Monday, August 21, 2006

3900nm, 27 days at sea

Port Vila to Christmas Island

Leaving Port Vila on 21st July, we left our destination open, waiting to see what the conditions would bring and how we felt. The first few days were fairly bumpy, winds on the beam in the 25kt range with awkward swell. It was almost a week before we got clear of the ITCZ conditions (squalls, rain, clouds) and saw some sunshine. At this stage we were only a few days from Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea where some friends on "Rolling Home" were heading. Port Moresby has a surprising good reputation for being a safe harbour and a good place to reprovision, however with the wind improving, we decided to keep heading westwards. We reached Pandora Passage (named, presumably, after the ship sent to recover the Bounty mutineers, which foundered in the straits) mid-morning on Aug 1st. The 8 hours until dusk were quite easy, as winds were light and we were sailing "fast and free". At sunset we began the SSW leg through the "Deep Water" passage, which brought us close hauled for the next 100nm or so. The channel is well marked, and with calm seas, sailing was fast. Shortly after daybreak, we could see the large ship wrecked on Bet Reef - ironically providing great assistance to other navigators. As we passed Kircaldie reef and the wind freed-off, Henri baked a pizza and we put on some music in the cockpit. With lots of islands, reefs and even the Australian mainland in sight, we felt like we were day-sailing through the green water (10m-20m deep) of the straits. We shot through the Prince of Wales channel, and a fantastic sunset welcomed us to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

We have posted some photos of the blustery, squally conditions in the Gulf, fortunately we had wind aft of the beam and swells were generally not large. Speeds were good. While dodging squalls, we saw a waterspout beginning to form beneath on of the clouds to leeward, but didn't develop any further than the photo we posted. It only existed for, probably, less than five minutes. One surprising thing about the gulf is how green the water is - even when rough - it is a turquoise colour and was a great contrast with the deep ocean blue of the Pacific. By August 6th, we were 40nm E of the longitude of Darwin, where we might have stopped, but having no need of a break, or diesel, water or other supplies we pressed on. About 500nm west of Darwin, lies the uninhabited Ashmore Reef, which we considered stopping to break the passage. In the event, we decided that what we needed was an inhabited island where we could go ashore and stretch our legs - and that meant Christmas Island, 1000nm to the W of Ashmore, of which Luke and Emma (of Eagle Wing) had given us a great report.

Three nights before we arrived, we saw a very weird phosphorescence effect. Phosphorescence usually lights up in "sparks" as the water is disturbed either by us sailing though it, by breaking seas, or dolphin or something similar. It is best on moonless nights as the light it produces is so faint. On this night, the moon was in its 3rd quarter, and so would rise about 6 hours after sunset. From the moment the sun went down, the entire sea was a faintly glowing green as if lit from below. It was like sailing over an illuminated swimming pool. Our own phosphorescence was barely visible against this "backlight". The sea was brighter than the sky and the horizon was clearly visible 3 hours after sunset. The guard-rails, shrouds and sheets were clearly silhouetted against the backdrop of the sea. I called Henri up, as she had just gone off-watch. Henri, as a rule, does not like "eerie" which it definitely was. It persisted for all of my watch, so when Henri came up for hers, after 3 hours, it was still there. We had a quick chat about it - me from my bunk, Henri from the helm, where she asked if it changed at all (it hadn't), if the contrast in west where the sky was blackest and the sea greenest was due to the moonrise (still 3 hours away) and so on. Then she said, "i'ts gone", and we sailed right out of it as suddenly as we had sailed into it. We then had "normal" phosphoresence until the moon came up on my watch. On the following night, not sure what to expect, and kind of looking forward to out strange light show, we (of course) got nothing. I think I've read something about eggs or spawn in the sea causing this, but have no idea if this was what we were seeing.

The last 1088 miles took less than 7 days, which included one night of heaving-to in order to make a daylight arrival on Thursday 17th August. We had our best ever one day run of 182nm made good. The total trip was 3882nm, in 26d 17hrs.

PS: strange sea phenomenum explained by...."free-living bioluminescent bacteria, sometimes present in such enormous numbers that they literally light up huge areas of the ocean, as big as the state of Connecticut. These "milky seas" have been described by countless mariners and, with modern tools, can be detected from space". from

also (we were also S of Java):

June 1854. South of Java. Aboard the American clipper Shooting Star. Captain Kingman reporting:

"The whole appearance of the ocean was like a plain covered with snow. There was scarce a cloud in the heavens, yet the sky...appeared as black as if a storm was raging. The scene was one of awful grandeur; the sea having turned to phosphorus, and the heavens being hung in blackness, and the stars going out, seemed to indicate that all nature was preparing for that last grand conflagration which we are taught to believe is to annihilate this material world."


"August 13, 1986. Northwest Indian Ocean. The entire sea surface took on an intense white glow which was not unlike viewing the negative of a photograph."


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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Torres Straits (Days 11-12)

The Torres Straits is where we leave the Pacific Ocean. Having entered via one of the man-made wonders of the World (the Panama Canal), we leave it by the Barrier Reef, one of Nature's wonders.

We entered the Strait at Pandora Passage having come south of Eastern Fields. We then left East Cay to starboard and went between Laxton and Brown reefs where we joined the Deep Water (DW) Passage. The winds were in the normal 20-25kt range from the SE, so we were close hauled for the next 10 hours or so, until we got to Kircaldie Reef. Sailing was fast however as there is no swell to absorb speed. We were often over 7kts - even when fairly well reefed.

There was very little shipping: we saw two ships between Eastern Fields and Pandora Passage and two more within the straits - one eastbound, one westbound. However we did see many fishing boats at night (the normal story - just 2 on Conor's watch, 11 on Henri's!). These were mainly in the vicinity of Stephens Is and Campbell Is.

In the morning, an Australian "Coastwatch" plane buzzed us and then called us on VHF to get our names, registration, last port, people on board, destination and to warn us not to go ashore or to have contact with any other yachts before checking in. A Customs plane also flew over us, but did not call.

We saw 3 fishing boats at anchor at Kircaldie Reef which has a good lee from the wind and swell and a bank shown as 5m to the W of it, roughly where the boats lay, We also saw a yacht anchored between the shoal off Wednesday Is and the island itself which looked very snug. It was just SW of Ince Point in a place marked as 10m on the chart. Either would be a good place to wait for a favourable tide or daylight for the Prince of Wales channel.

We made good speed though to Twin Is where we started to pick up some favourable tide. By the time we got to Wednesday Is we were getting 3kts of current about 2 hrs before HW Thursday Is (based on WXtide), and this was on neaps. The reef to the N of the Prince of Wales channel (North West reef) has one light, but there was no sign of the reef - which was surprising considering the wind and current. Nor could we see any of the charted wrecks. Off Hammond Island, Race Rock is a substantial islet, but is only marked as a light on the electronic charts.

Once through the Straits, we continued to get 0.5kt - 1.0kt of favourable current for some days in the Gulf of Carpentera.

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