below talking to Vulcan Spirit on the HF when we were sideswiped. Nicki was drenched, I got pretty wet, and so did the navstation generally. Thankfully the MacBook appears to be OK (so far). We usually have a canvas cover over the nav table but it was off so I could take notes. The breaking wave came out of nowhere and dumped itself on our deck. We had perhaps a second of "freight train" noise before it hit. We were knocked down to beyond 45 degrees but we'll never know quite how far. These breaking waves are a feature of this passage and we've been pretty lucky in avoiding bad ones until this morning.

We anticipate arriving at Rodriguez after dawn tomorrow. Handing the main slowed us down quite a bit and we'd prefer to arrive in daylight anyway, so now we're going to manage our speed to the ETA. That said, the main is back up (double-reefed) and we're sailing along nicely.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Rodrigues Inbound Day 13

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 18 28S 67 44E saling at 6 knots on a course of 280M. The wind is 20-25 knots from the SE with 2m seas, short 3m SE swell and long 2m SSW swell. The seas are somewhat confused this morning. We are sailing under triple-furled yankee and double-reefed main. Our day's run was 150nm and we have 255nm to go - just a Fremantle-Geraldton!

Yesterday morning the winds continued to be quite light and we had a very pleasant sail under single-reefed main. In the afternoon the wind gradually increased to around 25 knots. In the late afternoon a line of thunderstorms came through so we had light rain, varying wind direction and gusts to 30 knots. The wind direction changes allowed us to "put a little in the bank" to the NW of the rhumb line but also created a very confused sea.

Overnight we had a full moon so could see the seascape very clearly. Like the prayer says, your ocean is so big and our boat so small Lord! There were waves breaking all over the place but happily we didn't get pooped, and only copped a couple of minor "side-swipers". Actively keeping the boat moving well certainly helps.

The clouds passed over in the early hours leaving scattered small cumulus in place of broken large cumulus. The seas have remained confused but are now starting to settle. We're hoping for nicer conditions today so we can catch up on sleep.

Vulcan Spirit arrived at Rodriguez last night and anchored off Port Maturin. They were given a waypoint at which to anchor which they report is very well protected. It is at 19 40.12s 63 25.79e in about 12m of water. We may well try it out ourselves on Monday night.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Rodrigues Inbound Day 12

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 17 47S 70 02E sailing at 6 knots on a course of 260M. The wind is 15 knots from the SE with a 1m sea, short 2m SE swell and long 2m SSW swell. We are sailing under single-furled yankee and single-reefed main. Our day's run was 146nm and we have 400nm to go.

Yesterday morning the wind built steadily until by noon we had 26-28 knots gusting 30+ from the SSE. We took the opportunity to try out the staysail (= storm jib) and it worked very well. Being lower it reduced heeling significantly. However we found that downwind in the wind at the time it didn't produce enough power with the double-reefed main to keep the boat moving at 6 knots so we returned to the triple-furled yankee after an hour. We try to keep the boat moving at around 6 knots since she seems to take the waves more gently and requires less autopilot steering action.

The wind started easing late in the afternoon. By mid-evening we were back to full yankee and single-reefed main with around 15 knots of wind. Our course has been all over the place during the last 24 hours as we've tried to keep the boat moving in varying combinations of wind and sea state. With lighter winds and leftover sea we have to head up substantially to keep the sails full and driving, and to minimise rolling. We're trying to stay north of the rhumb line since ESE winds are expected.

Yesterday evening a new boat was added to the sked. Tuuletar is an Australian yacht currently on passage from Broome to Christmas Island. They were 2300nm away from us but we managed to exchange information on 8MHz. I think that's the longest range yacht to yacht voice contact we've ever had from Zen Again.

Last night we had an almost full moon which was very spectacular. After midnight it formed a nice "staircase to Rodriguez" which lasted almost til dawn. In the early hours of the morning we crossed paths with a large cargo verssel bound for South America. They changed course to pass a mile astern after we called them on VHF to check they could see our AIS signal. Big ships look quite close at night at one mile range! The Chinese OOD had very good English and was very courteous.

Trust all's well where you are!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Rodrigues Inbound Day 11

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 17 38S 72 36E sailing at 6.5 knots on a course of 275M.  The wind is 20-25 knots from the SE with a 2m sea, 2m SE swell and long period 2m SSW swell.  We are under double-furled yankee and double-reefed main.  Our day's run was 153nm and we have 540nm to go.

We had a good sail yesterday after the heavier clouds moved away, leaving typical trade wind cumulus.  The wind held in at around 25 knots for most of the day with a period when it reached around 30 knots.  We were well reefed down and the apparent wind was on the beam so the ride wasn't too bad.

Overnight the wind was 18-24 knots under a brightly moonlit sky.  Very spectacular.  On watch was very pleasant and off-watch we slept well.

Chasing the Sunset

When we departed CKI our main water tanks were full (of course).  We  didn't fill our jerry cans apart from the 10 litre emergency can.  So we decided to close the valve between the main 60 litre and 80 litre main tanks in case of a leak.  We draw from the smaller one.  Amazingly we still have not emptied the tank after 10 days.  This water is used for everything except hand washing and toothbrushing in the head.  The head sink has its own 30 litre bladder supply which is also still not empty.  Talk about water conservation!  And yes, we do wash - every other day!

An interesting aspect of navigation on long passages is changing compass variation.  We started the trip with quite small variation (like on the WA west coast).  We now have 13 degrees of W variation.  Forces one back to remembering the ditties, in particular "Variation West Compass Best".  So our current course of 270M is 257T.

Trust all's well where you are.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Rodrigues Inbound Day 10

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 17 47S 75 12E, sailing at 6.5 knots on a course of 290M.  The wind is 20-25 knots from the SSE with a 2m sea and roughly 2m swells from the SE and SSW.  The swell from the SSW has very long period.  We are under triple-furled yankee and single-reefed main.  Interestingly our day's run was 151nm yet again.  We have 680nm to go - just a Sydney-Hobart!

Yesterday we had a fantastic sail in 15 knot winds under full sail.  It was the first time we had the full main hoisted on this passage.  The seas gradually settled and we had a very pleasant day.  In the late afternoon a line of small thunderstorms came over the southern horizon and brought drizzle with 10 knots more wind.  We dropped a reef in the main and a couple of furls in the yankee to keep our speed down to around hull speed (~7.2knots).

The night went by with frequently changing weather as lines of thunderstorms passed overhead.  We think they are associated with a high ridging in down south.  As each came overhead the wind increased and veered from ESE to  SSE.  The SSE wind allowed us to bear away and edge northwest towards the rhumb line to Rodriguez.  We're expecting the wind to return to ESE so the chance to make some northing was welcome.

We are obtaining weather info from two main sources.  One is PredictWind which provides GRIBs based on 4 weather models - GFS, CMC, PWG and PWC.  We generally download the PWG and PWC GRIBs.  We also download MetArea text forecasts from PredictWind which are useful.  The second is zyGrib which provides GFS-based GRIBs but with more parameters than PredictWind.  This is the GRIB I use most of the time.

The program we use to present GRIB wind and pressure data is qtVlm.  This is open-source software which also provides routing functions.  Below is a screenshot from the early hours of this morning.  It shows our position surrounded by polar diagram, relative wind angle circle and compass circle.  There is a velocity vector showing where we'll be in 12 hours.  The orange line is the recommended route to Rodriguez.  Background colour shading shows wind strength and arrows show wind direction.

qtVlm screenshot

We don't use these tools to "tell us what to do".  Rather we use them to check our own analysis of the GRIBs.  On this passage the GRIB wind data has been pretty accurate, perhaps a little on the light side compared to our own estimation of wind strength.  Also the timing of weather feature movements is often a little off.  For example I believe the High SW of our position above is actually further east than shown so we're in the "yellow" wind.

We find GRIB files very useful, allowing us to position the boat for likely future wind changes (to some degree).  For example that's why we bore away beyond the course to Rodriguez when the wind went SSE.  We expect the change to last only a day or so before reverting to ESE, so took the opportunity to get that northing.

qtVlm receives GPS data from our instrumentation system, which is how it shows our SOG and COG at left.  I only had to wait a moment to capture the 8.6 knots!  ;)

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Rodrigues Inbound Day 9

Hi everyone,
We are currently at position 17 25S 77 51E sailing at 5.5 knots on a course of 255M. The wind is E at 10-12 knots with a 1m sea and 2m SE swell. We are under full sail for the first time on this passage. Our day's run was 151nm and we have 830nm to go.

It's quite pleasant to be sailing along in a gentle wind for a change. Between the "sets" of swell the ride is good but the sets set us rolling and knock the wind out of the sails. Nevertheless Nicki is using the relative calm to bake some bread and planning to cook a "proper" dinner tonight. Sounds good to me!

Yesterday we had a great sail and held on to more sail than we had been previously. The wind was just right for a single furl in the yankee plus the single reefed main. The boat romped along 7 knots for hours on end and the ride was very comfortable. At "happy hour" we celebrated the half-way mark with a small tot of rum each, plus one for King Neptune. We also opened our "care pack" which was filled with a wide variety of treats - thanks Tracy!

Last night the wind gradually decreased. We went "through the gears" until early this morning we had full sail up. It was uncomfortable while the left-over sea persisted but now it's not too bad. We've been extremely lucky with the weather so far.

We haven't seen much wildlife since getting clear of CKI. A few sea birds visit us occasionally. Yesterday a tropic bird tried in vain to land on our masthead - a very silly idea given our rolling motion. He gave it several tries but gave up eventually. One thing we see a lot of is flying fish. Not often in/over the sea but mostly on board. Every morning there's a number of them lying on deck. Many are less than 30mm long, most are around 80mm long and a few are over 200mm in length. There are certainly plenty of flying fish in the Indian Ocean.

The temperature is gradually decreasing as we edge south. At CKI the water temperature was over 28C and the weather was warm and humid. Now the water is about 25C and the nights are cool enough to warrant using our sea-rugs (light duvets) off watch and long sleeves and pants on watch.

The sked last night included 7 yachts enroute to Rodriguez plua one which had just departed Rodriguez. US yacht Apogee had a great time there and is now heading towards Mauritius with British yachts Sea Bunny and Minnie B.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Rodrigues Inbound Day 8

Hi everyone,
We are currently at position 16 43S 80 20E sailing at 6 knots on a course of 270M  Note that variation is 10W here!  The wind is ESE at 14-18 knots with a 2m SE sea and swell.  We are sailing under yankee and single-reefed main.  Our day's run was 145nm and we have 980nm to run - we have passed the half-way point!

Morning twilight

We've had another instance of our log misbehaving.  It appears to have dropped 20nm.  This is quite clear as it only logged 11nm in a 6 hour period and we know we weren't going that slow!  The same thing occurred on our passage to Cocos.  Both happened when the trip log reached 1000nm.  Seems Mr Raymarine didn't expect ST40 instruments to do ocean passages!

The strength of the wind was constantly changing overnight which meant we were very under-canvassed at times.  Twas quite uncomfortable in the light patches with the boat uncomfortably  Then a cloud would come over and we'd be charging along for a while.  Made for a busy night.  Given the most sail we had up was the full (No 2 size) yankee and the single-reefed main (which is actually equivalent to a double-reefed normal main) I think we did OK.

Our mainsail is about 90% hoist and was made for us by Extreme Sails in Fremantle.  Dubbo and Carl did a great job on the sail.  The sail is only 2 sqm smaller than a normal main since it has extra roach.  However all the lost area is aloft and it certainly does slow us down in light airs.  On the other hand the second reef gives us a trisail sized sail which is proving VERY useful.  The sail has batten cars which fit our mast slot and have external rollers each side - they work very well indeed when reefing.

Chasing the sun under yankee and single-reefed main

The sked last night included seven yachts.  One of the British yachts did daily runs of over 180nm for its first two days out - pretty good going.  There's evidently more wind in the east at present.  We could tell they were pushing the boat since every day they reported a breakage.  Happily they managed to fix (at least temporarily) each breakage.

To mark passing the halfway mark Nic made an omelette for breakfast.  Usually we have cereal so this was a great treat.  This afternoon we'll have a small tot of rum for three (one for King Neptune) to toast his magnificent benefaction upon our passage so far!

Monday, 24 August 2015

Cocos-Keeling Outbound Day 7

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 16 16S 82 44E, sailing at 6 knots on a course of 260M. The wind is 15-20 knots from the ESE with a 2m SE sea and swell. We are sailing under full yankee and double-reefed main. There is a thin layer of broken cloud overhead which is letting the solar panels charge fairly well. Our day's run to 0800 was 149nm and we have 1125nm to run.

This morning we rolled our clocks back one hour to UTC+5 which explains the 0800 above. We aren't quite at 82 30E but we chose to stay in sync with Vulcan Spirit to avoid confusion over HF chat times. We just have to keep our eyes on UTC to ensure we don't forget to run the Indian Ocean Crossers' sked at 1200UTC this afternoon.

Yesterday the wind held in at 18-22 knots all day and most of the night. It's amazing the difference a few knots of wind speed makes to the height of the seas. Where yesterday we had about 4m combined sea and swell, today we have only about 2m. Much more comfortable! I suspect there is even lighter wind further south which may explain the large difference.

Last night was quite pleasant. For half of the night we had the half-moon creating a "stairway to Rodriguez" ahead of us. When the moon set we had a nice starry night for several hours until the cloud started moving in. For the first time on this passage we both slept our entire 3 hour off-watches.

The sked last night had 5 yachts on the list and we managed to get all their positions. They cover an area from 1/2 way to Rodriguez to near Chagos to CKI. Their nationalities include Australian, British and Swedish, with US and German yachts joining tonight when they depart CKI.

We expect the wind to decrease further over the next day or two. If it does we'll shake out one of the reefs to keep the boat moving well. We think we remember how to do that!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Cocos-Keeling Outbound Day 6

Hi everyone,
We are now at position 15 23S 85 09E sailing at 6 knots on a course of 260M. The wind is 18-22 knots from the ESE and we have a 2.5m SE sea and a very low SSW swell. We are sailing under single-furled yankee and double-reefed main. The sky is pretty much clear of cloud - a nice sunny day. Our day's run to 0900 was 151nm, exactly the same as yesterday, and we have 1270nm to run. We are more than a third of the way there!

Yesterday the wind held in at 20-25 knots all day. Cloud reduced as the day wore on and overnight we had a fairly clear sky. This morning the wind gradually eased to 18-22 knots which is in line with GRIB forecasts. Hopefully it won't decrease much more. The ride is still quite rolly but not as viciously so as it has been. We are starting to hope that the cross-swell from the SSW is behind us. Most accounts state the cross-swell diminishes west of 90E and that appears to be happening for us.

We're now pretty well settled into a routine, especially since the weather has been quite consistent. In addition to reading a lot individually we watch a video together during the day. We wouldn't be doing that if sailing conditions weren't good! It's nice to be able to spend a little time together (other than at meal times) since we're working "watch and watch about". For the last couple of nights we've adapted our watch routine so that the on-watch crew can "catnap" for 15 minutes at a time during their night watches. This is giving us both much more sleep while still preserving a good lookout.

There are now five yachts on passage from CKI with two of those departing yesterday. The evening sked is getting busier. I enjoy running skeds and our radio seems to be performing well. Also on the radio I've been using the Winlink station in Mauritius to test our backup email. I first contacted the station just after leaving Cocos-Keeling. The station is quite new and really improves coverage in the Indian Ocean. Sailmail users have less choice than Winlink users in this part of the world. Sailmail is a paid service while Winlink is free but only available to licenced amateur (ham) operators. Winlink offers Winmor as well as Pactor-based communication which is much cheaper to install.

Sometime tomorrow night we expect to cross 82 30E so will move our clocks back an hour. The day after we should reach the half-way mark. Both are nice milestones at sea. One of our friends in WA gave us a "care pack" which was not to be opened before departing CKI. That's scheduled for inspection at one of these milestones!

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Cocos-Keeling Outbound Day 5

Hi everyone,
We are currently at position 14 39S 87 37E sailing at 6 knots on a course of 265M. The wind is 20-25 knots from the SE with a 3m sea and low SSW swell. We are sailing under "tripple reefed" (ie third furling mark) yankee and double-reefed main. The sky is 7/8ths overcast. Our day's run to 0900 was 151nm and we have 1420nm to run.

Yesterday the wind stayed under 20 knots for most of the day. Gradually cloud built up with more wind under each cloud. Eventually we had a few showers of rain in the late afternoon and the wind built to 25-28 knots. We gradually furled the yankee as the wind increased.

Overnight the wind persisted over 25 knots and the seas built to the point we were starting to be side-swiped by breaking waves. Nothing dramatic but the first time we've had green water aboard this trip. We put the storm boards in the companionway and stayed below for most of the night - just popping our heads out to check on things once in a while. Even with the reduced sail we were sitting on 7 knots for extended periods which certainly helped our day's run.

This morning the winds have abated somewhat and the seas have certainly settled down. We are still well reefed down since we're still doing over 6 knots average. Definitely in cruising mode on this passage - taking care of the boat so she'll take care of us.

Vulcan Spirit is now 80nm WSW of us. We speak with them each morning on the HF (using DSC Watch to exchange positions and then go to a voice frequency). They were doing 8-9 knots all night so scooted a further 20nm away from us in 12 hours. We expect to take 2-3 days longer than them on this passage.

Trust all's well where you are!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Cocos-Keeling Outbound Day 4

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 14 02 S 90 00E, sailing at 6 knots on a course of 255M. The wind is 15-18 knots from the SE with a 2m sea and low swell from the SSW. We are sailing under full yankee and double-reefed main. ie All very similar to yesterday except the wind is a little lighter. Today there's barely a cloud in the sky. Our day's run to 0900 was 148nm and we have 1560nm to run. Nearly 1/4 of the way there!

Yesterday afternoon was fairly cloudy with increased wind under the clouds. Only got up to around 25 knots of true wind though. The boat is loving these conditions and is making good speed considering we have next to no main up. The double-reefed main is oversheeted in an attempt to limit the rolling which is ever-present. Mostly it is gentle rolling but "sets" of waves/swell come through which make the rolls quite violent. I dislike rolling to windward, which is what we do when we come off the back of a bigger cross-swell and sea.

Last night the wind conditions persisted in the evening with the wind and cloud reducing to 18-22 and 1/8 around midnight. After that it was very pleasant. We now spend most of our time below (day or night), just going on deck to lookout every 10 minutes or so. We haven't encountered any traffic since our first evening out when two cargo ships passed well clear.

The moon is gradually waxing as our passage continues. We started with a sliver of moon for a couple of hours after sunset. Each night we get another 40 minutes of moonlight, plus a few minutes more from our movement west! Speaking of moving west we have been using UTC+6 time since departing CKI. We're looking forward to reaching 82 30E where we'll change to UTC+5.

While enjoying the conditions we've been able to organise replacement parts for a few items which failed enroute from Carnarvon to CKI. Firstly our LED tricolour is misbehaving, turning on both tricolour and anchor light at once. It's not a wiring problem because turning both on produces the strobe light as it should. Secondly we managed to shear off the volume knob on our VHF extension speaker which is now silent. Thirdly our automatic danbuoy inflated itself during a pooping so we're getting new water switches and strobes for it. The guys at Yacht Grot in Fremantle have been great sourcing the parts for us, including the light which is not widely sold in Australia.

Our longitude just rolled over into the 80s. Time for some good ol' rock'n'roll!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Cocos-Keeling Outbound Day 3

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 13 15S 92 21E, sailing at 6.5 knots on a course of 255M. The wind is 18-22 knots from the ESE with a 2m sea and low swell from the SSW. We are sailing under full yankee and double-reefed (trisail size) main. Our day's run to 0900 was 150nm and we have 1710nm to run.

Yesterday afternoon the wind gradually built to 20+ knots. We were tramping along under single-reefed main and a few turns out of the yankee. We spent much of the afternoon giving the backup autopilot a run. It is working well, as is the primary unit. Early in the evening we changed back to the primary and put the second reef in the main. That was much more comfortable - we don't need to be surfing waves out here!

Weather conditions were very stable overnight and we made good progress. There were a few scattered clouds about so we had a nice starry night. No sideswippers yet but the motion is tiring. The boat is rolling a fair bit so bracing one's self is a priority. Definitely "one hand for yourself and one for the ship".

We're eating well thanks to Nicki's preparations. Working our way through precooked meals to which we add freshly pressure-cooked veggies. We follow the hot meal with chilled fruit which is great in the sticky heat at the end of the day.

Not much to report in the way of wild-life. We see a handful of birds during the day but otherwise nothing. Sadly we're seeing plastic debris from time to time, presumably washed out to sea from Indonesia.

Prior to the sked last night we managed to chat with Australian yacht Tuuletar ( on 8297kHz. They have just departed Broome - about 1800nm away. There are still only three yachts doing the sked but we expect this to increase as others leave Ccoos.

Trust all's well where you are!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Cocos-Keeling Outbound Day 2

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 12 25S 94 42E, sailing at 6.5knots on a course of 255M. The wind is 12-18 knots from the ESE. Bright sunny sky. Our day's run to 0900 today was 127nm due to light winds overnight. We had 1860nm to run at that time.

Yesterday afternoon we sailed WNW on starboard tack in a ENE wind which started 15-18 knots but decreased to 8-10 by evening. It veered to E so we gybed onto port tack at 1830. This gave a much steadier ride since both sea and SSW swell were on one side of the boat.

At 1800 last night we conducted the Indian Ocean Crosser's HF net, talking to Mahi Mahi, Vulcan Spirit and My Lady. It's fun conducting the sked, but only if one's radio is working well. Happily we seem to have ours "sorted" at present. We expect a steady stream of boats to join the net when they depart Cocos, plus possibily some approaching Cocos.

We had a good but slow sail overnight with a new moon initially and then bright starlight. Only a few clouds passed by, usually giving a little more wind for a while. It's nice to have pleasant sailing conditions for the first night out. It was rolly but not too bad. We had the full yankee headsail unrollled and a single-reef in the main. We're trying to get the power forward to help get the wind vane working, but too little apparent wind for it so far.

Around dawn this morning a line of clouds passed over and the wind went further around to the ESE. This allows us to head directly for Rodriguez which is great. Won't last of course! ;) We're starting to see a foretaste of the "sideswipers" notorious on this passage. They are brief combinations of swell and sea which break. If you happen to be in that tiny patch of ocean when it happens you can get anything from a little spray to a green-water pooping. At present it's the former thankfully.

Enjoying the next bite of the elephant so far!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Cocos-Keeling Outbound Day 1

Hi everyone,
We departed Direction Island at 0915 this morning and are now on passage towards Rodriguez Island.  Our current position is 11 52S 96 19E, on a course of 290 at around 5 knots.  The wind is from the ENE at 10-12 knots so we're getting a gentle start to this 2000nm passage.

We departed in company with Vulcan Spirit.  They gradually ran away from us and are now out of sight ahead.  Over the next few days several other yachts plan to follow us so we should have plenty of company on the HF skeds.

Yesterday turned into our "one perfect day" at DI.  The sun was out for most of the day and the place is stunning in such conditions.  We swam the Rip again and everything was far brighter and more colourful.

Zen Again at Direction Island

A view in the Rip on our one perfect day

Yesterday we also did several pre-departure jobs aboard.  One was to prepare a plaque to leave behind on DI.  We used an old piece of teak which we engraved before painting filling-in with paint and varnishing overall.  It is now on one of the beams in the yachtie's shelter.  Another job was to visit Home Island to fill our Diesel jerry cans.

Zen Again's plaque ashore on DI

We really enjoyed our time at Cocos-Keeling.  It's a shame the weather was so bad at times but that didn't change the magic of being at such a place.  Nonetheless it was time to move on after 2 1/2 weeks.  We're expecting a few days of good weather but we'll have to take what we're given after that!

Trust all's well where you are.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Direction Island Day 16

Hi everyone,
We're still here!  We decided to stay at Direction Island for another few days in the hope of experiencing "one perfect day".  Hasn't happened so far but conditions are better than they have been for 10 days or so.  The wind has swung into the NE which makes the anchorage very protected, albeit with a little swell getting in.

Masthead View

As usual, the time flies by filled with work and play…

  • Provisioning at Home Island following arrival supply ship
  • Fixed blocked sink drain
  • Replaced cracked nut on boom gooseneck "pin" bolt
  • Inspected rig from top to bottom
  • Collected fresh water during rain
  • Treated cushions and lockers with vinegar and cloves to ward off mould

  • Snorkled the anchorage and the rip several times
  • Sundowner on the beach last night
  • Morning coffee on Zen Again with the Vulcan Spirits
  • Cards night on Vulcan Spirit
  • Met new arrivals

The cracked nut had two cracks, each from one end of a face to the other and each on opposite faces.  There was very little holding the nut together.  Some combination of manufacturing defect, crevice corrosion and fatigue perhaps.  The nut has been there for nearly 30 years and luckily there are several identical nuts elsewhere and with less critical functions.  Vulcan Spirit had spares too.

The rig inspection found no other issues but it confirmed a problem with our masthead nav lights.  Whenever we turn on either tricolour or anchor light BOTH come on.  It isn't a wiring problem since turning both on produces a strobe which is correct.  The problem must be in the unit itself so we'll look into sourcing a replacement for installation later.

Resting Sharks in the Rip

I spent a few hours helping out aboard German catamaran La Medianoche.  Programmed their HF radio for routine DSC use, tested its transmit power and restored connections to get their Pactor modem working again.

There are currently 9 boats in the anchorage.  Three boats arrived two days ago - Bomoh (Australian), Y Not (Germany) and Chesapeake (US).  We expect there to be an exodus this week, with several boats planning to take the next suitable weather.  We and Vulcan Spirit plan to leave on Tuesday.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Manson Supreme

Hi everyone,
This post is dedicated to our anchor, a Manson Supreme, 'cos supreme it is.

Last night was an interesting night here at Direction Island.  The wind started to blow yesterday afternoon and it just kept building until around midnight when several boats recorded gusts over 50 knots.  One yacht further out in the anchorage recorded gusts over 60 knots.  The wind was steadily over 40 knots from about 2100 to 0100.

Our Manson Supreme

The wind blew from the SSE initially and after it peaked it swung to the SE.  While SSE there was a 1m sea running through the anchorage with lots of white water.  We weren't taking green water over the bow but were copping a fair bit of spray.  When it backed to SE the island created a bit of a lee and the seas were reduced.  Bands of heavy rain came through at intervals.

We were anchored in 5m of water over sand.  We had our 16kg Manson Supreme anchor well dug in from previous lesser blows here.  We had about 30m of 8mm chain out with a 4m snubber of 14mm nylon.  The snubber was protected from chafe by a 0.5m length of 50mm helisteel hose.  We considered letting out more chain but I was concerned that doing so would increase the shock loads as the boat "fishtailed" to and fro.  This proved to be a good call since we never felt really big shocks of the boat being "tacked" by the anchor.

British yacht Levada in the rain

It's no fun being anchored only a short distance from a lee shore when it's blowing a gale.  It's amazing none of the  seven boats dragged.  It shows the boats all have good ground tackle and that the holding here is excellent.

Aboard Zen Again we kept anchor watch until about 0100 when the worst seemed to be over.  At the height of the gale the boombag zipper unzipped itself and we had to go on deck to resecure the main with sail ties.  Happily it wasn't raining at the time but the wind was certainly blowing a hooligan.

Unlike all the other boats here we have no davits for our dinghy so had to leave it trailing close astern on two painters.  We had its anchor and spare fuel secured right in its bow to hold it down and the rain probably helped too.  It survived unscathed.  Likewise all our canvas survived (thanks Debbie!).  Our side dodgers are actually attached using shockcord which probably protected them last night and particularly during the gale on our passage from Carnarvon.

Australian catamaran Shayler in the rain

Today just about everyone went ashore at lunchtime to trade war-stories, collect well rinsed-washing and windfall coconuts and/or have lunch.  We had a great BBQ lunch with the Vulcan Spirits.  It was actually sunny for a few hours but is now overcast and raining again.  Happily the wind has been moderating and is predicted to continue to do so.

One of the skippers went over to Home Island this morning.  He chatted with a few of the locals who said winds of this strength are almost unheard of here.  Apparently they said "we don't get cyclones like last night very often".  It wasn't a cyclone thankfully, but it was a lot of wind.

Thanks Mr Manson!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Direction Island Day 10

Hi everyone,
We've had a busy few days here at DI.  Again a mixture of boat work and leisure.

  • Fitted hose to protect anchor snubber line from chafing on the bow roller/chain
  • Fitted our old autotuner to Australian catamaran Shayler and recommissioned their HF radio
  • Laundry
  • Breadmaking

  • Swam the rip several times, seeing several sharks and many colourful fish
  • Explored the north end of DI
  • Lots of relaxing!

Swimming in the rip is a lot of fun.  We've mainly done so using the dinghy to get to the upstream end and then swim down with the current with one of us holding on the the dinghy.  Each time we've seen several 1m+ sharks (black tip and white tip), several large fish and many smaller fish.  Unfortunately the photos to date don't do it justcie but here are a couple.  Once we swam all the way from the main DI beach to the rip and explored the far side where there are some nice coral "gardens".

In the Rip

In the Rip

The work we've done for Shayler will give them a working HF radio system, something worth having when crossing the Indian Ocean.  Their tuner failed a few years ago but with our old tuner and their radio installed they are up and running.  There is a HF radio net operating amongst the yachts, including yachts on passage from SE Asia or Australia to Cocos-Keeling and on to Rodrigues and beyond.  Our own radio is now performing well and we have been able to talk with yachts approaching Rodrigues (2000nm away) and one yacht in the Kimberley region of WA.

The weather has been gradually degrading over the last few days.  Yesterday the SSE wind really started to blow and by evening it was hitting 40 knots.  It was uncomfortable since there is about 1nm of fetch to the SSE, which produced a chop approaching 1m.  Happily the holding here is very good and everyone rode it out without incident.  I was happy to have fitted the hose.  There was a lot of rain overnight and the wind gradually backed to the SE which reduced the chop but it continued to blow over 30knots all night.

The wind finally eased down to 20-25 knots this afternoon.  We spent the afternoon aboard Vulcan Spirit playing board games.  During the morning we topped up our fresh water tanks from the rain, just opening the deck filler and building a "dam" to direct the water into it with a towel.  Collected about 40 litres in an hour.  Dam design is critical so we'll do better with practice!

We expect the weather to be windy and rainy for a frew more days.  Winds look like being light for a while after that.  We're considering staying until next weekend.  It would be nice to see Cocos-Keeling at its best before leaving.

Trust all's well where you are!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Nicki's Notes on Provisioning

Hi everyone,

I've had a few questions about meals on passage, so this post will be all about Zen Again's meal plans.  I always find it hard to advise other cruisers about provisioning as there are so many individual dependencies which influence decisions on what and how much will be obtained, stored and prepared.  Some people I know survive on cheese and crackers during their voyages, while those blessed with large freezers can make multiple home cooked meals to enjoy on passage.  Provisioning is also determined by stowage space - our boat is towards the smaller end of the spectrum and we don't have a freezer, but we do have a 60L fridge, Mike's construction of which is described in earlier blog postings from this year.  Therefore most of our meals must be prepared on passage, with only the essentials being kept in the fridge (e.g. dairy, bacon, hams etc.)

Provisioning for this passage was particularly challenging given the limited availability and high cost of goods on Cocos-Keeling, therefore I planned for our supplies to last the journey from Carnarvon to Cocos, our time in Cocos and our passage from Cocos towards the next available supermarket in Rodrigues.  All up our supplies were to last 8-10 weeks!
Because I prepared meals each day on passage, it was important that the meals were simple and quick to prepare to reduce the chance of them sliding off the counters onto the floor which is always very annoying. 

So, what did we eat on passage?  For breakfast we usually have cereal, weather permitting - if it's too bouncy a bread roll and butter will suffice.   For cooler climate sailing, instant oats was great as it is filling and warming, and dead simple to make.  

For lunches, I pre-prepare as many rolls and sandwiches as I can stow for the first 3 - 4 days, as these make a great quick meal while we're getting our sea legs.  Once these have gone, I prepare sandwiches or salads using tinned cannellini beans, 3 bean mixes and so on.  I add a tin of tuna or chicken, some diced tomato, cucumber and capsicum, add some olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, and lunch is ready.  In better weather I furiously pre-prepare salads to store in the fridge - that way if there's a blow developing we have food already available to grab and tip into a bowl, ready to go.  I also cook rice, pasta and couscous for salads - couscous is good in the warmer climates as it requires minimal cooking.  Again it's just a case of adding some fresh veg and tinned tuna or chicken and we're all set to eat.   I also bought some smoked chicken breasts, and some quality hams from the deli sections of the supermarkets as these have a shelf life of up to 2 months and provide a nice fresh change in salads or sandwiches.  When I open the packets I wrap the ham in a Chux cloth that has been moistened with white vinegar and it keeps for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.  If the weather permits then sometimes I will make omelette for lunch too.

We have our main meal in the evening: if I can, I make some meals beforehand for first 2 days to provide meals that are tasty and easy to heat up when we're starting a passage.  When these have been eaten, it's onto the canned meals -  Stagg Chilli is by far the best tinned meal we have tried.  It comes in several varieties and is substantial enough in itself although I may add some nachos for extra interest and crunch.  The Chunky Soups are less satisfactory and seem to consist mostly of goop, so require additional bulking up in the form of a tin of vegetables, beans etc.  Of the tinned veg, only the corn and potatoes are really palatable.  I may also cook some instant rice (Continental or Uncle Ben's) as these require minimal cooking and very little water.  We tried the instant pasta on previous voyages and didn't think they were too good. That said, I haven't cooked much instant rice due to the pressure cooker being so good at cooking regular rice.  More on that later….

Following dinner, we like to finish with dessert.  In cooler places we may enjoy tinned rice, otherwise we usually eat tinned fruit with some evaporated milk.  However for this passage, the amount of tins required made it prohibitive. So I bottled fresh fruit into several Mason Jars (pictured) and using the waterbath method, are still as good as ever after bottling them in May.  I intend to reuse the jars (have bought extra lids) when we get to another place which sells good fresh fruit.  We have found that the bottled fruit tastes much better than the tinned varieties as they haven't been boiled to death.  This approach also reduces the amount of trash generated, always a good thing.

Bottled plums ready for dessert

In the tropics I sometimes make jelly as that is very easy to make, and fits very well into screw topped containers which I keep in the fridge.

For snacks, we tend to stick to fresh fruit, although I often bake a cake or 2 before departing and store it already cut up in an airtight container so we can grab a piece when we need it.  We may have muesli bars and/or fun size chocolate bars, but on this passage they were quickly depleted, and I prefer to minimise my consumption of highly sugary foods and stick to sandwiches and fruit instead.

Standbys - if the weather really is lousy and we just can't face a full meal, we have a number of instant meals available to fill the gap while the weather improves: Cup a Soups are invaluable and make a great snack on the 3am watch.  There are some really nice varieties out there - so far my favourite is the Asian Laksa - very tasty!  We also have lots of instant noodles, and some very good instant Indian meals that are boiled in the bag and tipped out into a bowl ready to go.

Other points to make:
growers markets definitely provide better longer lasting produce as they haven't been prechilled on transport. That said, Woolworths in Carnarvon sold excellent potatoes that are still fine 2 months on, and some excellent oranges from Moora - good to see local produce being sold!   There were excellent growers markets in Fremantle, Geraldton and Carnarvon where we bought tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicum for salads, and potatoes and onions for meals. It's important to check carefully for soft spots and blemishes as they will turn bad very quickly   We don't store and fruit or veg in the fridge, instead they are stored in plastic crates in the quarterberth (pictured) between layers of newspaper.  Every other day I carefully check each piece to check for spoilage - if any are on the turn, I rotate them to the front to be used immediately to reduce wastage.  I am also careful to keep the potatoes and onions separate, as they will cause the spuds to start sprouting.

Fruit and veg stored in the quarterberth

Using a pressure cooker:  I have been very impressed with our small pressure cooker as it has been invaluable in cooking rice, pulses and fresh vegetables with less water and a fraction of the time required for regular cooking.  This saves on gas and water (always a consideration as we don't have a watermaker), and doesn't heat the cabin up so much which is great for sailing in the tropics.  For example I can cook green beans in under 2 minutes to be added to the evening meal or a salad, and we have found this to be much more palatable than the green-brown mush that passes for tinned beans, peas etc.  So I will definitely be making much more use of the pressure cooker for future passages!

I hope this answers all the questions you had about meals at sea, but if there's anything else you'd like to know about life on board please don't hesitate to ask!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Direction Island Day 6

Hi everyone,
The days are flying by here at Cocos-Keeling.  We've been continuing to work on boat jobs with leisure activities in-between.  

One of many beautiful beaches on West Island

Here's what we've been up to in summary…

  • Fixed HF transmit problem by replacing antenna feed cable from tuner to backstay
  • Filled jerry cans with fresh water kindly supplied by Vulcan Spirit
  • Polished much of the s/s on deck, some of which (the original s/s) needed it badly
  • Identified some chafe to be attended to (mainly where the lazy jib sheet rests on the staysail)

  • Snorkelled the rip at low-water - quite a few nice fish but will probably be better on a flooding tide
  • Sundowner ashore with most of the other boats here in the anchorage
  • Sundowner on Zen Again with the Vulcan Spirits
  • Day trip to West Island (via Home Island)

The visit to West Island was fun.  We (and the Vulcan Spirits) were up before dawn to dinghy across to Home Island in time to catch the 0700 ferry to West Island.  The 1.5nm dinghy trip was wet since it was into the chop raised by a 20 knot breeze.  We left the dinghies ashore and walked out along the jetty to board the ferry.  The ferry ride takes 30 minutes and all the local high school students were aboard, going to school on West Island.

On West Island we found the tourist office and then the Tropica restaurant where we had breakfast.  The motel was full of RAAF folks taking part in an exercise with their P3 Orions.  From there we had a walk around before finding a tour operator who took us on a 3 hour tour of the island ($30pp).  We visited a number of beaches and the site of various government funded projects which have mostly failed.  This place could be so much more successful but seems dogged by weak governance and a population too willing to take welfare instead of work.

Inter-island ferry at West Island

We returned to Home Island mid-afternoon and explored the village there.  The place is very neat and tidy but unemployment is high.  Many houses have several tinnies out front, so the fishing is good.  The Cocos-Malays are friendly but quite uninterested in visitors, even making money from them.  Businesses are open bizarre hours - for example the fuel supplier is open for 2 hours only and that only 3 days a week.  Everyone drives either a golf buggy or quad bike.  Nobody walks anywhere despite the village being less than 1km square.  Apparently diabetes is rife due to lifestyle issues.

Home Island village - very neat & tidy

We departed Home Island at about 1600 and just made it back to the boat before a huge storm cell passed nearby.  The low-level clouds under the storm were jet black and very threatening so we were happy it didn't go directly overhead. The anchorage here provides excellent protection from waves but little from wind.  The anchor is well dug in!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Direction Island Day 3

Hi everyone,
Can't believe this is our third day at DI already.  We've been busy working on boat-jobs with only a little time-out to explore.  Here's what we've been up to...

  • Cleared the bilges of the three cockpit lockers - non trivial since they're large and fully loaded!
  • Dried and cleaned anything which got wet in the cockpit lockers - rags, hoses, ropes etc etc
  • Constructed a new jiggler hose for transferring fuel (old one's hose was too wide and didn't work well)
  • Transferred 80 litres of fresh water from jerry cans to main tanks
  • Transferred 60 litres of diesel from jerry cans to main tanks
  • Installed HF power meter in the navstation (to assist debugging our tuning problem)
  • Polished s/s fittings on deck
  • Cleaned below-decks
  • Extracted selected food stores from under cabin sole boards to replace food consumed
  • Major resort and stow of food supplies

Zen Again anchored at DI

  • Walked some of the tracks on DI, learning a lot of its history thanks to the useful placards around the island
  • Visited the SE point of DI to view "the rip" where we'll snorkel in a day or two
  • Located the famous "telephone box" which we may try out tomorrow
  • Had a very refreshing swim from the beach
  • Had an excellent BBQ lunch ashore with the Vulcan Spirits followed by more walking around the island
  • Had a pleasant swim from the boat - the hull is very clean still

The most widespread fauna on DI are the crabs.  They are everywhere!

Hermit Crab

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Carnarvon to Cocos-Keeling Passage Summary

Hi everyone,
Here is a summary of our passage.  

First the usual track and speed plots.  The images are small due to the satellite link we're using to post at present.

Zen Track

Zen Speed

Now the vital statistics…

  • Distances/Speeds
    • Logged Distance = 1367nm
    • GPS Distance = 1346nm
    • Duration = 10 days 4 hours
    • Average speed = 5.6kt
    • Average day's run = 138nm
    • Best day's run = 159nm (6.6kt)
    • Minimum speed = 2 kt
    • Maximum speed = 8.5kt
  • Weather
    • Minimum wind speed = 2 kt
    • Maximum wind speed = ~45kt
    • Apparent wind angle range = 110 to 150 (we don't "do" running, choosing to broad reach instead)
    • Seas up to 5m
    • Swell up to 3m, and never less than 1.5m (which was uncomfortable in light airs)
    • 3 days of 8/8 overcast, 7 days with scattered cloud
    • 2 days of persistent rain, 2 days with showers, otherwise fine
  • Engine
    • Total = 38 hours
    • Driving = 20 hours
    • Charging = 18 hours
  • Consumption
    • Water = 100 litres
    • Fuel = 70 litres
    • Books = 8 (3 + 5)
    • Listened to more of our music library than we have for many years
  • Failures
    • Cockpit lockers not fully sealed - only an issue when pooped but need to be fixed
    • Bilges outboard of engine beds drain through to aft part of saloon - only an issue when pooped
  • Casualties
    • Automatic danbuoy inflated in a flooded cockpit locker - just needs new cylinder/sensor/strobe
  • Stars
    • New mainsail with extra-deep reefs
    • New yankee headsail
    • New tiller
    • Autopilot
    • Satphone.Me email system (over Iridium GO!)
    • PredictWind Offshore app (over Iridium GO!) for obtaining GRIBs
    • Routine DSC calling for exchanging position reports and setting up voice calls with other yachts

We had a wide range of weather but the whole passage was downwind.  This was as predicted.  The strength of the wind was significantly more than predicted, but this often seems to be the case when GRIBs predict over 20knots.  We were prepared for strong winds and the boat coped with them extremely well.  We motored through calm spots.

The sea state during the passage varied but consistently had SE seas and SW swell.  This produced nasty "cross seas" which resulted in our being pooped and side-swiped several times.  The worst seas seemed to follow the worst winds.  ie The sea state would be fine during the worst of the wind but would deteriorate as the wind decreased.  I've read of this but rarely experienced it.  It was quite marked.

The two of us stood 3 hours On 3 hours Off watches and these worked well for us.  We stayed on WA time so the 90 minute time change across the passage "slid" our watches a little each day.  So each watch was a little different each day.

Overall the passage was a great experience.  The boat behaved beautifully.  No matter how tough the passage, arriving at DI makes it immediately worthwhile.  There are nine yachts here of various nationalities including British, US, Swedish, French and Canadian.

Direction Island (Cocos-Keeling) Anchorage Entry Notes

Hi everyone,
Charts of the approach to the Direction Island anchorage here in the Cocos-Keeling Islands are poor.  This includes current Navionics and Garmin charts, as well as older CM93 charts.  It would be easy to reach the wrong conclusion as to the best route to take in entering the anchorage.  Here are some notes on our entry.

Commence entry from the conspic and well-charted "Port Refuge" black pile beacon at 12 05.78S 096 52.00E.  Proceed east from there to the large red port lateral pile at 12 05.78S 96 52.66E.  The next leg is the interesting one.  Proceed approximately NE to the smaller green starboard lateral pile, leaving it close to starboard.  You will cross threatening-looking dark areas which are deep coral.  We had a minimum depth of 4.5m but others reported 3.1m.  From the green pile proceed NNE and pick a sandy spot - there are deep coral patches in the anchorage.

There is a jetty for the ferry which visits DI occasionally.  Avoid anchoring east of the jetty to keep out of the ferry's path.

Track in OpenCPN

GoogleEarth image with track in OpenCPN

Looking at the charts one might think the best entry would be across the coral-free sand further north.  We understand this has silted up and is much shallower than charted.  Beware!