Trip Reports

Faith Is The Place (28-Sep-2001-08-00):
8:00 AM local time, Friday, Sept. 28 (2200 Sept. 27 UTC) 09 27 S 147 09 E. Temp. 82, Humidity 78%, Cloud Cover 40%. Royal Papua Yacht Club, Port Moresby, Papua, New Guinea.

Warmest greetings from the crew of Maverick, still pinned down in Port Moresby waiting for the wind to lighten up which may happen in the next day or two.

Many people have written to express a reaction to my piece about the terrorist attack. As evidence, perhaps, of the Captain's limitations as a polemicist, I submit the fact that, yea or nay, no two seemed to agree on what I actually meant, and this includes your correspondent. The Captain will attempt to refrain from commenting on the matter further, feeling he can add little of value. We will make exceptions in cases where our experience or perspective, because of our peculiar vantage point, may be of interest.

But not a few of you have expressed a concern about our long-range plans in view of recent developments. Assuming we don't get on a plane, there are three ways, more or less, to get home from here. One is to turn around. This is harder than it sounds due to prevailing winds and cyclone seasons. If therefore we keep going west, we must decide in Darwin whether to A) go directly across the Indian Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope, thence to Brazil and up the coast of South America. We have no charts for this route but they could be obtained; it would mean missing the Mediterranean. Or B) we can continue according to plan and go up through Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, etc., and eventually up the Red Sea, reaching the Med in late spring. We must in any case make a decision in Darwin by the end of October for seasonal (cyclone) reasons.

Neither the reader nor the Captain knows what will happen between now and then. But should relatively little change, and I realize this is quite a vague phrase but I have scenarios in mind, we will continue as planned. If something unpleasant happens between the time we leave Darwin and the time we get to, say, the Maldives, we may still be able to bail or just wait somewhere if the situation is serious enough. But to be more realistic, when we leave Darwin, we're committed to the Red Sea route, come what may.

Our decision has been based on the following. 1) We aboard Maverick have faith that the vast majority of Muslims (we'll be going to some Muslim countries, for those whose geography needs a bit of a refresher), even in the relatively rare cases where they are extremists and loathe America, are unlikely to act violently no matter what that guy is trying to make you think. News teams in northern Pakistan are taping pro-Osama bin Laden demonstrations as we speak, and have presumably lived to deliver the video. We're not doing anything so dangerous, by comparison. And think of it this way: Exotic-looking people (including Mr. Shrode's own daughter, Selina) and those with middle eastern sounding names have been taunted and attacked in our own country in the wake of this event. Because of this, Arab nations are no doubt warning their citizens about traveling in America, which even in peaceful times is a relatively violent country. 2) Acts of terrorism against Americans have been as a rule well planned and symbolic, not random attacks. Yachties are pretty far down the list of symbolic targets. 3) We will get updates on any hotspots over HAM radio. 4) Our arrivals and departures will, and this is a new policy, be privileged information. The press will be barred. 5) Our latitude and longitude may be encrypted. 6) We fully expect major ports and particularly the Suez Canal to be secure. A lot of valuable cargo routinely flows through these places on ships from all over the world, and many people don't like this flow to be interrupted. 7) The whole damn US Navy is going to be out here. 8) Nobody knows we're coming. (Don't you go blabbing about it!). All in all, acts of piracy remain, in the Captain's view, a more significant risk

As does the very sea itself, don't forget. The Captain is currently engaged in a Byzantine analysis of various hypothetical situations that might arise as we transit the Torres Strait and environs in a stiff breeze. This is one of the most dangerous parts of our voyage from a sailor's point of view and I'm trying to do as much of my thinking ahead of time as I can. Even the most avid student of sailing and navigation would find these ruminations obsessive and tedious, so I will spare the reader the details, but here's a general idea. What we are doing is going through a very wide part, if you like, of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Once we get to Bligh Entrance to the Great Northeast Passage, 200 miles from here, we will have an upwind leg of about 85 miles, and how far forward, or south in this case, the wind is, will determine whether we can sail free or will be forced to motorsail or tack. Then we have a short dogleg and another forty miles, some of which is upwind, before we get to the Prince of Wales Channel. This channel can have current of up to eight knots and there will most likely be some heavy ships going through when we do. It is essential that we not go through on an adverse current, which would produce standing waves in the face of the SE wind, and at the very least stop us in our tracks with waves breaking over the bow. There are two opportunities each day during which we can begin our sail through the channel safely, but we'd also like to be there in the daytime, so really we have one five-hour window per day. Our passage through the Torres Strait must be planned to maximize the chances of hitting this window, preferably at the beginning of it.

So the navigational problem is to do a time-speed-distance calculation on each leg to find an estimated time enroute and then plan your start so that you don't have a problem when you get there. In the first three to five legs (depending on how finely you divide the route) we will also have to deal with current, not as strong as in the channel but not navigationally negligible, and will have to calculate those effects as well. The entire game revolves around the exact direction of the wind. A Southeasterly is technically from 135 degrees true, but the weathercasters can't be accurate to more than plus or minus, say, 35 degrees. If we find that the wind is a bit more east than 135 we'll be happier (reaching) than if it is a bit more south than that (on our nose). But the idea is to sketch out all of the possibilities assuming different wind directions and therefore points of sail and therefore speed, add in the current vectors, and get a resultant velocity made good for each leg under each assumption. The results, which have been put on a table, give a range of 18.5-57 hours between the entrance and the channel. As we approach Bramble Cay at the Bligh Entrance, the starting point, we'll see which way the wind blows, look at our table, and try to time our start accordingly. Even after all this, though, it's a bit of a crapshoot, as Robert Burns said, or words to that effect.

Ship's Intrepid Adventures Specialist Terry Shrode undoubtedly feels that these ruminations take all the fun out of it, but if so he is too polite to say.

Next report from this loocation: Here We Go

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