by Bernie Kaaks
At the end of the Fremantle to Bali Rally a battered Marco Polo made its way into Benoa Harbour with crew still smiling after completing an epic voyage from Fremantle in the early hours of the morning.
Within the first day of leaving Fremantle Harbour on the 1440 nautical mile sailing rally, the yacht’s refrigeration equipment failed due to a faulty pump.
Skipper and former Police Minister Bob Kucera decided to break their journey in Geraldton to have the problem attended to, but a few hours after setting sail again, the yacht lost all power and it was quickly recognised that the new pump used far more power than the original unit, to the point where the ship’s generating capacity could not keep up.
A visit to Carnarvon was now called for, so to save time the yacht sailed through the notorious Steep Point Passage into Shark Bay, and then up to Carnarvon, where once again, the pump was replaced.
Although the entry through Steep Point passage was a hair raising affair as the crew watched the depth sounder rising alarmingly quickly with the boat rollicking along in following winds gusting up to 28 knots and a reasonable sea, once they were inside the sailing was described as the best for the entire trip – a lovely sailing breeze and flat water.
With another new pump the refrigeration was working perfectly until the current draw tripped the switches on the bilge pump and shortly afterwards the auxiliary generating set mysteriously stopped working. They later discovered that the head of a tiny plastic screw in the fuel line had broken off, allowing air into the system.
One would have thought that Kucera and his crew had suffered enough with mechanical issues, but the game was not yet over. They did however catch a magnificent spanish mackerel which Tony Cooke converted into a truly wonderful meal, and later a tuna, the perfect fish for Tony’s sashemi recipe!
From his comfortable perch by the navigation station, Kucera produced a chart showing Marco Polo’s route through a 1006 hectopascal low pressure cell, which had them fairly excited as heavy seas and savage wind gusts kept the crew alert. It was really only a foretaste of what lay ahead however, as they encountered an even lower pressure cell which announced its arrival by sending a huge wave crashing over the bow of the yacht.
'It was a funny thing,' recounted Tony Cooke. 'Just before the storm hit, a pod of dolphins swam up to the yacht and I swear that they were laughing at us, knowing what we were about to run into!'
The rogue wave broke both furler lines, which in turn wrecked the bow mounted LED navigation lights. Two headsails were also damaged, leaving the yacht with just one small headsail to complete the journey.
The crew accepted their mechanical failures with a laconic smile, and it was clear that their tribulations did not detract from the enjoyment of a wonderful experience and mateship.
Oh, and Tony Cooke must indeed be a great chef because several of the crew commented on the great meals he kept producing for them, regardless of the conditions around them.
Fremantle to Bali race website