Sunday, December 30, 2012

Drakeonian Explorer's

Drakeonian Explorer's

You cant help but wonder how early explorers from the late 1700's through until early 1900's coped with the hard ship of the frozen south, I think of them often, like now mid way across the Drake Passage.

Even today with all the modern equipment on board and incredible protective HL wet weather gear with goretex layers, you cant for a moment wonder what those poor sods felt like and that they even had any fingers or toes left after a voyage to the "Freezer" as we often call it, remarkable endurance and fortitude.

For the team on Xplore heading south for our special project its important that I give thanks and acknowledgment to them all, at the start and I am sure at the finish.

Meghann Jones, Australian (culinary whiz)
Debbi Smith, Scotland (trooper with a sandy wit)

Fernando Landeta, hydrography technician,Chilean (cant help but smile)
Yoann Boulaire, hydrographer Shom, France (so hydro, he was probably born on  the sea floor)

Alesia Ramanenka, Belaurus (quietly knowing)
Ugo Angelelli, Italy (Mr history with gizzmo's)
John Clark, Australia (Irish and infectious)

Thanks team, so no matter what or how much we acheive, the journey and experience is what truly counts, because we are out here doing it.

Stephen Wilkins, skipper and expedition leader, Australian (where there's a Wilkins, there's a way)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ready Test Go

Xplore has maybe been silent from news in the last two months, but we have certainly not be dormant.

Late in October just prior to leaving Valdivia in Chile I happened by chance to meet a commercial diver who visited Xplore as he was an interested sailor and wanting to buy some parts that we had no more use for.

In conversation as we drove into town, I asked what type of work he did, diving on industry pipe lines, inspections and.............. hydrographic surveys there in Chile.

Within the short 15 minute drive I couldn't stop asking him questions about the type of gear that they were using and his experience, like a kid in a lolly shop stuffing his face full of sweets, I couldn't get enough information or ask the questions fast enough.

We ended the drive in town, and I had explained what I had been trying to organize for over 3 years, but which was a dream and a plan that I had carried for more than 10 years, and that was to mount a private hydrographic survey in Antarctica.

Since late October we have been busy, too much so, but with good reason, we have just departed Ushuaia in Argentina, and we are heading for Antarctica. On board Xplore we have 8 people and some very special equipment, and we are going to go to Antarctica to survey.

The project is an initial test to see if a little old sailing boat called Xplore can do what the big boys of the hydrographic industry do, and that is to data collect and produce an accurate survey of the ocean sea floor using the latest in modern hydrographic survey equipment. This is a world first, not just in Antarctica, but truly in the world, because no one has ever hung $280,000 dollars worth of high tech equipment off the bow of a sailing yacht and been treated with credibility.

We have with us some very clever people, Fernando who is the Chilean hydrographic company who we have teamed up with, but also Yoann who is from France is is a certified naval hydrographer who has been loaned to us to from Shom (France's hydrographic agency) who will qualify and certify that the survey work that we will do meets the highest of international standards in hydrography as set down by the IHO.

We have carried out sea trials and calibration testing whilst here in Ushuaia and everything seems to all go, the support of many countries within the hydrographic community has been great, Shom there in France, NZ,
Australia and UK, along with some great help from a good captain and friend on National Geographic Explorer we feel that we as prepared as ever we will be.

We are all excited, and just a little bit nervous about the project, we all want to do something very special here, and to prove that it is possible, because survey work in Antarctica is needed, only 2 % of the Antarctic coast line is currently surveyed.

To have a dream that you see through to fruition is going to be for me very sweet and satisfying, even though over the last 3 years many many doors have been closed and I have been told so many times that it is ridiculous to think that a small sailing yacht can do what the navy's and commercial hydrographic ship of the world get employed to do.

Time will tell ?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Along came......

Along came.........

At 5am am on Sunday morning we docked at the commercial pier in Punta Arenas in Chile, along side one of the huge ocean going commercial tugs that service the shipping that goes through the Straits of Magellan and the southern waters, nothing too fancy but quiet and stopped.

But 6am I was at the newly build reception rooms of the public hospital of Punta Arenas, there was only an old man sleeping in a line of chairs that could seat 100 people, a nice warm place as even in November Punta Arenas can be bitterly cold when it chooses.

By 6.15am and some interrogation by a young intern, I hear him talk to the medical staff that he had a gringo who had a bit of a problem, laughter and chatter in Spanish as to whom was going to see the victim made it very apparent that it had been a long, slow and boring night.

By 6.20am it was quite clear to the doctor at hand, an experienced naval surgeon that this was not a laughing matter.

He told me that the local anaesthetic was going to hurt, but the first sting of the needle made me cringed but as he slid the needle deeper and deeper into my skin and flesh I screamed, bloody hell ! what's the rest of this going to be like I wondered.

After a short while to let the drugs kick in he then started then started to cut, it felt like someone tearing at the top of a can of vegetables with a pull ring that needs a final grand tug to get it open, shit I screamed again
even though I was already feeling wimpish from my first yelp.

Ah Stephen, this is not what you think, this is one of the most impressive cases of this that I have seen the doctor tells me. At this stage, all of his team of nurses and students are lined up around me sharing thoughts of medical knowledge and others having a quiet chuckle about how they would hate to have this problem themselves, how embarrassing !

The surgeon then continued to cut, he went in with a circular motion to take a large tubular core out of me, this I definitely didn't expect, as my own diagnosis on board had visions quite different.

He proudly showed me the core of flesh which he cut, black, dead and lifeless, hmm what can you say, but thanks.

By 7.15 am I was loaded up with enough drugs, anti-imflamatories and antibiotics to kill a horse.

The problem had started after a day and a half after leaving Valdivia to head south to Tierra del Fuego, I noticed that on my left buttocks that there was the start to an annoyingly large pimple. After a day or so more and regular tea tree oil, the problem was getting much worse.

I have never had a boil or abscess on my buttocks, salt water boils in arms and the neck but this was really talking it to extremes. The days wore on and the pain and size of the abyss was unbelievable. The crew saw me cringe with pain as we sailed the boat or sat down, the boat movement wouldn't allow me to sleep, every wave woke the partial sleep that I was meant to be enjoying.

After four days of pain I had to share the problem, Meghann offered to have a look as she had had a bad infection before on her leg. Well the look on her face was not of joy when she saw what was on my ass, but she managed it well and agreed that it was bad, Nic in hearing the talk ducked around the corner to peak and in a good old Kiwi way, said "Struth mate that must hurt".

I searched through all our medical books and check the stocks of all the different antibiotics on board and came up with a choice of a strong penicillin based antibiotic to heal and rid my poor ass of this infernal

The days went on and the size grew and grew, with your hand fully stretched out it would only just reach the sides of this massive raised infection that was so hot and painful and hard. I of course tried to push and squeeze a bit, even knowing that this was not the approved way to deal with a boil or abscess , but the agony and pain was relentless, never stopping, never easing and each movement on board made it worse.

A strange sick side of me wanted to know more about it so we took a photo, it was scary, it looked more like a badly swollen breast of a nursing mother who's 2 year old teething son had been gnawing at her nipple (not that I have seen one of these)

We arrived in port and you know the rest, but what the surgeon told me was that it wasn't an abscess at all, other wise there would have been a lot of rubbish and waste exit when he opened me up. But it was a perfect case of a Chilean Spider, called an Arana del Rincon, Corner spider or scientifically Loxosceles Laeta, in Chile they only have two animals that are venomous and both are spiders, and this was one.

Even though they are at their worst or most venomous during spring (yes now in November) they can be lethal if they bit close to a vital organ, glad that they liked my ass ! so who was a lucky boy.

After 2 weeks of 4mg of antibiotics each day and the other drugs it seems to be on the mend, so I chuckle a bit when I remember the nursery rhyme of little Miss Muffet who sat on her tuffet.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

NBL Final Scores South Pacific Series

The National Boat Landing scores for the South Pacific are as follows.

Tasmnaia to Nelson New Zealand 7 days 1348 nautical miles average speed 8.02 knots
Nelson New Zealand to Gisbourne New Zealand 2 days 449 nautical miles average speed 9.35 knots
New Zealand to Pitcairn Island 16 days 2,958 nautical miles average speed 7.46 knots
Pitcairn to Gambier Island 1.5 days 340 nautical miles average speed 9.44 knots
Gambier Islands to Easter Island 8 days 1,468 nautical miles average speed 7.6 knots
Easter Island to Valdivia Chile 11 days 2,301 nautical miles average speed 8.71 knots

South Pacific grand final totals = 8,864 nautical miles 45.5 days average speed 8.11 knots

Stephen, The Fat English Girl, Alexis and Cris

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wilma took the fat English girl for a spin

Every once in a while some things just need a bit of explanation, and for Xplore there are many characters that make up this boat. There of course is the actual people who are on Xplore, and there are the others who are a part of Xplore.
Yes yes, I know your probably saying, right, Stephen needs his head read, but the reality is (or imagination is probably a better word) is that there are so many components to Xplore as a boat, and which are so important to the ongoing running of the boat, so that each major part deserves a little pet name, just like the nick names that people give to their cars. So that when its playing up, misbehaving or broken, then we can talk to this item and try to ascertain what their little problem is, make it all better, and then life continues as normal. Sounds pretty logical, now doesn't it.

We have digressed, so let's back to Wilma and the fat English girl, well Wilma is the wheel that we steer Xplore with, well actually Xplore is fondly referred to as the Fat English girl, and that is because when "she" (in English we refer to boats as being She's) was designed 22 years ago, she was quite radical, in that her beam (width of the boat) is quite wide and that width is carried well aft (back towards the rear of the boat) giving her a quite wide stern or transom ( that's the fat ass bit) then not only was she designed by an English man of repute, but she was also built at the royal dock yards in Plymouth, so now you can put together the whole thing, Fat and English (no slight at all on English women)

So as you know we have been travelling back across the South Pacific to Chile, "We" I mean the crew, myself, Alexis and Cris, Australian, Corsican and Argentinean (now that would make a story in itself)

Since leaving Gambier islands we have had excellent sailing, and some pretty fast going if I do say so myself, even now in the last 7 days we have averaged 210 nautical miles every day since leaving Easter Island. And in boat talk that's pretty fast, as a comparison for land folk, that would be like driving a solar powered car at 140 kilometres per hour continuously for a week, and to do that with the Fat English girl you need quite a bit of wind as she is 38 tons ! (external wind as opposed to internal wind)

So there we are zooming across the Pacific, alls fine and dandy and then in Easter Island "It" happened. Well it's really is about "Who" happened.

We charge our house batteries (Boris and his 5 other mates) once or twice a day, and this is done with the alternator (Allan) which is driven by the generator (Mrs Perkins, she's a good girl but getting on a bit, went through menopause the other year so we took her to the doctor and had her all sorted out, much happier now) or from Mr Perkins (main engine, very stoic and strong, reliable and very English) when there is low, or no wind.

Well, as we have left the warmth of the sub-tropics and have been heading a little further south, Boris and his mates have been playing up and are just not having this cooler temperature, it's like they have gone into winter hibernation, or a union meeting, anyone would think they are bears, but they just want to play ball and won't hold a charge for long at all (right little buggers, because they are only 3 years old and are meant to be the best)

What that means is that we have been having to run Mrs Perkins much more to charge Boris and his mates, and that also means that Allan has a lot more work to do. So in Easter Islands whilst on anchor, Allan spits the dummy and just stops, had enough. I scratch my head and go "dam" have to get Allan's twin brother out (Alex) before we leave the next day.

So at first light, we change Allan for Alex and off we go, problem is that even though Alex is meant to be identical twins to Allan, he's actually not half the match (must have come out of the factory late in the day on a Friday) as he is only putting out half the power that his twin brother does when he's working.

Now how does this all effect us and fit in with Wilma and the Fat English girl ? So here we are, we have 1940 nautical miles to travel to Chile and we have crap batteries (Boris and his mates) and Alex isn't putting out. We have calculated how much fuel we are going to need in normal circumstances,
but this new development may just leave us a bit short.

So that means that me and the crew (Alexis and Cris) will have to hand steer a lot so as not to use too much power, and that is where Wilma comes in.

Let me tell you a little bit about Wilma, she's a round and robust sort of a girl (quite a size) but she loves being played with, ( I recon she must be a reincarnation of a 1970's gypsy surfy chick that took too many drugs, but always dreamt of travelling the world) she can also be turned around by Arnie (that's short for Arnold Schwarzenegger our auto pilot, who is very big and strong) but she doesn't like that so much as he's a bit too mechanical and German like, you know left, right, left right, never stops, but has no real feeling. Wilma prefers the soft, but firm human touch.

Power, well electricity consumption is the bain of every sailing yacht, we need power for so many things on board, the navigation electronics, the lights, stereo for a bit of music and of course for Freida ( she's the reincarnated ex girl friend of a mate of mine called Simon, he gave her to us because he thought she would be of better use to us than to him, she's a cold bitch, quite pretty, uses a bit of energy and is only good for sticking your meat in her, yep she's the freezer)

For the last 7 days we have been hand steering for 90% of the time some great days and great miles, and all in all, life on board has been very good. But yesterday was the zenith of the weather system that was driving us and we knew that there was going to be some fairly windy conditions.

The sails that we had out weren't much, Baz and Max (the boom and main sail) were all put to bed, we didn't need the extra power as we were consistently doing 8.5 to 10 knots and Max is getting a bit tired these days after a long but eventful life, that only left Yuri and Stan out (Yankee headsail and
Staysail) and even then with Yuri poled out we only had 80% of it flying, great sailing.

As the watches have been broken into two, myself on one watch and Alexis and Cris on the other we have only been having short conversations between us at the change over times, but we all have agreed that the boat is going well even with the larger seas which are now around the 5 to 7 meter mark.
I was doing the early morning "dog" watch in blustery running conditions, 3 to 7am is a traditional watch where the crew tend to get very sleepy about half way through just before the dawn light starts to creep in, and there was no exception this morning, even with the stonky conditions we were having (fast speeds and strong winds)

So I was a bit dozy and not probably watching things closely enough, because all of a sudden Wilma gives a little wiggle and points the fat English girl straight down this wave face ! she had obviously been looking out of the corner of her eye and spotted this one coming in from the rear, and with her
reincarnated "Surfy Chick" previous life she just couldn't resist.

Well off we went like a bat out of hell, it was like sitting at the top of a hill and someone puts a skate board under your ass. What was a normal 8 to 9 knots suddenly became 9 to 10, then 11's, 12 and I couldn't believe it when we hit 13.1 knots, it just sat there surfing away for what seemed like ages
and then at the end we peaked with grand total of 13.2 knots. There were rooster tails of water squirting off the bow as we plunged head first down into the dark wave chasm, poor old Larry must have taken a right old fright seeing all those tons of water rush past his head (Larry's the anchor winch up on the bow)

The feeling of getting a heavy displacement yacht up to surfing speed would be in comparison to a Bungee jumper tying extra concrete blocks to your legs so as to increase the adrenalin rush with extra velocity when you first step off the platform to plunge hundreds of feet down.

And this is not the first time that Wilma has gone off surfing before, once in the Falkland islands her and Arnie collaborated, and when we all went down below decks as we were sailing along, she picked up a small wave assisted by a nice gust of wind and took off as well, bloody hit 17.5 knots
that time. And even the watch before I came on, Cris had mentioned also that she was looking for some waves as she had done a similar thing to him. Dam cheeky wench she is, but you have to love her spirit.

As you can see we have been having a right old time for many reasons, and overall we have had some superb sailing, and there is not much left to go as we are only 659 nautical miles from Valdivia on the Chilean coast.

But I do think it is important that all of you readers do get familiar with the "gang" which makes up Xplore, because when you next come sailing you will feel right at home, and know everyone that we have been talking about, but most importantly you won't be confused when you hear myself and the crew talking.

Can you just imagine standing down below decks when you hear me say "Oh I'll give Alexis a break, best I take over and turn Arnie on" now anyone not knowing what I was saying would think that we are all gay boys shagging this bloke called Arnie.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Boats are for birds

Sailing boats at sea and birds are definitely there for each other. We marvel at how they fly with grace, speed and agility. They wonder about how we use our vertical wings, but never leave the water.

The ocean birds of the sea, the Wandering albatross, the Gannets, the Giant petrels, the Boobies, Sheer waters, Cape petrels and the S\torm petrels are just a few of those birds of a feather, so to speak.

They know when its time to fly, they are travelers like us, and cover thousands of miles as the transit the globe from nesting grounds to breeding grounds.

For them they use the winds like we as well, over 15 knots and they get lift and speed, over 35 knots they know its getting a bit too tough and its time to pack it in for the day, like sailors, there is a time and a place to have fun.

But in their quest to travel, they also have a need for amusement, and for that there is nothing better than a sail boat. Like a 10 year old in Disney land, its all fun, fun fun with boats.

They come in real close when they know its OK, they fly to the mast head and try to touch the mechanical bird perched at the top (our wind direction indicator) even try to bit and attack it, they roll off the wind drafts that the sails create and give them turbulence that hones their maneuvering skills.

It doesn't always go that well for birds and boats though, in recent years we have seen some funny, yet alarming sights. One bird in a venture to do aerobatics on the leeward side of our boat, was caught in a mid upside down barrel roll, and half way through the turn was hit by the back draft from the sails which catapulted him with no grace at all into the sea. Shell shocked we saw him recover from the swim.

On route from New Zealand this year we had a Petrel of medium size who obviously need glasses fly directly into the center of the main sail as we were choofing along at about 9 or 10 knots on a beam reach. The poor little bugger hit the sail and then bounced off onto the aft quarter deck of the
boat, up side down and stunned, he flipped and flapped and then rolled off the edge of the boat into the water, hard to tell if he was all right, but he was floating with a bit of a strange demeanor.

Our South Pacific crossing is nearing and end, with 1400 nautical miles left to travel to Valdivia, Chile we should hopefully be there in 8 or 9 days time.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012



You hardly feel like you're doing it


Because its comes so naturally

As your pulse quickens, you feel the instant response


With pain, it comes in sharp gasp's


On your pillow, it whispers softly in your ears


It's a matter life of death


Real deep, then you will smell the roses


As the stress and strain increases, breathe for relief


It never asks for too much, it's always there


Every day of our life, we live and let breathe

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rats !

Thered be rats in them hills !

And rats there are, Xplore and the rat attack team have returned to Pitcairn after a successful expedition to Henderson Island, but there is a bitter sweet taste in everyone's mouths.

The key objective was to find out for sure if rats had survived the eradication project of 2011, or if there were rats there, if they were of a different type than what was at first being eradicated, meaning, had there been a different type introduced by an out side source since the eradication project.

The findings were quite definite, the original rats had survived 2011, there were no signs of any other species of rats, the numbers of rats at this stage are very small, but they are there in numbers, and rats breed very very fast, a new generation every 6 weeks.

One of the positives to this trip was that the special and endemic bird population is breeding well and coming back in good numbers.

One of the negatives to the trip is the fact that another rat baiting project cant be redone until the population reaches a stabilized, plateaued level, and that will take about 2 to 3 years to reach that point.
So, Xplore is now on-route back to French Polynesia

Thursday, May 3, 2012


I realized tonight that it was about 20 years that I have been sailing for my work, well maybe some wouldn't say its work, but for life style. And in my deep thoughts which I have at sea, I looked back to the times that I have shared with my actual family in those last 20 years, and the reality is that there hasn't been much time together. Sure there has been the short visits, the sailing trips, the family reunions and even the surprise arrivals, just to shock the hell out of someone that didn't have a clew.

But I realized that as a sailor, that my family have also adapted to my choice in life to ply the oceans and seas, the remote and wild places and the romantic dream lands that capture one's imaginations.
Sometimes I feel closer to them out here than when we stand face to face, feeling all a bit lost for words some times, you know that squeamish feeling of "what do I say now" and "how can I explain" what the last voyage and location was like without sounding like some sort of a boasting jet setter, but just a normal person, doing what they do best.

Sailors are different creatures, and through time and miles they adapt to the life and the ways of "being" what they are, forever changing, forever moving, the challenges of the elements seem absurd to land folk, they cant understand how we can cope or endure. But sailor's mould themselves to the role that they have chosen, just like flying fish, they didn't originally have wings, but they learnt that the best way to survive in life was to grow their arms to enable themselves to take flight when needed, quite nifty when you think about it.

But to my very special family, who must think that I have forgotten them most days and years, because "Stephen is doing his own thing" you are wrong, I haven't, I remember and relive so many of the enjoyable times, all the special moments that we had as children growing up together, learning from the curved balls of life that my two great parents steered us through, and still the new experiences that we share all together when we do meet again.

Like trying to explain to someone "who is god" to you, you cant really because its each person unique experience, and its what's there in your heart that truly counts.

So to my dear family, I do love you all so much, and each day and night, you are also slipping smoothly over each and every wave that I cross.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

We've been ratted on !

Well since my last up date news has obviously gotten around, and I can just imagine the hoo haa out there on Henderson Island that the Rat Exterminator is on route.

There must be war drums beating, gathering the flocks to the central rat square in the coral caverns of this ancient historic island to plan their strategy and tactics.

Its already working because in looking at the weather forecasts they have already put the fear of god into us, and potentially canceled, or best postponed our arrival until they have prepared for the on

Rats are very very cunning creatures, because today's forecast has suddenly changed and shows that they have conjured up a powerful tropical depression building quickly in the NNW of us and intensifying over Pitcairn and Henderson islands, bringing gale and storm force winds into the area and very heavy rain for 2 to 3 days ( they must remember from last year that rat bait isn't any good if it rains hard)

Soooo, the plot thickens, we cant head to Henderson as the worst of the winds are coming early from that direction, and even if we could we couldn't land anyone on the shore with the surf and a tiny narrow cutting in the reef that will only allow a small zodiac to pass at high tide and in calm

So we are mulling over ideas and ways that we can keep the Rat Exterminator and his team in situ until the storm passes, but in the mean time we will have to try to find a side of Pitcairn to hopefully weather out the storm, and not get blown out to sea and have to deal with it out there.

Rats and washing machines

Its hard to find a rat in the world best washing machine, and we are trying dam hard I can tell you !

Hundreds of years ago sailors on tall ships used to do their washing in urine (terrible thought, but true) because the uric acid would clean and whiten the cloths. But since then sailors also have learnt that good old sea water, especially if mixed about will also clean and whiten well.

Since leaving the protection of the coral lagoon of Gambier Islands two days ago we have been living in the worlds best washing machine, a good old South Pacific blow, 25 to 35 knots right on the nose, with a mixed sea state that jars ever bone in your body, no real rhythm or cycle to lull you off to sleep, its more like being thrown out of your bunk, if you left any clothes on deck they would be spick and span in minutes with the tons of water rolling off the decks.

Now ships and rats have also shared the same space on board vessels for hundreds of years, and its probably because of those dam rats that we are bouncing away here at the moment, we have carried since Gambier Island a rat specialist from NZ, who considering the conditions has been a bit sheepish
to say the least (yes I had to say sheepish for this nice Kiwi chap)

Our mission (we have already accepted it) is to rendezvous and pick up another bunch of rat specialists from Pitcairn Island, along with 500 Kg's of rat bait and all the shore camping equipment for them to be able to survive on a remote coral island called Henderson for a week, Henderson Island is about 110 nautical miles ENE from Pitcairn Island.

Why the hell for ? you ask, well the world Royal Society for the protection of birds (RSPB), sponsored a huge rat eradication project last year and spent a squillion dollars on wiping out the rat population of Henderson Island, months of work, helicopters on ships, staff and tons and tons or
yummy rat bait. Their reason for this is to help protect the remaining endemic and rare bird species that live on the island.

Well it turns out after we met a recent team from National Geographic who visited Henderson about a month ago that one of their people who was on the island spotted a rat and took a photo of it ! dam, the shivers would have gone up and down the spines of everyone there at RSPB.

So being that Henderson is a very remote location, and that there are no ships in the area, good old Xplore has been put into service for the "Rat Race" to find out if there are any rats remaining on the island, find out how many, and if possible to wipe them out, sounds like a good theme for a movie, James Bond or the Mission Impossible team.

More Rat news to come, Stephen

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Gannets Play and Ocean Spray

Oh such fun, those dopey young gannets, their mother fly's and guides them to a boat, we cut and break the water, a good way to find easy fish.

But the young, are the young, no matter what species, and its better to have fun, never know, mum will help with the food when the tummy gets run down.

They are such silly things on wings, flitting and diving between the back draft from the sails, they get lifted and knocked as the boat and sails rise and fall with the ocean swell.

What's those funny things sticking up out of the boat they say ! Oooo, come on lets try and bite them on the fly, it will be fun any way.

They float on the wind, and concentrate on the movements of the boat and its bits, opps forgot there was others around as they bump into each other, and give a squawk in mid flight at other who they just knocked about.

To be young and have wings, the world is in front of them all.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A time, The time

Sailor's are a funny bred, I not talking about your "weekend warrior's" as they are quite often refereed to as, I am referring to ocean sailors, and there is a difference, not putting any slight on the WW's its just that days, weeks and months and years at sea creates a different type of sailor.
There are many principles that we all share in common but there subtle differences that you see and recognize in the two types, but this is not about comparing the two.Sometimes I wonder what will become of my knowledge and skills when I become so old and wrinkly that I cant hoist the sails any more, hang up the Henri Lloyd wet weather gear for good and only use my sea boots for the garden, god help me, I hope that's still a long way away !But I often think about how to share the key essence of what I have learnt and experienced along the way, what would be the words that I would say to a young budding sailor who wanted to know my keys tricks of the trade as I lie there on my death bed. So my time at sea has given me a bit of time to think about those words, they would have to be short and succinct (don't know how long I will keep breathing for) so here goes, this is my practice run.Patience, recognizing change, trust your gut feel, know what to do with change, action, and finally what is applicable to everything we do is....... attention to detail.Hmmm, so what do you think ? do you think I could get those words out, and say them with conviction.I hope before that day comes I do get to share those, and many more insights to what it takes to be a good, sea worthy sea dog. Stephen

Monday, April 16, 2012

One day I went for a sail

One day I went for a sail
The boat started flooding with water
Opps, someone's left the toilet water valve wide open

One day I went for a sail
It was blowing real hard. then the mainsail split in half
Opps, it must have done more than a 100,000 miles

One day I went for a sail
It had been a tough 48 hours, but we found the forepeak all full of water
Opps, the on deck hatch hadnt been closed hardly at all

One day I went for a sail
Emergency below, someones vomiting blood and bits of red foam
Opps, too many drinks the night before a stonking run down to the Horn

One day I went for a sail
The day was fine, and the spinnaker went up
Opps, it had to come down real fast as it was upside down by the ass

One day I went for a sail
Flying along with the sails wing on wing
Opps, quick call the skipper, the spinnaker pole has just broken in half

One day I went for a sail
Ocean days with really bumpy seaways, somethings banging on deck
Opps, one forestays broken in half, and is flapping up round the mast

One day I went for a sail
Someone went to the heads and is really taking their time
Opps, bit hard to pump the centre of toilet rolls down a small tube

One day I went for a sail
Nice smooth day for a sail, the boats moving well, how could this be so, it
was meant to blow
Opps, smart ass crew changed the course by 60 degrees

One day I went for a sail
There was a thump and a bump, then the blood started rushing out.
Opps, someone forgot to do up there bunk lee cloth and their heads taken a
great knock

One day I went for a sail
With a wave and a cheer we pulled out from the pier, then a bigger cry was
then heard
Opps, forgot to unplug the shore power electricty

One day I went for a sail
It was calm and it was clear, a gently breeze came through the trees
Opps, no opps for us this day it was just perfect

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Watch your back

Its quite rightly so that sailors are looking in the direction f the wind, the clouds and the sea, its not often that they worry about what has passed or what's behind them........ but there are exceptions !
South Pacific sailing and anchorage's are stunning, and lull you gently like the warm trade winds and the incredible pacific blue waters which cant be compared with other oceans.Whilst at anchor off Pitcairn Island which is not always renowned as being one of the favourite and relaxed anchoring locations as it is an open roadstead (meaning that there is no harbor or protected anchorage), Xplore swung at anchor with a light easterly wind. The forecast was for the winds to turn to the north in the morning, so I slept with ease and the boat to myself and that doesn't happen very often.In a half dreamy sleep I heard that the wind had picked up a bit, but it was the swell that had really changed and the stern of Xplore was banging up and down with the waves, and then I heard Ga sploosh.Within milli seconds I knew what had happen because the torrent of water that squirted through my open hatch window wiped away anything of those warm and fuzzy dreams that I was having. F........k I heard myself say, a subconscious reaction to the enormity of what had happened.Being at anchor normally means that a boat lays head to the wind and the seas, its normally a smooth feeling, and a time that you can open up the boat and get some breeze inside, especially in the warm tropics, but tonight at 2.30 in the morning it didn't seem like such a great idea at all.I had instantaneously reached over and slammed shut the hatch opening which is not very big but the remains of the wave were still coming in. I reach up to the ceiling close at hand and flicked on the light switch and that bloody F word came out again.The rest of the night I spent wiping, cleaning and drying everything and anything, the fact that water comes into the boat is always an annoyance, but salt water is another thing, being salt, anything that is left with salt water then becomes hydroscopic, meaning that it will always attract moisture, so if for example you leave a mattress to dry out with salt water on it , it will always feel damp and becomes wet very fast if there is a lot of condensation or moisture around in the air.Possibly the lost disturbing and tiresome part of the night, was that I had next to my bunk a pile of about 200 paper navigation charts for all around the globe. not needed at the nav station, I had them safely tucked up in my cabin so they didn't get damaged, Derrrrrrrrrr who's the silly duffer.In the light of day Xplore became a colourfully Chinese laundry, with red, white and blue flags spread from one end of the boat, bow to stern.So watching your back now takes on a whole new meaning to me and Xplore.
 Stephen at Pitcairn Island


Since I can ever remember, when ever one leaves on any voyage, trip, drive or hike there is always someone who is asking the question "are we there yet"
Its amazing that so much focus is on the arrival, the date, the time and even the competition that goes along with the game of who can pick the time closest. As a skipper who has had a few voyages in his years, I now just about cringe when I start to hear people analyzing to the most minute detail as to what the arrival time will be.
I am nearly at the point of superstition that when I hear these conversations that I think it will put a jinx on the passage.
But some things you cant change too much, especially on a sailing yacht, we are governed by the wind strength and its direction, the state of the seas, and also by the ability of those on board to endure.
There has been many a time when we have slowed the boat down or changed our course and direction to make it more manageable for those who aren't taking it so well.
But the arrival is inevitable, a bit like wanting to go to the toilet, the more you want it to happen, the harder you make it for yourself, and the longer it seems to take, is the constipation made by our minds? and is the arrival slowed by our constant nagging of wanting to know when ?Our voyages are also our lives, the destination and the end result is known right from the time we depart the dock, like the day we are born, but why rush the experience, lets just sit back and relax, make the most of the experience and enjoy the ride along with some of the most amazing sights and

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Are you trim ?

Trim Trim Trim, is what Sir Chay Blyth told everyone when they joined the BT Global Challenge, and I used to say to my crew that "A flappy sail is not a happy sail" so do something about it !
It is often said that you are only as good as your last voyage as a sailor, and I can honestly say that after 5,200 nautical miles to bring us here to the French Gambier Islands in the South Pacific that I am happy with my sailing, my crew and the boat ( what anybody else thinks, well I just don't
care)We sailed like this boat was designed for, fast ocean miles in comfort and safety, thanks Andrew and Chay, top boat for yet again some ocean magic.We travelled fast from New Zealand, doing the run to Pitcairn island in just 16 1/2 days, only 2 days slower than the cargo ship that visits from NZ 4 times a year, giving us a daily average to Pitcairn Island of 179.2 nautical miles each and every day. I am happy with our weather routing, our magic
Skyeye antenna gives us brilliant weather info that I wouldn't go to sea without. We were testing out our new head sail the Yankee No2, and boy we gave that a test or two, from 0 knots to sustained peaks in the mid to high 50's I can honestly say that I "will" feel at ease taking it much higher into the 50's 60's and 70's (god help me, I don't feel like that today) on every point of
sail we gave it a great initial test and the cloth and heavy weather design characteristics are brilliant. So whilst the sun was rising at a calm Pacific anchorage this morning, with a turtle swimming by, we prepared for palm Sunday, it's the start of Easter after all and the French catholic community can sing like angels as we joined in with the walk to the renovated cathedral in the town centre.I hope the rest of the world is at peace like we are here today.Stephen

Monday, March 19, 2012

Space Junkies

In waking up for watch you do expect some things to be different (see previous blog) but if you were told that it may be the end of the world for you and that possibly within hours you were going to be obliterated by an inter galactic meteor, well you would just have to except it as being fate.
But when you realise that you could be wiped out by an old piece of discarded technology, then you start to ask a few more questions ? you get the feeling like there is a chance of the local garbage truck arriving in you neighbourhood, but there is a likelihood that it is going to run off the road and it's going to be one of the houses in your street that will be flattened. Well, where am I going with all of this..... We received on the boat's communication system that gives us current location information about sea safety and meteorology details (yehhh really safe news) that we were in the middle of a sea area that has been designated as the re-entry location for a
one month period of space junk.Now we are not talking a small area either, so there is not the option of just changing course for a few hours to avoid this, we are talking thousands of square nautical miles and we are pretty much in the middle of it.
Hmm I wonder what our insurance company would or will say when we try to lodge a claim for damages because a few tons of space crap came landing on the foredeck and wiped out half the boat ? It would be a bit like trying to say to your insurance company that someone threw a huge box of old Commodore 64 computers out of a high rise building and it landed on your car.So as much as we can't do much about this, we can only keep our eyes open and hope like hell that space junk is not attracted to other metallic objects floating in the sea. Stephen
PS : last known position is 34 14 S 144 42 W , 939nm to Pitcairn

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Watch

From the dusty recesses of our minds our watch begins.
It starts with the waking, not always so peacefully, but the wake up call comes, the vivid dreams are cut, and the new day that only lasts for hours commences.
Where am I, and what is happening is often the thought. With real images of those dreams that entertained our minds we climb out from our beds.
Our beds are our cocoon, the one safe retreat when the watch is over.
Each watch is never the same, each has its challenges, its pleasures and its pains.
The watch is a way of a sailor's life, it can't be missed, and it can't be denied.
For hundreds of years the sailors chant is to do the swing, the good ones and the bad.
This watch may not be great, but marked as a day, the next may be grand.
Within 24 hours there is many a chance, to see the greatness of the world and the colours of god's grace.The wet cold watch is a dreaded event, but those in the dark are a nightmare's disgrace.
Who can think, that a sailor can delight, and endure the rigors of a constant moving life.
Once the clouds of sleep have withered from ones head, the day begins and works there to keep.
Don't doubt the seeming despair, once commenced the watch is there to share.
Great wonders of life, true sharing of the times, brings sailors together in task and in mind. Stephen

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Some days

Ya know, some days, well they just take the piss ! pardon my French (not that, that is French at all, just an aussie expression)
I have always said that its a skippers prerogative to change their minds, its a healthy seamanship thing, that one must be flexible in one's thinking, and today has been one of those. Bullet points, like my work lists may make this easier to explain.

1: Barometer stopped dropping and winds were strong, but not extreme 28 to
32 knots, 4 reefs in the main and reduced head sails, trucking along nicely.
2: Broad reach and running conditions needed a better balance on the sail
plan so the full crew was on deck to pole out a reduced head sail.
3: Jane on the helm hits the days record of 15.5 knots of boat speed.
4: Wave breaks on the aft quarter of the boat and the entire crew are
swimming in the cockpit, safe and sound but bloody soaked.
5: Pole back down as the boat isnt sitting well, winds now 48 knots true
6: Winds still building and skipper says that the forecast was rubbish.
7: Furled up all of the yankee and hove too as the winds are now 52 to 54
knots (smart move)
8: All below, and dry out a bit (remove fish from pockets)
9: Check new weather grib files, skipper looks depressed, this low is now
not only stronger but is being backed up by another new low in 36 hours,
that makes this one look like a kindergarten !
10: Skipper finally gets some sleep (you can tell by the snoring)
11: Winds ease a bit by 6pm, and the plan is to make a move on (34 to 38
knots, nearly tropical)
12: Team on deck for preparation to sail, crew from cockpit signal skipper
with waving arms raised aloft ( not a middle eastern religious heavenly
13: Skipper realizes that the sun is shinning through a large hole about 3
meters vertically above the fourth reef in the main sail (this is not
normal )
14: Skipper mouths the words Oh F.....k, not that any of the crew could hear
this as its still blowing 40
15: Main sail fully dropped and lashed to the boom.
16: Crew not sure what to say to Skip, as this potentially changes what was
planned "Big Time"
17: Cigarette smoke smelt from the companion way, must be lots of thinking
going on
18: Xplore gets back under sail with 50% yankee and partial staysail, new
course north.
19: Jane starts looking on the navigation chart plotter for the nearest port
on the NZ coast.
20: Skipper consults and an initial plan is made, Gisbourn or Napier ? two
and a half, one the other ?
21: NZ Taupo maritime radio contacted for advice, great bunch, top help,
fast and right there on the ball.
22: Sail maker friend (Pirate Pearl) contacted back in Nelson, and a call
going through to North Sails in Auckland AM tomorrow to arrange for
immediate repair time at their sail loft.
23: Marina space booked and customs notified of our re-arrival for 2pm
 So now its just a case of getting back to a nice fresh sail, don't have to let the main out, as its not there, but we are still doing 8.5 to 10 knots of boat speed, the winds right up the clacker and still blowing 34 to 42 knots. Stephen

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spat out and a tast of whiskey

Land folk will never understand what mariners do to prepare for ocean passages, you need to be slowly initiated into the drills, checks and procedures to cross oceans and travel to foreign countries by sea.
And even then after years of experience there is always the two big sighs, Thank God the work is done, and Thank God we have departed.
Picking the right weather wind to depart for a sailing boat has its challenges, unlike a yacht race which has a set time and day, we get the flexibility to choose, and that isn't necessarily a good thing, because human nature is that we are always looking for a weather window that is better than what we are looking at and seeing, and you could sit in port for months just waiting for the "perfect"New Zealand and Nelson were an interesting stop for Xplore, we had some long days in preparation, and a tough nut to crack with an issue with our battery banks which had seemed to take a turn for the worse on the crossing from Tasmania.Harbor master Dave Duncan, and local sailing heroine AKA "Pirate Pearl" were the cream of the cake, and who shine as true Kiwi's, and Chuck the marine sparky came to the rescue at the death knock when they other incompetent knuckle heads were still sitting around scratching their asses was a gem.For me as skipper port stops are always tiring, too much to arrange in a strange place and never enough hours in the day, but the help and work by the crew went superbly, Wayne, Alexis and Norman slogged away at their parts of the work list and we departed on time.One departure that we all didn't like to see happen though was from Wayne, the gutsy, tenacious, resourceful and forever calm and patient little red head had his heart strings pulled just a little too far from his girl friend back there in Tasmania, which just goes to show that love can be bigger than the whole South Pacific ocean, we all on board will miss him greatly.We departed New Zealand at first light on the 29th of February and weaved our way through the myriad of island chains that link the south island to the Cook Straits, that then lead us to the door way of the South Pacific, the forecast gave us calm but fast sailing in the first day with a daily run of 207 nautical miles being deemed "very respectable" by all on board.One of the crew though didn't secure one of his personal bottles of whiskey very well, and as soon as we were stonking along in a fresh northerly down Cook Straits, his bottle of plonk and his box of bits came flying from his cabin and were smashed to pieces, whiskey in the bilges isnt the nicest smell, so he spent the afternoon cleaning, normally a token of whiskey is poured into the sea as a request to Neptune for safe travels, this time the dram of whiskey first had to clean the bilges !Stronger winds are now still taking us east fast, but a lump sea state and a substantial low pressure cell hot on our heals makes for careful nervousness. Stephen

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The answer my friend

Is always blowing in the wind.

A time to come and a time to go, leaving the shores of Tasmania was a hard
thing to do, but needed.
Seven months of hard work, physically and mentally had taken its toll, and
the price isn't worth the pain.

The winds of the Tasman Sea have blown a fair and stiff breeze to give the
small team on board Xplore a brisk speed on our eastwards way for a brief
stop in New Zealand before heading further east and a total of 5,000
nautical miles to the French Gambier islands.

Xplore's deck have different faces to smile at her, the crew is new, but
with experience, she has carried them safely so far, and they are starting
to learn her wishes, time and miles will tell how deep the relationships
goes, but I have a mixed melancholy feeling of days and miles gone by, and
of the times, places and people that we have enjoyed and shared.

My thanks go to my forever supportive dear friends who have been there for
me and the dreams of voyages and adventure, in Tasmania, Australia and all
around the world, I thank you all for your encouragement and support, it
means far more to me than you may think.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Blokes on Boats

AJ, GJ, PJ and SJ what a mixtured team !

Nothing could be better than a summer cruise back up the Tasmanian coast
with a buch of blokes who just love the water.

AJ is Andrew John, GJ is Gary John, PJ is Peter John and Skipper Stephen
John, I dont think I have ever had a crew who have all been "J ed" in their
middle name, but here we are.

Summer in Tasmania has been summer, warm long days where dawn starts at
4.30am and doesnt get dark untill 10pm, day time temperatures in the high
20's and low 30's ensures a toasty tan to those working out side or on

Xplore layed up for winter, but then slowly emerged for sailing with the
Launceston to Hobart yacht race, a small team of good friends joined forces
for an enjoyable and not too serious race down to Hobart, we even startled
the fleet with showing great turns of speed, not bad for a 38 ton ocean
sailer !

But this evening we are smootly slipping up the Tasmanian coast, just 4
happy sailing blokes and a smooth sea.

Hobart showed us a great welcome with four key Australian races all arriving
in time for new years eve and a spectacular fire works display. A great
festive enviroment with the best of Tasmanian foods, wines and entertainment
along the docks.

The new year in colourful flair also meant it was time to work again, on the
boat that is, and Xplore was slung in her hips and dried out on shore for
her bi-annual scrub a dub dub.

New cutlass bearings, propellor shaft checked, sonar changed and checked,
and of course a new years bottom paint job, clean as a whistle and ready to
roll the ocean waves.

Its been a busy time in Tasmania for me, not the easiest times for a sailing
chap, land issues can really take it out of a sailor, but some things need
to be done.

Dawn came yesterday with a favorable forecast to depart the southern coast
and to head north, fresh winds, a new No 2 yankee and a slippery bottom
meant we have enjoyed amazing pace around the coast, 10's and 11's all day,
with even the auto pilot winning the fastest with top speed of 12.9 knots.

We expect to arrive back to Beauty Point in the Tamar river some time late
tomorrow, with these fair winds and some luck from above, may the voyage
home continus so blissful.