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Monday, May 28, 2012

Unplugged and Recharging

Unplugged and Recharging

Ever since our arrival at Kochi on the 24th after the 18 day voyage from Phuket, that is what we have been doing- unplugged and recharging.

We cast off from Phuket on the 7th of May after a fruitful short stop. The engine's fuel leak was fixed well, and so were some other minor defects. The crew too rested thanks to the comfortable arrangements made by the Indian Mission. One of the days I called on the local naval head, pictures of which promptly appeared in Thai Blogs.

By the time we cast off, it was time for monsoon wind pattern to set in in south Bay of Bengal and wind predictions confirmed head winds right up to Dondra Head. My plan was to sail as far south as possible, perhaps to 3-4deg North Latitude looking for wind shift and then track a straight course to Dondra Head. But as luck would have it, predictions showed an increasingly disappearing wind shift and I abandoned the idea soon after crossing the 6 degree channel. Instead we decided to stick to a direct course taking each wind shift as it came. To sail conservative was priority.

I don't think we could have sailed better in those conditions which varied from moderate to rough. There were gale force winds for almost 30 percent of the time which the boat took in its characteristic stride. Despite the fact that it was their first offshore sailing experience, the crew took it well without displaying any outward signs of sickness.

But it was not just the weather that kept us on our toes. I have heard of pilots calculating fuel in liters and filling in pounds. We had a similar situation with bottled water on board. With two contaminated tanks and an RO plant that refused to start, we were pushed to rationing. But then by the third day the crew was already  meeting most of their requirements with water drawn from sea and the inconvenience was much less that what it could have been. Fortunately, after a lot of coaxing, the water maker worked and things looked much better. The RO plants manual, which seems to be a literal translation from Italian, was cause of enough humour which more than mitigated the frustration that accompanied.

South of the Nicobar Islands, an old friend came calling in his brand new command and it was catch up time. He wished us well before sailing away.

Our westward progress finally got us on the east coast of Sri Lanka and we were shaping a southward course when the toilet pump decided to act up. It was a shitty affair but within a couple of hours it was repaired and functioning better than before.

We rounded Dondra Head after two attempts sighting it at a distance of 5 miles and were hoping to clear Cape Comorin on the same tack. But then they say, boats have minds of their own. Like our return passage from Colombo in 2009 with Cdr Donde at the helm, she decided to have a dekko at the Cape and we had no choice but to conform to her plans. Rounding the Cape took another couple of attempts and in the strong norther westerly breeze we tore our main sail between the first and second reef. Now, I do sail conservatively and there was nothing wrong with the sail configuration, but then this particular main is more than 27000 miles old and it has has its fair share of the southern oceans. We took another reef and continued our passage at reduced speeds.

By the 23rd, winds had eased and by evening I had to take a call on  motoring the remaining hundred odd miles to Kochi. This was the first time in this voyage that I motored. If the last bit was excluded, we had consumed only 30 litres of diesel for a voyage of more than 2000 miles- a fact that I forgot to recount to the reporters that had gathered on our arrival (price hike of petrol had become a raging issue and various political organisations had called for a strike on the day of our arrival). Like the previous halt, Cdr Francis seemed to have worked overtime in ensuring we had a more than fare share of coverage.

We were progressing well with our rest and repairs when one of my crew received news that required his immediate presence at home. Though it was sad to see him go, we quickly made arrangements for him to depart. I  heard things have been improving for him and I wish him well. He could not have performed better for a first timer and I do hope the 20 odd days he has spent on the boat will hold in good stead for the rest of his naval career and life afterwards.

Tomorrow we will head out, as usual, into head winds. I hope to make it to Goa in time and secure the boat for another round of refits. We have achieved what we wanted from this halt- to unplug and recharge!

Thank you all for keeping company.

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