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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Into the Endless Pacific

A crowded Indian Ocean
A Desolate Pacific
At first it appeared that I would be sailing off the face of the earth. But then, two days after Christmas as we passed through the Sub Antarctic Islands of New Zealand, the enormousness of the Pacific opened itself unto us. Straddled on the other end by the Americas, wide enough at its widest to be almost half the size of the earth and large enough to swallow up all the landmass of the planet put together, its sheer size has meddled with the minds of followers of this voyage who are newcomers  to the world of oceans and charts and all things nautical. Named by Ferdinand Magellan during his circumnavigation, the Pacific offers its unparalleled solitude and desolation as we cleave our way towards Cape Horn.

Sometime on the 23rd December, we hit the southernmost point in the voyage so far. The Mhadei and I sailed along the 53rd parallel for day  and slowed down to let a system brewing north-west of us pass. Christmas eve turned out the way it should have. A mild breeze blew and it was enough to keep the sails full and the boat moving eastward at the exact slow pace I wanted it to. In the forenoon, the sun was not only up but shining upon us heating the boat to more than 10deg Centigrade for the first time in days. I put on music, made something out of freeze-dri vegetables, washed it down with a can of Mirinda and bit into half a slab of Bournville that had been saved for the occasion- all sitting outside in the sun. It carried a laxative effect well into Christmas which turned out to be a rough affair for reasons including weather. As I began heading northwards, we caught the tail of the passing system and the freshening breeze crossed 30knots soon after it was noon in the boat. The sky remained overcast and the winds did not subside until the following noon. But when the day had passed we discovered our Christmas gift- a 24 hour run of 201 nautical miles unpacked under a sun whose intensity remained unmitigated by clouds even after three days.
Indian Ocean grey...

...and the Pacific blue

From the grey colours of the Indian Ocean to the blue of the Pacific has been a welcome psychological change. I shot a few pelagic birds in the excitement, pilfered a packet of biryani out of January’s rations and turned a course towards Snares Island in the hope of catching the first glimpse of land after 58 days at sea. Sadly, as the wind swung, we missed it by 33 miles (in a nautical life it is the same as the breadth of ones hair). I even tried a hand at fishing but the line came back without violating the EEZ of New Zealand.

28th of December saw a surreal morning because the watches had lost their synchronisation. I have the necessity to maintain three time zones- UTC, IST and Zone Time. To do that, I use as many instruments as I can including GPS time on the electronic chart, two clocks, my mobile phone, laptop, a partly serviceable wrist watch and the INMARSAT phone. Due to frequent changes in time zones and the consequent necessity to readjust clocks, on the 28th of December I woke up to the cacophony of  clocks announcing a major disagreement between themselves. The local clock read 10:00 AM which meant that I was a couple of hours late for rendering the morning report- a feeling akin to waking up at 10:00 AM to realise that you had a flight to catch two hours back. It took me almost half an hour to gather my still drowsy wits and decide on the time because I wasn’t too sure which clock to trust. Half of them- the laptop, wrist watch and the local clock- were simultaneously wrong in their own ways. In a way it was of no consequence because in a solitary existence time is what you make it out to be. What would have gone haywire though is my communications with the rest of the world because for me the only role time plays is that of a synchroniser. I could keep a tag with the help of my beard which has sanction to grow at a pre ordained rate but I don't have time for all that.

I have learnt my lesson-
Correct clocks are all alike. All incorrect clocks are incorrect in their own ways. The Mhadei’s timekeeping could be in turmoil.”

Souls of departed seafarers

UP NEXT- The International Date Line and a Pacific New Year

PS- Despite our distance and relative insulation from the goings on elsewhere in the world, news does percolate in. The passing away of "Nirbhaya" has left a telling gloom in the boat. May her soul find the peace that was denied to her in the last moments of her life. And may we never forget how valiantly she fought till the end.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Furious 50s- “Bash on Regardless”

21-12-12-2000-sagarparikrama2-2bightAn occlusion dealt headwinds and caused us to sail southwards much before I had planned thrusting the furious 50s on me as it went. The welcome began with 30 knot winds that soon picked up to 45 and the usual swell from south west. While the hammering went on and I reached top speeds of 16 knots surfing down some steep waves, I had a message from Admiral Awati. Bash on Regardless- it read. Pretty encouraging words and the 50s are all the more reason I need them. Irrespective of who was bashing whom, the boat and I escaped without much injuries.

Heading south, in a way, had solved a question which followers of the voyage have been pondering over endlessly. At 50 degrees south, and about a couple of hundred miles off Tasmania, that isn’t really a question anymore. Bass Strait would be a huge detour. As I passed Tasmania over the weekend, I could safely say that I had my Bight.

New Zealand is only a hop across from here but in between lies a minefield I would not want to step into. A low is moving from my north-west to cross our route south of New Zealand. It conceals more than 50 knot winds with waves added to taste. After due consideration, I have decided to slow down and accord it right of way. I am planning to dig myself into a windless hole for a day or so and pay the attention that equipment and rigging has been asking of me. And then, I too am entitled to a Christmas vacation, some carols and possibly a movie and popcorn.

21st of December was winter solstice. It marked the end of the southern transit of the sun this year putting an end to all the Mayan-Calendar-End-of-the-World jokes that have been doing the rounds. I wasn’t really worried, but after I threw the stone calendars out, the boat has been significantly lighter and livelier. Till now the voyage has been a race into the sun, sailing south as it went south, seeking a path through the weather that its passage cleared up. But from now on, almost for another month till I round the Horn, our paths will diverge with the sun heading northward while we go further down till at least 56 degrees. That makes it all the more important that I get to the Horn on the appointed date from where I will be free to follow the sun and head back to India.

_DSC0003 (3)At 50 degree south I am closer to the pole than to the equator. The temperatures too have been plunging southward and at the time of writing this blog, it hovers between 7 and 10 degrees during the day. It is becoming impossible to touch any steel fitting or walk on deck barefoot because the chill it sends up at times appears to burn. Anyone can read my thoughts now because they seem to condense in the air as thought bubbles. Showering, that ubiquitous consideration, is becoming a well planned ritual, not for shortage of water but of warmth. I will chance the plunge when I am becalmed.

This transit has been my second association with Australia, in a manner of speaking. I had visited Fremantle in 2009 to help with Cdr Donde’s stopover as his sole shore support and Man Friday. Located at the mouth of Swan river, Fremantle is the port town of Perth. With a maritime museum resembling an upturned hull, anchors and buoys strewn along pavements and motifs of the America’s Cup adorning its walkways, Fremantle comes across as a very tastefully designed maritime town. It is no wonder that it has inspired the likes of John Sanders, the eight time solo circumnavigator. The acquaintances we made during our stay- Pat and Fred, Pip and John, and Shruti among others-  continue to be ardent followers of this voyage too.

Click here to have a peek into the town through my lens.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Under Down Under- A Time for Anniversaries

12 12 12 12 12 12After the last lashing we on the 6th, I decided to stick to 40 degrees south for a few days and head into lighter winds that were promised in a trough of high. It was quite a peaceful time despite the 3 m swell from South West that has been rocking the boat since I don’t remember when. The swell is long and hardly perceptible, but in very light winds it can cause enough damage to the rigging. It was because of that that I took off all sails in the end and set up the A3 which somehow seemed to stay full and survive well.
On the 10th that we passed the longitude of Cape Leeuwin decreeing the end of the first leg which had been psychologically marked out from Mumbai till the first of the three great capes. The second leg is from here till New Zealand marking an entry into the South Pacific.
The break had been very much needed. There were issues with the boat that needed attention. More than anything else, it was the generator’s turn this time which threw up oil pressure warning at a much less leisurely rate than ever. It would shut down after ten seconds of running and, definitely, it was not the cooling system that was causing the problem. Although the indicator said that oil level was within limits, I decided to change the engine oil and prematurely carry out a 300 hourly servicing. When the problem still persisted I got in touch with shore based technicians who figured it was most probably a sensor issue. They gave me a method to work around the problem. I did not have to follow through all the steps though- just cleaning the sensor lead sufficed.
I took advantage of the lull to do some housekeeping and after all the effort the boat looked very much like a cadets mess right before the divisional officer’s inspection. (Well not really…it is still very much a naval mess inside.) To my surprise I found bird feather all over the boat. It did not take a lot to figure out that the  sleeping bag had been leaking down! A couple of times I made some very rudimentary pinacolada (virgin, of course) and once I fried canned sardines for dinner. It was also a time to have a shower and do the laundry, both of which were not terribly necessary despite the gap of almost a fortnight of abstinence. I have read somewhere that Mongol warriors under Chengez Khan never bathed and the layers of grime on them insulated them well from cold. I might buy that theory because on Wednesday I was sweating in the Southern Ocean . It has been days since I have seen the sun and the low overcast sky does nothing to make matters any better. The temperature has been in the range of 15-20 degrees and that of water is well below that. Therefore, for each shower I need to run the engine to heat water through its system of heat exchangers.
The season of anniversaries and celebrations has just begun. It was on 12 Dec 2008 that her hull floated and her bottom tasted salt for the first time.  Congratulatory messages first came in from the core team of Admiral Awati, Cdr Dilip Donde and Ratnakar Dandekar because it was only these three who were aware of the significance of that date. Ratnakar went on to remark that Dutta Jayanti had fallen on that day four years ago and it had been a full moon night. Even I had been unaware because I had joined the project almost four months later in 2009. Nevertheless, I ended up unknowingly celebrating with pinacolada under an unusually bright and sunny sky.
Coincidentally, at noon on that date a year later Cdr Donde had taken her out to sea after casting off from Lyttelton port on his solo circumnavigation around the world. A couple of days later, on the 14th the Mhadei crossed the international date line for the first time marking the longest day in her life. She celebrated  the launching date this year under the Great Australian Bight and her position at 12:12:12 on 12/12/12 was recorded in her log for posterity. 
PFR 2012In the December of 2011, she was paraded along with the naval fleet at Mumbai for the Presidents Fleet Review a day after a postage stamp commemorating her exploits was released by the President of India. I wonder how many of the followers of this blog have it in their collection. I, for the nomad that I am, do not have one.
With summer setting in and weather opening up this part of the world is seeing a deluge of racing boats. The Sydney- Hobart regatta will be on next week. Jeff, who is racing, has asked if I would be around in that area at that time. Although I am still deciding whether to go through the Bass Strait or not, there are very little chances of running into him given the fact that I will be almost crossing New Zealand by that date. Behind me at this time,  the savage fleet of Vendee Globe is devouring miles at the rate of almost 500 a day on their single handed non stop race around the world. Catch their positions on this link At least for a while, I have been leading their pack!
When will it be that we have an Indian taking part in the race?
Meanwhile, here is a song I enjoy listening to often.

Up Next- Pacific

Sunday, December 9, 2012

She is Home

20121206 bvsWhen I left harbour, there were many who wished me fair winds and following seas. All of a sudden it all seems to have literally come true. We were in the neighbourhood of the roaring forties on the 6th of December when the winds went from a whisper to a roar. BVS reported 35 knot winds and 6-7 metre waves, and BVS, from my experience, is never to be distrusted . Before the last light of 5th was out, I had already deployed the stay sail and taken in three reefs on the main in anticipation of the blast. But when it hurtled onto us on the 6th, it claimed its first wicket early in the morning when the padeye of the runner block parted. A couple of hours later the wind vane autopilot gave up with a line parting and I had to take off the stay sail too. We were, even with the modest amount of sail that we carried, hurtling downhill at speeds topping at 14 knots at times.

 DSC_7440 There was so much spray around that the winds were literally fair and the sea was following us with a club in hand and badgering us each time we were looked back.  The tops of waves would get ripped off and carried away in the breeze and it would cover the sea to such an extant that there was more white than blue. Yet it was more beautiful than monstrous and I felt like I was in a real ocean where the waves had a tinge of patent blue atop its crest that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Waves would pile upon each other, at times lifting us on top and showing us a remarkably unhindered view of the world around, and in valleys it would seem as if they had gobbled up the sun and the sky. These are waves that constantly alter the topography of the planet without being reported in any atlas. It was a warm welcome by a cold ocean. The Mhadei was in her elements. Even with nothing more than a “Cutty Sark” of a sail on her, she was scudding along at a lively pace, gobbling miles at the rate of almost 200 a day. We have begun to run the eastings down.

DSC_7385It was almost at the same time that the great white albatross made an appearance. It would fly about as if it was the calmest day in paradise. They have their little ones in tow at times. The brown ones too are never far away either.



DSC04253Mariners09Mariners08In between all the maelstrom, I had a touching message from a follower who lives in Detroit. Madhura Chitnavis-Marathe wrote about her field trip with a group of senior citizens in the city. The last stop was the Mariner’s Church which reminded her very much about the boat and her lonely sailor. She did not miss the opportunity to send me some beautiful images of the church which she asked me to “accept as online blessings”.  I don’t pray but that does not mean that I don’t believe in the prayers of others. Click here to know more about its interesting history.

In the aftermath of the first true gale of this voyage, winds died leaving behind horribly tall seas that did not do justice to the calm. That period is almost as uncomfortable as the gale itself. There is not enough wind to hold the sails in place but the boat rolls about so much that everything thrashes about. Inside the boat, things that did not stay within their assigned places found further company as more came crashing out of their locations. The melee below decks spoke well of the turmoil boat had been through the last few days.

Meanwhile, here is a video that I had made a few days into the voyage. I just put it up. Its a tour of the insides of the boat. Its very spartan and I am putting it up for all those who haven’t seen a boat at all.


20121206 positionIt has been 37 days at sea in the company of ourselves. The boat’s tracker- Mandar- has diligently kept pace with us and plotted as we went. At the time of writing of this blog, we have done about 5100 nautical miles on ground and are about to enter what is called the Australian Bight.



Up Next- Under Down Under. The Australian Bight

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Albatross Territory












The 1st of December was a good day for more reasons that one. For one, the end of first 30 days at sea in my little office was marked by the visit of a brown albatross. The other reason was Nat Geo Traveller India that came out with the second instalment of the story of the voyage so far. Neha Dara and Ashima Narain sailed with us from Goa to Mumbai on the final run up to Sagar Parikrama 2 and they have come up with a splendid article complete with some excellent experiences, writing and pictures. Book your copy now for tomorrow it will be collector’s item.

20121203 blogWinds died by the 29th of November and we were becalmed briefly marking an end to our southern transit. Soon after that the high pressure passed over us and I saw the signboard that read “TURN LEFT HERE FOR CAPE HORN’. Winds swung almost immediately. A gentle southward component in the course should see us hitting the roaring forties within a week, but weather predictions tell that the winds will be more than whispering much before that. in a couple of day’s time, the first cold front is going to hit me brining with it 30 knot winds, 6 metre waves and rains. I have advice from many quarters how to miss Australia  and Tasmania. I have taken their advice seriously and am trying to tread carefully between Australia and Antarctica trying not to slice across either and change world geography forever.

_DSC0019For the same reason 29th of November also saw the beginning of a four day weekend. It was a good time to catch up on sleep, post a blog and prepare for the roaring 40s. Out came winter clothes, boots, oilies, fleece jacket and sleeping bag from the bosun store,  December's food from the food store and in went summer clothes and linen after the laundry was done. The running rigging got a thorough lookover and the machinery was checked once again to see if it was ready to take the next beating. But readiness for the Southern Oceans cannot be predicted, at least that is what my understanding is. You can only tell once you are out of it whether you were ready when you went in.


DSC_7317South of 32nd parallel, I saw an albatross. A brown one. It happened on the 01st of this month marking our official entry into albatross territory. She has been following us ever since. In my life as a pilot, that is the only bird I consider worthy of envy. And what joy it is to see one fly all day long without flapping its wings even once!


Check out this video to see how I usually do my laundry!

Thats how I do laundry at sea. This is about two weeks of laundry

Meanwhile, not very far from here, another sailing is happening- the voyage of the Sudarshini to ASEAN. Check out the latest blog from the skipper as they pass Cebu.