Category Archives: 6. Tahiti to Australia

Work, Work, Work…and a Little Play

One day after arriving in Mackay the boat was out of the water and dozens of projects were started. Everyone in the yard seems to know their stuff. In fact, our experience so far is much better than at any of the American yards where we had work done. But we haven’t seen the bill yet…

Because we had a weird bottom paint before (that we didn’t really want, but that’s a Key West story), we are painting with a primer. Then the best possible bottom paint, in black. (Should look cool, but also the yard manager “mentioned” that 75% of collisions with whales occur with red-bottomed boats, which is what we had before…)

Lower shrouds are replaced with larger diameter wire (and they convinced us to use swage fittings rather than our old norseman fittings). Upper shrouds and forestay will be replaced, just because they are 16 years old. Side stays for the screecher sprit will be replaced (because they showed signs of wear, and they were slightly too long to adjust properly anyway). If we can get the parts we will replace the fittings on the ends of the diamond stays, which have been welded together — a no-no as the weld creates a weak spot. Nobody noticed this before… We will modify the rig for the screecher furling line so it will be easier to furl.

We had routine servicing of our engines done. Replaced the oil in the saildrives. Props were not folding easily, and were somewhat wobbly, so they have being serviced. Our outboard got a routine service.

The alarm trying to tell us we have water in the saildrive seems to be due to a faulty sensor, so this is on order. We had a very hot relay in our electrical system; now replaced with one of higher capacity. The electrician impressed us with his abilities, so we peppered him with more questions. Why would our cockpit chart plotter sometimes stop updating (usually just as we are approaching a tricky reef pass)? Probably a poor network connection, and he identified a connection that seems likely to fail when it gets wet. He is talking with the manufacturer about alternative ways to connect.

How about the shunt that measures the current produced by the hydrogenerator? It has never worked. He’s working on this one. How about the bad connection to our horn? No worries…fixed. What about the depth/speed sensor where the plug into the network corroded and failed, and where the manufacturer does not offer any way to replace the connector — you have to replace the entire $300 sensor unit? He said it is good that we already ordered a new sensor, but as a backup (only) he pulled the old cable apart and spliced on a new connector. Okay, what about the fact that when we transmit on the VHF a radio, we get an alarm that the AIS system has lost its antenna connection? Probably corrosion in the antenna cable. He tried cutting back from the ends of the cable, but it still looked bad. So we will be threading a new cable through the mast to the splitter that goes to the radio and the AIS unit.

One of the vinyl strips intended to protect the bows from dings had come loose and was mostly gone. Now both have been stripped, and the dings underneath (hmm, seems maybe they don’t really work) are being filled and painted. Our freezer again works. Although I was convinced that the compressor was toast, it turned out to be corrosion in the temperature sensor. Inexpensive fix!

We’re modifying the mount for the hydrogenerator, to get the propeller a couple inches deeper in the water, to reduce cavitation. Looking into replacing the mount we made to hold the outboard when we’re at sea, as it does not seem rugged enough. Planning to replace the seals in one of the hydraulic cylinders by which the autopilot moves the rudder, as we noticed some hydraulic fluid leaking from it.

The list above is what we’re having the yard do. We also have items on our own list — swapping our anchor line end-for-end. Improving the way the halyards are run at the masthead, because the spinnaker halyard chaffed against the screecher halyard. Replacing the bearings in our wind generator, applying protective spray to the dinghy, replacing our broken fishing rod holder. Replacing the broken galley sink sprayer. Replacing the fuel level sensor in the forward tank. Shopping for various and sundry supplies and parts. We started out with a longer list to do ourselves, but we have passed several items on to the yard, since they can do the jobs more quickly/easily. After all, what’s another $100 added to the expected $10,000 yard bill…?

We sent our blown-out spinnaker to a sailmaker, who got back to us saying it is too far gone to repair. I don’t buy that — so we are trying other channels. This is a pain, and scary because the sail was extremely expensive.

So far there have been only a few surprises. The welds in the fittings on the diamond stays; the wear in the sprit side stays; having to replace the entire VHF radio antenna cable; the amount of wear in the folding propellers; the amount of damage to the spinnaker. And one big surprise: there was no oil remaining in the port engine!!! We checked the oil before leaving Vanuatu, but we did do a lot of motoring on the way here. There’s no oil in the bilge, so we must have burnt it. Yikes! But also incredibly lucky that the engine apparently survived with no damage. We are now back in the water, and the engine seems to be working fine.

Meanwhile, Bob headed out after a few days. He’s been a great crew, and I hope the plans work out for him and his wife to sail with Tim this winter when I come home for ten weeks. This morning Bill headed out. It has been a delight to sail with Bill, and I greatly appreciate all the work he has done on the boat from the beginning, right through his last day here in Mackay. It feels strange to now be on the boat with just my family, and no sailing partner.

In addition to the boat work, we’ve been through visa hell. Jesse had a problem getting his Australian visa, and we had pretty much reconciled that he wasn’t going to be able to make his flight here. Hallie tried to work things out from this end, while Jesse wrestled with the US end, but there didn’t seem to be any way to expedite the process. Then the visa came through the morning he was scheduled to go, and he’s here! He, Tim and I also need visas for Indonesia, which first required that the BPO rep get a sponsor letter and a cruising permit from Indonesia. Then a consulate needs four days to process the applications, and there is no consulate near Mackay. It was uncertain when the documents would appear from Indonesia; they showed up last night. Today Jesse and I swallowed hard and put our passports in registered mail to a consulate. They should come back here before we leave Mackay, if all goes smoothly. Tim’s will be trickier since he needs his passport to get to Australia. If he then mails it to a consulate, it will have to be mailed back to our departure point (Thursday Island), to some as yet undetermined address. All very stressful.

We did mix in some play. Hallie and I stayed in a fancy hotel next to the marina for four nights. Hallie, Bill and I spent a day driving to a park called Finch Hatton. We got to see some of the countryside, and do a short hike to a waterfall. Hallie, Jesse and I went to a movie — something I haven’t done for many months. And in two days the three of us get back on a plane to fly to the Northern Territories to do some sightseeing. We will be traveling for eight days. When we return the focus will shift to finishing projects, provisioning, getting Tim aboard, and setting sail once again.

View from our hotel room overlooking the marina.
View from our hotel room overlooking the marina.
Finch Hatton
Finch Hatton
Finch Hatton
Finch Hatton
Sugar cane field for miles and miles inland from Mackay.
Sugar cane field for miles and miles inland from Mackay.
Jesse tries oysters on the half shell for the first time. Bill double checks that there isn't one more among the empty shells...
Jesse tries oysters on the half shell for the first time. Bill double checks that there isn’t one more among the empty shells…
Back into the water again, with our slick new black bottom.
Back into the water again, with our slick new black bottom.

Oz

Sunday night…
Last gorgeous night at sea, and a fitting way to complete our crossing of the Pacific. Flat water, gentle sailing breeze, just-past-full moon, quiet, peaceful, and we’ll be at Mackay at dawn. Got buzzed by the Border Force airplane, and hailed on VHF, but they were very friendly and welcomed us to Oz. Have cleaned the boat thoroughly and disposed of all fresh foods, in anticipation of their stringent inspection. Fingers crossed about that. Have already scheduled our haul out for new paint. We’re as ready as we can be for our arrival and the changes that will occur.

Monday…
Clearing in was an interesting, lengthy and somewhat stressful experience. Five uniformed Border Force officials plus the sniffer dog greeted us. We were to stay up on the bow nets until the dog was done sniffing. That took a while, especially because she got excited about something in our spares locker. So they bring in the drug-and-explosive analyzer device, and determine that an aluminum (aluminium) bracket has traces of pseudo epinephrine, or something like that. Can I explain that…? No, makes no sense. (Later Tahawus had a similar experience where they detected traces of cocaine on some random piece of gear. Norm thinks they do that intentionally to rattle you!)

Then lots of questions, some seemingly friendly/chatty, but clearly they are trained to keep you talking about your background, etc. and they split the crew from the skipper, so your stories had better check out! The big question up front: “Are we going to find anything aboard that might be an issue? Weapons, plants, drugs,…?” Well, yes, actually. We have a 12-gauge flare gun, which we’ve been told is considered a weapon in Australia. “No worries, flare guns are fine.” Okay, but we also have a big store of prescription medicines, since our third owner, not present, is a physician. That turned out to be only a minor issue. They pulled out the two boxes of narcotics and sealed them in an unused locker in the head. When we check out of the country we have to show that the locker is still sealed.

Okay, but there is one other thing. We had heard that mace and pepper spray are considered weapons, and Bob alerted me just before the inspection that he had a can of bear spray! Bob is from Canada, remember, so of course he carries bear spray across the Pacific 😉

That led to some research by Border Force, and with apologies they said they would have to confiscate the bear spray. Later in the afternoon we walked past an outdoor bar, and one of the guys was there. Seeing us, he of course asked if we’d seen any bears yet. No worries, the Border Force was friendly, courteous, professional, and they didn’t give us any further grief about strange substances on our spare aluminum bracket.

But still pending was the dreaded quarantine inspection. The agriculture guy was delayed, so we had to continue to stay aboard another couple hours until he showed up. We had been told they will confiscate most of your food, sometimes even your spices. Also told they would inspect the bottom of the boat with an underwater camera, and if they spotted any barnacles we would have to haul the boat immediately and have it cleaned at our expense. We were also told that if they found any insects, alive or dead, the boat would have to be fumigated, including sealing it all up and us moving off of it for two days — again at our expense, of course.

Well, the bloke was nice enough, but he certainly was painfully thorough — going through every locker, inspecting all food packages, and tapping all woodwork looking for signs of termites. He found some weevils in a bag of pasta. Uh oh… No worries, he says, these are garden variety weevils that are already in Australia. He disposes of the bag, but no further action. Then he takes a woven basket that I bought in Tonga and bangs it on the counter. And proceeds to point out tiny crawly things. This I had feared, as I had seen tiny ants around the basket, and I had sprayed it with an ant poison, but here they were still. Book lice, he says, not ants; the bane of libraries. Not a problem — he just wanted to show us that they were there!

In fact he ended up taking very little. Our 7 remaining eggs, the pasta, and the only fresh produce we still had aboard – some garlic. As he was leaving I asked about the underwater inspection. Yes, he has the camera in his car, but he only uses it on the boats with major growth. The gypsies, he says, who stay in one place a long time and don’t clean/repainted the boat.

Whew! Everyone was friendly and heartily welcomed us to Australia, but it was a major relief when it was over, we could take down our quarantine flag, and move the boat from the quarantine dock to a slip in the marina.

Tuesday…
Hauled the boat. Everyone seems professional and knowledgeable. By the end of the day the bottom is already clean, the waterline is taped for painting, a lower shroud is removed for measuring the new wire, and the first batch of decisions is behind us.

I feel an emotional “whiplash.” Being at sea one day, talking with various contractors the next. From solitude to city. We took the bus to the mall (just to look around; there wasn’t anything there that we needed). Bob rented a car. I visited a dentist to reattach a crown that had popped off. (I consider myself very lucky that this happened one day before arriving in civilization!) We have a list of maybe 30 boat tasks/issues/questions. Hard to prioritize, after the obvious top items. And what’s it all going to cost???

Water music performance, the night before we left Vanuatu.
Water music performance, the night before we left Vanuatu.
I like this poster that was on the wall at the customs office, when we were clearing out of Vanuatu. I think it’s funny how the last bit of the “story” is covered, so you can fill in your own blank for “You shoulda married _______”
A photo taken by Doina that I like -- figure out the message in Pidgin English.
A photo taken by Doina that I like — figure out the message in Pidgin English.
14.7 knots, and 7 miles ahead of Blue Wind
14.7 knots, and 7 miles ahead of Blue Wind
Approaching Blue Wind, to make our medicine transfer
Approaching Blue Wind, to make our medicine transfer
With weighted throwing line in place...
With weighted throwing line in place…
Good shot, into the sail
Good shot, into the sail
Thumbs up! Pull in that PB jar. We'll get the line back in Oz.
Thumbs up! Pull in that PB jar. We’ll get the line back in Oz.
A guest stopping for a rest
A guest stopping for a rest

Video of our welcome to the Great Barrier Reef:

In the slings in Mackay.
In the slings in Mackay.

Call for Assistance

We’ve been within AIS range (~20 miles) of Blue Wind for two days. We would start to leave them behind, then the wind would change a little and they would start to catch up. At one point we had almost no wind, and we could see on the AIS that they were going 8 knots. Of course we concluded that they were motoring. And later in the day we got a fresh breeze, and went from about 5 knots to 10, and Blue Wind called on the VHF radio asking if we had just started our engines. (That’s a little funny, because our top speed under engines is about 7 knots.) Apparently they were watching us as closely as we were watching them. We each assured the other that we were not, nor had we been, motoring.

Then the conversation turned more serious. James (skipper) said that Ruy (his only crew member) was very sick. He asked about our medical knowledge and medications on board. Our “ship’s doctor” (Tim) of course is not aboard. We tried to call Tim on Bob’s satellite telephone, but without success. We sent an email via the SSB radio, and were pleasantly surprised to see a reply by the time we had rummaged through Tim’s collection of medications. Via satphone Tim then spoke directly with James. Although Ruy had already taken an antibiotic, Tim recommended a different one. (Broader spectrum? More powerful? I don’t know.) Blue Wind did not have the medication, but I did. So we made a plan with James to get it to him.

When the medical issue first arose we had altered course to gradually converge with Blue Wind. We knew we might be transferring medicine. We also discussed transferring a crew member to assist (in spite of the potential nightmare with the immigration authorities if we arrived with a different crew than left Vanuatu). Transferring a person would be much trickier than transferring a package. With ocean waves it is dangerous/impossible to bring the boats directly alongside — they could be pushed into each other, or the rolling could case the masts/rigging to collide.

James considered it, but declined the offer of crew. So as we were closing the last mile to Blue Wind…we cleaned out an empty peanut butter plastic jar…put the medicine in a sealed plastic bag in the jar…added a hunk of just-baked bread in another sealed bag as a nice gesture…tied a small line around the lip of the closed jar…tied the small line to a larger/heavier/throwable line…found a small water bottle that we half filled with water to act as a throwing weight…tied a small line around the neck of the water bottle…and attached that to the other end of the heavier line. We agreed that Blue Wind would hold their course at a slow speed, while Bill conned No Regrets under power and approached from astern, passing alongside about a boat-length away. I would then heave the weighted end of the line (while Bob takes pictures). If unsuccessful we could retrieve the line and try again. But I threw a strike — right into their mainsail, so the bottle slid down to James on deck. James then pulls the entire line to his boat, with the payload on the end. We’ll ask for the line back in Australia.

The transfer went without a hitch. Blue Wind is now motoring at top speed toward Mackay, some 300 miles away. We’re trying to stay within radio range in case any further assistance is needed.

Any offshore sailor would do as much to assist another boat if they could. But this experience points out a benefit of sailing in a rally — having another boat close enough by to help!