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Annie Hill

Annie Hill
Photo credit: Alvah Simon

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About Me

15 August, 2014

The other thing I said I'd never do



I have never been interested in doing deliveries because if someone doesn’t want to sail their own boat it’s generally either because the boat is a wreck or the anticipated weather conditions are likely to be dreadful, and, quite honestly, I don't enjoy sailing enough to put up with either! However, about a year ago I was approached by a man who had just bought a junk ketch at the south end of South Island and wanted it to be in upper North Island. He was completely inexperienced and the passage is not an easy one. The expense of trucking the boat was beyond his pocket: he’d got into all this from reading my book and I felt a certain moral obligation to help him out. I never said I was logical!

I’d chosen late January/early February as being the best time to bring a boat up from Bluff - over half the passage was in the Forties.  I hate gales and really, really wanted to avoid one.  The boat in question was a 32ft Wylo that hadn't been sailed for about 5 years, and hadn’t been much sailed for the previous 5 years.  (Indeed, in spite of the fact that she’d lived her whole life in Dunedin/Bluff, I had to conclude that she hadn’t encountered much rough weather at all.  I think the owner dashed out in periods of high pressure and motored to Stewart I, where there are a number of good anchorages to cower in when the gales come over.)  I wasn't really that keen on the idea, but in truth, there was no-one else capable and willing.  The boat needed completely re-rigging and some of the existing concepts changing, so you really needed to know something about junks to do it.  Even once that work was done, I wasn’t entirely convinced that the boat was up to a rough passage. 

However, I got talked into it and about 10th January, I flew down with Marcus, a junkie friend from Whangarei, who is working on getting himself a small junk-rigged boat for offshore sailing. This would be a great opportunity for him to see what it was like.  The boat was on a mooring in Bluff Harbour and the only way to get to any shops was for the owner, Lex, to drive us.  He couldn’t lend us a car because it would have to be left unattended and their was a risk of it being vandalised. I had paid a visit previously, to assess what needed to be done, so I had some idea of how long it would take, but we had to be pretty organised.  We were on the boat for 8 or 9 days, during which it blew at gale force or more for all but 1½ days.  On that one calm day, we worked from 0500 to 2130, almost without stopping, to change blocks, ropes, etc, my crew gallantly going up and down the masts to get the job done.  The idea I’d had of taking the boat out for a ‘sail around’ to see how things went, was simply not possible.  However, there was plenty to be done down below: turning a boat that had been essentially a day-sailer into something that could handle being offshore in the Roaring Forties, without gear – and crew – flying everywhere. And of course we needed to buy food, some gear, etc, etc.

We were just about ready and I was planning to go for a trial sail the next day, but when we heard the forecast for 50+ knots in a couple of days, I decided we’d better get out while the going was good.  We were already fed-up of battling ashore in this windswept harbour, and the idea of being stuck there for another 3 or 4 days was intolerable – as well as meaning extra expense for the new owner, of course.  However, if we got away the next day and ‘round the corner’ we’d be out of the Foveaux Strait and into the next sea area, where they were talking of ‘only’ F7.  Still rather more than I wanted, but it would be a fair wind and, indeed, we might be able to get sufficiently far north so as to miss that blow altogether.  So we watered the boat, topped up the fuel and brought the boats on deck (a Tinker Tramp and a nice little plywood dinghy). Half an hour later we made the discovery that the joints in the filler pipes to the tanks were far from watertight: most of the water had found its way into the bilge! Luckily, we had a large number of bottles (Lex hadn’t used his tanks), so should have sufficient for the 2 weeks I was hoping for, with plenty in hand. Fortunately, the tide fitted in with my decision and we left at first light. Neither of us was sorry to leave Bluff behind – it reminded me more than a little of being anchored in Port Stanley in the Falkland Is.
 
Bluff
All went well: we motored until about 10 that evening, when a NE wind came in and there was too much of a chop to make any sort of progress.  But we’d made good time and continued on our way rejoicing, even if we couldn’t quite lay our course.  I think the worst of the system passed below us, but the cold front came in with a bang at a conservative F9, which resulted in a fair amount of violent activity from Marcus, on deck. He was quite impressed at the speed and strength of the change as we struggled to reef the sails. The rig was full of problems: I don’t believe the original design was very good and for what we were doing, Lex’s ‘improvements’ didn’t help at all.  He had fitted articulated battens, which meant that the sails were just about flat below F4 and had way too much camber when the wind became strong. 




 
Camber at F3
What was worse, was that the top fans of the sails, which should be cut completely flat because they are the storm canvas, also had these articulated battens.  We’d bought alloy tube and salvaged a couple of the original, straight battens to replace these, but simply had never had the opportunity, due to the weather, and on the subsequent passage, it was never calm enough to work on the rig, so I still don’t know what difference they’d have made.  The net result was that there were times when we had extreme difficulties making the boat go in the direction we wanted to.  The battens were also different lengths so that the sheets snagged round them (and the main sheet found numerous obstructions on deck to do likewise); the upper span of the main lazy jack was too short, so that the yard, (slung two-thirds back from the mast, rather than from the centre point as is normally the case) would get caught on the wrong side of the span.  I’d wondered about this initially, but Lex told me that they hadn’t caused any problems.  

Lex had taken on board the concept of leading all the lines back to a control station, as aboard Ron Glas, but unfortunately, while Ron Glas’s control station is in the cockpit under a moveable cover, with lots of room for both man and ropes, Passepatu’s lines all came through the front of the cabin, ending up under the main hatch, with all the (wet) ropes coming into plastic containers on the engine box.  With the hatch shut, we found it impossible to brace ourselves well enough to pull the halliards, and with the hatch open there was a good chance of getting soaked by rain or spray, although as it turned out, we were lucky in that respect.  Balancing on the engine box, or companionway ladder was precarious to say the least, with nothing to prevent you from tumbling down to the cabin sole.  In the end, Marcus had to do all the pulley-hauley work.  I simply wasn't strong enough.  We couldn’t help wondering how Lex had managed. However, it has to be said, that even though I felt the rig could be a lot better sorted out than it was, and involved far more deck work than I would want to live with, it was still infinitely less work than sailing anything else. Particularly, of course for reefing.

Control Station.

 
We had a few other issues, too, that weren’t anticipated.  Not only had most of the water we’d put into the tanks, but when we started sailing and I came to fill a kettle, the water, instead of being sweet and clean was a thick, brown liquid.  I guess the tank has some problems with rust.  The water in the second tank had white things floating in it.  We could use it for washing and, at a pinch, cooking, but ...  So we reverted to the water bottles. Then the main halliard block came undone.  We’d had it on and off several times, while working on the rig, and I suspect we simply hadn’t nipped it up sufficiently tightly the last time it was re-attached. It wasn’t the type of shackled that can be moused and there was no Loctite on the boat.  I had rigged a hefty spare block for just this eventuality, but Marcus gallantly volunteered to replace it. It was blowing about F2 at the time, and with the mizzen sheeted hard in, the boat was relatively stable. I wasn’t that keen on the idea, but Marcus is immune to heights and felt that it should be a straightforward job.


He climbed the mast using ascendeurs, but just as he was re-shackling on the halliard, the wind suddenly picked up to a good F4, changing direction and instantly creating a cross sea. Marcus had a horrible time getting down: his hands had got cold while he was working at the top of the mast and he found it hard to release the latch on the the ascendeurs. In addition, the mast was like the original greasy pole, because we had daubed it generously with Lex’s patent compound of linseed oil and Vaseline. I think I was even more frightened than he was: it was dreadful watching him and trying to control his swinging around the mast with a rope from the climbing harness.  However, he got back in one piece and a large whisky restored circulation. Soon the sail was back up once again.  


All this time we were surrounded by mollies and albatross - I have never seen so many in one place, even down in the Antarctic.  Indeed, for me, the best thing about this passage was the number of birds I saw: it was a delight to be among species that one normally has to sail to quite high latitudes to experience.  



Next day, the mainmast step came loose on its base – fortunately we noticed it during a brief period of fairly calm weather, which is probably why we heard it.  Marcus had hammered all the wedges home earlier in the day, so now he had to loosen some of them in order to resettle the mast in its step. But before that, we had to empty out the forepeak (including the chain) so he could get in there. Fortunately, Marcus is immensely strong – one of the reasons I’d signed him on, physical strength not being one of my noted attributes, so I was pretty sure that once tightened, the bolts would stay that way.  Of course, he then had to hammer all the wedges back in and we were working as quickly as we could in rapidly fading light.  Marcus had been pretty seasick for much of the time since we left Bluff and was decidedly unhappy by the end of the job. Contrary to all the best advice, I gave him another another large whisky – at least he would be happy for half an hour or so – and told to turn in. It didn’t seem to make his seasickness any worse.

After that, the problems were fairly minor: the GPS aerial base snapped off, but it seemed to work just as well upside down as it did the right way up; the forecasts that we did pick up were so wrong that it was hardly worth the effort; we had real problems getting the boat to sail at all, but gradually discovered that if the more obvious method didn’t work, another, however illogical it might seem to be, could be made to do the job: sometimes she preferred one sail to dominate, sometimes the other and we never did find a pattern to it; the spline on the foremast, holding the wire into its groove kept working out; some of the bottled water was revolting; the pricker broke off in the cooker, and there was no spare; the electronic compass became erratic and the conventional ones (Passepatu is a steel boat) were often many degrees out; the dinghy in the davits tried to escape: but we could handle all these minor difficulties. 

In the 14 days that we were under way, we had winds of F7+ on 8 of them and a full gale for a lot of that.  We hove to at one period for 24 hours, and I have to say that Passepatu sat like a little duck.  You could easily see the much-vaunted slick and she took very little water on deck.


As is so often the case, down below felt like a haven of calm and security, while outside the wind howled and the breakers crashed. The track on the chart looked like a child had been doodling.  We got under way again, but it was a bit of a wild ride, and with our doubts as to the rig’s honesty, we kept her under easy canvas, our course improving as the wind backed to the W.  Later, we motorsailed for a while when the wind dropped right away, but the modern engine with its small sump didn't enjoy this and the pressure dropped to 40 psi.  That was OK as long as it didn’t get lower, but it was one more thing to worry about.  Mercifully, a new breeze sprang up from SW in the evening, and with a couple of reefs in the main and most of the mizzen, we ran before, in a very lumpy and uncomfortable sea. 


The change proved very squally and Marcus again had to go and wrestle with the mainsail whose yard wanted to catch once more.  With just one panel of that sail and 2½ of the mizzen we carried on.  It was pouring with rain and the old swell was breaking nastily so that we were frequently deluged with water.  Lots of it found its way below: down the forehatch, down the masts, down the main hatch onto the GPS (mercifully, a hand-held and therefore waterproof model) and the switch panel, 

down a hole in the after bulkhead through which wires passed, down the water collecting system on deck – half-fitted and never used, and of course, through the holes through which the control lines came. Keeping the charts dry became impossible and I cursed the cheap paper that is now used compared with that used for older charts. (Still, it made vindicated my decision to buy all the paper charts we needed rather than to ‘invest in’ a chart plotter, which probably would not have survived the inundation.) Lex had claimed, with simple pride, that the boat had never had salt water in the bilge.  Well she has now! In the squalls, when the wind gusted about F9, the boat griped up, but as she never seemed to be in any trouble, we stopped worrying about it.  It was better than being hove to – at least we were making progress.  I was too tired, seasick and stressed to cook: Marcus was too weary to worry.


But all passages come to an end and at last we sailed between the Mercury Is and Cuvier I, entering the Hauraki Gulf. 


The sun came out, the wind died down, the sea smoothed, and I got the ship sailing wing and wong for a couple of hours.  When Marcus came up on deck, he was smiling and no longer seasick. We got out the beers and felt that we were home.  There followed 24 hours of blissful sailing until we dropped the hook in Whangarei Harbour.

There are two morals to this story: never undertake a delivery and don't sail south of the Hauraki Gulf!

But I've kept my promise to myself never to sail anything other than junk rig again, except, perhaps, for a couple of hours :-)











 

 



1 comment:

David Hawker said...

Despite your reservations I'm glad you made this trip. It's given us all another excellent voyage. Your writing, as always, takes us there.