Taking on a greenie
We had a strong NE breeze and the forecast promised winds from the stern, there was only a small low pressure at N end of Sumatra that was not that intense and winds were fair. Our port radar was inoperable again despite the repairs we did in Singapore. In general things looked good.
Well, first day enroute we’re making good speed abt 9kts and we started to get some ocean swell but winds were still NE force 3-4. Ship started to roll and we engaged the stabilizers. After 12hrs we had to switch them off as the other side was excessively leaking oil due to corroded hydraulic piston shaft. I guess too much inactivity. Then our centre engine started heating up and consuming lube oil, we reduced revs on the engine and the problem seemed solved for the time being. Come 2nd day (4/12) the engine got worse and was literally drinking lube, the exhaust was white and one could smell LO on the bridge. The engine was stopped, it seemed either piston rings had gone or the turbo charger. After conferring with Vivek we decided to press on with our remaining 2 engines and overhaul the centre engine upon arrival Mumbai.
Come evening 2nd day wing engines crankshafts started heating up too, we had to decrease revs. This was either due to seawater pump giving up or water lines clogged by sea growth, no way of solving the problem at sea. In addition the auxiliary engine exhaust silencer had started leaking water, it was raining in the engine room. As we had just passed the Nicobar chain and looking at Vivek’s face when he told me abt the new problems I decided to divert to Port Blair as the distance was half compared to Galle. Also at this time the swell had turned to our port bow and we were pounding the waves and taking the occasional greenie on deck. Winds were still NE’ly force 3 or less, but we made speed only 5kts. After setting new course for Port Blair we were making 7kts with the swell from our stern quarter. I started wondering whether there was higher forces in working that did not want us to reach India, perhaps it was the magic of the Kingdom keeping us in its grip refusing us to depart.
Seasick girls taking a fresh breath of air with Rajaram
As usual when water depths hit over 1km the sea turns a beautiful turquoise or azure blue. At times we would be visited by dolphins that came to play in our bow wave. An everyday occurrence was the frightened fly fish that scuttled clear of us. Fish was flying port and starboard and at times onto the aft deck too.
5th Dec our A/C plant overheated and blew out the coolant gas. There was no end to the Engineer’s misery. Damage reports were sent to office and list of spares requirements were drawn for organizing engine spares to Port Blair in order to have a speedy overhaul and continue our voyage.
We finally arrived 6th Dec close to midnight at Port Blair and anchored in Phoenix Bay for Navy clearance. They arrived shortly after anchorage on a RIB with weapons galore and checked the crew (face check) and the ship for (I assume) illegal aliens and/ or substances. After completion it was time for a few hrs of shuteye before pilot boarded at 6am.
On the 14th morning we finally had the engine running and pilot onboard and we went for sea trials. Eventually the engine was found running well and I headed out and anchored off Aberdeen jetty opposite Ross Island for port clearance. Once all clear and having said our goodbyes to Salim and Ashraf we left for Galle at noon, our intention was to take cheap bunker there and possibly install a new turbo charger.
15th Dec we were alone in the middle of nowhere, not a ship around, not even on the AIS. It was Jessica’s birthday and Richie fixed a cake and come dinner time we all sang to “Happy Birthday” to her and she even got a few presents.
16th Dec onwards the swell just got higher and the Ocean was just deserted as before. Not a soul in sight. Jessica and Martula got seasick and lay on the saloon floor like fish out of water.
We made good speed 9kts all the way to Galle, the swell was from our stern and we were surfing with the waves that caused us to roll heavily at times. Anything loose was sure to move. When we neared the Island State we got a remarkable stern current that whisked us forward at 11kts at times and I amended our ETA to morning in order for us to depart on same day after bunkering. We had decided to overhaul the turbo in Mumbai as the engine seemed to be holding well together.
17th Dec went printing documents for the port authorities. I always wonder where these papers end up. Does anybody read them afterwards? Or do they just end up in vast archives to collect dust?
We arrived Galle roads at 7am 18th Dec and I contacted the Port control. Port Control instructed us to proceed in and a naval patrol boarded us to do inspection.
Evening when sailing along the Sri Lankan coast was littered with fishing boats, they looked more like narrow dinghies and had a smaller pontoon rigged on the side for stability, we had to get 10’ offshore when we cleared all fishermen. Once out on the Gulf of Mannar we got a good NE’ly force 4-5 and a swell as well.
19th Dec got us going doing good speed 10kts sideways to the waves at times rolling heavily, wind increased to E force 6-7 and at 5am our eggs were cleared off the shelves onto the galley floor. Luckily we are due to shelter from Indian mainland in another 5hrs, if we would have been delayed the 12hrs I would have been forced to sneak my way up the Sri Lankan coast and slink over to the Indian side instead of taking the straight route. 6am one of our steering pumps gave up, that was probably the last technical item we had not had any issues with so far.
There would be no more omelets before Mumbai nor any birthday cake for me. Other people have big bashes when they turn 30 or 40, I believe that during both anniversaries I have been at sea. 10 yrs ago I was working on Superstar Leo in Malaysia, I recall I had no party that time, not surprising recalling their draconian personnel policies. At 1800hrs when I went on duty, Saini told me to go and have some dinner first and I was met by Richard who presented a cake against all odds. It was a bit hard but tasted good with cinnamon and all masala he had added. After all it is the thought that counts.
Anyway, by the time we passed Cape Comorin we were only doing 8.5kts and the E’ly turned to a NE’ly.
20th Dec saw us picking up speed again, at times we were doing 10.5kts. The sea calmed down as a result of the shelter from the Indian mainland provided. Wind was all the time a NNE’ly, the sea turned a drab green as water depth went down to 50m and less. Also our dolphins and flying fish had abandoned us. In the afternoon we spotted bigger ocean going fishing boats pulling up their haul, I counted abt 20 men on deck, no shortage of man power there.
My guys and girls started to setting up ship as much as they could. In fact Raja Ram and Sandeep had been scrubbing the deck for days on end now. On the bridge the Captain’s chair finally gave up and plonked out of its swivel socket - it had served well.
In the evening 21st Dec, while passing Mormugao (Goa), the notorious hippie haunt as well as a major iron ore port in India, there were several ships on the roads waiting for a berth. I saw several fishermen in mere dinghies pulling nets in pitch black darkness only illuminated by a fluttering open flame kerosene torch 12’ offshore. Richard said they come and go by the tide. I wonder how many of them are lost to Poseidon annually.
22nd Dec brought a NNW’ly swell and Kalizma was pitching like a bronco trying to rid his rider. We sure have had our share of pitching, rolling, yawing and broaching during this trip. Wind had died down to a N’ly force 2. Afternoon was again spent printing out documents for the thirsty bureaucrats of Mumbai. Jyoti was setting aside some JW Red Label for them. At 1800hrs we entered Mumbai pilot boat cruising area and picked up our pilot for taking us to our anchorage in front of the Gateway of India. We had finally arrived Mumbai after 20 days of sailing.
23rd Dec the day started with Immigration clearance, the customary whisky was offered upon completion and the Immigration Officer promptly asked for 2 btls more and some T-shirts and caps. Well, I gave him the whisky but had to inform him that I was all out of T-shirts & caps. Immigration Officer said I could send some to his office once I got some. Errrrrr…..oh well… Indian bureaucracy.