Tuesday, September 30, 2008

(no subject)

30/09/08 Nivani at anchor

The bulk of the rally fleet left today for the next anchorage where there are planned activities with the local villages tomorrow. We decided to stay and have a R&R day and go down early tomorrow. We snorkeled over a Japanese Zero from WW2 that is in only about 3 - 4 metre of water. The coral is starting to grow over it in parts but it is still obvious what it is. The cockpit is open but the word is that it is home to a large moray eel so it was a case of look but don't climb in. The reef at the southern end of the island has some great coral especially on the edge of the drop off and we were treated to a wide variety of coral & fish while snorkeling.

Another treat today before the rally boats left was a call over the radio this morning from Stuart off "Orpailleur", one of the rally boats, he was offering free use of his Satellite phone for today. He was on a prepaid monthly plan and had heaps of time left that would expire at the end of the month. So we were able to do quick calls to family - a great opportunity to catch up briefly and tell them all was well.

29/09/08 Nivani at anchor

Today we lived up to the definition of Cruising - "Cruise is doing maintenance in exotic places". It is the first day we have had since arriving to catch up on repair jobs. Our danbouy self launched in the big seas during the passage on the way over and the flag pole came away from the float - luckily the life ring didn't go with it otherwise we would have lost the lot. We have been able to do a makeshift repair that will be OK until we get home and access to a wider range of materials. The other repair was the anchor light at the top of the mast. Patrick volunteered to go up the mast and I was very quick to accept as I'm not very good at heights. The anchor light is part of a 2 in 1 unit that houses the anchor light and the navigation lights. The nav lights are working and the anchor light was working until a couple of days ago. After checking the switch at the cockpit it looked like it was at the light end so up went Patrick in the boson's chair with a bag of tools and test gear. Fortunately it was a very calm anchorage so he wasn't swinging around at the top of a 16m mast. The light is a LED system and was new last year in January so we knew it wasn't a bulb. It turned out the the unit had water in it and a wire to the anchor light had corroded away from a junction fitting. Patrick had to bring the unit down to the deck where we were able to replace the wiring and junction block. Then another trip up to refit it. We suspect that it was not installed properly as there was no rubber seal in the unit's mounting system. Patrick took a tube of silicone sealant up and has done a temporary seal until we get back and can check how it is meant to be.

It was good to get the maintenance jobs out of the way and while it was hot work with the temperature about 32C we has several quick swims off the back of the boat. We are anchored in about 4 - 5 metres of crystal clear water with small coral outcrops scattered about with the usual variety of tropical fish - there is always something to see while swimming.

The day was topped off with sundowners (drinks & hors d'ouvre) on the back of "Lettin'Go" with friends off a couple of other yachts.

28/09/08 Nivani/ Panapompom Inaugural Canoe Regatta

The day started with a heavy downpour and things were looking very wet for the regatta. Proceedings were meant to start at 8:30 am but that was "island time" and it all started to happen around 10:30 am by which time the rain had cleared and most of the people coming from the neighbouring communities had arrived.

It turned out to be a big day, well supported by the island communities - the cash prizes donated by the local MP helped. There would have been over 200 local people attend the regatta plus about 50 yachties off 17 boats anchored in the bay. Things started with speeches then traditional dances. The dances were concluded by a group of children doing a dance depicting a dugong hunt which was fantastic. I've taken a movie of it and if it is OK I'll post it on the blog when we get back.

The regatta included 4 swimming races plus 4 paddling canoe races for Girls, Boys, Ladies & Men and 2 sailing canoe races - one for under 5m and the other for over 5m. There was much merriment amongst the locals with the races especially when something went wrong like a swimmer heading off in the wrong direction or canoes colliding. The sailing canoe races were quite a spectacle with 17 small canoes and 16 large canoes on the water together. The way they can control the sailing canoes is amazing. A special treat for us yachties was the opportunity to go for a sail on these after the race was over. To see the simplicity of the boats compared to our yachts but these are the main form of transportation here.

It was a great day and finished with a traditional feast (Mu Mu). There were fund raising activities for the yacht rally to raise money from the yachties for the local medical clinic on Panapompom.

27/09/08 Panasia to Nivani (Position 10.47.3 S, 152.23.3 E)

The conditions were prefect for us for the sail up to Nivani Is, a distance of 23Nm. We had 15/20Kts coming right on our beam for most of the trip and very little swell as we are now inside the outer reef. Lettin'Go is heavy for a cat but is a great sea boat and she revelled in the conditions sitting on 10/11 kts for most of the trip. The only downside was we were going too fast to troll for fish and only had one strike but we didn't land it. Other boats traveling slower caught more mackerel.

Nivani Is is another beautiful tropical spot that words cannot do justice so you will have to wait for the photos to be posted once we are back with Internet access. Nivani is a small uninhabited island about 1 Nm from Panapompom Is where the local village is. The people in this area have planned a big day for us tomorrow with a sailing canoe regatta. As soon as we had dropped anchor we were greeted by a man (James) in a dugout outrigger canoe who gave us a printed sheet with the program for tomorrow and had a frangipanni lae for each of us. James explained how the whole community were looking forward to the regatta and pointed to 5 huts on the beach at Nivani that had just been built for the occasion.

26/09/08 Panasia to Duchateau & Return

This morning we woke to voices outside the boat at about 6 am. It was a local family in a sailing canoe wanting to trade fruit & vegs. I don't know if it is a deliberate ploy to get us negotiating before we are fully awake or they were just very keen. I suspect it was a bit of both.

Today the 2 catamarans at Panasia, "Sanctuary" & ourselves went back to Duchateau to assist in the retrieval of personal effects off the yacht that had gone onto the reef. 3 yachties from the rally came with us, Bruce & Mark off "Dancer" and Peter from "Medusa". We anchored on the northern side of the island, went ashore and walked around the southern side where the stricken yacht was. What a sight it was - the yacht had been pushed right across the reef and onto the beach where she was sitting upright against some rocks. She has a long shallow keel which would have contributed to reducing the amount of damage sustained. She was in remarkably good shape but unfortunately will be very difficult to get out of the the reef. The reef runs about 150 metres out from the shore and she ran aground on the highest tides for some weeks. The people off the yachts that went to assist the day before had been working with the owners, Chris & Wendy, to identify the important personal things they wanted to retrieve and had taken them off the boat and stacked them on the shore. It was heartbreaking to see, Chris & Wendy were still in shock so it is hoped that they remembered the all the personal things that have special memories and can't be replaced. It was about 1 Km walk back around the island to where the yachts were moored and it was hard work carry heavy loads in soft sand at midday in the tropics. Fortunately with the number of people it could be done in one trip.

On a lighthearted note, Bruce & Mark are keen fishermen and Lettin'Go is a great fishing platform so the most was made of the trip over and back. We caught 3 good size mackerel on the way over and had 2 more onboard on the return trip when Ann pointed out we had more than enough. So lines came in for the the rest of the trip and we began preparing the fish which was completed back at Panasia. 2 of the fish were filleted into meal size pieces and 2 were done into mackerel steaks and 1 was left whole for the local villagers. A BBQ was held that evening for the rally yachts and the locals where there was plenty of fish plus a lot of the meat from Chris & Wendy's boat so no-one went hungry but also nothing was wasted.

At the BBQ, Guy, the rally organiser, presented all the boats with a rally nameplate plus some fun awards. We got the award for 1st place on handicap - it has very little to with how we performed as the handicaps were determined by a random draw both at Cairns & here at Panasia then combined together and applied to our passage time. We were the 4th boat the arrive which was good given how much we eased back to reduce the strain on the boat and crew. Also, it is a rally not a race.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

(no subject)

25/09/08 10pm Panasia Island (Position 11.07.871 S , 152.20.087 E)

A quick update to the details below. Position Lat & Longs have been provided so you can use Google Earth to pin point where we are.

I was hoping to get this blog update emailed this morning but the conditions were unsuitable and I couldn't get a connection. We are currently at anchor at the lagoon at Panasia Is. It is a beautiful setting much like Thailand with high cliffs, sandy beaches, fringing reef and crystal clear waters. We have caught up with a couple of the rally boats that came here directly this morning rather that coming into Duchateau but unfortunately the mood of the rally boats here is subdued with the knowledge that one of our rally companions has had their boat go up onto a reef outside the Duchateau group. It happened this morning while we were traveling across from Duchateau to Panasia. The rally organiser's boat Sanctuary had come across an hour before us and we were at the front of the remaining boats traveling across when the distress call came across on the radio. The boats closest went to see if they could assist and we being closer to Panasia acted as a radio relay boat for Sanctuary who was in the lagoon at Panasia behind the mountain and had poor reception.

At this stage it is still uncertain the condition of the yacht but we will be part of a few boats from Panasia taking manpower to Duchateau tomorrow to assist in getting personal effects of the stranded vessel. The couple on the yacht are permanent liveaboards like us so we can really feel for them, they haven't just lost their yacht but also their home. It will be devastating for them to have this happen at the end of a 5 day passage when they were coming into calm waters after a severe night at sea.

We update on the outcome in the next few days.

25/09/08 9am

We are at anchor at Duchateau Islands in the Louisiades. It is a beautiful anchorage with all the features you would expect of a tropical hideaway - palm tree covered island with white sandy beach and coral reef. We arrived yesterday at 1100 hrs and managed to catch 2 fish trolling through the channel between the islands. A 1.2m barracuda and a green jobfish. We gave the barracuda & the frame from the jobfish to some of the locals who were fishing in the area. They wanted to give us a very small lobster in exchange but we said it was a gift. Later another couple of locals paddled out to us and traded 2 t-shirts and 2 caps for 2 good sized lobsters. They were all from the same group so the fish we gave earlier would have been shared.

By yesterday evening there were 6 boats here and we all got together on "Sanctuary", the rally organiser's boat, for drinks, BBQ lobster and we all shared stories of our passage experiences.

Today it is blowing 25/30 kts and this anchorage is a bit exposed. It is a safe anchorage with crystal clear water and coral bommies but is rolly with a small swell coming in over the reef. Compared the past 4 days of the passage it is quite comfortable. Later today we will be sailing across to Panasia Island which will be more sheltered in the lagoon on the north side of the island.

I've had problems getting my last lot emails out via the HF radio, had to connect 8 times to get 3 small emails out and 2 emails with weather details in. Other boats are experiencing the same so it must be the atmospheric conditions. As a consequence I've decided to combine my blog updates and up load every 2 or 3 days.

24/09/08 1am

I'm 3 hrs into my last night watch for a few weeks. We arrive at the Louisiades tomorrow morning and it will be short day hops within the Archipelago until we do the return trip to Cairns. I've enjoyed the night passages - there is something special being at sea at night, you really tune into the rhythm of the boat. Tonight is very dark, the moon hasn't risen yet and there is total cloud cover at times as rain squalls pass through so it is difficult to see the horizon. There is plenty of phosphorescence in the water and our boat is leaving a trail of light through in our wake which is quite surreal. We are getting close to the shipping lane and have sighted several ships and had to alter course a couple of times to avoid some of the closer ones.

23/09/08 12 noon

What a difference 12 hrs & 10 kts of wind can make. Today the winds are down to 10/17 kts from the 15/27 kts of the first 2 days. The sea swell is the same but chop has reduced with wind and things are much more comfortable. Everyone is back to eating normal meals today instead of snacking on fruit & muesli bars like the last couple of days. We are 116 Nm from Duchateau and have set the sails for a steady passage to arrive at approx 0900 hrs when the sun will high enough to allow us to navigate through the coral reef into the anchorage.

Our watch system of 4 hrs each is working well. Patrick is doing 0200 - 0600 & 1400 - 1800 hrs; Ann 0600 - 1000 & 1800 - 2200 hrs; and I'm doing 1000 - 1400 & 2200 - 0200 hrs. During the day when off watch you can relax or grab a nap. Sail changes happen at between 0700 - 0800 hrs to set for the day and around 1730 hrs to set for the night passage - everyone is on deck for those.

Ocean passage is certainly different to coastal cruising. The only vessel we have seen in the last 48 hrs was a ship heading for Cairns at 0400 hrs yesterday on Patrick's watch - it got to within 3 Nm of us. I can pick up 3 vessels on the radar but none appear to be rally boats judging by their course and speed. The closest is 14 Nm away but when you look out all you can see is water. We have contact with other rally boats via radio and have scheds at 0900 & 1830 hrs where everyone gives there current position, heading and speed. Tonight a number of rally boats will converge as we head towards our common goal at Duchateau. It is also a busy shipping area so a sharp lookout will be required by the watch.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

(no subject)

Just over half way through our first offshore passage. 263Nm to Louisiades and we have done 265Nm since leaving Cairns. We expect to arrive in the Louisiades on Wednesday afternoon.

The weather has been rougher than we would have liked with 15/25 knt winds and seas generally 4 - 5 metre swells with the odd set coming through at 6+ metre just to keep you on your toes. The main problem with the seas is the chop on top of the swell that slams the boat at times. Unfortunately the weather conditions have taken a heavy toll on the rally fleet with 12 out of the 26 vessels retiring as on this morning's radio schedule with gear failure, structural problems or sea sickness. It is a great shame that so many boats have had problems and we really feel for them as everyone has put a huge effort into getting themselves and their vessels ready for the trip. Our friends Mark & Susan off La Scandell have had to retire from the rally but may leave Cairns on Wednesday to rejoin if repairs can be completed. Obviously we are hoping that they can still make it and if they do we will wait for them at Duchateau Island - the rally's first planned landfall.

We are sailing conservatively with sail area reduced to a point where the boat's motion isn't too bad and the stresses on the boat are minimised, but it is still a rough ride at times. All on board have found their sea legs and we are able to get plenty of sleep which is essential with doing night watches. Our boat "Lettin'Go" is handling the conditions fairly well with just a few minor leaks around some of the fixed windows when the decks are awash with sea water. We will see if we can do a temporary fix once we get to Duchateau as the conditions don't allow for that now. Patrick and I have had to go out on deck a couple of times and it has been difficult getting around. We wear harnesses and are always clipped on when on deck so it is only for urgent things that we go on deck for. We have both managed to get minor injuries to the feet while on deck in these conditions, nothing serious but a reminder to be careful.

Managed to catch a tuna while leaving Cairns out the Grafton Passage through the reef but have decided not to put lines out again until the weather settles as it is too dangerous to be landing and filleting fish in these conditions. The forecast is for a change on Wednesday to very little wind so we will need to motor if it stays to forecast.

Will do another update once we are anchored at Duchateau. If it is not on the blog by Wednesday evening, don't panic about our whereabouts as it probably just means that we didn't get to the anchorage before 4pm and are standing off the reef until Thursday to enter with the right conditions.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

The rally started without incident in 15/20 knt winds.  Unfortunately the winds are coming from the wrong direction and we are motor sailing for the first 3hrs until we can change angle and go out Grafton Passage through the Great Barrier Reef.


The start was quite spectacular with 27 boats starting at once.  There are 13 catamarans in the fleet so some of the anchorages in the Louisiades will be crowded.


The weather forecast looks good for the 4 day passage with favourable winds for the first 2 days and then they are swinging more east so we will need to make as much easterly progress as comfortable in the next 2 days then head more north.


This will be the last post with photos until we get back to Australia in late October.  Within the next couple of hours we will offshore beyond the range of our mobile internet access.  From now on all posts to the blog will be via HF radio using plan text emails.



We have Ann's brother Patrick coming with us for the Louisiades trip. The extra crew means we can do 4 hr watch shifts day & night and get a reasonable break between watches.

Final preparations completed and we are ready to depart the marina for the official start of the rally at noon.

Last night we had a farewell function with representatives for the PNG government and the PNG Cosul General. Traditional dances from the Louisiades put on a show and a great night was had by one and all.

The boat is setting very low in the water now that we have full fuel, water plus food & drink for 5 weeks. Ann has prepared meals for the 4 day trip to the Louisiades so we won't have to cook while underway. Patrick was cooking sausages on the BBQ on the back of the boat and the smells were causing lots of comments.