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Monday, December 26, 2011

Just Another Drive


The PFR over, and most of my claims either resubmitted or in place, I headed out to Goa to base the Mhadei at Mandovi. Akshay, son of Cdr Kesari was with me for an experience sortie. It was a pleasant “drive” all the way back. I had expected to see, finally, some downwind sailing but there wasn’t any. The nil winds forced me to motor all the way back to Goa, not a very pleasant experience for a sailboat.


I am on leave for ten days and should be back with the boat by the 5th of Jan.


So long!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The arrival at the end

I have never sailed in the monsoons. The aura that was built up by colleagues did cause a bit of an apprehension but I have rounded the Cape of Good Hope and it could not have been any worse. The pilots say that the winds rarely exceed 25 knots, which is good sailing conditions for us. And it was indeed pleasant sailing, because the warm waters of the Arabian sea never stung you in the occasional spray, and a squall infested sky kept the sun away. Winds touched 40 knots once in a squall, but besides that the squalls were benign. I worked out a very conservative sail configuration which maintained speed in light winds and weathered the occasional gust well. Closing in on land brought in more traffic too- my AIS display at times showed upto 11 ships in vicinity. I cut across the 8 and then the 9 degree channels through the Lakshadweep Islands. The boat gobbled up the distance between Goa and herself in a rhumb line course on the steady westerly breeze. Though I did sight a couple of lighthouses on the Lakshadweep Islands, my first landfall was on the morning of 3rd June, when I sighted the hills of south Goa and north Karnataka. The voyage was coming to an end and it was not very good news. Land has its allures but once you have been at sea alone and for so long, it loses its lure. I was asked to go alongside a warship at the naval jetty on Zuari River, where Adm Awati, Cdr Donde and Ratnakar were present to receive us with chilled Coke and warm pizza.


I thought that was the end of a rather pleasant, fast and incident free voyage, but there was excitement lying in wait. By the time I finished the pizza and come out of the warship, the swell had caused the Mhadei to rip apart most of her mooring lines. Realising that it would be unwise for her to be left there overnight, Cdr Donde advised me to shift her to her old mooning at Mandovi. The entrance to the river is shallow at most places and the channel is narrow. It becomes even more difficult in the monsoons when the swell breaks into rollers close to the entrance. It was not easy entering in those conditions but we somehow managed and it appeared for a while that the worst was behind me. But the decision to make an approach on the jetty with the wind behind me proved to be a costly one. The boat refused to stop even with significant reverse thrust and I had to make another approach. In the bargain one of the springs became entangled in the propeller, rendering the engine unusable. A RIB was soon despatched to tow us back but the winds were in command, pushing us to a shallow patch and eventually grounding us. Another RIB was despatched to help us out of the situation. I passed the anchor to her with the intention of heaving ourselves out but the anchor cable promptly got entangled. Both the RIBs continued their efforts for at least a couple of hours before she could be freed. It had been a long and tiring day.

Early in the morning, divers managed to free the propeller and a cursory inspection did not reveal any damage. It was with much relief that I attended the formal welcome arranged for us later that day by Capt Prakash.


The Mhadei now lies peacefully in her usual mooring at the Mandovi. We have finalised a work package for to prepare her for the bigger voyage. The second part of the refit will begin in a week or so and I am looking for a much needed vacation.


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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Island and Dreams

I was speaking of Cargodos with a friend and conversation veered to an island of our imagination’s construction which had three rocks, four palm trees, one sandy beach and a shipwreck. We were discussing the possibility of being marooned and three essential items that might be needed for survival. We both agreed to a knife and a lighter but she wasn’t sure of a blow up doll.  I then invented a flag made of palm leaves and asked her to represent the island in the UN. The conversation went downhill from there. A couple of evenings later, I had a dream which was as lucid as it can get when one is at sea. I was teaching fishermen to walk on water and gave them a demonstration. A while later I was teaching them to fly but did not succeed quite as well.

The Equator crossing happened in the early morning of the 28th. It was a frustrating affair. I had wanted to cross the equator well west but concerns of piracy forced me to sail much further east and I lost a day in the bargain.  I am much closer to Madivies than I had originally planned but I am keeping west of it against the advice to go further east. There is a system building in the Arabian Sea with winds topping at 50 knots and swell at 7 m. It is moving east and I want to be home before it hits me anywhere.


We are about 750 miles from Goa and I am planning to make an entry by the 2nd or 3rd of June. Soon after, the monsoons will hit India, as it is customary for rains to follow me.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Island Hopping- Reunion, Mauritius, Coco–Cargados. Chagos Next?

The weather mellowed down a bit after the shaking that we got rounding the Cape. It was almost like living inside of an earthquake for a week with no respite in sight. On several occasions I was flung out of my bunk (which is on the windward) into the foot of the galley, and this was invariably followed with the navigator's seat falling on top of me. I grew wiser and rigged the lee cloth after which sleep has been much easier.

Though the weather eased a bit I lost two important equipment onboard. The wind vane autopilot’s paddle broke at a welding putting it out of commission. On the same day the generater refused to start. While attempting a repair it caught fire at the point where the battery terminals are connected. I quickly removed the cables. Later on the galley caught a minor fire, the reason for which turned out to be ill secured gas cylinders that had dislodged and were lying horizontal. To top it all, even my wrist watch stopped working- all on the same day.

After sixteen days of sailing, I sighted Reunion. Sighting land after so many days at sea is an indescribable feeling. I made every effort to pass close, and finally I left the island five miles on my starboard at midnight. Pity I could see only the night lights and much of the island was hidden because of the night. It was a full moon night and it helped a bit, and by the next afternoon I had sighted Mauritius. Mauritius has become a milestone in all trans Indian ocean passages. Cdr Donde’s training voyage was to Mauritius. He passed Mauritius on his solo circumnavigation. We again sighted the island on our way to Cape Town. It is almost a mid ocean pilgrimage spot.

I spent the night in the lee of Port Louis and in the morning closed in on the harbour to pick up a supply of fresh fruits from the Mauritius Coast Guard. Another day passed till the escort was ready to leave harbour and on the 19th we set sail from Mauritius resuming navigation to Goa. Koman flew a few sorties to escort me in and out, and with him were KKK and Bhatt. On the way out CGS Guardian accompanied me till Sudan Bank where they peeled off after a gift of fresh water and Indian sweets among other things. Another minor detour saw me at Corgados a day later and at Nazareth Banks after that.

The trade winds are in full sway. It is 20 knots from the south east more often than not, and it will remain so till half a degree south of the equator. I am yet to decide which longitude to cross the line but it seems most likely to be between 67 and 69 degrees east . And then its a home run.

Passing Reunion at midnight

Passing Reunion at Midnight

A receding view of Reunion by day

A receding view of Reunion by day

Friends dropped in to say hello! – Koman and KKK

Koman pays visit on his Defender

Made it to Mauritius in time to see this splendid moonrise

Moonrise over Mauritius

The island by day

Mauritius by day


Koman pays a visit again- This time with Bhatt

Koman comes again!

MCG with a supply of fresh fruits right outside Port Louis

MCG with a supply of fresh fruits

This huge Ro-Ro almost split Port Louis in two

Gunners Quoin

Gunners Quoin

Another farewell…

Farewel to Mauritius

The Guardian of MCG as escort. Lt Cdr Athawle sent across a gift of Indian sweets and hot noodles before parting ways.

MCG Guardian privides escort. Lt Cdr Athawle sent across a pack of gifts that included some very delicious Indian sweets

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Tenth Day Report

On the 28th of April, after a couple of tense hours on the RCYC slipway, the Mhadei was slipped out and taken out for trials to check her propeller pitch. That was followed by fuelling after which we returned to our usual mooring at the marina marking the end of a month of work that had gone into preparations for the return to India. We reserved the next day for rest and some final cleanship, settling accounts and such sundry work. Sudheesh, who had come from the High Commission at Pretoria helped with most of the work on the boat, almost as if he were crew.

On the last day of April, we were seen off by a small crowd of South African friends who had gathered to make sure I did not overstay. Fifteen minutes past the noon gun, with the help of Cdr Donde, we manoeuvred out of the marina and I set sail on a voyage that would cover nearly five and a half thousand miles. By the time I had crossed Sea Point, the sails were fully set for the mild south-easterly that was blowing. We had hardly sailed for a couple of hours before the south easterly went up from a breeze to a gale. I was busy taking in a couple of reefs when the wind indicators knocked off taking the autopilot with it. With all the shipping in and around the harbour, it was not an easy time. I worked on the connectors for a while and the instruments began to show some sign of life again. I sailed the entire night maintaining a distrust for the wind instruments, half awake and ready to get into action in case anything further went wrong. In Cdr Donde’s words “the instruments needed to grow sealegs.”

The strong south easterly helped us put distance between the Cape and us and we were well clear of the Agulhas bank within a day. Wind turned southerly and that helped us gather speed eastward. A swing back to south easterly saw me curve north eastward but then finally when the winds settled a few days later, I was tracking a great circle course to Mauritius. The first seven days of sailing were not easy, with the gale abating only for six hours to allow time for it to swing around and blow another gale. I used that minor interruption to change the genoa which had earlier torn in very mild wind conditions. Swell would more often than not range between three to four and half metres and winds would often shoot up to 40 knots. Cooking was as difficult as eating and I subsisted mostly on fresh fruits, bread and milk for the first couple of days.

It has been three days since the winds calmed. The boat did pretty well and got out of it more or less unscathed. The list of damages were mostly minor- a parted preventer which gave up in a crash tack, one lost easy stow batten and a little bit of water in the bilges. We did make some good speed though and put miles behind us at the rate of 180-200 miles a day.

That was how my first solo voyage began.

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Cdr Donde looks on as we leave


The voyage so far- Mandar has been tracking all the voyages of the Mhadei so far.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A hectic week

It has been a very hectic week. The mast is vertical and where it should be. Rick stuck to his deadline and delivered a new two ply bullet proof main sail. We tried it on yesterday and, barring minor glitches which Rick sorted out before the day was over, it is perfect. There is no other word for it. He has exceeded my expectations in every way in constructing a strong and well shaped sail. Right after the new sail was bent we changed to the old dacron and took the boat out with Chris and James to finish tuning the mast. It was a good day – winds were calm while we changed the main and developed to a 15 knot breeze just outside the port which helped with the final mast adjustments.


Our departure immediately after Easter has met with a glitch though. The engine RPM is still not developing beyond 1000 while clutched in. Chris was quick to point out that it was incorrect pitch setting on the propeller. We immediately got in touch with Dave Barns of Action Yachting who had removed and refitted the propeller during the last slipping. The boat needs to be slipped again and the earliest date for it is the 28th.  That will be followed by motoring trials etc. 30th seems to be a more likely date now.


Chris tunes the mast off Cape Town



Rick tries out the new main

Saturday, April 16, 2011

More news

Good news and bad news, but there is news. Another week has passed by in Cape Town but this one surely left me exhausted- mostly because of cleaning the bilges. But we are definitely making progress. The shaft finally aligned to the engine and the boat got back a well refurbished mast and new boom. On the flip side, the engine refuses to rev up above 1000 showing a surprising disregard for the throttle. The new seal is tending to get a bit warm and we fear the water cooling is not adequate which might cause it to wear off like the previous one. Clive is planning to add a separate water injection system to cool the seal. That will happen next week.

The boat got her stick back yesterday, and a new boom with it. It was a bit windy at Elliott Basin but Chris and his team managed to get the mast in. The spartite seal is not fitting into its slot as neatly as it should and that is a concern because applying it fresh would mean that the boat needs to be immobile for a week. But if all goes well, the boat should sail out on Tuesday with a new set of sails for testing and tuning. I hope she does.

The AIS has been giving us a bit of a trouble soon after it was installed in Goa two years ago. It has been working more as a receiver than a transponder. We discovered today that the Antenna with its built in GPS is rusted to powder because of obvious reasons. With the help of Steve, we are putting up a plan (more of a matrix) together which involves the addition of a new standby VHF antenna (which will work as a standby in case the mast comes down), a new antenna to replace the present AIS antenna, and a labyrinth of wires to connect the AIS to the VHF antenna or its own antenna, and the VHF to its own antenna or the standby antenna.


Steak is a good bribe for James.




Chris manages well, despite the infamous South Easterlies


It was blowing a bit in Elliott Basin when the mast was shipped

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Work, work and lots of it

Work, work and lots of it. Changing the blackjack seal of the shaft, which was supposed to be a two day operations, is taking a bit longer than expected. Due to some very stubborn bolts, the coupling and the shaft had to be cut along with a bulkhead.

Enjoy the pictures, because it is useless to write about the frustration of being on land.

Back in our morring at RCYC. The calm is deceptive.

Back to the mooring at RCYC after a long sail. The calm is deceptive.


Removing the mast at Eliott Basin

Chris- very happy to have him work on our mast

I am very happy to have Chris look after the mast.

On the slipway - she needs a good paint job

Dry docked at RCYC slipway. The club has been of immense help to us. Besides hosting us for free, they have given us a free slipping too!

Mhadei holds a silent conversation with the Table Mountain. She has a commanding view.

Mhadei has a commanding view of the Table Mountain from where she holds a silent conversation with it every now and then. The South Easterlies speak a harsh language, but the boat seams to understand every word of it.

A clean prop

A clean propeller and…

The new blue bottom

… a new blue bottom

Thursday, April 7, 2011

First Post

Sounding the first post is not easy. One doesn’t really know how to begin writing about something that might turn out to be one very long voyage. I myself am not sure where it all began. Perhaps it is not important to write about such matters and anyone keeping an eye on this blog with sooner or later draw his own conclusions about the beginning. What I can concretely talk about is the present.

On 24 Feb, I entered Cape Town and moored at our usual berthing at the Royal Cape Yacht Club after an Atlantic crossing that lasted 28 days. With one sinking, one dismasting and various problems with many others in the fleet returning from Rio after the Cape to Rio Race it did not turn out to be a fairy tale of a crossing. We ourselves suffered two gashes in the main and a persistent leak in the propeller shaft seal. The main was changed at sea in an evolution that lasted seven hours and the engine room bilges were kept dry by pumping it out every six hours. In the 28 day crossing, we sailed upwind for about 15 days. It was tiring and frustrating but I managed to etch my initials in the South Atlantic.

By the time of her arrival at Cape Town she had completed 40000 miles of sailing which included a solo circumnavigation and various ocean crossings. A thorough inspection of the mast was now due and, on advice from Southern Spars, it was removed and sent to their facility for inspection. I suggested some minor alterations to the mast to make things simpler for my voyage. It is in the very safe hands of Richard and Chris and I have no worries as far as the mast is concerned.

To change the leaking seal in the propeller seal, Clive of Southern Marine was called in. The boat was slipped on 04 April but the two day operations has hit roadblock. The shaft wouldn’t come off easily because of which the flexible coupling, thrust block and the shaft had to be cut pushing our time on the slipway by another week. We decided to make use of this opportunity to clean and repaint the underwater hull and repair minor but long pending defects in the boat.

That is where things stand as of now. That is where I will begin to write about.