We were still motoring off Surfers Paradise, at the start of our passage to Sydney, with the Autohelm steering. I was down below navi-guessing when I heard excited shouts on deck. I poked my head out and nearly crapped in my pants! There was a tail out the water, wide as Sunny Spells is long, probably 30 metres dead ahead!
Two leaps to the helm, Authelm off, 90 degrees to port. Hey dudes, are you nuts!!!?
The low off the Queensland coast is set to remain, with winds further boosted by a high pressure system pushing in south of it. Winds will remain above 20 knots with rain, heavy at times. This does not sound like fun in the sun!
I’ve booked a flight back to Sydney for 1300 today – no point hanging around – and now I’m off to sort out what I do with Sunny Spells… Must try and dry her out a bit first!
At least Mooloolaba is an inexpensive place to leave a boat. Anchoring out front, free of charge, is an option, but I might try and strike a deal with John at the marina.
We’re now stuck in Mooloolaba… The weather has turned really nasty, with 40 knot winds and torrential rain. This is set to continue at least until Sunday…
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
After a day of serious shopping in Southport on Tuesday, we were set to cast off from Southport on Wednesday 28 May at 10 AM just after low tide, armed with a rail-mount gas barbie and a new fishing rod and reel.
At about 0915 I started the motor, but couldn’t get it to respond to the throttle. The throttle cable had snapped, either in the last berthing maneuvre on arrival Monday, or now, as I set the throttle for start.
After getting over my initial annoyance, I realised just how lucky I was to have this happen here, as opposed to offshore in some horrible weather when we might really need the engine (soon to happen!). Southport probably has the largest concentration of boating suppliers in Australia too, so there was every chance I would be able to get a replacement fairly easily.
I removed the cable and also made a note of the part number for the alternator drive belt (which I couldn’t remove without first removing the starter motor – jeez guys, what were you thinking/smoking when you designed this??) as that was looking a bit dodgy too, and headed off to Whitworths.
Needless to say, it wasn’t quite that easy. I ended up being “cabbed” around by a very friendly cab driver and by midday I was back at the marina with two cables (throttle and transmission shift) and a new alternator drive belt. I fitted the throttle cable and we motored over to the fuel wharf to fill the tanks (water and diesel).
Ben was now getting quite adept a the mooring process. As we come alongside the pontoon, he is standing on the gunwale, holding onto the shrouds, and steps off smartly with the stern line in his hand, already attached to the stern cleat and run outside the lifelines. He quickly gets it around a bollard on the wharf and makes it off short so I can keep the engine idling in forward, holding Sunny Spells alongside the wharf. He then takes the bow line from Greg and belays that to a bollard forward of the bow, and we’re on! Very professional…
We were soon motoring out the Gold Coast Seaway, all present and correct on deck with our lifejackets on. We made sail at about 1400 and headed north-east for Cape Moreton on a broad reach with the wind S/SE at 10 knots and strenghtening.
Soon we were making 6 to 7 knots over the ground about 5 miles offshore. The East Coast Current seemed to have no impact – if anything we had a half knot northerly set, probably a surface current blown along by the southerlies. I had kept a close watch on the weather forecasts during the previous 48 hours and we were expecting a strengthening southeaster to get up to about 20 knots by the time we reached Cape Moreton, abating as we started heading inshore across Moreton Bay. Getting to Mooloolaba was important because a low was developing on the central Queensland coast and was forecast to bring gale force winds and heavy rain around Saturday.
Knowing from the previous week’s sailing that I would be floating on the crew watches and only getting short naps, I set up the night watches with me sailing until 2200 and Greg and Ben taking the 2200-0100 and 0100-0400 watches. That would put me back on the helm for the approach into Mooloolaba. Ben went to bed just after dinner (around 1930), and Greg followed him soon after that.
As the winds strengthened, I shortened sail and kept sailing until 2300 when I woke up Greg. By this time we had two reefs in the main and the headsail was furled to 60% of its full size. Wind was averaging 15 to 20 knots with gusts to 25 knots. Greg came on deck and I rolled away another bit of the headsail before I went below. I undressed and got into my bunk with the laptop to download the weather. Nothing had really changed in the forecasts and we were past Cape Moreton, where the heaviest wind was expected…
I had decided to continue north for a bit until our track to Mooloolaba would put us on a comfortable angle to the wind. This would also delay our arrival so we would arrive after sunrise and around the turn of the low tide (0900). At around midnight the rain intensity increased suddenly and the wind strength started averaging 25 knots with the gusts over 30 knots.
I quickly put on my wet weather gear and went on deck. Conditions were pretty miserable, with rain and spray blown across the deck and into the boat. As I went up I closed the companionway to try and keep it dry below. I rolled the headsail away completely, but we were still sailing too fast for my liking (7 knots plus). I was also worried about the strengthening wind that appeared to be backing to east. I wasn’t sure we would be able to enter Mooloolaba on the ebb tide and certainly didn’t want to do that in the dark. If we ran off towards Mooloolaba we could find ourselves on a lee shore with nowhere to go – not an attractive prospect! I decided to put the third reef in the main.
The main came down easily and I could feel the power coming off – I was so grateful for having put the third set of reefing points in the main! My relief was shortlived, however. Suddenly, the main started flogging. I looked up and shone my head torch onto the tripled-reefed main. Only then did I realise what had happened. I was aghast – the main had ripped just above the reefing points. The sail was being held together by the leech cord and the topping lift!
The mainsail clearly had to be lowered and lashed to the boom, quickly. Fortunately, Greg and I had tied gaskets in as we took the second reef, so a large part of the sail was already lashed to the boom – it was quite manageable. I went to the mast after easing the halyard and soon the main was securely lashed to the boom. By this time Greg was helming as the autopilot would not keep course in the conditions: big rolling swells, no sails and boat speed of 3 to 4 knots under bare poles… At dinner that evening Greg mentioned this as one of the highlights of the trip!
It was now getting on for 2AM and I’d been flat out for two hours, reefing and lowering the main in what had become rather stormy conditions. Greg and I were both soaked to the skin. I had only my underwear on under my wet weather gear, but I was not cold – still warm from the activity. Greg was freezing. I sent him below and told him there was no point in Ben coming up – in these conditions I had to be at the helm anyway, so why make someone else miserable? At least I had two great nights’ sleep in Southport so I was well rested!
The motion of the boat was very uncomfortable with no sails up. Helming was a pig because of the low speed and the fact that our drive came from windage on the hull and rig. Sunny Spells was rolling around madly, the anchor was swinging around on the bow roller, making grinding noises and stuff was sliding around inside the lockers, thumping against the sides. I hated it! Much as I new it was going to be hard work, I knew we had to have some sail up. It was time for the storm tri-sail (a small, strong triangular sail used instead of the mainsail in storm conditions), something Tony Eccles and I thought (hoped) I would never need when I asked him to fit the separate track for it a month or so earlier. I had raised the tri-sail a week earlier, so I knew exactly how it would work and the sail was all prepared in its bag, complete with sheets attached.
I started the engine, which gave us enough boat speed for the autopilot to take over, and got to work. It took about an hour on my own to get that tri-sail up…
It was now 0317 (funny, the things you remember…). The motion of the boat had stabilised immediately the tri-sail was up. I throttled back to idle and we were still making 5 knots with the autopilot steering quite easily. Sunny Spells was sailing upright and felt good. I killed the donk, set course for Mooloolaba, went forward to get the sail bag off the shrouds where I had tied it on and put a couple more ties around the main as the torn bits, including one of the short battens, was flogging around a bit.
I was now really steaming in my wet weather gear, even though I was soaked to the skin. I stayed on deck for about an hour before I started getting cold, going down below to change. I had dry thermals, my fleece and the spare (dry) wet weather jacket to put on so, apart from my damp wet-weather trousers, I was pretty much dry and warm.
The next three hours were tough, mentally rather than physically. The wind was still above 30 knots and the sea state was getting pretty unpleasant and confused, with breaking swells up to 3 meters, really close together and steep. We only got one breaker over the stern, but that was enough for me! I admired once again the sea-keeping abilities that Dick Carter had designed into this boat. Because the transom is above the waterline, the overtaking swells tend to roll under the stern and lift it up. This is one time I was grateful NOT to have a sugar-scoop, walk-through transom, so fashionable now and, I’m sure, really practical at anchor on a sunny day!
Wow – the wind has just picked up. I’m glad I’m sitting tucked up in a holiday apartment… I can hear things being blown around outside and it looks to me like it’s blowing 40 knots plus. Imagine what it must be like offshore!
Back offshore… With nothing to do, other than watch for traffic and navigating, my thoughts started dwelling on the remaining challenges. Getting across the bar at Mooloolaba was my biggest challenge now. I was uncertain about what conditions to expect, because we would arrive around 0800, one hour before low tide, which was probably the worst possible timing.
I noticed the chart showed obstructions immediately north of our course into Mooloolaba (reefs and wreck) so I had to follow a direct course pretty accurately. This was becoming difficult under sail alone. We had about two knots leeway; probably a combination of the wind and a northerly set at the surface because of the wind.
Sunny Spells would point a bit higher under tri-sail alone, but we lost way to about 3.5 knots and I really didn’t want to stay out for another two hours! Adjusting course to port and coming up to the wind also meant that the swell was now on our port quarter, and sometimes beam-on, and we were shipping a lot of green water and breaking swells. I considered rolling out some headsail, but decided against it; losing control of the furling line or even (and worse) having it break trying to hold the part furled sail, would mean unfurling the entire headsail in 35 knots breeze – not my idea of fun! Time to hank on the “Iron Jib”, it appeared.
And so I started the motor and adjusted course 20 degrees to port. I ran the engine at about 1800 RPM (the fancy new VDO rpm gauge had ceased to work just after Port Macquarie – electronics and salt water, eh?), and we picked up a bit of speed. We were really taking the swells on the port quarter now and it was time to take over the helm from the autopilot (must think of a name for it!) because every so often we’d get a big one almost on the beam, rolling Sunny Spells to about 45 degrees…
I now watched for big’uns out the corner of my eye, steering down the front of the swell, returning to course as the swell passed. To be fair, this wasn’t required a lot, about once a minute, but it still required concentration. I also throttled back to “about” 1200rpm so as to ensure the engine wasn’t under strain when those inevitable moments of oil starvation came along.
There was a lot of traffic around. The ships were all visible on the AIS, and they all seemed to be heading for Mooloolaba! There must be a waypoint in the shipping lane about 8 miles offshore from Mooloolaba, because that’s where they all turned to/from Brisbane Port. One container ship passed us at about half mile range, leaving us to starboard, and then proceeded to anchor right off our bow. I adjusted course to starboard and, knowing from the AIS that she was anchored and not moving, passed behind her at about 100 metres. The AIS has been superb – what great value. It uses hardly any battery power, and gives so much more useful information than radar ever could. Knowing what ships are doing (range, speed, course, rate of turn, destination, etc. etc.) is just so comforting. Also, I’ve picked up ships as far as 36 miles away. Tonight, however, there were also dozens of fishing trawlers out. They have no AIS but at least they are very well lit, with working lights on the deck, so you can see them far off. I guess you can’t sail in these waters without keeping a proper lookout…
The entry into Mooloolaba was a bit of an anti-climax (for which I’m grateful). I woke up Greg and Ben and made them don harnesses and life-jackets. The water in the channel was flat as anything, the wind died as we sailed behind the headland and the depth below the keel never went to less than 5 foot (ok, that’s thighter than I would like!). After we’d crossed the bar, Greg and Ben dropped the tri-sail (which I’d kept up as insurance against the engine conking out!) like seasoned sailors and lashed it down under the halyard.
Once at the Wharf Marina, and after another perfect docking by Ben and Greg, we soon found a berth and Sunny Spells was put to bed and brought all Bristol, just the way I like it! Ullman Sails sails said they’d come and pick up the ripped main for quote and repair, so Greg and I took it off the boom and flaked and folded it on the wharf, ready for collection. As I write this, Bakkie and his team are doing the repairs – $275 seemed reasonable for the work required – and I’m hoping to have the sail back by Sunday. We then went our separate ways, with me finding a holiday apartment close by and Greg and Ben going out to look for an internet cafe.
I slept fitfully from midday to around 5PM, when Greg called to say that they had decided to return to Sydney via Byron Bay. The prospect of languishing in Mooloolaba in cold, stormy weather did not appeal to them, especially since, at that stage, the prospects for getting the sail repaired were unknown and the stay could be extended. Greg and Ben bought me dinner at the Hog’s Breath Cafe (thanks guys, those ribs went down a treat!) and we parted ways.
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.
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]