Monday, December 24, 2012

Video: Sailing from Cocos Keeling to Rodrigues

I'm taking advantage of my friends Alex and Cati's fast internet connection  to post a video from the passage between Cocos Keeling and Rodrigues (before the forestay parted):

And here are some videos from Hluhluwe-Umfolozi game reserve:

Monday, December 17, 2012

Knysna (pronounced nice-na)

Another lovely passage, East London to Knysna. Took the predicted 3 days. I thought I was going to make it in two at one point but was becalmed for the better part of a day. I did find more current and Twister set a new speed record: 10.7 knots (with sustained speeds of 10.2 knots), resulting in another 160 mile day (the first day).
Evening Sky Southwest of East London

Cape Gannets
The wildlife gave the feeling of the Southern Ocean:  Cape Gannets became numerous, a humpback whale swam nearby, a group of seals (sea lions? they had ears) curiously inspected Twister as we were becalmed south of the appropriately named Cape Seal, and the occasional Jackass Penguin popped up.

Knysna Heads
Becalmed ca 40 miles to the Knysna Heads I unsailorly decided to motor to try to catch the last hour of incoming tide (going through the entrance to the Knysna Lagoon, The Knysna Heads, requires near slack tide to avoid the strong tidal stream) the next morning. Fortunately I had neglected the starting battery and couldn't get the engine going (tried raising the decompression levers and assisting with the hand crank but to no avail) so I was forced to wait for wind which arrived gradually the next morning. Had a lovely sleep that night (I was out of the major traffic lanes at that point) and a nice sail to Knysna the next day. I put up the assymetrical spinnaker (hereafter, A-sail)--the biggest sail I have--to give Twister a little boost and make sure we arrived near the end of the afternoon incoming tide and enjoyed the beautiful scenery as I got closer to the rugged coast. The Knysna Heads are truly spectacular I wish I had taken more photos but was occupied with keeping Twister in the middle of the passage (not one to be attempted in big swell). Once inside the lagoon, the water was flat and I sailed amongst the powerboats towing kids on inner tubes and the faux-paddle wheel sightseeing boats, up to the dinghy dock at the Knysna Yacht Club where my new friends Mike, John, Grant, and Leon (whom Bridget and I met when we arrived East London. They had sailed from East London to Knysna the day before) caught my dock lines (after a couple of failed attempts at sailing up to the dock, one where I tossed them a line without properly securing it to Twister, so the whole thing went in the water). They kindly handed me a cold beer before I even stepped off the boat. So, definitely a good first impression of Knysna.

I've added a few more photos to the South Africa album (hopefully it's accessible now)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

East London to Knysna

Twister arrived East London yesterday afternoon after a 2-day sail from Durban. Bridget and I had a pleasant passage which included a 160-mile day and  a top speed of 9.7 knots courtesy of the Agulhas Current, Albatrosses and petrels, thunderstorms, a yellow-fin tuna, and lots of ships. Today Bridget is flying back to Saudi Arabia and I will be sailing on to Knysna this afternoon. It's about the same distance as Durban to East London, but with less current, so I expect the passage to take around 3 days.

More photos from South Africa

Sunday, December 9, 2012


My friend Bridget came to Richards Bay (I had been writing Richard's, but I think Richards was actually someone's last name) Nov. 29. The next day we joined Paul, Dino, and Sasha and drove to Hluhluwe/ Umfolozi game reserve where we saw 4 (lions, elephants (enormous ones and baby ones), rhinos, and buffalo, but no leopards) of the "big 5" as well as warthogs, impalas, giraffes, wildebeests, velvet monkeys, baboons, zebras (one with only a stub for a tail, but which he continued to wag to ward off the flies), african hoepoo bird, and possibly hippos among others.  Back in Richards Bay, we managed to get in a couple of surf sessions and frisbee tosses before moving on.

After a meal of curries, including the local specialty, bunny chow (curry in a hollowed out chunk of bread), Twister departed Richard's Bay Wednesday (5 Dec) evening. After tacking for several hours to get around all the ships anchored by the harbor entrance, we set a course for Durban. The Agulhas gave us a boost for awhile and Twister was cruising at 7 to 8.5 knots until we encountered a counter-current and light winds.  Orion and Taurus were standing on their heads (from Bridget's northern hemispherocentric perspective). After many hours of sailing in place, the northeasterlies increased and allowed us to sail 4 to 5 knots against the current.  Bridge baked scones for breakfast.  We saw one albatross and lots of white-chinned petrels.

Andrew and Bridget on top of world cup stadium 
Approaching Durban, we sailed wing and wing until we accidentally backed the mainsail. The boom was held in place by a preventer, but when the wind caught the right side of the sail again, a large hole along a seam was the result. Repeating this procedure more or less tore the sail in two (fortunately along the seam, so it was easy to repair). Durban is Africa’s biggest and busiest port. There were numerous ships anchored off the harbor entrance. Turns out one was not anchored and we had to get out of its way. Once inside, we enjoyed a nice sail (using only the jib as the main was retired) through the calm waters of the harbor. We were approached by water police who instructed us to maintain our course and speed as one of them jumped aboard. Turns out we were not speeding, they just wanted our boat's details. We arrived Bluff Yacht Club at the western end of Durban Harbor ca 28 hours after we departed Richard's Bay. There we saw Imvubu (who I'd met in Rodrigues) and tied up to the same pontoon.  The port of Durban is very industrial, of course, but the waterfront area is lovely. Andrew from the yacht Liquid Blue at Bluff Yacht Club was kind enough to drive us around on a tour of the sights, including his favorite surf breaks (which we surfed) and the stadium built for the soccer world cup.

Today is Sunday the 9th of December and the forecast looks good to move on to East London or Port Elisabeth tomorrow morning. Should be a 3-day sail.

Photos from South Africa.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Reunion Island to Richard's Bay, South Africa

The short version:  12 days, no gales.

The long version:

Wednesday November 14
Twister departed St. Pierre the afternoon of November 10, an hour or two after Rebellion, with a fresh southeasterly breeze and lumpy, confused seas. We made pretty good time the first two days. The highlight of the first two days was finally getting the last piece of sea urchin out of my big toe. 
 On day three, the wind eased and backed to the north-northeast. With Madagascar out of the way, we tacked and set a direct course for Richard's Bay.  We are currently on a broad reach with 15-20 knots from north-northeast. I had expected to pick up the southern part of the equatorial current here, but instead I find a 1-2 knot counter-current, so we are only doing 4.5 knots when we should be doing at least 6. Maybe all those people who said give Madagascar a wide berth knew what they were talking about. 

Friday November 16
Currently about 50 miles due south of Cape Sainte Marie, the southern tip of Madagascar (ca halfway between St. Pierre and Richard's Bay). Thursday morning we finally picked up the portion of The South Equatorial off southern Madagascar, which gave us a 2 knot boost for a while. Unfortunately we were becalmed (took the opportunity for a swim. Some sardine-like fish had taken up residence under Twister, and I saw several tuna farther down) and then had light winds most of the day, but in the evening they picked up and Twister was cruising along downwind at around 7 knots. Now the current is gone, but we're heading a bit south of the direct course to Richard's Bay to try to pick it up again. Also yesterday, a big tanker appeared to be bearing down on me, so I hailed them on the VHF. They actually answered and said that they did see me and wouldn't run me down (often the ships just ignore me when I hail them.  I don't know their names, so I say, "ship in approximate position …). Just after I spotted the tanker, a school of tuna gathered in Twister's bow wave and were playing and cavorting much in the manner of dolphins. I think I could've speared one from the bow had I tried, but that would've been the height of bad manners toward my guests. 30 minutes later or so when the ship was abeam, I unexpectedly heard Paul from Rebellion hail the ship on VHF channel 16. He was, I guess, about 10-15 miles to my southwest. My VHF radio does not transmit that far, so he couldn't hear me, but I was glad to know that I've kept up with him so far. 
Since The Great Barrier Reef, I've been following in the footsteps of Joshua Slocum (and Charles Darwin) who sailed past Cape Sainte Marie October 31, 1897. He was, of course, the first person to sail around the world alone. I would highly recommend his book, Sailing Alone Around The World. I hope I don't encounter the same weather he had between here and Durban (numerous southwesterly gales). 

Afternoon, same day:  becalmed again. Well there is enough wind to sail, but not in this swell which is coming from several directions so the sails flog incessantly which is maddening as well as destroying the sails. So I've dropped the sails and am bobbing and rolling and pitching in the swell. Went for a dip in the ocean and felt better. Spotted my first albatross on this passage (26° 32' S 44° 52' E). Black-browed one I think. 

Wednesday 21 November, 28° 24' S  35° 04' E.
About 160 miles to go to Richard's Bay. I've enjoyed the company of one, then two, and now three (what I think are) White-chinned Petrels for the last 5-6 days. That's by far the longest duration any seabirds have followed Twister. Just as I was writing this, I looked out of the companionway to see the second albatross of this passage—maybe a Yellow-nosed Albatross. I have continued to see several ships per day, except today when I haven't seen any. I'm currently going 6 knots, and at this pace I will arrive Richard's Bay tomorrow (Thursday) evening. I may encounter strong southwesterly winds this evening, though.  Apparently it's a good idea to stay out of the Agulhas Current (which flows down the South African SW coast) in strong southwesterlies, as that combination can produce big, steep, breaking waves. So I may end up waiting offshore until the easterlies return. 

Friday 23 November
Twister arrived Richard's Bay last night (Thursday the 22nd), making it a 12 day passage from Reunion. I was far enough away from the front to avoid the strong southwesterlies, but there was an impressive electrical storm Wednesday night.  My entourage of White-chinned Petrels stayed with me until I sighted land. There are several boats here I have met before in various places in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Departing Reunion

I plan to set sail for Richard's Bay, South Africa this (Saturday the 10th) afternoon. The ~1400 nm passage should take around 14 days, but could be longer if I get headwinds on the second half of the passage. I've had a wonderful time in Reunion and met some lovely people. I have aspirations of knowing some French next time I'm here. During the last several days I got to explore a little of the island's interior--canyons, volcanoes, and waterfalls. I also managed to get in a few more surf sessions at the break next to the marina. Yesterday, three more solo sailors arrived St. Pierre. I've never seen so many in one place. At the moment we are 5 (with two more having departed for South Africa).
I've uploaded a few more photos from Reunion:
See you in South Africa.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Still in Reunion

I am still in Reunion and still enjoying it. There is good surf, hiking, food, drink, and music. But it's about time to move on. At the moment, the forecast looks promising for a Sunday (Nov 11th) departure. It's ca 1400 miles to Richard's Bay on the northeast coast. Since this passage will take me out of the trade winds, I can expect winds from pretty much any direction.  I will be happy if I average 100 miles per day. So, hopefully the passage will take around 14 days.
I have replaced the jury-rigged forestay with a new one I had made at a shop nearby. I'll continue to sail with hank-on jibs until I get to South Africa where I'll be able to buy some parts for the roller furler.
Oh, by the way, I'm famous:  I was interviewed by a local TV reporter who was looking for Americans (there aren't very many in Reunion) to talk about the presidential election. Here is the program.  I hope I didn't say anything stupid.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Another Telephone Number

Sorry, I posted the wrong country code. Below is the corrected number:

I have a local mobile phone if anyone wants to give me a call:  +262 (0)692146850.
I think anyone dialing from outside France Reunion should omit the first zero in parentheses (33 262 is the country code for France Reunion). Call anytime. Here is a photo taken this morning from the marina in St. Pierre:

Thursday, October 25, 2012


One step closer to Africa. I arrived St. Pierre on the southwest coast of Reunion Island yesterday afternoon. Check in with customs, immigration, etc. was a breeze. Again I'm wishing I knew French. This would be a place where I think I would enjoy spending several months and working on that (learning French). I left Port Mathurin, Rodrigues Friday the 19th (I think) in the company of Hadar and Rebellion. They soon left me behind as I was sailing with a considerably smaller jib than normal (kindly lent to me by the lovely people on Ocean Lady) and I didn't want to push the rig too much by putting up the big asymmetrical spinnaker. It was an uneventful passage (though I did see many ships along the way--apropos that, I was told that ships sailing towards the Suez Canal stop in Mauritius to pick up armed mercenary type men to fight off potential pirates off Somalia, so maybe that's why I saw so many ships on this passage). Couldn't be  bothered to put out the fishing line, and by time I arrived Reunion, my remaining provisions were becoming rather unexciting (rice, lentils, etc). Rebellion beat me here by half a day. I'm hoping we can have another competition when Twister is at full power. I'm planning to stay here ten-ish days before the final push to South Africa. Like sailing down to New Zealand from the tropics, the passage to South Africa and then around The Cape Of Good Hope has a reputation for being potentially rough.

Reunion is a volcanic island somewhat similar to Tahiti--green and lush with dramatic canyons cutting through the mountain slopes, but Reunion has a less extensive barrier reef than Tahiti. Speaking of reefs, there is a nice (reef) surf break about 100 meters from where Twister is docked, so I plan to take full advantage of that. Went for my first session this morning.  Got worked in the 8-10 foot waves.  Gave the lungs a good workout with a couple of good hold-downs. The locals were friendly. No hint of the territorial bullshit you see every day surfing in Southern California. That probably has something to do with this being a smaller place and that it's apparently very sharky (8 "attacks" this year I was told)--so another body in the water reduces everyone else's chance of being shark lunch.

Apparently I did not make the recent photos I posted accessible, so here is the link again.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rodrigues to Reunion

Well, the cyclone was a bit of an anti-climax here in Rodrigues. We had 25-30 knots at the worst of it. Closer to the center of the storm it was a different story, I'm sure. The anchorage here in Port Mathurin will soon be a lonely place as all the other 5 yachts are leaving today along with me. I think the early-season cyclone has everyone wanting to get to South Africa, and out of the cyclone belt, as soon as possible. I've enjoyed my time in Rodrigues. I think this is the most laid-back, happy, friendly, safe-feeling place I've been to, and I've been to a few places that deserve those adjectives over the last year and a half. It is a small place with a population (mostly of African deescent and speaking Creole) of only 36 000, so it doesn't take long to see the sights, but I could easily spend a month or more here (but I'm also concerned about cyclones). Speaking of the sights--the best known one here is a Tortoise sanctuary which I visited with a couple of my cruising friends (Dino and Shasha from Hadar, and Paul from Rebellion) and some of my new friends from Rodrigues. They (the tortoises, not my friends) are impressively large (up to 100 kg) and surprisingly friendly--as soon as they spot you, they walk right up, demanding to be scratched under their chins which they obviously enjoy. Back in the day, whaling ships used to stop here and stock up on tortoises as they could be stored alive for a long time before being eaten. 

It's about 440 nm to the southwest corner of Reunion Island. I would normally expect to do that in 4 days or less, but the forecast is calling for light winds after 2 days of 15-20 knots, so it may take me 5 or even 6 days to get there. No big deal after two 2000 mile passages in a row. I'll be sailing with a hank-on jib (which is a bit more work than the roller furler I had been using.  More on that another time) that the folks on Ocean Lady were kind enough to lend me until I get to South Africa. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

repairs and cyclones

If things go according to plan, I'l have my forestay repaired by this evening. With some help from my fellow cruisers here in Rodrigues, I think I've figured out a way to reattach the wire to the mast  I've also been offered the use of some hank-on sails to get me to South Africa where I'll get new rigging and reassemble the roller-furler.  Meanwhile, there is a category 3 (intense) tropical cyclone (named Anais, maximum sustained surface winds estimated 105 knots, gusting to 130 knots) about 400 miles north of us, making its way southwest toward Mauritius. The current predictions have the eye of the storm passing no closer than 340 miles from us in about 24 hours. It is still almost a month before the official start of the Southwest Indian Ocean cyclone season. Glad to be in harbor and not out sailing at the moment. Hoping to be on my way to Reunion in 3-4 days (I expect a 4-day passage) where I'll probably stay around a week while I wait for a good weather window for sailing to South Africa. But I just looked at the forecast, and now it looks like I may be here a bit more than 3-4 days while I wait for the tradewinds to reestablish after the passage of the cyclone.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Cocos Keeling to Rodrigues

The short version:  

Twister covered the ca 2000 nautical miles in 17 days. Had a 150-mile day (24 hrs). The forestay parted (broke) 570 miles from Rodriguez, but fortunately mast stayed up and was able to keep sailing with jib until the jib halyard parted about 130 nm from Rodrigues. Motored the last 130 nm.
Photos from Indian Ocean.

The long version:

Thursday September 27 0800 UTC
Departed the Direction Island anchorage (which by this time was full of big, expensive boats taking part in the ARC rally) around 1000 local time. The English boat, Ocean Lady, followed maybe 30 minutes later (also heading to Rodrigues). Conditions were ideal:  10-15 knots from the southeast, pushing Twister along on a broad reach at 5-6 knots under full mainsail and genoa. Twister did a good job staying just ahead of Ocean Lady (who is 40 feet to Twister's 28) the rest of the day. A few hours after departing, the Australian Customs cutter made an announcement on the VHF radio that they would shortly be destroying the two Indonesian refugee boats a few miles offshore from Cocos Keeling. As I looked back toward Ocean Lady, I could see two big plumes of black smoke rising from the horizon. 
Wednesday October 3, 0400 UTC, 14°35' S, 84°38' E. 
Lots of flying fish on deck every morning on this passage. Found a fresh one this AM that was also big enough to bother cooking. First flying fish breakfast for me. Not bad, a little oily. Twister covered 152 nautical miles from 0400 – 0400 October 1-2 and 295 miles October 1-3. Ocean Lady opened up a lead on days 2 and 3, but we've been staying with her since then and remain about 65 miles behind her. 1233 miles to Rodrigues. Hope those go as fast the the first 732. The crew on Ocean Lady had suggested we keep in touch on the SSB radio, and we have been having a brief chat every morning and evening. Good having someone to talk to, albeit briefly, and it's always nice to have another task/point in the daily routine (which is one reason I enjoy practicing celestial navigation). 

Saturday October 6, 0145 UTC, 16°42' S, 78°09' E. 
Ca 2000 nm from Australian mainland, 1480 nm from India, 2150 nm from Africa, and 2950 nm from Antarctica (860 to Rodrigues). Pretty much the middle of The Indian Ocean (aka the middle of nowhere). The wind picked up last night and is now blowing 30-35 knots. Glad to be going downwind. Every 10 minutes or so a wave smack Twister with a bang (but no harm). 

Monday October 8, 0345 UTC, 17°31' S, 73°11' E. 
As I was lying in my bunk, I heard a bang I had not heard before. My fears were confirmed when I found the forestay (one of the 8 steel cables that hold the mast up—one stay each at the bow and stern, 3 shrouds on each side) broken where it connects to the mast. Fortunately we're sailing downwind and the mast did not fall down and the genoa remained hanging by its halyard. I attached all the unused halyards (lines used to pull sails and other things up the mast) to the bow and tightened them to support the mast and Twister kept sailing as if it were no big deal. The genoa is now hanging like an asymmetrical spinnaker. 

Thursday October 11, 0800 UTC, 18°59' S, 67°21' E. 
No major problems sailing downwind with the broken forestay. Feel feckless and a low-level kind of anxiety or despair. I'm sure there's more I could and should be doing while I'm just sitting here waiting to get to Rodrigues or for the mast to fall down.  When I do get there, I'll have a look at the top of the mast to see how the forestay broke (kinda curious about that) and how it can be fixed. If we keep up this pace, we'll arrive Saturday (the 13th) afternoon. The winds have been moderate to light since Monday which is good. Ocean Lady is probably arriving Rodriguez about now. The radio contact has been spotty the last few days. 

Friday October 12, 0530 UTC, 19°18' S, 65°40' E (130 nm from Rodrigues). 
Another bang and the jib halyard parted about an hour ago, dropping the sail and the roller furler (I was pretty much expecting that to happen at some point. Very fortunate I was able to keep sailing with it as long as I was). The whole thing remained attached to the bow, so I was able to haul it aboard and lash it to the side of the boat. I contemplated raising another jib (with or without using another of the remaining 3 halyards as a forestay), but decided that, since I have more than enough fuel, motoring the rest of the way is probably the most prudent thing to do (also requiring the least effort). Going about 4.2 knots, with the engine at 1200 rpm (Glad to have the wind and seas pushing us along). At this rate, will arrive Saturday around 1600 local time. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cocos (Keeling)

Darwin to Cocos Keeling

The short version:  It took 26 days to cover the ca 2000 nautical miles from Darwin to Cocos Keeling Islands. The wind never blew more than 15 knots and was mostly between 0 and 10 knots. Learned how to navigate by sextant, nautical almanac, chronometer, and celestial objects. Planning to set sail for Rodriguez tomorrow (Thursday the 27th). It's another ~2000 miles which hopefully will not take me 26 days. At least for the next 7 days, the forecast looks good and I hope to average more than 100 miles per day. So, ETA, October 17.
The long version: 
Sunday September 2
It was an inauspicious start to The Indian Ocean. As I started the engine in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, August 29, a thick fog rolled in to Darwin Harbor with the first light. I paused for a few minutes then thought what the hell, I’ll motor out through the fog and try to stay out of the shipping channels. I pulled up the anchor and tried to put the engine in gear, but the button that engages and disengages the gears was stuck. So, down went the anchor again. After trying every implement conceivable, I gave up on the button. An hour of cursing and sweating later, I managed to disconnect the gear-control cable from the throttle lever and could now put the engine in gear. By this time, the fog had lifted from Fannie Bay. I pulled up the anchor again and motored out through the remaining sailboats in the anchorage. One of the last boast I passed was Rebellion. Paul said, “Have fun drifting” (the forecast did not call for much wind). I encountered more thick fog motoring through the outer portion of Darwin Harbor. What I did not encounter for the next 4 days was wind. I had told myself I would motor for 24 hours then take what I got. Somehow I ended up motoring for 72 hours which left me feeling rather un-sailor-like. I was hoping to make it from New Zealand to South Africa on one tank of diesel. I had used more than half a tank over the first 3 days into The Indian Ocean, so I decided to cut the engine. There was a light breeze from the SW and I was actually able to make 5 knots on a close reach for a few hours. It wasn’t to last. For the next 3 days, I averaged about 25 miles per day chasing gusts and sea breezes.  Not that it was unpleasant. The ocean was as smooth as I’ve seen. It was around the full moon and wonderful moonrises followed splendid sunsets and vice versa.  The Timor Sea was also teeming with life—dolphins, sharks, turtles, and tuna. Terns and boobies were all around. This time it was the terns who wanted to spend the night on Twister. A sea snake was sunning himself at the surface as Twister motored by. Once I turned off the engine, the frequent calms offered many opportunities for swimming. As I write this, it’s the afternoon of Sunday September 2 and the Timor Sea looks like the proverbial mill pond.  Four or five Mahi-Mahi (Dorado)  have taken up residence under Twister along with a smaller unidentified fish. The latest forecast I heard on the SSB radio calls for 10 knots of easterly winds for Monday and Tuesday. A bit more would be nice, but I won’t complain if the forecast is true.

Thursday September 20
It’s 1600 Western Australia time (UTC + 8). I popped my head out around 0400 this AM and all was well. Twister was doing around 5 knots and a couple of shooting stars lit up the sky. I went back to sleep. Ca 30 minutes later I got up again and noticed there was something sizable on the fishing line (the elastic cord on the end was stretched out). The wind had backed (changed direction counter-clockwise) a bit so I was no longer going the desired direction (west). The wind was now coming almost directly from the east which meant I would have to go more or less straight downwind. I was surprised to see a 4-foot Marlin when I pulled in the fishing line. Fortunately it was only a 4-footer. After dispatching the fish, I dropped the mainsail, adjusted the wind-vane self-steering, and we proceeded on the desired course with just the poled-out genoa (big jib). The eastern horizon was becoming visible in the twilight, so I grabbed sextant, clock, pen and paper. I was able to shoot Sirius, Venus, and Jupiter which makes for a pretty good fix with their current arrangement. I filleted the Marlin as the sun peeked out from the east and a couple of swarms of flying fish flew by, shimmering in the sunlight. As we were sailing almost directly downwind, I decided to put up the main and try sailing wing-and-wing (jib on one side, mainsail on the other) which gave us another knot or so (now going 6 knots which is a good clip for Twister).
I had been sailing the last week without using the GPS to test my celestial navigation skills. Today was the day I would turn it back on to see if I was where I thought I was. After doing the math and plotting the three shots I took in the morning twilight, I got a position of 13 ͦ 07’ S 103 ͦ 02’ E. The GPS said 13 ͦ 06’ S 103 ͦ 06’ E, so I was a few miles off but still rather pleased. So I think I have accomplished my goal of becoming conversant in celestial navigation.
          After napping awhile, it was lunchtime and I cooked up the marlin in a coconut milk curry. Hopefully I’ll be able to eat it all before it goes bad. The post-prandial entertainment was watching “Eternal Sunshine Of A Spotless Mind” on my laptop. The boat’s house batteries were fully charged, and the solar panels were putting out a lot of juice, so I figured might as well use it. I’d give the film 3 out of a possible 5 thumbs up.
We are now 308 miles from Cocos Keeling Islands. If the current conditions persist, we should be there the morning of Sunday 23 September. Yeah, a bit more than the 20 days I had predicted. I was contemplating sailing on to Rodriguez without stopping at Cocos, but I figured some of you would be worried if you didn’t hear from me for 50 days. But, in the future it that happens, you can assume that I bypassed St. Helena (for example, and not very likely I’ll bypass St. Helena, by the way) and decided to sail directly to Rio.  

 Sunday September 23
Becalmed about 60 miles from Cocos. Guess I won’t be there today. Being becalmed in mid-ocean can be quite annoying because, if you have sails up, they will be slatting and flogging continually (which by the way, if you were to ask me now what is the most irritating sound I know, that is it), and if you take them down, the rolling motion of the boat becomes even worse without the sails to stabilize the boat (as there is pretty much always swell coming from at least one direction—at the moment, there is swell coming from at least 3 different directions).
Heard on the radio that the Aussies picked up another boat of refugees (they usually refer to them as asylum seekers on the news) yesterday and are taking them to Christmas Island (which I sailed just south of, a few days ago). As I was passing Ashmore Reef a couple of weeks ago, I heard they picked up a boat in that area. Saw lots of boats on this passage. I think mostly Indonesian fishing boats. Lots of Indonesian chatter on the VHF and SSB radios. Also got my daily visits from the Aussie customs planes (that stopped once I was clear of the 200 mile EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone)) who called me on the VHF to ask who I was and where I was going. I was actually closer to Indonesia than Australia on a good part of this passage. I passed within ~150 miles of Timor and about 250 miles from Bali.  The fishing has been good. Caught 3 tuna, one Wahoo, and one Marlin.

Wednesday September 26
I'm on Home Island--one of the 5 major islands surrounding the lagoon of this atoll--as I write this (there is another uninhabited atoll North Keeling just north of this one). Twister is anchored, along with about 20 other sailboats (and one motor boat) near Direction Island. Direction Island is uninhabited but has some facilities ashore (BBQs, picnic tables, and lots of coconuts). Home Island is one of the two inhabited islands. Home Island is populated by people of Malay descent whose ancestors came here to work in the copra (coconut) industry. They apparently rediscovered their Muslim faith relatively recently after having been quite isolated from the rest of the world for the last couple-hundred years. West Island is populated by Australians. There is no indigenous population as such. The islands were uninhabited when first discovered by a ship whose captain was named Keeling in the early 1800s (not sure where the Cocos part of the name comes from). Charles Darwin stopped at Cocos Keeling in 1836 aboard The HMS Beagle, and this is where he developed his theory of atoll formation (which is now the accepted theory). That's about all I've learned about the place so far. It's picturesque, like all atolls I guess, with a lagoon of sparkling turquoise water surrounded by sand and coral islands covered with mangroves and coconut palms. Yesterday, around ten sailboats (part of the organized ARC rally) along with two wooden boats of asylum seekers/refugees (boats originating in Indonesia, but the people are typically from Iraq, Afghanistan, etc) arrived into the lagoon. Frighteningly, one of these expensive and well-equipped boats sank as they were approaching Cocos yesterday. The crew were picked up by some of their felllow ARC participants who were nearby. I was told they ran into something (container, whale?) and started taking on water.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Cocos Keeling Islands

Arrived Cocos Keeling Atoll today after 26 days at sea. So much for the 100 miles per day average. Very light winds led to slow but pleasant sailing. If weather looks good, will continue on to Rodriguez in about 4 days.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Into The Indian Ocean

Upon arriving back in Darwin, I had one goal--to get going westward ASAP. Fortunately Twister is not a demanding woman--after scrubbing her bottom and replacing a couple of small bits of hardware, she's also eager to set sail.  The provisioning is also done, and we're set to depart for Cocos Keeling Atoll Wednesday morning (tomorrow). It's ca 2000 nm due west from Darwin.  As usual, I plan for 100 miles per day, so hopefully I'll arrive sometime around September 18. I'm starting to feel the pre-passage butterflies which by now is mostly a pleasant excitement as opposed to the pure nervous apprehension I felt before departing San Diego April 18 of last year.

Latest rough itinerary for The Indian Ocean:
Wed 28 August: depart Darwin --  Ca 2000 nm passage
18 Sept:  arrive Cocos Keeling
23 Sept: depart Cocos Keeling -- Ca 2000 nm passage
13 Oct:  arrive Rodriguez
18 Oct:  depart Rodriguez -- Ca 500 nm passage
23 Oct:  arrive Reunion Island
1 Nov:  depart Reunion Island -- Ca 1500 nm passage
16 Nov:  arrive Richard’s Bay
After Richard’s Bay, I plan to make 1-2 day hops down the coast to Cape Town where I hope to arrive by mid-December.

Fellow sailors Paul (on Rebellion) and Dino (on Hadar, with daughter Sasha) are going the same way as me to South Africa. Hadar departed today while Rebellion will depart within a week. Paul’s Australian visa expires shortly, so he will have to bypass Cocos Keeling (which is Australian territory) and sail ~3900 nautical miles directly to Rodriguez. It has occurred to me to do the same, but after 18-20 days at sea, I will most likely enjoy the stop at Cocos. Still, the passage to Cocos will be my second longest after the first one from San Diego to Nuku Hiva.  Apparently there is also an around-the-world organized sailing rally (23 boats I was just told) that will be going the same way, so there is potential for some crowded anchorages.
In addition to the minimal work necessary to keep the boat sailing the right direction, there is my guitar and plenty of reading material to keep me occupied.  I have also set myself the goal of becoming, if not proficient, at least conversant, for lack of a better word, in celestial navigation (I find it helpful to tell people my goals to keep myself accountable)

I don't have any reason to expect that the upcoming passages will be any more hazardous than my past ones (in other words, much safer than driving on Southern California Freeways, for example). If for some reason I disappear off the map, it is most likely because I found a lovely, undiscovered atoll and settled there. Anyway, to get to the point, there is nothing I would rather have been doing than what I have been doing the last 1.5 years, so no regrets.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

In Santiago

Spent the night in the Agunsa agent, Jimmy's office at the Santiago airport. Very comfortable lazyboy chairs.  Onward to Sydney this afternoon and another overnight layover before hopefully arriving Darwin the afternoon of August 24. Here are a couple of videos from the cruise (top: cruising along in the ice in Maxwell Bay, King George Island, bottom: night trawling through the ice in the Bransfield Strait):

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Back in Punta Arenas

We arrived Punta Arenas last night (August 17) around 20:00 and cleared customs in time to hit the bars. Round two tonight.

Some photos from the cruise.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Out Of The Drake Passage

We went passed through  around The Straits of Le Maire sometime in the night and are
now slowly (not going the normal cruising speed of 10-11 knots because
we have to wait for the Chilean pilot we're required to have aboard to
go through The Straits Of Magellan) making our way up the east coast of
Tierra Del Fuego towards the eastern entrance to The Straits Of
Magellan. I'm attaching a photo (taken by the zooplankton team leader,
Kim) of one of my favorite amphipods (among my favorites because I think
they look cool and are easy to identify), Primno macropa. We typically
find a few but rarely more than a few, in most of the net tows. Two days
ago, we had the roughest seas of this crossing. In fact it was quite
comfortable. It was "only" blowing 45 to 53 knots and we had the wind
blowing from almost directly behind us (which is much better than having
it on the nose, both on motor and sailing vessels). We are scheduled to
arrive Punta Arenas (PA) the morning of August 18. We'll probably spend
most of that day packing up and unloading equipment.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The IKMT (Isaacs-Kidd Midwater Trawl)

This is the net we've been using most of this cruise to gather
zooplankton (a broad category which includes krill, amphipods, copepods,
some fish eggs and larvae, and many other taxonomic classes). Today
we're preparing to launch the Tucker Trawl which is a larger and more
complicated system. It has three nets that can be remotely opened and
closed at various depths.

In The Ice Again

61° ' S 54° 12' W (southeast of Elephant Island). 23:50 GMT, Sun Aug 12
In open water, the temperature is never more than a degree or two below
freezing (just like the summer), but when we are in the ice, the temp
drops to -15 to -18 °C--an impressive demonstration of the
temperature-buffering capacity of liquid water. We've spent the last 24
hours or so back in the ice but not so thick that we have to back and
ram to move. A couple of hours ago we completed probably our last
net-tow in the ice. We are now transiting northeast to the next sampling
station (and away from the ice). We only have a few more days of work
and the word around the coffee machine is that we'll be heading back to
Punta Arenas a day or two early to avoid a depression (storm) forecast
to come our way.

I've thoroughly enjoyed myself on AMLR again, and being here in the
winter has been amazing. The sea-icescape is mesmerizing and
awe-inspiring. It's so stark and beautiful and so obviously hostile to
human life.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

In The Ice

19:39 UTC, 9 Aug 2012
62° 17' S, 56° 12' W
-17 °C, wind: 20 knots. In The Bransfield Strait, ~40 miles due north of
D'Urville Island.

We made it as far south as 62° 30' when the ice became too much to work
in (we need to be able to clear some open water behind the boat to lower
the zooplankton net), and we headed north. That was 6 hours ago. We've
been trying to make our way out of the ice since. Occasionally we find a
path with thin ice and can steam along at 6 or 7 knots, but we are soon
impeded by thicker stuff and have to back and ram to make way. As I
write this we are backing up at 2 knots. Outside it's white as far as
the eye can see. The land(sea)scape is stunning. There is a layer of
snow covering the ice, growlers, and icebergs, so if it weren't for
being on a ship, I would not think we were on the ocean. It could be
Norway in the winter except there are no trees. I'd really like to get
off the boat and play on the ice.

Monday, August 6, 2012

We're Anchored In Maxwell Bay,

King George Island, calibrating acoustic equipment. Eearlier we towed
the IKMT net and gathered some zooplankton for the zoo team to get some
practice ID'ing the critters. Tomorrow we start work for real (weather

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Crossing The Drake Passage

So far it's been a smooth crossing of The Drake Passage. I suppose
that's partly from being on a bigger ship than last year. We are 61 nm
(or 7.5 hours at our current speed) from our first sampling point unless
the captain decides it's too rough to have people on deck. Hopefully the
attached map will show up.
The Nathaniel B Palmer (hereafter NBP) is quite a contrast to last
year's ship, The Moana Wave (MW). The NBP which is an ice-breaker, is
308 feet to MW's 210. I am still getting lost as I wander around the NBP
which is also luxurious--toilets and showers in every cabin, a
reasonably well-equipped gym, sauna, free use of satellite phone for
everyone, and internet (limited to 10 MB per person per day, but
seriously, internet in Antarctica?). Another way the NBP is different
from the MW is the crew. The officers on the NBP prefer to keep a
certain distance and formality between themselves and the science party
while on the MW we were all one big family. The NBP officers have
assigned seats in the galley and a separate lounge (off-limits to us).
Which is not to say that they are unfriendly, just that they have a
different way of doing things. Maybe The MW is the exception and The NBP
the rule. I don't know as this is only my second time doing this sort of
thing. Either way, I'm stoked to be aboard and sailing to Antarctica again.

PS As I mentioned there is (limited) internet, so if you want to email
me, you can use my regular gmail address

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Approaching The Drake

We departed Punta Arenas 1400 local time yesterday (Wed 1 Aug). The
Palmer is an impressive ship as I think I already mentioned. The
weather has been beautiful so far. When we pass through the Strait of
Le Maire and into The Drake Passage it will become bumpier. From what
I've seen of the forecasts, it doesn't look like anything too bad,
though. We spent two days in port setting up our lab space and
securing equipment. Now we have a couple of days of downtime as we
transit to The South Shetland Islands where we'll start sampling. I
am once again working with the zooplankton team. Due to sea ice, we
will not make it as far south as last year's summer cruise.

Monday, July 30, 2012

back in Punta Arenas, Chile

I finally landed in Punta Arenas yesterday afternoon after 3 days of traveling from Darwin (My penultimate post was prophetic:  I was not scheduled to stop in Puerto Montt, but my flight was turned around because of ice on the runway in Punta Arenas so we ended up spending a couple of hours in Puerto Montt). The RVIB (Research Vessel Ice Breaker) Nathaniel B. Palmer is an impressive looking ship. We are scheduled to set sail (no actual sails on this ship) August 1. It's been great catching up with some of the folks I got to know on AMLR 2011.
Punta Arenas in July
sunrise over The Andes

Friday, July 27, 2012

Anchorages Of SV Twister

I didn't make it into town during my long layover in Sydney, so I had a lot of time on my hands. Hence a map showing most of the anchorages of SV Twister over the last two years or so.

On My Way To Punta Arenas

I hear it's lovely this time of year.  After I get there, I'll board the Nathanial B. Palmer (Here is a site that shows the current position of the Palmer so you can see our position as well as what kind of weather we're having). I'm excited to see what The Drake Passage (the bit of ocean between South American and The Antarctic Peninsula) will dish out in the middle of winter and stoked to be working on the US AMLR (Antarctic Marine Living Resources) program again. Here are some photos from the 2011 summer cruise.  I don't think I will have internet access on the ship, but I will have email: (account won't be active until July 30-ish).
Currently sitting in Darwin Airport, waiting for the first flight which goes to Sydney. After an overnight layever, it's over to Auckland, Santiago, perhaps Puerto Mont, and finally Punta Arenas. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

mailing address

I can receive mail at:

Lars Thoresen
SV Twister - yacht in transit
Darwin Sailing Club
PO Box 117

If using a courier like fedex:

Lars Thoresen
SV Twister - yacht in transit

Darwin Sailing Club
Atkins Drive
Fannie Bay NT 0820

Twister will not depart Darwin until September 1 or so.

a few photos from Aussie

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Passage To Darwin

    Twister departed Lizard Island around 1130 local time July 09. I had spent two days and two nights there, just taking it easy, doing some snorkeling, jogging on the beach, and having some beers at the bar which is only open two (or three?) days a week (so only one of the days I was there).  Lizard Island is a national park in the middle of The Great Barrier Reef (GBR), but there is also a fancy resort (guests only at that bar), and a research station on the island. The reef was probably the best I’ve seen in a popular anchorage. The reason is marker buoys around the coral (with threats of fines for violators) which keeps the boats anchoring in sand (it’s a win-win for the boats and the reef.  Nobody likes anchoring in coral--anchors get stuck, the chain makes an awful racket when it scrapes against the coral, if you’re foolish enough to not use chain, you’ll soon be adrift, and of course there’s the damage caused to the reefs—but in some anchorages it’s difficult to find a spot without it. There were lots of giant clams (big as a person, don’t get your hands stuck), lovely variously colored coral, and beautiful anemones that looked like what velvet might look like on acid (if you were on acid, not the velvet). Not a ton of fish, though. Some chaps from Melbourne invited me for dinner on their Choy Lee 75 powerboat/trawler. A contrast to Twister. The engine room looked like one from a ship (but cleaner)—two big diesel engines, two generators, and a 10,000 amp-hour (or something ridiculous like that) battery bank. The steak they prepared was possibly the best I have ever had. They were all enthusiastic about and complimentary of my journey.  
Twister was attacked by boobies after leaving Lizard Island
      Lizard Island is ~10 miles from some popular dive sites on the outside endge of GBR. I had sort of planned to stop on the way out and have a swim, but once I got going, I didn’t want to stop. We exited (GBR) via One-and-a-half Mile Opening then enjoyed about 200 miles of open ocean. Back in to GBR through Raine Island Opening, there followed 24 hours of not much sleep with lots of reefs to dodge on the way to The Torres Strait. Fortunately conditions were mellow and as the sun rose on Thursday the 12th, we entered Adolphous Channel (leads from the shipping lane inside GBR to Torres Strait). Not surprisingly there were some cargo ships to avoid. We rounded Cape York a few hours later and entered Endeavour Strait (the southernmost of the channels that make up The Torres Strait between Cape York and Paupa New Guinea). Endeavour Strait is not one of the shipping lanes as it’s too shallow for many ships, so I didn’t have to worry about avoiding behemoth container ships. With the help of the tidal stream, we were going along at 6-7 knots with only a mild breeze. A few hours after, we were past The Torres Strait and into The Gulf Of Carpentaria and The Arafura Sea (the first is part of the second).  After 36 hours with not much sleep, I was happy to be in open water and slept for four hours straight which is maybe the second longest I’ve slept in one block on passage.  The charts show a recommended track for shipping that runs east-west from The Torres Strait to The Indian Ocean (and ships apparently do keep pretty close to this in The Arafura Sea). I had set Horny steering a course of 265 degrees to keep us south of the shipping lane. When I woke up, we were well north of where I had planned to be—actually on the other side of the shipping lane. Horny is great at steering a course relative to the wind, but if the wind changes direction, so do we. We got back to where we wanted to be and slept some more.  The ~300 miles across the Gulf Of Carpentaria was very smooth and pleasant sailing. Just as we rounded Cape Wessel (on the western end of the gulf), the wind piped up and within a few hours, it was blowing 30+ knots with 8 foot seas, and the sun disappeared behind angry rain clouds. The rough sailing and crappy weather only lasted 24 hours or so, which I spent most of cooped up inside, only poking my head out periodically to look for ships and adjust Horny. 

     I had a visit from dolphins at the beginning and end of The Arafura Sea as if they were welcoming and wishing me farewell. As the farewell committee was surfing Twister’s bow wave, I saw something I had not seen before--among the dolphins were a few large fish (not sure what kind) apparently playing along. It did not look like the dolphins were chasing them. Just as I was pondering that, a tuna jumped at least six feet into the air.

     Three times on this passage I was buzzed by Australian Customs' planes who called me on the VHF radio requesting my vessel's name, home port, previous and next port. They were kind enough to email me a photo they took of Twister from the air:

     The last 100 miles to Darwin goes through Van Diemen Gulf and the straits on either side of it (unless you want to go around, adding to the journey more than 100 miles and a long beat to windward) which are subject to strong tidal streams. Before I left Cairns, I had neglected to look up the times for these tides and the resulting streams, but I could tell I was at the wrong end of the cycle when I was sailing in place at the entrance to Dundas Strait (well, I was going about 1 knot). After several hours, the direction of the stream changed and I zipped along at 6 knots. At the other end of Van Diemen Gulf, I entered Clarence Strait and glided along at 6-7 knots in a mild breeze. Unfortunately the wind died completely and I had to start the engine as not to lose steerage and be at the mercy of the tidal stream (reefs on both sides of the channel). I ended up motoring the last 25 or so miles to Darwin as I couldn’t stand to spend another night drifting within sight of Darwin. Twister is anchored in Fannie Bay, the most popular anchorage in Darwin is a large bay with what must be a hundred or more boats.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Made it to Darwin. Wonder if they sell cold beer here.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sailing Along The Great Barrier Reef

     Twister departed Cairns around 0600 local time July 4th as the one-day-short-of-full moon was setting over the mountains in the west. I was a bit apprehensive as the forecast was for 25-33 knots of wind for the next several days. At least it was blowing from the right direction (south south-east). Initially, it turned out to be on the lower end of that range and conditions were lovely with only 2-3 feet of chop/swell. I had felt anxious to get underway to reach Darwin in time to catch my flight to Punta Arenas and worried about all the reefs in my way and the strong wind warning. Then as I was cruising along very comfortably at 5-6 knots, I suddenly felt happy and fortunate—sailing in lovely conditions along The Great Barrier Reef, in a month I’ll be on an ice-breaker off The Antarctic Peninsula, and after that, sailing across The Indian Ocean. 
I met some nice folks in Cairns—fellow sailors, one of whom had done a lot of solo-sailing before the days of GPS and met Bernard Moitessier in Tahiti back in the day. My neighbors (on both sides) in the marina were also friendly and helpful.
The afternoon of the first day, I stopped at Low Islets (ca 30 miles north of Cairns) and tied onto one of the public moorings. There were several charter boats and their passengers there. Several big fish (no idea what they were, one type looked a little like giant flying fish that were swimming upside down) came up to greet Twister as we arrived. They were obviously used to being fed. The gobbled up the carrot, potato, and onion peels I tossed overboard as I was fixing dinner.
I departed Low Islets while it was still dark (I had made sure that my immediate path northward was clear the night before). After a couple of hours I decided to try sailing under bare poles (that is taking down all the sails). To my surprise, Twister was doing 4-5 knots very comfortably. That was the first time I’ve tried that technique. I’m not sure it would go well in the open ocean with bigger seas (with Horny steering that is; it would probably work hand steering).
 I continued running under bare poles until I reached Hope Islands where I tied onto another public mooring (there are many around the Great Barrier Reef, so boats don’t have to use their anchors and potentially damage the coral).
The next morning, I departed after sunrise as there were a few small reefs nearby to my north, to dodge. Most of the way to Cape Bedford we continued under bare poles. The wind had picked up a bit and Twister was doing 5-6 knots. Interestingly, Horny would only keep the course if set directly downwind (and fortunately that happened to be where I wanted to go. More than ten degrees off and she’d broach to—turn her side to the wind and seas).
We arrived Cape Bedford in the afternoon. The cape provides good shelter from the seas (to the southeast), but two hills and a saddle funnel the winds into the anchorage causing some decent gusts. Good holding in ~10 feet depth, mud bottom, lots of chain and two anchors were a recipe for a good night’s sleep.
Saturday the 7th:  It was a chore pulling up the chain and two anchors against the strong wind. I had to put the engine in gear and pull in the slack as Twister tacked back and forth toward the anchors. As the course to Lizard Island was not directly downwind, I had to use a small patch of jib for Horny to maintain a course. Exposing more of the beam to the seas resulted in a wet cockpit. Usually I’d retreat down to the cabin, but I rediscovered my foul weather gear (such as it is) and stayed in the cockpit the whole way, giving Horny a hand now and then when a wave pushed Twister’s stern over. We arrived Lizard Island around 1430 and anchored in 20 feet, sand bottom. The island provides lee from the seas, but generates some bullets of wind. The authorities have wisely put a series of buoys around the coral, so boats can easily anchor in the sandy parts of the anchorage and avoid damaging the coral and getting their anchors stuck. Just a passing glance shows that the coral is in much better shape than you’d see at a popular anchorage elsewhere in the South Pacific. I plan to stay put here a couple of days, hopefully doing some snorkeling at the nearby outer reefs. Lizard Island and the surrounding waters are some sort of park/marine reserve, but there is also a fancy resort on the island.
From here, I’ll head outside the Great Barrier Reef, through one-and-a-half mile opening, head north northwest for ca 200 miles then back in through Raine Island Opening. From there it’s another 100 miles (through coral strewn waters) to Cape York and The Torres Strait. I think I will sail straight through that bit, rather than stopping to anchor at night. Once through The Torres Strait, it’s 7-800 miles of clear sailing to Darwin. I will probably not stop between here and Darwin (and I don’t think there will be cell phone coverage), so I’ll check in when I get there, around July 22.

Monday, July 2, 2012

North Along The Great Barrier Reef (GBR)

I'm planning to depart Cairns Wednesday (the 4th of July, happy independence day, USA). The forecast is for 20 to 30 knots (fortunately from the southeast) for the next 6 days, so there will be plenty of wind. There are basically two options--sail straight through to The Torres Strait outside the GBR, or sail during the day and anchor at night inside the reef (too many obstacles to sleep while sailing inside the GBR). I'm planning to stay inside the reef and hopefully stop and snorkel a few places along the way. With 20-30 knot winds, it will be a bit bumpy outside the reef. Hopefully it will be smoother inside.

I have purchased an airline ticket for Punta Arenas, Chile departing Darwin on July 27, so I've got to hustle. Once through The Torres Strait, I will likely sail straight through to Darwin (ca 800 miles from Torres Strait).

In the meantime, I've been doing some boat maintenance and looking for a dinghy. No luck on the dinghy front. So, now I'm resigned to sail without one till I get to Darwin where there should be a better selection.

Hopefully there will be cell phone coverage for at least part of the time while I'm sailing along the GBR, so feel free to call.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Across The Coral Sea

     Twister departed Port Vila, Vanuatu around 1430 local time on Friday June 15th. The Great Circle distance to Cairns is 1291 nautical miles, but with the normal zig-zagging (on this pasage, the wind was often directly astern from the direction I wanted to sail (which was directly west), so I was sometimes forced to sail 10-15 degrees off course as it's hard to sail directly downwind with the sails I have) associated with sailing as well as having to dodge a few obstacles (ie reefs), the total distance sailed was around 1350 nm. It was one of the most mellow passages I've had, weatherwise. I became reacquainted with the whisker pole which I use for poling out the jib when sailing downwind in light wind (it reduces the slatting that results from swell combined with light wind and I think also presents the jib at a better angle for downwind sailing). Though the conditions were great, it was still a tiring passage because there were many obstacles--both stationary (reefs--Now I know why they call it the Coral Sea) and moving (shipping). I saw more ships on this passage than any other. I was expecting to see some as I approached the Great Barrier Reef, but I saw several hundreds of miles from land.
Midway between Vanuatu and the Queensland coast, I had a blind passenger two nights in a row. In fact I also saw more birdlife on this passage than on any other. I guess that has to do with all the reefs and associated islets in the Coral Sea.
Blind Passenger (ID anyone?)

     Around 300 miles from Cairns I was becalmed for most of one day. Just as the wind totally died, a pod of dolphins approached. Maybe they were hoping to surf Twister's bow wave. In that case, they were disappointed. They were able to entertain themselves nonetheless, jumping and cavorting in the smallish swells coming from several directions. I grabbed my mask and snorkel and joined them for a few minutes (wish I had thought to grab my camera). The water is an amazing deep blue in the open ocean so the dolphins really stood out. Unfortunately at that time, my brain decided to remind me about something I had read about deadly box jellyfish around the Great Barrier Reef. I was hundreds of miles from The Great Barrier Reef, but other reefs were nearby. So basically after a few minutes in the water, I freaked out and jumped back on Twister. What a weirdo, thought the dolphins.
     On the morning of day 12, I arrived at The Great Barrier Reef and sailed through Grafton Passage and the past the last obstacles before Cairns. I dropped the sails and motored up through the dredged channel into Cairns Harbor and tied up at Marlin Marina to await the Australian authorities. The check-in was relatively quick and efficient, though the quarantine/biosecurity inspector earned the $330 fee (most expensive country to check into so far)  I had to pay for the clearance, looking in every nook and cranny on Twister (apparently termites are a big concern for them, and Twister has a lot of wood in the interior).
     So now on my second day in Aussie, Twister remains tied up at the marina while I continue looking for a dinghy.
     Oh, yesterday was a bit of a reunion. I ran into several sailors I had met along the way--most notably, Jessie whom I met hundreds of miles from land in the eastern Pacific when I passed him and his captain some  jugs of water in May of last year. He now lives in Cairns and captains one of the many dive boats that go out to the Great Barrier Reef.

Australian phone number

+61 0416 610292. Call anytime. (not sure if you should included the first zero)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Arrived Cairns, Australia around midday today (Wed the 27th on this side of the dateline). Had a lovely passage. A few days ago, becalmed, I jumped off the boat and went for a swim with some dolphins. More to come.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Next Stop Australia

The low pressure system has passed and it looks like favorable winds for the foreseeable future (which I guess is about 5 days when it comes to these types of weather forecasts). So, in a few hours (around 1300 local time June 15 on this side of the dateline) I will be departing Port Vila and setting a course for Cairns, Australia. It's ca 1300 nautical miles, so if I average just over 100 miles per day as I typically do, the passage will take 12 or 13 days. This will be the first continent I sail to. Hopefully I will reach another one before year's end.

Some of the expats I have been drinking kava with very kindly chipped in and bought me a new guitar (a fender acoustic with a nice hard-case). Very touching and a nice contrast to the thievery of last week. They thought I might go crazy 12-13 days at sea without a guitar. It will certainly be a more pleasant passage with a guitar.

See y'all in Aussie.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


It's easy to get stuck in a south seas port. The pace of life is slow and pleasant, the climate is great, and the scenery lovely. But I usually get a little antsy after a couple of weeks. I now have added impetus to get going. Two nights ago someone stole my dinghy from where I left it ashore and presumably used it to go on Twister and steal what they thought was valuable including my guitar, binoculars, my old iBook notebook computer, and some random electronic bits. Fortunately they were kind enough not to take the chartplotter or anything else essential to the operation of the boat (although the binoculars are quite handy sometimes). Getting robbed sucks. I was very fond of my guitar and having a computer stolen opens one up to myriad identity theft and fraud issues, but the worst part is the feeling of being violated--knowing someone was aboard Twister rummaging through my things--and the effect it has on my feeling toward the locals (in an intellectual sense I know it could happen anywhere and that it was only one or two people, but it happened here, so emotionally  it leaves me with some feeling of dislike for the Ni-vanuatu which is what the locals are called). Of course, in the big scheme of things, it's only an annoyance and inconvenience (using my surfboard to paddle ashore while I try to find a new dinghy). Like a wise man said, "don't sweat the small stuff, and it's all small stuff.

Anyway, I've more or less decided to head for Cairns in Australia. The forecast looks promising for a Thursday departure. I have run into Mike (whom I first met in Pago Pago, American Samoa last year) from the boat "This Side Up" (one of the better boat names I've come across) here in Port Vila and he is also planning to head to Cairns on Thursday, so we have agreed to schedule a daily radio chat on the SSB (thankfully I still have that) during the passage. "This Side Up" is 45 feet to Twister's 28, so he will probably beat me by several days.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Relaxing In Port Vila, Vanuatu

As there is currently very little wind and a low to the south is forecast to bring westerlies in a few days, it looks like Twister will be staying put in Port Vila for another week. There are worse places to be stuck. Food is good, people are friendly, the water is warm and clear, and good surf is nearby. I was disappointed by how badly I surfed in Fiji in May--I could hardly catch a wave. I felt much better about my surfing after a couple of sessions by Pango Point near Port Vila. One might think that I would do a lot of surfing, sailing across the Pacific. Yes, some of the best surf in the world is on my route, but the breaks are often not close to where you anchor your boat and rowing an inflatable dinghy puts many of them out of reach. Whereas I surfed about twice per week when I lived in San Diego, it's more like twice per month over the last year.

I am leaning towards bypassing Papua New Guinea on this trip across the Pacific. As I am on a bit of a schedule (more on that), I wouldn't have time to see much and by all accounts Port Moresby is not high on the list of dream vacation destinations (it is high on the murder rate list, though). And recently I've been contemplating making Cairns, Australia my next stop. It would be a shorter passage to Cairns than directly to Thursday Island in The Torres Strait, although overall it will be farther to Darwin.

I just go the official word that I have a spot on the upcoming winter (August) AMLR cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula. It's only a one month cruise this time, and that is good for me as a longer cruise would probably preclude my getting to South Africa this year. Found this link with some photos from last year's summer cruise I was on. So, I'm planning to get to Darwin, Australia by mid-July and leave Twister there for the month of August while I fly to Punta Arenas, Chile and board the Nathanial B. Palmer (Here is a site that shows the current position of the Palmer. Will try to remember to post this again closer to August).

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Passage From Fiji To Vanuatu

 After checking out with customs in Lautoka, Fiji, Twister sailed off the anchor around noon on Wednesday the 23rd of May and headed south towards the 4 navigable passes on the southern end of the Mamanuca Islands barriers reefs. With 15 knots on the beam, she was galloping along at 5.5 to 6 knots (and since we were still inside the barrier reefs, there was little swell).  I elected to go through Wilkes Passage and have a last look at the break we had surfed a few days before. Outside the reefs, the open ocean swells began and the wind increased to about 25 knots. I turned westward and dropped the main as we were now going almost straight downwind. I did not use the main again on this passage except for one ill-conceived and short-lived attempt at going wing-and-wing (sail combination for going downwind where the jib and mainsail are on opposite sides) in confused, lumpy seas a few days later.
It was an uneventful passage. With only the jib up, going downwind with swells from several directions, Twister was rolling (rocking left and right) and yawing (going on a zigzag course) quite a bit. One day three, a very determined Boobie tried to land on the mast and then on Horny (the wind-vane autopilot). Like others before, he (or she?) failed due to Twister’s rolling and yawing. Earlier the same day, I sailed within 20 meters of a drifting buoy (perhaps one of the drifting buoys deployed by oceanographic research vessels to study ocean currents).
            On the afternoon of day 4, I spotted Efate Island. I could’ve sailed into Port Vila that night, but decided to heave to (ie park the boat by backing the jib to make the boat drift slowly downwind) until the morning when we tacked though the pass into the harbor and dropped the anchor in the quarantine anchorage. 

Now I've been in Port Vila for 4 days. It's a nice town. Seems relatively affluent by South Pacific Standards. There are a lot of expats. Most seem to be from Australia. There are numerous kava bars (called Nakamals). Well, they don't actually look like bars. They are usually simple structures with a thatched roof. A 50 mL portion is 50 vatu (ca 50 US cents) and 100 mL is 100 vatu. I have found that about 400 mL is about the point when my legs begin to have trouble responding to commands from my brain. The nakamals open around 1530 in the afternoon and many locals and expats attend religiously.

I had originally planned to sail to Tanna Island, and many people have told me it's not to be missed. Alas, I don't have it in me to sail back upwind to get there this time. My goal for this year, is to sail to South Africa, and I won't fret about passing some islands by (this time). 

I expect to be here another week and then set sail for Alotau in Papua New Guinea (PNG). I have been toying with the idea of bypassing PNG and heading directly for the Torres Strait, but that would be a long passage at over 1500 nautical miles.

Monday, May 28, 2012

In Port Vila, Vanuatu

I dropped anchor in Port Vila, Vanuatu this morning (28 May on this
side of the dateline). Spent the night before, hove to, a few miles
offshore, waiting for daylight to enter the harbor. So not counting
the waiting for daylight, the passage took 4.5 days. I sailed off the
anchor in Lautoka and onto the anchor in Port Vila (ie didn't use the
engine)--made me feel very piratical (which is my new favorite word,
by the way). I like the vibe here. Will report shortly on the kava
which is rumored to be potent.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Westward to Vanuatu

Soko and I sailed up from Vuda Point to Lautoka today. This afternoon I will do some provisioning. Tomorrow morning I will check out with customs in Lautoka and set sail for Vanuatu, ca 500 nautical miles to the west. I plan to head for Tana Island which has the nearest port of entry. Will be the first time in a while I have sailed by myself. It will be good to start with a short-ish passage.
Last week, Gary and I had a great few days anchored off Namotu Island where we surfed Namotu Lefts (on the south side of Wilkes Pass), a short dinghy ride from our anchorage. The anchorage itself is somewhat exposed and rolly, but that's the price to pay to be close to good surf. The day after we dropped anchor at Namotu, our friends Kevin and Corie pulled up in Kevin's boat, "Shannon," so we had a good crew for the next several days' surfing.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mamanuca Islands

Twister is back in Vuda Point for a day to drop off Soko and pick up Gary (Gaz). Soko and I had a great time cruising around some of the resort islands of the Mamanuca (c = th) group. We stopped at Treasure, Beachcomber, Malolo, Malolo Lailai (home of Musket Cove Yacht Club), and Tavarua Islands. It was interesting to see another side of Fiji (the touristy side). We went to Solevu village on Malolo where Soko got to visit with an auntie she hadn't seen in 20 years or so. Another highlight was a fullmoon party with some other yachties on a sandbar that is only uncovered at low tide (full moon = extreme tides). Our little island gradually disappeared as the tide came in and when the bonfire was washed away, everyone had to take to their dinghies and the party was over.
Today Gaz and I will sail out to Namotu Island where we plan to post up for a week of surfing, diving, and fishing.  Latest photos from Fiji.
My Fiji phone number is +679 7437927. Call or text anytime.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Gary's Account of NZ-Fiji Passage

Nz to Fiji aboard SV Twister (13th – 23rd April 2012)

After spending almost 6 weeks in the small town of Paihia, Bay of Islands, NZ we were ready to leave. I had been working at my Divemasters with a small dive shop there, and although I had been diving bitchen wrecks every day, small town syndrome still kicks in after enough time. Lars had been anchored off of Pahia beach for almost as long too, so when he dropped me a message saying we were going to leave in three days (Friday 13th) I was stoked.

Cruisers and sailors in general are a superstitious bunch, so we were prepared for the ‘your going to die horrifically at sea’ speech we inevitably got from our cruising chums (Especially our good friends Di and Wattie) when we let our Friday 13th go date public. However, Lars and I don’t conform to such tat., we had been waiting for our weather window and this was it. We’re going!

So, on a glorious Friday afternoon after stocking Twister with ample supplies of Beer, eggs and coffee we departed Opua Marina at approximately 13:00pm. Thrown off by an anxious Di and Wattie. we motored off of the pontoon and as soon as we had the sails set, shut down the engine and wouldn’t fire her up again until we were well into Suva harbor almost ten days later.

Sailing North through the Bay of Islands we had the sun on our face and 15knots of wind on the beam, we celebrated with a cold beer and Lars traditional start of the passage song ‘On the road again’. Within a few hours we had rounded the only island standing in our way of Fiji, we duly set our course to 013Degrees and settled in. Although not overly superstitious we always recognize a good omen when it comes along, and snagging a nice tuna right off the bat certainly counts.

It was also lovely to be aboard another boat than La Cueca. It is amazing how different a passage can be on a different boat. That said I was feeling a bit queasy for the first couple of days, probably due to being land based for over 5 months coupled with the fact that Twister has the same beam as my ankle!  And as such rolls around a bit. Lars graciously gave up his bunk for the first night whilst he took watch, after that however I was relegated to the galley floor like the Captains dog. I’m 6’2” and the galley is not! it’s also just wide enough for shoulders to fit in with the added treat of the hatch steps directly over your head ready to crack ya forehead every time you move. It was slightly comparable to sleeping in a coffin made for the 14 year old you, not the coziest sleeping environment yet. However, Twister is a dream to sail. Lars having single handed for so long now obviously has it down, but shes just so friendly to sail. You can whip the main up and down in a jiff, ‘Horny’ the wind vane would hold a course for hours to days at a time. And having the SSB radio keeps you hooked into the world so roll calls and weather can be grabbed each morning. Bliss.

For the first 5 days the conditions were pretty consistent at 15-20 knots from E-SE and we were making around 5-6 knots. On the second night when Lars was on an early hour watch we lost the wind, and dropped all sails and sat becalmed for around 4 hours, which we happily slept through. Other than that we were trucking.

Day 6 the wind and swell started to pick up and we were flying on reefed sails in 25-30 knot winds and the seas were picking up to 3-4 meters at times. Occasionally the waves would converge and slam us, knocking us on our side. Below it sounded like a freight train slamming into us, in the cockpit it would soak you and make you glad you were harnessed in, the compass would jam in a vertical position showing how far we got tossed over. Fun and games.

Days 6-8 the winds and swells stayed up and we were making great time. I would spend hours on end at my fake helm, standing holding the dodger. Horny was steering for us but it feels natural to me to sail at a wheel and watch the ocean and this was as close as I had. I still feel its an incredible luxury to have so much time in your own head, watching the ocean and compartmentalizing your thoughts, putting the world right in your mind, very meditative and therapeutic. It also helps that Lars has a pretty great stereo system so the music was rocking too.

Day 9 we reached Kadavu Island still under about 25 knots of wind, we decided to round it on the Westerly side and use the island to block the prevailing E-SE swells, although we lost an hour or two playing with the winds in the lee of the Island, it soon proved to be a great plan, we were back to 5-6 knots but on smooth ocean. The Island and the Astrelobe reef took the brunt of the swell giving us a great last day sailing up to Suva.

We arrived at the pass into Suva harbor at around midnight on the 23rd April on a moonless night, having both sailed into Suva before we were relatively confident of a night entry and after spotting the line up markers and trusting in the GPS we sailed slowly into the protection of the fringe reef. We fired up the motor and headed over to the quarantine anchorage where we would wait for the next 12 hours for customs and immigration.

All in all it was a perfect passage. Favorable winds, sunny skies (the rain clouds seemed to part for us as we approached) and shaved almost 2 days off of our expected 11 day passage. Turns out we hit probably the best window so far this year, and all those gloom and doomers who waited out Friday 13th missed it and had a tough time across