sailing

Marquesas to American Samoa

We hauled anchor out of Hiva Oa, raised the mainsail, and keenly watched our repaired boom under full canvas. Was that flex? How much flex is too much flex? How strong is this wood boom compared to the original aluminium extrusion? Who knew. Powering downwind between Hiva Oa and Tahuata, we spotted a sailing boat in the distance, as it vanished into an inlet on the lee of the island. With good wind and several hours of daylight left, we decided to meander around the corner and see what the anchorage looked like. On approach the masts appeared, along with a small white beach lined in palm trees and crystal clear water in the foreground. This was the Marquesas we were looking for. After over a week of rain, a heaving anchorage, and a long row ashore, we simply had to stop.

With the anchor down in clean azure water, the anchor chain was visible and arched all the way to the sandy bottom. I jumped overboard for a swim. Any sailor worth his weight in bronze, is constantly on the lookout for anomalies. Checking, listening, watching parts move, halyards potentially chafing - a keen eye and ear for trouble. I swam around and checked the rudder. Two large cracks along the cheeks had made themselves apparent, and flexing the rudder by hand expanded the cracks. Unfortunately this was a fairly serious show-stopper. The three most important things when sailing, are to keep the mast up, the water out, and the rudder on. Making things even more difficult, we were now in a fairly remote anchorage without access to any parts. Chris and I discussed our options. Can we pull the entire rudder off underwater, haul it up on deck, and re-glass it? If not, what could we achieve with the boat in the water? We decided we needed large stainless rod, and some kind of flatbar to make a repair good enough for us to continue on.

Our new friends from Hiva Oa on SV This Boat, Jim & Amy, happened to turn up later in the morning, and I rowed over for a second opinion. Jim said 'I can give you as much help as you need, just let me know when' - tomorrow? Sure. But we needed stainless rod. Jim mentioned that Suzie, an Australian from another boat in the anchorage, would be returning from Hiva Oa via the cross-island ferry. We got a hold of Suzie's number, and texted her over the satellite phone. Yes! She would stop by the hardware store and pickup what we needed. Later that day, poor Suzie, who had been running around picking up things for everyone, arrived, holding the exact parts we needed in her hands. We woke up early, Chris had freshly baked bread ready, and I cooked our unrefrigerated bacon, scrambled eggs, and percolated coffee.

We spent the entire day in the cockpit with hand drills, tiny useless electric drills, blunt old bits, and hacksaws, making our repair. To get working room on the rudder, we placed Jim's dinghy on the bow, and filled it with water. This provided enough weight to lift the stern up high enough to work. Without the required flatbar, I scarified the windlass handle, sawed it in half, and completed the all-day repair. Fairly confident in our work, we weighed anchor the following day and set sail for the Tuamotos, halfway between the Marquesas and the atoll of Suwarrow.

Eyes on the boom. Was that flex? Eyes on the rudder. Is that crack expanding? No. We sailed on, becalmed just few days on. Bobbing around, books read, bread and brownies baked, the days drifted by, the mainsail slatted and banged - both damaging to sailor and to boat. Being peacefully adrift in the middle of the ocean, is one of favourite parts of any passage (granted the days don't turn into weeks!). We bobbed for a day and a half, the wind returned, strengthened, and gusted to 30 knots for two days. We howled downwind, fully reefed, a poled jib, and everything seemed to be holding up.

Fast asleep, the sure sound of breakage on deck. What have we lost now? The entire mast? Chris and I jumped up in seconds. The telescopic jib pole decided it wanted to collapse on itself, the jib flapped; nothing serious. The Tuamotos neared, only 60nm to the south. A strong SE wind was still blowing, and we pulled down a forecast to see how long it was supposed to last. The forecast showed strong winds for the next five days, and we desperately looked at our distance from sunny French atolls, and contemplated the alternative of solid wind onto Suwarrow. Being inside an atoll in strong wind is rarely pleasant, and we could make Suwarrow in 7 days with good wind. We changed course, and headed due west without stopping.

For days the wind blew, and we started doing our best 24 hour runs in terms of mileage - 120nm, 130nm, 140nm. One hundred short miles from Suwarrow, the wind backed, and I wondered if we would end up becalmed so close to paradise. However, the sun set, and 16kts of breeze appeared from nowhere. The following day, masts appeared in the lee of Suwarrow, and Harmony danced through the reef entrance inside the tight inner passage, and shortly our anchor was down once more.

After fourteen days at sea, we jumped in amongst the reef sharks and swam ashore. An imposing Cook Islander stood on pier Tom Neale allegedly built. He asked for our paperwork and to come ashore with passports. I was slightly taken aback - I hadn't mentally planned for immediate bureaucracy. I actually had no idea Suwarrow was a clearance port.

Coconut trees, swings, the 'Suwarrow Yacht Club', a book swap full of terrible paperbacks. A statue of Tom Neale, and cleanly swept sand paths. Charlie, the second ranger on the island handed us drinking coconuts, 'welcome to my island, this is my home'. It was his home, until he was 12. He even claims that Tom Neale was a fraud (spending only nine months on the island), a womaniser, and father of 29 children. I still don't know what to believe.

We swam, waited for the breeze to return for our departure, fished with Charlie for Wahoo and Tuna, visited outer Motus (the small islands inside the atoll reef), circumnavigated the tiny island by foot, collected fishing buoys, and for the first time on the voyage, had a moment to enjoy the hard work it had taken to get there. I arrived in San Francisco in May, and it feels like the work hasn't stopped since.

Today we are in American Samoa, re-provisioning, waiting for wind, and enjoying our brief stop amongst a people whom I think are the friendliest in the South Pacific.

Our next stop is Australia.

San Francisco to Marquesas

At 5am on June 12th, after a night of seeing off our really great San Franciscan friends, both new and old (you know who you are!), we moved over to the fuel dock for final pump-out, and to meet Rob during his graveyard shift at West Marine to pickup a fish drying net and say goodbye. Rob looked at the forecast on his phone, and said 'you know it's going to be 25kt winds and big seas, right?' Yes… But between the delays and our departure anticipation, even a gale couldn't have put brakes on our imminent departure. Motoring out of Richardson's Bay, the Sausalito waterfront was glassy-flat. As the tide dragged us out and under the Golden Gate bridge, a large tanker steamed past to port, as we trailed the edge of the shipping lane out to sea, where we would make our left turn. The seas rose, and before long, Chris and I were taking turns at laying on the cabin floor in our wet weather gear, rather miserable.

One of the (many) jobs before departure, was to replace a de-laminated tiller. I ordered in a new one, not possessing the time nor tools to fashion one myself, and stowed it in the bow. Wanting to keep the nice new tiller only until the other one was completely broken, seemed like a fair idea. I injected epoxy inside the joints, and secretly hoped I'd never have to use the new tiller at all! Three hours out of the Golden Gate, the connection onto the tiller from the windvane, over-stressed the lamination, and the tiller rapidly began to pull itself apart. Instead of attempting an at-sea repair, I decided we'd sail the 4 hours into Half Moon bay, and repair things once and for all. While happily rolling at anchor in Half Moon bay (which is where I actually departed for Hawaii from in 2009) in 22kts, I fondly remembered clam chowder bread bowls, raft ups, and Dungeness crab with friends, just four years prior. From now on, departures from San Francisco will always include a Half Moon stop. We made repairs to the boom, met a nice chap named Jim who was sailing his boat south with his pals Fleetwood Mac the following week. He handed us a hip flask of Moonshine ('rumsky = half whisky, half rum) for our equator crossing, and we motored out into the anchorage once more for an early departure. Finding an old cray net in the trash, we threw the net over the side, and surprisingly caught a large crab for dinner.

Departing without a hitch in fog, we drifted out of Half Moon, and into the open sea. Before long a shark was spotted, a NOAA research vessel, a whale, and we were well and truly off in a light breeze. As the days rolled on, winds increased, but we had our sea legs, and life aboard started in earnest. Harrowing moments included the discovery of floating bilge boards at 3am, due to the cap of the speed log coming loose. Another involved a Windvane modification which led to the loss of a critical screw and steerage one dark night. Thankfully we had a spare and soldiered on.

After a week of fairly strong winds from the NW, we began getting hints of the NE trades, which began pushing us towards Hawaii. Downwind sailing is a miserable point of sail, and I decided to stay on a broad reach, until there was enough east in the NE trades to tack due south towards the equator, and into the SE trades. This tactic more or less worked, however we ultimately perhaps pushed too far west. This made things difficult after finally finding the SE trades, as we ended up hard on the nose in full trade conditions once they were established.

From about 20deg north, conditions were light and variable, mostly due to a depression/possible hurricane in the making 600nm NE of us which was destroying the wind pattern. The cheap secondhand spinnaker I bought didn't last 30 seconds before colourfully exploding at the seams. So we were unfortunately left to do what we could with just a mainsail and 130% jib. One of the prices you pay for rapid preparation time and limited funds, is having to make do with what you have. Other than the absolute necessary gear, Harmony (much like Constellation) was really just setup for bay sailing, with some minor modifications (windvane, solar, liferaft). Crossing an ocean with just a jib and mainsail can be a real pain, and I have vowed to never leave again without a gennaker, and light air jib (drifter). Lack of sail area definitely contributed to our slow passage of 37 days from San Francisco to the Marquesas. With all that said, it's possible to sail with most any sail combination, because I'm writing to you from French Polynesia.

Soon becalmed, and baking in the hot sun, we decided to take turns jumping off the boat. Tentatively, jumping in with a mask on, and gazing at the surreal and endless blue ocean below, the feeling of swimming in the warm azure ocean after three weeks of being cooped-up in our small boat was idyllic. Soon dolphins showed up, and we jumped in again, watching the dolphins from underwater, as they dove and darted through rays of watery sunshine below our boat. With a camera mounted on a pole, Chris jumped overboard so I could take some footage of him surrounded by dolphins. Hurriedly he jumped back into the boat exclaiming we were surrounded by yellowfin tuna. As he threw out lures, I loaded the footage off of the camera - and to my amazement, we'd just shot the most extraordinary footage. You'll have to wait till the short film we're making is finished!

Becalmed on our second day, Mahi swam around the boat, and Chris tried aimlessly to catch them out of pure boredom and hunger. Swimming around they refused to bite a hook, eat a sardine, or get tricked by a lure. Eventually, Chris decided to make his own lure, and with much optimism, threw it overboard. To my surprise, we had a big Mahi on deck just minutes later. To prove it wasn't a fluke, he hauled another in, before I had to have a shot and hauled yet another into the cockpit. Eating one with rice for dinner, we salted the rest in our drying rack for another day.

The ITCZ was wide, and we crossed through it without the engine. We did engine for 15nm at one stage, but only because the engine was required to recharge our batteries after a week without sunshine - I figured if I had to listen to the stupid engine, I may as well make some ground. 1200nm out from our landfall, in moderate seas and flukey winds, we rolled one too many times with a crashing main… This led to the sound of whizzing sheets and crunching on deck. I flew out the companionway and shouted the bad news to Chris: THE BOOM HAS SNAPPED. Headlamps on, we tided it all up, furled out some more jib, and went down below to ponder our situation and try to get some more sleep. I think we both lay in our bunks for the next several hours contemplating a fix, and the ramifications of the break. At daybreak, squalls rolled in for six hours before there was a dry spell, eventually giving us the opportunity to get on deck and sort the mess out.

The boom had broken due to corrosion from a stainless vang yoke, which was attached without due caution (anticorrosive grease/plastic separator). We cut out the break, made repairs to the mast-end of the boom, and re-connected everything. We had what looked like a fully functioning boom, with one caveat: It was now four feet too short. This only allowed us to run a fully reefed main. With the first reef, or a full, we had to run the main completely loose-footed, sheeted via a yoke system onto stern cleats. This destroyed our upwind ability, and made reefing very hard. Yet, when you're sailing in remote oceans, there is no complaining or blaming to do - only repairs to keep positive forward motion at all cost. If one seeks independence and self-reliance, then one must take the good with the bad.

Just 3 hours after making repairs, immensely strong wind started blowing up from the southwest. Before long it was a genuine tropical gale. Very strong winds in excess of 35kts blew, as we lay hove-to with a fully reefed main upon our tiny jury-rigged boom. For 6 hours it blew, throwing up an awful sea. Exhausted from working on deck all day in rolling seas already, we lay in our bunks absolutely and utterly miserable. The next day we were still exhausted, the seas and winds still in a less than perfect state, and we opted to lay hove-to for a full 24 hours before the southwest winds subsided and began blowing from the northeast again.

Pushing on, we finally broke through the ITCZ and into the brisk SE trades. Having not really felt good solid wind for weeks, the SE trades were both a godsend and a bit of a shock. Suddenly we started doing 120nm days. Then 140nm days. Even with our jury-rigged main, we powered south, and spirits rose as we started knocking off real miles again.

The night before our landfall, running 4 lures off the stern of the boat, we hauled in two perfectly sized tuna. Chris sliced up sashimi, served with Wasabi and lime. Happily sitting below with headlamps on, the GPS showed just 40nm till landfall. A large moon rose, and the southern cross became clearly visible in the night sky. Everything was going to be ok. We'd made it. After 37 days at sea, and many adventures, two guys in a small boat sailed into Hiva Oa, to the sounds of roosters, superlative mountains, and circling Frigate birds.

The strange story of Constellation

This is a bit of a long-winded story, but bear with me: I've somehow regained ownership of Constellation, the boat I sailed from Europe to Australia, and I want to tell the story from the beginning - I promise it's interesting, and it all starts at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, 55km southwest of London... Next to the training ship Wishstream, a Camper & Nicholson 43, lay Prince Hamad, a Jeremy Rogers Contessa 26. Prince Hamad had been given to Sandhurst by a Middle Eastern prince as a leaving present for his son, who had done a course at the facility. The purpose of Prince Hamad, was to let competent cadets take her out by themselves, rather than sail Wishstream, which required an office to accompany them.

Unfortunately Prince Hamad broke free from her mooring in Alderney, when the crew were ashore and was a complete loss. Fortunately, Prince Hamad was replaced with a second Contessa 26, the aptly named Prince Hamad II, a baby-blue yacht launched 1972.

Prince Hamad II lived the life of a training ship for many years, before being bought up by a young family in the Southampton area, where she was sailed on weekends, and occasionally tacked across the channel to France. Renamed to Constellation, I like to think she was sailed to France purely for the purposes of loading the bilge up with Sauvignon Blanc and Gitanes, perilously returning on a lee-shore past the the foggy white cliffs of Dover...

Some years past, and Constellation ended up in Bursledon, a for-sale sign hanging from her bow: This is the bit where I come in. One cold day in Berlin, I called the yacht broker and offered them a quarter of the asking price, and a promise to pay the rest every month until the transaction was complete. The owners were romantics at heart, and decided it would be nice to have their old boat sail such a long way, and so the madness began. From that day in Berlin, until the day I arrived in Sydney, was very close to four years.

Constellation went on to: Sail through storms in the North Sea, ply the canals of Holland, cross the notorious Bay of Biscay, sail over the waters of Spain & Portugal in winter, voyage across the Atlantic ocean, visit the West Indies, haunt the Bermuda Triangle, anchor out front the Statue of Liberty, and hop a truck across the Rockies to 10,000ft, eventually arriving in Berkeley, California.

Re-assembled, she sailed to Hawaii, came within 50meters of being run down by a Korean tanker, dodged hurricanes en route to the mysterious Palmyra Atoll, survived a tsunami in Samoa, brought emergency rations to a stricken South Pacific Island, and eventually made her way to Sydney.

While my arrival in Australia was anti-climatic to say the least, it wasn't long before the deluge of red tape and paperwork weighed me under, and I put Constellation up for sale, despite her charismatic sense of adventure. The combination of shear tiredness, and the monies needed to import the boat were beyond me - I sold Constellation in Sydney to a man named Chris, and six months later, Chris asked me to re-advertise Constellation, which is where Dave appears. Dave had a great sense of adventure, and dreamed of sailing to New Zealand. He bought and trucked Constellation to Melbourne, renamed her to Constellation II (for federal registration purposes), and we were all oddly re-aquatinted again. Dave worked on Constellation for a year, replaced the engine, installed a life raft, bought all the necessary accoutrements for offshore sailing, and set off for New Zealand.

Unfortunately the voyage didn't go as planned, and Constellation II ended up being salvaged by fishermen in Bass Straight. Requiring emergency assistance, Dave was rescued by a Japanese grain tanker, and Constellation II was strapped to her tall sides. Unfortunately the speed of such a large vessel tore the cleats off, and Constellation II was set adrift, without her captain into the feared Straight.

Salvaged and returned to Dave after much negotiation, Constellation II has sat on her hard stand on the outskirts of Melbourne for over a year, in a dilapidated state. This is the part where I come in again...

Due to personal reasons and to ensure Constellation II might live on, Dave generously sold Constellation II back to me for $1, in the kind hope that I would have the energy and resources to revitalise her - he recognises she's a special boat with a special history, and wishes her to live on as much as I do:

constellation


This is very exciting, surprising, and very generous - however Constellation II will take many man-hours, and many thousands of dollars to bring back to life, coupled with some immediate storage issues in her current situation. I cannot afford to do a refit at the moment, never expecting to be the owner of two ships - barely able to afford the fees to keep her locked up in the few greedy Australian marinas (that's another story I might go into some other time)... So I'm not really sure what to do... However, I've vowed to make sure this old boat will live!

I think there are few boats on this earth with such a great story, although perhaps I'm biased...

What would you do? Any bright ideas?

Crew opportunity & Goodsailor.com

Just a quick post to mention a good friend of mine is sailing his freshly rebuilt Westsail 32 from Darwin around to Cairns in late August / early Sept, and is looking for worthy crew. He's in his late 20s, so probably someone around that age who is up for a bit of an adventure will fit the bill. No money involved, just the potential for an amazing trip. You can contact me for further info, and I will put you onto him if you fit the profile! In other news, I'm experimenting with quick-blogging things I come across at Goodsailor.com.

SV Berserk & Crew

It is with great disappointment that the search for famed sailing vessel SV Berserk has officially been called off, as of March 1st, 10pm, by Maritime NZ. Captained by Jarle Andhøy, skipper of multiple wild voyages in polar regions, Berserk went missing while Andhøy and Samuel Massie were attempting to reach the south pole on ATV's, leaving a crew of three onboard in their absence. During Andhøy & Massie's expedition south, the Berserk beacon was briefly detected, before going dark... The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, HMNZS Wellington, and Professor Khromov, all spent a combined total of 141 hours searching for the stricken vessel, covering 25,600km2 of water, and finding nothing but an empty liferaft and no further communications from Berserk.

The voyages of the Berserk are legendary... And worthy of remembering as part of the greatest expeditions in sailing history upon small boats. Unfortunately the Sunday Star Times (NZ) wrote the voyage off as a “foolhardy voyage to Antarctica by a group of self-proclaimed Vikings... Which has cost three lives while forcing a New Zealand navy ship and 55 of its crew into savage seas, damaging the new vessel”...

With two ATVs perilously strapped to the deck of the relatively small 48ft steel vessel, Berserk went deep south into Antarctica against Norwegian Polar Institute guidelines, which 'prohibited' them from going beyond 60 degrees south. Captain Jarle Andhøy retorted with “we don’t need permission to sail down there.” ... And continued the expedition to mark the centenary of Norwegian Roald Amundsen's South Pole expedition, successfully making the pole as planned.

While critics claim the Norwegians were foolhardy, unprepared, and breaking numerous Antarctic treaties to ride motorcycles to the south pole... I can't help but feel the clamour of boredom, bureaucracy and armchair criticism over all of this as anything but noise and tiresome commentary. While the disappearance of the Berserk, Robert Skaane, Tom Gisle Bellika, and Leonard Banks is saddening, and most of all, awful for their families, Jarle Andhøy and his merry pirates are a bastion of light in a world full of tedious and heavily sponsored expeditioning, 'cause' adventures, and everything else that comes along with it... These guys were the real deal, and I think every one of us feels a tinge of envy when we see their lives of madness and freedom - They took a risk, and very unfortunately things went wrong, while experiencing the most inhospitable, beautiful, remote and dangerous place in the world... I believe their 'failure' is nothing short of exemplary, courageous, and full of imagination and wonder.



While the official search has been called off, I must admit to still feeling a glimmer of hope in their reappearance... So many things can happen at sea...

‎"When compared to alternatives, what sadness is found in a life truly lived? Hide all ye bastards struck down by fear of living that death has found ye still alive, lest you spoil the goodness in others that is the courage required to whet the appetite of dreams with reality." -Anon (Care of Bobby).

Nick.

A small update...

Well! How long it's been. I get a little sad sometimes, thinking about this blog... It was a little bit of a lifeline while I was out sailing - A little place to put all my thoughts that built up after miles of sailing. Unfortunately now, I've hit land, and while the thoughts still pile up, they're not necessarily anything to do with sailing! So what have I be doing anyway? Oh yes! I did get some sailing in a couple of months ago, quite unexpectedly... I flew to Palau, returned to Melbourne, and then flew back to Palau, to help deliver a boat to Darwin. It was a mighty long, and mighty hard trip. We sailed (or rather, motored, burning close to 600 litres of diesel), against the winds and currents for two weeks. Several engine failures later, a few hair-raising moments and a couple of pirate scares off of Indonesia, we arrived in Darwin, Australia. This was my second entry into Australian waters by boat, and also my second time across the equator:

The sailing was pretty extraordinary... It was also the longest distance I've ever sailed with others aboard, which was a very different experience to being alone. I dare say, harder... We sailed close to shore for a few days, right amongst the Indonesian fishermen. At one stage we even sailed through a small straight, just 1nm wide, at the top of Papua New Guinea. To the left and right of us were small subsistance living communities, as enormous tankers took advantage of the water way:

Some nights we were surrounded so tightly by small fishing vessels, it was virtually impossible to sleep. The curious ones would come close by, and scare the daylights out of us... Flare guns at the ready, minds churning with self-defence tactics... Thankfully curious was all they were, and through the waters we sailed with little outside trouble.

So other than that brief month of sailing, there is little other news to report on the personal voyaging front. For avid followers, you will already know I moved to the countryside, and am working away at my own business... We (re)launched two projects in the last two weeks -Neverstop Pedalling, an online bike store, and our web hosting company Serversaurus...

SV Harmony still lies at rest in California... Awaiting her owner (me)... How and when I will ever scrounge the money together to get there, I'll never know (perhaps buy a bike, or change your hosting provider! Plug plug!) ... However, I guess when the time is right, it will all come together.

A massive congratulations to Adam who recently completed his first solo transpac - I finally have someone to commiserate with about sailing small vessels alone, across that stretch of from SF to HI... We both concurred: Yes, it's possible, but...

:)

Jack continues to work on the documentary about my voyage, however, from my understanding, the creation of the documentary is just as financially crippling and difficult as the voyage itself... ! We hope it will screen in European film festivals this year, but as to if and when it will be available to buy as a DVD or stream online - I have no idea. This is Jack's film, so it will be up to him as to how it's distributed...

I will be archiving this site as we know it soon, and replacing it with a new site which will allow me to just generally blog about sailing - At the moment, the layout and construction of this website is for a voyage which is now complete: It will still be at Bigoceans.com, however I'll move the current incarnation of the site and start afresh... What do you guys think?

Cheers! Nick

Where is Abby Sunderland, and why is she out there?

I woke this morning to the news of Abby Sunderland. To be honest, in amongst the Jessica fanfare I had forgotten she was out there on her Open 40 trying to beat a record... When I was in Hawaii, I had fanciful dreams of selling Constellation and using the money to charter the boat 'Wild Eyes' which Abby is currently floating around in, for a transatlantic. The broker soon stopped talking to me, and I couldn't figure out why - And then Abby appeared with that very boat! So of course, the web is now awash with commentary on child sailors, irresponsibility etc. In success these 'kids' are heroes, in failure their parents are maniacs and terrible people. There is little point in harking on about this, the plain fact is, there is a sailor stuck down in the southern ocean right now, and my only question has nothing to do with age, boats or parenting: It's simply: Why is she in the southern ocean in winter? After some searching I found her last known position, and mapped it against Tony Bullimore who capsized in a similar area. At least he was down there at the right time of year, 1200nm from where Abby is now:

Australian rescue services always get the task of looking after these waters... In fact, said services have just sent a Qantas Airbus down there to sweep over her. In 1997 when Tony Bullimore was down there as part of a race, he and a French sailor were picked up, the story as follows: "The Royal Australian Navy launched a rescue mission for Bullimore and another capsized competitor, Thierry Dubois. Bullimore was alive and managed to survive in an air pocket in the upside-down boat in pitch darkness, having lost his food supplies - his only food was a bar of chocolate. On January 9, Thierry Dubois was rescued by an Australian S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopter embarked on the frigate HMAS Adelaide. Adelaide then proceeded further south to where the Exide Challenger had been located by a RAAF P-3 Orion. Adelaide dispatched an rigid-hulled inflatable boat to the Exide Challenger where crew members knocked on the hull. Hearing the noise, Bullimore swam out from his boat and was quickly rescued by personnel from Adelaide. HMAS Adelaide then returned both Dubois and Bullimore to Perth."

The estimated cost of this rescue was six million dollars. However, rescue costs are difficult to calculate, and while Webb Chiles might not agree with a pickup, I think she should be at whatever financial cost.

Criticism is so easy from an armchair. She'll be terrified right now, but thankfully the boat she's in is nearly unsinkable... Five watertight bulkheads, a hull loaded with foam designed for the very ocean she is in. I have no idea why she is sailing where she is right now, however this is what she's experiencing:

It's a calculated gamble to sail anywhere, at any time, but we can lessen the potential negative outcome of that risk, by succumbing to natures seasonable characteristics...

It's winter in the southern hemisphere, and even at the best of times, it's the world's most terrifying ocean. Whether you're 16, or 55 years old is irrelevant.

nick.

Next stop Coffs Harbour

The sailing thus far, has for the most part been idyllic. I say for the most part, because the last 48 hours have verged more on the miserable scale of things than anything else. Passing 160 nautical miles (around 300km) south of New Caledonia, I decided to ask the weathermen how they thought the stretch of ocean spanning onwards to Australia might play out over the next seven days. It had always been my intention to skirt close to New Caledonia in case the weather was going to be foul - I don't think I've heard of a single pleasant crossing to the mainland as yet... In fact, I came across three other boats headed to the east coast of Australia, that were going all the way to Vanuatu, and crossing from there to Cairns to avoid this very crossing. The weathermen told me to expect winds between 30 to 40kts (60 to 80kmh) within the next 24 hours. I was so disappointed, as the day had started so perfectly - We were literally flying (a relative term...) on a flat, grey sea. Alas, things worsened as the afternoon took over, and I lessened sail with every gust. Before long, Constellation was shipping green water over the deck, and progress was futile. By 6pm I hove-to (stalled the boat), and lay below, listening to the crashing, and watching as waves rose through the companionway. I get a shiver down my spine when the wind hits a certain note, at sea, and now even on land. There is an equally nervous feeling in my stomach when the foam begins to streak across the surface of the water. The physique of the ripples change in shape to a hard chine, creating a louder 'slap' with each connection to the hull.

I slept on and off through the night, until all at once, we were hit so incredibly hard by a breaking wave, things that had never fallen out of their places, flew across the cabin. Immediately after the hit, there was a loud hissing sound, and with alarming calm, I heaved out of bed to assess with my feet how much water was entering the boat. I noted there was no water as yet, and made a mental checklist of what I needed to get to abandon ship: Grab bag (containing offshore flares, flare gun, EPIRB, and some chocolate. Actually no, there is no chocolate, I ate it in a fit of despair...) and lifejacket. I then made another quick mental note to get my survival suit because I didn't trust the liferaft. As all this was going through my head (the time-scale was milliseconds), I reached for the red navigation lamp, so I could see, but not destroy my night vision, and saw to my amusement and relief, there was in fact no water at all entering the boat, or even a hole in sight. The hissing was from a self-inflating lifejacket that had had its release cord caught on the wet locker clothes hook, and sprung to life when the boat jerked.

This might all seem overly dramatic to you, but the sailor leans a great deal on his or her sense of hearing: An almost sixth sense develops and notes every single sound that is deemed 'normal' on the boat - Anything that deviates from that list is immediately cause for great concern, and even in a deep sleep, one is often alerted to any acoustic change in the environment. I remember a similar incident in the Atlantic, when a flying fish flew through the hatch, and lay sputtering and flapping on the cabin sole - To my dimly awakened state, it was the sound of the electrical system short-circuiting...

Fortunately today, things have calmed down, and my frayed nerves are regenerating with each cup of tea. I have decided, and I must apologise to Brisbane, that I will in fact be sailing into Coffs Harbour - The northern most entrance into NSW where I can clear customs and quarantine. This decision is based mostly on the fact that my trajectory seems to naturally be pointing me that way, and also it appears to be a much easier entrance than Brisbane, or even Sydney: Just a simple breakwater on the coast, and a buoy to hang off of and await clearance. I am trying to sail home, and in a fit of anger a few posts ago, I declared Brisbane was it - But, I've come this far; I will sail as planned into Melbourne, and land hopefully in Docklands Marina. I hope to see some familiar faces there... Ones ready to stay up all night and paint the town red. I think I'll call the party 'Shore Leave.'

And so, we soldier on, 14 days out of Tonga. I don't like to predict my landfall, because there are many things which hinter progress (namely, weather), but, with 550nm to go, it would be nice to be seeing land within five or six days...

Australia is on my chart

My recent posts have been rather anguished. I've been in a very odd state of mind, there is no doubt about it. Someone left a comment on my last post saying I was sounding more and more like Moitessier. And he wondered if that was a good thing or a bad thing... Well, having recently watched Deep Water (maybe not the best film to be watching at sea...), at least I was not likened to Crowhurst! There is a certain something that happens when you place yourself in solitary confinement: You often wonder why you're torturing yourself. However, the quirk is, in this form of torture, there is always the possibility of experiencing something divine, and simply told, that's why people do it. I don't necessarily mean a spiritual divine; the simplest things at the oddest moments can make their ranking: Days of hard weather, and the taste of coffee in a dwindling swell can be enough to light the spark. Anyway, I'm out here now, after 778 days of voyaging - It's the finishing leg to Australia, and my little handheld GPS is pointing right towards that sunburnt continent where I was born. Hauling up the anchor in Vava'u was miserable. I could barely muster the strength to do it. It was a perfect day, the wind was blowing south east, and I'd just spent two really nice days with my new friends Rob & Sarah at anchor - Spearfishing, talking, drinking local rum, and all those good things that can be done in the company of others. Not only was I hesitant about leaving for a potential month of solitary confinement, but my time in Vava'u had actually been quite social: I met a few young sailors with their own boats (a rare sight), compared notes with a couple nice fellow singlehanders, and even had a connection through a friend of a friend at the infamous and great Aquarium Cafe. The 'cruising community' was quite large, maybe the biggest I've been part of so far. I seem to have sailed a very different route to everyone else, and often just out of season: Many of these sailors had met months ago on both sides of Panama.

After the first 24 hours of sailing, my worries disolved into the sea ahead, and the wind switched direction. I beat into a light south west wind for a few days; but frankly, I didn't care - I was so happy to have broken my spell and let go of everything. The weather at these latitudes is much cooler than most of my Pacific sailing thus far - At long last I was able to lay in my bunk and enjoy readng again. The heat previously had been so much, the sweat so prolific, all I could do was feel my brain melt and my organs evaporate. Now, I was back! And with such a catalogue of great books, my confinement finally produced some cerebral activity beyond that of trimming sails and eating cans of chilli.

Two days ago, to my great excitement, Constellation and I found ourselves on the exact opposite side of the planet to England. We had sailed so far west of Greenwich, we were now east of it. I remember crossing zero degrees longitude, with Johannes Erdmann as we tried to sail to Hamburg. I watched in wonderment as the GPS slowly ticked over to 180degrees 0minutes 0seconds. In a flash, it was gone, and the seconds of longitude began to decrease, as the unit started the countdown back to zero degrees.

Of the books I've read so far, the book by food critic Ruth Reichl has been the most torturous. The finest food on this dry ship, is three cloves garlic and two miserable looking tomatoes. As I read about lobster risotto, or latte cotto, a light lemon custard served with marinated berries, my mouth flopped open and vowed never to sail again. So I got to the chapter on a Japanese sushi restuarant, and decided to go fishing.

Thanks to Rob and Sarah, my fishing knowledge doubled (from nothing to something), and they even donated several lures to my cause. So, listening to music in my bunk, I hear the the handline spinning. I jump outside and catch the 400 pound line with my bare hands, cleat it, and watch in wonderment as the largest Dorado I've ever seen is jumping a mile high into the sky. I was trying to catch Sashimi for one, but instead I had caught enough for an entire restaurant. Constellation literally slowed down under the power of the fish. Terrified, I rolled in the genoa to make battle.

With the fish swimming under full thrust, I couldn't hold it, even after I put on a pair of gloves. So I decided to let it tire, and watched miserably as it thrashed about. All I could think about was that this was tantamount to killing an entire cow for a single steak. So I decided to catch and release, if only I could get the damn thing near the boat... Eventually I could reel the fish in, but, due to my poor knowledge of such things, the fish sounded, and came up on the other side of the boat in an instant. I tried to let slack out, but it was too late. This thrashing enormity broke the line on the keel, and vanished, forever to have a very large pink plastic squid stuck in its mouth. And so, I decided fishing once more, was not for me, and read a book on Alexander Von Humboldt: "... Yet what we feel when we begin our long-distance voyage is nonetheless accompanied by a deep emotion, unlike any we may have felt in our youth. Separated from objects of our dearest affections, and entering into a new life, we are forced to fall back on ourselves, and we feel more isolated than we have ever felt before."

nick.

(Thank you everyone for your SMS messages and nice comments to my posts. I receive them all out here. And to answer your questions, no I haven't seen Jessica Watson, but, I think we are probably very close to each other right now. My radio has terrible range, and we could pass within 20miles and not see each other... But, it's nice to know she's out here, and I have a good feeling that she's going to take the record from Jesse, with gusto.)

Palmyra, The Southern Hemisphere

This time two years ago, Constellation was strapped to a dock in The Netherlands. The town, Monickendam, just north of Amsterdam, is known for its smoked eel, pretty bridges, and superyacht production. Now, we are free in the south Pacific, on a beam reach doing 100+nm days, headed for Western Samoa. The trip out of Hawaii to Palmyra Atoll was frankly, miserable. It included some of the most oppressive heat I've experienced, the worst calms, days of heavy seas and winds, and generally was an awfully slow and trying voyage... Watching the GPS, and looking at the compass, I noticed a disparity 50nm short of Palmyra. Almost 2kts of equitorial current was pushing us east, and with no wind, waking up every morning was depressing, as we were pushed further and further away from landfall. Eventually we struggled within 31nm of the Atoll, and I decided enough was enough: The mighty Yanmar was doing the rest of the work. Unfortunately through a set of circumstances I've yet to fathom, the engine was full of cream coloured oil.With the help of John out of Brewer Yacht Yard, in Greenport Long Island, satellite email, and my books, it was ascertained the water must have come in through the exhaust, or through the seacock. I spent dizzying hours with my head in the bilge, draining the oil into water containers. Putting half a litre of fresh oil back in the engine, I started her up, and noticed no new water. I let the oil warm, drained it, and filled it up again, and we were off. I have to say, that little Yanmar is an extraordinary engine.

With wide-eyes, Palmyra Atoll was approached from the East, with distant waves crashing at sea on reefs, dozens of new birds, palm lined beaches, and strange military structures abound... At last, land was found in the middle of nowhere. On channel 16, I called Palmyra Station. Amanda, the Fish and Wildlife representative and refuge manager, answered with excitement - Yes, Constellation was finally here! Having no idea who, or how many people were on the Atoll, I was suprised with the amount of radio traffic, as Constellation rounded the top of the island, and skirted reefs to the infamous channel entrance. Not sure of who or what to expect, it was even more suprising to be given an escort through the channel by Brad, the marine operations manager. Brad had us anchor just off of the main station, whch was an encampment of small bungalows, mess hall, generators, science labs, satellite dishes, sheds with tractors, and even the world famous Palmyra Yacht Club.

Invited to dinner on the first night, the sight of freshly cooked and crumbed Ahi (tuna), vegetables, and other delights not found on a boat (especially mine, where absolutely no fish have been tempted by lures...), all the pain of getting to the atoll was gone in an instant. Special thanks to Franklin and Amanda for the invitations, and to Anthony for possibly being the worlds most isolated chef.

Palmyra Atoll has quickly become the most interesting, beautiful, and unusual place I've visited on my entire voyage. It has always been my dream to visit places that may otherwise be impossible to gain access to by any other means of transport - And being allowed to visit the now privatised island (owned by The Nature Conservancy) was a great highlight. Thank you to The Nature Conservancy for keeping the island open to sailors, and also many thanks to the Fish and Wildlife Service for ,handling the details and particulars of our visit. I can't embed photos while at sea, however all my photos of Palmyra are online here

And so now, just 465nm from Western Samoa, I am also in the southern hemisphere after nearly exactly two years en route to Australia. Jeff, thank you for the French champagne to celebrate 0 degrees, however I must say, it was room temperature, and room temperature on the equator is, well... Hot!

For now, I'm going back to lying on my bunk, as sweat drips into my eyes, and the large tradewind seas toss Constellation around like a piece of driftwood... It's beautiful and special out here, but it's also tough going.

Nick.