I tidied the boat up and dried everything over the next few days then came to Sydney to visit family. My amazing contact, Amber, in the Locum Agency found me work in no time, and in the almost perfect location, a few miles north from Bundaberg, at Gladstone for two months. I will return there in a week and on one of my weekends off will sail Sapphire up to the Marina at Gladstone. It will be an unusual experience to be working and having the boat nearby. There are many little chores that require sorting out, mainly electrical things such as the Inverter which stopped working and the Cabin lights and Bilge pumps.
Next year I will sail further south, but not in a mad dash, and perhaps eventually back to Sydney.
Well it did work out much as I had hoped. The wind stayed strong and we moved into the coast where I had hoped for some easing but when I was close to the beinning of the amazingly well marked channel into the River, it was still a steady 24 knots. It was drak and the sky was clear and beautiful. There were lights along the coast but the navigation lights and a lighthouse made it all quite simple. I dropped the sails and motored in to calm water and follwed the channel to the marina, where with a torch I found an out of the way spot and dropped the anchor at about 1030pm local time. Its amazing those first few min utes when the motion and the noise all stops and you savour the moment of having at last arrived at a much anmticipated destination. I was worn out but decided to have some milo and a couple of biscuits before creeping into my grotty damp bedding and quickly falling into a sound and dreamless sleep.
The Customs and Quarantine people eventually arrived today, Monday, and the Biosecurity people were incredibly thorough, spending an hour and a half going through every thing on the boat, opening all the lockers and storage spaces, pulling everything out and peering into the darkest recesses for bugs and vermin.
I wasnt able to leave the boat till they had finished just before 2pm when I went ashore to a nice Marina Cafe and had mediterranean salad and lamb cutlets, and a beer! Hardly ever does one enjoy a meal so much as that one after a passage existing on tinned junk as I do!
I will get organised in the next couple of days and post some photos on the Blog once Ive cleaned myself up, dried the boat out and organized Internet.
I hate the unnecessary noises of things in storage banging about, or sheets flapping or stays and halyards vibrating in the wind. One knocking nn oise seemed to come from a storage space right by my head when I lay down to rest or sleep and three times Ive shifted stuff round to try and stop it, or to find the source. I checked other places and moved everythig there around as well but to my intense frustration the noise continued unchanged. Eventually I relaised the stoprage compartment has some sort of false floor and theres a space between its bfloor and the roof of the compartment below but its not accessible except by cutting a hole inot it - aand in there some solid metalic object rolls about and knocks and taps and is driving me insane.
Another knock developed during the night, a much louder and heavy one that sounded ominous to me when I first heard it - something solid and metallic and heavy was creating a bang that went right through the boat. Eventually I tracked it down to the anchor locker and went out there , safety harnessed, at about 2am, got soaked for my efforts and found it was a heavy lead device - I think about 6kg - called an ANchor buddy thats lived in there since 2010 and never moved or created a sound - somehow it finally wriggled its way out from its cranny and started rolling and banging around. In the middle of the night. Oh and the anchor locker hatch fell onto my face when I first peered in and neglected to hold it open against the inevitable lurch.
Mother nature isnt giving me a nice easy time of this last day, though it looked as if she would early in the day, when there was full sunshine and I dried my dripped on sheet and damp pillow out in the cockpit, and the sea state and wind made the sailing really wonderful. What a great way to finish up I thought to myself. But since about 11am - its now 4pm - we have been asailed by a series of squalls moving over under their individual clouds, bringing rain and reduced visibility and wind increases from a pleasant 18 or 20 to 24 and 25 knots with their accompanying short steep bumpy seas and cold air. Some have passed in front and others behind but others we went through or caught the edges of, and then the boat gets splashed and wet again, the annoying drips return, moving about becomes hard and the direction we are heading also varies, usually in the direction of Lady Alice island and some nearby shallows which would be treacherous. In fact we are now past them, with about 35 miles to go, thumping along at 6.4 knots on the outskirts of another squall.
I hesitate to predict what may happen but my intention is to continue right in to Bundaberg, which is up a river. The river entrance seems very well marked with buoys from well out and the marina with the quarantine buoy is on the port side just round the first bend. With luck I will be there round midnight.
Yesterday I kept waiting for conditions to ease and the sailing to become a little less of an endurance test. After that calm I mentioned yesterday the wind returned after half an hour at its usual force and we lumbered on with the doubly reefed main and the headsail all but rolled up. And then in the dark, about 9pm the wind shot up to 30 knots again, the vane on the Hydrovane jammed across and unable to bring us back on to course and me cursing and swearing with the fickleness of it all, deciding we needed to reduce to the third reef and then heave to...oh yes and it was raining! So I clipped on and struggled up to the mast, yanked down the sail and slipped the reefing point over the hook and crab-like inched back into the safety of the cockpit...oh yes my headlight stopped working just then too! I tidied up the lines and then...and then I was going to try and bring the boat through the wind, probably with the engine...and the wind died just like that it all went quiet again....I watched and waited, it went to 14 knots, and we were almost motionless in the water...and then it slowly picked up to 22 and stayed there. I decided to do nothing for an hour and see what else might eventuate but nothing did, so about 10.30 I went back to the mast and unhooked the ring and pulled the sail back out to its second reefing point, re-engaged the Hydrovane and off we went, back on course but slowly. I had already decided I was happy to go slowly and reduce splashes and crashes and reduce the drips getting in and make it more tolerable in the cabin. It wasn't a race! And so it continued till morning and ZI had a couple of good sleeps.
This morning it was grey and still rough but slowly conditions have improved to the point where its now the sort of ocean sailing most would enjoy. The wind ranges from 18 to 22 , I haven't taken out the second reef but let more and more headsail out and we are running at a nice low angle up and over moderate swells from the south, some still 2 to 3 meters, on a beam reach. I watch and marvel at the amazing way the sea mounts up into walls and troughs and peaks and ridges and then transforms into a valley or a roller makes it all flatten out. Sapphire rolls up and over them all so easily, but now and again we cop one on the side, a slap that sends the water up and over the boat , we twist a bit sideways and then over and down into the next trough.
The rotten weather slowed us down : 24 hr run to thursday was 126 miles, but to Friday it was 85 and to noon Saturday, today, 96. Tomorrows run will be ok but we wont get to Bundaberg before dark. As I write this there's 150 miles to go.
Tinned mackerel with tomato sauce, and rice for tea soon. I always follow up with some fruit, often a confectionary banana or a lemon or orange fruit jelly. And Milo.
Bobs prediction about the crap weather was amazingly accurte - he warned me to expect it around 9pm and for it settle by noon today or therabouts and thats pretty much nwhat happened. AT 20 to 9 last night I was thinking maybe it wont come an I will be OK - and five minutes later the boat strarted bouncing and bashing about and the wind noise increased and when I looked at the wind instruments -= it was 26 knots. He said gust might be up to 35 but I didnt see anything over 30 but it was pretty wild. I rolled up the headsail except for a tiny scrap and reefed to the second on the main then eased it out to depressurise it and we moved slowly forward all night quite comfortably - I was waiting at first to see what else would happen - I was thinking of heaving to if it got much worse - but it didn't so I decided to wait it out and try to sleep. With daylight in 9 hours we had travelled 20 miles and though the wind was still strong , it was still pretty wild but I decided to start sailing now I could see what to do, and we increased to nearly 6 knots by letting a small bit of the headsail out and pulling the main in a bit. Midmorniung I saw the first lull at 20 knots and guessed the worst was over and it seems to be the case, though we have had a couple of squalls where the wind and sea sprang up remarkably rapidly to 27 and 28 knts again and I felt a certain despair that there was another long slow night of being bashed about ahead of me again. I was sleep deprived for sure. The second squall arrived and I rolled up the headsail again, getting completely soaked in the process and decided to try and sleep after vdrying off and changing my shirt as the boat sat quietly. I couldn't sleep but after 20 minutes it all seemed too quiet I went up top and the wind had fallen away to only 15 knots and the amazing sea, so recently a carpet of white and spray and hills and valleys had evened out to have almost no whitewater anywhere. So amazing! I thought I mighht write this whist all was calm - God only knows what will happen next but what I am hoping is this lighter wind is the one predicted and we have an easier sail for the next couple of days to Bundaberg - now 250 miles away. But who knows what might happen next?
BTW during the night in one of my many checks on wind and boat speed and everything generally I surpised myself to find a ship going by, just the lights are visible of course, a single one at the bow and way further back a cluster at the bridge and the green starboard light . My AIS wasnt on but when I turned it on he didn't appear - not sure if the AIS was at fault or the ship! Another night I saw a very peculiar light on the horison that turned into a sort on line of light and then a vague yellowy sail shape that slowly disappeared - it was the moon rising behind clouds!
I am developing huge confidence in the Boat and have blessed myself repeatedly for having gone back to Fiji to have the rigging checked and fixed as its taken a hammering this last 24 hours!
Sailors dont intentionally sail in seas like this, 2 meter rough swells, lots of white water everywhere, occasional bangs and slaps to the boat as waves happen to break against the side, the cockpit getting flooded every now and then. Allt the sailor can do is get himself into a place where he needs to make the least effort to stay there. Moving about is tricky and involves reaching from one handhold to the next, getting food other than ready to eat things olike biscuits nuts sweets and left-overs is tricky as things tend to slide about and spill. ANd the constant irregular motion makes it hrd to read or do anything much at all other than lie in the bunk and watch the clock, listen to the wind and the sea roaring, the boat creaking, things knocking in storage....and watch the clock. I think for me the hard part is not knowing what the sea and the wind are going to do next - if I was told this weather you have now is what youre getting till the end of the voyage, just like this, I would be delighted - the boat is reeefed down and sailing nicely through the sea as a good boat does, the ocean to look at is mighty and turbulent and impressive and I am perfectly fine. The gusts are up to 25 knots and the boast is travelling at 5.8 to 6.2 knots. But according to Bob tonight its going to get rotten - but how rotten? It may turn out better thsans forecast - or worse? Its the uncertainty that's killling me.
Our exact position right now is 20 degrees 20 minutes SOuth, 156 degrees 2 minutes East.
Sleep is very broken, necessarily, because I need to check progress and make sure we are not too far off course and heading for the various reefs which litter the coral sea, and which have determined my route to Bundaberg.I try to sleep in he day but almost never can so at might whenj I finally do sleep its different to my usual experience because I have amazingly vivid dreams. One night I dreamd I was walking along the beachfront at Bundaberg and pointing out to sea and telling someone I was actually way out there on my boat and was having an amzing out-of-body expedience, but would have to go back there, reluctantly, soon. Last night I dremaed I was talking and joking with Muhammed Ali - in earlier times - as we were doing some sort of physio in a swimming pool. LAter I dreamed of a world cup rugby match between the All Blacks - wearing pale blue - and England, also wearing pale blue. It was raining and a crowd of English supporters were holding umbrellas over the English team as they packed down for a scrum.!! Work those out!
Today started calmly and then about 10 I noticed we were off course - the wind had strenghtened and gone South agaiun, so the Hydrovane naturally swung us toi the north west. The wind strengthened quickly to 22 knots and short steep seas built up as I reset our course and went below to a much more unpleasant ride, much more bumping and banging and the noise of wind and the waves and crashes and slaps and splashes of water...Bob had predicted strrengthening wind and the worse days of the trip to be tomorrow and friday as a "squash zone" develops above a high moving across the Tasman. I decided it was beginning to make its presence felt and looking ahead was a big wall of black cloud. By noon there was rain and stronger wind and it was all horrible but nothing was wrong, it was just going to be a rotten couple of days ....starting now.
IN fact it all settled a couple of hours later and we are back to 14 knots of wind from the south east and all the headsail is back out, the boat is moving more easily again...I guess the squash zone hasnt arrived yet...maybe tomorrow.
We have passed the second waypoint and are now a little over half way to Bundaberg. I couldnt raise Sailmail this morning so I hope reception is better this evening - the window seems rather small. If tomorrow turns out as Bob predicted and its rotten there might not be a Post till Friday night.