Redwings Round the World
Chatty Log II
Chatty Log II was written by Redwings' previous owner John Potter and details the delivery trip from Singapore to Hong Kong. It is the follow up to Chatty Log I which is the story of Redwings' and her crew's voyage across the Pacific from San Deigo to Singapore in 1995.
Chatty Log II is effectively the first chapter of our relationship with Redwings and John and Caroline's last. In addition to providing an accurate record of our joint delivery trip, the Chatty Log II is a ripping good read.
Redwings on the hard at NatSteel before the delivery
Chatty Log II
The trip from Singapore to Hong Kong April 1997
By John Potter
5 April NatSteel, position 01 deg 23'N 103 deg 58'E
The last few days have been a headlong rush to get the vital things done toleave. So what's new? When has it ever been different? Aaron & Colleen arrived on the afternoon of the 3rd and we've all been working solidly since then to get the boat cleaned up and the essential supplies aboard. Lord knows how much of the equipment on board really works. I guess we'll just find out as we go along.
Surprise! We really did try and leave today. But we couldn't get the engine started. I finally worked out that it wasn't really the batteries, but the starter motor. Probably burnt out one of the stator coils. About 19:00 we were 'ready' to go. Then we found that all the LCD instrument readouts become invisible at night using the built-in backlighting. So what is this? a fungus that grows on the back of the screen? (Caroline's idea, the best we have). So since we were dog-tired and the way out of Singapore is crowded, we decided to get some rest and wait for daybreak. Caroline said good-bye and went home. I felt terrible. We've never sailed not-as-a-pair. Redwings is so much part of us, our history, our partnership. This is something that we do together, not singly. I miss her.
6 April Midday approx. position 01 deg 29'N 104 deg 25'E
Great idea to get some rest. Lousy execution. I spent the night chasing rats, mosquitoes and cockroaches. This damned rat kept coming back. I tried belting him (slapped him with my hand) but he wasn't scared of me; locking him out (too much scratching noise at the door to sleep) leaving only one hatch open for air (he found it) hiding the trash (he found it).... Finally (04:00) I worked out that I had to take the trash bag out and dump it ashore.
06:30 and coffee's on. We slipped lines at 07:40, heading east to clear Malaysia. Very little wind, and that on the nose, so we motor-sailed. By 13:00 Aaron was sewing up a split in the mainsail. Rough job. Colleen helped, the sun beating them to death on deck. I busied myself getting the watermaker back on line (after some effort it works, thank goodness) and adjusting the stern gland, which has new packing and keeps shipping water. By supper things were looking up; we'd caught a small bluefin tuna, finding myself half-way up the companionway from a dead cold sleeping start on the saloon couch in a second when the reel went off, still not awake and not yet knowing why I wasn't still horizontal. So I got to make sashimi and sushi the first day out (and Colleen tried a few rolls). Delicious, but I wish Caro were here to share it. The first part of the night was chock-a-block with traffic heading up and down the Malay coast. At least the sea was smooth and the sky clear, making for a pleasant introduction to the S. China Sea. Despite drinking litres of water all day, we are all dehydrated and tired, Colleen feeling run down and me too to a lesser extent.
7 April Midday approx. position 03 deg 03'N 105 deg 31'E
I got a few hours kip and woke at 01:00 to find wind to sail. We shut the engine down and suddenly, we're sailing well. Aaron went down at 02:00 to get some rest. Colleen isn't ready for a night watch yet, physically, mentally and in terms of experience. I stood watch to 08:00, battling flukey winds for a few hours, coaxing Redwings out of stalls in down to 4 kts true wind. Didn't want to run the engine again and wake the crew. We all need some rest. At least the traffic has thinned. 06:00 saw a dramatic islet loom dark against the lightening sky, bruised peach and beautiful. Pulau Damar, the western-most outcrop of Pulau PulauAnambas.
By 09:20 Aaron had broken the remote autohelm panel (easily fixedwith superglue) and we were back on the motor (which wouldn't turn over to begin with until I 'rocked' the starter over the primary compression cycle). 30 minutes later, Colleen asks me whether the engine had to be above, or below 80 deg. C. I figure she's trying to wind me up, what with everything else going to ratshit so far this morning, but I check the gauge just in case and Whoa! it's running at over 100 deg.! Shutdown. Does that mean the belt's broken? asks Colleen. Er, not really, it's not that simple. Maybe my attempts to change the sacrificial zinc last night caused an airlock, a much more subtle explanation. Of course, it turns out that the alternator belt's broken (it drives the freshwater pump too). So I spend an hour sweating buckets over this steamy engine changing the belt, which has shredded and filled the compartment with black gunge and dust. Aaron helps, and gets a feel for what's involved.
We spent the morning gently cruising by these islands, looking gorgeous and huge, considering that they appear only as a few specs on a map of Indonesia. We were treated to a small pod of porpoises that came to play in the bow wave, clearly visible through the smooth surface of the crystal clear blue water. There were some impressive flights by flying fish, too, with 50m-long runs where you could see that these puppies really do fly, not just glide. I retired below for a few hours' kip, and was just surfacing at around16:00 when the reel went off again. Big time. I thought at first to leave it to Aaron and Colleen, then when I heard it spurt and zip, I realised that we had something a little bigger than the mid-size tuna we were looking for. Out on deck, the reel was rapidly running out of line, and the star clutch couldn't hold the fish. I got Colleen to take the boat out of gear and make a turn to give me some slack. It worked, and in the next 20 minutes I reeled in this huge Dorado. Now tales will be told, but this mother was the biggest damned dorado I have ever seen, by a long shot. Conservative estimates by the three of us put him at about 5' long and very solid. This fish was a beauty, shimmering gold and green in the water, visible from 30-40 feet down when he tried to escape by sounding. I reeled him in until the sinker was at the top of the reel, then coaxed him alongside for Aaron to gaff. We should have had a spear gun to get him on board, but the gaff was the best we had available. Aaron tried to hook him, but the gaff slithered off rather than digging in and the Dorado made a panic lunge away from the boat, breaking the 80 lb test line like a piece of cotton. Gone. I hope he makes it.
We set up formal watches with Aaron taking the 12-4, myself the 4-8 and Colleen the relatively easy 8-12. That way Aaron and I can easily help out on at least one of Colleen's watches while she picks up the ropes (figuratively and literally). The night was spent motoring, again, the idea being to use our fuel to get out of the equatorial doldrums. Of course, there's no trade winds this time of year north of the doldrums either, but surely there will be something sailable? with a clean bottom and a new Genoa we don't need a lot to get her moving well.
8 April Midday approx. position 05 deg 07'N 106 deg 57'E
A good night, and I feel relatively fresh, having got some useful sleep yesterday afternoon and a good stretch from 21:00-04:00 this morning. As I'm making the morning coffee for the next watchkeeper to begin their day, I notice that the tin is more than half gone already. Not really surprising, I get through a tin on my own in a couple of weeks at home, without the frequent need of a kick start to get going at ungodly hours of the night for watches. And we're all three hardcore coffee drinkers on this trip. So I ask Colleen, with some trepidation, just exactly how many tins did she and Caroline buy? Thinking that if there were only two or three, we might have a situation. Of course, there's only the one. Well, less than half already. And we're only three days out. Definitely a situation. So what exactly were these guys thinking? Colleen says that Caroline wouldn't even get Balsamic vinegar, a staple essential in our house and balked at the quantity of garlic; since when did we ever get worried about having to much garlic? And, among other things, we have only a paltry three snickers and a few granola bars to do duty as nightwatch staples, we don't have crackers or good biscuits and no cereal to have with the yoghurt (half of which was lost when Aaron broke that and a bottle of wine). So what with the parsimonious victualling, and a little profligate wastage, we're in serious culinary trouble, I'd say. Never been so bereft of good food on board. Suddenly that dorado begins to look less like an oversized luxury and more like our lost mealticket for the remainder of the trip. I've more than a sneaking suspicion that Caroline has set us up out of a Freudian spite at not being able to come along herself. And here we are, not even three days out, on rationed coffee already. One cup per person per day, to be served at 08:00, with a subsequent re-tread 'deuxiemecrux' off the same grounds a possibility for the desperate.
A beautiful, sunny, clear and smooth day on the water, with even a little sailing in the afternoon. Still not as much wind as I'd like, though. I got to repair the wind indicator, Penn senator reel and Starboard fuel tank, which was blocked. Several hours were spent lecturing on the subject of electrics in boat school in the afternoon, causing a dreadful thirst which was quenched by a couple of beers. At least we have a few of those on board. We seem to have wandered back into the mainstream of shipping, one large Japanese car carrier passing very close. Just before sundown a traditional Vietnamese fishing boat came close by to take a good look at us. For a while it seemed as if he might be just too close, but he veered off and passed 50m away, all aboard waving and looking friendly and enthusiastic to see such a strange craft as us. All in all, a very good day. The only slight disappointment being the lack of fish on the lines, though we did have one small strike which spat the lure out. No doubt Neptune is punishing us for our incompetent efforts to land the golden dorado yesterday. So, to bed with no dinner.
So there I am on the saloon couch, getting rained on by ripe bananas falling off the hand suspended above me (how do I get into these situations?) trying to get some sleep. Seemingly, just as I nod off, Colleen wakes me in a very deferential, so sorry to trouble you, kind of way. Wants to know if this big ship dead behind us is going to pass clear. Then says, sorry, no need to bother, "I can see his green light" so he must be OK. I get up anyway. Rather bleary, I wake up pretty smartly when I see that he's not quite dead behind us, but a little to starboard, very fast, and very close. Action stations. I send Colleen down for the flares (no time to mess about) and get the engine started. It does start, thank god. The noise wakes Aaron, who comes on deck to see the foaming bow wave of this monster bearing down on us. I can still see his green light abeam the bridge, but his bow is filling a good 20 degrees of my vision to stern, and its clear that he's going to ram us unless I do something quickly. (Aaron considers 'ram' too light a term, implying a vessel of similar size to us. Pulverise, crush, smash to fibreglass splinters is more the sort of term he would favour to describe the threat.) I fire a red flare over his bow, and turn 90 degree to starboard, engine at full bore. It is maybe two minutes before I'm sure we're clear. He does an emergency crash stop, obviously only aware of our existence because of the long arched red line like a spray of torn silk across the night sky. To the bridge, it must have seemed that the flare came from right under his anchor. The sails are a mess now, of course, and I'm trying to raise him on the VHF at least to let him know that there was no collision, just in case he was thinking of launching a boat to look for survivors. Fat chance. No answer, of course.
Colleen admits that when I was getting the flare gun loaded she remembered the story about Caroline having to dissuade me from firing at the bridge windows of one merchantman I was particularly angry with. She did wonder whether I might have just lost it and was going to fire at this guy out of pure anger at being woken up. Do I seem so unstable? Must be the lack of coffee. Still, Colleen was right on the money when it counted, and the emergency action went professionally and smoothly to everyone's great credit.
9 April Midday approx. position 07 deg 05'N 107 deg 42'E
And yes, come 04:00, it's my watch and Aaron serves me up this tepid soup of weak tea and milk (the alternative being the dreaded 'instant coffee'). I'm miserable from lack of decent rest and it being 4 in the morning. I spend the next 3 hours desperately fighting to keep my eyes open and my head up until dawn. Damn not having any coffee. Dawn arrives on schedule and I put the lines out, the reel with a small green squid and the static line (+bungey) with a cannibalised lure that I made up out of two old chewed ones yesterday. At 08:00 we get the daily luxury of a real cup of coffee, and Colleen is up to take her watch. We're headed for a shallow bank that might be good for a fish.
Two hours before we get there, Colleen glances over the stern and says in her casual way "is that a fish?" Oh yes indeed, and what a fish! Not on the reel, but on the static line, there's a swordfish, maybe 6' long. No kidding. Amazing that the line held with just that old bungey to take the shock. So I tentatively try to haul him in a little, and sure enough he dives and turns to make a escape run. There's no way I can afford to take the line in hand-over-hand and risk having him tear it out of my grasp, take a run and break the line like that. Then there's the gaff disaster of a couple of days ago to consider. So I decide that it's best for him to just surf along and get tired and half-drowned, while I rehabilitate the old spear gun that's rusted to a heap of dust in the forward locker. Amazingly, the spear gun (actually the spear itself was the problem) cleans up OK with some sandpaper and a file, and I get the barb mechanism to operate smoothly with the usual WD40 treatment. By this time, Colleen has roused Aaron to help, and we are also rapidly approaching a collection of Vietnamese fishing boats, who seem very keen to come and visit. So just as Aaron is hauling in the swordfish, a clunking great fishing boat crammed with grinning faces bowls over and gets in really close to take a good look at these strange white folk in their white boat. We have some video, but Colleen's attention was split between videoing the swordfish, avoiding a collision, filming the Vietnamese and worrying about whether they might take it into their heads to just come on board and kill us all. No, but really, they seemed very friendly. Even if they did get too close and I finally had to bawl at them and gesticulate madly to get them to back off before they bounced into us. They may have been friendly, but there were an awful lot of them, and I didn't want them too close and intimate.
So when Aaron had hauled the fish alongside, now demoralised and weak, I shot it through the middle just behind the head. The spear went straight through and we hoisted the fish on board easily. He was about as tall as I, with his bill just touching the ground, weighing perhaps 24 kg I would guess. he was a real handful to lift, even with both hands. We filled 9 ziplocks with swordfish steaks and had a delicious lunch out of him. The flesh was so sweet and the texture so good that it reminded me of scallops.
The rest of the day was laid back, with no boat school, though I did start a "user's manual" which I might work up into something useful. I made some "banana bread", which (without a recipe) turned out to be just like an ordinary sweet bread with a trace of banana flavour. Pretty good to munch on, all the same. Don't forget the salt next time, OK? The wind put in an appearance of 8-12 hours or so, starting very light and from the north, gradually veering and filling until about 22:00, when it reversed the process and finally died out of the south around 04:00. But that's tomorrow already.
10 April Midday approx. position 08 deg 40'N 108 deg 25'E
Oh by the way, Colleen read the first part of this log and said that she'd envisioned her role in the tanker incident to have been rather more heroic. And that I was sucking up to Caroline by inserting the gooey bits about missing her, in anticipation of Caro reading it. Well, tough! I think the first comment may have been in jest, and as I for the second, should I lie and say I didn't care?
I got a great stack of zeds from 21:20 last night to 03:40 this morning, when I woke to find myself completely confused and with no idea where I was or why. I had taken to the forward cabin, it being smooth enough and less disturbed by the nightwatchfolk. Having never slept there before, I simply didn't recognise it. It took me ages to work out that I had not been kidnapped, was not in some drug-induced state of hallucination, and that there was probably no immediate cause for panic. Then I remembered about the coffee and panicked.
Once up, I discovered that Aaron had been hand-steering for the last 3 hours, chasing an ever-veering and enfeebling wind. Seems the autopilot is on the fritz. Amazing! It's not given trouble since being rebuilt in Italy. Oh hell, this could be serious. Aaron continued to hand steer for me while I tried to see what was wrong. It seemed to work again, but then died. And lights and other instruments were getting affected. A short? Eventually I worked out that the earth line to the power distribution board has gone intermittent. I'll have to fix it later, but at least everything works again now. A scary few minutes!
Another pretty lazy day, with next to no wind, though we try and make any way that we can under sail these days, as we're burning up the fuel motoring much of the time. I fixed the dodgy earthing line, and found that it cured the problem of the SSB interfering with the autohelm, GPS and barometer; a problem that's puzzled me for a couple of years. This afternoon we had a good long session of boat school, starting with the watermaker and going on to cover the entire aft cabin in all its gory detail. Right down to the place where the steering lines used to chafe and gave us that entertaining few hours in the Atlantic when they broke. We wound up with a practical sextant session. Man, I'm lecturing the whole damn day! there's not even time to take a quick nap to catch up on sleep with all the questions. I'm answering questions while I'm working on fixing things, doing watches, cooking, whatever. I even had to ask for permission to check for ships on my watch. Still, that's the way it needs to be, with so little time to get up to speed on the equipment and its foibles.
Then right after the sextant lesson, I had a strike on the reel and Aaron pulled in this small dorado, just good for a meal and perfect timing for supper. We want to keep the freezer stocked, the swordfish is fantastic, but there's not that much of it, and the fishing further north may not be so great. I filleted and Aaron baked him for dinner, which went down very well, especially with a crisp Gin and Tonic. Just set me up nicely for bed. The days slip by so quickly now. The cruising life, with days made up of so many small and simple tasks, end-to-end, the needs transparent, the gaps in action brief, so that there's never any sense of boredom or wasted time, neither of having accomplished any great single thing, but simply having arrived at the end of each day relaxed, complete and ready for bed.
11 April Midday approx. position 10o40'N 109o08'E
We passed by the diminutive Catwick islands just before the start of my 0400 watch, the nearest looming out of the night like a huge tanker without lights, which is what Aaron thought it was at first, surrounded by a loose flock of fishing boats, some only carrying a flashlight for identification.
The radar is helping, and now that Aaron and Colleen are getting used to how to operate the equipment, confidence is on the build. From here we have a straight run to Hong Kong, some 765 miles away. the Vietnamese coast is slipping by our port side at around 80 miles off, and in a few hours we will be running up to the closest point of approach, not including the Catwicks, or Cu Lao Thu, a sizeable island presently on our port bow some 30 miles away. Maybe we'll see it when it gets light. The sea is beautiful in the pre-dawn, with incredibly bright stars and Milky Way in the moonless night and the gentle sloshing of our wake as it slips by the hull. Seductive, placating, anesthetic even. It is easy to forget that the sea is not always so mild.
Dawn arrives in a cascade of soft and multi-coloured veils seemingly lit by God's brightening oil lamp, the clouds forming many strange shapes and textures, multi-level and delightful. By 07:30 I've shut the engine off and we're sailing close-hauled due north in a light breeze. It turns out that we're to be treated with zephyrs all day, sometimes rising to 10-12 knots apparent, and sinking as low as 4 kts. Still Redwings seems to find herself able to keep steerage and even make substantial progress, our speed typically ranging from 3-6 knots. We're doing well on the fuel, having burnt less than half and covered nearly half the distance to HK. 5 knots is a good average. We have a sweepstake going, which Aaron established the first morning out and taped to the mast. My guess was that we'd pull into HK at 20:00 on 17th. Aaron and Colleen guessed 18 and 19th. Pessimists.
If the weather remains as kind as it has been so far, then it looks like they might yet owe me dinner and/or champagne! Continuing our practical boat school tour of Redwings, today we tackled the thorny area of the engine compartment. And what a load of grimy stuff there is in there to talk about! These guys are trying hard, and we're making some good progress on the learning curve. Sometimes I get a little short-tempered but then feel ashamed that I should be so. How little did Caroline & I know when we left for the Atlantic? Even more (or is it less?) so, the delivery trip from Spain to Italy? For dinner we have fresh-baked Foccaccia with lightly-braised medallions of swordfish in garlic and Oregano with a bottle of crisp cold wine. Oh my, that fish is good!
12 April Midday approx. position 12 deg 29'N 109 deg 52'E
So around 01:30 Aaron comes in to the forward cabin and starts straight out with "John, I've a few questions I'd like to ask; why does the ...."; no preamble. Now I'm asleep in my bunk, of course, so I'm having trouble getting to grips with the simple issues, like "who am I?", and "where?" let alone the rather more detailed matters that Aaron has in mind. Eventually I work out that I'm on the boat, it's nighttime, and that Aaron is obviously more awake than I. I try and work my way up from there. It seems that Aaron is concerned that the depthsounder reads only 5.2m.
Sounds a reasonable concern, except I'd say the device has lost contact with the bottom and is guessing. That's what Aaron wanted to believe, too, only he can smell the rich earth of Vietnam like there's a compost heap been dumped on the bow. I get up to check it out. Yes, one can really smell Vietnam. There's an offshore breeze just filled in, and it is carrying scents that our olfactory system records only as distant memories, and to which it is highly sensitive after a few days at sea.
A few hours later, on my watch, a rain squall bursts over us, immediately drenching everything. Our first rain. And the air is cooler here. Today we did a practical sextant class, where we got some practice in taking shots and estimating the local noonday apogee. Then we worked up the latitude and made a crude estimate of longitude. Not too bad. The longitude was only 30 miles out, which for a crude calculation is pretty reasonable. Colleen did some bookwork on batteries, and Aaron on the radar and other electronic instruments. I continued with the "Users Guide" which is now expanding rapidly and concerning me that I'll never finish it. Certainly it will never get done if I don't do so before leaving the boat by the end of this trip.
After the noon shots, we were so hungry we couldn't think straight. I made a Spaghetti a la carbonara, and forgot to put in the onions. That's how hungry we were. Afterwards, I got around to the nasty job of fixing the engine low oil pressure/high temperature alarm. Another poor and corroded connection, this time on the oil pressure sensor. I also got around to fixing the galley salt water pump, which makes life a lot easier. One by one, we'll sort her out.
Aaron cooked up a swordfish chowder for dinner, which was wonderful, and Colleen and I washed it down with some Wolf Blas red wine. Very pleasant. And so to a night of Vietnamese fishing boats, the first two looming up on the bow just at the stroke of 20:00, when I hand over to Colleen's watch. I'm tucked up in bed by 20:30 as Redwings slips along under full sail and a gentle breeze out of the ESE. The light slapping and gurgling of the bow-wave a few inches from my head when under sail is soothing, the slight heel keeping me snugly tucked up against the hull.
13 April Midday approx. position 14 deg 27'N 111 deg 04'E
"It's your watch, John", these cheery words from Aaron bring me round after a completely sound sleep. Still the blackness of the early morning looks pretty bleak, especially with no coffee. We are still rationed to 1 cup per day, served at 08:00, and even then we'll run out in another few days. Just drink your tea and stop moaning.
With only a young moon in the early part of the night, my watch is always pitch black until dawn. It seems that we've had fishing boat company all night, and a helping current to speed us along at a respectable 4-5 knots, considering the very mild 7 knots of apparent wind we have to work with. In this kind of air, if she loses way, the apparent wind can drop to 3-4 knots, and maybe so low that it becomes impossible to accelerate her out of the stall at all. Only the smooth sea and clean hull permit us to get away with it.
By 04:40 I count 14 fishing boats around us. One passes us 50m ahead of our bows, from starboard to port, showing one small green light and an open fire on the foredeck. So much for international collision avoidance regulations. At 07:49 I'm pleased to note in the log that we've covered 874 n.m. made good in exactly 7 days, with only 509 to go. By my reckoning (though it's shot through with inaccuracies trying to interpret 4 separate fuel tank gauges) we've burnt just over half our fuel. So we're looking pretty good on that score, largely thanks to the kind and gentle seas and winds we've found so far. Colleen keeps cringing every time I mention how lucky we've been so far. As if to threaten a little, the wind gets up enough enthusiasm to whip up a few whitecaps in the early afternoon, but soon loses interest and calms down again; it was only playing to see if we were awake.
Now I have some owning up to do. I suffered a collapse of interest myself this afternoon, both in writing the "Users' manual" and the "chatty log" after a lukewarm reception from my trial audience. So this is being written long after the fact, in the stability of my land-locked office in Singapore, firmly concreted to terra firma and the net of spurious tensions people call normal life. Removed both in body and spirit from the cruising environment, please forgive me if the tone and content of this log suffer; I'm reconstructing from the ship's log.
14 April Midday approx. position 16 deg 37'N 112 deg 18'E
It seems that we've been treated to an extended period of sail with no motor, our first this trip. as an added bonus, last night was the first with little or nothing in the way of ships. As we work our way up the HK, we either seem to have been in the merchant tracks, or slicing through clouds of fishing boats. By the start of my watch, we were just coming up to the first waypoint to make our way through the Paracel Islands, a small collection of islands and reefs we plan to graze. Oh, the luxury of GPS! With coastal currents and no moon, how else would one dare to plan such a transit? Dawn arrived looking as if it had been out on the town all night, rather grey and bruised accompanied with a longer and greasier swell than usual this trip. Pretty much the way I expected it to look, given that today is our last coffee brew, and a thin one at that. A bleak prospect indeed. Despite the promise of circling birds, we've caught no fish. Every morning I put out the lines, every evening I bring them in. I had expected at least a few strikes while transiting these shallows and Islands. Still, we can hardly complain with a few ziplocks of swordfish still in the freezer.
By mid-afternoon were clear of the land and back out to deeper water. Come 18:00 and we're still sailing. Time to put the engine on to charge the batteries. We are eating up the power at an alarming rate, the banks showing -174 and -193 amp hours after less than 2 days. Aaron and Colleen have become radar junkies, its true, but even allowing for that we are using too much power. While I'm pondering the cause of this, I'm presented with another problem; the fresh water pump won't prime. Are we also out of water? Give me a break! Air must be getting in somewhere, we filled the tanks from the water maker only a couple of days ago.
I've started making bread batches, the original bread having long-since run out and the novelty of shipboard life wearing a little thin without fresh stuff. Amazing how much one appreciates a loaf or some rolls after a few days without fresh bread at sea. Today I found some wholemeal flour, so we could have some chewy brown rolls.
15 April Midday approx. position 18 deg 50'N 113 deg 08'E
This morning's watch was thick and black, with a milky dawn seeping across the sky, trying to get light without admitting it. Is God hung over today?
When Colleen got up, I pan-seared a couple of swordfish steaks with Oregano and slapped them between toasted roll halves flashed up under the grill. Oh, gastronomic heaven! It even helps mitigate the lack of coffee, the final over-brewed grounds and empty tin (still faintly aromatic with arabica) being ceremoniously dumped into the sea during a short ceremony yesterday morning.
By mid-morning, the world had found it's more usual sparkle, and we were bored of motoring and of sitting around with no wind to sail. Blue-water swim call! I dug out the ski-tow rope, which neither Aaron nor Colleen really saw the need for, until I jumped in. Funny how it seems as if the boat is going so very slowly, but once in the water you can't swim to catch up. Not a hope. The water was crystal and cool, absolutely fantastic. And to make my day, no hungry-looking pelagic sharks showed up. So maybe we found out why we have no water. The routing valve on the watermaker is sponned. I suggested Aaron could pick a replacement up pretty much anywhere in HK, it's not a specialty item. Then I thought, wait a minute, this is crazy. If Redwings were really still my boat, and we were in mid-cruise instead of a few days out of HK, I'd just get on and fix the damn thing. So we did. With superglue, a file, sandpaper, and two-part epoxy. Now it works like new and we can fill the tanks.
And I found out why we're eating power. The 'fridge isn't cutting in and out. Its certainly getting cold, so it looks like its just the thermostat. I overhauled it with, guess what, WD40 and decided that its just the crude bearing surfaces giving too much slack to the flip-flop part of the switch. At least now it turns on and off again. So we celebrated by having another swim. I discovered a funny thing while being towed along on the ski rope. Having pretty-much exhausted the possibilities of gliding back and forth using my arms and hands as wings, I tried diving deep enough and inverting my head to look at the surface from the underneath, upside down. Sorry, it's a little hard to explain. Anyway, the impression is that you're flying over land, looking down on rolling hills and valleys with streams and stuff from above, instead of below. The underside of the sea surface takes on a whole new appearance, the mind tricking itself into experiencing within another paradigm.
Late afternoon, it occurred to me that the 50-gall diesel tank would be about ready to run out. We'd planned to let it do so, so we could go through bleeding the fuel lines. I mentioned it to Aaron, that it could quit anytime. Sure enough, 5 minutes later the engine quit. Time to bleed! Aaron and Colleen are much more relaxed now with the equipment, and especially with night watches. Knowing how to get the best out of the radar helps a lot. Now that we're getting some squalls, advance warning by radar means they can get the sail plan reduced in good time. I'm sleeping easier too! And now it feels like we are on the final approach to HK, with only 100 miles or so to go. Log entries are getting pretty lax, with hours passing between entries. A sure sign of pre-port wind-down. The two days' sailing have left us in a good position with respect to fuel. We probably have enough to motor all the way to HK, even having run the engine most of today. We might need to, the wind has dropped and veered round through the SW to W and continues to blow a miserable 3-4 knots apparent.
16 April Midday approx. position 20 deg 39'N 113 deg 36'E
A pretty quiet night, sailing along in mild airs from the E again. Around 07:00 a squall came through and obliterated 4 trawlers making their way across my bow, nothing useful to be seen of them for 20 minutes as they disappeared into the very limited visibility of rain and wind. After the squall moved on, I saw that there were 6 trawlers, not 4. Now I found another 4, and a merchantman, with very poor viz. in some directions among the squalls. Tricky. This definitely calls for coffee, only we don't have any, nor have had for a couple of days. I finally crack under the pressure and try some instant. It just doesn't have that 'Je ne sais pas', but I manage not to gag.
By 10:00 the wind has filled and we're dipping the caprail on occasion. We've forgotten to close up all the portholes, of course, so some of the forward area and the aft heads are flooded. The first reef goes in at midday, with a blustery 15 knots apparent wind from the ENE, Redwings quite hard on the wind. The traffic is building up too, getting close to HK. The sky sulks with 6/8 cumulus + stratus, the odd splash of blue struggling to survive the lowering canopy of cloud. By mid-afternoon the second reef goes in and a few turns on the Genoa, 21-26 knots on the starboard bow, a little spume lashing at exposed faces under a blanketing grey sky. Redwings is nicely balanced, slicing into weather at well over 6 knots over the ground. Still the motion is pretty nasty, so about 17:00 I change to a double reefed main and staysail, which slows us to 6 knots but gives a smoother ride. Aaron and I spent a happy hour with a couple of cans of WD40 freeing up the brass hanks on the staysail, a job we should have taken care of in calmer weather before. Amazing how that sail continues to serve. It must be an original, and has never been cared for or repaired that I can see. By 18:00 the sea has built in response to wind, and our speed is suffering.
We try a little Genoa to see if we can power up a bit more. We also decide to head for the western entrance to HK, instead of the eastern that we had originally planned, to allow us to come off the wind a little. After just one day going to weather, we are already tired and running below par. Once again, it's as well to remember that Redwings goes better to weather than her crew. Still, it's useful for Aaron and Colleen to see and feel how she goes to weather, and not to have been mislead by an entirely smooth (and unrepresentative) trip up to HK. It also builds some confidence in the strength of the boat to see that she will slam and cut, shipping green ones over the bow and tossing them onto the deck to rush aft in great floods of water along the scuppers.
17 April Midday approx. position 22 deg 17'N 114 deg 11'E
I bunk down in the main saloon, but it's not comfortable enough to sleep. The wind instrument has gone on the fritz, damn the thing, and there's no way I'm up to fixing it in this weather. Having been punched about with reduced sail until about 23:00, Aaron & Colleen brought out the Genoa again. Speed jumped from a miserable 3.5 knots to 6 knots, but with the hull slamming much more into the swell. We need two people on watch now, what with the weather and traffic here. I get up around midnight, at least having had a few hours rest, and Aaron soldiers on to pair me while Colleen goes down to rest. Just as I was getting up, Colleen and Aaron were discussing whether it was prudent to go between two fishing boats, there being many around us and normally occurring in pairs. Aaron thought not, since they could be connected with a line or something, these guys seem to work together. Colleen counseled passing to stern of them both, wise lady. Having taken this route, I was up in time to see these 'fishing boats' were indeed joined, by a wall of steel. A freighter, by any other name. Funny how one's mind fails to see the obvious when it's expecting something else. The freighter, naturally, had a bow light and bridge lights, making it look like a couple of fishing boats, which never carry quite the navigational lights one hopes for.
By 04:00 we have to admit that we're not going to clear some rocks that lie between us and HK, so we have to choose to tack, or motorsail upwind for a short stretch. I'm for tacking, Aaron for motorsailing, which will be faster. Colleen, of course, has been listening to our muffled debate and to her it sounds like a desperate council of war, will we or will we not tack and strike the rocks! It's always more dramatic when down below, urgent whispers half-caught, the mind interpolating to fill the gaps in understanding.
I go to start the engine. It doesn't, there seems to be air in the fuel. So we tack and I get my way anyway. I bleed the fuel lines. There's no better time to be groveling armpit-deep in diesel fuel and smelly, oily bilges on a rolling sailboat than at 04:00 in the morning after no sleep the night before and in a grobbly sea. Oooh Arrgh!
By 05:00 we're stonking along at 8 knots on a close reach through a gap in offlying islands, having gone back on the original tack and searing past the rocks in the dark. Oh thank you, Lord of Defense Mapping Agency of the USA, for these most wondrous GPS satellites that your poor sucker taxpayers have so generously provided for the world to use. Well, at least we have a couple of US tax-paying citizens on board.
By now we are in the thick of it, adjusting course right and left in the pre-dawn to miss vessels coming at us from all directions. The approach lanes to HK and neighbouring PRC are choked with traffic. At 05:44 we have another interesting object lesson in perception. Aaron has decided to pass a couple of fishing boats, traveling together, and which he believes are abeam of each other. Only as we cut across the lead boat's bow, perhaps 50m ahead of him and treated to his fog horn & searchlight boring into us, does it become apparent that the boats are not abeam of each other, but staggered substantially. The error in judging their relative placement has caused a major shift in interpreting their range, and heading. A salutary warning.
By 07:30 we are nosing our way under motor through the mayhem and chaos of HK home waters, green-brown and smooth except where whisked into muddy froth and tumult by the bow waves of freighters, tugs, barges, howling hydroplanes and ferries. A complete navigational zoo. The skyline of HK looms overhead, stark, hard and unbelievable after days at sea with only the delicate grandeur of the clouds to contemplate.
At 09:30 Redwings nosed her way alongside the jetty at the Hong Kong Yacht Club. I supervised her lines to be thrown ashore and made fast for the last time. As I shut the engine down and tested the lines, the springs,checked the fairleads and securing bights, I found myself running through a well-worn routine that I have grown to love. Redwings has taught me a great deal, and now I work with her as a partner in our mutual safety. A fairly smooth and interlocking dance of function, neither of us safe from the unyielding sea, rocks and reefs without the other. Redwings bears both the scars and decoration of my many hours of labour. Less obvious, but no less significant, is that I bear the internal imprint of her works. Redwings is part of who I am, of who Caroline and I are together, something that can never be taken away. As I tidy up the chart table, pack away the log and dividers for the last time, her decks still once again in the sheltered waters of yet another port, I am not ashamed to cry a little for the 24,000 miles in which we have aged.
Aaron and Colleen at the Hong Kong Yacht Club after the delivery
Back to Redwings Homepage
Copyright 1997, all rights reserved by John Potter & Caroline Durville