I enjoy being up at that time of the night because I am able to hear "ABC News Radio" on Radio Australia clear as a bell. Unfortunately for the last two days I have been hearing of fires in the Margaret River area south of Perth in Western Australia which have so far destroyed 30 houses and one shopping centre. The voices from Australia sound so ... Australian!
In the morning I had deck work to do. On the cabin of the boat are four raised platforms backed by metal plates to accommodate cabin winches that were never mounted. The platforms are an integral part of the deck's fiberglassing and gelcoat. On the front platforms are padeyes to which the previous owners attached the running backstays when they were not in use. In La Paz I attached snap blocks on the padeyes and ran the staysail sheets through them. This met Dan of Port Townsend Rigging's criterion that the sheeting blocks should be 28"-32" from the centerline of the boat. This worked beautifully and for days I'd been using the staysail nice and close hauled as we beat into the wind. But then I began to notice snaping and cracking sounds from the forward cabin bulkhead. I examined the underside of the platform under load from the staysail block and could find no evidence of stress. Nevertheless I was worried because those platforms have been designed to take winch loads in shear, and not sheet loads near orthogonal. I noted that the staysail forestay is supported by a wire strop that transfers the load of the stay to the forward bulkhead so that the deck will not lift. To my mind, the sheet block should have similar treatment because the loading is actually higher than that of the forestay.
So this morning I threw tack so that I was temporarily heading for Columbia while I rearranged the starboard blocks and sheets so that the staysail sheet passes between two shrouds to a block on the car track as it did when I purchased the boat. This has moved the sheet block another 24" from the centerline, but the sail seems to work OK if the boat is slightly off the wind. Fortunately I found this morning that we were on a COG of 150T so when I resumed the tack I was able to ease the sheets and fall another 10 degrees off the wind. Having the sheet pass between two of the shrouds presents a problem with back winding the staysail when heaving to, but I may not even need the staysail for heaving to - the trysail alone may do the trick. But if needs be I'll try Bob Carroll's idea of passing a second sheet from the staysail inside of the shroud specifically for heaving to.
It is possible that I could have gotten away with the use of the winch platforms for the staysail sheets but the risk and worry would have been too high. Had one of those platforms cracked and lifted I would had to deal with enormous problems of water leaking into the cabin. With the status quo ante I will sleep much, much better at night.
I ran the engine for an hour after having skipped a run yesterday. (130.6 hrs) I used the boat's heater to dry my shoes and gloves, which had gotten pretty wet up on deck.
At noon we were at position 07S46, 122W10, giving us a n-n distance of 122 miles. We had slightly more than 2 degrees to the south.
Immediately after our little 2 degree triumph I put a reef into the mainsail. We had been driving pretty hard for the previous 18 hours, with the boat frequently slamming into on coming waves and plenty of water over the deck and to the cabin hatch. The apparent wind had never hit 22 kt and the sails were handling it well, given that there was so little headsail showing and the staysail can easily handle 30 kt winds. However, it just felt that I should reef. The usual miracle accompanied the reef: we lost little perceptible speed, and were still making 6 to 6.5 knots to the south.
After lunch I had a very peaceful and relaxing nap. I woke up to find the boat making way gently without slamming either into or from the waves. The boat was still headed south at about 5.3 kt. I spent some time in the cockpit watching the boat cutting nicely through the blue water under the bright clear sky and I told myself that passage making couldn't get much better than this.
But sometimes it pays to look back instead of forward. A few minutes later I was back at the nav station and I saw in the chart plotter display a hint of grey peeping out from underneath the symbol of the boat. At this scale it looked like a ship was right on top of me. I zoomed in and saw that there was a ship that had just passed less than 2 miles from my stern. I stuck my head out and there it was, big, close, with hull well up. She was the "Tampa", a cargo ship making for Papeete at 19.7 knots. Had I seen the ship a bit earlier I would have tried to hail them on VHF 16, but the moment had passed. My AIS alarm had not gone off because the transponder had calculated that the ship's closest point would be outside of my safe zone which was set to a radius of 0.5 miles around the boat with the alarm set to go off at 3 minutes before breach of the safe zone. These settings were for close quarter sailing around harbors and anchorages. For this blue water cruising I reset the AIS alarm criteria to the maximum: I would now get an alarm whenever a ship was within 24 minutes of penetrating my safe zone of a 2 mile radius. We may seem like we are in the middle of nowhere but at the scale in which we are operating the near miss was as good as a collision as far as I was concerned. I run the AIS 24x7 and the navigation lights every night. I decided to operate the chart plotter on a larger scale so that I can see any more ships as they approach.
At 4.30 PM the boat was still peacefully moving south. I was looking forward to baking my second loaf of bread and having a quiet night.
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