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Friday, November 9, 2007

The Passage to Australia

A day before we left Papua New Guinea, I was explaining to Yiannis how we would need to wear harness’s while we were on watch. Also, I informed him that he wouldn’t be allowed nor would he need to venture towards the bow of the boat. If anything needed to be done up there, Bill or I would take care of it. Explaining that the harness’s were just a precaution in case a big wave swept over you while you were on watch, Yiannis seemed to have a hard time grasping what the open ocean was going to be like. Yiannis looked at me and said “I don’t see how you could get thrown out of the cockpit. You are surrounded by the boat and you would have to fall a long way to actually make it overboard.” I responded to him “Just wait and you will see.” After passing over our last navigational challenge in PNG, a sunken barrier reef, the swells of the open ocean began to engulf us. Just a couple of meters high to start off the journey along with a consistent twenty five knot wind and it was looking like it was going to be a relatively fast and easy journey home. As Bill finished his shift, the first of our watches, I volounteered Yiannis to go next. The only reason I suggested we put Yiannis on at that time was that it was daylight and he could get some experience sailing in the increasing swells while there was still light. Elina and Bill had some kind of argument and it was just going to be the three of us doing watches for the journey home. With the sun setting, I relieved Yiannis of his first watch and took over steering. While on watch I could see the swells growing larger beneath the bright moonlight. The wind had increased to thirty knots and when Bill came out to relieve me, I told him that if the boat was doing anything under nine knots, it was going slow! With the boat racing across the waves and Bill at the helm, I happily laid down in my bed for a few hours of sleep. I awoke at midnight and emerged from below into the cockpit. There I found Yiannis with eyes the size of oranges looking like a crazed lunatic, his long hair dripping with water. All he could say was “Man this is crazy!” The swells now were even bigger, some being as much as fifteen feet high at times and the wind was still howling. We were loosing a bit of our course but with the speed we were making, we would worry about making up the direction whenever the winds shifted direction. Taking the helm from Yiannis, he slowly and carefully unclipped his harness and headed down below. The next morning, we were still getting beat up by the enormous swells. Getting dressed to come out for my first watch I heard Bill start cursing something outside. I came outside and asked what was going on. He said that he had just buried the bow into a swell and ripped off a chunk of the gunnel, a wooden member of the boat on the bow. Appareantly he had misjudged an enormous swell and the bow had buried itself about ten feet under the water. When it came back up, the water rushing over it peeled back one of the boards and broke it in half before dragging it out to sea. When I asked how the watches went last night, Bill said everything was fine. When Yiannis had shown up to do his first night watch however, Bill told him that he just couldn’t leave him alone out there to steer the boat so he would just take over his shift. The swells at that time were consistently twelve to fourteen feet with the occassional one being even bigger. Combine that with the boay sailing through the swells at ten and sometimes eleven knots, he just couldn’t let him do it. Yiannis reponded with a bold cry of “Let me try! I have always wanted to steer a boat through crashing waves in the open ocean! I can do it! Let me take the watch!” Appareantly Bill couldn’t say no to the passion of this Greek man. At the end of the night, everything was fine and Yiannis had done an excellent job of cruising through the waves. It must be the seafairing blood that runs in the Greeks because sailing the boat in those conditions for someone who has as little experience as Yiannis is a very difficult task. I have a feeling he will be doing a lot more sailing in the furture! Yiannis awoke and recapped the story for me again, but he also said he now understood why we wear a harness. Throughout his night watch he was constantly checking to make sure that the harness was secure on his chest as well as properly clipped to the boat. After having several waves had crashed over him, he said he must have checked to make sure he was hooked in correctly at least a hundred times. He even attempted to figure out a way to try to clip himself into his bed! After three nights at sea we awoke to calmer waters and a bit lighter winds. Being able to maintain an average of about nine knots the entire way, we were already to the Great Barrier Reef over twenty four hours sooner than we had planned. My first night back in civalization wasn’t far away! Twenty five final miles sailing through the calm and clear waters protected by the Reef and we would be in Cairns! A city filled with beautiful backpackers, great drink specials and lots of wonderful food was close enough to taste. I can’t wait to arrive for some much needed time surrounded by the liveliness of the civalization that I left behind almost six months ago.

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