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Heading out again

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In 2013 I started out for the Northwest Passage, but had to turn back.
That year a cyclone in the Arctic churned up 70% more ice than usual.
Hardly any boats made it through the passage. 2014 also stayed mostly frozen.
However, 2015 was much warmer, with boats getting through in places that were usually closed by ice year round.
Hoping that the same situation will happen in 2016, I am going to make another attempt.

In early May, I will head out from Sydney, to circumnavigate the globe solo, without stopping anywhere. I will head north to Alaska, go through the Bering Sea, the Chukchi Sea and into The Beaufort Sea north of Canada. Hopefully I can transit through the Northwest Passage via the Prince of Wales Strait, and exit into Baffin Bay by Greenland sometime about the end of August. Then it will be south down Iceberg Alley to Newfoundland, across the Atlantic in the Gulf Stream towards Portugal to go around the North Pacific High, around the Canaries and south towards Brazil to loop around the South Pacific High, then south-east to Capetown, into the Southern Ocean to Tasmania, and back up to Sydney. With luck, I will arrive in Sydney sometime in January 2017.

Do you believe in Karma.??

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Following my accident and return to Australia, a few events have occured that make me feel that someone/thing is looking out for me.

If I had been on schedule, I would have rounded the Bering Sea and entered the Chukchai Sea about the first of August.

About the first week of August, a Sydney paper carried the following story:

Montreal:  Arctic scientists are watching in awe this week as a raging summer cyclone tears up what could become a record amount of rotting northern sea ice.

"We're watching this year with a bit of fascination" said climatologist Matthew Asplin.

Arctic cyclones are driven by low pressure systems in which winds of up to 100km/h blow counter clockwise in spiral more than 1000km across.

They occur in both winter and summer but are usually stronger in winter.  Cyclones are not unusual in the Arctic, but seem to be changing in recent years, said David Barber, one of Canada's top sea ice experts.

"These cyclones are not getting more frequent, but they are getting deeper.. which means stronger." he said.

It would have been interesting to have been there in the middle of an Arctic cyclone.

Assuming that I would have made it through.. with the storm pushing mountains of ice around..  I would have hoped to exit the eastern side of the passage by 1 September, and begin moving southward alongside Greenland.

My brother Marty sent me an e-mail from a cruise ship he was on, which cancelled a visit to Iceland and Greenland because of a gale in the area, that was so severe that the cruise ship decided to stay in Norway.

I would have been right there, and my boat is a lot smaller.

Then there was this story, published on

The Northwest Passage after decades of so-called global warming has a dramatic 60% more Arctic ice this year than at the same time last year. The future dreams of dozens of adventurous sailors are now threatened. A scattering of yachts attempting the legendary Passage are caught by the ice, which has now become blocked at both ends and the transit season may be ending early. Douglas Pohl tells the story:

The Passage has become blocked with 5/10 concentrated drifting sea ice at both the eastern and at the western ends of Canada’s Arctic Archipelago. At least 22 yachts and other vessels are in the Arctic at the moment. Some who were less advanced have retreated and others have abandoned their vessels along the way. Still others are caught in the ice in an unfolding, unresolved drama.

The real question is if and when the Canadian Coast Guard(CCG) decides to take early action to help the yachts exit the Arctic before freeze-up... or will they wait until it becomes an emergency rescue operation?

The first blockage area is at Prince Regent Inlet in position 73.7880535N, -89.2529297W which became blocked on 27th August with 5/10 ice concentration with 7/10 ice pushing.

This effectively closes the 2013 Northwest Passage without Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker escorts for transit. The alternative is a very technical and risky southern navigation through Fury & Hecla Strait mostly blocked with sea ice.

Currently there is a commercial cruise ship on a west to east passage which will reach Prince Regent Inlet in another day. It is unknown if there is a CCG icebreaker in the area to provide assistance since government ships do not provide Automatic Identification Service (AIS) to public AIS websites.

Since one of the Canadian Coast Guard’s prime missions is to provide icebreaking for commercial shipping it will be interesting to see if Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Government views this as an opportunity for good public relations to help recreational yachts transiting the Northwest Passage.

Another choke-point stopping marine traffic is on the western Canadian Arctic at Cape Bathurst in position 70.6672443N, -128.2763672W which became blocked on 26th August with 2/10 ice concentration and quickly filled with 5/10 ice on 27th August and today has 8/10 ice pushing towards Cape Bathurst. Latest word is the ice is retreating at an agonizing 1 nautical mile per day northward.

There are a number of yachts known to be in the Cambridge Bay area heading west: ACALEPHE (CA), ISATIS (NEW CALEDONIA), LA BELLE EPOQUE (DE), LIBELLULE (CHE), NOEME (FRA), and TRAVERSAY III (CA). PAS PERDU LE NORD (DE) was ahead by 10 days and has already gone on to Arctic Alaska waters. While BALTHAZAR (CA) departed from Inuvik a month ago and is now on the hard in Nome Alaska.

The following yachts are enroute from the west to the east: ANNA (?), rowboat ARCTIC JOULE (CA), DODO'S DELIGHT (GBR), EMPIRICUS (USA). rowboat FAIRMONT's PASSION (USA), tandem-kayak IKIMAYIA (CA), in Russian sea ice is LADY DANA (POL), POLAR BOUND (GBR), rowboat ROWING ICE (FRA), in Russian sea ice is TARA (FRA), and a group of jetskis known as DANGEROUS WATERS (USA) reported east of Gjoa Haven.

Several updates on known others:
LE MANGUIER (FRA) is wintering over in the ice at Paulatuk. Motor Yacht Lady M II (Marshal Islands) was escorted by CCGS icebreaker HENRY LARSEN through Bellot Strait eastbound on 20130824. ARCTIC TERN (GBR) and TOOLUKA (NED) retreated to the east towards Greenland/Newfoundland away from Bellot Strait on 20130822 with the opinion that the Arctic ice was finished melting and freeze-up would prevent them from reaching the Northwest Passage finish line at the Arctic Circle in the Bering Strait.

Empiricus, still smiling.

My wife Julie is of the opinion that I was given a 'small' scalding to send me back to protect me from something much worse later on.

HAD I made it through all that, and through the gale near Greenland, I would still have had to face crossing the Atlantic to near Portugal, then down the south atlantic, around Capetown, and the Southern Ocean to Tasmania and back to Sydney..4 and a half more months.

Also I discovered yesterday that the spare gas cylinder that I was carrying has the wrong fitting.  I would have not been able to cook for the final three months..  !!

What do YOU think?  Is it Karma?

Some wins

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Things were coming together nicely.  I had a series of small wins, fixing things that still needed fixing, climbing the mast to change the mast top nav lights to LED's, adding a new halyard to the spreaders.


I finally  headed out from Sydney on May 15th.. 
but the engine was overheating and I went back in to the Cruising Yacht Club in Rushcutters Bay,
 to find a mechanic. we checked everything, and could find no reason for the overheating..
 so I went out again the next day, using lower revs to keep the engine cool. I sailed east about fifty miles..caught a northeast current
and flew northeast at 6 knots with hardly any sails out..
in some of the roughest seas I've ever been in...
30 knot following winds, ten foot swells every four seconds, and the boat was really tossed about. On Saturday morning, about 185 miles out, I was boiling eggs
 for breakfast when we hit some really bad seas,
which had been getting worse all the time. I ended up with a pan of boiling water pouring on to my
right forearm,scalding me quite severely.
At ten o'clock I decided the burn was bad enough that it needed medical attention,
but the weather just kept getting worse.
Low revs on the engine did not provide enough power to fight the current and winds.
I tried sailing north to Brisbane, but the winds shifted to the west at 35 knots, and the best I could do
was to head south east. For three days I fought to get back in,
finally beating west until I was out of the northerly current,
and caught a coastal south west current., eventually going back through the heads Tuesday morning,
after having every single thing that could go wrong, go wrong,
 engine troubles, fuel problems, just everything.
It was perhaps the worst week at sea I have ever had. I saw a doctor at Edgecliff, and had the second degree burns
on my forearm tended to, then moved the boat to Brooklyn
on Wednesday, where I am able to go to my doctor in Hornsby
for more treatment. Needless to say, the delay has killed any hope of making
ten thousand miles from here through the Arctic and out to
Greenland before freeze up in less than a hundred days,
so the dream is gone for this year. I think the engine overheating is due to having loaded
800 liters of extra fuel, about 1780 pounds more,
which makes the boat bow heavy, meaning that it has to push more
water.. I can't really go anywhere without full power, as I could
get into a situation where I needed all the engine to get me out
of a bad place and I would not have it, so I have to sort that out first. I was lucky.. to be close enough to get back to Sydney.
And that the boiling water did not spill on my head, only my arm.
Such is life. I am about to finish my 7th book, titled
'The Voyages of Rafiki.. Solo across the Pacific',
and I now have a few extra chapters about being beaten up in the Tasman to add, although I could write an entire book about the miserable weather and conditions.. no meals.. the boat trashed..everything coming loose and banging around, and of course, not having any fun at all. It will take a few weeks for my arm to mend, it is quite
useless, except for typing where it does not move or flex.

Slight delay

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On Saturday May 11th, I moved Rafiki from Hawkesbury down to the Cruising Yacht Club Marina in Rushcutters Bay in Sydney Harbor.  Warner Ferguson, from the yacht 'Lets Play' came with me, and drove for most of the way.  It was very sloppy and choppy, and not a nice ride, going across the swells.  Warner was particularly helpful as he has a wealth of experience in Sydney Harbor, having been the Commodore of Vaucluse Yacht Club years ago, so he was comfortable with the traffic.

The engine began overheating and that was a worry.  It suggested that there  might be a crimped hose in the system

The next day I did find a crimp in the intake hose, sorted that out, and loaded up with 800 liters of fuel.

Rafiki is sitting lower in the water.

Australia at last just before the big storm

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Weather forecasts said the winds would be shifting a lot, and that meant we had no clear course for sailing, so I decided to use some fuel and just motor in.  Part of it of course was the feeling that I was so close, and if I couldn't really hold a course, then I would be out there for a few more days.  90 days seemed like enough, so I just cut and ran.  The seas were rough, there was a lot of rain, and it was not much fun to be out in a boat.  The only problem, was that when I calculated how much time it would take, I did not factor in that the swells and the winds veered to come from behind.  We were smoothly making six and seven and sometimes eight knots, with a pretty smooth ride.  When the seas calmed down, we really moved, most of the time we seemed to be being pursued by two thirds of the horizon being black and coming after us.  Luckily the weather was moving on an angle to our course, and we moved out of the way of a lot of it.  But hitting eight knots when the plan was based on five knots meant that if we continued at that pace, we would get to Sydney about five hours sooner, in the middle of the night.  So I had no option but to shut it all down and let what winds there were move us along.  Five hours later, I cranked it up again, aiming to pass through the heads about nine am.  With all the rain, it wasn't until we were about two miles away that I could finally see the rocks.

Sydney harbour is a busy place, full of red and green and white buoys, with ferries coming at you from all angles.  It was a nervous time with my new AIS system going crazy with all the potential close approaches. Despite calling dozens of times to Sydney Harbour Control, I never got a reply.  Finally when I was getting desperate to find the customs jetty, I started saying that I needed assistance.  This brought on a 'rescue' service, but every time we tried to communicate, the nut would say that he couldn't hear me, and would we switch to a different channel.  Each time I did, the nut wasn't there, so I would go back to sixteen and start again.  At last I spotted the Customs site, and pulled up to their jetty, which is really set up for large ships.  It had giant fenders, the tide was low, and I had a devil of a time trying to get a line onto the dock.  The fenders kept me six feet out, the dock was almost out of reach, and of course, all the staff at customs disappeared.  A half hour later, after risking my life scrambling to climb up and tie-up, I finally made it.  Since I had not eaten, I made myself some cornflakes with condensed milk, and a coffee, and then six guys showed up.  After I cleared customs, they told me I had to cross the harbour to go to Quaranteen Services.  At that time, the engine failed for the first time since I had bought the boat.  It just would not start.  In the end, I had to pay for a towing service to get across.

For coming in on a Sunday. AQIS charged me over 600 dollars.  Since I couldn't get a diesel mechanic on a sunday, I tied up at the nearby marina, d'Albora in Rushcutter's Bay, the ritziest and most expensive marina in Sydney for the night.  On Monday we cleaned all four fuel filters, found water in the last one, and because the weather was making up, I had to stay in harbour.  Three low pressure systems merged and lashed Sydney, with 45 foot waves and 60 to 100 knot winds.  I moved nextdoor, to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia marina, (they run the Sydney-Hobart race) for fifty a night.  By Thursday night I had made a deal for a berth at a small up river marina, and about six a.m. Friday, I went out through the heads, the winds having dropped to 20 knots, and five hours later I was tied up at the Hawkesbury River marina.  There are only four sail boats here, one is the owners boat.  He is a great guy, an 81 year old Norwegian ex tanker engineer, so we can talk the same language, me talking about being a deckhand on a Norwegian freighter, and him telling me about what it was like before ships got modern.  I think he will be a good friend.  It has been raining since I arrived, so I have had to clean the inside of the boat first.  With a few rust spost and stains, I am using a product called Hull Cleaner, phosphoric acid, that really takes the rust stains off, and all the gunk that a hull picks up.  Rafiki looks shiny, and when I grind out the rust spots that I did in Mexico, but didn't have two part expoxy paint to seal, and do it here, she should be good for a couple of years.  My calculations on fuel usage and having a margin to motor in here were pessimistic.  I only took 16 gallons of diesel.  (66 litres)  The voyage damage consists of one strand off of the port spreader stay.. which I watched dangle for 6000 miles wondering if more were coming, and I was going to lose my mast.  I rationalized it by figuring the two fore-stays, back stay, and remaining five side stays would hold it all together.  Rust spots I mentioned, but that will just be a single days work grinding filling treating and painting.  And the main sail needs patching alon the boom where it tore loose from the travelers in three spots, and on the mast, another two torn off.

I took off the lazy jacks and used the cord to loop through the sail and tie it on to the boom, and then reefed to the first reef so it would not be strained.

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