July 15, 2013

For all of you who asked the question: “You ever hit any bad weather out there?”

The Philippine Sea and the crossing to Davao We set off for the 600 mile crossing to Davao Philippines during the last week of June with a weather forecast of light 5 to 15 knot winds out of the S-SW and just a few scattered showers along our route.
 We cleared out of Palau with customs and made our way south toward the lower islands of Palau for the last time this season and entered German Channel which is one of only a few opening in the reef on the west side of Palau. This is a really narrow ½ mile long 100 foot wide shallow channel that had been dredged to a mere depth of 6 feet at low tide many years ago. We found ourselves racing the clock to get through the channel before low tide. Our tide charts showing we still had a few hours to go but somehow the water in the channel showed us something very different.

The channel looked REALLY shallow as we slowly nosed our way into the tiny pass and it also looked much, much narrower while driving Downtime through than when I drove SD through several weeks before! At this point there was no turning back or turning at all for that matter since we only had what looked like a few feet clearance on each side! Our only option was to motor strait forward and I pushed the throttles all the way forward to full speed since I have always said: “When in Doubt, Gas it”!

 We bumped 5 times on the way out but luckily just on soft sand mounds and there was no damage to the boat, just shinny new bottoms on the keels. We cleared the pass and set the sails, double reefing the main and letting the whole jib fly for what would be the last time.

We set the sails on a close reach with the wind at a 60 degree angle off the nose making 7-8 knots sailing on calm seas for the first 6 hours and it all looked just like the weather forecast said it would, light S-SW winds.

It wasn’t until the first squall showed up at around 8 pm that things started to turn for the worse.   A squall came roaring though while Daria was on watch with winds near 40 knots that tore our 10 year old jib to sheds! WOW! I had not seen a squall like that in a long time!
 The weather we had experienced for the last few months just 60 miles away in Palau had a lot of rain but never produced strong winds like what we just experienced. It took us quite some time to get the torn sail furled on the pitching bow of Downtime and then to reduce sail on the main and put the third reef in, but after several hours of hard work we were underway again slowly motor sailing toward our destination.
 Hind site we should have just turned around at this point but I thought being the optimist that conditions would improve. I was WRONG!
 The strong squalls kept coming, hitting us every few hours with 25-35 knots of wind accompanied by driving torrential rains and brilliant lighting shows. Lightning is another thing we had not experience in almost two years but here it was roaring with deafening booms that were way to close for comfort! We had planned for a four day crossing but it was apparent after the second day it would take at least five days to sail these 600 miles, which would turn out to be our slowest passages ever!
When the jib sail blew out it took with it two antennas that were mounted on the spreaders both of which operated our AIS system a tool that identifies ship traffic and reports our position to ships within a 25 mile radius. That damage along with our radar being down left us pretty much blind in the storms. Needless to say it was quite nerve racking when the squalls came through and took visibility down to zero!
The calm tranquil sea’s that we had experienced when we left Palau were long gone and now had grown to 12 foot sharp nasty waves coming from what seemed all directions.  It always seemed that just when I would go out to take a look around for traffic that the craziest of waves would jump on the boat and soak me! At other times I just stood in the cockpit getting soaked by the latest squall which would produce fiercer rain showers than I had ever seen.
This same nasty weather went on for days but finally the sun came out for a brief period on the 4th day and gave us the feeling the worst was over with. Wrong again! That night it blew with a vengeance and ripped the main sail at the 3rd reef point which forced us to put in the last and final 4th reef.
 What is a reef you ask? Well, it is a slab of sail that you roll up on the bottom of the main sail to reduce sail area. During these squalls the wind would clock all the way around us (mini Tornadoes!) and when the wind was directly on the nose our boat speed would drop to snails pace of 1 or 2 knots with both engines running at ¾ throttle! The driving rain would fall in sheets and we could not even see the end of our own boat let alone any traffic.
 During one storm in particular the rain almost filled a 5 gallon bucket we had tied to the rail for a rain gauge in just a few hours! I spent a restless night napping in the salon an was shocked the next morning when I saw the main sail had ripped again at the 4th reef point and was finished till it could get to a loft and be repaired.
 At this point it was up to the motors to bring us home. The next concern was how much fuel we actually had aboard and would it be enough? I went forward to check the tanks and was disheartened once again to see fuel on the locker floor that must have seeped out of a tank that must have cracked in the rough seas.
 Quickly I found the damaged tank and transferred the fuel to one of the other two tanks before we lost too much fuel. Fuel would be tight and we still has 240 miles to go at this point. If we ran both engines at 75% we would burn the remaining 120 gallons of fuel in 24 hours! At 7 knots we would only cover 170 miles and would be 70 miles short of our destination!
 The solution was to slow down ad run one engine at 5 knots and hope we had enough fuel to make port.
Then the next disaster struck! That evening Daria informed me there was no water coming out of the faucet from the sink!  I checked the water tanks and somehow 200 gallons of fresh water had disappeared? This was not a good feeling…I looked everywhere and finally found the leak from a failed gasket on the port water heater, and luckily I had a spare gasket and had it fixed within an hour and started the water maker which thankfully started right up.
There are very few things that that get me queasy on the boat but working in tight spaces is one of them and I was glad the job was finished with the repair and the tanks were filling with fresh water.
Finally on day 5 we were just 100 miles out but traveling at a mere5 knots it would still take over 20 hours of motoring to get to port. At this point we had the tattered sails stowed and the engines on for almost 4 days and I was getting concerned with how much fuel we actually had left. I transferred all the remaining fuel to the main tank and calculated we would have only 20 gallons of the 300 we had started with when we made port. 
Luckily the winds died that last day and the seas calmed and we could maintain 5 knots with just 1 engine. A few times we has some strong winds on the nose and had to run both engines but were lucky enough for at least one day of light winds.
The list of broken parts did not end though, during this last day one more critical part decided to break, our trusty autopilot that had been working flawlessly the last 35000 miles gave out.   Looks like we will be hand steering the rest of the way Daria….
Exhausted we cleared the bay just before dark but still had the last 50 miles of motoring to get to Davao which is located in north end of a huge bay in the southern Philippines. We were tired and motored a few hours until we were in calm water and then shut of the engine and let the boat just drift while we got a few hours of much needed rest. After a few hours of sleep we motored the last few miles in the morning in calm waters that the mountain range around the bay provides.
What a difference a few miles makes when you are protected by the mountains, the rains had stopped and the seas were calm. Looking back we should have acquired much better weather forecasts but strangely enough nothing we had downloaded showed the class 1 typhoon we had just experienced?
Our next adventure will bring us back to the States for the first time in nearly three years.
Until then, Peace Pete & Daria