Saturday, February 16, 2008

Passage Journal: Uligan, Maldives to Salalah, Oman

February 5 - 15, 2008
by KT

Trip Summary: 1237 nM, 240 Hours, Average 5.3 Knots

When I wrote the BLOG about our passage from Thailand to the Maldives one of our sailor friends emailed us saying passages were akin to childbirth; you never wanted to document them too accurately (especially the bad stuff), otherwise you wouldn't be able to allow your mind to smooth over the rough corners (and potentially forget the bad moments all together), and that means you'd never do it again!  If that's true then I should just stop writing now, because there was pretty much nothing good about our passage from the Maldives to Oman.  It was in Oman that I began seriously wondering if I couldn't bribe Chris into allowing me to fly to Egypt!  But our friend is right, because as I try to write this (about one month post-passage) I find myself having difficulties remembering the fine details of the passage, right now I'm thinking, hmmm perhaps it wasn't so bad!

I suppose we should've foreseen the future when we woke up and a rainy squall was passing through.  We hadn't had rain in months, perhaps the Gods were trying to warn us.  It almost worked, as Chris and I put in a movie and proceeded to wait for the weather to clear.  About two-thirds into the movie we got a VHF call from one of the other boats, telling us that all looked quiet aboard Billabong and were we still going to go? As a few other boats were still going we figured we ought to motivate and just get on with it, the rain had mostly stopped and delaying was just postponing the inevitable.

It's another bad sign when you get out of the lagoon and the winds are about three times stronger then predicted.  We knew we would have wind on the nose for part of the trip, but it was predicted to be light for that portion so we figured we could handle it.  Once we pulled away from the lagoon the seas seemed to flatten a bit and even though we were about 25 degrees off course we thought we were doing okay.

For the next three days the winds continued to drive us off course, and we found ourselves beating into 20-25 knots (which means our apparent wind was 26-31 knots -- YUCK).  The seas built back up and we were taking huge amounts green water over the deck.  The force of these waves was astronomical.  At one point our kayak even broke free, breaking the three lines that tied it to our deck. Chris was able to catch it before it was washed away or managed to break anything else.  Another scary mishap was when we hit a sudden burst of wind before we'd had a chance to get a reef in the jib, Chris looked up and noticed that our jib was tearing.  Luckily we were able to get the sail in before the tear worsened, but now, for the remainder of the trip we had to baby the jib and keep it well reefed.  From the Marshall Islands to Fiji we had beat to weather for over fifteen days, and most of the time we experienced more winds than the Maldives-Oman passage.  Afterwards we had promised ourselves we'd never do that again, but here we were, once again in beating hell.  We noticed that although the winds weren't any higher than those we experienced in the Marshall Island to Fiji leg, the seas seemed more rough, steeper, and more unsettled.  The force and quantity of water that came across our decks seemed twice of what we'd previously experienced (and to think that during that passage to Fiji we had thought things couldn't get any worse!).

Now, let me break and quote to you from Jimmy Cornell's "World Cruising Routes".  First he states that the routes in the North Indian Ocean are "governed by the predictability of the weather ...". Hmmm, none of the crap we were in was predicted.  According to weather reports, by now the winds should've been shifting and they should've been about half the strength.  Next Jimmy says, "The favourable season for a passage across the North Indian Ocean is during the NE monsoon, when almost perfect sailing conditions can be expected".  Well, here we were in the NE monsoon season wondering just when we'd hit these perfect sailing conditions.  For the leg from the Maldives to Oman he says "Excellent weather conditions will be experienced ...".  This was far from excellent. And Jimmy is not the only cruising book that raves about the North Indian Ocean crossing and the fantastic NE monsoon.  Also I should point out that for at least this sailing season, we are not the only boat who found the passages difficult, just about every boat we've talked to hit crappy weather (that was not predicted), and found themselves wanting to have a word with good 'ol Jimmy!  If we hadn't known better we'd swear that we weren't in the NE monsoon season at all!

What really wore me down was the fact that the weather was so different than expected.  It was as though mentally I could not accept or comprehend why we were bashing into the rough seas or why our cockpit was continuously soaked with water, I wanted that great passage that I'd read about.  To put it lightly it made me a wee bit grouchy.

On about the 9th (our fifth day out).  The winds finally shifted, and the seas calmed enough that we could try to make up some miles (we were now about 50 nautical miles off course).  It was also calm enough that Chris felt like fishing, snagging a nice Mahi Mahi.  Chris also decided that he should take the opportunity to double-check things on deck (rigging, booms, blocks, the lines that tie down the dinghy and kayaks, and so on).  It was during this process that he found our forward bulkhead filled with water.  Apparently (what we discovered later when we were able to take a closer look), the forward hatch cover had cracked under all the water pressure and pounding.  The force of the water across the decks was able to flex the hatch enough to allow water into the compartment.  To make matters worse the bilge pump broke, so the water just continued to pile up ...  high enough that our water maker was submerged.  Motors and salt water do not mix.  Chris pumped out the water, cleaned up everything the best he could (the seas were still lumpy so he couldn't fully take out the water maker), and then tried to better seal the cracked hatch -- a temporary fix until we could make it into port and do a full investigation and fix.  We spent the rest of the day completely bummed out about the water maker and wondering what it was going to be like traveling through the desert countries without a water maker.

We spent the next three days in crappy seas, the wind was more on our beam so we could at least get on course, but water continued to come across the decks.  Every time it got calm enough Chris would go forward to check on the forward compartment and pump out any water that had accumulated.  It was not a fun time.  But ever the fisherman, Chris didn't let the weather interfere.  Anytime it calmed down just a wee bit a line went overboard.  In a three day period (from the 10th to 12th) he caught four Mahi Mahi, two small tuna, and a bluefin tuna.  We threw most of them back (not having the space in the freezer and only wanting to hassle with cleaning them if they were big enough for a couple of meals).

It's bad enough when things break on their own accord, or when you suffer through weather that you just can't control.  But I felt it was just plain mean of the Gods when they caused me to accidental through over Chris' fish cleaning glove.  Chris was constantly nicking himself when he'd clean fish underway, so in Australia I talked him into buying a Kevlar glove.  He wasn't originally going to because it was $35.  The problem with the glove is that after a few cleanings it begun to stink to high heaven.  Underway I'm ultra sensitive to bad smells (part of the sea-sick thing), so I was sitting in the cockpit practically gagging when I decided I needed it to be far away from me.  I casually grabbed it and went to toss it across the cockpit.  Wouldn't you know it, but the damn thing went further than expected and managed to flop, ever so slowly, between the gap in the wind screens.  Away floated our expensive glove, and it wasn't like we were going to find another one anytime soon!  AND we were headed towards fishing haven -- the Red Sea!

On the 13th things finally started to settle out.  By nighttime it was almost comfortable.  That was until the flying fish attacked.  As I was going down for my first sleep Chris yelled down, "wow, a whole fleet of flying fish just flew over the boat in formation!".  When he woke me up three hours later he informed me that tons of flying fish had flown into the boat and cockpit during his watch.  I settled down into the cockpit, but after about 20 minutes not a single flying fish appeared so I thought I was in the clear.  Then it began.  "Thump".  "Thump thump", I could hear them hitting the hull of the boat.  Then "thump ..  thwat-thwat-thwat-thwat", one had hit the side of our screen and fallen into the cockpit.  Before I could get him scooped out two more had fallen onto the deck next to the cockpit.  I spent the next hour running around trying to throw the ones I could reach back into the sea. Finally I realized it was futile, there were too many, and every time I went to try and save one he'd just end up beating himself to death trying to avoid my touch anyway!  Chris later told me that he too had tried to save them until in the mist of throwing one back to the sea another flew straight into his chest -- SMACK!  After that he said "to hell with this!"  The rest of my watch I only removed the ones that came directly into the cockpit.  It was a strange night, the water was so phosphorescent that it was as though a huge spotlight shone from beneath.  The flying fish continued to thump against the boat, hitting our cockpit screens, the sails, and decks ...  it was like being under attack.  During our next watches the flying fish died down so things were peaceful again.  As the sun came up I looked forward and saw our decks were littered with what appeared to be hundreds of dead fish.  There wasn't a clear spot to be seen.  When Chris came up I told him to look, he couldn't believe it.  we also had fish scales on everything, it was a mess.  It was finally our first calm day, so Chris was able to go on deck and clean up some of the mess.  He counted 78 fish, and this does not include the ones that hit and bounced off, nor the ones that we threw off.  One poor guy was wedged in-between a solar panel and the support beam that held it, about a 1/4-inch space above the dodger!

Chris kept a "fleet" of four, which he rigged up to use as a lure

We spent our last night in super calm seas, going about 3 knots.  As we wanted to arrive in the daylight we just sat back and enjoyed the smooth oceans and calm sail.  I probably say this after every passage, but I've never been happier to have a passage over with and to arrive somewhere safely.  Now of course we had a huge task ahead of us, we had the forward hatch that needed repairing, a water maker that was probably beyond repair, a torn sail, and oh did I mention we discovered another hole in the dinghy? Little did we know that our problems were actually ten times worse that all that -- water had found its way from the forward compartment to under our bed, causing substantial damage ...  but that's a story for our time in Salalah.

No comments:

Post a Comment