The GSSR group departed Nagasaki Japan at 05:30 headed to Amami island, 263nm south, in the Ryukyu Island chain. The passage, at 8 knots, requires 33 hours (a day and a half) to complete.
None of our three boats, Grey Pearl, Seabird or Sans Souci, had any crew aboard. It is just the three couples running the boats. Sans Souci does have Roberta’s parents on the boat, but they are better described as ‘passengers’ than as ‘crew.’
All of us have made overnight passages with just ourselves, but not so many that it isn’t a big deal. Actually, I can’t speak for Grey Pearl and Seabird, but definitely, here on Sans Souci, running overnight with just Roberta and I is a challenge. Normally on longer passages we bring some crew, or friends with boating experience, onto the boat to help run the boat. In fact, I have a rule on Sans Souci which is that two people should be in the pilot house at all times. With crew, this is possible, with just Roberta and I, there is no way we can do this. When she is driving the boat, I need to be sleeping, and vice versa.
With just the two of us to run Sans Souci, we take turns on three hour shifts. I forego the normal hourly engine room checks, and instead do thorough engine room checks every three hours at the shift turnover. Sans Souci has a monitoring system (Simon) which is constantly monitoring over 200 points of information around the boat, and blinks a light at the helm if anything seems wrong. Simon has normal temperature ranges, pressure ranges, tank levels, etc pre-programmed in, and does a very good job of spotting anything that seems wrong. There are cruisers who are comfortable with leaving the helm unattended, but I am not one of them.
I asked Grey Pearl and Seabird what their system was for shifts when making overnight passages. Both said they are loose during the day, and take 3 hour turns at night. Sans Souci is unusual in that Roberta and I took our turns even during daylight hours. I’m not sure which is better, but liked the idea of forcing each of us to rest every three hours.
As I’ve mentioned before, leaving Nagasaki was not easy for the GSSR group. This was truly a leap into the unknown. Japan has spoiled us. We have mostly been in marinas with all the comforts one could want. We have usually been close to shore, in protected waters, with no real weather worries. With our venture into the Ryukyus we are back in the open Pacific where mistakes can be costly.
We wanted the best possible weather forecast for our departure, so we delayed leaving Nagasaki for several days.
Prior to our departure, as I mentioned in my last blog, we studied the weather, and were patient. We wanted an easy passage…
Our first twelve hours at sea were about as comfortable as we could have hoped. Our only annoyance was the frequent need to dodge fishing gear in the water, such as the one pictured above. Running over one of these can mean a line or chain wrapped around your propeller, and a potentially dangerous situation. Our three boats used the calm seas to practice our radar skills, trying to perfectly tune the radars so we could easily dodge the fishing gear (we tend to call them crab pots, although most are flags marking the ends of long lines with fish hooks, hanging beneath the water, or on the bottom.) At first none of us could spot the flags, but after an hour of radio discussion amongst the boats, all of us had the radars picking up the flags.
At dusk the wind started picking up, as did the current, and the swell. Within a 30 minute time span our day changed dramatically. At first, my thought was, “Darn. All of that work we did to tune the radars is now irrelevant. With this wave action, we’ll never be able to spot the crab pots.”
Quickly, the situation worsened, and I started realizing that we had bigger problems than just crab pots. We were being tossed around far more than anything in the weather forecast. Our expectation was for seas of only three to five feet, and wind from 10 to 15 knots. But, I was seeing 20+ knots of wind, and the waves sure felt larger than five feet. I didn’t know how tall because I couldn’t see them. In the worst of luck, we had a moonless night. I don’t know if the moon didn’t come up, or if clouds obscured it. All I knew was that everything was pitch black, there were crab pots out there with my name on them, and an invisible dog seemed to have us in its teeth and was shaking us like a play toy.
And, the worst of all is that I was getting sick. I am prone to seasickness, but handle it easily through scopolamine patches which are applied behind the ear. The bad news is that I hadn’t put one on. When I can avoid it I don’t like putting anything into my system, even aspirin. Thus, with a calm weather prediction I had elected not to apply a patch. And with the waves already on us, it was too late. Once you are sick, you are sick.
For those of you who have never been seasick, it is a miserable feeling. I was lethargic, couldn’t think straight, and felt like puking. All I could think about was lying down and closing my eyes. The goal of moving around, doing engine room checks, even sitting in the captain’s chair, seemed impossible. But, I had no choice. Roberta wasn’t going to be able to safely run the boat the entire time by herself. I needed to do my shifts and ‘tough it out.’
As the hours ground on, and the wind stayed over 20 knots, and we kept getting pounded, our group spoke on the radio to ask ourselves how our interpretation of the weather had gone so wrong.
Here is what we decided…
Our boats were heading due south. The wind and swell was coming from our port beam (left side). Meanwhile there was a strong current pushing us from our starboard (right) side. In order to make forward progress I was having to steer a heading that was 16 degrees farther to the right than the direction I wanted to go. To understand what I mean, imagine you are crossing a river, in a canoe. If the river is flowing as you cross the river, unless you adjust by paddling upstream, you are not going to go straight across. You are going to wind up downstream. You will ‘drift’ downstream while working your way across the river. In order to adjust for the strong current, our boats were having to steer up into the current, in order to maintain our course. 16 degrees is a large adjustment, and my back of the envelope math indicates a current of about 2 to 3 knots. This current was running directly into 20+ knots of wind coming the opposite direction, with the effect of exaggerating the waves, and creating sloppy seas.
I also believe that the shallow water around us was adding to the confused seas. This is an area of many islands, and the depths have been alternating between a couple thousand feet deep and seas only a couple hundred feet deep. As water shallows up, it can change the wave pattern. I’ve been in waves over 20 feet tall, and had a nice ride. I remember while crossing the Atlantic sitting in the salon watching waves around us that were taller than our boat, and not thinking it was a big deal at all. Out in open ocean you tend to get big gentle rollers. As long as they are far apart, all is fine.
My guess, and it is purely a guess, is that we were in 10 foot breaking seas, that were close together, perhaps 7 seconds. With the wind hitting us on the left, and the current from the right, we were caught as the meat in a wave sandwich. East coast boaters are very familiar with what we were experiencing if they have ever tried to cross the gulf stream with the wind running against the current. The washing machine effect of the resulting waves is not fun.
I do not mean to imply the seas were dangerous to the boat. We never felt unsafe. There is an old saying about these boats, “You will give up long before the boat does.” In this case, my Nordhavn boat was doing fine, but my stomach is made of weaker stuff. Roberta’s parents were also not looking happy. Her dad, John, looked green, and I worked at convincing him to go to bed and relax. My primary concern was that he, or Nova, Roberta’s mom, might take a bad tumble down the stairs. At one point, Nova was trying to simply get off the settee in the pilot house, and struggled for several minutes watching for an opportunity to stand up. It was an uncomfortable situation to say the least – if not downright worrisome.
Shelby, our dog, also was struggling. Her restroom is outdoors on the upper deck. She has a dog door to get outside, and I was worried that she’d go outside and start sliding across the deck. I didn’t think she could fall overboard, because we have an extra rail meant to keep her from going overboard, but it’s not a perfect system. Then again, when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go, so we were just hoping she could figure it out. We kept an eye on her, though, each time she went outside.
The tough weather lasted for about 10 hours, without incident, other than me exporting the chili that Roberta made for dinner off the port side of the ship. Yuck.
As to Roberta herself, she has never been seasick. She is a very lucky person!
Once reaching Amami, we chose our anchorage based on where we thought we’d be the most protected from the wind and seas. On the east side of the island, we found a long deep channel that had a good anchorage at the back. The coast guard reference we have said that the channel should only be attempted by boats with ‘local knowledge.’ However, we found it easy, and the charts correct. I used my sonar for the entry, and we anchored in 25’ of beautiful, well-protected, clear water. The skies were overcast, so we didn’t really get the beautiful anchorage experience I had hoped for, but overall, it was a near-perfect anchorage. We barbequed hamburgers and corn on the cob which made for an easy, wonderful dinner on the upper aft deck, then were in bed by 8:30pm. We slept non-stop for almost 12 hours…
And, on a different topic…
I’m very sorry to report that Abby Sunderland, the 16 year old now circumnavigating is lost at sea as I am typing this. Here’s the latest report from her blog, posted by her team:
| ||Update on Abby |
We spoke with Abby early this morning and learned that she had had a very rough
day with winds up to 60 knots and seas 20-25 feet. She had been knocked down
several times but was handling things well. The wind had subsided to around 35
knots which she and Wild Eyes are quite comfortable with.
We were helping her troubleshoot her engine that she was trying to start to
charge her systems. Satellite phone reception was patchy. She was able to get
the water out of the engine and start her up. We were waiting to hear back from
her when American Search & Rescue authorities called to report having received a
signal from her emergency beacon (EPIRB). We initially thought that the signal
was sent automatically from her water-activated EPIRB and that it had been
activated during one of her knockdowns. As we pulled the paperwork from her
EPIRB registration, we learned that the signal had come from her manually
We were referred to Australian Search & Rescue and while we were on the phone
with them another signal came in from her handheld PLB (Personal Locator
Beacon). Her water-activated EPIRB has not been activated so we are hopeful that
the boat is still upright.
We are working closely with American, French and Australian Search & Rescue
authorities to coordinate several ships in the area to divert to her location.
There are several ships in her area, the earliest possible contact is 40 hours.
We are actively seeking out some sort of air rescue but this is difficult due to
the remoteness of her location. Australian Search & Rescue have arranged to have
a Quantas Airbus fly over her location at first light (she is 11 hours later).
They will not be able to help her other than to talk via marine radio if they
are able to get close enough. Hopefully, they will be able to assess her
situation and report back to us.
Abby has all of the equipment on board to survive a crisis situation like this.
She has a dry suit, survival suit, life raft, and ditch bag with emergency
supplies. If she can keep warm and hang on, help will be there as soon as
possible. Wild Eyes is designed for travel in the Southern Ocean and is equipped
with 5 air-tight bulkheads to keep her buoyant in the event of major hull
damage. It is built to Category 0 standards and is designed to self-right in the
event of capsize.
Thank you for all of your kind emails and calls. We appreciate your prayers and
We will update as soon as there is some news.
Laurence, Marianne and Team Abby
Hopefully by the time you read this blog entry she’ll have been found alive and well.
I posted in my last blog entry a video from Scott and Cindy Stolnitz who are in French Polynesia. They are continuing the do interesting things, as evidenced by this email Scott sent me yesterday:
| || Google: Mopelia, Von Luckner, Shipwreck |
There is lots of stuff on the wreck of the German WW1 vessel “Seeadler”
I believe it to be the inspiration of the WW2 John Wayne movie “Sea Wolf”.
There has been a recent book published on Von Luckner. I think it’s called “Voyage of the Sea Eagle”.
Lost the vessel due to anchor slipping or breaking the chain here in Mopelia.
LOTS on him on the net, definitely worth the look see.
We’ve gotten the local family here (only 10 people) to give us a map of where we hope to find, both anchors, some chain, 105 mm gun, shells, bow windlass and crank shaft. She was an American built “Windjammer” that was captured by a German U-Boat and renamed from “Pass of Balhama” to “Seeadler”. (Sea Eagle).
His second 105 mm gun is mounted in the Park Pomare in Tahiti. His German Battle Flag at a museum in Auckland.
He was a true “gentleman warrior”. He prided himself as never taking a life. Once by error, a “shot over the bow” killed a British sailor and he was in tears and distraught. He would invite his captive Captains to dinner and treated the crews very well. He was finally caught by the Kiwi Navy and interned for the war.
However, as a civilian in Germany (where he was a hero), Hitler tried to have him murdered as he hated the Nazi Party and what Hitler was doing to Germany.
His public popularity is all that saved him and he lived under house arrest during WW2. The last major battle of WW2 was shaping up to be in the German city of “Halle” where Von Luckner lived. He went across allied lines of his own accord and helped negotiate a cease fire with General Terry Allen (US Commander) and the German Generals in charge. Again, he was credited as a hero by the German people (and Americans as there were lots of POW’s in Halle).
The Russians caught him at the end of the war and George Patton personally had him released and sent to Sweden with his wife.
Definitely worth the look.
We moved the boat over near the 65 foot wide pass!…YIKES and will do our second and many more dives in search of….
We did find 100 feet of anchor chain, we now have a map to find the rest. Hope to get lots of photos. There is a photo of Randy Repass (owner of West Marine) snorkeling on the shallow anchor. The other one is 70 feet deep.
Scott and Cindy Stolnitz www.svbeachhouse.com
As I type this, we are back underway moving from our anchorage on the north end of Amami island to a different one on the south end.
That’s it for today.
Sans Souci, Nordhavn 68
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