SY Dog Star

A family sailing the Pacific

Author: Captain Robin

Infected cuts and scratches in Vanuatu

Something we’ve seen happen to more than half the boats we’ve met in Vanuatu is badly infected cuts and scratches. Usually starting with a tiny nick, an uncovered wound can degrade quickly into a large, swollen and infected mess. Coral cuts are often to blame, but any cut can deteriorate into a dangerous situation.

Here’s some practical care for cuts and scratches in Vanuatu:

  1. Clean every cut with hydrogen peroxide or bleach as soon as possible.
  2. Cover every cut with a plaster. Nexcare waterproof are excellent for cruisers but a plaster that can breathe is better if you can keep it dry.
  3. As soon as it gets infected, clean, dress and monitor, if it continues to deteriorate immediately start a course of Flucoxacillin, a penicillin based antibiotic for bacterial skin infections.
  4. Always carry some Flucoxacillin onboard, you can buy it over the counter in the pharmacies in Port Vila or Luganville. Some Augmentin is probably good to carry too, but don’t use it unless you really need it.

One day I noticed a small cut on my ankle, maybe getting out of the dinghy or scratched on a piece of rigging, it quickly scabbed over and I ignored it. Being on my ankle I knocked the top off it and it started bleeding again. I whacked a plaster on it and forgot about it until we were walking around the island of Vao. As we walked I noticed flies trying to land on the cut, the plaster had fallen off. I covered it again later but then in 24 hours a white pus lump appeared and the skin around was inflamed and painful. My leg quickly swelled and I showed it to our friends on Gonyonda. A nurse, Mariko was quick to identify a problem. She cleaned it up for me and we got some Flucoxacillin antibiotics to treat it. A week later it’s better, but I can see I’ll have a scar and I’m glad we got into it early.

This is not uncommon, of the 4 kid boats we hangout with, every boat has had at least one crew member that has been on antibiotics for this kind of infection.

A quick note to fellow New Caledonia cruisers

Translated from the local newspaper today:

Hazardous jellyfish identified from Amédée Island to Bourail

The jellyfish in question, photographed last Sunday at Islet Ténia. The author of the pictures says “that there were many in the water and dozens stranded still alive. They are invisible in the water or almost, we see them thanks to their shade, the filaments are 100% invisible “. Chris CH Pictures

The dangerous jellyfish stings cause on people carrying full suits have been identified, had indicated the government in a statement:

These are jellyfish that can cause severe to very severe envenomation. Captures of these jellyfish are ongoing, for precise identification purposes. At this point, it appears to be “Irukandji” jellyfish, the Cubozoa class, commonly referred to as “cubo jellyfish” because of their box shape.

Testimonies of bathers also bitten have reported these jellyfish in a maritime geographical zone from the lagoon of Bourail to that of the island Amédée.

As a result, the DASS reiterates its recommendations:

– Do not bathe in the indicated areas.

– Do not handle a jellyfish, even stranded or dead.

In case of sting  :

– Get out of the water as soon as possible.

– Thoroughly rinse with vinegar as soon as possible the wound and the tentacles (if there are any) to inactivate the venom.

– After applying the vinegar, remove the tentacles gently, using tweezers, and not with bare hands.

– Dry and warm up the person quickly.

– Take a pain treatment if necessary.

– Request medical advice urgently, or call 15.

Warning :

– Never rinse lesions or tentacles with seawater, fresh water, urine, lemon, alcohol, soda, shaving foam, etc.

– Do not scratch the tentacles (the tension of the tentacles can cause a discharge of venom).

Night Sailing

After a few days of exploring Port Fitzroy on Great Barrier Island, we thought it was a good time to make passage to the Bay of Islands, our last NZ stop before our offshore passage to Noumea. The sail was likely to take us 14 hours so instead of leaving in the dark and arriving in the dark, we decided to make passage overnight, leaving and arriving in daylight, but best of all, allowing us a night sail.

Sailing into the sunset out of Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier Island

Sailing into the sunset out of Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier Island

Sailing at night is my favourite type of sailing, this particular night was an ideal sailing night. We had good winds, 20kn with gusts of 25kn, we put in a reef (reduced the sail size to make the boat easier to handle) and headed out into the open sea, sailing a course around the outside of the outlying islands off the coast of NZ to keep things easy.

Route to the Bay of Islands

Route to the Bay of Islands

With the clear sky, you can steer to the stars, we turn off all the unneeded systems, the engine, the autopilot, the bright chartplotter and the sky becomes alight with stars. Before the moon rise (midnight tonight), stars are the only light. At the wheel you can pick a star, line it up with some rigging or other part of the boat and keep steering a straight course, for a while at least. Tonight was a good planet night – Jupiter was my lead for a while, and as Jupiter rolled across the sky, a new star was needed, a bright star that was in the right spot was Sirius, the Dog Star (fitting eh?). As Sirius wheeled away, Castor and Pollux, the twin brothers lead the way. Each time a new star came a long, I’d quickly check Star Walk on my phone to see what I was steering to, and maybe even take a quick look at the stories behind them.

I’m not unique when I say this is a time when I feel connected to nature and the universe as a whole, I’ve read it before in books and blogs written by many others. It is true though: the boat, the wind, the stars, the sea and you, come together in motion. It’s hard also, not to feel aware of the thousands of years that humans have done this before me, and that somehow it’s in our DNA to do it, it feels instinctual.

The other part of night sailing that I love is the shooting stars, if you are constantly looking at the sky, the number of shooting stars is astounding. It feels like only minutes pass between each of them, although time does get a bit weird when sailing at night. This night I was treated to a very low shooting star that crackled crisply as it burned up across the atmosphere.

The stars also spread into the sea, the planets cast a coloured reflection across the water, but the tiny bioluminescent sea creatures glow blue and green in the disturbed water around the boat.

Sunrise off Cape Brett

Sunrise off Cape Brett

I enjoyed this night sail so much that I stayed on watch most of the night, but as I was feeling more and more tired, I needed a hand, so I woke Clare to join me and watch the sunrise. It’s much colder on the water than on land, and the sun coming up over the horizon is amazing as it brings light and warmth and it feels so good.

“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.”
― John Masefield

Wellington to Gisborne at 6.5 knots

Sailing out of Wellington Harbour on Friday the 13th (yes, I know) brought on a mixture of feelings, excitement, apprehension, anxiety, freedom – but the inevitable sensation of leaving without all the jobs done, so many were, but the culmination of renting out the house, moving onboard, preparing the boat, leaving the business was a messy and awkward peak to crest. A million questions roared around in my mind about the boat and whether all those jobs I’d done were done well enough. A moment to calm my mind and think about what counts, holes below the waterline don’t leak, the sails work, the rig is new…. the rest is really just for comfort. Craig was there to cast off our lines with a friendly smile and encouraging words, which was a great way to start the journey. Iris played her guitar as we passed the white lady for the last time for probably a year if not more.

Sailing out of Wellington

Sailing out of Wellington

Heading across Palliser Bay, the big swell from the previous week’s storm was right on our beam, mixed with sloppy seas and no wind, we rolled and bucked while waves slapped our topsides. The water rushing up the bilge pump drain found it’s way into the cockpit drain, filling the cockpit floor with stinky bilge water. This is actually a safety issue as the Cat 1 regulations don’t allow this, I thought I had sorted it, but there was clearly a hidden plumbing issue – my thoughts started rolling around in doubts and I began inspecting the plumbing in my mind. What is that sound? Is the engine sounding ok? I dashed down below to check the engine bay – all was looking good but the uncertainty was creeping up on me. I went back to the cockpit, but the smell of diesel and my unsettled nerves were too much and I experienced my first bout of seasickness….

It’s true what they say though, “just get it out” I had a little vomit and then everything suddenly seemed better. The feeling of impending doom lifted and as we rounded the Cape, we had the swell on our starboard quarter and the boat settled into a rhythm. A little wind picked up and we were motorsailing. An easy sail from there on in, although just after the sun set one evening Iris and I overheard the mayday call and coastguard response from the stricken yacht Erojca, holed off Whangara and about to be washed onto the beach. Why were they so close in? I explained to Iris why we sailed nearly 20nm off the coast and put a reef in before dark.

A couple of nights later we were pulling into Gisborne Marina, a big sleep and some of Clare’s cannelloni brought warmth and comfort.

The week in Gisborne was spent sorting out our errant plumbing, installing a better solar controller and a few other jobs on the boat that needed taken care of. We were lucky to arrive for the 90th birthday celebrations of Clare’s Aunt Catherine and Uncle Michael. All the cousins were there and it was fantastic to get to know them all better.

The plan from here was to sail to Mayor Island in the Bay of Plenty, this trip would be so much easier, but then it was always going to be.

Rigging upgrade

The biggest job for us on Dog Star is to have the rig replaced, the single largest expense (other than buying a boat!). New Zealand registered ships must pass a safety inspection and be certified to Category 1. Part of this is having a rig in good order, a lot of people say a rig lasts 10 years, we have no idea how old Dog Star’s is, so it’s time to replace it. In particular, we wanted to do the following:

  • Replace standing rigging and running rigging
  • Fix the broken vang tang
  • Recondition the mast step
  • Brush, sand, prime and paint the mast and spreaders
  • Put a through-bolt through the mast and step (Cat 1 requirement)

Also, we need to replace the lifelines with the correct gauge of wire, 4mm for a boat of 12m, and replace the quick release shackles with pelican clips, again for Cat 1 compliance.

Alex up the mast getting ready for the crane

Lifting the mast out when it’s 15m tall requires a decent size crane.

Mast base is tricky to remove when the wires are Sikaflexed into place

Unfortunately when the mast was lifted the riggers had to cut the wires to free them from the mast base. This was partly because all the wires passed through a 25mm pipe in the mast step that was filled with Sikaflex. Removing the mast base to clean it up was quite difficult. it couldn’t be lifted more than about 2cm off the deck, so I had to spend about an hour digging out Sikaflex with a sail needle.

Once the mast base was off we took it home to paint it. A later step was to have the reefing lines, vang, outhaul, topping lift and main halyard led back to the cockpit, which meant 10 blocks which needed to be attached to padeyes through the deck. We decided that the less holes the better, so instead went for a base plate under the mast step to hold the blocks.

A stainless steel mast plate fabricated to site under the step.

Inside the boat the wiring was very difficult to trace, there were no easily accessible panels in the headliner, so I decided to remove small parts of it to gain access and route the wires up to the mast. In the picture above you’ll see a cable gland on the bottom left, this was part of a decision to have the wiring come out from the side of the mast, down a conduit into the deck. The reason for this was twofold, avoiding the nightmare of removing the mast step for the next person to take the mast out and to avoid any water ingress from inside the mast into the cabin top. Dog Star is a super dry boat, but the one spot I did find some water damage was in the headliner underneath the wiring from the mast.

Pulling apart the headliner

Pulling apart the headliner to find the wiring

A very useful tool for slowly removing the headliner.

The new wiring will be much easier for the next owner to service, by removing a small panel in the headliner, access to the joins in the wiring will be possible, meaning that they won’t need to cut wires when removing the mast.

New halyards and standing rigging

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