Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Moving the Boat, Part 3: Midnight Encounters

It has been said that women let the memory of childbirth fade very quickly; if they didn't they would never have another baby. So too with this passage. Although I know very well the whole thing was a pain in the neck, a short month later and the sharp edges are fading. I'm still not in a hurry to do another passage any time soon, but the months will go by and soon I will only remember the good parts. By then it will be time to hop aboard once more.

So let's review the highlights before they fade completely, shall we?

When last we met, our intrepid crew had limped into Baie Maa for a much needed rest. We were up and out the next day without a hitch.

Until Stylish heard a noise.

We were taking on water in the aft bilge.

It wasn't coming fast. We weren't in clear and present danger. But it is a pretty simple rule on a boat: keep the water on the outside, not the inside. We ran the bilge pump and Erik puzzled over the culprit. The new stern tube? The new aft centerboard assembly? The rudder post? It was a maddening problem, but we kept ahead of it.

And we sailed along. We had lots of wind (good) and big seas (bad). That meant the boat couldn't heel over the way it likes to. We went up and down, side to side, up and down, side to side. At least we made good time those first few days; we cracked 10 knots a number of times.

My headaches were present-but-manageable. But, for the first time in our sailing history. Indy got seasick. Mind you, it may be because she ate an enormous piece of chocolate cake for breakfast, then immediately went down to the salon and watched a movie with her nose three inches from the screen. Erik and I certainly presented that hypothesis to her. Unconvinced, she tried it again the next day with the same results.

"Honey," I said, rinsing chocolatey vomit out of the cockpit bucket - remember, the toilets were long-since dead, "That's it. No more sweet stuff for breakfast. And you have to stay up here for at least half an hour after you eat."
Mothers. They are the meanest.
The weather matched our mood.
And both improved.
Erik and I continued our usual four-hour watch cycle. I always take the midnight to 4am stretch. While this means that I get more sleep than Erik does, it also means I am the chump. Because, as everybody in the world knows, bad things on a boat always happen at 1am.

A couple of days into the passage, I spied a light to starboard at 1am. I turned the computer back on (we normally put it in sleep mode at night to save power) to see who was out there. We have an AIS (Automatic Identification System) aboard which sends out a signal with our name, position, heading, and speed, and receives the same data from other similarly-outfitted boats in the area. All commercial vessels are required to have an AIS, so anyone big should show up on our screen.

(Here is an example from later in the trip when we were crossing a shipping channel. Papillon is the green figure. The dot at the end of the dotted line shows projected position in 30 minutes.)
Shipping traffic days later near Brisbane. Not to be confused with this encounter.
Sure enough, Big Cargo Ship* was on a collision course with us, approaching at a right angle. Usually these guys are steaming along at 20 knots or more, but he was travelling at about 9 - just like we were. It looked like we would hit in about 45 minutes or so. Did I mention this was the first other boat we had seen?

No problem. I got on the VHF and did the usual. I spoke with whoever was on the bridge, explained we were solely under sail, had limited ability to change course at the moment, and politely asked if BCS would mind not hitting us. Sure, okay. We signed off.

Time passed. BCS did not change course. I got back on the radio. I explained again. BCS again assured me that everything was okay.

Before you start saying: "Amy, just trust them you worrywart," let me help you understand. This is a photo of the actual boat I'm talking about:

Mmm hmm. This bulk carrier is 174m long - about ten times our length - and weighs over 1000 times what Papillon does. We're not going to win that fight. So here we were, only a couple of miles apart, and no change.

Back on the VHF. No time for nicey-nicey chatter.
"BCS, BCS, BCS, this is sailing vessel Papillon."
static, static, crackle
"Papillon, this is BCS."
"BCS, change course. I cannot correct my course any further. We are going to collide. I need you to alter course to avoid us. Now."
"Increasing speed and turning to starboard."

When BCS passed in front of Papillon, it was less than a mile away. I couldn't see both the bow and the stern without turning my head. I normally keep a death grip on my kitchen timer during the night watch just in case I fall asleep. That night, adrenaline did the job.

The rest of the trip was the usual.
Lots of reading.
Beautiful skies.
Letting youngsters steer.
And just plain hanging around.
 It was cold when we got to Brisbane.
Sad feet.
But we made it in. We had another near miss in the channel when a sailboat came at us head on. I spotted it and Erik steered away. We were both under motor. We looked over as we passed; the captain was lounging in the cockpit, on his iPad, a good five feet from the wheel. He didn't even look up as we streaked past. To this day he has no idea we were ever there. Eyeball navigation, people. Use it all the time, every time.

Soon enough, it was back in the slings and out of the water.

Papillon awaits our next visit. As for me, I'm going to sit back and think about the less exciting parts of our passage. Sometimes the boring parts are the ones to remember.

*No, I'm not going to tell you its real name.


Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor said...

Wow - some scary moments! Sailing in the dark always freaks me out for exactly these reasons.

Anonymous said...

I am glad that I am only hearing about this now.

Anonymous said...

Will you tell us its nickname? What about its maiden name? Maybe BCS had a pseudonym that it used in its younger days before being discovered?

Also, I absolutely LOVE someone's new haircut.


Paul Slaughter said...

Thanks again for the update. I have had "near misses" also in the air, the other pilot having no idea I was even that close and not monitoring the proper radio frequency. Eyes are still the best navigation tool whether on the surface or in the air. I noticed the "low maintenance" hairdo in two pictures too, look good.

sean cox said...

Exciting! Yep still following your blog, love following your adventures!