Ham radio problem brings me back to New Zealand

Saturday, Nov. 19 @ 8:47 pm.


I am reaching down the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island just south of East Cape with full main and jib, on my way to Gisborne to do some repairs to WW II. Left Auckland Monday morning and beat out through the harbour and across the Hauraki Gulf, passing Cape Colville at the North end of the Coromandel Peninsula by 11:00 pm then out into the rollers of the Pacific with the wind off the beam. I had tried my ham radio in the marina a couple of times and was able to receive but had a tough time connecting to Winklink in amongst the masts, which has happened before, so I wasn’t too worried.

After clearing East Cape I was able to get a phone message out to Claire to phone Cliff Gray ZL4AS, an old ham operator from previous voyages who lives in Balclutha to arrange an evening sked on the Ham radio. That night and the next day, I had gale force following winds and made 180 miles in my second day out of NZ. A real thrill, although the motion below was staggering and there was lots of water on deck from the 3-4 metre breaking waves we were taking on the beam.

That night, I waited anxiously for Cliff to come up on 14.140 at 16:00 local time. It was so exciting to hear his steady cheerful voice again. I excitedly picked up my mike and called back. ” ZL4AS this VA7MLW do you copy?” There was no response. I tried again and still no response from Cliff. Cliff faithfully kept trying to contact me and unbeknownst to him I was there the whole time. I realized I could only receive and not broadcast. This presented a problem. It meant no communication from me and all the anxiety that goes along with it. Where is Glenn?

I had a few ideas as to what the problem might be and started going through the ground system. Not easy, while the boat is doing 8 kts just off the wind. I had also inflicted a wound on myself in the form of badly bruised rib just below my left arm pit. Being left handed this created some very painful times. I, of course, managed to rule out what I thought was the problem with the radio and looked forward to the next evening’s sked with Cliff. Still no luck. I could hear him but he couldn’t hear me. Cliff was coming in 5X5 but was sounding anxious about my not communicating, especially with Marylou. I could see now that I was in a bind. No one knew where I was and people were getting worried.

Meanwhile I was making unbelievable time, three days out and almost 500 miles. I knew I had to turn back and get the radio fixed. That morning my third day out I tacked into a gale from the North West and started back to NZ. It was painful beating back into those 12 foot waves for what would be four days and nights. WWII goes to windward well and if left to it would hit those waves at 8 kts one after the other all day long but I couldn’t take it. The motion below was life threatening and wet, very wet. I was working to get the most out her and the reefs in the main were going in and out; same with the Yankee. The boat was constantly covered in green water. The dodger fell prey to those waves and blew out the clear plastic windshield and lid viewer. All of a sudden my only shelter was gone and I had to keep the hatch closed to the now steaming locker room below. Not so sweet. 

On one of those dark and stormy nights I sensed that something had changed on deck so I got up to find a two inch stub left on the normally two foot plastic wind vane that orients the Fleming self steering vane. WestWind was still beating into the gale and keeping her course but struggling without the guidance of the vane. Water was filling the cockpit fairly regularly and it was pitch black. I had my wet rain gear on and knew there was some urgency to getting this changed because if WW II rounded up into the wind it would be difficult to get her back on course. The spare blades for the vane are located in the lazarette. I strapped on my tether and on all fours climbed back to the hatch. I managed to get it open but reaching down inside was tricky. If I lost my balance, I would end up head first with my feet in the air and not enough strength in my left arm to get out. Going in on my belly seemed the best way. All the time, water was coming over the deck and me.

The vanes are lightweight plastic and slippery to hold. Once I got one out and the hatch closed, I had to stop the wind from grabbing it from me. The vane hangs over the transom of the boat so in order to change the vane you have to hang over the transom of the boat as well. There is a nut to undo and hold on to while you replace the vane. There is also the guy with the fire hose laughing his head off while he’s hosing you down. I have my headlight on to the highest setting and my hood pulled over my head. At the critical moment when the nut is coming to the end of its threads when you don’t want to drop it, the fire hose guy blasts you with the hose which pushes your hood over the light. Now all you can see is the inside of your hood all lit up. This is were the third hand would come in handy.

What do I do, drop the nut, let go of the spare vane or drop to my knees and try to pull the hood back by heading the life lines? I almost knock myself unconscious getting the hood back and the light shining on the job at hand. I make a quick switch of the old vane for the new then, leaning way too far over the transom, I actually get the hole in the vane to line up with the bolt and start threading it in. It cross threads! The air becomes blue with profanity aimed at the guy who makes the vanes. After what seems like an hour, I stumble back to the cockpit where the fire hose guy gives me one last blast right in the face and down my neck. The good news is it’s all back together and this only happened one more time the following night. Practice makes perfect.

Sleep was illusive and sporadic, and fitful accompanied by weird dreams. I slept in my rain gear just in case I had to run on deck. My appetite was minimal but I managed to make rice to go with the stew every evening. The eggs took a “beating”, and needed to be dealt with before the smell gets unbearable.

I felt everyone’s anxiety as every day went by. My goal was to get to shore asap and get cell phone coverage so I could let everyone know I was fine. That happened this afternoon in a full gale off East Cape. The relief in Marylou’s voice was worth the drag race back to shore. I made myself a nice dinner after talking to everyone close and have eased the sheets and am making my way to Gisborne about 60 miles down the cost where I will pull in and get sorted out.

Although it was a gruelling beat back, there were some amazing moments that Mother Nature displayed to ease my anxiety. There were two moon rises both spectacular beyond words and the they both took me away to that very special place where I feel privileged to be a witness. I feel these moments deep in my soul and I know it is why I come out here on the open ocean. The feeling is very spiritual. I think of those early voyagers from Polynesia navigating by the heavenly bodies and giving themselves up to their secrets and trusting them to guide them to new lands. How amazing must that have been.


During the gales of the past two days I was not alone out there, Albatross both Wandering and Royal soared passed my transom gliding with the greatest of ease over the legions of breaking waves that filled the ocean around us. To contrast their legendary size, the tiny storm Petrels danced delicately through the maelstrom touching down one leg at a time as if they were playing tag with the chaotic landscape. In between, many shearwaters also looked very much at home and comfortable negotiating in between the riling scene. For the first time, I noticed that the Wandering Albatross seem to keep their heads plumb or upright as their huge wings sway back and forth so elegantly with the torpedo body. Watching them perform took my mind off the challenging job of keeping the boat going under storm conditions. How perfectly at home they looked in the middle of the chaos.

As I am writing this at midnight, we’re cruising down the coast and a golden egg is rising from the surface of the ocean amongst the stars like a comma in a sentence, tilted over to appear that it is taking off into space. There is nothing like nature to fill you with wonder. As it rises into the night sky, it chases away the stars of the milky way and leaves only the bright stars of the constellations. The moon is so dependable as are the stars and the sun. I can see that worshipping them would be very spiritual to all those First Peoples before first contact with Europeans. Are we missing something from our modern lives as basic as that?

I am excited to be going into a new port tomorrow and meeting a new group of people.

Cheers for now.






  1. Paul McMahon says

    Nice to be able to say hello to you on the 20 metre band today Glenn. You’re an adventurer, great stuff. Safe travelling on the wide ocean. Good health, good DX. Hope to CU again. 73s, regards, Paul VK3SS.

  2. Doug Turner says

    Who needs the movies? Reading your first blog on the latest leg of the journey, I thought this must be fiction, but turns out it’s all happening for real. Glenn, avoid the firehose, keep the remaining ribs intact and we all look forward to your safe return to Victoria.
    Special thanks to MaryLou for all that she does to keep the adventure on track.

  3. That fire hose guy is a real jerk.

  4. Great to get your reports Glenn. I really enjoy them,

  5. Looking forward to your next round of adventures, Glenn! Bring ‘er home and write that book!

  6. David A. Burke says

    Thanks for that well-told story. The southern ocean is clearly a cruel task master. I enjoy reading your adventures and look forward to the next post.

  7. James and Louise says

    Hey Glenn, we are so happy to hear you are OK. Your writing and description of events during the gale were so real, I felt like I was there with you in the cockpit ( not hanging over the transom! ).
    You are one tough SOB.
    I love how you see the full balance in nature, and it’s support of our collective spirit, if we are only willing and able to open our eyes.
    Stay strong and safe. Our thoughts are with you, MaryLou, Claire and Nic
    James and Louise

  8. Heather Ann Chapple says

    Sounds way too exciting!!!!!! take care! Cheers Heather

  9. Alan Campbell says

    Thank you for the new post!! What a story. Imagine designing a self steering vane whose mounting is dependent upon a lousy threaded nut, instead of an easier to fit snap or whatever.
    Yes the spirituality of Nature is wonderful. And yes we sure are missing what the First Peoples knew so long ago. We “Europeans” wrecked so much in the false names of “civilization and progress”.
    Al Campbell
    Penticton BC

  10. Pat and Fred says

    Hi Marylou and Glenn,

    Good grief , never a dull moment you two. You okay now Marylou? So happy to hear you will be heading back and getting the radio fixed Glenn. Good luck and fair winds. We still don’t have snow!

    Take care,
    Pat and Fred

  11. Greetings ol friend,
    I hope ur doing well and wishing you all the best in your journey.. I will enjoy reading up on this last leg back to Victoria and will pray for a safe journey home.

    A friend back in the prairie


  12. Fascinating coverage of your adventure. Having survived two huge gales south of Halifax, Nova Scotia and way east of NYC on my way to the Caribbean that included a roll over, I am in awe of your commitment…

  13. Glenn, Do you maybe want to take up horseriding?
    You will still get the adrenalin rush, but you will be close.
    Just kidding. Glad you are safe. Stay that way while you are having the time of your life!

  14. Barry Johnson says

    Tough ride back to nz but at least you know WWII is in good nick and ready for the challenge. Nz seems to have a gravitational force you can only break with lots of perseverance.
    Good luck on your next attempt.

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