Day Four – Mystery Barrels

The day started relatively benign. Winds of 15knts from 215deg with a true wind angle (TWA) of 120deg so plain sailing. I did my daily inspection and the boat was in order. The forecast was for strong winds from lunch time until the following morning, by which time I’d be in the Pacific where the forecast was for 2 weeks or champagne sailing – winds of 10-12knts, calm seas and blue skies. I figured I had a few hours where I could chill and do a bit of housekeeping before things got busy again with the increased pressure.

Or at least that what I thought. I was cruising along at 5knts (SOG) in 2.5m of SW swell mid-morning when up ahead I saw the sea state change dramatically. As well as the SW swell I was in, there was an easterly chop of 2m with very short distances between each crest, making pyramids in the water around me. It pretty much meant my forward momentum dropped to 0knts and it felt like Ahokya and I were in a washing machine. I immediately put on the engine to regain some control and ascertain what was happening. The Admiralty Charts had nothing of note on them and all that was on my Navionics chart said “dumping ground” but the seas were 3kms deep according to all charts.

As I looked about in wonder at what was happening, I saw waves 200m away, 60 degrees off my starboard bow barrelling. BARRELLING!!! Now waves do many things in the open ocean. They can crest, break and foam but they cannot barrel unless the water is very very shallow. Oh dear! Just as the enormity of what was in front of me started to sink in, my old friend the Dolphin from two days ago popped up on my starboard beam. He (she?) seemed to be nudging me to port, so I put the helm down and got out of there quick smart. 5 mins later the sea had returned to a pure SW swell but looking back I could see the barrels and they were certainly surfable. Under different circumstances they’d look spectacular but if things had been slightly different, they may have been deadly.

WTF was that? And did my spirit guide really come along just at the right time? I was tired but not delirious. I’ve read about the hallucinations solo sailors experience when they’re sleep deprived, but this was real. I’m sure of it. Speaking to my shore manager, Cameron, later on he thinks it may be an unchartered underwater volcano. Just another danger I didn’t expect but which is making this a rather memorable start to the adventure.  I wonder if I’ll see my spirit guide again? I do hope so, but ideally our next encounter can be a little more playful and less dramatic. And what about a name? Or am I wrong to anthropomorphise my guide and the protection he’s given me? 

My fingers are much better today so no need to take the oral antibiotics, but I think I’ll keep them covered for one more day just to be sure.

An hour after my brush with the barrels, a dark wall of angry looking clouds heading straight for me knocked me out of my reverie and the consequences of what may have been. Here we go. Strap in for another 12-18 hours of 20-25knts with gusts above 30knts. It certainly delivered but I’m now so much more confident Ahoyka can handle the conditions and I’ve got a much better handle on where and how to set the sails to comfortably manage stronger winds. That’s not to say it was a comfortable ride to end day 4 in the South China Sea. The swell was 3m and very close periods between the waves making for a rather lumpy sea and bumpy ride. I was getting tossed around in the cabin so didn’t feel up to making a salad or anything fancy for dinner but I had a lovely looking rack of lamb which needed to be cooked so I sliced it up into 8 cutlets, fried them up and that was my dinner. Plenty of protein and just as much yumminess.

I neared the northern Philippines as darkness fell. It was stormy, grey and cool on deck as I said farewell to Asia for the last time. It seemed a fitting goodbye to my home for the past 15 years. A beautiful scene but one that was tumultuous, complex and difficult to navigate.

I was heading for the Bailintang Channel. My gateway to the Pacific and the part of the journey I’m most excited about. Not so much because the forecast is for 14 days of great weather but because this marks the transition home. The Pacific connects me with Australia and once I enter that monolithic ocean, I feel I’ll be homeward bound. For now, I needed to deal with a northerly current, strong tides resulting in complex seas and various islands surrounding the channel. The most dangerous thing on the ocean is land, so I was hyper aware of not letting my guard down until I was safely through. By 3am, I passed Bailintang Island, the last island in the Philippines channel and I knew it was safe to get some sleep as I had nothing but thousands of miles of ocean in front of me. Tomorrow, as they say, is another day. I look forward to sharing it with you dear Reader.

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Rory Hunter


Entrepreneur. Chief Executive Officer, Song Saa Collective. Pioneers of sustainable development in South-East Asia. The collective includes Song Saa Resorts and Song Saa Private Island in Cambodia’s Koh Rong Archipelago. 2006, co-established the Koh Ouen Marine Reserve, Cambodia’s first-ever marine protected area. The reserve has since expanded to 400 square kilometres and has gained the support of Monaco’s Prince Albert II. 2013, founded the Song Saa Foundation, an independent NGO dedicated to preserving Koh Rong’s underwater sanctuaries, providing alternative means of livelihood for its residents and bringing much-needed healthcare and education to the region. Speaker at international conferences, including the G20 Summit in Brisbane in 2014. World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. Member of the prestigious Young Presidents Organisation. Former advertising executive and worked for multinational firms including Saatchi and Saatchi. Graduate, Harvard Business School; studied sustainability and resilience, Stanford University: Global Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School; BEcon, Sydney University. Completed the Coast to Coast in 2015, one of the world’s toughest endurance races, set in New Zealand, in 17 hours; offshore sailor, downhill skier, long-distance runner and proud dad of two boys.