Week 5 - New Year.....The Weather Starts to Entertain
The week started with us very closely watching a weather system building SW of Rio De Janeiro that we expected to meet on Saturday (Day 32). The day we arrived at Montevideo was still a matter for debate, but it was going to be on either Tuesday 04/01 or Wed 05/01. Watching the weather building south of Rio, which was expected to attain near gale levels, Iain calculated that if he could squeeze some more speed out of ASTRA and gain an extra 1 knot, iby day 32 they should be 100 miles further on than previously expected and could maybe dodge a bit of a pummelling!
The week also started with an assessment of the rounding of the Horn and starting to get a feel for our likely window
Meanwhile, in the engine room, we needed some repairs to the Volvo auxiliary engine. A test run led to the discovery that the seal on the sea water cooling pump had gone. Luke whizzed it off in no time and, after stripping the pump down, found that a stainless steel circlip had completely corroded. Without the circlip to hold the mechanical seal in place, there is a risk of the mechanical seal element (porcelain) being knocked about and damaged. This pump was inspected earlier in 2021 and all found to be in order.
A query about larger replacement spare parts (Starter motor, oil cooler, SW Pump) to Volvo UK met the response that this engine was obsolete and parts were no longer available. Thankfully this dialogue while we were in Spain and Progener, who managed our engine servicing in Sep/Oct, were able to source reconditioned and replacement parts for us. We were able to replace the larger components.
Started with us entering the VSAT blackhole of the South Atlantic (See sketch).
We hadn’t anticipated a lack of coverage here as when the comms for the voyage were established, we weren’t planning on sailing WSW across the South Atlantic. After some initial fault-finding had us scratching our heads, Luke called INMARSAT (The International Maritime Satellite) Co, which is a British satellite telecommunications company, to complain about our broadband. They immediately called us up on their system and said that we would not have any coverage for another 550 miles as we were in the South Atlantic blackspot!
Luckily, one thing that ASTRA has in buckets is back-up systems. In this case, we have an Inmarsat Fleet Broadband system, which is a much smaller satellite receiver operating at 128kbps. To put that in context, it was an ISDN connection first implemented in Year 2000/2001 ISDN. However, after our 1st 2GB of data, which Iain consumed a fair chunk of (unbeknownst to him) while downloading vector charts, we were now down to a mere 64kbps! Think Compuserve/AOL 1997 here! In reality we were actually getting only about 3-4 kbps and it was now being transferred in teeny tiny packets of data.....
We encountered a steady stream of traffic (well about 7-8 ships) in a 6-8 hour period as we crossed the primary route for ships that are sailing to/from Santos to the Cape of Good Hope. Late afternoon we met the ‘stationary front’ that was leading the weather system building south of Rio. Iain came on the bridge at 17:00 and we could see it 8 miles ahead and looming large on the radar. The wind at that time was a gentle NW’ly x 10 knots but we hoped for some heavy rain to dampen the seas that we were in, allowing us to switch the stabilisers off for a few hours and bank a few further miles. By 17:50 the wind was gusting over 30 knots and our relative wind speed was reading 36-39 knots!
By 19:00, we were through it and the wind moved to the S and then SE , returning to 10 knots.
During the squall, Iain had reduced speed by 15%, but about 30 minutes later as the seas built quickly (to 2.0 – 2.3m from our 11 o’clock position) we started uncomfortable synchronous pitching. As Astra is a Rescue/Salvage vessel he employed a tactic that works in heavy weather on ‘Silver Dee’ increasing speed until we disturbed the synchronous pattern and took no further heavy pitches.
After crossing the weather front we were rewarded with a very fine day of calm conditions, winds less than 5-6 knots and blue skies. We started to find stronger currents and had our 1st day at almost 10 knots for 24 hours. .
The leg (RTW02) has rewarded us for turning west and at just under 3,000 miles it is similar in length to ‘RTW 01 Lanzarote to Saint Helena’, However, RTW 01 took us 20 days and RTW 02 has taken us just 14! We have pulled back all of the lost time and we would not have imagined we could claw back 6 days on one same size leg even though we have not had a day where the average speed is less than 8 knots and we have chalked up more than 200 miles on each day. On RTW 01 we had days where our recorded distance was down to 110 -120miles!
Day 31 – New Years Eve
And, right on cue, the VSAT came back.
New Year’s eve started with the most tremendous red sky, heralding the arrival later this evening of another weather system we had been tracking all week. (As Kat always says, "red sky in the morning.....anything can happen". But then she also says the same thing about red sky at night"!)
At 07:45 Iain spotted what looked like a grouping of weathered irises or reeds about 300 metres ahead of ASTRA and got the binoculars to have a closer look. He realises it if a bundle of about 25-30 metres of large mooring rope (about 64mm diam) and a swift alteration to port is needed to pass safely clear. This could have been a much nastier moment…
When Iain took Astra back to her former home port at Rörö island in the northern part of the Gothenburg archipelago, in September 2021, he asked about the removal of the nozzle (tube) around Astra’s propeller. Part of the story was that it was getting fouled with ice in her 1st winter in service 1996. However, he also learned that in early 1996, when assisting a stricken Russian cargo ship in the Baltic in bad weather, the cargo ship had about 200 metres of heavy mooring line washed off her decks and it went straight in to ASTRA’s propellers and disabled her. Astra’s Captain, who was not overly fond of the nozzle anyway, with its frequent fouling by ice, and this was the final straw, giving him further justification to get rid of the b****y nozzle.
However - when during the sea trials and survey, when the engine started and Iain saw the ‘dockcreep’ that Astra experiences without the nozzle to properly tunnel the propeller wash, he decided there and then that replacement was, for him, the 1st job on his repair list… and it was.
New Years Eve, or Hogmany for our Scottish contingent of Iain, Luke & Mikey, was celebrated by having a wee dram (or two) of a fine Scottish Malt Whisky that was left by our good friends Doug & Fiona Duguid in the final minutes before we sailed from Lanzarote, and very welcome it was too. It was decided that we’ll have the next wee drams as we pass each of the Capes!
Day 32 - New Year's Day NY Day morning weather has an ugly look but as the wind and weather maps show, our decision to speed up 4 days ago has paid off and we got ahead of the weather system.
New Year’s Day dinner demanded a repeat of the Tuna Tartare magnificence of Christmas Day, although we had run out of avocados and had to make do with a jar of guacamole. That was the last of our limes (scurvy beckons!)….good job there are no margaritas allowed!
Day 33 Port papers for Montevideo were finally completed ( And it is just as well we brought a good printer and all those reams of paper!).
Today we started to look at potential weather windows for rounding Cape Horn. At the moment Saturday 15/01 looks most likely…..but there is no doubt that will change several ties over the next week.
Day 34 The majority of the day was spent sailing about 60’ off the coast on a large sand bank, with only about 60 metres water depth under keel. For the mariners out there, it is like the approach from the South China Sea into Singapore over Eastern Bank and, with the length of the run in, it feels that way too.
Day 35 – Montevideo We are due to take on a Pilot at 10:00hrs Local time (compulsory for all foreign vessels) and expect to berth between 11:00 – 11:30. In addition to refuelling and stores we have two joining crew members. Paul Griffiths (Chief Engineer) re-joins to take over from Luke Crossley.
Unfortunately, Orlando Perez is leaving us in Montevideo, having decided within the 1st week after Lanzarote that this really wasn’t for him after all. Orlando hadn’t settled with the motion we experienced in those strong SE trades and swells as we rounded West Africa and made for Saint Helena. Of course, this reminds everyone that it would not be such a challenge if it was easy.
We wish Orlando the very best in his future endeavours (and smoother seas) and hope he will be there to help us in mooring back at Puerto Calero some time in May 2023
Joining us to replace Orlando as 2nd Mate is another Scotsman (!) Daniel Rafferty. For all of the Witherby staff twho may be wondering no, it’s not Daniel Rafferty from the warehouse, this Daniel Rafferty is from Ayrshire. (Can someone tell Derek in IT, that there are now two Daniel Raffertys).
Daniel did his cadetship on 300m long containerships with Zodiac and has been sailing on small coasters for the last couple of years from Scotland/UK to Scandanavia. He’s also another budding cook. Photographs and words will follow.
Welcome back Paul and a warm welcome to Daniel as he joins!
As we approached latitude 32° South, our 1st albatross in the Southern Hemisphere arrived.