Port Macquarie to Southport

The next installment on our passage up the Australian east coast – ultimate destination: the Whitsunday Islands!

After a well deserved rest in Port Macquarie, with some good hot meals and copious use of the hot water in the showers at the marina, we set off from the Port Marina at 9am on Saturday 24 June. This late start was to catch the Port Macquarie sand bar at the rising tide four hours after low tide.

After the excitement of getting across the bar the previous day, this turned into a complete non-event!

The wind was a dead southerly. Even on a broad reach we were either reaching offshore or back inshore. The East Coast Current was also now making its presence known, with a 2 knot southerly set pushing us back from our intended course. At first I thought we might really go offshore – 100 miles – to get in the reverse eddy of the current and more consistent wind, but sanity prevailed!. At about midday, and about 20 miles out, I poled out the genoa and set the main by the lee. We were running dead square and making 6 to 7 knots in the water. Unfortunately with the southerly set of 1.5 to 2 knots on the edge of the East Coast Current, this was only 4 to 5 knots over the ground. The challenge was to maintain exactly the right wind angle in the rolling swell and with the breeze shifting ever so slightly all the time. The autopilot was set in wind-vane mode for the first time – and it worked a treat! We were running square hands off.

Running by the lee...

 

Fortunately the autopilot was working flawlessly. Saturday night we ran dead square all night with the genoa poled out and the main by the lee. The autopilot was on wind vane mode and, apart from accepting the occasional wind shift alarm, I didn’t touch anything for 11 hours! Quite amazing lying down below and feeling the boat rush along at hull speed with the autopilot keeping the sails perfectly trimmed. I couldn’t sleep though – the thought of the autopilot disconnecting with crew dozing at the helm, probably soon followed by a wild broach,was enough to keep my eyes wide open! Sunday 25 May was a perfect downwind day with moderate swells and we poled out the asymmetric spinnaker, cruising under sunny skies, fishing (not catching anything – but we tried) and sunning ourselves. Greg cooked dinner – yum pasta with tomato sauce and smoked oysters!

We had a good night. We motored from 2000 Sunday to 0100 on Monday morning. After not sleeping the previous night I made myself comfortable in the v-berth (as far away as possible from the roar of the engine!) and fell asleep after checking Greg was ok. I woke at about half past midnight and noticed the wind had breezed uo at around 10 knots. The engine was killed and we were sailing again at 5 knots.

The wind abated between Cape Byron and Coolangatta just after sunrise, but we were still making 5 knots through water in 7 knots true wind. Unfortunately, the East Coast Current was running 1 to 1.5 knots on the bow, leaving us with around 4 knots over the ground. Even so, we were still making very good time and it was a lovely sunrise… It already felt more tropical and it was quite pleasant on deck. The water temp was up to 23 degrees. Greg cooked boerewors on the metho stove one hour out of Southport. He and Ben made instant mash to go with it; great! I know who will be doing galley duties from now on… Also, must get a little gas barbie for pushpit rail; not fun frying sausage in the pan down below[ad]

Sydney to Port Macquarie

The first installment of the chronicle of our passage up the Australian east coast – ultimate destination: the Whitsunday Islands!

We’re making good time. The first couple of days/nights (Thursday 22 May and Friday 23 May) we had a wild time, with the wind south-east to south-west between 15 and 25 knots. We made 180 miles in the first 24 hours, with average boat speeds above 7 knots, and got to Port Macquarie on Saturday morning.

 

Baptism of fire... 

Greg and Ben, my crew for the trip, had a baptism of fire… Both were sea-sick 15 minutes out of Broken Bay. They recovered later in the day but succumbed again as soon as it got dark and they lost visual reference to the horizon. Admittedly, it was pretty daunting conditions. After 4 days of southerly breeze, there was about a 3 meter swell, diagonally across our course. Sunny Spells rolled quite a bit as we were running on a broad reach with the wind on our starboard quarter. Downwind sailing is not her best point of sail! We had a lot of green water across the deck from starboard to port and everything was soon wet down below (this was a disappointment after all the work done to seal the deck hardware…).

I was feeling a bit queasy myself, but enjoyed the thrill of my first offshore passage in Sunny Spells. She was trembling like a thoroughbred as she raced down every swell, getting above hull speed with white water streaming out from the stern. Hour after hour
without let-up…

As it breezed up through the morning I started reefing the main until we were running with two reefs in 20 to 25 knots of true wind. Later in the day the breeze abated to 15 -18 knots and we shook out the reefs to keep pushing on.

The first night watch was not good. I organized us into three one-person watches, with me floating on Ben and Greg’s watches. Suffice to say that I didn’t sleep at all.

It was a relief when my watch started at 4am. I noticed the breeze beginning to average above 15 knots, so Greg and I put two reefs in the main before he went below. Quite a thrill going forward to the mast in the dark while sailing at hull speed with the boat rolling in the swell! I was grateful for the jacklines running the length of the boat and the security of a harness.

 

Downwind sailing - it doesn't get much better than this!

 

Soon the wind was pumping at 24 knots from the south-west and we were flying again. At daybreak, about 10 miles south of Port Macquarie, I was treated to the sight of a pod of dolphins frolicking in the bow wave. They were really active, with one jumping clear of the water and doing a half summersault back in. It made the trials of the night seem trivial…

Crossing the bar into Port Macquarie was nerve wracking! With the heavy swell there was a huge breaking surf on the bar (I wish we’d taken photos!). The coastal radio seemed to think it was okay… We were all on deck in lifejackets and were grateful for the security once we started surfing over the bar with this 5 tonne surfboard and me at the helm shouting “don’t broach, don’t broach!!”

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Preventer for the Main

Yesterday I rigged a preventer to use when running downwind. It consist of about 30 meters of 8mm polyester braid line(stretchy) that runs all the way to the stem (outside everything), through a snatchblock and back to a jammer on the cabin top.

I can control the preventer from the cockpit and put it on a winch to set and (most importantly) ease off gradually when necessary. Sunny Spells has the main sheet attached to the end of the boom, and the preventer is attached at the same point, using a snap-shackle. This prevents bending moments being applied to the boom by the preventer and main sheet working in opposite direction, resulting in a broken boom… Fortunately this arrangement is also good at preserving the boom intact should it get dragged in the water!

At 25 meters, the preventer is long, almost double the required length. I did this on purpose so that I can just throw off the jammer when changing tack without worrying that the line will pull through the clutch. I just leave it shackled to the boom and re-run it after the gybe. Also, the snap-shackle stops the line from pulling through the snatch-block on the bow. When I need to re-set (or stow) the preventer, I just pull it through in the cockpit, flaking it on the cockipt floor, until the snap-shackle stops in the snatch-block on the bow. Now I go forward, swap the snatchblock to the opposite toe-rail, take the snap-shackle (outside the lifelines) and walk back to the cockpit, pulling it through as I go. I just snap-shackle it to the boom end, close the jammer and pull it tight – too easy.

Rigging a Boom Brake

Before I left Sydney for Hamilton Island in May, I rigged a boom brake to control the boom during gybing. I knew I was going to be short-handed some of the time and a recent fatality on the coast where a man was killed when struck on the head by the boom during an accidental gybe was fresh in my mind.

My boom brake is very simple – a Figure 8 “rescue descender” used for rock climbing, which I got off EBay for $45, and 20ft of 1/2in polyester braid line. The line is shackled to the starboard toe-rail and runs through the Figure 8 to a block shackled to the port toe-rail and then back up to the cabin top jammers via a free sheave in the line organiser. I use a winch to grind it on. Because of the set-up, it effectively has a 2:1 purchase.

When the line through the Figure 8 is slack, there is virtually no friction and thus no resistance. Wind the boom brake line on tight though, and quite a bit of braking effect is generated. The tighter the line, the higher the friction. I had to play around a bit with the attachment points on the toe-rail and boom to even out the friction through the boom’s swinging arc, but as the boom attachment lug can be moved anywhere between the vang attachment and the boom end, this was not an issue. I’ve opted for higher friction at the end-of-arc, with less friction on the centreline. This way I know the boom will be gradually slowed down as it reached the end of its travel.

A boom brake has a number advantages:

  • The forces on the boom are controlled by friction, so it won’t over-stress the boom when dragging the boom in the water.
  • The boom brake acts as a second vang, pulling down on the boom towards the toe-rail. This is beneficial side-effect is most noticable when running with the main let off. Under these conditions I’ve found the vang to be a bit under-powered; the boom brake significantly reduces the strain on the vang.
  • If you managed to break the traveller or otherwise stuff up the main sheet, the boom brake could be used as an emergency main-sheet.