Aug 13 2011, 930 am departing Cocos keeling.   The weather was borderline “sailable” at the time I left, being very light winds and somewhat variable, most boats deemed it to be ‘unsailable’ and it probably was in their bigger yachts which require a bit more of a breeze than little Salsa.  Then again as I write this, 48 hours into the trip the wind and seas are so big I would consider it ‘barely sailable’ in Salsa and the other boats would be flying along having a ball, albeit I suspect with at least a bit of discomfort.  Right now the seas are around 10 to 15 feet high, and the winds 25 to 35kts.  It’s just pure crap out here.  It’s been so cloudy and rainy I haven’t seen the moon or sun since the day I departed until now.  When I left there was a slight breeze from the north and as I was sailing west, it was perfect; just barely enough wind to fill the sails and keep them from slapping around in the big but gentle southerly swell that just never goes away, even when there is no wind.  This Northerly breeze (a bit unusual as we should have SE trade winds around 20kts or so I thought) kept going until around 9PM when it just got too light, I was only sailing at 3kts and the sails started to bang around too much to make any headway.  So I prepared to just drift a while, well actually we kept sailing more or less west but only at about 1 to 2 kts since I put 3 reefs in the main and nearly took down the Jib to protect the sails from all the banging around with no wind, however there was just enough wind to keep moving under reefed sail, and I went to sleep for a while.  After midnight I awoke to the GPS alarm telling me that I was off course and turns out the winds had finally gone back to the SE, but still at a miserly 10kts.  Even with the main deeply reefed I let out most of the genoa and we were making 4kts again, not bad, and then it started building, the wind and seas.  By morning conditions were very uncomfortable, winds over 25kts, seas over 10 ft, cloudy, rainy, I completely furled the jib by then and was sailing with only the triple reefed mainsail,  (and have been just like that for 24 hours as things just seem to get worse, but not dangerous).  Currently I’m making near 6kts (that means up to 10kts when I start surfing down these waves) and I’m thinking I might have to completely douse the third reef in the mainsail and go back to just a tiny bit of the jib.  I tried going out this morning for a shower in the rain but before I could dry off a huge wave smacked me and it seemed the salt water spray was hitting me more than the fresh rain water, lovely.   So yes, this is one of those moments when you think, why the hell am I out here.  I just spoke to my friends still in Cocos on the radio that are fishing, diving, having BBQ fish on the beach, and I’m here in the crap.  Funny how they have Sunshine and light winds just 150 miles away.  Last night I took a wave into the cockpit so big that it was almost full of water; I was surprised how long it took to drain, several minutes, hmmm….   On top of that, my radar is acting up AS USUAL, worked fine the first day, but today I have had to reset it 4 times to get it to work, and I really need it as I am actually around shipping lanes and with this weather I couldn’t see any ships outside even if I was looking.  THEN about half way through writing this I hear my fishing line go, and I see a nice Wahoo (my favorite fish) jump clear out of the water, and before I could even begin to pull him in, he got loose.  So that’s how my day is going.  It’s funny because back in Bali someone asked me about sailing and said, wow you must have some amazing times, and some awful times out there on the sea.  And that is the exact truth.  If every day was like my last 24 hours I would never be doing this.  The really hard question is does all the nice days make up for the crappy ones!?  Sometimes it’s hard to say.  But I think somehow our little brains tend to remember the better parts and therefore convince ourselves to keep doing this kind of thing.

On my second day underway from Cocos the winds maxed out gusting up to around 40kts  and seas were up to around 15 feet, been taking a lot of water into the cockpit and even a bit into the cabin which just makes everything wet and salty.

Normally I watch a good bit of movies underway but it’s just too wet and wild out here so I stowed them away for several days until now.  On the plus side the weather has moderated a bit and a huge school of dolphins appeared from the north, initially just as breaking water and I was expecting a school of Tuna or some game fish until I saw several of them jump clear out of the water!  These Indian Ocean Dolphins are much cooler than the ones I’ve seen in the other oceans, these guys are fully acrobatic!  I finally got a forecast from friends on another boat and I almost wish I hadn’t, calling for near gale conditions with rough to very rough seas, gotta love it!  I guess on the bright side I’ve been making reasonable time averaging 4 to 5 kts till now, would be faster but I have to slow down to prevent surfing down these large waves.

The next day on August 16 the weather started to moderate, 250 miles behind me at Cocos Keeling it was very clear and several boats departed with the rest of the ‘fleet’ planning their departure over the next few days.  Still it was very rough for me and still about 2650 miles to go.

August 17 things got a little better again with winds down to 20kts and slowly falling, the Furuno Radar has been giving me heaps of trouble, making it very hard for me to sleep more than about 30 minutes at a time, plus with the constant rain squalls it’s hard to use the alarm feature anyway as every hour or so if not constantly, you get an isolated rain storm setting off the alarm.

August 18 Finally a day with nice weather! (One out of five isn’t bad right!?!?!)  And another amazing display from our friendly acrobatic Dolphins, these guys were pretty big, and dark on top with white bellies no idea what species…  Everything on the boat is starting to dry out now that I can finally open the hatch and let a little breeze through.  The moderating weather had me very busy with sail changes, trying to gibe the jib and using the pole or taking the pole down, trying to get Salsa sailing as well as I can, at least it’s something to do.

I’ve been thinking that on the bright side at least nothing major has broken on this passage, the biggest concern is my fault by not properly waterproofing the engine control panel located in the cockpit, it has found itself submerged in sea water many times and now it seems the ignition switch is acting up, since I heard the electric fuel pump and the control panel lights come on all by themselves, trying to improve the situation with some WD40 but have had to disconnect the wiring harness to ensure that I’m not wasting my batteries on engine lights and pumps that I probably won’t use for several weeks.  Other than that the usual stove maintenance that my very old fashioned kerosene stove requires has been a minor project, lost one or two fishing lures to big fish, which is ok because if they can bend these hooks or break 250lb rated line they are way too big for me on my own anyway, and of course the daily if not hourly radar glitch that seems to keep shutting itself down but pretending to be on watch mode therefore not alerting me to shipping traffic, even though I’ve only seen one ship since leaving Cocos, I’ think there are no shipping lanes around me at the moment, but the added security of the radar really helps me sleep sometimes.  So in summary no unusual or catastrophic problems, this seems more or less typical.

August 19, 1030am, 12.34s, 86.14e, so far 645nm from Cocos and 2169 to the northern coast of Madagascar, plus another 150 beyond there to nosey Be.  Decent weather, SE 15-20 and the seas are slowly growing but so far it’s very nice.  Finally something strange happened, I’m outside adjusting the angle of the Solar panels to track the Sun and I see a large piece of debris in the water made out of Bamboo, something surely adrift for a long time, and just as I sailed within 20 meters of I notice a long trailing line (connected to nothing but the debris) and then I notice both of my fishing lures snagged!  At first I’m thinking to slow the boat down and save the lures but then I notice there are two fish!  HUGE ONES, I’m not sure what they were, but one broke free right away and the other one bent the hook open on the lure.  The wild part was I could see these guys, at least 15 of them chasing the lure 50 meters behind the boat, and they were BIG.  I debated for a while turning back to investigate the floating bamboo “thing” and catch one of these guys but it was just a little too rough and we would probably be talking about an hour of work since everything is poled out, prevented and set for downwind sailing.  On the VERY bright side, I caught and landed a beautiful Wahoo!!!   about 4.5 ft long, so I finally started the Engel Refrigerator and I’m pretty sure I can finish this thing before it goes bad if I I have it twice a day for the next 3 or days or so.  Dinner, a LOT of fish, severed with, that’s right, more fish.  I’ve really been craving Protein for a while so I’m very happy to have finally pulled something on board after so many fish stealing lures or getting away so far.

August 20, 2033 Miles to go, 784 from Cocos, The weather report is for moderate weather from the SE for several days, something to be happy about.

Aug 21, 9AM, changing the clocks in the boat to compensate for the Sun rising later and later as I head west, got a forecast on the radio; SE 15-20 gusting to 25, rough seas.  Actually that doesn’t sound too bad!  After averaging 5.5 to 6kts for the last 48 hours I feel I have to drop the main sail completely to keep the boat under control so with just a little jib out I’m now averaging 5.3kts and with no main it’s VERY rolly out here, feels like the boat is rolling up to 45 deg at times, current wind is SE 25-30kts and it is WET, I managed to wash some salt off my body none the less and feeling a little better!

Aug 22 9AM, 12.49s, 79.30e, 1776 miles to go, 260 miles in the last 24 hours with only the equivalent of storm jib set, still too much wind to put up the main, averaging 5.4kts currently.

Aug 23, 230AM, somewhere in the south Indian Ocean.  Yes, it’s always 2AM when crap happens.  So this time I am awaken to sounds of (seeming like) large objects colliding into the hull, but I was actually getting used to that and nearly sleeping through it (It’s just waves but my god you have to hear / feel it to understand) and then the sound of the emergency bilge pump (Hey, this noise is not normal!).  Actually it’s very rare for this pump to come on as I have two other pumps that usually do this job before the water level is ever high enough to hit the emergency pump switch.  On the other hand we have been taking on quite a bit of water, I would guess, that I’ve had the entire cockpit filled with water 5 or 10 times this passage!  The waves here JUST PLAIN SUCK..  Yeah its windy, and yeah I’m getting some waves /  spray into the cabin too, and it’s so damn windy I can’t even fly the main sail with three reefs (going down wind!) so I have just a tiny bit of the jib unrolled, maybe a square meter of sail, and that moves me along at 5 to 6 kts.  But the damn water in the cockpit, In that last three years, prior to this passage I can only remember 2 or 3 times getting ‘pooped’ where a wave just jumps inside the cockpit totally filling it up and then splashing around as it spills out over the sides and very slowly goes down the scuppers (drains).  Yes yes another one of those ‘why the hell am I out here’ moments.  For those who think big fast draining scuppers are so important, you might not have considered that in the type of conditions where you get a cockpit full of water you are usually rolling around like crazy and half of the water just spills right out anyway making the remainder of the water pretty manageable even draining at a snail’s pace.  You even have time to go out and take quick bath before it drains, seriously.

After having nearly no radio or outside contact at all from Bali to Cocos, I now appreciate one thing that generally makes me feel better about this passage, our SSB radio Net (short wave radio schedule with about 8 other boats on the “same” passage). But now that I’m thinking about it I’m the ONLY boat sailing direct to Madagascar via the Northern Cape (think 800 miles from Somalia) the other boats, with one exception are giving it a complete miss.  So one boat on the radio says to me that he just checked the ‘safe zone’ regarding pirates posted on the Noonsite Website, and that I have now officially entered the ‘unsafe zone’.  Hmmm I felt a lot better before they shared this info with me.  Well very good advice he gives me (something I was intending to do very soon but not this soon as I was still feeling very safe anyway) was to stop giving my position on the radio.  So this means I’m out here all alone and it is actually SAFER if no one knows your position because of course the pirates probably have radios as well and do you really want to advertise your exact position, course, speed, destination, think about it, that’s exactly the information we pass back and forth on these radio nets.

But back to the stupid water in the bilge, so James got me to seal up the cockpit seats pretty well about 3 years back during our refit, and to think, I was laughing to myself thinking RIGHT like water is going to get in THERE, I would have to be half way underwater!  He also said I should seal up the engine instrument control which I wanted to but lacked the combination of skill and motivation so that in reality I spent a LOT of time only thinking about how to seal up this big piece of plastic full of gauges and instruments to keep the saltwater out, and that’s why the hole things acting up right now, sometimes turning on fuel pumps, engine gauge lights, etc, I’m just running around behind it unplugging wires so I don’t drain the battery, the entire time rolling around in this crazy Indian Ocean Swell, up to 45 degrees from one side to the next, and QUITE often it sounds and feels like a car just ran into the hull, but like I said, I’m getting used to it, I guess, but really have to ask, why would anyone choose to do this!?

I guess I’m just a little depressed as this is four days in a row blowing near a gale, about 30 to 30+kts, Thank god it is behind the beam and I don’t have to fight the wind, but even sailing downwind in these conditions are far from comfortable, some might even say miserable,  I can deal with these conditions in reasonable spirits for a day or maybe two but damn, it’s not supposed to stay crappy like this for THIS long and my friends on the radio tell me this could go for several more days, lovely, Some crap about being in a squash zone between Highs and Lows, I’ll never be a ‘weather guy’ but out here what does it matter when you can only carry on, not to mention haven’t had a sunny day during all this wind so batteries are getting low, not too low but I really don’t feel like going around re-plugging in all the engine wires so I can start the engine just to charge the batteries.  At least I was able to turn the fridge off yesterday since I finally finished eating the Wahoo, and a damn good job I did, eating the whole thing in under 72 hours!    All right all this ranting has got me tired enough to maybe get back to sleep again, so I suppose I should put this computer back into its case, into its water proof bag, and into the closet where it can’t get salt water sprayed on it, or thrown about the cabin (like I get all the time).   Good night.

Sept 1st, this is the first time I’ve written here in the blog in over a week, so let me get you up to date.  Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for writing but I still take notes several times a day in the ships log, along with plotting my position twice a day.  As of right now, I’m about 800 miles from Nosy Be Madagascar, and considering that I’ve already sailed 2200 miles since Cocos Keeling, I’m feeling like I’m actually getting close!   The weather has been mostly crappy, windy, and rolly, with a few exceptions here and there.  Even right now with the boats movement and the waves sometimes splashing inside the companionway, I’m very hesitant to write on the computer, but let’s give it a go.

Back to the log, for Aug 23rd, Just calculated that at this point I had been averaging about 116 Nautical miles per day, that’s not too bad but I could do a lot better if it wasn’t for these big seas and swell.  Plus I had two targets (freighters) come up on the radar screen, something a little unusual when you are way out here in the middle of nowhere.  Seems there is a shipping lane that runs from South Africa to Asia that cuts right up the middle of the Indian ocean where I am, Damn, another rain / squall is hitting me now and I’m off course and rolling around like crazy, I’ll finish this later, hopefully before I get to Madagascar!!


The conditions more or less drove me to just give up using the computer, it was getting wet anyway.

So from here on I’ll try to recreate the trip to some degree from the logs and memory, but I’m sure it won’t be as detailed or show the emotions I was feeling in the prior entries.  Also I noticed above there were some repeat entries because I may have typed them out and then later copied the ships-log entry to this log/blog as well.    After reading those entries for the first time now almost half a year later (sorry for the delay!) I have to admit I was a bit winey, maybe slightly depressed, but I don’t think I made any exaggerations, things were that miserable and that’s basically how I felt, however I never felt like the boat was in jeopardy or uncontrollable, it was in a very brief summary, uncomfortable. Especially in contrast to my previous passages.  So once again, I’ll try to make some sense of the original ships logs only it is now 5 months after the passage, starting on;

Aug 23 2012; Something interesting, my GPS log shows I’ve traveled 1185, but in fact I’m only 1155 miles from Cocos, so after over 1000 miles my course has only taken me 30 miles out of the way, not bad I guess.

Aug 24, 9am, .12.59S, 75.42E, 1553MTG (miles to go), 1270 on the (gps) log; averaging 5.5kts, course 270 True.

Aug 25, 9AM, 12.58s, 073.41e, 1435MTG, 1384Log (114miles in 24 hours, typical) Winds East 20kts

6PM, 12.59s, 72.56e, 1453log, Winds East 15, Swell, 9ft.

Aug 26, 9AM, 12.58s 071.53e, 1494 log (110 miles in 24 hours)

(sorry up to this point I made almost no notations on the passage other than what you see above.

Aug 27 9AM 12.55s, 69.59e, 1218MTG, 1607 LOG,

After a few nice days it is STILL nice and steady wind, a little cloudy but much more pleasant conditions.  I finally got the engine running after re-wiring but only for about 30 minutes to test it and give the batteries a little boost since it has been two days now without any Sun, the standby mode on the Furuno Radar is not working at all anymore so I just have to wake up every hour and manually check the Radar out 24 miles, then back to sleep.

Aug 28 9AM, 12.47s, 067.56e, 1098MTG, 1729Log, SSE 20-25 and diminishing. Avg 5kts, course 272.

Batteries are back up to 12.6v from 12.3v the other day (that’s about as low as I ever let them get).

Aug 29th, 12.42s, 66.01e, 986 MTG, 1842 log, SSE 15, making 4.5kts, AND IT IS 95% SUNNY!

5PM ship spotted 7.2 miles from me, 530pm he is 3.7 miles off, I’m getting nervous as I am supposedly in Pirate country.  540pm he is 2.4 miles off and closing in spite of my efforts to make course changes to increase our distance, so I finally had to tack (at 550pm) back up wind as I had no idea what his intentions were, I did not want to talk to him on the radio, and I didn’t want him more than a mile from me so I could at least report what was going on if ‘something’ were to happen.  (Looking back) I was a little scared at the time.  This looked like a fast tuna boat, with other very fast boats on deck, seemed like a good ship for pirates, but at the time I realized that I didn’t really know exactly what kind of a boat pirates would be approaching with.  At the time it looked like the ship was altering course and speed to get a better look at me, and that is not as abnormal as one might think as a little tiny sailboat in the ocean is probably an interesting thing to encounter even for freighters and fishing boats during an otherwise dull passage.  Just slightly later I hove to (and did not turn my lights on) until the boat was clear by several miles, then I continued on, I was probably just paranoid.

Aug 31, 12.31s, 62.02e, 873MTG, 1957Log, Wing on Wing with triple reefed main, 5kts,

Sept 1, 9AM, 12.23s, 060.10e, 643MTG, 2190Log, SE 20, BIG rolly seas, 10-13 feet, now 19 days at sea with 800 more miles to go to Nosy Be (643 is to Cape D’ Ambre northern tip of Madagascar) The Ships log says “Tried to write on the computer again, but wind went from 20kts to 5kts to 20kts  in 25 minutes, Boat jibed (nice and easy though at 5kts wind), by 5PM (or probably earlier) wind was back to SSE 20-25, speed 5.5kts

Sept 2 2:10AM, Ship spotted on radar, 13nm miles away and on a safe course.

Sept 2 9AM, 12.14s, 058.03e 519mtg, 2316 Log, Winds SE20, course 274true, avg speed, 5.5kts.

Sept 3 9AM, 12.06s, 56.06e, 404mtg, 2432 Log,

Sept 4 9AM 11.59s, 054.13e, 293mtg, 2545log,

Sept 5 9AM 11.44s, 52.24e, 186mtg, 2585log

At this point my course starts to change more to the north as I am entering an area known for stronger winds near the Northern Cape of Madagascar and I am advised on the SSB that I should try to give this cape a wide birth (50 miles) to the north.  In hindsight, I might have done better to stay just off the coast, as several other boats did, and avoided the wind and waves for the most part, I thought I was taking the more conservative approach but it’s hard to say as rounding Madagascar from East to West, unless you have very settled weather, you only have two options, very far offshore, or very close in (less than a mile from the shore) to avoid a turbulent area, I could write more on this but in summary, if you are comfortable sailing close to the beach, I think you would have a much nicer passage. I got tossed around a bit and I think I was around 30 miles offshore.  (and hence 30 miles off of my direct line)

Back to the log;

Weather report; SE 10-20kts, Gust to 30 in thunderstorms, scattered showers. Not what I wanted for rounding the Cape, but could be worse, the weather guys also advise me to stay 50 miles off of the cape considering the forecast.

1047PM, Boat speed 6kts and sailing well, but want to keep speed closer to 5kts at night and already down to the third reef, so I’m dropping the main and shortly after doing so, the topping lift broke!  Had to stand on the lazerette, hold onto the backstay with my cheek and shoulder while trying to control the boom and tie it to the backstay to get it under control and off of the bimini before that breaks too.  To have any chance of accomplishing this I first turned the boat straight down wind to slow everything down.  At least there is some moon light and the swell is only 6-9 ft at the moment.  Winds 20-25 SSE, boat speed now without the main up, small jib out only, 5kts. By the time I got the boom secured I went back below but I was sweating up a storm, and then I notice I forgot to secure the main sail halyard as I hear it banging around, back outside again, and while securing that I got soaked by a wave (it was almost welcome as I was pretty hot).   And what ocean passage would be complete without a mid-sea mast climbing project to re secure a new block for the topping lift so I can use the main again.  (that comes later).

Sept 6 Tues 8AM, 11.24S, 50.21e, Log 2777 Weather report, ESE 15-25 Gusts to 35, seas rough, scattered showers. At 4PM I wrote; “Did not go outside ALL day, should be passing the worst of Cape D’ Ambre, hoping anyway” and later I wrote “Turned calm so fast!” but the swell did not let up until I was actually South (on the west side) of the cape, this finally motivated me to climb the mast with the wind down and now I really needed the mainsail.  I tried to put the boat on a course so that it did not roll so much but the seas were still around 9’ from the SE, and keep in mind, I weigh about 200lbs, but it was all I could do to just hang on to the mast once I got up to the spreader bars so I aborted the first attempt.  The second attempt I just went up as fast as I could, I brought a snatch block that I could quickly snap onto the shackle on the mast pre-rigged with the new topping lift, and ran back down, probably the biggest obstacle in doing this was fear, but it seemed very hard at the time, I could feel my muscles trembling.  I felt a little like an ass thinking back to the South Pacific when a friend of mine had to climb his mast mid-ocean and reported on the radio that he had to drink half a bottle of rum just to calm himself afterword, and I only laughed at him.  Well at least I didn’t have to resort to rum, I still had wine 🙂 .  These procedures always sound/seem worse than they really are at the time.

Sept 7, 11.33s, 48.35e, 2886Log.  Last night I was sitting in the cabin with the back of my head resting against the cabinet when a wave hit the side of the boat so hard the force was transferred through the hull, and the cabinets and it honestly felt like I got hit in the head!  Also slightly depressed after hearing a few negative reports about Madagascar from other cruisers on the radio. (that turned out to be nothing to worry about, I loved Madagascar).

Sept 8 9am, 12.30s, 48.19e, log 2956, MTG-65

“Funny wind here and difficult sailing as it is mostly light wind and somewhat variable, also very tired now that I’m into these ‘coastal’ conditions.  I slept through the wake-up alarm for 3 hours last night, then dropped the sails and drifted in nearly calm conditions to catch up on sleep.  Also had to repair the wind vane (round plastic ball with control rod threaded into it came unthreaded, easy fix, epoxy.

1020AM, engine on for propulsion for the first time in a month, not enough wind to fill the sails and I want to get in today!

520PM Motor off, anchored off the Island of Sakatia (western side of Nosy Be).  (about 13.18s and 48.11e) Where I spent the night SOUND asleep, then awoke and the next morning and sailed a few more miles around to Crater Bay, one bay before Hellville (where you are SUPPOSED to clear in), however its al lot safer in Crater.

Quick details of the passage, 28.5 days at sea, traveled and actual 3017 nautical miles, not too far from the rum line which was only 2935 miles, and averaged 4.3kts or 103 miles per day.  It blew an average of 25kts most of the time, almost all of out of the SE and would have been a lot faster trip if the 3 to 5 meter swell had ever let up.

Filed under: sailingTrip

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!