Sydney to Southport Solo

This year the delivery of Wine-dark Sea to Queensland for Airlie beach race week and magnetic island race week is being juggled with the final commissioning of the new Sydney football stadium. Eyeing up a potential 5 day weekend without commissioning and a favourable weather window, on the tail of a southerly blast, I decided to head out on Thursday night (14th July). I was getting some weird blinking of one of the instruments as I steamed towards the heads and thought “that’s inconvenient”. This changed somewhat as I exited the heads and all the data disappeared. It wasn’t a total instrument failure as I still had power to all the displays. Just no data. As this was a solo delivery, this wasn’t going to work. A quick about face and I was heading back to RSYS before I even really got started.

A quick call to Levi from 33 South Electrical confirmed my suspected diagnosis path.  Unplug each instrument, one by one, to find what the error was. A couple of hours later, and having damaged a display and a cable in the process I was no closer to a solution. Then while fiddling with a display I discovered it could see the aft half of the network, but nothing past the autopilot computer, located behind the Nav station. After another hour of jiggery-pokering I discovered 2 failed t-pieces that had been operating quite happily for 6 years but decided it was a good time to pack it in.

It was late by now and the Thursday departure was not looking like a smort thing to do, starting tired and all. I retired home for a sleep in a real bed before setting off on Friday, after a few final fixes that I thought would be best done in the light of day.

Eventually I got underway around 10am, heading for Coffs Harbour, about 250 nautical miles away. No sooner had I cleared the heads than I was joined by a pod of dolphins. A great omen and a reminder to any seafaring soul of why we do what we do. Nothing beats the image of dolphins playing in your bow wave.

I must admit a lot of this trip has ended up in a blur. This is most likely due to the fact that I arrived in Coffs Harbour at 8pm on Saturday night after being awake for 38 hours. From a sailing perspective I figured the reefing method for the new mast.

On a personal level this section does holds two very hard moments as I have to sail past the locations where Sarah Goddard-Jones and Hugh McReady passed away in two separate tragic incidents in 2019. This being the first trip since that year that I have returned to either location. When reading this take a moment to remember these two awesome human beings that have departed us way too soon.

Passing Fish Rock, Site of Sarah’s passing during a diving accident

If the section to Coffs is a blur, the second leg to Southport was a borderline nightmare. My body woke me up at 6am, after only 9 hours sleep. I set off into the rising sun and struck off north through the Solitary islands. The forecast had said I would hit northerlies and their would be a pressure gradient as I went offshore. The first few hours were fine with some early morning reaching in westerlies. Stupidly I was motor sailing when I should have been just sailing. This resulted in me starving the engine of diesel as one of the tank pickups must have been exposed for extended duration. Not prepared to go on with a dodgy motor I hoved to and set about repairs. Another thing that is a little easier with someone onboard is cracking the injectors and turning the engine over. There was fiddling with the engine, then heading upstairs, turning the engine over, then back downstairs for fiddling, rinse and repeat. After an hour or so the engine was back and operational and I had learnt another lesson that I probably already knew and shouldn’t have needed reminding of.

The north-westerlies faded and the northerly started to build. By the afternoon I was beating upwind in high teens with reduced sail. Each time I would tack offshore the pressure would build and I would tack back once it got to 18 knots. The longer I went the less offshore I got and the more I had to creep inside the rhumb line to get relief. This of course means you need to be more on the ball navigationally to avoid coastal hazards. As the night drew on and I was having trouble finding wind under 20 knots, I reduced sail to headsail only and checked in with weather observations to see what had changed to result in the pummeling I was getting. To my surprise all the coastal observations were below 10knots, yet just a mile offshore I was in over 20. As unpleasant as the slamming was and with dwindling fuel I decided to motor straight into the wind and inshore to see the worst of it out. I headed in to the 30metre depth line. Still no relief. So closer still, in to the 20 metre line. Finally the wind dropped below 20 and the seas started to smooth. I suspect I was glad it was night and I couldn’t see how close to the coast this was getting me as I passed Ballina and Byron.

After I rounded Cape Byron and the bay opened up in front of me, I gave myself two 15 minute cat naps. As the sun rose it looked like Queensland was going to turn on a stunner for me to make me forget all about the night before. There wasn’t much wind as I rounded Fingal head and Cook island for the final dash to the Southport seaway. It was going to be tight on fuel and timing for my flight back to Sydney. Lucky the wind backed a bit and allowed some power reaching for a hour or so. During which time I tidied the boat for a rapid departure once I hit the dock. I also thought it would only be fair to the person next to me on the plane if I had a shower and a change of clothes before jumping on the plane. I tied up at 1pm. A 31 hour spell for the trip with just 30mins sleep. I felt better than I should…..until I hit the lounge at the airport. It hit me like a truck. As the flight was delayed I asked some strangers in the lounge to wake me for my flight as I felt I could nod off at any moment and not wake for a week. I didn’t, but I’m not sure I remember takeoff or landing on the plane either.

One of the biggest lesson of the trip was the need to be able to balance the sailing of the boat in all conditions. The old furling jib, with close to 20,000 nautical mile behind it now, is getting a bit saggy. Also I had never been a fan of partially furling the sail due to the stresses it puts on the sail, furler, furling line and forestay. As it turned out even just the headsail was too much to go upwind in over 20 knots. A smaller furling staysail and installation of the check stays won’t be too far away I suspect. As always, its always best to have the right tools for the job.

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