WHAT? You are planning on going the wrong way around the world on your boat? Are you mad?
During the past 5,000 nautical miles, we have been pretty lucky with the weather and have remained pretty much unscathed by the oceans force and power. This was all about to change.
As we prepared to depart Christmas Island for our 1,100-nm run directly north, I mentioned to all aboard that this run could be tough going as we were going to cop strong northeast trade winds basically all the way. As these winds were not going to abate anytime soon it was either press on, or remain in Christmas Island for what could be weeks or even months.
Once underway and about 12 hours into our trip the seas and winds slowly but surely started to build in line with our forecast. 10 knots, 15 knots, 20 knots, 25 knots, 30 knots all the way to 37 knots. Now, 37 knots for a few hours is one thing but 37 knots over time, with the fetch (the distance the wind has to blow uninterrupted) that these trade winds carried was another. Our forecast said gusts 24 knots but we were facing 37. Surely they would abate? I am pleased to say that they did, they abated to 25 knots and remained between 25 knots and 38 knots consistently for the entire trip.
The effect of these winds, the fetch, our track, the ocean currents and the overall weather made for angry seas. Seas which appeared to taunt us the entire journey! Seas that were not going to let us out of their grasp until they had taught us a lesson and seas which simply were not going to relent, not for a minute, not for one second.
As the daytime skies overhead darkened with an ominous grey which stretched completely across and around our world, we knew this was not going to be fun. With the cloud cover building and wind speed holding firm at 31 knots, day two bought with it an ocean boiling with anger and an ocean out to teach Pendana the lesson of who is really in charge. While I pleaded with Mother Nature that the lesson was learned long ago, she was not convinced and decided to continue testing us for the entire run north.
Day three bought with it the realization that this would be the trip from hell and we had better buckle down and get on with it. With seas continuing to behave aggressively as they mixed with the ocean currents and winds at 30-plus knots becoming the norm we simply had no choice but to ride out the storm and count the hours down. Only 93 hours to go! Bright side being … it wasn’t 94!
Imagine if you will driving along in your car at 10 mph and hitting a brick wall every three to five minutes. BAM! Well that is not dissimilar to the sense on Pendana as she faced every swell, from every direction on the compass rose BAM, BAM, BAM. As Pendana moved through each roller the boat speed would increase slowly only to have 2 knots wiped off with the next BAM!
I must say that the crew on Pendana are fighters and fight we did. The girls, Claire and I were all feeling pretty good and thankfully seasickness is not something that seems to take hold on Pendana after the first couple of days for Abi and Claire. As we continued to fight every second, every minute, every hour, I announced, "hey girls only 78 hours to go and the bright side is..."
Moving around on a boat while in a sea like this is a little like your home and it’s floor being replaced with a trampoline. Invisible people are jumping all around you and occasionally (every 3 minutes) a really big invisible person jumps right next to you. Trust me you have more control over where your body is going when you’ve enjoyed a few too many Mount Gay rums than when being in a sea like this.
Ironically, with the two light sleepers crashed out sleeping early one morning (lack of sleep catches up with you all, eventually), Bianca and I (the two known “sleepers”) were wide awake and looked carefully at the grey sky as it tempted us with ever so small pockets of the blue paradise that lay above, only to slowly watch the blue sky above disappear, slowly but surely, time and again. We were in a system that was simply not going to let us go. The parallels to the movie “The Perfect Storm” were talked about constantly as we continued north. I know, I know …. but we ignored the ending, alright?
With ONLY 56 hours left to run, and while I was asleep and Claire was on watch, three almighty shudders suddenly took hold of Pendana as if she was being lifted from the sea and shaken from her outer skin. I woke instantly to find the master bathroom filling fast with water. (Fast is defined as – filling a space as quickly as humanly possible and surviving to tell the story). I had stupidly left the hatch open in the ensuite (lesson learned) and as I stumbled out of bed I honestly thought we had rolled over – the fact that I was standing on the floor and not on the roof was, at this moment in time, not relevant.
As I scrambled to the hatch to close it I found myself standing in more water than one could think possible that was now spilling into the master cabin as well and a hatch that continued to let even more water in and the feeling that I needed to get the girls quickly.
What did I do?
After closing the hatch like lightening to stop the flow, without thinking I grabbed the towels and flung them on the floor and then … realized I was still actually upright and so was Pendana. We hadn’t rolled over but we HAD surely rolled.
I scrambled up to the pilothouse and simply looked at Claire (with her eyes somewhat larger than usual), master of understatement at this time who simply said, “Hi hon, you awake then?”
As my heartbeat slowed I asked what had happened. Claire said, “We had a few monsters [monster = anything over 13 feet] one after another, after another with simply no space between. Pendana, simply smashed through the last waves rather than going over them."
With the event explained I went downstairs, ignored the sodden carpet and dripping ensuite and … went back to sleep. Remember, I can sleep through a nuclear blast so this was not an issue for me.
Day four arrived and some respite was delivered and blue skies returned and the seas started to behave a little more normally but not for long as what they had planned for us next was just plain nasty.
As I sat on watch with only 36 hours left, I was feeling pretty good. The girls were fine, and Claire, who oddly can’t actually sleep through a nuclear blast, was starting to wane a bit. But overall the end was in sight then BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP…. Stabilizer alarm – over travel notification! NO – NOT NOW….. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP!
I quickly centred the starboard fin and called James Knight (guru) who explained that the actuator had come loose and a centered fin was the best course of action. He also asked me to remove the servo cable to the starboard fin to ensure the hydraulics were not going to push against the locked fin. Surprisingly this was done in about 60 seconds by Claire and I and will be an easy fix when we make the port of Hilo.
33 hours left, one fin down, wind back to 34 knots, seas coming from all directions and ocean current pushing us sideways like I have never experienced before, this soon became a mental game of endurance rather than anything else. Pendana’s port fin performed incredibly well and while we did roll more than usual it wasn’t the “This is how it ends!” type of roll until the “This is how it ends!” roll occurred!
Out of the corner of my eye a giant suddenly emerged.
A towering block of water heading directly for our starboard beam. Imagine a city block, imagine it being fifteen feet high and moving at speed and now imagine you are sitting on Pendana with one stabilizer fin out watching this giant hit. Roll? Sure! We rolled. We ROLLED!!! We rolled so much that Caesar gave me a look as he slid past which roughly translates into: “Hey dad, where are you going? Is it time to jump?” Bianca, who was behind me in the pilothouse holding on to the table said, “Mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, dad, dad, Caesar …??!!!” (Claire was out of it downstairs sleeping the deadened slumber of the exhausted) and I simply held on for dear life as I trusted in Pendana to right herself, which is precisely what she did. So, who wants to go cruising now? Let’s have a show of hands!
With 14 hours left to run the seas finally gave in and realized that we had learnt our lessons and we were going to be far more respectful of her power than we were before embarking on our journey.
Were there a few cross words spoken while underway? Yes! Were there times when the relentless thudding and banging away and the tension this occasionally caused took hold? Yes … but our journey will continue with the hope that a trip like the one we had is never repeated. We all took a beating and one we will respectfully remember but not dwell upon too much as there is too much of life to live and for which we feel very blessed and grateful.
The reality is that we are crossing large oceans and with that comes some element of risk (weather forecasting is not an exact science) but thanks to not only our personal forecaster but Nordhavn itself, these vessels are built tough, really tough, and while our Pendana has been through 1,000 rounds with Mike Tyson she still looks like the lady she did when we left port at Christmas Island. The crew are all fine and to tell you the truth the trip is already forgotten as now it’s time to explore Hilo and enjoy 4G-speed Verizon Wireless!
In closing, we always knew it would be a hard leg and we are glad to have it done and dusted and put behind us. Pendana and her crew will be back for more and our journey will continue.
PS: Everyone is LOVING Hawaii!
PPS: Photos never do the seas justice!
You can read more of Pendana's blog here.