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Saturday, December 07, 2002

December 7, 2002-Sailing to Oz

Customs Clearance. Port of Lata,
"These are to certify, to whom it doth concern, that Fredrick D Roswold, a foreign man, Master of the Ship SY WINGS (8) registered tons (net), and Judy D. Jensen, Owner, Foreign, navigated with a crew of 0 British 0 Foreign, GRP built and bound for Brisbane, having on board cargo and stores as per statements attached, hath here entered and cleared their ship according to law.

"Given under my hand, at the Customs House, at the Port of Lata, in the British Solomon Islands, this 27th day of Nov. Two thousand and Two.
Willy (unreadable), Customs Officer."

Bound for Brisbane? Plans change.

While in Lata, in the Solomons, a potentially serious problem with Wings' engine arose: we found diesel fuel diluting the lubricating oil. After changing the oil and investigating the problem at some length we decided to return to Australia where we felt more confident we could get the problem fixed rather than proceeding onward into more remote places of the world.

The worst scenario:
We might have tried to get the work done in Gizo or Honiara, other cities in the Solomons, but we didn't know for sure if we could. What if the engine needed a rebuild? (one of the potential causes for the symptom was worn rings, and there had appeared in the exhaust some blue smoke and raw diesel) We had images of being anchored in some roadstead off a third world town with a disassembled engine unable to move the boat or even to charge the batteries except by solar in the wet season (no sun) waiting for parts from somewhere else and not sure of when they would arrive or even if they would fix the problem and dependent on a mechanic we might not trust, and worried about the weather.

Setting Sail
That scenario seemed like a nightmare. We didn't want to risk it. So on November 28 we gave up for this season our plans of going north of the equator to Palau, The Philippines, and Hong Kong and set sail for Brisbane Australia.

Sailing to Oz

Believe me this was a hard decision after planning the trip from the South Pacific to Hong Kong for over a year and with all the soul searching and emotional investment that went into the decision to go that way in the first place. But its not like we are giving it up forever, we can try again next year. In the meantime we'll go back to Australia and get the engine fixed. Once the decision was made we wasted no time. We informed our friends on Sheralee and Moet, two boats full of young adventurous sailors we'd met on the way north and grown close to, filed our departure plans with the customs officer (above) and weighed the anchor, sailing out of the harbour on Thursday morning. There were a lot of emotions we were feeling: relief that we had made the safest decision, sadness that we were leaving good friends once again, sadness too to be cancelling our plans, and also some worrying about making the long trip with a sick engine.

Here follows an account of the trip.
On the morning of Thursday, November 28 we weighed and set sail directly from the anchorage across from Lata. We didn't motor out of the harbour; we didn't think we could motor much, so we were saving the engine. Fortunately there was good wind. Once clear of Gaciosa Bay, where Lata is located, we turned to the SW and took our departure from the Solomons. "So long for this year" It was a close reach, in nice breeze, and we were hoping for an uneventful trip.

While working on the engine problem in Lata we had spilled about 5 gallons of diesel into the bilge, most of which we had restored to the tank, but the clean up we did then hadn't removed all of the diesel from the lockers and bilges. The odors were thick in the humid cabin and we were getting headaches and having trouble sleeping. So on the second day I did a massive cleanup with gallons and gallons of salt water and detergent followed by equal douses of freshwater from some spare water jugs. I had all the floor boards up and the settees apart, and I was covered in diesel and water and sweat. It was a messy and hot job, but after a few hours the boat was clean, and after a shower, so was I. From that point onward, for the next several days at least, we had a very nice sail with good winds and mostly mild seas.

Last night, shortly after midnight, the Southern Cross came up over the horizon and the seas flattened out, both good omens to me. Since sunset the evening before we'd been in some inexplicably bumpy water and the boat, while making good time, was bucking like a bronco with a burr under its saddle. I couldn't even write in the log book, so I was pretty happy to have that over with. Later I decided it was current against wind or the affect of the nearby Chesterfield Reef, or some such thing, but at midnight I thought that it was just the mean ocean and that the Southern Cross had just come up to enforce a truce on my behalf.

Day Six
We're now on our sixth day of this passage, and it's been five and a half days so far on port tack, fast close reaching in 15-20 knots of wind, and 150 miles per day just like clockwork. The weather pictures keep projecting a change in the conditions, mostly a switch to light NE winds, but it hasn't happened except for a brief period yesterday, when we put up the kite until the SE came back along with those weird waves. I don't care if the projections keep being wrong, as long as the wind stays like this it is going to be a fast sail to Brisbane. Each day of this stuff puts us one day closer to OZ, and one day less we would have to sit out light winds or battle a storm, if one came up.

This is the second longest passage we've made in Wings, after the 1998 crossing of the Pacific from Acapulco to French Polynesia, and like that one, we've spent days and days on the same tack rushing along through the seemingly endless blue ocean. On that trip we were making better time, with 25 knot winds behind us and me pressing too much and breaking things, mostly steering lines and blocks, and at that time I coveted the nine and ten knot surges and 180 and 200 mile days we were having. I loved to sit on watch at night and see the numbers on the knotmeter roll up into the nines. I wished for just a few knots more wind. Now I've learned a little, what Judy always knew, that its better to be comfortable than to be trying for records. Those days and nights were stressful, and hard on equipment as well as nerves. At nine knots the boat is thundering and at ten it's roar is awesome. On this trip we're sailing at seven and eight, and we've reefed the main, second reef actually, and the trip has been easier. But it's still good sailing. At nights I've been going out and standing in the cockpit holding onto a winch with one hand to steady myself against the sway and have just let the strong wind blow against my body and into my skin as the boat charges onward under the sky full of stars.

We also have been changing the engine oil underway. In Lata we bought all the spare diesel lube oil we could find in order to be able to change the oil in our engine after every few hours operation permitting us to run it on the trip to charge the batteries. So far the oil has held up and the problem with the engine, while still there, hasn't gotten worse or prevented us from charging the batteries. However we know and that we can't motor much, if at all, so we are hoping the wind continues.

Roaring in to the finish
On the seventh day, in the morning, the wind went into the NE and eased and we rested and had a leisurely day sailing downwind. The pace was much slower, three to four knots, and even the spinnaker wouldn't have done much to improve that unless we got some better angles or stronger breeze which we didn't. Instead we just lazed along with little motion and none of the usual sound of a boat under sail in the ocean. In the afternoon we played scrabble in the cockpit and Judy won, typically. By nightfall the wind went to the North and started to increase. At nine PM it was in the low twenties and we reefed. The wind continued to build, up into the high twenties, and with it the waves increased probably due to a counter current which was keeping our progress to the south less than our speed through the water would have led us to expect. We talked on the radio to a boat up ahead of which is experiencing a southbound current. Of course they are trying to go north so they are not happy with it but we hope to reach that current soon although I'm not sure why other than possibly reducing the waves since the slow day on day seven pretty much eliminated a Friday arrival in Brisbane. Now we'll probably have to slow down at some point to avoid coming in after dark and get there on Saturday which will be day ten.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Coral Sea
Click Here for a couple more photos from this trip.

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