“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Cui & I rose on Monday morning keen to clear in to Fiji and get started on anti-fouling and repairing the shaft seal. By 1130 we had cleared bio-security and proceeded to the marina for customs & immigration. After much back & forth we were advised the Galaxy was to be searched on the premise we had passed through the Panama Canal. The previous day an Australian couple was arrested on a yacht with $20M cocaine, amphetamines, firearms and a stack of USD ( http://www.fijitimes.com/denarau-drug-raid-woman-charged/ ). So, we had nine, yes nine, customs officials, police and a dog go over & through Galaxy for five hours, convinced they were on a roll & about to make another drug haul.During this time Cui & also were questioned separately several times. In some respects, it was comical & at the same time, also very serious – more than once I wondered what would happen if the officials planted a block of cocaine on the boat & arrested us, after all there was plenty available after yesterday’s haul! By around 4pm their enthusiasm began to wane & two expatriate NZ customs officials emerged for whisper conferences with their counterparts.After much deliberation it was decided to wind things up, though not before a last-ditch round of questioning. By the time we repacked the boat – after that many people going through your stuff you want to repack it yourself – it was dark as we tied up in the marina.
Well, that was an interesting day to put in the ‘adventure’ memories.
We thought a week would be long enough to do the anti-fouling & replace the shaft seal. The leaky shaft seal escalated from installing a $20 seal kit to several thousand dollars over 2 weeks to replace the complete unit and machine a new shaft coupling.
Cui had run short of time and returned to China. I was comfortable completing the final 1,800 nm solo and then I recalled the conversation at a school reunion with an old friend, Nick Hocking, which was the catalyst for my circumnavigation, so I gave him a call to see what he was up to. Nick was in the thick of house renovations, however, his brother Michael was available and arrived in Fiji the next day, Sunday.
Galaxy III was relaunched on Monday 9th July, with three mechanics on board to bleed & test the shaft seal. We obtained our clearances and were on our way by midday, passing by a flat Cloudbreak. An incoming yacht had missed the pass and run aground on the reef nearby – stern was well out of the water and the jib was up – they had assistance from power boats and must have been hoping the trade wind with the incoming tide would push them over the reef, into the lagoon.
On dusk, the drag on the fishing rod started screaming before the line snapped, losing a new lure. Next day we lost another lure and on the fourth day, Michael landed a nice Mahi Mahi. Next was a marlin, which continued dancing across the water as the line broke. The few meters that is left of the original line is well and truly stretched and worn out – time for a replacement.
The trade winds faded as Galaxy III approached New Caledonia and then the starter motor burnt out again (For the mechanically inclined; a relay switch had corroded and become sticky, which is like keeping the key turned after the engine has started). So, no motor for the calm days or to charge the batteries. Fortunately, solar and wind generation are enough to keep everything going, except the fridge. So that was turned off and we finished off the Fiji Bitter on a calm day, before they became warm.
Around 26°S, the prevailing SE trade winds stopped prevailing and Galaxy recorded the slowest day of the circumnavigation, covering just 27nm. It felt like we were in the horse latitudes, which are characterised by a subtropical ridge of high pressure and calm winds around 30°S. “According to legend, the term comes from ships sailing to the New World that would often become stalled for days or even weeks when they encountered areas of high pressure and calm winds. Many of these ships carried horses to the Americas as part of their cargo. Unable to sail and resupply due to lack of wind, crews often ran out of drinking water. To conserve scarce water, sailors on these ships would sometimes throw the horses they were transporting overboard. Thus, the phrase ‘horse latitudes’ was born.”[i]
There was only enough drinking water for one of us to reach Australia, so Michael dived in to 4,000 m of crystal clear water for a last swim before re-joining the crew for the rest of the passage. Border Force also flew overhead 400 nm from the Queensland coastline for a radio check, enthusiastically enjoying the beautiful flying conditions – not so much if you are sailing.
Calm winds added a couple of days to the passage – stay out here long enough and you are bound to encounter a SW front, which we did on Friday night. At 25-30kts, it was relatively mild and enough to shorten sail by two reefs. The ride upwind can be pretty bumpy and that can also make ablutions challenging – the head became known as the ‘Rodeo Seat’ after those moments you are airborne, which strike a moment of terror as you imagine landing with your genitals between the seat and bowl.
Two knots of assistance from the East Australian Current wasn’t enough to get us to Coffs Harbour as the wind faded – Galaxy drifted around the Solitary Islands for much of Sunday before Marine Rescue offered a tow into the harbour on dusk. We also whiled away a few hours untangling 70m of anchor chain and hand winching it aboard after the windlass switch melted.
Michael & I celebrated our arrival back in Australia with a bottle of rum and spent a few days in Coffs Harbour Marina to complete repairs to the starter motor and windlass, before making way on the final 230 nm to Sydney. Galaxy III was escorted through the heads by Nashira, Caviar & Rapture from the Cruising Division of Middle Harbour Yacht Club and joined by a group of friends at the marina. Well, that was an adventure & it’s nice to be home.