We spent Tuesday anchored in Fame Cove, on the northern side of Port Stephens. It was pretty and isolated after the marina, and of course, free! We spent the day making preparations for several days and nights at sea, including hanging pictures. This not only made the boat even more like home, but freed up storage space!
We had decided to head off on Wednesday after the main weather front had gone through, leaving southeasterly winds in its wake. It may mean cooler, cloudy weather with possible rain, but the wind would be in the right direction. We were both a little nervous, it having been so long since we had undertaken a long passage just two up, but we knew that once we settled into it, we would be fine.
We upped a very muddy anchor at around 11 and motored out towards the heads. We decided to put 1 reef in the main to begin with, but soon found this too much with 17 plus knots of breeze and the heady. We therefore went to 2 reefs once we were clear of the islands, and this was much more comfortable, and remained the trim until about halfway through the night. Most of that first afternoon it was fine, but come nightfall, the showers started, until my 9 to midnight watch when it rained almost constantly. The breeze began to die and shift and I had to motor a little, but I was back to sailing when Pete came on watch. It was a very dark night because of the clouds, and hard work to stay on course just by watching the instruments, so we used the autohelm a lot. This also meant that you could do other things while the boat steered itself, like make a cup of tea, go to the loo and check navigation. You could also easily change the sail trim.
When I say easily, it does not convey the time consuming nature of doing this! To explain, during my 3 – 6 am watch, the wind variously died, came back but shifted into the southwest. This meant I needed to gybe. To execute a gybe required the following activity by me. First take the boom preventer off the windward primary winch. Set up the jib furling line on that winch. Furl away the jib. Uncleat the preventer and gybe the main, hand steering through the gybe and managing the main sheet. Set the autohelm back up on the new course. Go to the bow and rerun he preventer line to the other side, head back to the cockpit and take up the preventer and secure. Unfurl the headsail on the new gybe. Of course, you are cold, wet and sleep deprived, so you have to do everything slowly and triple check its right! Fully crewed it would be about a minutes job, on your own and tired it takes a good twenty minutes start to finish.
I was glad to see dawn break as we left Smoky Cape behind, and Pete took over. We had quite a pleasant day following the nasty night, and made good progress up the coast. The wind had settled into the southwest, totally contradicting all the forecasts, and we could not work out why we were getting this wind direction. At least it stayed fairly consistent, though it did mean we had to gybe a couple of times (see earlier description!) though we were usually both on deck for this.
We had an early dinner of my special pea and ham soup (again!) around 5:30, and I headed off to bed at 6 as darkness fell over Yamba, leaving Pete on what looked to be a very pleasant watch. Not so much cloud, with some moonlight and stars makes a big difference. Despite the pleasant weather I saw when I got up at 9, I decided to don full wet weather gear just in case. This was a good decision, because just after I got on deck the big black cloud Pete had been watching caught up with us and the heavens opened. Not only that, but the errant breeze headed up the scale over 30 kts and I had to get Pete on deck to help me get the headsail furled away. Of course within 5 minutes, the rain passed and the breeze settled back to 15-18 knots, and the rest of the watch was uneventful but rainy on and off.
Pete took over at midnight, again with stars and a moon, and everything seemed pretty good. I started to drift off to sleep when I heard Pete shout my name, so I leapt out of bed into my sea boots and stuck my head up. “The ram has gone.” stated Pete. In my woozy state, I assumed he was talking about the boom vang, but this looked normal, and Pete didn’t sound terribly distressed. “What do you want me to do?” I asked, and was told, nothing, just so I was aware. I finally realised he meant the hydraulic ram on the autohelm – no more breaks from steering, hand steering until we can get to a refuge for Pete to check it. When I took over from Pete at 3am he was ready for a break, needless to say, but he again pointed out a black cloud coming up behind. We were now mentally prepared for what was going to happen, and as the wind had started picking up before Pete went off watch, he stayed up while the squall passed and worked the main for me. We saw 35 knots and hit the trip top speed of 13.6 knots but kept all sails up for the short duration of the squall, then the breeze died to nothing, we dropped all sails and I motored until first light. With dawn the breeze returned and I was able to get the headsail out so by the time Pete came on watch we could hoist the main.
We had of course decided that we needed to pull in to the Gold Coast to recover sleep and fix the autohelm, instead of pushing on to Mooloolaba. We were both pretty tired as we sailed easily around Point Danger and headed towards the Gold Coast Seaway, but as the sun shone and the air was warm we looked forward to a rest. Crossing the bar and entering the Seaway was somewhat interesting with a moderate swell running across the entrance, but once inside it was comfortable. We headed to the anchorage just behind SeaWorld, dropped anchor and headed to bed for a sleep.
Once rested, Pete checked the autohelm ram to find it had unscrewed itself. A simple fix to screw it back together with loctite, and we were in business again. It seems the motion of downwind steering in waves, gradually unscrews this attachment, so we will need to monitor this. While Pete was doing this I prepped dinner and did some sorting of the fridge and freezer, which is a constant task.
We had a delightful dinner of chorizo stuffed chicken thighs (thank you Tom at Butcher and Chef, Manly!), beans, carrots and mushrooms and roast spuds, followed by raspberry syllabub. We discussed weather forecasts and agreed that even though the forecast was good for Mooloolaba tomorrow, we needed more rest, and after all, we are cruising around Australia and we should stop and smell the roses! We therefore decided to spend at least another night at anchor to get our sleep caught up. As the forecast looks ok for Sunday, but getting worse after that, it’s a choice between heading off on Sunday or staying here for about a week. As I write, we are leaning towards an early departure on Sunday.