Saturday night before Christmas, we are working our way through the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) 60 miles north of Christmas Island. Shifty winds and rain and the moon has long set. But the wind at least briefly has come to ESE which is lift for us as we struggle for easting. Mainsail, staysail and jib are the only sail up in this squally weather and the GM in the basement is doing its thing. The wind has been East to Northeast 20 to 30 knots for several months in the waters between the Line Islands and Hawaii. This has given us a great boost on the 3 round trips to the wind between Fanning and Washington from Christmas, but now we have to beat against it to get home. We are just at 3 degrees north of the Equator, a latitude we have crossed 3 times in the last 3 days ago. On our first departure from Christmas we reached 120 miles NNE before we were forced to turn around. Within half an hour we lost both methods of propulsion. The wind picked up to 35 knots NE while we were motoring in that direction, making easting. The gear box oil alarm went off as apparently the clutch began to slip. The prop had been coming out of the water in the rising sea and this added load causing slippage which immediately heated up the oil. We idled back and headed NNW and raised the mainsail. While heaving the peak out a pot near the tack caught on something and started a tear. The rip ran almost the full length of the panel, a good 25′. That was it and we turned and ran back to Christmas, arriving back 40 hours after our departure.
The mainsail was already de-rigged by the time we pulled in and we set to work immediately to fix it. Modern sail repair on a sail of this size without our big sewing machine involves more than just stitching. The sail was laid out on the hatch and the awning rigged as there was steady rain. The torn area was stretched taut and plywood strips aligned under it. The loose edges and threads were cleaned up with the hot knife and strips of sailcloth 2.5 inches wide cut off a roll of new cloth. These are glued on with contact cement. The holes are punched all along each side of the patch in a zig zag pattern. Through these the needle and thread are passed. To do this we need access to both sides of the sail. As the tear was in the middle of the sail, we rolled up the short side and hung it from the cargo boom. This left the repair at a suitable level for up to 8 hands, working in pairs to pass the needles and thread. The stitching took about 6 hours and by the afternoon of the next day we were putting the sail back up.
We also took on another 8000 liters of fuel and 3000 of water to ballast the ship down in the stern. We have relatively little fixed ballast in the ship, as we load her full in Honolulu and do not want to give up any cargo capacity. Most of the legs of the voyage the ship is loaded with cargo, so ballasting is not an issue. Since the demise of seaweed as a back-haul cargo to Honolulu, we have been returning a very light ship. The only cargo in her is 7 pallets of crushed soda cans, a drum of copper scrap and 2 pallets of used batteries all for recycle.
Since lowering the wheelhouse as part of our ongoing conversion project to full sail, we took off several tons of ballast aft. As a result we sailed from Christmas with a draft aft of only 8′ which is not enough to keep the prop submerged in a big sea. With fuel and water our draft is now about just less than 9′. Of course, we need weight forward as well. Otherwise the head blows off and we have a heavy lee helm. This slows the ship and makes her difficult to steer. Other than permanent ballast the only solution is to find a return cargo. Unfortunately, no one wants copra in Hawaii and that is all we can find so far.
So we won’t have Christmas at home this year, nor on Christmas Island. We will eat our turkey at sea, cooked by our stand in Cook, Joanna Maltas. She joined the ship as a passenger before our last legs to Fanning and Washington, but has found a home in the galley. I thought we would be sharing the galley duty on this northbound trip. Our 2 Kiribati Cooks are US visa deficient at this time, but Joanna (aka Jojo) has stepped right up continuing the Kwai tradition of plenty of good food at every meal.
Aloha from sea
Captain Brad Ives