Thursday, 9 August 2018

Carsten's time on board Calliope - 28th June to 27th July 2018

Carsten sailed across the Atlantic with us on Gwylan in 2009, so when Nicky
needed to go back to the UK/Switzerland in July, we knew he would be a great
and fun crew member for Charles to share the trip north from Cairns to
Thursday Island and the crossing to Kupang in Indonesia. His daughter Lara
also sailed the Atlantic with us and was able to join at short notice.
Here's Carsten's entry in our visitors' book, which gives an idea of his
month aboard.

I feel as though I've been sailing for months, which is what happens when
good friends just plainly get along well and enjoy each other's company.
Despite being badly exploited on the last day polishing all the stainless
steel until there was no toothbrush left to use, shining neglected metal on
Calliope until you needed polarised glasses to look at her, I have to admit
I've been on worse journeys.
First, there was the completely shuttered down Calliope I found when I
sleepwalked after my sleepless 32 hour journey to the marina in Cairns,
trying to guess which of the 12 Oysters flying flags on 12 different
pontoons was to be my home for the next 3000 miles or so. No note and not
having yet collected my wits, I failed to find the key which had been hidden
for me. As it turned out, I had showed up 24 hours too early. As a result,
I took out my Dutch anger biking across the hills of Cairns. What a treat
cycling along the waterfront with so many special birds! Descending from
the mountains I astounded Aussie drivers who couldn't believe this crazy
Dutchman going down a semi-highway on an antiquated mom & pop bike. They
were right, it was utterly crazy.
Another highlight: Lizard Island where Charles and I arrived after an
overnight sail and went up the mountain (375m) early in the morning to
Cook's Lookout, named after the then simply Lieutenant Cook who climbed up
there to find a way out of the myriad reefs which had almost cost him his
vessel on the way in to shore. The lighter coloration of the reef when seen
from above revealed a darker shadow showing a small exit channel. What a
lovely way to start a morning, especially when at the top, neatly tucked
away under a big stone there was a plastic box containing a guestbook and a
pen. Not many people had reached this spot: only the odd yachtsman and
staff at the nearby marine research station, as the nearest port was 120
miles away (apart from an odd resort with 12 huts and an airstrip...)
There were many other moments where we just enjoyed what we were doing
without thinking about it too much - like going ashore with Mariusz and
Paulina on Stanley Island at Flinders, an extraordinary place with beautiful
beaches, a landing with only four metres of sand between spread out
mangroves where cunning sea crocodiles were salivating, waiting for would-be
explorers to land. Just 200 metres inland in a semi-circle of mangroves
were rock caves with paintings by Yirrawarra, a tribe who lived on the
island until 50 years ago. Nature here was rich and diverse and seemed to
offer everything one needed to live off it. I won't forget Stanley Island
Charles had more in store for me, however. After we noticed a tugboat
following us at about our speed (8.5 knots), one of the very few ships we
encountered on our way up to Cape York, Charles decided to play hide and
seek in the maze of huge reef systems that is the Great Barrier Reef. We
deviated from the designated waterways of the inner shipping channel and
found a shorter route between reefs that were 3-15 km long, some of them
atolls with just one entrance. After minimal advice from Charles ('don't
take that one'), I would find myself on a night shift almost touching the
ridge of the left hand side reef to avoid hitting the right hand side!
Fortunately Australian charts are very accurate, which can't be said for
Indonesian ones which you can't rely on: one chart reads "updated with the
latest information available to Dutch Authorities in 1909". What an
adventure, which we relished despite the relatively cold weather. And
Thursday Island was a treat too, with our personal sea croc guarding his
territory just 200 metres from our mooring and with the larger-than-life
characters Rob and Janette who ran a betting parlour disguised as a neat B&B
and told fantastic stories about other business ventures in earthmoving
equipment and trailer parks, as well as his regular visits to the
I'm thankful for the opportunity to indulge in these types of adventures and
it's a tribute to Charles and Nicky's extraordinary ability to share and
enjoy sharing. What a rich life for me!

Lara added:
Unfortunately, that crocodile prevented us from jumping into the bright blue
water that looked so tempting!
We had expected a few days of motoring on our crossing and lots of
Indonesian fishing boats, but we ended up with really lovely fast sailing
with quiet nights and speed records - 13.5 knots was the top, steering off a
wave on genoa and full main. Most of the trip was goose-winged but we did
have the kite up for almost two days. Even a tuna was caught - we thought
at first it was a Spanish mackerel. We overtook all the other boats and
found an anchorage in front of the town of Kupang.
When Nicky came back on board it was time to explore inland on Timor.
Fatumnasi was our first stop after an exciting 5 hour car drive (lots of
overtaking on blind corners!). We enjoyed traditional dancing and stunning
hilly landscapes. The next stop was the remote village of Boti where we
joined the villagers' minimalistic way of living -- and sleeping!
All the Oyster boats were so nice and welcoming. Special thanks to the
crewies Harry, Henry, Josh, Stephan, Tom, Calum and Pedro. It's time to go
home, but I wish I could stay!

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

North to Thursday Island

Here's a brief post from Charles.  Nicky has flown back to England for a couple of weeks to do some wedding planning (and to fit in a visit to her parents in Geneva).  Charles is sailing with Carsten de Koning, who was crew on Gwylan back in 2009 when we crossed the Atlantic (ARC).  Carsten's daughter, Lara, will join them next week for the 1000NM passage to Indonesia, but meanwhile the two of them are heading north from Cairns to Thursday Island.  Here's Charles's report, including an appreciative comment about one of the many meals with which Nicky stocked the freezer before she left:

We are in Owen's channel. Yesterday we walked up Lizard island to Captain
Cook's lookout where he went to look for a route back out of the reef after
Endeavour had been grounded near Cooktown, and found Cook's passage. 350m
high and very good views. Then it was midday and we started sailing west to
get towards the peninsula that ends in Cape York. We had meant to go 50NM
but the wind was so good we then kept changing our destination until we
arrived at 9pm after 80NM. We sailed poled-out and deep reefed but it was
still very fast. Chicken curry for supper - very nice!

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Australian adventures

Calliope arrived in Mackay on 25th May, so we have been in Australia almost
three weeks - time to bring this blog up to date!
We had an uneventful crossing from Noumea to Mackay, taking just over six
days. Uneventful suits us just fine and the new/replaced rig behaved
perfectly under close observation and frequent checks. Reassuringly, we had
Andy (Tiny) Duff on board, and we also had Jonatan (Jonny) from Israel, who
played guitar to entertain us. We arrived, tied up near the fuel dock and
were inspected by a sniffer dog, customs (who sealed most of our alcohol
away under the sole (floorboards) and bio-security, who found a few little
bugs (harmless) hiding in some raffia decorations we'd bought on the wild
east coast of New Caledonia. This was our first taste of Australian rules
and regulations. My image of the country was a place of free-spirited
individualists; it turns out they're all subject to more bureaucracy than
you'd believe possible.
Mackay is not a beautiful place - it's a coal mining and sugar cane growing
/ processing centre - but it was a good stepping stone from which to explore
inland. We drove into Eungella National Park, up steep roads into a cooler
mountain climate, where we saw platypuses (surprisingly small and rather
endearing) swimming in Broken River. We also had a great hike up Finch
Hatton Gorge to a waterfall and a cooooold swim. One evening we joined a
few other Oyster friends at a rodeo, very definitely a local event, not
staged for tourists. The guys riding bucking bulls and horses are
absolutely mad, we decided, admiring their lassoing techniques - the double
act where one rider loops a rope around a calf's hind legs, another its
front legs - record time was 6 seconds! Watching the spectators was
entertaining, too...
From Mackay, we headed out to the Whitsunday group of islands, many of which
have Lake District names - our first overnight stop was Keswick. Like
several others, it has a resort and this one was still in operation; many
closed after Cyclone Debbie and their future is uncertain. We tried to go
ashore for a walk on Lindeman Island, which has a ghost-resort which used to
be Club Med, but were met at the dock by Australian military who were using
it for a training exercise! We managed a walk on Goldsmith Island instead
through scrub which was almost as unwelcoming.
Next stop was back on the mainland at Abell Point Marina near Airlie Beach.
Best marina ever - they even lent us a courtesy car so we could dash around
provisioning, picking up our repaired asymmetric sail and getting vital
supplies of hydraulic coolant and oil. This is not my (Nicky's) favourite
kind of shopping, so it was a delight to find lovely shops on Hamilton
Island, which is a wonderfully unreal bubble of a resort, where everyone
gets around in golf buggies (this being Australia, seat belts are
obligatory!) The Oyster World Rally golf tournament was played, amongst a
million lost balls to which we added another 150; the groundsmen spraying
for the wrong kind of weeds said they had killed 6 Tiguan highly poisonous
snakes in the last week, and the competitiveness carried over into
go-karting, too. Sadly the Hobie Cat dinghy regatta was cancelled due to
the resort management thinking the wind was too strong; they couldn't accept
that we had made it halfway round the world on boats and probably knew what
we were doing. Instead an impromptu volleyball tournament sprang up on the
beach and much good humour was displayed, if not a lot of skill. There was
also time in Hamilton for some R'n'R by the pool and good massages and a
great party to celebrate Nigel on Venture's 70th birthday.
Whitsunday Island was next: we spent our first day there in Tongue Creek,
from which a short walk takes you first to a spectacular viewing platform
and then down onto Whitehaven Beach, which is 7 km of pure silica sand,
dazzlingly white. We walked and then clambered on rocks along the side of
the river estuary, marvelling at the range of cobalt/turquoise blues.
Armies of tiny crabs, about 2cm in diameter, with bright blue bodies,
scuttled into holes in the sand and in the shallows, spotted rays came
close, seeming curious. Truly wonderful - but oh, the bay was horribly
rolly that night and very little sleep was had. The following day we
motored to the southern end of the beach, where a dozen Oysters gathered for
a barbie and a cricket match on an excellent hard sandy wicket. We were
much envied for our inflatable beach lounger - thank you Alex!
After a mercifully quiet night on Border Island we sailed gently up to Hook
Island, where we snorkelled in Pinnacle Bay with four or five huge manta
rays. They didn't seem nervous about us at all and provided you didn't get
spooked by their wide open mouths, they would come within a metre. Awesome
On 11th June we headed out into the ocean. We could see a couple of masts
but absolutely nothing to show that we were nearing part of the Great
Barrier Reef. Rounding an undistinguished brownish buoy, we picked up a
mooring in a depth of only 7 metres. We were attached to the ground in the
middle of the ocean - extraordinary! The water was glassy still and blended
with the sky, so there was hardly any horizon. Only two hours' motoring
from the Whitsunday Islands, this was Bait Reef. Someone had fun naming
these reefs - from Bait, we passed Barb and moved on to Hook, then Line and
Sinker! Sunrises and sunsets here are incredible. As I type this, it's
6.30am and the sky is orange / peach / apricot / mauve, while the still
water seems coated with a reflective film, mirroring the dawn. When we get
back to internet-land, you can be sure we will send/post lots of
photographs. We are with SunsuSea (Mariusz and Paulina) and Sea Avenue
(Don, Dave and Carol) and have gathered for sundowners on each boat in turn
to ooh and aah at the sunsets. As the tide drops or rises, parts of the
reef become visible, so that from flat expanses of water, isolated
'boulders' appear, then clusters and eventually a line of coral like a wall
enclosing this still reef.
So what happens inside these reefs? Lots of coral 'bommies' to be avoided
with careful navigation and a lookout at the bow in polarising sunglasses.
Great snorkelling, less impressive diving, with fish we haven't seen before
and some now familiar from all across the Pacific - my favourites are still
the tiny blue fish which retreat into their finger coral as you approach.
Big angel fish, funny, brave clownfish, busy parrot fish and lizard fish
which do their best to impersonate the coral they are lying on. There are
also GT or giant trevally which like to hang out in the shade under our
boats. Yesterday we took the dinghy across the reef to a permanent platform
which has been set up for tourist boats to visit. We think it may be where
Pippa spent a (rainy) night when she was here a few years ago.
Unfortunately our vision of cocktails (or at least ice creams) was not to be
- the employee there informed us that they can't serve outsiders (probably
due to more of those darn Australian regulations) so we turned away and
followed the reef to a totally implausible spot: a waterfall, 30 miles from
land! Hardy Reef is completely encircled by coral, so when it fills or
empties as the tide turns - and tides are about 2 metres here - all that
water has to get in or out, which is does through three narrow channels:
even the widest is only about 15 metres at its broadest. Grade three rapid,
tempting for the kayakers amongst us - and apparently it can be negotiated
in a yacht at very high water, when the waterfall has stopped.
This is our first time on the Great Barrier Reef, so we don't have anything
to compare it to. There is lots of dead coral and some damage is clearly
recent from Cyclone Debbie (poor Debbie on Meteorite is being given a hard
time about this!). But there's also fantastic live coral in strange and
intriguing shapes and every colour imaginable. At least here, we don't feel
there's any need for doom and gloom about the Reef. And there's so much of
it! We won't get to visit the group of Lath, Plaster, Brick, Girder and
Rafter Reefs, nor Oublier (was that named because someone forgot it was
there, or perhaps because they wish they could forget running into it - or
just perhaps because these special places are somewhere you really can get
away from it all and forget everything?) Don't worry, we haven't forgotten
you and will keep you posted as we continue north towards Cairns, where we
plan to arrive in two weeks' time. We have been watching Suits (thank you
Pippa) and WWII in Colour (thank you Michael) and reading Home Fire by
Kamila Shamsie for the Oyster Book Club - an excellent modern retelling of
the Antigone story.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Australia, here we come!

Calliope left Noumea on Saturday 19th May at 1700. On board: Charles,
Nicky, Andy (Tiny) Duff, who looked after her all winter in New Zealand and
Jonathan Rahav, who's on a gap year (not his first) and came to us from
another Oyster Venture. We are now about 300 NM almost due west, heading
for Mackay in Australia. The rest of the Oyster fleet are north of us on
their route from Vanuatu; some, like Safiya, are nearly there, while others
will arrive not far ahead of us. We hope to get in on Friday 25th. As
ever, much depends on the wind. At the moment it's exactly where we like it
and pretty constant at between 15 and 18 knots. There've been patches,
though, when it's come from a more easterly direction, ie more behind us and
been more variable, so we've had to turn the engine on. Never mind, we are
a functioning sailing yacht once more. The transformation from bare to
fully rigged mast was remarkably quick and efficient and a really impressive
process, with a crane, a forklift truck and many helping hands lifting the
mast back onto (and into) the boat on Friday afternoon. The local help from
Nouvelle Caledonie, organised by Chloe the yacht agent, was great. Boom
and sails back on, then some brisk sailing off Noumea to test all joints,
and Nick and Becky from Doyle Rigging headed back to New Zealand. We shall
see what happens about insurance claims - the important thing was to get
back sailing as soon as possible. As Pippa says "Res ipsa loquitur.".

We made the most of our stay in New Caledonia, hiring a car and driving
first to the Sheraton for two days' relaxation after the stress of the
crossing, then over the mountainous central ridge of the island on some
seriously winding roads, some single track with passing places, to Canala.
That's where son Alex worked for five months during his year abroad from
Bristol University, teaching English at the secondary school. The east
coast of New Caledonia is "brousse" or brush country; the landscape is
untamed and the local population share much the same reputation. Here's
where the pro-independence or Kanaky movement is strongest and it's a far
cry from the capital Noumea and its suburbs which feel very French. We
watched a football match on the field opposite 'Alex's school', trying
unsuccessfully to find someone who might remember being taught by him ten
years ago. We were befriended by a rather drunken young man who giggled a
lot as he took us in our car to a women's cooperative so that we could
acquire some souvenirs of Canala; woven flowers and mats. His advice to us
was to slow down and stop rushing - all very well, but we needed to get back
across the mountain to Kone a fairly undistinguished town on the west coast.
The next day we flew from there in two microlight planes (pilot plus one
passenger in each - but we could talk to each other) over the Trou Bleu, an
astonishing deep sapphire-blue hole in the ocean, just inside the reef - 200
metres deep - and the Coeur de Voh, a heart-shaped mangrove swamp which
graces the cover of Yann-Arthus Bertrand's photography book, Earth from the
Air. It was an amazing experience: the planes are so insubstantial (they
only weigh 350kg) that it's almost as if you were flying.

We took a quick break from New Caledonia and flew to Vanuatu to catch up
with the rest of the Oysters, staying on Miss Tiggy. It was lovely to see
everyone and to be able to say thank you to them for their support when we
were in trouble. Much celebrating of Nicky's 60th birthday, too - great
fun. Though we didn't see much of the island and were sad to have missed
Tanna and its live and terrifyingly accessible volcano, we got a feel for
Vanuatu. It has a fascinating past, with a so-called 'condominion'
government, meaning both a French and British bureaucracy, hence the
nickname 'pandemonium government' until 1980, when it became independent.
The fruit and vegetable market in Port Vila is huge and open 24/7 - the
stallholders simply lie down under their trestle tables and sleep when they
are tired!

Back to New Caledonia and we decided we needed to explore the south of the
island. We picked up a hitch-hiker who had evidently had too much of a good
time in the capital: he was snoring in the back within a minute of climbing
in. When we got to where he'd asked to be taken, he had to be pulled out of
the car. Extraordinary that a man in his thirties seemed to have no French
at all - but this is the most remote part of New Cal and perhaps he'd missed
out on schooling, which is entirely in line with the French system and has
only recently conceded that there should be some reference to tribal Kanak
culture in the syllabus. The weather was dismal that day, so we decided not
to walk to the waterfall as planned and kept driving. The landscape was
uninhabited, scrubby bushes and grasses alongside the road and earth which,
if it hadn't been so wet, would have been dusty red. As we crested a hill,
we both gasped with shock: below us was a huge industrial plant, with pipes
and chimneys, reservoirs and high fences. It's a nickel-extraction factory;
apparently 25% of the world's supply of nickel is found on New Caledonia.
The extraction is brutal - basically they scrape the top of the earth off
and although they replant it afterwards, they can't replace all the natural
and endemic species and they have altered the natural contours of the land.
We felt whoever had consented to the mining had deliberately limited it to
this remote end of the island - it certainly wouldn't appeal to the tourists
off the cruise ships in Noumea (although who knows? We were curious about
the process, so maybe there could be a mining museum).

One more bit of exploring, this time to the Ile des Pins, about 70 miles
south of the main island. Again we were unlucky with the weather and our
trip in a traditional outrigger 'pirogue' fishing boat ended up with us
huddling under the spare sail.. I know, there's no such thing as bad
weather, just the wrong clothing, and we were woefully unprepared.

We had one more item to tick off our to-do list and it was a real pleasure:
to meet the family with whom Alex and his friend Tunji stayed. Yann and
Sandrine are both teachers and spent a couple of years teaching in Canala
before returning to the capital. We invited them onto our (mastless) boat
in the marina and then went out for dinner. It was wonderful to finally
meet the couple and two of their three children - we'd heard so much about
them and their kindness to the boys, who hadn't any idea when they headed
there how remote Canala was.

So now we are on our way. Calliope and Mr. AP (the auto pilot) are looking
after us well. We have a mission: to eat everything in the fridge and
freezer before we get to Australia, otherwise it will be confiscated and
destroyed. Why DID I buy a whole bag of garlic in the market? Oh well,
there'll be no vampires on board! We are a 'dry' boat (apart from the rum
in the fruitcake!), so looking forward to arriving in Mackay, where the
Oyster fleet are planning a Great Barrier Bake Off!

Friday, 4 May 2018

Danger on the passage from New Zealand

We love excitement and actively search out thrills, but we are cautious and safety conscious while doing so. Having sailed 25,000 miles since launching Calliope we consulted experts on whether it was time to change the rigging (all that criss-crossing of wires which holds the mast upright). Opinions varied - some said change at 30,000, others at 40,000, but we reckoned that New Zealand was a good place to get the work done, so had a complete replacement rigging and overhaul, repainted the mast, repainted the boat, serviced everything; in short, a major refit. She looked like new.

Second mast climb - we chose this timing!
Three days into our passage from New Zealand, bound for Tanna in Vanuatu, 500 nautical miles from New Zealand and 500NM from New Caledonia, Nicky had just come off watch and handed over to Charles at midnight last Thursday. Conditions were a bit inconsistent: we'd had the main well reefed and had been sailing under staysail, but the wind had dropped, so Charles put the staysail away and set a thrice reefed genoa. It was Force 4/5 and 2m seas. Great sailing conditions but squalls around, so sailing conservatively.

Suddenly, one of the diagonal bracing wires (the Ds - D1 from deck to first spreader horizontal, D2 from horizontal to next spreader etc) was unattached at its lower end, flailing around, lashing at the mast. It was on the starboard side. Nicky and Fraser came up as Charles furled both sails away and we started to think of a plan. We have spare kit to repair these metal joints but there's no way you could do that with one hand, clinging on to a swaying mast in the dark. For the non-technical, we tightened every halyard and rigged what substitutes we could.

The twanging noise of the loose D wires was awful and they were rebounding off our newly-painted mast, certainly causing cosmetic damage and possibly worse.

Less than half an hour after the first D failure, its pair on the port side came loose and, with a horrible inevitability, not long after, the pair above. The mast now had no lateral stability and was flexing and bending - it was like when you hold a pencil between thumb and forefinger and wiggle up and down, so that the straight pencil appears to be bendy. Meanwhile, down below, the movement of the mast was causing the ceiling panels around it to buckle. We removed those and could see that the base of the mast was moving about three centimetres each way. We stuffed wedges of foam into the gaps to try to minimise the movement, but they had little effect and, in the process, Charles got two of his fingers crushed - there is no arguing with a one and a half tonne mast. He is lucky not to have lost them. The cut is deep and he will lose one nail, but we have kept it clear of infection with antibiotic cream and he is off washing up duty. He has been swimming with a latex glove taped at the wrist, which keeps his hand completely dry.

the 4 diagonals have been reattached for lifting
Back to the drama, which, while it makes a good story in retrospect, was no fun at all at the time. I added extra items to the grab bag and prepared to take to the life raft if we were dismasted, holed and had to abandon ship. Luckily we could be in radio contact with the Oyster fleet immediately. Later we called NZ Maritime Rescue and said that we were under control at the moment but that our situation might deteriorate. They informed New Caledonia rescue, who called us at intervals to check on our progress. This was reassuring but the ocean is a very big and lonely place and it was the Oyster fleet who provided us with the best moral support (and the promise of physical support if needed). Two boats, Venture and Safiya, diverted to come near us. Safiya watched over us and accompanied Calliope for a day heading west, which was not on their course to Vanuatu, handing us over at midnight (what a long 24 hours that had been!) to Unconditional, who were heading for New Caledonia but had to wait for us. Just typing this makes me feel emotional - massive thanks to all of them. Our regular morning and evening SSB radio nets were hugely supportive too - thank goodness the SSB was working well, thanks to Tiny's father in Auckland.

So with all rigging jury rigged as best we could, we motored to the south of New Caledonia. We could see dark clouds and squalls ahead and took avoiding action, not wanting to subject the mast to any extra strain. Going straight into or down waves was all right, but any roll and the bending of what should be a straight white line was horrendous.

We arrived just after dark at Baie du Prony on Sunday, where there's a huge nickel factory and large ships loading, found a quiet corner of the bay to anchor in and slept like logs. In the morning Nicky swam across to Unconditional and called to them, but they were unwakeable. A couple of hours later, we motored up within the reef to Noumea, the capital. When we berthed, Charles counted the motor hours, seventy nonstop. Well done VW engine! We treated Unconditional's Tom and Sara to dinner that night and they slipped away the following morning.

Fraser was a star crew for us. What we came to call "the Fraser line" stabilised the starboard side of the rig. He admits to having a poor head for heights and hadn't been up a mast before, but he clung on even when the boat was swaying through ridiculous angles - he has some impressive bruises to show for it. On a less dramatic note, he also brought us some sourdough culture and made a delicious loaf, which I'm hoping to continue doing.

The day after we arrived in Noumea Andy "Tiny" Duff, who had supervised all the work done on the boat, and Nick the rigger arrived and the mast has now been lifted off Calliope for repairs, repainting and assessment of what failed so catastrophically. There are only four possibilities: defective kit, defective workmanship, poor seamanship, or extreme weather. It certainly wasn't the last two. If we waited for the insurers to agree on work to be done, we'd have missed our chance to continue with the other boats on the Rally (they're now in Vanuatu, sending dramatic photos of Mt Yasur volcano in action!), so we have gone ahead and started repairs, which are likely to take two weeks at least. Pippa our barrister daughter, who specialises in professional negligence, says "res ipsa loquitur", and the insurance will work itself out.

So here we are in New Caledonia, which we always wanted to visit, in part to see where our son Alex spent several months about ten years ago, teaching English in Canala on the east coast. We checked into the gorgeous Sheraton resort near Bourail and Nicky had a suitably delicious birthday dinner (she'd sneaked in a birthday swim in Anse Vata in the morning and felt very loved by friends and family around the world from watching the video Mike put together.  Thank you!). We will have plenty of time to relax and to explore these beautiful islands. There'll be time to do a bit of long-distance wedding planning! Calliope looks odd without a mast but is still a functioning vessel which can take us along the coast. We just hope we can be ready to leave in time to join the other Oysters on the crossing to Mackay in Australia. We'll have two crew with us and pray for less drama on this passage!

There are not many photos at the time. Here is Fraser making the second mast climb attempt - these were calm conditions we chose! And my fingers and the mast coming out; the diagonals that came loose are those from the outside into the mast. All 4 unscrewed despite the locking nuts, nothing actually broke.

** For those interested technically, this is the log record:
In order, we then carried out the following measures:
- furled all sails. We were triple-reefed main and genoa doing about 7 knots
- put on both running backstays, and both spinnaker halyards to the deck, slightly eased the backstay (which wasn't on very hard)
- motored gently ahead downwind trying to minimise the motion of the waves
- then we heard noise of the ceiling liners at the mast moving in the saloon. We removed the liners to see the mast moving c3cm either way at that level. Tried to re-stuff the foam in. Substantial movement throughout the rig and bend to the mast, maybe 15cm either way at second spreader?
- back on deck to see port D2 had gone as well
- rigged the spinnaker guy lines from amidships to around the mast above the boom, and tightened back to the primary winches firm. This made a substantial difference to stability
- at some point both D3s went as well
- rang Fox's Rigging in the UK as it was about 0200 local Friday 27 April. Advice was given, we were doing the right thing and we discussed further action points we could do when it was light and we could go up the mast
- at c0630 I rang our project manager Andrew Duff of GT Yachting who looked after Calliope during the winter. He suggested further loosening the backstay and tightening the running backstays. This made a further difference to rig stability
- at c0700 tightened staysail halyard. Crew member Fraser Smith then ascended mast and managed to get a line to the starboard D2 bottle screw which was still attached to the wire. We brought that down to a block at the base of the shrouds and back to the primary. On firm. Made a big difference to stability when the starboard side rigging was under load. Fraser also tried to get a strap around the loose port side D2 to stop it banging around but not possible. Wind speed top at 32 knots and substantial roll made this difficult. We couldn't put a simila
r line to the port side D2 as the bottle screw was not attached to the wire.
- used the spinnaker pole uphaul to the port side base of shrouds to replicate
- took the preventer lines from the boom aft end to the mooring cleats at the stern to minimise boom load on the mast
- took the spinnaker halyards forward to pad eyes

- we had been in communication to the OWR Fleet during the night via VHF and SSB. Venture and Safiya diverted towards us. Safiya arrived on station at about 1130 and accompanied us throughout the day, handing over to Unconditional who was further west at 2330 (Friday)
- at c1300 Friday 27 April rang maritime rescue in New Zealand to tell them we were in a situation, were coping with it and had it stabilised, that other Oyster yachts were on station, and the rally organisers were aware, that we did not require assistance but to let them know it could develop to a point we might need assistance. They noted this and said they would notify New Caledonia Maritime rescue. NC MR called us back Saturday am and we stayed in contact with them until we arrived in Noumea.
- while Safiya was on station we attempted a second mast climb to attempt to get a line to the second spreader at about 1630 to stabilise the port side. It had been windy, squally and rough throughout the day as we motored at 4/5 knots west to minimise roll.
- this attempt failed due to excessive roll. However as a result of this climb all 3 of the loose diagonals managed to wind themselves around the topping lift or spinnaker halyards which we had used to lift Fraser, and so the amount of banging of loose wires was reduced
- we then motored in the company of Unconditional to Noumea, arriving and anchoring in the Baie de Prony on Sunday night, 29 April at 2100, then up to Noumea to arrive Port Moselle at 1500 Monday 30 April. Total distance motored about 450NM over 70 hours. While at times rolly, the rig has felt stable during this trip.

Collateral damage

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Here we go again!

Well, it's been a long time since we last posted a blog. The blogspot is
called Manbys on Calliope and we haven't been on board much at all since
late October, when we arrived in Opua in the very far north of New Zealand.
We had a quick sail down to Auckland, a great Oyster party at the Royal NZ
Yacht Squadron and then left Calliope in Gulf Harbour, just north of the
city. We hired a car and drove all round North Island, fitting in walks,
wine-tasting, hot springs and Maori culture; we had a few days on South
Island, too, walking part of the Queen Charlotte track and enjoying Picton
and Blenheim. Next, we flew to Australia, explored and loved Tasmania and
enjoyed fun times in Sydney, Adelaide (though the cricket was disappointing)
and Kangaroo Island, as well as an extraordinary few days at Arkaba Lodge in
the Flinders Ranges. Then we had three months back in Europe - Christmas in
Suffolk, catching up with friends and family there and in London, and
fitting in lots of skiing.

Back to New Zealand in early March, where they'd enjoyed a fantastic summer
and it was now turning colder. Hmm...may have got our timing wrong.
Unfortunately, the considerable programme of work on Calliope was running
behind schedule (not helped by humid, tropical conditions when the
newly-painted hull wouldn't dry) and we found ourselves with an
uninhabitable boat and three weeks to spare. There are many, many worse
places to fill in time than NZ's South Island. We hiked the Abel Tasman
track, drove down the splendidly wild west coast and flew up to Fox Glacier.
We cycled the Roxburgh Gorge and rode horses at luxurious Mahu Whenua lodge
above Lake Wanaka. Accommodation varied from fairly basic to extremely
stylish but the welcome was always warm. The birdlife is fascinating and we
are huge fans of NZ's Department of Conservation (DOC) for their excellent
tracks, great signposting, maps and intelligent planning how best to
maintain and improve this beautiful landscape. We made a quick trip to
Melbourne to watch the Melbourne Demons play Aussie Rules, and see the
qualification of the Grand Prix, with Miss Tiggy and Meteorite.

Finally, we returned to Calliope about ten days ago. It feels like coming
home and we are finding our sea legs again. She is in fantastic condition,
with a gleaming hull - same colour (pale grey) but it had faded in patches
due to strong sunlight over the last five years. A few last-minute
adjustments and we headed out of Auckland, past Waiheke Island, which we had
enjoyed exploring in March, particularly the less-visited eastern end, and
on to the Coromandel coast. We met up with Sea Flute and enjoyed dinner
ashore, reached by taking the dinghies up a very long, very narrow and very
tidal creek to Coromandel town. We got slightly lost on the way back in the
dark... We've had some great sailing in the Hauraki Gulf; the boat feels
faster, which may be because she's got a clean bottom, all those tropical
barnacles having been removed and new anti-fouling applied. The light on
these vivid green hills and craggy rocks is gorgeous. But just when we were
getting into the rhythm of life on board, the weather has turned nasty, with
gale force winds, and we have taken shelter in Marsden Cove marina (where
it's fun to be almost next to SunSuSea) to wait until we can head up the
coast to the Bay of Islands, there to wait (again!) until cyclone season is
reliably over before we start the next stage of our adventure. That will
take us to Vanuatu, which has active volcanoes and men who dive from high
platforms (bunjy jumping without any elasticity to the ropes around their
ankles) as well as tribes distinguished by the size of their penis wrappers.
Lots to look forward to! After that we plan to fit in a few days on
Nouvelle Caledonie, where Alex spent five happy months teaching English,
almost ten years ago, before heading for Mackay in Australia and the
Whitsunday Islands. Then in July, it will be Indonesia. Masses of planning
and a fair bit of bureaucracy to be done for all this travelling -- and more
planning for the very exciting event in December, when Pippa is marrying
William Nicholls in Aldeburgh!

Monday, 23 October 2017

We've made it halfway round the world!

Hooray! With the help of various crew, we've successfully brought Calliope to New Zealand. In fact we have had 32 guests on board since January, including the two Kiwis who came with us from Fiji to New Zealand. That includes Pippa and Annemie who came twice! It has been a pleasure to have
you all on board, and we don't have any moments of thinking ugly crew thoughts. It is interesting to remember how you all almost self-selected which legs you wished to do, and we managed to fit almost everyone in! We are glad and proud to have done it all on our own without pro help except
for the last leg - see below.

Leaving Fiji was hard. We knew nothing about Fiji in advance: that it has 300 islands, delightful people, some of the best diving in the world, white sandy beaches, beautiful reefs, a great hinterland on the two larger islands. Even the touristy bits were good, but that made the remoter places superb. We spent six weeks there, and hardly scratched the surface. Put it on your list of very special places to come to.

So we arrived in Opua, New Zealand, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, nearly seven days after leaving Fiji. It was 1150 NM and, as advertised, tougher than anything since Bonaire to Cartagena and Cartagena to San Blas. But this time it was into the wind! A bit bumpy for the first 36 hours, then good sailing - both we and the Kiwis were probably thinking "do we need them/us on board?" - and then on the third day as night was coming on beating into strong winds and taking water over the bow, coach roof and up over the spray hood, the foil on the genoa broke. That doesn't mean the forestay broke, so the mast was safe, but it meant we couldn't furl away the genoa. We had been sailing in about 20 knots of wind, almost close-hauled, with about two reefs in the genoa, and then it just broke. Why? Probably just wear and tear, maybe we had furled the sail away with a bit too much load on it on many occasions so it weakened. So lifejackets on, Logan, Fraser and Nicky to the foredeck, engine on, Charles on helm. Sail down went well (it is huge), tied up on the rail and the lifelines, back to the cockpit. Then staysail out, start sailing again and thinking about what to do next (is the sail ok there until the morning?). Waves over the bow, funny noises, and there is part of the sail in the water, and a stanchion gone. So foredeck crew back up there, and a long struggle using halyards and winches to get the sail back on board, and then down the hatch into the forward cabin. It took two hours to do that, and we tacked back towards Fiji to get the sail on the upwind side to make it easier to get her back on board. Which is what we should have done in the first place - get it down,
sail off-wind, down-the-hatch - job-easier-said-than-done, hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Crew all safe the most important thing and everyone always tied on and lifejackets on. Logan, Fraser and Nicky were all great. You don't want to go forward in those conditions, but all three were coordinated, calm, and worked as a great team. Proud of the first mate as ever. Damage all fixable - those foils are a known problem and maybe we haven't always been as gentle as we could. How would Nicky and I have coped? We would have had to let the sail go I think once in the water, and letting it go, undoing three points of contact to the boat and keeping control of half a tennis court of sail, would have meant even more damage, and potentially danger, to Calliope and its crew. Is that an argument that we are sailing too large a yacht with systems that are so powerful it enables two people to sail her, but means that, when something breaks, you have created problems squared? Maybe, but I don't think we would have made this trip in a 30 footer, and we certainly wouldn't have had room for 30 friends, and the wine wouldn't have been chilled, and the freezer full of goodies bought months ago! As ever, yachting is full of compromises.
Nicky at helm approaching Opua

Two days of light winds but good sailing cost us maybe 12 or more hours which was fine except it meant we had to go straight into the wind for the
last 200 miles and hit the Tuesday weather we had hoped to avoid. So we motor-sailed the last 48 hours and the last 12 hours we motored straight into 20-25 knots of wind: "bang, slam, did Oyster build this boat properly? Could we have damaged the rig?". No sleep so plenty of time for those thoughts. So finally, we tied up on the customs wharf at 0600. The Kiwis persuaded Charles into a few Rums and Nicky had a good sleep.

Charles arrriving in Auckland

Opua marina in the Bay of Islands is everything a marina should be: clean, modern, efficient, welcoming (our goody bag had loads of information and a tot of rum in it) and staffed by friendly and thoroughly competent people.
The café does great breakfasts and supper in the yacht club was good, too. After being cleared in by customs and bio-security, we motored across the bay to Russell and anchored there - an interesting little town which was New Zealand's first capital and has attractive streets and houses with flower-filled gardens. They were preparing for the arrival of hundreds of yachts which were racing up from Auckland. On Saturday we watched the first arrival, a huge red catamaran, which had taken six hours (the record is just over five). Other boats straggled in for hours and post-race celebrations apparently continued through the night.

Our own celebrations, combined with swapping horror stories about the Fiji-NZ passage, were tinged with sadness: this is the end of the rally for some boats, while others are losing longstanding crew. There is a huge sense of achievement but also, I think, a bit of a blank feeling: what next? As we begin to pack up Calliope, we keep meeting stuff/pieces of paper that shows how much thought went into our preparation. Something that has taken so long in the planning and the fulfilment of a long held dream must, we suppose, lead to a such feelings. A remarkable sense of satisfaction of having done this together, having worked as a team, with separate responsibilities but developing the abilities for each one of us to sail Calliope on our own and to manoeuvre and handle her as a team. Enormous
enjoyment from having shared the experience with all of our children and so many friends. So new challenges to seek, maybe some more circumnavigating?

In the immediate future, what's next is getting to Auckland, where Oyster are putting on another party. I know we'll like Auckland: there's a Calliope Wharf in Calliope Basin. Sadly it's for commercial ships, not us. Our plan is to spend a couple of nights in an Auckland marina and then to
leave the boat for the next few months in a marina 12 miles north of the city. We had a great sail from the Bay of Islands to Cape Brett and south along the Northland coast. It's not living up to its reputation as the 'winterless north', however, and we were very glad of our newly purchased merino and possum sweaters (Australians introduced the possum to NZ and it's now regarded as a pest) and jackets. In Paihia we found a farmer's market and bought avocados and our first strawberries for a year! We combined our little shopping spree with a visit to Waitangi, where the Maori-British
treaty was signed 150 years ago - a well-presented museum and exhibition about a subject which is still controversial. Thanks so much to our ex-skipper Tom Kiff's parents who lent us a car so we could get around - they still remember arriving in Opua from the UK when Tom was only 7 years
old and deciding to stay. Winds increased and the forecast was poor, so we've taken shelter in Bon Accord harbour on Kawau Island and much enjoyed the hospitality of Kawau Boating Club, as well as a rainy walk in the grounds of the 19th century governor's Mansion House - there used to be a
thriving copper mining industry here. The governor was a bit eccentric and introduced wallabies, various exotic birds and even zebra to pull his carriage. Wallabies have since managed to destroy many of the native trees - you can see why New Zealanders are so protective of their shores. Nicky
has just been doing an inventory of foodstores on board (those of you who've been with us know her precious Book) and is quite pleased with her planning. There are still lots of cans under the sole (floorboards), but they can stay there. We've got too much pasta and rice, but again, they have long use-by dates and will keep. The freezer is EMPTY, thanks to the bio-security officer whose heavy-duty bin liner received lots of ready-cooked meals, sausages and ham!

Like most of our posts on this blog, this is a mixture of Charles's and Nicky's input. Our children claim they can always spot who wrote what! But Charles has actually written about emotions here... even in our sixtieth year, we can change and have changed!