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More Adventures of the Bounty Hunters - Sail the Solomons 2000

by Fletcher Christian on 26 May 2000

Definitely a race on its own. Did I say race? Well I think the cruising division is what this jaunt is all about. The old saying 'getting there is half the fun' should be the slogan of the Sail the Solomons Race. At this point I've yet to sample the fun at our destination. I'm all a quiver with anticipation. As for the getting there be prepared for tales of unmatched adventure on the high seas, well almost.
Saturday morning saw us prepared for anything. After a break feast at the café at East Coast Marina. Certainly baked beans were a nice touch. Yachts being wind powered and all. The omens weren't good, we followed Waterfront Bar out of the pens. We did not realise that they had won the contract for dredging Manly boat harbour.
Mixing it with the big boys at the start line gave us the opportunity to size up our opposition. Our Bounty Bligh weighs in at an honest 12 tonnes dead weight, a mere 14 metres was one of the smaller of the fleet. Drina seemed to have good credentials having done well in past races. Millennium, well what can I say, looks like one hell of a mean racing machine. We sailed past and hailed the start boat and received our new handicap. Silly us thought it was the race HF frequency.
What a day, so the sailing conditions weren't for fast racing but otherwise the weather was perfect. It was the sort of stuff that entices us Mexicans to spend all our hard-earned dollars up North. Bright sun, cloudless sky, flat blue seas. The fishing looked to be promising as we hooked a small mackerel just off Morton Island. Being gung ho racers as we are we did not want to lose speed by winding down the motor, (oops).
The fish had to be content with skipping across our wake like a smooth stone. This was our first mistake as we lost the fish, our second was to keep trying. We heard later that some of the boats had good catches, another old saying is 10 percent of the fishermen catch 90 percent of the fish, it sounded like these guys got their 90 percent alright.
The Iron Spinnaker got a solid work out and we were earlier on enjoined in a tussle with Jo D'affaire to see who could travel the furthest without turning their motor off. Things got better later on and we tried something new, sailing. As night came on so too the dreaded night watches.
The first night is always the hardest as jetlag knocks me about a bit. As the race progresses the body clock adjusts. The most improving aspect of the race is the weather. Balmy tropical nights, it's a joy to sit outside and soak up the cool breeze and take in the starry firmament. We were also blessed with a full moon. Even on the worst day in the lower latitudes the rain was warm, wet and delicious.
Dangerous signs were starting to show themselves. All the old corny jokes were starting to re-emerge. It's just as well our boat has a no alcohol while sailing policy. Many a night's watch was spent chewing the fat. No more relevant topics would have been discussed at a philosophers conference. Much of the time was spent wondering what was in store for us in the tropical paradise kingdom of the Solomon Islands.
Thanks to the Sail the Solomon's Cruising Guide we knew what facilities to expect. The Sail the Solomons - A Cruising Guide quite simply bedazzled our travel buds. Nonetheless there were many unanswered questions such as what is a koku and how high can it jump?
I've mentioned previously the skipping fish of Morton Island - well prepare to be truly amazed! There are fish that can actually fly! These little maritime aviators really put on a show. I once saw a school of about 50 fish all rise simultaneously from before the bow of the boat, and the flock deposited themselves some thirty metres further on. Other wildlife on the voyage was a minke whale. We guessed at the identity, never took a breath in our vicinity but we were able to observe that it did not have a dolphin like snout.
One sobering but more inspiring close encounter was with a sleeping humped-back whale. It was not spotted until it was a few metres abeam late at night, at first there seemed to be a white stick out of the water just like craypots encountered further south along the east coast of Victoria and NSW. Then this stick appeared to hold more substance, then all of a sudden we could see a huge rounded mass at its base. The stick we could see was the white underside of the pectoral fin held aloft. The whale was lying with its back toward us - we thought it best to let sleeping whales lie and continued on our voyage.
Sea birds abounded and it would be nice to see if we could identify some at a later stage. If we could not trouble the fish with our lure we did fool one silly gannet, luckily our lure was so long that it was able to have a taste and reject it without getting tangled in hooks. Terns not much bigger than the lure were also having a go fortunately with the same result.
We were permitted the luxury of a sponge bath every two days. Some of the crew took the opportunity of a seawater pre-wash when we struck times of no wind. The problem of sailing in these conditions is to know where the 'no wind' is coming from (apologies Ian Ritchie - Bravado). Having the crew hang on to a rope at the stern is a good way of how to prove the handicapper got it wrong. Another good way of proving the handicapper got it wrong is to get out your new secret weapon at the start of the race only to find that someone forgot to pack the instructions. Our secret weapon is an asymmetrical spinnaker … genicka thingy doover - provided by Frost Bites Bar & Grille of Melbourne. One morning we were coasting along comfortably under the secret weapon and we were hit with a contrary gust of wind announced with a local rainstorm which turned us inside out and snapped the block off the masthead and jammed the halyard.
We had all hands on deck in pouring rain which would have been quite enjoyable if not for the problem of retrieving our secret weapon. Fortunately all it needed was to douse it with its sock. It was more difficult than it sounds as the halyard was torn away a few feet from the mast and we had 2 reefs in the main. Shear perseverance won the day. Just as we got the sail socked the wind died out completely - perfect timing, as we had to send Mike up the mast to retrieve the halyard and sail. It is hard enough coping with the to and fro movement of the mast caused by the swell let alone the movement caused by strong winds.
The days began to get gradually warmer & more time to spend on sunning ourselves. At the start of the race we were still an underdone beige. There were other signs of climbing the latitudes than the flying fish. We started to see coconuts and we sent someone forward with a net in case we could catch one of the legal size but they started to take evasive action as no more came near the boat. There was also a report of one mosquito 200 miles off shore, of course the sceptics were out in force but in any case it was just as well we had taken our malaria medication that morning.
Never let a chance go by was the motto on Bounty Bligh. Whenever we had a decent rainstorm we were out on deck giving ourselves a good scrub. On a long voyage of somewhat indefinite duration fresh water is of a premium. Not a drop was wasted. We also took the opportunity to wash the clothes we were standing in. The washing also provided decoration and provided a certain amount of extra sail area. It was just as tempting to jump into the sea invited by the deep transparent blue pierced by sharp shafts of sunshine penetrating to infinite depths only just cooler than the air.
Just a quick word on safety equipment. We can assure you that self-inflating life vests do work. They inflate all by themselves. Dennis's vest lying next to Mike's went off just as we were discussing whale sightings. John our safety inspector gave us much good advice

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