Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Windlass Woes

As eluded to in the previous story, our time at Koh Lipe was not quite the start to our Thailand adventure that we had hoped. With the tropical low passing through a new threat lurked in our midst, the windlass (winch that pulls up the anchor) was on the blink. As we attempted to leave Koh Lipe in search of calmer waters, the windlass failed to work. After much head scratching, 'turning it off and back on again' and concerned looks between us, Hugh pulled the anchor chain up by hand. At a weight of 2.3kgs per meter of chain and 30kg of anchor at the end, Hugh pulled up 40m of chain and the anchor in 8m of water depth (some 110kgs!). An impressive feat indeed. We relocated the boat to a mooring just a few hundred meters away to have a closer look at the windlass. Upon looking at the windlass, reading the manual and checking the electrical load, the windlass was operating fine in 16m of depth. It was puzzling indeed.

We took the boat one nautical mile north on the western side of Koh Adang, a spectacular secluded spot on the side of a national park island. Gorgeous golden sand and aqua water atop a reef splayed out in front of us, this was more like what we had envisaged. We picked up a mooring and enjoyed the picturesque scenery and swam to shore. Not yet sure how long our trip to Thailand would be, we were desperate to make the most of it. Testing the windlass again while on the mooring was a success, but doubting the functioning of the 20 year old out of production winch was haunting us.

Koh Rok Nai
The following day we sailed 40nm north to our favourite spot, Koh Rok Nai. Two national park islands (Koh Rok Nok and Koh Rok Nai) nestled together with a protected lagoon conveniently located for yachts. We picked up a mooring again and enjoyed the trip to shore, where we learned that Koh Rok Nai was the location for one of the French 'Survivor' TV series and has been living off that strange fame ever since. Thankfully due to its rather remote location at the southern end of the Andaman Sea Thai island group, it is rarely visited by the local tour operators and it was very tranquil.

After one anchoring success and picking up two more moorings, we found ourselves in one of the most visited parts of Thailand - the Phi Phi Island group. We anchored in 13m next to the boat super highway, with speed boats and longtail boats zooming past all day. It wasn't until we planned to leave the next morning that the windlass decided to give up on us and Hugh was once again on the bow pulling in 55m of chain. I went up on the bow to try and help, but after one failed whimpy attempt, I went back to my post at the wheel and Hugh continued. Once Hugh got the anchor up (to the applause of the cocktail sipping meerkats looking on from nearby boats) we made a beeline for the port town of Ao Chalong (Phuket) to work on the windlass. Trying to solve the problem of a discontinued essential piece of machinery on the boat was going to be quite the project, not one relished by us!

Dismantled windlass undergoing cleaning
It was Saturday night, scrubbing wheel cogs with diesel to remove grease atop our dining table was not what I had in mind for a fun night in. Trying to identify the issue, which seemed to be broken bearings was part one of the process. Imbibing in a sip of wine was at least a small consolation.
Sea Wolf Windlass, case opened










Part two came the next night, one quick name drop at the Phuket Cruising Yacht Club and Hugh had his contact - Mr Him, the Thai engineer who might just be able to divine some sort of solution for the windlass by machining the bearings. The week long process included many trips to Mr Him's workshop, one which saw Hugh driving a motorbike in crazy Phuket traffic with the windlass cradled between his knees, to deliver the critical carcass for further inspection. The other trips involved much sign language and looking for examples to break the language barrier.

5 days after first contact with Mr Him, we were gluing the windlass onto the deck, reconnecting the electrical system, undertaking final last checks and weighing anchor to sail off to Raileh Beach in search of that Thai paradise we were dreaming of. This was more like it! 
Raileh Beach picture perfect sunset, reward for labour
17/12/2013

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Tropical Low Pressure System - An Introduction to Thailand

The 25nm amble from Telaga Harbour (on the Malaysian border-island of Langkawi) to Koh Lipe (west coast of Thailand) was supposed to be a cake walk. Instead beam swell, 30kts of wind on the nose and pummelling rain attacked us halfway through the crossing and made for the start of a very unpleasant 48 hours.

The rain let up long enough for us to anchor in 16m on the north side of the island. This side was reasonably sheltered, however there was a lot of swell and the rain continued with much fervour throughout the night. After making dinner and having the obligatory 'new country' rum cocktail, I made my way promptly to bed as the rolling of the boat was higher than my low tolerance for sea sickness could manage. After a night of poor sleep, continuing sea sickness and the uncomfortable rolling of the boat, we decided to move the boat 300m east along the northern side of Koh Lipe, as the wind had changed direction, now coming more from the southwest. That we had waves breaking over the bow at anchor was also less than pleasant. A quick look behind the boat confirmed that we had to go, now being on a leeshore with breakers big enough to surf on just a short dive off the boat  encouraged us to way-anchor and relocate. We found out later that a boat had dragged its mooring onto the beach just a few hundred metres away.

That day we were prisoners on our boat, unable to go to shore due to the swell, strong current and beating rain. The boat was pitching and rolling, but it seemed better than the previous location. We stayed on the boat and hoped for it to pass. While the wind and rain let up in the afternoon, overnight at about 2am the heavens opened and dropped torrents of water, which had us up and scrambling to shut the few hatches that we had left open for circulating air. 

Sunday, finally the sun was out and we decided to make a move and head north. As we were ready to leave, the anchor windlass (winch that pulls up the anchor) failed to fire. Hee-man Hugh came to the rescue and pulled up 40m of chain and the anchor by hand! Super hero! We decided to pick up a mooring just a few hundred metres away while Hugh looked at it, we both loathed the idea of going back to Malaysia to do any work on it at this point. Some tinkering and testing showed that the windlass was working…now we just didn't trust it. 

We spent the next few days island hoping in glorious sunshine through Koh Adang and Koh Rok, isolated national park islands with golden sand and aqua water, only accessible by hiring a boat/ or boat chartering. Absolutely beautiful beaches, the stuff we had been dreaming of for the last month while plodding our way up the mirky and congested Malacca Strait. A wander around Koh Rok reminded us of the vulnerability of these islands to the elements, the 'tsunami escape route' consisted of a rope that was tied to trees up a hill. if things go bad, get up and get there quickly! 

Next stop was Koh Muk and Tham Morokot (the Emerald Cave). The Emerald Cave was something to behold, we picked up a mooring at 7am at the entrance to the cave and dived in the water, swimming to the entrance. Once inside we were entering a pitch black cavern, all we could hear was the roar and crash of the waves entering the cave, hitting the rock walls and bouncing out again. The noise shook me to my bones as I paddled through the cave. Deep breaths and clam thinking was required to get through this section. After a few hundred metres I could spot a glimmer of sunlight and my paddling pace increased as I splashed towards the light. Pushed out of the cave, the first thing I noticed was the brilliant greens, the green of the water reflecting off the trees, vines, shrubs and rocks surrounding it. The small sandy beach at the end of the cave network was an absolute wonder. The towering cliffs reach some 340m and are intermittently splayed with trees and shrubs. Lying on our backs we could see the sun above the circular opening left by the rocks above us. A dull blue with whisps of white cloud marked the early morning sky. We were truly lucky to be in such a place on our own. The cave was historically a place for pirates to hide their loot, an absolutely exquisite hideyhole! 

A short overnight stay at Koh Ha Yai at a fabulous snorkelling site on an isolated rock formation. We picked up a mooring next to one of the towering rocks and spent the afternoon leisurely snorkelling around and checking out the wonderful fish life.

Havoc wreaked by tropical low
Our last stop on our island hop enroute to Phuket took us to Koh Phi Phi Don, the jewel in the crown of Thailand tourist hot spots. Ironically a movie, 'The Beach', made about an isolated beach paradise in 1999 made tiny Phi Phi Lei next door a drawcard for hundreds of people each week. Upon our arrival we were shocked at the devastation that the tropical low 5 days earlier had wreaked on the island, with speed boats pushed up sandbanks and into trees, an entire concrete jetty washed into the sea and busted up boats everywhere. This hadn't reduced the tourist numbers on the island though, it was bustling. A bit to hectic a pace for us, we enjoyed climbing the big viewpoint, having internet and a beer on land, but headed off the next day.  


The vulnerability of these islands was shown to us on our first visit to this beautiful archipelago, that a weather system pushing 40-50kt winds and 3 metre swell could do damage to islands all the way up this coast was eye opening to the fragility of the area.


 View over Koh Phi Phi Don

3/12/2013






Friday, 15 November 2013

Malacca Malaise

It was a slow day, mainly motoring after a short-lived sail down the Johor Strait from Johor Bahru, the northerly turn up the muddy Malacca Strait was proving to be less enjoyable as the wind was on the nose, if existent at all. After weaving through dozens of anchored cargo vessels and dodging some fish traps and fish nets, we decided to drop anchor at 11pm after the current had changed, and was turning the boat around taking distance off us that was so hard fought. A lightning and thunder storm above us encouraged us to take a quick 5 hour rest before the tide turned again.

We headed off at 4:30am, making for Muar Town the lesser known of the Malacca cities, this one featured two elaborate mosques and importantly our new 15hp outboard motor. Hugh had tirelessly searched for the right 2-stroke outboard in Singapore and Malaysia and had found one at the right price and after speaking with the shop, we were set to pick it up on our way through. Our friends aboard the sailing vessel Atea were kind enough to gift us their hypalon dingy which they did not want anymore as they were upgrading. The dingy was going to be perfect for our needs with a removable hard floor, however the extra weight that it brought also meant that we needed a more gutsy motor than our existing 3.3hp. Our PVC dingy was not surviving the challenges thrown up by the tropical climate and was slowly melting in the sun, losing its glue and generally being less than suitable for our needs (it had been nicknamed by the kids off our friends boat as 'the pool'). So dingy no. 3 (also known as Max - he came pre-named) required a repair job and would enter our lives as our new runabout!

We arrived outside Muar town at 1pm and made the long 3nm dingy ride up the river (impassable by our boat due to the shallow depth at its entry) taking what seemed like an eternity - 45 minutes. We rang the shop that had our outboard and they had a guy in town who would drive us to the store. This was very helpful, as the shop was a 15 minute drive away and there were no taxi's. The town was very tidy and the houses were large and very well presented. It turned out that this was no ordinary place, being the Sultan of Johor's home town and he loved the colour blue - very distinctly painted on most buildings!

The car pulled up at the marine shop and we were shown the outboard by the shop owner - Mrs Sani. It was enormous and we were wondering how we were going to get it back to EJ in our new dingy that still needed its repair job. After much talking, biscuits and water, the deal was made. Hugh was asking Mrs Sani for the name of a nice restaurant in town where we could have dinner. Before we knew it, we were in the car with her and she was taking us to a warung that sold "the best Bakso in Muar" (meatball soup with noodles). We unpacked the motor into the dingy and were escorted to dinner by Mrs Sani and her 10 year old son. It was a great dinner and just what we needed before the long dingy ride back to the boat. Mrs Sani was so kind, after driving us around and then taking us for dinner, what a nice way to buy an outboard! The dingy trip back to EJ was long, but thankfully the wind had died down, so we made it there dry and hoisted the 40kg of motor up onto the boat without too much trouble.

We decided to wait for the favourable tide and slept the night. Expecting to leave at 1am, the tide had not yet turned and the lightning storm was enough encouragement to stay in bed. There was no wind at 4am, so we decided to wait for the northbound tide that afternoon instead. A relaxing morning on the boat and some scones and we were off, sailing this time!

It was 8pm as we sailed past the city of Malacca, meticulously weaving through cargo ships that were coming into port, at anchor and those out in the designated shipping lanes. The wind was still on our nose, but it was blowing up to 15kts which made it quicker going. As the tide turned the wind died out, so we dropped anchor north of Malacca as the lightning lit up the sky overhead.

The alarm boomed at 3am and with wind we were off sailing again. As the morning wore on, the wind picked up pushed by a squall, bringing lightning, thunder and wind. This passed through and we were left with no wind and an opposing tide. The Malacca Strait was turning out to be a tedious affair and we still had 250nm to go to our destination - the Malaysian island of Langkawi.

We made the decision to get more fuel. It was never simple getting fuel and we might not have had enough to get us to Langkawi, and that all depended on the wind. Feeling that there may not be much wind (based on the four previous days) we opted to stop at the Royal Selangor Yacht Club. The club was located down the river past Port Klang - a huge shipping terminal with cargo ships lining the channel. The Club was located in a shallow part of the river which used to be quite remote, though over the last 15 years or so a lot of shipping industry had moved in and the river banks were loaded with warehousing, logistics and fishing trawler boats. The water was filthy, a perpetual tide of rubbish (plastic bags, bottles, styrofoam, wooden pallets and wooden logs) clogged the river, ready to be sucked into the engine water intake or damage the fibreglass if propelled fast enough by the current. We stayed the night to fill with fuel and leave the following day. Thankfully they had a fuel bowser here, the first one we had used since leaving Darwin, as we usually get between 10-20 x 20Lt jerry cans filled with diesel to tediously pour one by one in to the tanks.

48 hours later we made it to the entry channel to the marina where we would be for about a week. The water had cleared up and the brilliant green of the island vegetation contrasted with the aqua water, hopefully a sign of things to come for the picture perfect beaches and water further north. The Malacca Strait is 450nm of challenge, not for the impatient and we were both exhausted after keeping such a vigilant watch out for shipping, fishing obstacles and lightning storms. It was nice to be out of the Strait!


15/11/2013

----------
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Singapore - A Planner's Diary

Singapore is in and of itself, a fascinating western enclave in the middle of developed and developing South East Asia. The history of the place and its growth as a self managed Asian centre pre and post colonially makes it a unique and layered society, worth the closer look.

The striking thing about Singapore is the height and density of the buildings. Singapore is a city, a country and an island. This has forced it to be creative and adaptable with its use of land. They have built up (and HIGH!) outwards (land reclamation) and down (building and using the substratum down to 70m currently). Only citizens of Singapore can buy housing, so that also restricts home ownership to its 5.8 million populous, 85% of which live in the Government run Housing Development Board (HDB) units. This affordable housing construction and management authority commenced work in the 1960s driven by the need to house the booming population in the post-colonial/ WWII era. The highest of which is a 7 building complex reaching 50 storeys in height which has a linking public access bridge at level 26 and roof top park at level 50 which include child care centres, parks, food centres, shops, services and child play areas. In the 1980s the HDB also recognised the importance of mixing different income groups in the developments to create a harmonious social mix, an issue which cities across the world are struggling to retrospectively address in social housing developments.

HDB complexes - Queenstown Singapore
The HDB flats are generally a minimum of 20 storeys high. They are narrow buildings so that the unit has two frontages to sunlight and air flow. While the units are tall and there are many of them located in close proximity, it does not feel dense, you can see the sky, feel the breeze and the buildings use brick and masonry construction so the noise abatement is well managed. The buildings have open level common space on the ground floor which allows wind/ air to move under and around the buildings. While the ground floor area has fixed tables and usable spaces, the different times of the day that I visited the buildings these spaces were not in use. Other active ground floor uses such as child care centres and shops are located in the HDB complexes, enlivening the otherwise desolate spaces. The HDB boasts about its continual refurbishment and upgrade program that they run to spruce up the buildings and also upgrade the infrastructure such as install lifts. The units appear functional and there is not a spot of vandalism or dumped rubbish to be found. An amazing contrast to unit developments in any other city (regardless of social or private housing). 

The social and racial mix of the city also creates an interesting set of challenges that the government had to manage. The island was inhabited by the Malay people, had a long history of being a port for transit by the Chinese, followed later by Indian, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese and finally, the British.

With the mission of securing a trade port for the British, in 1819 Sir Stamford Raffles worked his persuasive powers on the island of Singapore, developing a treaty with the Empire of Johor for protection of the island for British trading exclusivity namely by the East India Company. Decades later his plans for roads, block designs, building layouts and setbacks, footpaths and infrastructure were enacted. Even the 'neat' ethnic districts created to segregate the city are still evident today, though the lines are less formal. Designations were made for Indians, Chinese, colonial (British) and the Malay people. Most significantly for the British though, was the growth of Singapore as one of the world's greatest ports. While the location of such a significant port could have been anywhere toward the south of the Malacca Strait, or even the Indonesian islands of Bintan or Batam, Raffles chose Singapore and it has thrived as an international port ever since. The changing weather systems of the northeast monsoon (wind pattern October - March) to the southwest monsoon (wind pattern April - September) forced 19th century sailing boats to wait in Singapore for the wind system to change, to  continue their sail east or west. This created a convenient location for trading and also re-victualing for further journeys.

1819 Town Plan of Singapore - as per Raffles instructions to his surveyor Lt Jackson
The port city grew from strength to strength and opium was one of the biggest products to be transported through the port. The East India Company is also known as the world's first major drug cartel, producing and distributing opium the world over.

The English language has been used to unite the races on the island city, with 5 or 6 Chinese dialects, Malay, Tamil and Bazaar Malay (Chinese/ Malay mix) being spoken, English was chosen to be the mandatory language in schools. The English language, the English town planning philosophies and adoption of western culture creates an extraordinary place in southeast Asia. That it has retained its western links from the past some 50 years after the British returned ownership of the island to native Singaporeans suggests that the new government thought fondly of their time as a British colony. 

The one thing that Singaporeans can rely on is change. A friend of ours living in Singapore said that he reads the Government proposal about constructing a new road or railway extension and then next day it would have commenced. New MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) railway lines are being extended to the busy western port and upgrade works are constantly being undertaken throughout the city. Common Service Tunnels some 30m wide x 30m high are being included in all construction projects where sewerage, potable water, electricity, telecommunications cabling are collocated for easy maintenance access and economising of space.  The new 'green mark' building classification system is required for all new construction and assessments are undertaken every 3 years after completion for retention of the 'green mark' status of environmental sustainability inclusions (such an energy use, water conservation and waste management). The suburbs are densely packed with HDB and private developments, the streets are tree lined, there are abundant parks and recreation spaces, and shopping malls that service all your needs are at every MRT station. Air conditioned underground interconnected walkways (lined with shops) take you from one place to the next. You barely need to see the light of day or suffer the drenching from the daily monsoonal rains to get your business done.

The Sands - Marina Bay
The 191m high Sands Development - casino, hotel, convention centre, high end retail centre and unit development at Marina Bay is a three building structure with a joining rooftop 'spaceship'. The roof area is a tree filled park/ bar/ viewing platform with infinity pool overlooking the city and is the newest jewel in Singapore's skyline crown. The project was the landmark building on land reclamation work which was commenced in the 1970s. There was public debate about the Sands development, but with a muffled media and closely watched or muted voices of opposition the development went ahead as proposed with little fuss.

So what is the cost for an exemplary public transport system, high level infrastructure provision, network of pedestrian walkways, public housing highly sought after by the Singaporean public and exceptionally clean public domains and waterways?  A densely packed population earning modest and high incomes, close relationships and partnerships with the private sector for construction, maintenance and infrastructure management and the privatisation of essential services. Other income streams come from the famous fines system, where one can be fined for drinking water on the train ($500), chewing gum - $500 (it is not sold in Singapore), jaywalking, or not filling your car with petrol in Singapore before driving over to Malaysia ($500). Not much in Singapore is free, as we found out when we were charged for our serviette with our meal bill.

A fabulous place to visit and probably an interesting place to live. The cleanliness and shininess of the city comes at a price and I fear that that is warmth and high level engagement of the general public in their city and its strategic development. But if you want a train to your door, that is sorted!

3/11/2013

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

00'00'.000N 104'54'.709E




It was so still yesterday that I could hear the sweat beading on my arms before it ran down. The dark clouds built over Pulua Lingga just 100m away and hovered menacing before shirking off to dump their contents on the ocean to the south. At night we were entertained by a lightning storm which lit up the clouds appearing as a shadow pantomime where the lightning (the actor) was shielded from view by a layer of clouds (the screen) and our imagination was left to draw a scene of the gruesomeness of the destruction made by the actors behind the screen. The actors danced away into the distance, nonchalant about the devastation they had left in their path.

We had entered the Intertropical Convergence Zone  (the equatorial trough or more commonly known as the doldrums) the weather was less predictable with rain and wind squalls, lighting storms and wind coming from all sorts of unusual directions or just not at all. This makes for challenging sailing conditions and more patience sometimes than we can summon, which means using the motor to get to an anchorage in daylight.

At 1235hrs on 20/10/2013 as Elizabeth Jane II crossed the equator into the northern hemisphere, King Neptune unleashed his wrath, dumping a torrent of rain and squally winds upon us. We still managed to trim the sails, toast our glasses of rum and take a photo of our GPS as we made our way across the invisible line. And it was indeed invisible as we could not see more than 20m in front of our boat. The rain fell for the best part of an hour and it was incredible to watch the sea become flattened by the falling rain as if it were trying to retreat to shelter.

Disappointingly the wind was on the nose and we were beating to make forward progress, tacking across the equator 3 times, but the first was very exciting as together we entered a new stage in our voyage and Hugh and I officially became shell-backs (a shell-back is an experienced sailor who has crossed the equator). Importantly, we provided a libation for King Neptune with a glass of rum that we donated to him overboard (this was a gift and to provide us with good luck during our travels on the sea).

The evenings celebratory festivities included rum cocktails and spaghetti bolognese (with mince!!!) aboard Solstice with Bill and Olivia. Bill was an old hat at equator crossings, with this being his third. Once again we were reminded that much of the fun of cruising is enjoying special events with good friends!

23/10/2013

Monday, 14 October 2013

Things We Have Learnt About Indonesia


  • Everything must be amplified and once it is amplified, must be at full volume. There is no such thing as too loud, if it is not distorting it should be turned up.
  • In Indonesia, people think the radio will travel further when they shout into it. This also goes for microphones.
  • Cassava can be in any food, be it sweet, savoury or other. If you are not sure what you are eating, it is probably cassava. It is the favourite lengthener to any dish or dish in its own right.
  • There is no such thing as too much sugar. Even a drink of coke can be enhanced by the addition of more sugar.
  • To goreng something (fry it) is a must for 90% of the menu items. If it is edible (and often if it is not), it can be improved by battering and frying it. One of our favourite dishes did not have a formal name, so our guide told us it was goreng goreng (fried fried). An accurate description, and also quintessential Indonesian while still bearing no information on the ingredients! 
    Fireworks fun
  • Too much fireworks are never enough. We arrived in Indonesia at the end of Ramadan which is celebrated with eating cake and drinking tea and then lighting up the night for the best part of a week with hand held fireworks (which are labelled 'do not hold in hand'). Not one to be left out of the fun, Hugh bought some fireworks and asked some non-English speaking kids to help him use them. They thought it was very amusing when Hugh was holding it the wrong way and asking if he had it right for ignition. Thankfully they corrected him before he lit them!
  • Indonesians loooove to sing and dance, the only thing they enjoy more than doing that themselves, is having you do it with them. Hugh and I became the singing duo of our rally group and deftly performed 'brown eyed girl' and 'somewhere over the rainbow' on the ukulele. I also mastered the jamila line dance and the lulu group dance, much to the adoration of our hosts!
  • There is no 'mix' of businesses that is to obscure. The mobile phone shop where you top up your phone credit is also the LPG seller. The scuba dive shop is also the womens shoe and handbag shop. However the guy who sells the ink for a stamp is different to the guy who sells the stamps. Obviously!
  • Talking about the weather is a mute point. It is always the same as yesterday, 33C blistering sunshine and 75% humidity. 
Indonesian Petrol Station
  • Any motor can be reincarnated to propel a boat, be it a single cylinder, World War II era, diesel engine with a hand starter, two whipper snippers attached precariously to unsupported prop shafts or 8 x 400HP outboards strapped to the back of a passenger vessel carrying people 40nm between islands (that sometimes explode, as our friend experienced).
  • A bloke on the side of the road with Absulute Vodka bottles full of fuel constitutes a petrol station.
  • Our hosts had trouble pronouncing Hugh's name, we learned that the word for shark in Bahasa Indonesian is 'Hiu'. Hugh introduces himself as Hiu wherever we go making the sharks fin on his head, much to the enjoyment of the Indonesians!
  • It's not official unless it's been stamped. At ports and for invitations to events, either our stamp or that of the Government had to be on the paperwork. This was at its most hilarious in Saumlaki (our checking in port) where we didn't have a boat stamp yet and Hugh had to draw a picture on the page as if it were a stamp. This was received with much humour by our hosts, a smile will get you anywhere!
Invitation - stamped of course
  • A smile and some bumbling version of Bahasa Indonesian will almost get you anywhere. I was surprised at how politely the locals applauded our minute comprehension of their language while their English skills far exceeded our Indonesian skills.
  • Navigation lights on Indonesian boats are as much for fun as they are to provide information. Red for port and green for starboard is what we are used to, but red, blue and green flashing lights are par for the course here. Just part of the nighttime sailing adventure!
  • It is an enormous country with a huge population and they are wonderful and welcoming people. An archipelago of some 18,000 islands with a population of around 250 million people are spread through fishing villages, farming communities and enormous cities throughout the country. An excellent place to visit by sailing boat.

14/10/2013

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Is this War?

You could be mistaken for thinking that, with 25 navy vessels in the harbour (including one from China and one from Singapore), our yachts being searched for bombs, helicopters doing circling routes over the beach and navy officers clogging up the streets, cafes and port. Thankfully no, this was all in preparation for the President of Indonesia's visit to Labuan Bajo, a bustling town which owes its mark on the tourist map to the Komodo dragons and the Komodo National Park just across the bay. So what do the lucky people of Labuan Bajo owe the pleasure of a visit by their very own Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono? A yacht rally whose participants have taken over the restaurants, cafes and the only bakery in town for 10 days as the three routes of the rally converge and continue their journey westward!

We had just spent the best part of a week in the Taka Bonerate National Park, a world class dive site, containing the worlds third largest atoll and some not very inhabited islands. It was a stark contrast to Benteng, our previous city stop, where we had guides walk with us everywhere and haggle at the markets while we tried to save 2c off our carrots. Other excellent features of our time in Benteng was our releasing of a 3 month old baby turtle into the wild (we named him Bruce) who had been protected for conservation by a small village. After this excitement and watching Bruce swim strongly into the big blue, we were taken to a remote village where we went through their welcome ceremony which included some women channelling a village spirit from the past, us being in a water fight with the local kids, all rounded up with a sing along and being swung on a giant swing. The local government officials and the Vice Regent of the island also joined us and they had a blast. All in a days work!

An overnight 150nm sail was marked by Hugh and I seeing a humpback whale for the first time. Gracefully swimming through the water and blowing water high in the air we were enraptured by its enormity being about 10m long. A most awesome sighting! And with that it slapped its tail and dove below! We also had our first night sail with the spinnaker up, sailing for about 16 hours in company with our friends on Hokulea and Kite, we made excellent time in <10kts of breeze. Our arrival at Labuan Bajo was a real introduction into full swing 'tourism dominated' Indonesia. Some people here spoke English, could not give two hoots about having visitors in town and enjoyed the business that we brought to town as we emptied them out of long life milk, beer and cheese. We had been warned by our guides that with the end of the eastern route of the rally, so did the innocence and relative naivety of the townships. We had to haggle for our trips on local transport which was either in a vemo (van that could seat 10 people), an ojek (motorbike) or the flat bed of a cement truck which we ended up catching one night home after dinner. But it has all been fun, and we feel quite spoiled by the hospitality and generosity that has been shown to us by our hosts in the various small towns on the way through.

We decided to leave Labuan Bajo and seek respite in the National Park. We will get as up close and personal as you can get to what are touted to be aggressive dragons. Unfortunately we will be unable to meet the President, but I sent him my regards and hope to have a coffee with him one day soon!

11/9/2013
----------
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Kakadu and Darwin

Ubirr sunset
With 10 days to go until our great launch out of Australian waters, Hugh and I took a car to Kakadu for a couple of days to escape the hustle and bustle of boat preparations in Darwin. After walking through the cultural centre and watching the people standing in the water, fishing in Cahills Crossing (not minding the 'beware crocs' sign) we went to Ubirr and peered over the diverse landscape below. We were perched on a huge sandstone rock escarpment that was formed from volcanic action some billion or so years ago, towering above the savannah plain and monsoonal forest below. Our guide told stories of the Aboriginal rock art and the significance of this place to its owners. Whilst sitting in silence to listen to the birds calling each other across the plains we watched the sun set on the horizon sending brilliant colours across the land. It truly was a beautiful place, rich with thousands of years of Aboriginal history. An Aboriginal elder 'Kakadu Man' Bill Neidjie who has passed away now, had great visions for the continuation of the Kakadu stories and culture, he dreams of people from all walks of life and ethnicities telling the stories of this sacred place so that they are not lost in the sands of time. This is one reason why we are lucky enough to be able to come here and experience such an amazing wonder.

Emu roadblock
After spending a night on the Merl campground affectionately known by locals as the mozzie pit, we awoke early and made our way to Nourlangie and climbed up to see the base of another huge rock escarpment. We decided to do a walk to the Gubara rock pools and took the 15km drive on the dirt road. Halfway there we were stopped by an emu who was clearly disinterested in us passing. We managed to get lots of photos of the roadblock and his mates before they sprinted off, with their heads down, bolting into the scrub. After an hour long walk in the hot savannah, it was refreshing to reach the monsoonal forest which provided shade and an abundance of bird and spider wildlife. We were deeply disappointed to reach the mostly stagnant water of the pools and no relaxing swim after our trek was to be had. After some enthusiastic but unrewarding bushbashing and bouldering in search of a waterfall, we trudged on back through the hot savannah to the car (slightly different to the way the Aboriginals would have travelled the land).



Sunbaking

That afternoon we went on a sunset boat cruise through the Yellow Water, the West and South Alligator Rivers. Crocodiles were spotted relaxing on the shore, catching the last of the days sunshine, or patrolling the waters to see if any freebies were to be had from the boat passengers (we were advised to keep our limbs well inside the vessel). We also spotted an amazing array of bird life, with datas, kites, eagles, kingfishers and ducks a-plenty. Another amazing sunset to close our time at Kakadu.




Wangi Falls
Later that week Dad came to visit all the way from wet and cold Sydney. Thankfully Darwin put on a show, and 33C of beaming sunshine greeted him at the airport. At 7am the next morning, Dad and I met Rob our guide for our tour to Litchfield National Park. After the lack of swimming at Kakadu, Litchfield was a welcoming contrast, providing waterfalls and rock pools at every turn. We also got a snap next to some enormous termite mounds and listened to the interesting history of Darwin from our tour guide. The planner in me was very intrigued as to why this city looks so different to all other cities in Australia and why it was so dense in the city centre, with no low level housing to be spotted. The three cyclones and bombing of Darwin had virtually demolished all history of early European settlement, leaving a clean slate for high rise unit blocks to fill the city precinct. 

After a day long tour of swimming holes and lookouts over amazing waterfalls we stopped by at an old tin mine to see the harsh life that the miners here would have lived through with malarial mozzies, searing heat and humidity and the flooding rains of the wet season. The mine closed in 1951 after a particularly wet wet season and now houses bats and snakes, which is a fairly persuasive way to keep people out of the old mine shaft I think.

Dad and I returned to the boat to see the new wind generator installed and functioning and the oven fixed! I should go on holidays more often!

25/7/2013

Saturday, 13 July 2013

600 miles

We left Horn Island with Solstice bright and early, waving goodbye to our new English friends on Bonaire (who we had met in Hamilton and Lizard Islands) who had sailed in late the night before. We rocketed through the Torres Strait, enjoying a joyous 10kt ride thanks to some free 4kts of current (hence the early wake up call). The joy was short lived as we were spat out at the western side of the Strait and right into the Gulf of Carpentaria washing machine. With swell on beam and the boat pitching from side to side, memories of breakfast were not far away. This continued for about 8 hours and the 2 days that we had left to sail seemed like a life term. Fortunately the boat was unaffected by sea sickness and sailed nicely with the 25-30kt breeze right behind us. During my 11pm-2am shift I saw a boat zoom past, assuming it was a fishing boat as I peered at their speed with jealous eyes.

Day 2 came around and Gove was shaping up in my imagination to be the promised land. The pod of dolphins that danced for us at sunset were beautiful, playfully dancing and jumping in the bow wave for about 40 minutes. Together with the cheese and cracker plate and the excitement of the mackerel that Hugh caught it was a lovely evening.

Day 3 and we dropped anchor at 7pm as the sun was setting behind the bauxite conveyor belt next to Gove Harbour. Hello Northern Territory! We set our watches back 30 minutes and enjoyed the late setting sun and ambient evening temperature. To our surprise, Bonaire was anchored up close to shore and returning from having a drink at the sailing club. This was the boat that I had seen while on the graveyard shift, as they rocketed past at 12kts. Having a racer cruiser certainly has its benefits, as they did the same 340 mile passage in less than 2 days! They were pretty smug about it too!

Gove was a red dust town, a regional centre for government services, a bauxite mine and ship loading facility. We visited an Aboriginal art gallery which was in disarray ahead of Kevin Rudd's PM visit to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the historical and landmark 'bark petition' (and a week after Julia Gillards PM visit and memorial service for the passing of Mandawuy Yunupingu). Two different PMs in 2 weeks! What a hotspot on the map! A trip to Woolworths and we had 'done' Gove.

We left Gove, but it didn't leave us. Rust coloured dust coated the boat as we sailed through 'hole-in-the-wall' (Wessel Islands) and onto Port Essington. The Victorian settlement that time forgot. A settlement that lasted for 11 years (1838-1849) before most of the population died from malaria. An interesting experiment in pioneering that can only be accessed by boat. But one can visit the settlement ruins, pop by the quartermasters store, jetty, hospital and cemetery before wondering why such a desolate location was selected. Needless to say the name Port Essington was aspirational, as no shipping trade continued from this location.

The last push to Darwin was fraught with uncertainty. Tips from sailors ahead of us, guide books, electronic mapping and tide details that conflicted made for some interesting planning. Three Capes to round, another Gulf (Van Diemen) to cross and perhaps the biggest challenge of all was the Northern Territory Department of Fisheries to negotiate with upon our arrival in Darwin. We had to round Cape Don 4.5 hours ahead of high tide in Darwin in order to get a lift off the westward moving current, with up to 10kts rushing through. The Vernon Strait and Vernon Islands complicated the passage with strong current and the anticipation of locks in Darwin certainly got us excited. Darwin experiences 7m tides and the locks had been constructed to make marina and riverbank maintenance simpler.

Rounding Cape Don was great, we got a lift off the current and some new gusts of wind pushed us through the water. As we were sitting back enjoying the ride, we could see some overflows ahead. This is the effect caused by two tidal motions meeting with the appearance of a breaking surf and can sometimes look like a whirlpool as the water swirls and the dominant current takes over. The boat plowed into the overflow, causing 3m waves to crash over the bow of the boat and the bow to bounce through the 3m drop. Thankfully this only happened a handful of times and almost stopped the 10.5kt speed we had with the impact. Fortunately everything was tied down well and nothing was broken down below. The boat crept on and recovered, though the highest speed we have ever done in the boat was history as the current strength lessened and we had to be content with moderate wind speed.

The exciting events were over and we settled in for the final 15 hour sail. We entered the long Clarence Strait at sunrise to meet Darwin, our last Australian stop. The end of our 3 month sail from Sydney and the start of a whole new adventure with new challenges and experiences. Darwin would be our home for 2 weeks before we head for Indonesia and take part in the 'Sail Indonesia Rally' with some 100 other vessels from all over the world.

13/7/2013

----------
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Sunday, 30 June 2013

It's a Long Way to the Top

Distance marker on the small hill at Cape York
Cape York, the northern most point of mainland Australia, we made it! 72 days since leaving Sydney, we have sailed the coasts of NSW and Queensland to make the trip to the tip (including passing the eastern most point of Australia at Cape Byron). Some stats of our trip so far:

  • we have travelled 1884nm
  • we have spent 16 days, 19 hours underway
  • we have spent 10 nights at sea underway
  • we have stayed at 38 anchorages (thats an average of 2 days at each stop)
And we are only a small ways into the trip!

The passage to Cape York was very strategic. Rewind 72 hours and Hugh, I and our friend Bill aboard Solstice talked tactics over a beer. The tide time, tide depth and speed of the current needed to be timed to a T. Friends of ours had bumped the bottom attempting to enter the Cape York Bay just a few days earlier. We were fortunate enough to learn from their experience.

With the 4pm high tide jotted down, we had to calculate the hours it would take to sail from Portland Roads to the Cape. So what is the wind speed? At what angle? What sails will we put up?

With a breezy 25 kts of southeast wind blowing, we were going to fly there. Combine this with the 140nm distance, and 26 hours was the magic number. Excellent. Time to go ashore at Portland Roads (only accessible at high tide due to the wide fringing reef and local crocodiles) for lunch before departing at 2pm. A meal of locally caught and cooked seafood was just what the sailors needed.

Hugh and I picked up our anchor and set the double reefed main, we were off. Unfortunately Bill had dramas with his main and was staying behind to try and resolve. 2 hours later and Bill was off, in hot pursuit. 

After an uneventful night and morning sail of dodging merchant ships we entered the Adolphus Channel, we dropped our mainsail as we were running early and didn't want to beat the high tide. Even without sails, we were zooming through the passage at 4kts due to the current. We rounded the Cape at 3pm and started to enter the Bay, the wind was whipping up and the current was incredibly strong. We had the engine pushing at 3,500 revs to ensure we were going faster than the current. If we went slower, the current would take the boat and potentially beach us on the sandy shoal in the middle of the Bay. Well planned and full of skill, 10 minutes later the anchor was dropped, it was perfect! We made it without drama and Bill followed behind and aced it.  

We went ashore at about 3:30pm on an especially wet dingy ride and clambered up the rock formation of Cape York. We made our way down to the sign and popped a bottle of champagne. 

Northern-most point of the Australian mainland
Champagne and cheese
As we were sipping champagne with the setting sun glistening over the Bay, a ketch came gloriously sailing through the gap between Cape York peninsula and York Island. An especially tight gap with immense current rushing through. It was an amazing sight. We were whooping and hollering to cheer them in. It was impressive to say the least! Turns out they were locals from Thursday Island. The locals do it best!

We felt on top of the world! So pleased with ourselves that we were game enough to make our way back through the gauntlet to the dingy on the beach at dusk, perfect croc feeding time! 

Next on the list was crumbed mackerel, the monster fish Hugh caught the day earlier. Yum!





30/6/2013

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Queensland, Windy One Day, Bloody Windy the Next

Late May 2013

We've reached the jewel in the crown of Australia's sun seeker holidays; The Whitsundays. Currently we're moored off a little known place called Goldsmith Island. We have the whole anchorage to ourselves the only sign of human life is a tiny bungalow nestled by the waters edge, with the largest TV antenna I've ever seen. Apart from us and this TV loving island recluse there isn't a soul for miles.

--------------

Late June 2013

Take two, skip ahead a month or so and the title of this blog post remains as true as it was when I first tried to write it 9 degrees of latitude south of here. Reading the weather forecast has become a moot point. Though they may vary the words slightly from "Strong Wind Warning" to "reaching 30 kts at times" they weather does not. South easterly's at 20-25 knots, day in, day out. It's a good thing we are headed north west.

As I type we are a couple of hours away from a place called Portland Roads (don't worry I had never heard of it either) just north of the Lockhart river. After a night dodging coral reefs and 500ft cargo ships in equal measure, we have just sighted the coast, and i'm not surprised to find another stretch of uninhabited, unadulterated nothingness. The great dividing range has finally divorced itself from the coast and now gives way to low lying bouldered headlands and vast stretches of fine sandy beaches. It's as though the mountain range got as bored as we did with the endless procession of Australia towards the Cape York peninsula, and forsake its dividing vow.

The last stop on our trip was Lizard Island. A fantastic place for three things; lizards (duh..), Snorkelling, and seafaring history. As I find lizards pretty dull on the most part, and Katie has another awesome snorkelling marine life encounter to retell in another post, let me bore you with some history.

Sunset enroute to Lizard Is. thanks to a GPS we aren't about
to run aground while enjoying it.
Imagine you are Captain James T. Kirk.. No wait a minute, Captain James Cook. It boggles the mind how he brought the Endeavour through this stretch of water. What was his GPS? What did he have for lateral markers, cardinal markers, isolated danger marks, don-t-sail-this-way-you-idiot markers? All he had was a bloke with with a piece of lead on a rope sitting on the bow of the boat dropping it down to the bottom as he went, hoping against hope that it didn't hit the bottom at less than 5 feet [sub-editor note, please check endeavours draft.. anyone? oh well]. In any case, it turns out that said bloke had one to many rums and decided his bunk required his attention more than his lead dropping duties. It was then that the Endeavour struck the reef which now bears her name. After very nearly losing his ship with all hands, Cook managed to break free of the reef by jettisoning cannons and other heavy items and next made landfall (miraculously not hitting one of the many more reefs in his path) at what he named Lizard Island.

There he made a decision which, with our mercator projected maps of Australia engrained in our memory, seems so bizarre to us now. He sailed north east for the gap in the outer reef which is now known as Cooks Passage. Despite all the technical wizardry that separates the modern sailor from Captain Cooks era, one thing remains the same. When you want to sail West for home, sailing North East is no fun. It must have been torture for the crew, however captain cook was convinced he was becoming "embayed" by mainland Australia and hence he took the decision to sail NE now rather than have to sail SE against the trade winds later. Despite his decision being made under the false pretence of an easting of the mainland further north, it undoubtedly saved their lives. From cooks passage the continental shelf drops away from 50m depth to around 2000m alarmingly quickly, but more importantly for the Endeavour, the outer reef forms a well ordered line, queuing neatly for admission around Cape York. Had they sailed the way that Elizabeth Jane has just come, they surely would have run aground on one of the numerous inner reefs get under your feet like so many unruly toddlers.

The more I read about Captain Cook, the more I think that he had some sort of sixth sense for continental structures. I guess after studying and charting new landforms it isn't a great surprise that he could navigate the way he could, but it is sad to think that the world has never, and probably will never see his like again.

26/6/2013
----------
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Jaws


It was a day where rain clouds would come and go, it was late in the day and we had just arrived at a renowned anchorage - Butterfly Bay. There was a window of opportunity where the sun had overpowered the clouds and we had glorious sunshine lighting up the reef that was a few hundred meters from our boat. Krissy, Hugh and I quickly grabbed our snorkel gear and plunged into the water. The chill sucked the air from my lungs and stopped the blood in my veins, but splashing about as if I am struggling for survival (also known as my version of freestyle) quickly got the blood flowing once again. 

Paddling over to the reef and constantly adjusting my snorkel gear, I finally got it fitted. The visibility was not great, so we were on top of the reef before we realised it, and in sea life utopia. There were hundreds of different types and colours of coral, there were sea cucumbers, big fish, small fish and every colour of the rainbow was represented. It was fantastic and something that we had been waiting for! Hugh saw a huge turtle slowly gliding through the water and tipping its body to turn left and right. 

I started to get a bit chilly and the sun was disappearing behind clouds, while the wind whipped across the top of the water. I was about to go back to the boat when I saw what looked like a tree that had fallen into the water, but as I looked closer I could see that it was an enormous and complicated section of coral with fluro coloured tips. I was just about to tell Krissy and Hugh about it, when I saw jaws slowly skimming across the sea floor, less than 2m away from where Krissy and I were swimming. I watched it slowly make its way and realised that it was not interested in me or Krissy and was just out looking for some more appropriately sized dinner. I could say that he was 3m long and stared at me with his teeth barred while whipping his tail around, but he was a small reef shark, dark grey in colour and about 1m long. It was quite a beautiful animal, simply getting about its neighbourhood. I looked over and Krissy was asking me with her eyes if I saw it too. I came to the surface and was convinced that it was not interested in us, so we continued to paddle around for a little while, but I thought I should let Hugh know, so that he didn't accidentally step on it or get in the middle between the shark and its preferred dinner.

Turns out Hugh thought we were joking and was quite disappointed that he didn't get to see it either. I am sure that we will see jaws, and we can only hope that we see him in a docile and non-threatening manner!
JAWS!

9/6/2013

Reunion

After spending the best part of 2 months talking to each other and putting up with our own jokes and sea madness, Hugh and I were to be joined for a week by my friend Krissy as we tottered around the Whitsunday Islands. It also happened that we would catch up with our friends aboard the good ships Hokalea and Solstice, who we met at Woolwich marina, after their 2 year journey to Sydney from California.

Hamilton Island was the rendezvous point, so the bars, food and fancy resort activities on offer provided an interesting contrast the to the abundance of nature that we had been submerged in. Ice cream, meat pies and pizza were some of the exciting food encounters, however that was after indulging in the luxury of hot showers and flushing toilets!

It was great to welcome Krissy to tropical paradise, even though Hamilton Island doesn't have a whole lot of nature to boast about! Krissy came loaded with chocolate biscuits, cold meat and lollies. All the essential ingredients for a successful week aboard Elizabeth Jane II.

We were reunited with our American friends, after we had been listening to them on the HF radio for the last 2 months. It was great to catch up with the stories of drama and delight that they had been experiencing on their transit up the east Australian coast. Highlights were burgers at Coffs Harbour, the beach next to the Mooloolaba marina and fresh blue swimmer crabs for dinner caught by a fellow cruiser. Lowlights included failed steering, leaking oil in the engine bay and the strong east Australian current.

After a dock side debriefing, the group tottered on over to the resort pool, where we delighted in cocktails at the swim-up-bar. Life is tough! After a dip and a cocktail we made it to the marina bar and proceeded to eat schnitzel and win the Monday night trivia! Go the cross nationality quiz team!

Tuesday morning was a bit tough, but the Elizabeth Jane II and crew set sail for Cid Harbour for a relaxing afternoon in the sun.

9/6/0213

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A trip to Paradise

I'm sitting in the centre of a blue circle. The circle isn't solid and its watery contents rolls beneath me, some 80m to the ocean floor, there is a blue domed roof above me. A golden light peeks over my shoulder and makes the lower part of the dome blush a dull pink. A band of whipped meringue spreads like a belt across half of the dome, but it is powerless to stop the warm glowing sun to herald the new day, leaving a yellow smudged path on the blue circle.

The blue circle is a rough place to be. We are heading north, the lumpy seas are rolling east. We have the smallest handkerchief of a sail out, but we are still rocketing along at 5.8kts. The wind is an ideal 15kts, gusting up to 17kts. But the ride is less than comfortable thanks to the crossing swell and heel of the boat, pitching steeply to port and bouncing to starboard and back to port. All you can do is hang on and distract yourself. 

Track back 14 hours, the weather is glorious, beautiful beaming sunshine, we have not been given any wind, or at least not any useful wind. The nose of our boat has a notable skill for drawing wind to it. Anywhere but there! But eventually after 9 hours of motoring over the glassy water of Hervey Bay with less than 4kts of wind, some westerly wind pays us a visit and I whip out the genoa, which pulls us along at a respectable 4.8kts. 

20 hours after we set off, there she is "land ho"! Lady Musgrave Island has made her way into the blue semi-circle and appears on the far northern edge. Yet she is still 4.5 nm away. She appears like a chocolate cake rising out of the ocean, circular in shape, with no distinguishing features from this distance. With the cracking pace we have set we will be able to introduce ourselves in 1 hour and this uncomfortable journey couldn't end soon enough!

But the trip was worth the effort. Golden grains of sand laying on top of reef, light aqua water, coral reef glistening below the water and beautiful coloured fish greet our arrival into the lagoon. Popping in to visit the breeding grounds of the black bobbies was the icing on the cake to the adventure.



21/5/2013

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Gotta see a man about a dingy

Another trip of beating upwind, but we made it to the Yamba-Illuka bar late on Wednesday, with the setting sun making visibility less than great. Competing with the fishing trawlers who were making their way east for their nights work, we made it through the bar without to much difficulty. We navigated our way through the Yamba Channel with a few scares due to the depth sounder alarm becoming more persistant as we had depths of 1.3m below the keel of the boat. As we draw almost 2m (amount of boat below the waterline), we were keenly watching the charts and the depth sounder to avoid beaching ourselves in the middle of the commercial channel!

The Krissy II
Yamba became our destination because our new mate Ken had a dingy for us. After our nerve-wracking entry, we were hesitant to go and meet Ken at low tide on Thursday, so he could show us the dingy before heading off to work at 7am. Thankfully Ken was more than happy to bring the dingy to us. The ultimate test drive! If the dingy don't go, Kev can't go to work. But it started like a dream and Hugh took it for a burn. After a coffee and a chat, we dropped Ken back at the wharf, complete with some beef stew for dinner (as our freezer is on the fritz). So at 7:30am, we had our new second hand dingy. The 'Krissy II' was launched at 9am for our self guided tour of Yamba.

Gathering strength from the wind on the Yamba break wall
The 30kt offshore wind and big swell kept us penned into Yamba, so we were able to enjoy the spoils of the town, including a beer at the Pacific Hotel while reviewing the riveting and detailed history of the break walls at the bar entry.







2/5/2013

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A Thump in the Night

It was around 2am waning gibbous moonlit night, and we were about to have our first gear failure of the trip.  

Katie was asleep down below, and I was up on deck taking in an episode of Game of Thrones (thanks Abe).  The boat was performing fairly well, however the conditions left something to be desired. We were near Smokey Cape (around 60km north of Port Macquarie), an area where the southbound east australian coastal current picks up speed to a frustrating 3 knots.  That means with the boat doing approximately 6 knots through the water we were in effect only going forward at 3kts, add to that the nasty habit of sailing boats not sailing directly into the wind, and we had progress towards the Clarence River entrance slowed a meagre 1.5 knots.

As we came around the cape there was a marked increase in the seas, with a few 3m waves seemingly appearing out of nowhere, that was the final nail in the coffin of my will to sail for the evening, so we started up the "iron spinaker" (the engine) and I furled up the staysail that we had been using on the foredeck.  Now all that we had left to do was listen to the sound of the engine and pound our way through the oncoming waves.

It was then that an apparent oversight from our rigger decided to rear it's ugly head.  Although we can't be sure, my guess is that the tensioner at the base of our inner forestay had not been correctly refitted by our rigger after some work was done on the boat in Sydney, the end result, a big metal thing dangling from the mast banging on the deck as the boat pitched.  And subsequently, a very wet Hughbie scrambling around with a head torch, harness and tether (piece of rope that keeps you attached to the boat no matter how hard you try to fall off).  It wasn't too difficult to get the thing under control and lash it back to where it should have been and the worst of it was probably over within 20 minutes.

I didn't want to go too much further without the option of putting up a staysail, so we evaluated our possible destinations. Port Macquarie was now about 80 km behind us, and Coffs Harbour was 100 km ahead.  Coffs Harbour is renown for being a very easy anchorage to enter and my rough calculations had us arriving at 9am, plus the thought of retracing such hard-won sailing steps was not appealing.  So 8 hours of motoring later we pulled into Coffs Harbour where the words of one of my cruiser friends in Woolwich echoed in my ears:  "Cruising. Otherwise known as sailing to exotic locations and fixing things".

30/4/2013