KatieKat 2003 Cruise Chapter Eighteen
- New Caledonia to Australia Passage Days Four and Five -

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GoBackTo NewCal-Australia Passage Day Three
28 October 2003Passage Fourth Day
29 October 2003Passage Fifth Day
29 October 2003Fifth Day Eve: Para-Anchor Deployment
GoFwdTo NewCal-Australia Passage Days 6&7

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This webpage covers the fourth and fifth day's passage sails, starting out as a pleasant respite from the previous night's excitement and ending in deploying the para-anchor at the end of the fifth day. Our actual Passage Report SailMail e-mails are shown in italics.

28 October, 2003 -- Passage, Fourth Day

NewCal to Australia Passage Report#4
Date: Tuesday, I think. It's a beautiful sunny morning a little after nine as I type this.
Position: off my knees
Course: thataway - it's morning so the sun's behind us
Speed: not too bad right now - about six knots
Distance to Moreton Bay Entrance: let's see- the soggy log entry for 0900 says 429
Last 24 Hours: doesn't count because of what happened last night
WindSpeed: right now it's a nice 10 knots on the beam
Wind Direction: from the south
Waves: right now, minimal

Yes, we are recovering from the traumatic experiences of last night.

[Aus Analysis] The morning's Australian MSL Analysis was unnerving, as it not only shows the cold front which hit us last night (and now east of us), but it shows this long trough line above us which means what? And then there's this large low centered on the south coast of Australia that is moving eastwards... waaaaaaaaah!

This morning's GRIB download:

[GRIB Today] [GRIB Tomorrow] [GRIB Thursday]

The left GRIB is valid for around noon today and is benign; the second is for around noon tomorrow and could prove troublesome depending on how far west and south we are (note the 30-knot NNW winds to the southwest). The third GRIB is for around noon Thursday and shows light headwinds.

The winds all day long today were light, but we sailed along nicely first beam reaching with southerly winds which gradually dropped off to the point where we motorsailed for many hours. In the early evening we were between the seamounts and changed course for Moreton Bay. Finally, at around eight that evening we put up the blue spinnaker and wafted along into the night...

[Blue Spinnaker Night] You know conditions are benign if we actually put up the spinnaker at night. Nevertheless, it was worrying as to what was ahead...

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29 October, 2003 -- Passage, Fifth Day (Wednesday)

NewCal to Australia Passage Report#5
Date: 29 October 2003
Time: 0900
Position:24deg49S by 158deg47E
Course: 235degM
Speed: varies 4-6 kts. We have an adverse current of over two knots!!
Distance to Moreton Bay Entrance: 326nm
Last 24 Hours: 104 (v. light tailwinds)
WindSpeed: 12kts, increasing
Wind Direction: on the beam, 336degT
Waves: slightly lumpy

After the previous night, yesterday was wonderful! Beautiful, sunny, a light-air broad reach and no seas. We dried everything out. I belatedly rigged up the lightning rod and installed the para-anchor bridle. In the future, this will be my standard passage procedure (in addition to stowing the anchor and chain down below). After the wind shifted in the evening, we even flew the spinnaker last night with a crescent moon lighting the way west - what an unbelievable contrast with the previous night! Ended up winging out the jib and leaving the main down for the entire night - slow, but relaxing. We're both more comfortable when I'm asleep and Kathy's on watch to not fly the chute.

There are mixed predictions for the winds for today - all depends how high up the coast the low will extend (30 knots are predicted just a few miles south of us). Last night we heard VHF (370 miles away!!) thunderstorm warnings for the Australian coast in the Brisbane area with a front moving at 90km/hr and generating 100km/hr winds (that's 60mph)! It's gone south of us... we think. Boats in front of us all have very lumpy uncomfortable seas and winds between 15 and 30, so we'll see...

This morning's GRIB download:

[GRIB Today] [GRIB Tomorrow] [GRIB Friday]

The left GRIB is valid for around noon today (25-knot NNW ahead), the second is for around noon tomorrow (light WNW), and the last one is for around noon Friday (light northeasterlies). As you can see, we are at 159degE and right at 25degS, so ignore the arrow on the picture.

To show you how gunshy we are, at 0600 this morning (as I was talking with Des on Russell Radio in NZ) we were approaching some dark clouds. Des said that one of the charts showed a trough for our area, so we went into protective mode (fourth reef, engines running, no jib, but no bible to clutch) as we entered the darkness, but all we got was less wind and a bunch of rain.

Enough for now - we're both looking forward to relaxing in Queensland! Won't make it before the weekend, so we'll have to wait for Customs on Monday.


Joe + Kathy

OOOoooh, life is never dull. It's now 1015. After I wrote the above, the winds started picking up - we're on a broad reach so need to be watchful. Went from second reef to third reef to fourth reef to dropping the mainsail within a space of 1/2-hour as the winds climbed to 20 - 24 - 27 and they're a little under 30 right now. The seas have become very confused (probably because of the wind-against-current situation), but the boat's doing great. Nice steady seven knots under jib alone. 'Bye

You get the picture: we're a little wary of what's going on out here! Our perspective on the weather has become very focused: what's going to happen today and tomorrow? The GRIB files (because we request so few data points) are sufficient for overall conditions, but do not tell us about fronts passing through. Thus, weatherfaxes become once again our primary inputs. In the following weatherfaxes I've truncated them and only show the area of interest in order to reduce file size.

[NZ Prognosis] Obtained just before noon, this is the New Zealand prognosis valid about midday tomorrow. What's disconcerting is that it shows two slightly curved (trough?) lines just below us, the left edges of which protrude into our path.

[Australia Analysis] The early afternoon Australian MSL Analysis shows the two lined lows and their associated isobars as well as the trough line approaching us.

[NZ Analysis] This is the mid-afternoon New Zealand Analysis. Scary, as it shows a warm front closely followed by a cold front on a path that is definitely going to cross us soon. Not only that, but if you'll look closely you'll see three additional fronts moving up the east coast of Australia in our direction. Verrry interesting!

After a brief midday lull (down to 16 knots from 24 knots) the wind started swinging to the west and picking up so that by 4:00pm we were hard on the wind which was back to 24 knots and increasing. It was getting downright uncomfortable, made all the worse by an almost two-knot adverse current!. Boats ahead of us were experiencing a stronger wind. The combination of these deteriorating conditions and the weatherfax information and a desire to see how the para-anchor works with the retrieval line brought back to the boat made me decide to deploy it. The situation certainly wasn't ominous and I feel could have easily been handled by simply heaving-to; nevertheless, it would be comforting to have that extra margin in case the situation deteriorated further during the night.

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29 October, 2003 -- Fifth Day Eve: Para-Anchor Deployment

As you may recall from my discussion of the previous para-anchor experiences, the significant time-consuming element of the whole process was at the end - the actual retrieval of the para-anchor itself. Since conditions were not expected to be extreme, what I wanted to do was try out the technique of bringing the parachute trip line all the way back to the boat.

[Sea Anchor Drawing] This is a drawing from an older Para-Anchor manual and shows the trip line (dotted line) going all the way back to the boat.

Not quite as shown on this drawing, I have two sets of floats: the first float is on about 10m of floating poly line and leads from the para-anchor apex. The second set of two very brightly-colored floats (they're tied together) is attached to the first float on a 20m poly line. The 400' 3/8"dia nylon trip line attaches to that second set of floats. Recall that polypropylene line floats whereas nylon line sinks.

We prepared for para-anchoring just like we do when approaching a normal anchorage: start the engines, furl the jib, lower the mainsail, put on our walkie-talkies and I put on my heavy leather gloves while Kathy holds the boat on station slowly powering into the wind.

Inasmuch as I had already pre-rigged the bridle (it was stored in the anchor locker on the foredeck), what I did was drag the para-anchor, the heavy bag with the 100m tether, the floats and their line, and the long trip line out onto the forward deck/trampolines. I then carefully hooked up everything, planning to deploy the primary gear from the starboard forward beam (underneath the seagull-striker cable) while feeding out the retrieval (trip) line directly from its bag on the portside trampoline.

When I was ready to go, I had Kathy back the boat slowly while still holding it head to wind. I then started off by first putting in the outer floats into the water and slowly feeding out the poly line leading to the other float while simultaneously feeding out the trip line from its bag. We got into trouble almost immediately, since the ever-increasing wind (now about 27 knots average) was blowing the floats back onto the boat faster than we could back up. Not wishing to repeat the terrible experience we had three years ago where the lines wrapped around the rudder and propeller, I quickly pulled everything back in while asking Kathy to back up faster - we did this successfully.

OK, it was time to try again - what I decided to do first was to release maybe 50' of the nylon trip line from its bag, and only then put the first floats into the water - the idea being that this line would offer sufficient drag to prevent the floats from being blown back onto the boat too quickly. With Kathy backing the boat again, I did just that and it worked. With Kathy continuing to back the boat up and the first floats in the water I kept deploying the poly line from the floats and the nylon trip line from its bag. Pretty soon the second float was deployed and then the para-anchor. The handy thing about this para-anchor is that it is stowed in a bag which is captive and goes into the water as well - there is a small length of chain which helps pull the para-anchor out of the bag. Anyway, all this came out nicely and I gently tugged on the tether line to get the para-anchor to fill and then I continued to let out the tether while Kathy beautifully kept backing the boat up. The tricky part was to ensure that the retrieval trip line payed out of its bag smoothly as well. Pretty soon we were at the bridle (each leg is about 60' long) and I just kept easing everything into the water until the bridle and tether were all deployed and nicely tensioned to the para-anchor and we could now stop and turn off and stow the engines.

I now spent a lot of time playing with the retrieval/trip line tension. Some historical background: full-length trip lines were the norm until about fifteen years ago(?) when a trip line fouling the para-anchor was suspected as the cause of para-anchor failure which eventually led to the overturning of the trimaran Noele-Rose(?I'm working from memory) off New Zealand in storm conditions. Subsequently, use of a full-length trip line was considered unfashionable by some. Many discussions later, talking with Alby McCracken at Para-Anchors Australia, and some e-mails with Victor Shane (author of the wonderful compendium Drag Device Data Base), and the prospect of an awfully time-consuming retrieval process led me to try the full-length tripline as long as the conditions weren't going to be overwhelming. The suggested technique was to tighten the trip line until it was 'snug' (whatever that means in technical terms). Thankfully, the winds died down a little during this time, but the seas were quite confused and the boat was often being whapped from each side in addition to the normal wave train coming in from the bow. Well, I played with the tripline - if too slack, it had a tendency to wrap itself around a bridle leg (not good). If too tight, it could possibly start collapsing the para-anchor (also not good). I was a little concerned because the tripline would not stay in one place but would travel from side to side directly over the tether and bridle. So I tensioned it and studied the response and then retensioned and studied... after all, I had nothing else to do, did I? Eventually, I got to the point where it looked and acted consistently, so that's where I left it.

[Para Anchor Deployed] [Para Anchor Deployed] [Para Anchor Deployed] [Para Anchor Deployed]

Discussion below.

I attached the tripline to the starboard bow and as you can see in the left photo it was wrapped around the pulpit as the slack tripline was pulled off to port (or was it the boat angling to starboard?). Just prior to this photo it had been even more slack and had wrapped itself around the bridle, causing a little anxiety. The second photo is a blowup of the first and shows the two floats (orange and yellow) and perhaps a better perspective of the waves being experienced. Anyway, I tensioned the tripline further and the third photo, taken ten minutes later, shows a nice clean straight run to the tripline floats. The right photo was taken thirteen hours later at 0530 the following morning and shows a virtually unchanged tripline position (this is good) and now significantly quieter seas.

A short while later (5:00pm) we connected with the nearby boats on our twice-daily informal SSB net. The boats in front were having a tough time of it as the winds had risen significantly, and when I told them we were comfortably relaxing to the para-anchor there were some unprintable comments made.

NewCal to Australia Passage Report#6
Date: 29 October 2003
Time: 1800hrsNC
Position: 25deg00minS by 158deg13minE
Course: 009degM (that's north, not where we want to go)
Speed: 1.7kts (ocean current)
Distance to Moreton Bay Entrance: 294nm, and losing ground
Last 24 Hours: last reading at 1600hrs we had done 103nm; slow going.
WindSpeed: 25-30+
Wind Direction: 330degM
Waves: many convoluted ones on top of large swells

Hi from the duck KatieKat.

We've deployed the para-anchor and are very comfortably sitting out the nasty winds and waves.

More in the next report.

Joe + Kathy (about to enjoy a peaceful dinner)

Well, after the brief lull, the winds and waves continued to rise. I set the windspeed alarm to 35knots and later that evening it squawked a number of times, but nothing more serious. The waves, however, did continue to get messy and being anchored was no longer comfortable as we were constantly battered by cross-waves - nothing dangerous, just uncomfortable. The second photo above (before the winds picked up) shows a little of the confused seas - you can clearly see at least three swell patterns: the first one (closest) is head-on, one on the right coming in at about 45-degrees off the starboard bow, and further away between the spreader and the furled jib you can see one coming in at about 45-degrees from port. Messy, but not unusual in the rapidly-changing weather conditions.

Later that evening we were contacted by a boat that had heard us talking with the others and was wondering where we were; also, I put out an "All Ships, Securite" on VHF simply to let people know our position and asking everyone to keep clear. Inasmuch as we had plenty of power because the windgen was pumping out a good 10-15 amps, I left the anchor light and all the exterior lights on (but turned off the nav lights since we weren't moving). Perhaps a "Not Under Command" light configuration would be legally more appropriate, but I didn't have those onboard. I also kept the radar on and kept checking throughout the night, but saw nothing all night long.

Kathy and I each got a good night's sleep. Most of the other boats eventually hove-to that night as the conditions deteriorated. No question, of all the boats out there that night, we were the least uncomfortable!

The big drawback to all this happy para-anchoring is that we had an adverse current - despite the wind being from the northwest, we were moving northeast at between 1.2 and 1.8 knots! As we'll see tomorrow, despite retrieving the para-anchor at dawn, it would be a full 18 hours before we regained our position in the ocean.

Para-Anchor Deployment Perspectives

The one item I failed to recognize at the time was how incredibly stressful it was for Kathy to control the boat and have it back up in those conditions. It is a very tricky proposition, since the bows not only get knocked sideways by the waves, but as soon as we're no longer head-to-wind the wind then pushes the bow off quite forcefully. Correction requires steering finesse, as brute force with engines alone is insufficient to make the corrections. Add to that my requests over the walkie-talkie to her asking her to alter both speed and bow position. When I eventually came back into the cockpit, Kathy was obviously wiped out. Her memory of our fiasco three years ago was still haunting her and the fear of screwing up and somehow again having the boat ride over the anchor tether (and now, the tripline) proved to be almost too much for her - she describes this as being the most fearsome event in all of our sailing (and, for her, much worse than the lightning storm)! Being from Mars, I was totally oblivious to her situation, especially since she did such a great job of maneuvering the boat and keeping it heading backwards so nicely in a straight line.

The next time I go to deploy the para-anchor, I will attempt a different technique. The problem we had was that when we started the deployment the wind was in the high 20's (it dropped shortly thereafter) and was strong enough to blow the two tripline floats back towards the boat faster than we could back up. Luckily, deploying some of the nylon tripline (between the floats and the boat rather than the floating poly line between the floats and the para-anchor) stopped the drift well enough so we could back up and perform the deployment. What I think I will try next time is deploy the para-anchor itself first, and then simultaneously feed out the tether and tripline (with its floats) as we back up. This will immediately tension the whole works and keep the floats from being blown back down onto the boat. We probably then will not even need the motors in order to back up.

CONTINUED... Click here to go to next chapter and Para-Anchor retrieval

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