Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Passage from Fiji to Vanuatu and broken parts (by Danielle).

We rarely talk about our passages at sea because it’s boring and nothing really happens but I think this passage deserves a little talk. We left Fiji on Friday and expected to be in Vanuatu the next Wednesday. We saw in the weather forecast that it’ll be windy but 20 to 25 knots of wind is just ok to make good speed. On our second night I am on watch and see a light. There is another boat on starboard, the wind is light at that time and we are making only about 3.5 knots. I start to follow the light and about half an hour later the light is clearly changing into a power boat about 100-120 feet long those kinds that travel between islands to deliver stuff. About 15 minutes later I can count the number of lights on the side of the boat; Oh! Oh! Way too close. I wake up Roger and believe it or not we had to untie the sails (we always tie our sails in case the wind shifts thus making a nice accidental gybe and destroys everything) and change our course under engine to avoid a collision. That’s why we don’t sleep when we are at sea, always somebody on watch.
On our third night; BANG! The “boombang” broke again. The new block from Puerto Rico had gone. After changing parts all the time on this boomvang we just didn’t have any spare blocks left that can sustain the tension it needs. Take a look at the picture to see the nice repair Roger did! It may not be pretty but it works!
As Roger explained before we are heading toward Australia, North Queensland in order to fix the boat and pass the hurricane region before the end of September. Faster we go faster we’ll get the boat fixed and slower the rest of the ride will be. We’re now at night 3 about 300 miles from Vanuatu. I went to bed, it’s 8:00pm, and Roger woke me up because the hydraulic autopilot was not working anymore. We had problems with the other autopilot, the ST4000, as well since this one is eating our driving belts like crazy. We had 4 new driving belts delivered in Tahiti and 2 already broke. So we put the ST4000 on and guess what? It broke the belt. Waves were about 4 meters high and the poor ST4000 couldn’t make it through. I have to mention that except for sleeping Roger stays in the cockpit during our passages because he gets seasick inside the boat. So I found myself steering the boat by hand and Roger inside emptying the port side bed in the middle of big waves and trying to figure out what was wrong with the hydraulic autopilot. Meanwhile I am at the wheel and of course it starts raining on me with the wind from the stern and with the big rain I got soaked in less than a minute. So I am at the wheel freezing to death and Roger is down below sweating and seasick trying to get the thing back on track. After a while he came outside and said “I have to take the motor of the hydraulic RAM apart!” By then it was almost midnight and I said “Wait a minute we can’t take that poppy apart in the middle of the night and exhausted so let’s just steer by hand for the night and check it tomorrow morning.” I managed to put the ST4000 autopilot on but waves were crashing and pushing so hard on the boat that the autopilot could turn port side but when it came to starboard we heard tack-a-tack-a-tack-a-tack and the boat didn’t turn so we had to stay at the wheel and help the autopilot to turn starboard every 10 seconds. So Roger said “Ok let’s do only 2 hours shifts” and I said “Ok you go sleep and I go after you.” Around 7:00am Roger had slept about 3 ½ hours and so did I. I said to Roger “I can’t barely steer the boat even with the help I am giving the autopilot.” Roger said “I think the belt is broken again we have one left so we will change it.” But to change the belt you have to remove the wheel. How am I supposed to steer the boat without a wheel? We usually put the hydraulic autopilot on but this time …. Ok, let’s close the sails and we’ll float around while you change the belt. And so we did. Start the engine and try to control a bit the boat with the engines, OK it’s working! Change the belt and restart the autopilot; tack-a-tack-a-tack-a-tack can’t make it through the waves even under engines. “Ok then I’ll steer again” I said. Roger went down below and worked about 2 hours on the motor, opened it and cleaned it. During this time I am in the cockpit steering by hand and imagining us for another 20 or so hours steering by hand. But guess what? Roger came back from downstairs completely naked, all wet from sweating, white face and red eyes and said “Put it on it will work.” I love that man, I thought. It worked like a brand new one autopilot. Conclusion; if you want to be safe at sea take Roger along with you. Although I doubt he will be willing for another trip like this one!!!
I will not mention all the repairs and fixings we have to go through again once we reach Cairns in Australia but take a look at the cost page for the month of August and you’ll see what it means!