Is That a Barn I Smell? Quick, Let’s Run!

Sophie covered 130 miles in the last 24 hours, a period of time during which we experienced loud thumping noises against the hull, swimming, sharks, zig zagging, a massive thunder and lightning storm, pounding directly into 20+ knot winds, and a potential collision. We are currently motoring at 8.5 knots into a very light headwind with both engines running @ 2800 RPMs. Sorong is 20 miles away, and it’s only noontime here. Our baby smells the barn and is heading for home. Sophie’s current position is 00.38.186 South, 131.30.872 East. After four nights at sea, we WILL sleep at anchor tonight. I might even let my wife buy me a beer.

How do I begin to describe the events of yesterday?

Let’s start with the thumping.

It was early afternoon, and Jenna went down below for a nap. We’re both pretty tired from night watches. We had Sophie running upwind in light air with the full main, the jib, and one engine running when I decided to turn on the watermaker. We want to have both water tanks full when we pull into Sorong in the event that the harbor there is as polluted as the harbor in Jayapura. Anyway, as soon as I turned on the genset and the (loud) watermaker, I started to hear a thumping noise coming from the port engine room. I thought it was weird, because the genset is located forward and the watermaker is located in the starboard engine room. The thumping noise was intermittent: I could hear it for a minute and then it would go away for 5 minutes. I turned off the port engine, and you could still hear the thumping. I turned off the genset and watermaker, and you could still hear the thumping. We must have snagged a rope or fishing line at some point that morning. There was only one thing to do: jump in the water to check it out.

Unfortunately I had to go downstairs and wake up Jenna, who was in a deep sleep. We dropped the main, rolled up the jib, and as a precaution turned on both engines and left them in neutral. I grabbed my mask and fins. Jenna asked if I wanted a rope tied around me. I said no, with my fins I can easily swim back to Sophie. Besides, I hate the idea of being dragged through the water. So I jump in, look up and see that Sophie is already 15 feet away from me and moving quickly. I swim as hard as I can and grab hold of Sophie’s transom, letting the boat drag me through the water. I look under the surface and see that there is nothing on the propeller, keel, or rudder on either hull. We are in 8,000 feet of water. Whatever we were dragging must have fallen off the boat when we stopped.

So we put the sails back up, switched to just one motor, and continued on our way. Jenna wasn’t going back to sleep, so we hung out together up on the flying bridge. 5 minutes later, we both saw something black and menacing in the water 10 feet away from Sophie. It looked like a big shark.

I’m sure glad I survived my quick jump and drag through the water.

A little later, the wind picked up and shifted to the northwest, and the current turned against us. We were motorsailing at four knots on a course that would drive us into the island. We were concerned about having shifting winds and currents near Papua, so we decided to turn due north and sail away from the island for a few hours. Per Ardua, still over 100 miles behind us, made a similar decision and had actually sailed into the northern hemisphere!

Once again, our timing was perfect. As we started sailing away from Papua, a wall of squalls formed along the entire coastline of the island. One of them broke away and chased us north. It was a dense black wall with bolts of lightning and booming thunder, just 5 miles behind us. The wind picked up to 25 knots apparent, and we had one reef in the main as we raced north for 20 miles. At sunset, Jenna came up and helped me put a second reef in the main, then we continued heading north.

We ate our pizza, which Leo and Hazel prepared while we were underway in heavy seas. They made the dough from scratch, grated the cheese, and sliced the olives. Jenna helped with the oven, but the kiddies did everything else. It was delicious.

When Jenna came on watch at 7:30 we tacked back towards land, hoping we had made enough northing to sail clear of the north coast of Papua.

We didn’t. The wind shifted back to the south and the currents were fluky. When I came up on watch at 10:00, Jenna had the boat back near the coast. Unfortunately we had sailed 35 miles over the 2 tacks but had advanced only 20 miles towards our destination over a 6 hour period. At this rate there was no way we were going to make Sorong by Saturday. “To heck with tacking.” I rolled up the jib, cranked up both engines to 2000 RPM, and started to motor straight into the wind. We were making 6 knots, but within an hour we picked up another weird current and started going 10-11 knots directly into the wind!

We continued this way for the next 5 hours, making good progress. But towards the end of Jenna’s next shift, the current had died down and the wind picked up so we were back down to 4-5 knots. Unfortunately for Jenna, she experienced none of the 10 knot action during her shift.

Some guys get all the luck.

When I came back on watch at 4:00 AM, we still had almost 100 miles to go. But we also had plenty of diesel left. Back in Seattle, Sophie’s “normal” motoring mode involved running both engines @ 2,800 RPMs. We decided to relive the past and opened her up. At 6:30 this morning we finally rounded Amsterdam Island, the northwest tip of Papua New Guinea. At this point we were motoring at 8 knots into a 20 knot (true) headwind. The boat and I were covered in spray, but the waves weren’t THAT big. There was no green water and no boat-stopping hull pounding. I assumed (and hoped) we were dealing with the type of local phenomenon that occurs on the extremities of 1,200 mile long islands.

It was.

For the last 5 hours we’ve been motoring into a light headwind at 8.5 knots, making up for ALL of our slow going over the last 2 days. The skies are sunny, the water is flat, and our beloved boat is covered with salt.

And that potential collision? This morning, Jenna — who, for the record, is also covered in salt — noticed that one of the support cables that connects our bowsprit to a hull was dragging in the water. It looks like the cable popped out of its swage, the fitting that allows the end of a cable to attach to a shackle. The swage and shackle are still attached to the hull. We’ll find out for sure in a couple of hours. Maybe we hit a log. Stay tuned …

It does mean that our code zero is out of action until we can sort it out. The cable doesn’t support the mast or our other sails, so we can get by without it.

Its always a good feeling when you enter a new harbor in bright sunshine after four nights at sea. We are grateful that this long passage is coming to an end on such a happy note. And Leo is grateful that he has finally figured out how to operate our can opener.

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