|A crowded Indian Ocean|
|A Desolate Pacific|
|Indian Ocean grey...|
|...and the Pacific blue|
I have learnt my lesson-
Souls of departed seafarers
|A crowded Indian Ocean|
|A Desolate Pacific|
|Indian Ocean grey...|
|...and the Pacific blue|
An occlusion dealt headwinds and caused us to sail southwards much before I had planned thrusting the furious 50s on me as it went. The welcome began with 30 knot winds that soon picked up to 45 and the usual swell from south west. While the hammering went on and I reached top speeds of 16 knots surfing down some steep waves, I had a message from Admiral Awati. Bash on Regardless- it read. Pretty encouraging words and the 50s are all the more reason I need them. Irrespective of who was bashing whom, the boat and I escaped without much injuries.
Heading south, in a way, had solved a question which followers of the voyage have been pondering over endlessly. At 50 degrees south, and about a couple of hundred miles off Tasmania, that isn’t really a question anymore. Bass Strait would be a huge detour. As I passed Tasmania over the weekend, I could safely say that I had my Bight.
New Zealand is only a hop across from here but in between lies a minefield I would not want to step into. A low is moving from my north-west to cross our route south of New Zealand. It conceals more than 50 knot winds with waves added to taste. After due consideration, I have decided to slow down and accord it right of way. I am planning to dig myself into a windless hole for a day or so and pay the attention that equipment and rigging has been asking of me. And then, I too am entitled to a Christmas vacation, some carols and possibly a movie and popcorn.
21st of December was winter solstice. It marked the end of the southern transit of the sun this year putting an end to all the Mayan-Calendar-End-of-the-World jokes that have been doing the rounds. I wasn’t really worried, but after I threw the stone calendars out, the boat has been significantly lighter and livelier. Till now the voyage has been a race into the sun, sailing south as it went south, seeking a path through the weather that its passage cleared up. But from now on, almost for another month till I round the Horn, our paths will diverge with the sun heading northward while we go further down till at least 56 degrees. That makes it all the more important that I get to the Horn on the appointed date from where I will be free to follow the sun and head back to India.
At 50 degree south I am closer to the pole than to the equator. The temperatures too have been plunging southward and at the time of writing this blog, it hovers between 7 and 10 degrees during the day. It is becoming impossible to touch any steel fitting or walk on deck barefoot because the chill it sends up at times appears to burn. Anyone can read my thoughts now because they seem to condense in the air as thought bubbles. Showering, that ubiquitous consideration, is becoming a well planned ritual, not for shortage of water but of warmth. I will chance the plunge when I am becalmed.
This transit has been my second association with Australia, in a manner of speaking. I had visited Fremantle in 2009 to help with Cdr Donde’s stopover as his sole shore support and Man Friday. Located at the mouth of Swan river, Fremantle is the port town of Perth. With a maritime museum resembling an upturned hull, anchors and buoys strewn along pavements and motifs of the America’s Cup adorning its walkways, Fremantle comes across as a very tastefully designed maritime town. It is no wonder that it has inspired the likes of John Sanders, the eight time solo circumnavigator. The acquaintances we made during our stay- Pat and Fred, Pip and John, and Shruti among others- continue to be ardent followers of this voyage too.
Click here to have a peek into the town through my lens. https://picasaweb.google.com/107226194295094703484/Freo2009?authkey=Gv1sRgCLut3qHU1_TegQE
Up Next- PACIFIC
When I left harbour, there were many who wished me fair winds and following seas. All of a sudden it all seems to have literally come true. We were in the neighbourhood of the roaring forties on the 6th of December when the winds went from a whisper to a roar. BVS reported 35 knot winds and 6-7 metre waves, and BVS, from my experience, is never to be distrusted . Before the last light of 5th was out, I had already deployed the stay sail and taken in three reefs on the main in anticipation of the blast. But when it hurtled onto us on the 6th, it claimed its first wicket early in the morning when the padeye of the runner block parted. A couple of hours later the wind vane autopilot gave up with a line parting and I had to take off the stay sail too. We were, even with the modest amount of sail that we carried, hurtling downhill at speeds topping at 14 knots at times.
There was so much spray around that the winds were literally fair and the sea was following us with a club in hand and badgering us each time we were looked back. The tops of waves would get ripped off and carried away in the breeze and it would cover the sea to such an extant that there was more white than blue. Yet it was more beautiful than monstrous and I felt like I was in a real ocean where the waves had a tinge of patent blue atop its crest that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Waves would pile upon each other, at times lifting us on top and showing us a remarkably unhindered view of the world around, and in valleys it would seem as if they had gobbled up the sun and the sky. These are waves that constantly alter the topography of the planet without being reported in any atlas. It was a warm welcome by a cold ocean. The Mhadei was in her elements. Even with nothing more than a “Cutty Sark” of a sail on her, she was scudding along at a lively pace, gobbling miles at the rate of almost 200 a day. We have begun to run the eastings down.
It was almost at the same time that the great white albatross made an appearance. It would fly about as if it was the calmest day in paradise. They have their little ones in tow at times. The brown ones too are never far away either.
In between all the maelstrom, I had a touching message from a follower who lives in Detroit. Madhura Chitnavis-Marathe wrote about her field trip with a group of senior citizens in the city. The last stop was the Mariner’s Church which reminded her very much about the boat and her lonely sailor. She did not miss the opportunity to send me some beautiful images of the church which she asked me to “accept as online blessings”. I don’t pray but that does not mean that I don’t believe in the prayers of others. Click here http://marinerschurchofdetroit.org/history/ to know more about its interesting history.
In the aftermath of the first true gale of this voyage, winds died leaving behind horribly tall seas that did not do justice to the calm. That period is almost as uncomfortable as the gale itself. There is not enough wind to hold the sails in place but the boat rolls about so much that everything thrashes about. Inside the boat, things that did not stay within their assigned places found further company as more came crashing out of their locations. The melee below decks spoke well of the turmoil boat had been through the last few days.
Meanwhile, here is a video that I had made a few days into the voyage. I just put it up. Its a tour of the insides of the boat. Its very spartan and I am putting it up for all those who haven’t seen a boat at all.
It has been 37 days at sea in the company of ourselves. The boat’s tracker- Mandar- has diligently kept pace with us and plotted as we went. At the time of writing of this blog, we have done about 5100 nautical miles on ground and are about to enter what is called the Australian Bight.
Up Next- Under Down Under. The Australian Bight
The 1st of December was a good day for more reasons that one. For one, the end of first 30 days at sea in my little office was marked by the visit of a brown albatross. The other reason was Nat Geo Traveller India that came out with the second instalment of the story of the voyage so far. Neha Dara and Ashima Narain sailed with us from Goa to Mumbai on the final run up to Sagar Parikrama 2 and they have come up with a splendid article complete with some excellent experiences, writing and pictures. Book your copy now for tomorrow it will be collector’s item.
Winds died by the 29th of November and we were becalmed briefly marking an end to our southern transit. Soon after that the high pressure passed over us and I saw the signboard that read “TURN LEFT HERE FOR CAPE HORN’. Winds swung almost immediately. A gentle southward component in the course should see us hitting the roaring forties within a week, but weather predictions tell that the winds will be more than whispering much before that. in a couple of day’s time, the first cold front is going to hit me brining with it 30 knot winds, 6 metre waves and rains. I have advice from many quarters how to miss Australia and Tasmania. I have taken their advice seriously and am trying to tread carefully between Australia and Antarctica trying not to slice across either and change world geography forever.
For the same reason 29th of November also saw the beginning of a four day weekend. It was a good time to catch up on sleep, post a blog and prepare for the roaring 40s. Out came winter clothes, boots, oilies, fleece jacket and sleeping bag from the bosun store, December's food from the food store and in went summer clothes and linen after the laundry was done. The running rigging got a thorough lookover and the machinery was checked once again to see if it was ready to take the next beating. But readiness for the Southern Oceans cannot be predicted, at least that is what my understanding is. You can only tell once you are out of it whether you were ready when you went in.
South of 32nd parallel, I saw an albatross. A brown one. It happened on the 01st of this month marking our official entry into albatross territory. She has been following us ever since. In my life as a pilot, that is the only bird I consider worthy of envy. And what joy it is to see one fly all day long without flapping its wings even once!
Check out this video to see how I usually do my laundry!
Meanwhile, not very far from here, another sailing is happening- the voyage of the Sudarshini to ASEAN. Check out the latest blog from the skipper as they pass Cebu.
UP NEXT- ROARING FORTIES