Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Post trip repairs

A handful of other yachts have arrived over the last few days also from New Zealand and it's been interesting comparing trips and weather. Universally it seems to have been a hard trip for everyone with a variety of repairs being undertaken, ranging from torn sails to broken rigging. It's straightforward to identify a recently arrived yacht by the quantity of washing hanging out to dry, everyone trying to rid their clothes, saloon cushions, bedding etc from salt. I guess it's the modern day equivalent of a square rigger's canvas drying after a passage.
I was feeling relatively smug that we'd come through some bad weather without any major damage, however as we slowed down to enter the marina, I noticed the engine was idling very unevenly. After a day of rest I duly set to work on changing the fuel filter to discover the filter half full of salt water. I soon exhausted my increasing, but still limited troubleshooting ability and sort help from Patrick, a friendly French mechanic.
He admired my experiments in trying to build a water fueled engine and asked me to let him know when I've perfected it. The result was an expensive bill for new injector nozzles - which had recently been replaced in New Zealand - an expensive lesson. It seems while Kika was being drenched by the large seas, salt water worked it's way in through the fuel tank vent. Moving the vents to a less exposed position had been on my list of things to do since we left the UK, I've belated moved them.

We're off today to explore the lagoon and take a break from boat repairs... I probably won't have access to shore based email for a while, thanks for all the good-luck messages and apologies for running out of time to reply to you all.

Meet the new crew

Meet the new crew in the style of the much-missed Innovations catalogue....

Put an end to back-breaking anchor retrieval with new motorised windlass:
new motorised windlass
New motorised windlass

Put an end to outboard unreliability and ease the burden of extra outboard weight with outboard and davit combination:

Put an end lack of cockpit storage misery with new enlarged port cockpit locker.

Put an end to solo sailing blues with Charlotta from Sweden:

As you might have read the trip up wasn't exactly the kind of sailing Charlotta had anticipated when she signed on for the return trip to Europe. In fact midway to New Calendonia she'd vowed never to set foot on a yacht again and fly back from New Cal. However time appears to have faded the memory of her seasickness and she is now planning to stay on to Darwin. Could selective memory for pain be an evolutionary trait; perhaps to ensure the birth of more than one child per generation, or maybe it's a Scandinavian trait as the memory of the long dark winter fades during the summer months and ensures people continue living in the northern wastes of Scandinavia (no offence intended to our Scandinavian readers). Whatever the reason I'm relieved as (to misquote Oscar Wilde)... to loose one crew may be regarded as a misfortune; to loose both might have people wondering if normally amiable Nick turns into some kind of Captain Bligh at sea.

So... crewing places available from Vanuatu to Europe via Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Red sea. Let me know if you are interested....

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bienvenue à Nouvelle Calédonie

Nous sommes arrivés à Nouméa. I'm suffering a little from post-passage, form-filling, official meeting and celebratory drinking fatigue, so apologies in advance if this even less coherent than normal.

As well as the usual round of customs and immigration, New Cal has, like NZ and Australia, strict rules governing importation of fresh veg, meat, honey etc. We decided to opt for an honesty policy and the quarantine officer duly whisked off our fresh offerings without a whiff of examining our lockers or sniff from a dog. I still can't believe I gave up some cherished extra strength garlic from the Whangarei Saturday morning market so easily - I'm sure a French quarantine officer of all people would understand the importance and attachment to quality garlic... However Charlotta's brussels sprouts (never firm favourites of mine), were also taken. The fridge and I are both relieved they are no longer contaminating the other contents.It appears that we've arrived in wet-season; soon after we'd tied up we were welcomed with an impressive electrical storm (glad we weren't out in that), followed by a short-lived tropical downpour - perfect for removing some of the salt crust on the boat. It definitely feels like we've arrived in the tropics once again - we've been gorging on mangoes Charlotta spotted under a laden tree, delicious.

Still coming to terms with people greeting you with a friendly bonjour/soir and trying to avoid being run-over by cars driving on the right.

Charlotta has admitted to feeling guilty about all the meals, washing up and general domestic duties I undertook during the passage while she suffered from mal de mer. I failed to mention that she wasn't in much of a position to appreciate my culinary offerings and am just making the most of her efforts to make up for it - hopefully no cooking or washing up for me for a while.

Veg market opens tomorrow at 5-9am, so we're planning an early start to replenish our quarantine diminished fresh stores.

Visitors' pontoon Nouméa: S22°16.6' E166°26.4'

Friday, April 25, 2008

Final day before landfall

What a contrast with yesterday. By midnight we'd shaken out the reefs and we were sailing over, rather than through, a much calmer sea. As we feared the wind shifted to the NNW - more or less exactly our heading, so with full sail and 15 knots of wind we started tacking toward New Cal. Progress was slow, with some significant waves to punch through. By mid-afternoon the wind died to around 5 knots and we admitted defeat and started the engine. Since then we've been motoring with intermittent attempts to sail.

If all goes well we'll be entering the outer reef soon after dawn and be on land again by midday. Much excitement on board. Still hoping to arrive with a fridge full of fish. A couple of bites today, keeping my faith that the new lure will deliver in the hour or so between dawn and our reef entry.

Position @ 7.40 - S23°33.8' E167°06.6'
Distance to New Cal: 74
Wind: N-NE 0-15

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kika pulls us through

Today we've learnt that Kika can take more than we can. The wind and sea continued building all day from NE. I fully reefed the main in the middle of night; at the time wondering if I was being a little over-cautious. By mid-morning I started wishing we had a fourth reef and considered digging out the storm jib and trisail. However after couple of hours drenching on the helm, I reassured myself we weren't ridiculously over-canvassed just suffering from a nasty steep cross sea.
From time to time a rogue wave would slam the hull sideways and over at an alarming angle as well as regularly dousing the boat. The cockpit drains have been earning their keep ... again.

The weather forecast appeared to predict that we'd pass to the north of the system giving the problem and we spent the day trying to reassure each other that the wind was indeed dropping. Meanwhile poor Kika was slowly transforming herself into a submarine.

Heading closer to wind seemed to ease the worst of the slamming and as the sun set we saw the first indications of clear skies ahead and a decrease in wind. Having said that it's pitch-black outside at the moment. Despite a re occurrence of Charlotta's seasickness, morale is surprising good, no culinary treats today - pasta and pesto (storm food) but music and singing drowned out the worst of the weather.

Too rough for fishing today.

Position @ 19:50 S24°31.16' E167°27.8
Wind: NE 25-35
Distance to New Caledonia: 134

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Burial at sea

We're only a couple of days away from New Caledonia and the weather still feels distinctly sub-tropical - overcast skies and chilly easterly winds. We've been making good speed under sail all day, progressively reefing as the wind has built and we're currently speeding towards New Caledonia with heavily reefed sails. So far the weather has behaved more or less as predicted prior to our departure with the exception of a low pressure area south of New Caledonia which appeared on the weather charts a couple of days ago. It looks like we could be in for unpredicted head-winds on our final day.

Charlotta appears to have conquered her sea-sickness and managed to cook the promised Janson's Temptation - delicious.As we recovered from that Scandinavian culinary treat, the fishing line screamed out. Eventually we got the line under control and enacted a leisurely fish-drill (Revision II (c) 2005), only to loose a decent size mahimahi during a failed photo-session close to the boat. The change of lure has brought results; we're planning to feast on fish tomorrow.

Remember the small bird (fan tail?) I saw resting on the boat a couple of days ago. Today we found its final resting place, in one of the cockpit lockers. We were mending flags at the time so gave it a flag wrapped burial at sea.

Wind: E 25+knots
Distance to New Caledonia: 262
Position @ 20:05: S26°18.2' E168°46.4'

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Green eggs and ham

I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them..., or cleaning smashed rotting egg. What remained of our egg supplies has been sent to depths of the Pacific. They probably would have been confiscated by the quarantine authorities in Noumea anyway, but sadly it looks as though cake baking is off until we arrive.

Found the first flying fish of the trip on the deck this morning - too small to cook - then soon after saw another "flying" across the waves but compared with previous trips we've seen relatively little marine life. The albatrosses have vanished, although we have an occasional visit by stormy petrels (a least that's what we think they are). No sign of yesterday's fan-tail and still no success fishing - I'll try a different lure tomorrow.

Charlotta has been suffering from sea-sickness and rather than be tempted by the array of sea-sickness drugs I offer her, she has stoically decided to wait for the arrival of her sea-legs. They still haven't fully arrived which has made her reevaluate the whole idea of sailing back to Europe. Currently, it looks as though she'll return from Noumea via plane. That said her appetite returned when I created an allegedly "traditional" Swedish dish of hotdogs, mashed potatoes and grated carrots and she managed half the remains of yesterday's pizza this evening. If things continue to improve I've been promised "Janson's Temptation" tomorrow evening which sounds like a potato gratin with added anchovies - here's hoping. Note to self: giving sea-sickness prone crew the berth under broken egg locker probably not best plan for encouraging swift recovery or continued sailing enthusiasm.

We finally gave up the pretence of sailing in the second half of the night and motored till dawn. Then drifted along for another few hours before giving-in to the engine again. The wind has shifted more to the east and we're currently on a reach making around 4 knots. The sea is practically calm with a large long swell from the south providing some interest; peaceful, if slow sailing.

I've also started to pay more attention to navigation around New Caledonia and have adjusted the way-point from a relatively random position just south of the outer reef to the reef break we're aiming for, further north. Unfortunately that adds another 35 miles to the total distance so unless the wind picks up significantly we'll miss the 7 day passage we planned and arrive sometime on Saturday.

Let me know if anyone fancies taking an extended break, starting in New Caledonia and ending back in the UK ....

Position @ 23:59: S27°57.7' E169°43.7'
Distance to Noumea: 373
Conditions: E 5-15

Monday, April 21, 2008

Calm after the storm

The wind and sea have been easing all day after yesterday's stormy conditions. Currently we're barely making 4 knots under full main and genoa. Hopefully tomorrow will bring winds between the two extremes of the last few days. Sad to report the loss of our ensign in the winds last night - hard to believe one of my knots failed, but that's what it looks like.The only other casualty of the conditions are the eggs, their box wasn't well enough wedged-in and I'm still plucking up courage to clean the contents of the locker from the egg remains.

It's started to get warmer - enough to strip down and have an invigorating cold water cockpit shower. Think Charlotta was a bit disappointed that the cold shower didn't follow a sauna and a whipping by birch twigs - I'm told it's the Scandinavian way. hmmmm

Fishing again, but no success. However a small shore-based looking bird (fantail?) hitched a lift for some of the day - might still be with us. I presume it's from NZ; I wonder how it will deal with life in New Caledonia?

Position @ 20:00 S29°56.2' E170°46.7'
Wind: SE 10knots
Distance to Noumea: 479

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Stormy Weather

On the positive side the wind generator is easily keeping the batteries fully charged, and we're making good progress towards Noumea, but what a ride. We're sailing with 3 reefs in the main and a small genoa making 7-8 knots. Down in the cabin all is relatively calm, but a wild scene greets us outside. We're spending the day resting down below, occasionally adjusting the sails and course. When outside we rarely venture from the safety and shelter of the spray hood, watching the sea heaping up behind us and marveling as we safely find our way over another wave with the wind steering working hard to keep us pointing in the right direction as we surf down the the other side. A couple of waves broke into the cockpit giving the cockpit the momentary appearance of a bath, at least the dust from shore has decisively disappeared down the drains. Not a fishing day. If my reading of the weather charts is reasonably accurate things should settle down a little tomorrow. We're both looking forward to more tropical weather soon, currently it feels like the North Atlantic in late Autumn.

Position at 18:50 NZT: S32°05.02' E171°35.9'
Distance to Nuemea: 613
Wind: SE 30-35 knots

Stronger Winds

Last night we had almost perfect sailing conditions - wind on the beam, moderate sea, clear skies, full moon. I even had a nocturnal dolphin visit during my watch. However even with full sail we only averaged 4 knots. Still a good reintroduction to passage making.

Today the winds have shifted to the SE, it's over-cast, feels colder and as if to reinforce that southern-ocean feel we had a couple of albatross circling close the boat, occasionally gliding past for a closer inspection. We're currently rolling along with poled out genoa and a couple of reefs in the main maintaining 6.5-7 knots. So far the weather is behaving as forecast.

Dug out the fishing line today, but without any success. Wonder if the fish prefer shiny hooks to rusty so called stainless steel ones.

We planned to alternate entry writing; me writing one day's entry, Charlotta the next, however until her sea-legs arrive, I'm afraid the entries will remain one-sided.

Position @ 22:30 19/4/2008: S33°39.05' E173°01.9'
Distance to New Caledonia: 730
Wind SE: 25+knots


Saturday, April 19, 2008

First day at sea

There's nothing quite like the feeling of excitement generated by casting off the shorelines for an ocean passage, especially when a farewell party has dragged themselves from their warm beds for our 7am departure. We like to think they were there to wish us well, others thought it might be to make sure we left.
Thanks to you all, although Charlotta was a little disappointed by the poor Scandinavian turn-out - Martin and Lars talked bravely of waving us off over a beer last night, but no sign of life this morning from the Norwegian boat. Talk of sabotaging Kika to indefinitely postpone our departure has so far proved groundless; no problems to date.
18 months of use

A big thank you to all my New Zealand friends. I apologise if I failed to say goodbye to all of you in person, those of you I did see, thanks for bearing with my manic state - with 18 months to prepare the boat for sea again, I still managed to leave too many tasks to the last minute. The anxiety of the preparations has given way to the excitement of the impeding passage.


Great to be back at sea again, with the old traditional routines - blog writing, stuffing the lockers with tea towels to stop the rattling, as well as the more mundane passage planning, weather checking, course adjusting etc. George our trusty windvane self-steerer has been roused from his 18 month slumber by a generous application of engine oil and unusually for the start of passage appears to be working well.

So far we've hugged the coast as we headed north from Whangarei to Cape Brett. We've now passed Cape Brett and our course is set for New Caledonia, with ~ 840 miles to go to Noumea.

The wind so far has been generally light with squally periods. We anticipated the southern wind would bring bitter Antarctic cold, but so far the SW wind has lacked any icy chill, perhaps things will change when the wind shifts to the SE....

Position @ 21:15 18/4/2008: S35°11.7' E174°23.8'
Distance to New Caledonia: 840
Wind SW: 10-15knots