Monday, March 23, 2009

Great push north: days 3 - 4

I waited in the anchorage until last light to leave, hoping the seas would ease a little, but in reality they were much as before. However I knew the seas would calm down overnight and that makes a few hours of hard slog into a big sea bearable.
The cunning plan began to unraveled when the autopilot insisted on steering me in circles. I tried every trick I've learnt over the last few months to persuade this obstreperous machine into steering anything resembling a straight course - nothing worked. I hove-to and attempted to fix the problem. As I've done many times before I removed the chain linking the pilot to the rudder and put the servo drive unit on the chart table to fault-find. As I searched for tools in the stern, Kika healed over as a large wave passed and there was a crash from the saloon. The heavy drive unit had toppled over and punched a hole in the floor board. An expletive laden hour later the pilot was back in position after a "Nick fix"™ and ready for a trial. The result - larger radius circles, but not significantly better. Time to admit defeat. Hove-to, I was drifting slowly away from the reefs, yet still clear of the shipping lanes. I felt defeated and exhausted so decided that a few hours sleep would put things back into perspective. Once refreshed time to rethink; I was keen to make it across Foul Bay, but Port Galib was no long viable. Instead I settled on Dolphin Reef 90 miles to the north, just to the north of the bay, but just possible to make in day-light and do-able hand-steering

I'd forgotten the monotony of being stuck on the helm hour after hour unable to leave without the boat rapidly heading off course. I tried various options with the wind-steering, elastic and ropes but when I needed a break, I resorted to idling the engine and letting the boat drift.

Dolphins and fish brought relief to the tedium. It was impossible not be swept up in the euphoria dolphins seem to have as they leap out of the water when heading in your direction in what I imagine is joy at the excitement of a boat to play with. It seems Dolphin Reef is aptly named as I had four separate dolphin visits. The other excitement was the first non-barracuda I'd hooked in days. I eased the engine and slowly reeled the monster in. You get to know the type of fish on the line by how they behave. Tuna and barracuda largely seem to give-up and let themselves be reeled in as they skim along the surface, though barracuda fight the closer they get to the boat. Mahi-mahi stay under the surface and swim from side to side, sometimes jumping out to try to free themselves and put up an impressive fight the closer they are to the boat. By the way this monster was behaving, I'd hooked a large mahi-mahi - my digestive juices began flowing in anticipation. Male mahi-mahi have a distinctive hump above their head, as I carefully reeled in my food for the next few days I could see clearly that I'd hooked a female. However before I'd had a chance to gaff her, I noticed her mate swimming beside her. I hesitated entranced by the two fish swimming together; did I really want to bring fishy bereavement to such a loyal partnership? My delay was just long enough for her to leap out of the water and shake herself free of my hook. The decision had been made for me and I was relieved and happy with the result. Am I going soft?

I just made Dolphin Reef with enough light to ease my way into the lagoon between the patches of coral and dive to check the anchors in the fading light.

The "Great push north" is temporarily suspended here, while I wait for a break in the weather. Still I'm across Foul Bay and have entered Egyptian waters. Tomorrow I'm looking forward to some snorkeling on the reef before battling with the autopilot.

Anchorage in Dolphin Reef (18:00 23/3/2009): N24deg 09.7' E35deg 42.4

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