Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Overnight Voyage Take 2

The GPS at night.
A week of strong South Easterly winds was forecast and we didn't wish to spend it hanging out in an Army Reserve (Island Head Creek) while they did live testing of bombs etc just upstream. So, after delaying our departure due to the unexpected giant fish catch and friends anchoring nearby, we set off just before sunset a day late to travel 115 nautical miles (22 hours) to Scawfell Island just past Mackay. Initially the wind and waves were much weaker than we'd anticipated which suited me fine, though slowed our speed considerably. Rene cooked dinner and while keeping watch, I was accompanied by a large pod of dolphins who were difficult to see in the dark water but which I could hear squeaking and chatting as they frolicked just next to me. 

Rene went below and rested while I sat wide-eyed (like a cat) staring out to sea looking out for other boats or islands – keeping watch. Rene had plotted our course into the GPS – The line is our course and the arrow is us. I had to continually adjust the windvane to maintain course. After a few hours of this, I was exhausted and Rene took over. He changed the sails and then relaxed into his watch by listening to my ipod and just looking out every 15 minutes to see that everything was OK! Now I know that 'watch' doesn't mean having to keep staring out into the darkness constantly. Down below, I developed a technique for sleeping in the boat which was rocking around making my body flip back and forth like a dying fish. I found that if I created an “anchor” with a bunch of pillows or the doona, and held onto it, I didn't fly about so much and was able to get a few short sleeps before being woken by sails banging loudly. I took over the watch again at 4am and then we shared it from about 7.
 The wind and waves really started to pick up just before dawn. The waves were the biggest I've experienced so far – the series of pictures here kind of represent what it's like but still flattens out the water a lot. If you imagine that the height of the boat from the waterline to the top railing is around 2metres, it's pretty bloody scary when the waves reach above this!! Note how Rene doesn't look concerned at all – he's making “gangsta” hands, I think in reference to that song on youtube 'I'm On A Boat'. There are whales all around here now. The first sighting involved not only 2 whales, but 2 dolphins, lots of excited yelling (by me) and desperate attempts to photograph them. All I managed to capture was a tiny splash which couldn't be distinguished from the general mayhem, so here is a picture of me after the experience – I think it communicates the excitement and wonder at seeing whales so close.

'OMG I just saw some whales!!!'
 The next stressful section of our journey was when we approached a container ship which kept on turning onto our course as if to run us over. It wasn't until we got closer that we realised it was anchored (in 35metre deep water!). It had company – about 2 dozen other ships that they were all anchored waiting in queue to be filled with Australia's natural gifts of rich and rare. Must have been a pretty big coal queue, as the massive tug harbour jetty was not even visible from this distance. Eventually we got to Scawfell Island – by now the wind was at least 25knots, gusting over 30 and the waves were building to sometimes 4 metres (Rene thinks they were much lower). I was keen to be at anchor again to eat and rest as I was shivering uncontrollably with cold, fatigue, queasiness and nerves but the sea had other plans for us.
 At the start of the journey, Rene had put a brake on the propellor, which involved a strap wound around the shaft – the problem was that it had become jammed up with the higher than normal torque from surfing down waves at 9-10 knots. To get the strap off, we would need to either stall the boat or put the engine briefly in reverse – the latter seemed more difficult at the time, but probably would have been a better option in hindsight.
 Neither could we get the pole off the jib and sail beam-on into the lee of the island because the tension on the jib sheet held the pole in place (something Rene intends to fix soon). Next time Rene thinks we should have sailed in with a reefed main and mostly furled jib.
 As the wind shot us past the island, we furled the jib, pole still attached, turned into the wind and dropped the mainsail which flapped around crazily making the job of tying it up into an extreme sport. Rene went down to undo the prop brake tangle while Cerae steered the ship.
Rene rests atop one of the amazing rocks along the foreshore.
 With the engine on high and sails down we were really at the mercy of the waves abeam. We only just were making 2knots against the current and the waves knocked us about at extreme angles – the decks were baptised and Rene's tool cupboard spewed forth miscellaneous missiles. I learnt why 'the spray dodger' is so named! After 22hrs, this was the tipping point and again, I cried the whole way into anchor. My tears were stopped when we spotted a whale breaching just near where we were about to anchor! What a sight! Then, I realised just how amazingly beautiful it is here. (Sara, you were right – it's gorgeous!). It reminds us of a book we both read as children called 'Where The Forest Meets The Sea'. The steep mountainous island looks just like the collaged illustrations in the book. We spent the afternoon lazing on the beach, having a well-deserved drink, chatting to other yachties and doing one of our all-time favourite things – rock-hopping. The rocks here are perfect for it; smooth enough to be barefoot, while still having sufficient grip to not slip.
Flaked out on the beach - safe at last!

So, another epic voyage with some good and some bad – at the moment, I'm not at all prepared to do an ocean crossing – but I'm very prepared to spend a few weeks living it up in the Whitsundays!

1 comment:

  1. Hey there!

    It all sounds so amazing. Of course it's easy to say from the study room, but even the bad parts sound like a great adventure.