I am exhausted. I have just finished the 28 hour return trip from Sydney and feel whacked.
The final trip from Fiji started on 23 October in sunny conditions. Once we cleared the outer coral reef we encountered 25 knot winds from the south east and confused seas which were quite ugly.
Not a problem, just 1500 miles to go and I was not a happy camper. In fact, I got sick (with full puking over the lee rail!) first real illness since the Ramsgate trip in the English Channel in 1998. Yewgly!
We reefed in the head sail (reduced sail area) and the main and when the winds backed to the port quarter we began to settle into a very comfortable reach on our course to Australia. I soon felt much better and drank plenty of water to rehydrate and stand my watches. The night watch saw us doing about 6.5 knots on average with Heidi steering admirably. It was a little bumpy but not too unpleasant. We were finally on the way to the new home.
The second morning had the seas still confused and a strong 18+ wind, but the boat and crew was settling
into a routine that would see us through Thursday with fair winds and following seas. The nights were bright with a full moon and steady winds, in fact we averaged 7 knots for three nights in a row. This meant 150 mile days for the passage and our routine was quite pleasant. Except for our refrigeration completely failing on the third day we were having a legendary sail!
Oh, the fridge... All the fresh food had to be eaten up and that was going to be tough. You can only eat so much ground beef and salad. We concentrated on eating up the veggies and let the meat spoil which was sort of bad but not health wise. Dinners became a scavenger event with the search for black beans, corned beef and cans of Irish stew. I actually enjoyed our mismatched dinners which were usually quite delicious. The fridge turned out to be not so much a loss except for no milk and no cold drinks.
I drank filtered water from the tanks and did not have coffee or tea. Usually, I had a 3/4 liter bottle of water on each watch so I was well hydrated. I also took stugeron to keep the sea sick bug at bay, I only had one more sea sick issue on the next to last day, but it was not as ugly as our first evening.
By the way; I make it sound like I was debilitated from my first evening Mal De Mer event... I was feeling a bit uncomfortable but was still standing my watch. It was after a quick dinner of chicken soup and bread when I suddenly felt the urge to chum for fish. I was definitely sick for about fifteen minutes and soon felt much better. After my off watch nap I was completely back in form and the Stugeron did the job keeping me able and willing to face the challenges.
The night watches were a real pleasure, my favorite time of sailing. We had a beautiful full moon for most of the trip and usually good winds that did not exceed 20 knots. With double reefed main and sometimes reduced head sail we really cooked along in a very comfortable manner. Indescribably good to be more exact. A person on night watch can really do some reflection and deep thinking about where you are heading and have been both physically and metaphorically. The ocean water winks and flashes back at you with bio-luminescence as the miles tick away. I wish my camera could have recorded these images to share with you, the reader.
The seventh day saw the winds go away and we began to motor in order to maintain our 6 knot average passage speed. We had 130 gallons of diesel so we were sure of at least 600 miles of motoring range. It just so happened that we had 600 miles to go! Saturday evening was calm and we motored through the night.
Sunday, the eight day was even more calm with the sea being like glass. We started the day with a bit of laundry and had the rails covered with drying t-shirts and shorts. I commented that I really appreciated sunny calm days on the ocean and was glad for the calm for the flat seas and a chance to read and relax. Of course, my words brought out a vicious squall in which the winds went over 30 knots with a complete washdown of the boat in fresh rain. So much for calm...
Sunday evening and Monday morning brought out some more winds that kept us going towards Australia but there were some definite changes in the weather patterns, we were being affected by the continent and we were not having as much of the trade winds. This meant winds from the West becoming more common. In fact, we were getting some strong westerlies with rain which slowed our progress to about 3 knots. So I took a nap. Usually, after I snooze for about three hours I will find the weather changes for the positive and it did, indeed. I took over the watch with winds being more favorable and us traveling 4 knots towards Coff's Harbour. As my watch progressed, our speed picked up to over 7.5 knots, apparently aided by an ocean current which was in our favor!
This situation continued to the point where we had to actually de-power the sails at 0400 to slow us down so we did not arrive in the dark.
We approached Coff's Harbour with a lovely clear sky and calm winds and wrapped up our 1500 mile trip in the proper way with the sun behind us. Not too bad considering we had only been underway for ten days and I was expecting hard weather and a fourteen day passage. We tied up at the Customs dock and checked in.
Stewart, our Customs and Quarantine agent, was very nice and polite as he inspected the vessel and documents. Then he kindly took the remainder of our eggs, bread, sunflower seeds, dried milk and milk products, raisins, dried fruits, etc. It was quite a large bag of good food that were taken away with the authority of the Australian government to keep Australia safe from contaminants. At least he was nice about it and we complied fully.
We were allowed to go ashore, so we took Beaujolais over to the fuel dock and refueled. Then we went to our overnight berth and cleaned up and went ashore for some liberty. We kept it safe and sane and only drank about ten beers each along with a fine Indian dinner out in town.
Reveille was held at 0300 and we were underway for our final 200 mile excursion to Newcastle, which was to be the new home for Beaujolais. After leaving the harbor I was directed to go below or the second watch which I gratefully accepted. At 0700 I was back on watch in a cloudy rainy sort of morning. But we were in the Australian southerly current so we were hauling along at 8.5 knots. Since the wind was on our nose we were motoring. But at over 8 knots, so our mood was bright despite the ugly weather.
My first night watch was 2000 to 2300 (8:00 pm to 11:00 pm) and the winds were picking up over 20 knots off the nose and the seas were reacting to a "wind against current" situation, which is to say not optimal. Very doubleplus ungood.
When I returned to watch at 0200 it was worse. The winds had increased to a high of 37 knots, we were having to hand steer to keep on our course of 240 magnetic. And the winds were from an easterly direction causing huge ocean swells to collide with the already confused and bumpy seas. And it was dark. With a blinding rain, we were unable to see any of the many commercial ships heading north and south in our area.
We. Could. Not. See. Anything.
At 0300, we were hit by a breaking swell on our port side which blew out the plastic side curtain and filled the cockpit with cold water. I stood there soaked from the waist down and my feet were in a standing puddle, ankle deep as the cockpit drains did their thing.
Roger called from down below asking if I had called to him, I replied that I had not called to him but had said "F&^%*!!!"
I could not react to seas and steer away from danger, I could only try to hold our course in the gusting winds and hope that we did not get knocked down or flattened by one of the house sized breakers. This was not how I hoped my last turn at watch would be on this voyage. Actually, I was wondering if I would ever go sailing again. Certainly not off the Australian Coast, anyway...
My watch was supposed to end at 0500, but since I was already soaked, cold and awake, I might as well make it to sunrise. Besides, we were only ten miles away from Newcastle Harbour which is a commercial one so I knew that weather would not be an issue to us arriving. Roger was up at 0600 and joined me in the cockpit and took the helm for our approach.
We were a two miles out and could finally see the entrance lights in the brightening gloom of rain and misty winds. At a mile and a quarter I called Newcastle Harbour Control to let them know we were going in the channel when we were instructed to not enter the jetty; "There is a large Commercial Vessel making its way out and you need to stand clear."
"Well, ok... but it is quite bumpy out here so if they expedite we will comply", I replied.
Sure enough a large ore carrier came out and we stood off. As soon as the ship turned east and left the breakwater we shot in like a bullet heading for the calm of the harbor and tied up at the marina with no further ado.
That was it.
Roger and I shook hands and I congratulated him on his Pacific crossing, one more check off on his bucket list. We cleaned the boat some, reset lines and took long, hot hollywood showers.
Janice, Roger's wife was soon at the dock and we went to a cafe for breakfast and coffee. A surprise for the Skipper was his two daughters with three grandchildren in tow to welcome Roger back to Australia. What a homecoming!
Champagne and coffee and loud family conversation filled the salon of the busy sailboat. While all that was going on, I tried out my cellphone and found it worked on the Aussie Cellnet. So I called the Spousal Unit and let her know I was safely in port and celebrating with the family, but feeling like a fifth wheel wishing she was there with me.
It really was a wonderful morning seeing Roger's family (They have been acquainted with Spousal Unit and I from 14 years ago in London) There were two new children since my last visit in 2008 and it was great to see everyone again.
The last day saw a long three hour drive to Sydney on Thursday and I said my goodbye's at the United departure terminal to Roger and Janice. Just a quick hug and handshake and an exchange of "Thanks" and I was gone.
Twenty four hours of flying and I was home at midnight, Thursday. It was like I had never left.
So, that was that. Cook Islands to Beveridge Reef, Niue, Tonga and Fiji. Then off to the land of Oz.