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Sunday, May 14, 2006

May 12, 2006-Beat to Labuan

Tacking Action

It is 66 miles down the Borneo coastline from Kota Kinabalu to Labuan Island. We plan to make the trip in two days, with a stop at Tiga Island, 30 miles down the line.

The Previous Day

The morning of the second day, after an easy genoa reach down from KK the day before, we are surprised to wake up in our Tiga island anchorage to a fresh southeasterly breeze instead of the normal morning calm we've seen each day preceding the sea breeze which usually fills in at 11:00 AM. Don't know what it means, but it could be interesting.

We weigh anchor at 08:45 and sailing out of the anchorage on the main we consider whether to use the genoa or the number 4. Reaching the point of the island the conditions dictate it for us. This is definitely a number 4 wind, and it is out of the SW, not the SE. Our 36 mile leg this day will be a beat dead to weather. Not our choosing, but there it is. There is nothing for us to do but get going.

We set the number 4, sheet home both sails, and start to beat south. We've got 15 knots of wind and we're making 6.2 knots, pretty close to our numbers, 38 degrees off the wind. It looks like a good sail. We calculate our ETA to Labuan. At 4.5 knots VMG we'll get there in eight hours; 17:00. We put on the windvane and relax, enjoying the day.

Sailing past the south side of Tiga we see two yachts anchored in the cove there, on a lee shore, and pitching badly in the chop which is rolling into that side of the island. We wonder why they stayed there; it must be mighty uncomfortable, and with a nasty coral reef just behind them; if it was us we'd leave ASAP. We wonder if they are northbound or southbound. We watch them through the binoculars for an hour but they don't make a move.

The wind is building and at 18 knots we flatten the sails and load everything up for a stiff breeze. We have Wings in point mode but we're still going fast; this is our wind. Sunny day; put on sun screen. Sit on the high side with my feet over. Move the genoa to the high side, hike the boat. The boat works through the waves like it knows how. We take a little spray, but not too much, and once I get a real splash, but it is OK; I love it. This is sailing.

I sit on the rail and watch the water sweep by past my feet. I start to daydream. I wonder how far below me is the surface of the water, I'm high up on the high side. How high? I guess eight feet. The time passes. Judy checks the chart a couple of times. There are some reefs around which we need to get past as we work our way south, but right now we're doing fine.

Fred enjoys the day.

At 11:30 we are shocked out of our reveries by a loud bang from the rig. We look aloft for loose things hanging, half expecting to see a mast coming down on our heads. It looks fine. We look around the boat. Judy sees a pool of blood red hydraulic fluid spreading on the cockpit floor. We've lost hydraulic pressure on the backstay! We crack the release valve and drop the pressure and I tighten a fitting which was dripping. It stops. We put some pressure back on, but not as much. The leak stops. We clean up. Now it's time to look where we we've got to while we had our heads down. Uh, no problem, we're still OK. Back to sailing, only this time I'm thinking about what I've got to do to fix the backstay line once we get to Labuan.

At 1:30 the wind drops, a lot. It also shifts to the left, and we are way out to the right side, where we went to get around a patch of reefs. Tactically this is bad. I feel like a dummy for not staying closer to the rhumb line. We change to the genoa and tack. Problem number two occurs: The tack which looked like 95 degrees on the compass turns out to be more like 129 degrees on the chart. Whoa, what is going on?

We quickly assess our situation. The actual VMG is more like 3.3, and that, combined with what we see on the tacking angles, tells us that we have a big current against us. It must be about 1.2 knots.

Now we realize we have our work cut out for us to reach Labuan that day. Actually, getting there in daylight is out. Best we can expect is 21:00 or so.

We check out the harbor chart closely. Can we go in after dark? I judge that we can.

Now we've got to get the boat cranked up to make even that.

I take off the wind vane and start to steer. I've got to get a feel for how she's doing in the 8-9 knots of wind we're getting. We adjust the sheet leads and fiddle with just about everything. We can get it up to about 5 knots and pointing pretty high, but the current, which we decide is a strong ebb tide, is holding us back. It is knocking 15 degrees off our course on each tack. Motoring wouldn't help that much, and we don't want to motor for six hours anyhow. Once we have the boat sailing its best we put the wind vane back on.

We sail on.

We get a few good shifts and we arrive on Labuan Harbor at 21:30.

It is good to get the hook down. We have a beer.

It has been a long hard day of sailing, but it has been a good day too. We like sailing.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings. Borneo

Note on the mechanical problem: After arriving in Labuan we checked out the hydraulic system, and we found that, under pressure over 2500 psi, the backstay fitting leaks, even after I tightened it. Something in there broke and that was the "bang" we heard. Now I know that, I can work on it, maybe replace a "T" fitting or a connector. Anyhow, we'll solve this one easily

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