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Sailmithril: The voyages.

To St. Paul and Australia
To Ireland
Nova Scotia
To the Caribbean
To Devil's Island
To Brazil
To St Helena
To Namibia
To Mauritius
To Rodrigues
To Chagos
To Cocos
To St. Paul and Australia
To Kerguelen
To South Africa
To the Canaries

To see St. Paul photos click here.

St. Paul island

The weeklong passage to St. Paul was more what you’d expect from the Roaring 40s but when you’re sailing north and towards better weather it somehow doesn’t seem so bad. On one memorable night we had perfectly clear skies and a fabulous view of comet McNaught. This was stupendous – just like a stylised drawing of how a comet should look with a huge sweeping tail scattering sparkly, space-dust across the dark sky. We’re well used to clear skies for star gazing mid-ocean but I’ve never seen such good viewing as here near Kerguelen. The stars were incredibly clear and bright. The red giants especially showed true red and not their normal yellowy glow. Presumably there’s no air pollution at all – in fact we didn’t see a vapour trail the whole time. The first time Peter saw the comet he did think it was aircraft’s landing lights – only for a second though!

St. Paul is also French Antarctic territory, midway between Australia and South Africa, but at 39 degrees south its weather is influenced most by the Indian Ocean high. The island is an uninhabited, extinct (probably) volcano about 2 miles x 2 miles. The anchorage is right inside the caldera and is absolutely spectacular with almost perpendicular sides rising 200 metres from the sea. The east side of the crater – if a circle can have a side – has collapsed leaving a rock and rubble ‘breakwater’ about 4 metres high. This has been breached in its centre leaving a narrow entrance with less than 3 metres depths. The breakwaters form a perfect natural harbour even being angled to deflect swell, leaving the lagoon always calm. A small sheltered cove formed where the angled wall meets the crater rim and this is the only place shallow enough to anchor with depths of about 20 metres. Here too the crater wall rises a little less steeply giving some flattish ground at sea level.

The French have built a hut here and the visitor’s book showed that a party comes every month to stay a couple of nights. There was also a used condom on the dining table – someone’s attempt at the remote islands equivalent of the Mile High Club perhaps. There are some remains of the earlier attempts at settlement in this corner also. In the 1920s the same company as tried to colonise Kerguelen set up a seal oil venture here. The seals only visit in summer to breed so only a couple of caretakers remained over the winter. The company went bankrupt in France one winter and the poor buggers on St. Paul were forgotten about. It wasn’t until 2 years later that a ship was sent and they were all dead. Nowadays fur seal pups use the ruins and bits of rusty machinery as nursery and playground.

It’s quite an eerie place to anchor but not depressing like Kerguelen. The entire shoreline of the crater is inundated by seals mostly fur seals, but also a few elephant seals, and they never shut up – barking and fighting with one another 24 hours a day. They showed great curiosity towards the boat and our mooring lines popping up close by and looking at us. Their sticky out ears and big wide eyes give the juveniles a very stupid look. We climbed the ridge to the Rockhopper colony where the chicks were already moulting – well ahead of their Kerguelen cousins. We also watched the adults coming ashore through the surf after a day’s fishing. Fishing is a hazardous business for a small penguin with killer whales on patrol just offshore – huge fins as menacing as a Great White – and leopard seals lurk in the shallows. Then there’s the rocks and the surf to negotiate before stumbling ashore sodden and weary only to be confronted by a 2 legged giant with a camera. They were much more timid of us than the Kerguelen penguins.

We enjoyed our few days in St. Paul where the sun shone, the wind didn’t blow and we could watch grass grow. For anyone who wants Southern Ocean wildlife without the wildness of the Southern Ocean St. Paul couldn’t be bettered. It also breaks the 5000-mile journey from South Africa to Australia.

We had a few boat mishaps on this trip some serious and some not. A spreader broke on the mizzen, which wasn’t serious as the original drawings didn’t have spreaders there anyway. We had the beginnings of a fire in the engine room when the clutch in the fridge compressor jammed and melted a wire, which in turn melted through the hydraulic oil steering pipe. This was fixed by quickly saving the oil and then putting in a new pipe. The compressor clutch was temporarily fixed with bits of clothes peg! The inner forestay broke in the middle of one windy, moonless night. Of itself this was not serious as we don’t hoist a sail on it but it was stainless steel and the same age as the main forestay which is also stainless. So we will probably change them both here in Fremantle. We don’t trust stainless wire and have gone back to galvanised for the rest of the rigging but unfortunately the Profurl gear must be on a stainless wire. In Kerguelen we wore life jackets in the dinghy (usually we don’t bother) and one automatically inflated itself in the middle of the night while hanging up in the wet locker – quare fright I can tell ye. Our new genoa sits very nicely and sails well but the sun strip is already rubbed through just with friction over itself while rolled up so we will have to get on to North sails about that. The mizzen gooseneck un-riveted itself from the mast but Peter was able to fabricate and weld up a temporary replacement. As ever we are thankful that we carry loads of cumbersome equipment like welder and grinder. At least we can make emergency repairs while at sea.

On arrival in Fremantle the quarantine service relieved us of lots of food including dried beans, dried egg mix, milk and worst of all our own live yoghurt which has been reproducing itself for more than 4 or 5 years now. We have had to resort to making yoghurt from a kit until we can find a nice live starter culture to build on. we also had an official written telling off from customs for not informing them more than 96 hours in advance of our arrival. We told them a leopard seal had eaten our carrier pigeon!

copyright Geraldine Foley 2008. "sailmithril ocean sailing adventures."