Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Spectacular Sydney

We were overcome with a ranging set of emotions as we slowly made our way through the Sydney Heads at dawn on 22 December. The city was just stretching its legs and arms to wake to a spectacular day and I will boldly say that it was somewhat more spectacular for us, as we rubbed our tired eyes and warmed our hands in the chilly summer morning air. We were coming home.

Approach to the Sydney Heads

I think my most dominant feeling was one was relief - at making it all the way without any bad incidents that we could not manage. The next was a sense of joy at coming home to Sydney (and she did put on her best dress for us, glowing in the golden sun of the new morning). It was just us and the first ferries of the day, it was like the boats had been cleared as we sailed down a flat and calm Sydney Harbour making way for the glittering CBD and the icons of the Opera House and the Bridge. We could not wipe the grins off our faces.

Good morning Sydney. So happy to be home!
(you can just make out the New Years Eve Fireworks rigging on the bridge above our heads that
will light up at midnight, revealing a burning emblem to wrap up 2014 or give promise to 2015)

We were having a fabulous sail, except for the dwindling wind speed and wake from the ferries as we neared Circular Quay which we bounced around on. But nothing could dampen our spirits today as we were finally completing our journey which we started 20 months ago, whilst doing something that not many people do, we went east to bring the boat back from South East Asia.

A statistical rundown of the whole journey:

The 2013 numbers have us travelling west, while 2014 was solely an eastern
pursuit to bring the boat home to Australia's eastern coast.
Did we really sail the equivalent of 1/3 the way around the world?

That we managed to make our timeline for returning home by Christmas was also a wonderful feeling, particularly after our many long nights at sea as we crossed the Pacific this year. It became hard to believe that only 9 months ago we were plotting our course while targeting a Sydney arrival before the end of the year, so to achieve it was something else entirely! Apart from catchups and many sighs of relief from family members, Christmas meant Christmas hats made out of the wrapping of 'Who Gives a Crap' toilet paper, the clean water and toilets charity. 

So without any 'next port' to think about, we might just sit and relax for a little while and get used to the big city and ponder what is next for the crew of Elizabeth Jane II.


Saturday, 20 December 2014

Anticipation of Arrival

The stunted trips down the NSW coast have been uncomfortable, inhospitable and down-right unenjoyable. To have sailed 13,000nm and the final legs to Sydney from Queensland be some of the most uninspiring had left us feeling somewhat deflated. It is not the homecoming one would paint for themselves!

The jump from the Gold Coast to Coffs Harbour was filled with thunderstorms, strong winds and then, no winds. We were penned in at Coffs for 5 days while a low passed east, lashing the shore with 45kt winds and 5m seas consistently for 3 days. The 10m breakwall was regularly breached with enormous pounding waves and the torrents of rain left one commenting on the 'good weather for ducks'. The only excited community members were the surfers who had no regard for their personal safety, just catching the best wave. Interestingly, due to the high winds the boat had enough heel on it in the marina that Hugh could stand up inside the cabin (he is usually about 20cm too tall to do that!).

Dramatic cloud formations forewarn of the incoming storm at Coffs Harbour

Finally the weather looked good for a leg to Port Stephens, until we were underway and some strong winds were predicted to arrive on the nose and stop us in our path 25nm short of our destination. We cut our journey by 50nm and decided on Forster-Tuncurry as our safe haven for two days while the system passed through. With 35kt winds pushing us south, we sailed the hair raising entry over the Forster bar, riding the 2m waves in. Waves crashed over the breakwall and flung salt spray 10m into the air, it sure was exciting! Next came the challenge of anchoring in a super shallow and tight channel, hemmed in by a rockwall on one side and a sandbar on the other with 3kts of current directing our steering. While Tuncurry is a quaint little town with some delicious fresh fish from the co-op, it sure was a rubbish anchorage and we were keen to leave after suffering two nights of wind on tide and too many close encounters with the shallow bar as we did the 'La Paz waltz' with the boat swinging between the wind and the tidal pull.

We had the window, finally a day-hop to Port Stephens. The wind was evasive to start with, though came along for the ride about 15nm into the journey. The wind was predicted to rise throughout the day, so we were keen for an arrival in the afternoon at Nelson Bay. Not that it really mattered in terms of visibility, the convection layer was so low we could not see more than half a mile in front of the boat, it was like sailing through a cloud. Just as the wind tipped at 30kts, we rounded the corner to enter the harbour and it was all pleasant again. Enclosed waters are bliss! Picking up an RMS mooring at Chinamans Beach (good to see our rego dollars at work!) we relaxed ahead of the predicted 35kt winds for the next morning.

Two days of R & R and the weather looked like it would give us another chance at heading south. A closer review of the weather predictions has rarely been made, it is only 110nm until we will grace the Sydney shores with our presence! We were not sure where we would end up with the boat and if we would in fact make the final 20nm hop from the safe waters of Pittwater to Sydney Harbour. But all that aside, we have the right wind (not on the nose!) and an acceptable strength (not 40 knots!) so it looks like we will make the final hop to Sydney before Christmas, as we had hoped 9 months ago when nutting out this route home. You could almost measure our excitement and the anticipation for completing our journey!

Check out these excited sailors as they left Sydney in April 2013,
little did they know what was ahead of them!

13,000nm and we are coming home!


Saturday, 13 December 2014

Sailing Thailand and Malaysia in Review - Video #2

We are sure that you have all been waiting with baited breath for our next video instalment here it is, enjoy!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Why So Dramatic?

New South Wales and southern Queensland had been experiencing dramatic electrical storms for about a week and a half. It was enough to keep us penned in at the Gold Coast waiting for them to blow around outside before we made a move. It was nice to sit and chill after our busy and tiring time working on the boat on the hard, so we enjoyed the forced break, catching up with friends and relaxing a bit (as much as one can in an anchorage where jet-skiers zoom around and people wear these weird jet-boots and ‘fly’ around tethered to a jet-ski by a pipe of pressurised by water). 

The forecast finally looked good, well good enough to get us the short 170nm, 28-hour hop to Coffs Harbour. The prediction showed we should expect a nice 10-15kt northerly to send us on our way. The wind was a bit evasive to start with, but before long we were sailing nicely and we even jumped aboard the East Australian Current conveyor-belt and grabbed an extra 2kts of speed for free, we were rocketing south at between 6-8 kts. We were happily looking at making a dawn entry to Coffs Harbour, well ahead of schedule.

As we were passing Ballina the skies changed. The eastern view was a sheer dark blue, while the western sky had developed a nasty green tinge and some foreboding thunderhead clouds. It stayed to our west for sometime however the clouds were closing in and it started to feel suffocating, the storm was definitely coming our way. We quickly furled in the jib and reefed the main sail, we didn’t know how much of a windy punch the storm front would bring with it.

View of the eastern sky

Lightning flashes lit up the cloud formations from behind and the wind started to pick up, from 15kts to 25kts and the seas were not far behind, whipping up to 2m in what felt like an instant. We could track the movement of the storm on radar and it looked like we were in between two storm cells which were slowly moving north east. We were going to get the full show, and considering that constituted a lot of lightning, we were aprehensive.

Then it was time to hold on, we decided to hove to as the wind direction spun around the dial and reached 35kts, bringing waves that were breaking over the bow. The thunder boomed above us and had us throwing our hands over our ears as a reflex reaction to the intense volume. A brilliant purple and pink lightning bolt stung the water and the water was audibly singed from the impact of the heat. We simultaneously removed our hands from anything metal on the boat in case of a lightning strike. Thunder boomed all around and we counted and watched as the lightning struck time and time again. Then the rain fell, as if it had never rained before the heavens opened and delivered torrents and torrents with such force that everything was soaked in an instant. The rain and the storm stayed with us as the eye of the storm passed over delivering 40kts of wind. Slowly the cell started to move off, in time for the following cell to come. This one was a meeker version of its bigger brother and the wind started to drop.

As the storms passed over it was as if the the wind had been sucked out of the airspace and we were left bobbing around in 3m seas that had been whipped up by the wind. Off to the aft of our boat we could see a slight glimmer high in the sky…a rainbow trying to peek through. As the lightning flickered off in the distance we were left in awe of the sound and fury that strutted and fretted it's hour upon our patch of sea (and EJ suffered no lightning strikes, phew). 

A rainbow signalling the end of the storms


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Review - Boat Control

We settled on the Boatworks for our haulout considering location and the vast range of businesses located on site dedicated to working on your boat and giving specialist advice.     
Boat Control was our first pick for trades because they had a range of specialists available in their team, including fibreglassers, antifouling teams, gelcoat and painting specialists, all on site with ready access to our boat. Their website was easy to use and I filled in a web form to make contact.     
I spoke with Simone from Boat Control on the phone to discuss the scope of work we wanted. Because we had some minor scrapes to the keel when we nudged a reef one day, we were uncertain how long we would need to be out of the water for the cosmetic repair to be undertaken. Correspondence via email was quickly responded to, and Simone understood that we wanted to get the work on our boat underway as soon as we were on the hard and have the multiple projects underway concurrently.     
We hauled the boat and while the boat was still in the slings, the shipwright and painter were already looking at the boat to talk to us about efficient scheduling of projects to maximise our time out of the water. It was very reassuring to speak to the shipwrights to understand what work was required to patch up the keel, which were less serious than we had feared.      
From there we finalised the scope with Boat Control and the different jobs were completed in an exceptional timeframe by a team of committed, friendly and bloody hard working guys (note that it was 37°C every day in blistering sunshine). We were on site everyday doing various jobs on the interior such as cleaning, painting and varnishing, so we saw the work by the tradies as it progressed. Darryl, the foreman at Boat Control managed the various tasks to ensure that they were completed in the right sequencing and to rally the skilled workers every day, juggling the myriad of other projects they were working on around the yard.    
If I sound like I am going on too much, it's because I couldn't be happier. Boat Control provided a blue ribbon service, excellent communication and customer care for an extremely competitive price. Next time we are looking to get work done on our boat, we won't think twice about going to the Gold Coast and using Boat Control to look after our much loved boat.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Southbound Through The Narrows

It does not sound like much, but while closely reading a tide chart this section of navigable waterway is dry at low tide - that equates to about 12 hours a day when you can walk along the riverbed and kick dust (or more likely - mud). Sound weird? You should try sailing it! This journey took us through The Narrows, a short pass of about 12nm joining the waterways of southern Rockhampton to the busy port town of Gladstone, leaving Curtis Island to shelter the waterway from the ocean to the east.

The amount of preparation to make this passage without ending up leaning to one side was quite intense, it filled me with a sense of trepidation for the multiple scenarios of failure. It was less a fear for our safety, and more one for our pride. Being beached and leaning heavily to one side for the best part of 12 hours while the locals come past and have a good laugh as we wait for the tide to rise again to push us off our temporary mudbank home made me cringe. In terms of threat to our safety, we could just practically step off the boat and wade over to the river bank 10m away to watch the boat lean increase as the tide dropped, we would hardly need to launch flares or the life raft to mark our failure. 

Embarrassing imaginative thoughts aside, Hugh meticulously assessed three different sources for tidal data to make sure that the data was consistent. We were at a waning gibbous moon which meant that the tides would be less dramatic every day as we approached the no moon phase, so we would be at a disadvantage to unbeach ourselves (should such a thing occur) because the high tides the day after would not be as high. We calculated overfalls - the delay for water to get upstream and vice versa as it travels the rivers' distance. We learnt that halfway through The Narrows the flooding tides will meet, as it comes from the south and from the north to reach the middle section before ebbing from the centre to the north and the south, rather than flooding one way and ebbing the other. That meant that we would catch a rising tide travelling south to the centre, then flow with an ebbing tide out the southern side of the waterway. It all sounded good. 

So we started the passage, tinged with hints of peril, intending to reach the shallowest part of the passage just as the tide reached its high point. Apart from the low hum of our engine, we could hear the myriad of waterbirds, insects and the occasional jumping fish as we putted down the river. Low lying wetlands extended past the mangroves which licked the waters edge. It was not until we approached the centre part of the pass that we saw signs of modern life, with the concrete driveway indicating that at low tide, 4WDs access the riverbank and it became a thoroughfare. Just a few miles further downstream we passed the famous Monte Cristo cattle crossing, which until October 2014 was a working cattle crossing when the tide is low, enabling the passing of cattle across to the mainland for sale etc.

Cattle crossing which at low tide provides access for cattle across the river,
but at this tide point is almost 4m under water

It was a very spooky moment as we passed navigation markers which were lower than the boat it gave the feeling of being in a flooded street, with everything looking a bit low. And low it was, as the depth meter showed that there was 60cm of water under the keel. This was going to be tight. Hugh slowly weaved us through the tight section of the waterway, trying to stick to the deepest part of the channel and managing the increasing speed we were gaining as the tide gained pace. The serenity of the waterway was something to behold, nothing but nature getting about their business all around the boat. 

We emerged from The Narrows and entered Port Curtis, the mind-bogglingly busy, noisy, dusty and shiny port,  where there are three liquid natural gas processing plants, and the innumerable ship loading conveyor belts moving coal, iron ore and silica onto ships for international transport. The visual impact of the development on the landscape was obvious even from the water, with huge tracts of land cleared and gigantic machinery moving enormous quantities of mining products around the sites. It was a stark and not too pleasant way to emerge from a most splendid and quiet waterway, I would say next time we should do the journey in the northern direction to avoid such offence to the senses. 

Conveyor belt for loading ships

The bigger questions of what this port expansion means for Australia is a hot topic environmentally, but will soon become a bigger issue for the cost of production of anything in Australia as the market cost for natural gas increases for the consumer with the new export market just opening. Expanding economies in Asia demand secure gas and Australia put up its hand. What does it mean? Well the export market will be strong and the cost of the exported product will be cheaper than what is retained for domestic sale. Economists predict a 300% rise in the cost of natural gas in the Australian market. This in turn will significantly increase the cost of production of anything in Australia that uses gas as the energy source. Interestingly it was the LNG plants that also pushed out the Monte Cristo cattle station. The new Australia is impacting the old Australia in blindingly obvious ways.