Torres Strait to Darwin
We thought about a fan for the cabin before leaving Sydney and it never quite made it to the top of the list. We are sailing west across the Gulf of Carpentaria with the SE trades pushing us along nicely around 6-7kts. It’s really hot. And humid. While there’s breeze in the cockpit, the angle of the morning sun bores past the Bimini and dodger, so there’s no shade. It’s like a solar BBQ. The sea state is just big enough to wash over the deck now and again, so the hatches are closed and the cabin is like a sauna. So, there’s a choice of frying in the cockpit or sweating in the cabin. We ran the gauntlet with leaving hatches open and Ben copped buckets of salt water as he lay in his bunk at 6 am. Salt being hygroscopic, means that bedding & stuff that gets wet by saltwater never completely dries out. By mid-afternoon, the sails cast a welcome shadow over the boat and there is some respite.
Relief from the stickiness of accumulated salt, sweat and sunscreen requires frequent washing. We conserve our 300L fresh water for drinking and cooking – everything else is done with salt water. That leaves a choice between a fresh water washer or a hose down with saltwater in the cockpit – we choose the latter and it also helps to cool down. The hose down takes care of the sweat and sunscreen and if you don’t like the feeling of salt on your skin, there’s a problem.
One of the other challenges on a yacht is balancing the power supply. We generate electricity from solar panels, a wind generator and the motor, which is then stored in a bank of four batteries. On the consumption side, there’s lights, water pumps, refrigerator, instruments, radio, autohelm, as well as – cameras, phones & laptops. The refrigerator and autohelm draw the most power and if it’s cloudy and/or not much wind the batteries run down. We can do this for a few days before needing to run the motor to recharge or start turning things off. There is enough diesel to motor for around 3 days and the priority is to conserve as much of this as possible as a back-up for the sails – it might be needed to complete a passage or to navigate rough weather & currents.
While running the refrigerator intermittently is an option, semi-cold beer is sub-optimal. To save power then leaves figuring out how to get the boat to self-steer without using the autohelm. Books are written about how to do this and I have read them. So far, I can say, putting theory[i] into practice is a great way to while away many hours on a long passage. Or as Ben prefers, read books & watch movies. I have the self-steering working for short periods, maybe a minute or two. One day I’ll crack it, stay tuned.
It’s been 25 days and 2,400 nm since leaving Sydney and we are looking forward to arriving in Darwin. The remoteness and vastness of northern Australia has its own beauty and provides a completely different lens on life to a busy city.
The SE trades have finally faded and we are motor sailing the last 100 nm with some tidal currents to keep that first Darwin stubby just that little bit farther away.
[i] The idea is that the direction of the boat is determined by the angle of the sails to the wind and if the headsail and mainsail are balanced, the boat will sail in a straight line with no pressure on the rudder. Naturally, in practise there are waves and wind gusts that cause the boat to yaw either side of your heading and the purpose of the rudder is to make small adjustments to maintain course.
The self-steering design I have selected, requires using an additional small head sail with the sheet or rope connected to the wheel and counter weighted with an elastic cord. When the boat rounds up, the pressure on the sail is increased and this transfers to the wheel which turns down and vice versa. Sounds easy, right?