Category Archives: Pindimara

The voyage of the yacht Pindimara up the eastern and northern coastline of Australia

In the Beginning

The Germ of an Idea

Way back before we were married, before we were even an item, Bronwyn and I were sitting in a bar somewhere idly discussing what it was that we wanted to do with our lives. We were both in good jobs and had, individually, achieved our childhood ambitions, including travelling around the world. We’d both left our native countries in the northern hemisphere, and were, at least temporarily, living in Australia. We had well-paid and flexible jobs that meant that we could go round the world as often as we liked, but it was somehow all too easy. Life consisted of hard work and fine dining, extreme sports and luxurious living. All perfect, but it was beginning to feel a bit hollow, so what next?

Somehow or other, out of the blue, one or the other of us came up with the idea of sailing around the world. This was almost completely ridiculous, as neither of us knew how to sail. But if it was something new and difficult that we were after, then this would certainly be a challenge. After a while, the conversation bogged down in our complete lack of knowledge or experience of things nautical, and we ordered some more beer and turned our attention to other topics.

The next day, unbeknownst to Bronwyn, I contacted my old mate David, who had been sailing small boats since we were boys, and asked his opinion on the practicality of buying a yacht and sailing around the world. Bear in mind that I hadn’t the faintest idea of what a yacht cost or how long it took to cross an ocean, nothing at all.

David was stunned. As a small boy, I once crewed on his racing dinghy in the Thames, showing no aptitude whatsoever.

David helms 'Slightly Imperfect' off the Gower coast, 1982

David helms ‘Slightly Imperfect’ off the Gower, 1982

To his credit, and after only a few stunned expostulations, David settled down and answered the questions. It turned out that I had hit pay dirt; he had once intended to go voyaging with his entire family, and still had the file containing all his research, in which he evaluated types of vessel, running costs, equipment and all the multitudinous host of other things that I had, until then, no idea that I had to consider. I added up some numbers on the back of an envelope, and emailed Bronwyn at her work, pointing out that it was, at least financially, feasible.

Things moved on. Bronwyn thought about my crazy plan, and suggested that, in actual fact, she would consider sailing around the world with me. One thought evidently led to another, and, some time later but back in that same bar where the crazy idea had started (for the record: The Phoenix, Canberra), she got down on her knees in the spilled beer and cigarette butts and proposed marriage.

 

Distinguishing the pointy end from the flat end

While planning the wedding, we looked into the little matter of learning to sail. Canberra, where we were living, is capital of a landlocked desert state several hours from the nearest coastline. The only water is in the artificial lake in the centre of the city. This happens to be the home of the Canberra Yacht Club, where for a small fee you can hire a dinghy or even enter your own (necessarily small – the lake is not very deep!) trailer yacht in the weekly twilight race. There is also a sailing school, which teaches you how to handle a dinghy. It turned out that, in a previous life, Bronwyn had done a little dinghy-racing in Lasers, and had in fact the previous year taken a refresher dinghy-sailing course at the Canberra Yacht Club. She had a word with Matt, who runs the course, and suddenly I was enrolled.

The course took me from “this is a mast, this is a sail” through to rigging a dinghy, and then off we went onto the water. Over the weeks of the course there was in fact very little wind, so we spent quite a lot of time circling the Captain Cook Memorial Fountain, which is an enormous man-made geyser and tourist attraction that fires up at regular intervals, launching an enormous spout high in the air above the city. As the water flies up and down, it generates an outward-blowing wind, such that it is possible to sail round and round it, and tack and gybe, and generally practice unless you get too far away, in which case you need to be towed back into the centre again.

The closer you get to the actual fountain, the stronger the wind, and when it was my turn to helm I kept on pushing the limit until I got so close that the water was pouring into the cockpit and onto my unfortunate crew. On one occasion, I got so close that I got caught in the suction of the underwater feeder pipes, and thus became the first person in history to actually crash into Australia’s premier national monument.

The Captain Cook Memorial Fountain

The Captain Cook Memorial Fountain

Curiously, that particular crew never sailed with me again. However, I did in fact receive my certificate of competency, and, when Bronwyn and I tentatively entered some twilight races, we recorded first a dismal last (which in our defence was down to a misunderstanding of the rules; in our class, we only needed to complete two circuits instead of the three that we actually did), and then, incredibly, a first in our class. Much of the credit for this goes to the realisation that the boat went much faster when Bronwyn was at the helm and I was the crew, and also perhaps to our habit of carefully discussing each manoeuvre before attempting it, so that we both knew exactly what was going to happen and why. (To get ahead of myself, this is something that we still do, and it seems to me that there would be a lot more happy sailing couples out there if there was less shouting and more discussion.)

 

Distinguishing the red and green rope from the green and red rope

A qualification in dinghy sailing wasn’t going to get us around the world. In Australia, the first step in big boat qualifications is the Competent Crew, so we enrolled on a course in Pittwater, which is a large estuarine sailing area north of Sydney. There were five students on board a Bavaria 38 with Tony, our pommie instructor, and over a weekend he drilled us in all the skills that would enable us to be crew rather than passengers on a large sailing vessel.

To Bronwyn, used to single-handed and two-man dinghies, the Bavaria was daunting, with its arrays of multicoloured ropes and pulleys and winches. To me, it was a lot more familiar. Even though I had not technically, sailed one, I had been on holidays on 45 and 50 foot Beneteaus, had hung out on a number of friends yachts, and had piloted narrowboats around the canals of England and Holland. At least I knew what most of the things were for, even though I had no idea how to use them. Bronwyn, on the other hand, was quite capable of sailing her, but had no idea which ropes to pull to make it happen.

Bronwyn takes the helm

Bronwyn takes the helm

Slowly, patiently, Tony – recently returned from a record-breaking attempt of circumnavigation of the south polar seas – instructed us in the art of making a large expensive piece of fibreglass move through the water without hitting anything, all the while regaling us with tales of subzero storms and weeks without hot food. Slowly we got the hang of it, although one girl was completely hung up on the rules of the road; “Who’s got right of way?” she would scream, freezing at the helm, whenever a sail appeared on the horizon. With turn and turn about, however, the rest of us got comfortable with helming and crewing, and managed some halfway competent man-overboard exercises. Suddenly we weren’t complete passengers, suddenly we felt that, if we were on a yacht and the skipper suddenly fainted, we could at least manoeuvre the vessel without sinking it.

At the end of the course, Bronwyn and I got an impromptu tour of the Arctos, the vessel that Tony had so recently crewed. The Bavaria is, even in the charter version that we were using, a luxury yacht with no expense spared to make it look like the inside of a Hollywood Captains cabin. The purpose-built Arctos certainly gave us a taste of the other end of the spectrum. With its plain white-painted interior, single potty toilet and cramped webbing bunks, the interior cried sweat and adrenalin and testosterone, and on the outside, every fitting was twice or three times the normal size, speaking volumes of the sheer destructive power of the seas that it had had to navigate.

Impressed, but shuddering, we struck the Antarctic off our list of sailing destinations.

 

All dressed up with no place to go

At the end of the weekend, proudly brandishing our certificates, we pondered the reality of our situation. We were now, at least on paper, competent crewmen. However, we knew that in fact we were far from competent, but the only way that we were going to improve was to gain some experience, and we couldn’t get experience without chartering a yacht, and nobody would let us take their boat out with only a Competent Crew certificate. It was time to move up to Inshore Skipper.

Hunting for a Yacht

Interlude

Could we actually live with each other in close quarters for an extended period? We thought that we probably could, but it would be nice to know before we splashed out all that cash on a shiny yacht. Thus, to New Zealand: not to circumnavigate in one of the cruising yachts for which that country is justifiably famous, but instead to trundle around the roads in a tiny camper van. The theory went that if we could cope with that, then we could cope with living aboard a yacht.

At anchor, somewhere in New Zealand

At anchor, somewhere in New Zealand

It was a tiny cramped space and we did our best, catering for ourselves using the gas stove provided, dropping anchor in a different town each day, even going so far as breaking down deep in an uninhabited national park miles from any help.

We passed all our trials with flying colours, had a great holiday, and emerged with some very firm ideas about interior yacht design. The chief of these was that nothing aboard our boat was going to be dual purpose; we were heartily sick of turning beds into tables, tables into beds, and then finding that whatever it was we needed next was now inaccessible beneath a mattress.

Incidentally, while we were in Auckland, we took a turn at sailing the Americas Cup yacht NZ40, which went rather well.

) On board the Americas Cup NZ40

On board the Americas Cup NZ40

Lists. Lots of lists.

One thing that we were agreed upon right at the start was that we weren’t going to skimp in the bed department. This may on the face of it seem like a strange first criterion, but we had both been on boats where the quarters were cramped and uncomfortable and it really puts a damper on your day. In addition, we spend a fortune on orthopaedic beds and mattresses at home, and the logic that engendered those choices is just as compelling at sea. David thought that we were nuts, but suggested that we look into centre-cockpit designs, because these tend to have a decent-sized aft or masters cabin.

Given that I was likely to be responsible for running repairs, I wanted a hull material that I understood. Wood and I do not get along, and fibreglass struck me as too flimsy for the open sea. I wanted to come off at least afloat if we hit a sunfish or a shipping container, and so steel was the way to go. Since we were looking at sailing shorthanded, ease of sail handling would be a bonus, so in order to get a smaller sail area it made sense to have two masts with small sails rather than one mast with a big one; hence, we arrived at the concept of a steel centre-cockpit cutter ketch.

ketch1 ketch2

A brace of steel ketches

A brace of steel ketches

Things that we need

  • Large bed (aft?)
  • At least one good-sized locker
  • Ventilation in the main cabin
  • Access to water from the stern
  • Sleep four comfortably
  • Two-burner gimballed stove
  • Ice box / fridge
  • Full-size nav station
  • Shower in head
  • Hot and cold water
  • Traveller not in cockpit
  • Production boat less than 12 years old
  • Depth sounder
  • Sails in good condition
  • Anchor

Things that we would like

  • Full-sized galley
  • Double sinks
  • Four-seater dining table
  • Sea berths
  • Single-handed sailing
  • Stern shower
  • Bimini/Dodger
  • Radar
  • Windvane

Looking at virtual boats

Looking around at the cruising boats available on the market, we found the world awash with proven circumnavigators that exactly fitted our criteria for the money that we had available. The internet is a fine resource, and we spent many a happy evening examining photos of the interiors of second-hand cruising boats from all over the world. Eventually, however, it started to dawn on us that many of these vessels had been on the market for years, and several became old friends as we followed their stories, eagerly logging on each evening to see if this owner or that had added any new gear or reduced the price again as they got more desperate.

We marvelled at all those unfortunate souls, usually Americans, who were apparently stranded in this or that tropical paradise and needed to sell their yacht in order to go home; usually, it seems, because their wives had refused to sail any further and had already flown back home to the US.

After a few months of following the fates of all these forty-foot Adams, Roberts and Van de Stadt ketches, we decided to change tack and look at newer, smaller boats, with a view to trading up later once wed got our sea legs. Not only would this make the learning experience easier, but if we chose carefully, we could hopefully get a more modern re-saleable model which would give us the option of ducking out if we decided that, for some reason, the cruising life was not for us.

Looking at real boats

Then came the Sydney Boat Show. We’d expected to be awed by the yachts, and even more awed by the prices, but in actual fact what we saw pretty much fitted our preconceptions, and the prices were not too shocking. Out of our range, but not shocking. We tried every berth in the sailing marina, and found that almost every designer apparently only catered for midgets. I’m just over six foot, and Bronwyn is a little under, so we’re not mutants, but we simply couldn’t fit into many of the berths provided.

The only design that really blew us away was the Hunter, an American company that was trying to break into the Australian market. Everything was beautifully made, well thought out, and best of all, made for full-size people. The icing on the cake was that, due to the collapse of the US economy, in Australian terms they were remarkably cheap.

We immediately vowed to buy one. The problem, of course, was that since Hunters were new to Australia, there weren’t any second-hand models available. We contacted a few dealers in the US, who pointed out that because of the weakness of the US dollar, they could crate one up, new or old, and freight it to us for less than the price of an Australian model. Although tempting, we couldn’t bring ourselves to buy a boat that we had never seen, and in any case, there seemed something bizarrely wrong about buying a yacht by mail order.

In time, a second-hand Hunter showed up in nearby Pittwater. We hopped in the car for the four-hour trek, but were sadly disappointed to discover that the actual vessel fell far short of the published specifications. It was old and tired, the berths were built for children, quite substantial parts just came away in my hand, and the bilges were full of dirty water.

A little disillusioned, and facing a four-hour drive back home, we got talking to the salesmen and explained what we were looking for. We produced our two lists of wants and nice to haves, and explained our interest in long beds and reasonable resale value.

What you need, they said, is a Bavaria. Now, we had dismissed both Bavarias and Beneteaus early in the game. All of our charter experience had been on these boats, and they were always uncomfortably cramped and badly thought out. In addition, the models that we had visited at the boat show had been shoddily constructed. However, it just so happened that the agent who we were talking to was the sole trade-in dealer for the Australian Bavaria importers, and they also just so happened to have an as-new five-year old two-cabin Bavaria 34 on their books.

OK, OK, we’ll go and see it.

She was gorgeous. She had everything on our wants list, and almost everything on our nice to have list (missing only radar and wind vane). The master’s cabin contained a six foot eight of queen-sized bed. The head was conveniently placed by the companionway. The galley was fully equipped and gimballed for cooking at sea. She had full navigation and autopilot, a furling headsail, single-handed reefing, a spotless teak interior, electric anchor winch… the list went on. She was also only five years old, with an almost guaranteed resale value in the two-to-three year bracket.¬† Main saloon, looking aft http://www.virtualreinhard.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2005/08/img_0091.jpg

Pindimara moored

Pindimara moored

Main saloon, looking forward

Main saloon, looking forward

The price? A snip at exactly twice our available funds. This was not a problem for our enterprising agent (for the record, David Bray Yachts, we recommend him), who put us in touch with a loan company (DB Finance; we recommend them too) who were happy to arrange an almost profit-free thirteen-month loan for the remainder. We’d heard that finding a mooring was a problem in the Sydney area; David waved that away, he could get us a mooring nearby. There was nothing for it but to go for survey.

Going for Survey

When you buy a yacht, you need to get a survey, for all the same reasons that you need one when you buy a house (after all, you’re spending similar sums of money). In order for this to happen, the vessel has to come out of the water. This is not a cheap process, and the vendor pays. You can then choose to have a poke around yourself, or pay someone to have a look for you. We asked a few people for recommendations, and in the end settled on Alan, a local diesel engineer who also happened to have experience putting new Bavarias together for the Australian importer. He had a reputation for being picky and pedantic, which sounded just what we needed.

I asked if I could tag along, hoping that I might learn something about the large and complex item that I was (probably) about to purchase. He was more than happy, and in fact it turned out to be the most valuable day off work that I have ever had. Alan was a fount of knowledge on all things Bavaria, particularly which bits to look out for and which bits would need taking care of in the future.

Dragging her up out of the water on a cradle

Dragging her up out of the water on a cradle

Inside, although we looked at every nut and bolt and panel, almost everything was perfect. The worst things that Alan could find were some rusty worm clips, and a misaligned drain vent to the gas storage locker. The engine looked fine, and the bilges were clean and dry. Towards the bow, there was some fresh water behind two of the bilge bulkheads; this seemed to have trickled down from above. In fact, this jogged Alan’s memory and he remembered having surveyed this boat before; apparently it had been involved in a low-speed collision in a marina and had had all the toe rails replaced on deck. He surmised that what we were looking at was seepage of rainwater through insufficiently sealed toe rail bolts. In fact, up on deck we could still see minor damage in the shape of a slightly crazed gel coat, an unsettled fairlead, and a slightly twisted pulpit; all, he said, nothing to worry about.

The pulpit is twisted slightly to the port side

The pulpit is twisted slightly to the port side

The base of the electric winch had been sitting in salt water (hardly surprising since it is mounted in a rubber tray in the bow anchor locker) and the alloy had rotted in an impressive blob of white deliquescence. This, said Alan, looked awful but was normal; in fact, some months later when I got around to scraping it off, I noticed that the task is specified in the annual maintenance procedure of the winch.

Below the waterline, the antifouling was thin but serviceable; it would need replacing in a few months. There was a snazzy folding prop which seemed to be in reasonable condition; we replaced the sail drive sacrificial anodes while we were there. There was one minor problem with the keel. In a few places, the epoxy had cracked, exposing the cast iron hull to the water, resulting in large rust patches. Alan explained that this is normal, but would have to be repaired during the next antifouling.

Rust patches show up damage to the epoxy coating

Rust patches show up damage to the epoxy coating

All in all, that was about it. A list to starboard (revealed by mismatched watermarks along either side of the hull) turned out to be caused by an empty water tank. There was a crack in the autopilot housing which would need to be replaced, and a leak in the aft cabin which seemed to come from rain dripping down the autopilot unit itself. Keeping the pedestal cover on when moored in wet weather would see to that. In fact, there did not seem to be any reason why we shouldn’t buy her, so we did.

Pindimara in her new home

Pindimara in her new home

Fitting Out

We Venture Forth

The first time we took our new yacht out, we just motored around Pittwater, huge grins splitting our faces from ear to ear. We own a yacht! We own a yacht! After a while, once we’d done a few doughnuts and got the feel of her, we unfurled the foresail and pottered along with the motor off. We’re sailing! We’re sailing! It was exhilarating, wonderful, a dream come true. And, it must be said, somewhat scary; not the act of sailing particularly, but the fact that we were floating around on our life savings.

Then, rounding a headland into the jaws of the open sea, we crossed into several metres of swell and everything suddenly went topsy turvy We were only pottering along under the headsail and didn’t have the headway to handle the gusty conditions. We concentrated very, very hard to beat our way back around the headland, and came through unscathed, only a little shaken, and if truth be told, very pleased with ourselves.

We did it!

We did it!

We go shopping

So… we bought a second-hand Zodiac inflatable tender from eBay; unbreakable crockery, cutlery, cookware, breakable glasses (never drink wine from plastic!) and bedding from the local shops. We bought a fire-blanket, a man-overboard ring, a floating Dolphin torch. We bought buckets and brushes and polyrope and string, batteries and tools. We bought life-jackets, cleaning equipment, boat-soap, a chart.

Our lovely new tender

Our lovely new tender

Liveaboard life

We were living in Canberra at the time, a landlocked city in a landlocked state, and since we found it quite inconvenient to have the boat moored some four and a half hours away, we moved to Sydney. We were starting new jobs and were still househunting, so the obvious thing to do was to live aboard.

Misty mornings at the marina

Misty mornings at the marina

This we did for quite some time, and thoroughly enjoyed it, although it did become clear after a while that the yachty lifestyle and the office lifestyle don’t really coincide. Each morning we got up, climbed into the tender, and rowed ashore with all our office and motorcycle gear in waterproof bags. Then we showered and changed at the marina and rode to work; reverse in the evening.

Filling the water tanks at sunset

Filling the water tanks at sunset

This was all fine and lovely on a peaceful warm day (although rowing home on a sultry evening wearing motorcycle armour over business attire is a sweaty exercise), but got to be tricky when there was a storm blowing. On one occasion, a hailstorm hit half way out, and we had to take shelter on the closest moored yacht as chunks the size of golf balls rained on our heads and metre-high waves filled the Zodiac.

One of the lessons that we had absorbed from extensive reading was that when accidents happen to yachts, it is almost always because they have a personal reason to be at point A when the environmental conditions require that they remain at point B. Examples we had heard of included trying to get to a particular country to meet relatives at an airport, and, of course, racing. Getting to work in the morning, and getting back to the boat for dinner, seemed to us to fall very much into this category, and applied just as much to our little Zodiac as to Pindimara herself, who was of course perfectly safe on her mooring in all weathers.

One final problem was the wear and tear. Full-time liveaboard inevitably results in some knocks and dents to the interior woodwork, and messy accidents do happen in any home. We were trying to keep the cabins as pristine as possible with an eye on future resale value, and we soon noticed that the interior was looking a bit shabby and we had no time or opportunity to do anything about it. We also started to notice problems with damp from condensation, and salt in all the fabrics.

Somewhat regretfully, we rented a flat nearby. This did not, of course, mean that we stopped sleeping over on board, and it certainly did not stop Bronwyn from creating ever more sumptious and creative banquets in the galley. The wine cellar aboard began to rival, and then to exceed, the one that we kept at home.

Unwanted Guests

One evening, we were sitting in the main cabin, variously reading cook books and sewing new sail ties (an early lesson learned: on a yacht, you can always find some little task to fill any spare time, if you are so inclined) when something moved on the floor. Always alert to any changes in the boat, I had a look, and found a large cockroach. Not thinking too much of it (all the ports were open, and it was a warm summers day), I lobbed it into the sea. A few days later, we saw another one. Then another.

A little investigation in back corners revealed little piles of droppings, so we cleaned them up and sprayed Morteine around the place. However, it soon became clear that we had a bit of a problem. It all came to a head one night when I was woken by a two-inch roach running along my arm and across my hand. I overarmed it out of the hatch, and later that day we rowed our budgie ashore (it was living in a cage on deck) and set off three roach bombs, enough to clear a small house. For weeks after, dead and dying insects appeared all over the boat, but we didn’t see any more fast-moving ones. Of course, we had been reading up on the issue, and it seemed that we had only ourselves to blame. Our lockers are spacious, and things tend to move about in them, so we had compartmentalised them with cardboard boxes from the supermarket. Apparently, roaches love to lay their eggs on the cardboard that they find in warehouses, where they remain until they find themselves in a warm, damp environment into which they can hatch. The common answer is to ban all cardboard from the boat. This made a mess of our packing arrangements, and we did the best we could with fabric and bubble-wrap. Some cruisers go further, and ban all paper products, including the labels on tin cans, but that seemed somewhat excessive, and in any case, who could live without books? We sterilised all our remaining paper on deck in the burning summer sun.

Another perfect meal

Another perfect meal

We are sailing

We are sailing

The view from the pulpit

The view from the pulpit

As weekends of sailing went by, we started to think about maintenance. We bought deck oil and gelcoat restorer, metal polish, a small passive dehumidifier. There seemed to be no end to the things that we needed to, or could, or felt like buying. A trip to the local chandlery to buy a split-pin would likely as not result in a triumphant exit with armfuls of shiny new equipment.

Stuff. Loads of stuff.

Stuff. Loads of stuff.

We had been told to expect to spend 10% of the purchase price per year on maintenance and upkeep; surely this could not be true? We started to keep records.

Although we had promised ourselves that we would go sailing at least once a fortnight (or demand a damn good reason why not), there was a period of some six weeks through the hottest part of the Australian summer when we were on holiday in other parts of the country. During this time, Pindimara just sat and bobbed in the warm sea. On our return, we dropped the mooring and motored off, happy to be afloat again, but as soon as we cleared the marina, we knew that something was very wrong. The motor felt very strange, and even on full bore we weren’t getting anywhere near the rpm that we should have, and were making barely a knot through the water.

We returned to the mooring. I cleaned all the engine filters and checked the oil. We ran the engine in neutral, and it seemed just fine, so it was on with the mask and snorkel and over the side to have a look at the propeller. The problem was easy to see. While we’d been away, an entire coral reef seemed to have grown on the hull, complete with large fish peering disdainfully at me through the fronds. In fact, there was so much growth over the sail drive unit that I couldn’t see the propeller at all.

We leave her alone for a moment, and all these characters move in.

We leave her alone for a moment, and all these characters move in.

It was, quite clearly, time for our first antifouling treatment.

First Antifouling

Yachts share the sea with all manner of interesting organisms, many of which consider a shiny hull to be a particularly salubrious place to set up home. First to arrive is an algae scum, which coats the surface. Next come coral spores, which settle in the algae and hatch into proper corals. Once these are established, they provide food and shelter and – most importantly – anchor points for molluscs and barnacles and other animals. These latter are quite capable, once they have a good hold, of drilling through solid rock; fibreglass is no problem to them at all.

Thankfully this was not our boat

Thankfully this was not our boat

The trick is not to let them get a foothold. One option is to swim under the hull every weekend and clean them off; this technique is used by particularly diligent racers. Most people choose to apply ablative antifouling. This is a copper-based (ie hopefully unpalatable) paint that is designed to slough off when rubbed. Any organisms that are not deterred by the poisons in the paint, are dislodged next time the boat moves, because the outer paint layer as well as anything rooted in it gets rubbed off by the action of the water passing the hull. Obviously, as time goes on, the paint all wears away. About once a year you have to put new stuff on. The only way that you can do this is to haul your boat out onto the land.

Dry-dock space at the shipyard is expensive. Since we knew that the first thing that we would have to do on land was to scrub all the life-forms from the hull, and since there were such a lot of them, it made sense for us to do as much as possible in the water first, while it was all still soft. I donned some scuba gear and spent an enjoyable and fruitful day wiping off algae and chipping at coral with a range of household implements. The best tool turned out to be an aluminium-handled window-wiper. I used a suction cup to keep me in place while I did some of the flatter sections, but generally I just swam up and down attacking each part in turn.

I’d never worked underwater before, but I soon got used to it; the trick seemed to be to consider whatever surface I was working on to be a vertical wall, regardless of which way up I was in the water.

Any way is up

Any way is up

Since I was weightless (well, neutrally buoyant anyway, thanks to the scuba gear), it made no practical difference whether my feet were pointing up or down, so long as I could reach the work area. Fish soon realised that food was raining down from above, and for the latter part of my work, I was accompanied by a variety of sea life. Some larger fish even helped by nibbling loosened bits of coral directly from the hull. A couple of air tanks later, the job was completed. Hard work, but satisfying.

We had been told that it is usual to spend a complete weekend doing antifouling, so that is what we booked. However, the weather had been bad recently and so there was a backlog of boats standing (expensively) on the slip waiting to be worked on, and a rapidly building queue of people demanding their turn at the spaces. After a few weeks, though, we did get a spot, and out she came, back onto the same slip on which she had been surveyed.

Getting a tow up the slipway

Getting a tow up the slipway

First step was to borrow a water-jet lance and clean all the accumulated gunk off the underside. Right away, my scuba work paid off dividends; it would have taken us a day just to clean the accumulated coral off the bottom. As it was, even though we only had a couple of weeks worth of algae to remove, the shipyard staff were hanging around trying to take away the water jet before we had really finished.

Jetwashing the bottom

Jetwashing the bottom

The next step was to rub down the old paint layer with wet-and-dry to get a good key for our new coat. This was quite a laborious process, especially as the previous layer hadnt been applied particularly well, and streaks and drips abounded. Working at full stretch above our heads, we were soon turned bright blue from head to toe.

Smurf Labour

Smurf Labour

Eventually we were satisfied. Protecting all the edges with masking paper, we started to roll on the undercoat.

Who is that masked maiden?

Who is that masked maiden?

The antifouling paint itself was blue, and the undercoat, grey. The idea is that if we see any grey in future, we’ll know that this years antifouling has worn away and it is time to do it again. Our blue paint was some very expensive semi-professional antifouling that we were assured was the best thing to use. We had been a little dubious about the cost, but now we realised the value of that advice. Other workers were having real problems with drips and runs, while ours went on smooth as silk and drew envious glances.

Back at the time of the survey, we had noted that the moulding around the cast iron keel was cracked and was peeling away in several places. Six months later, the problem was much worse. Nick, an engineer loosely attached to David Bray Yachts who dropped by to make sure that we were OK, attacked it with a borrowed angle-grinder and repaired the damage. He wasn’t at all surprised, and said that we could expect similar damage every time we did our annual slipping.

A touch of filler

A touch of filler

Once the new moulding was dry, we could finish up the antifouling. We continued painting until we’d run out of paint, putting on three layers overall, and four layers in high-abrasion areas such as the bow, waterline, and leading edges of the keel.

The only area that we couldn’t paint was directly underneath the sling that was supporting the yacht, resulting in an untreated band about a hands-width across running from waterline to waterline just aft of the propeller. The guy next to us, a seasoned antifouler with whom we had been sharing tools and advice, propped up his hull with scaffold poles, undid the sling, and painted underneath. We simply couldn’t bear to try it; that sling was holding up hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of yacht, and no way were we going to mess about poking poles into the hull. We resolved to dive underneath occasionally to keep an eye on the strip,and left it at that.

Justifiably proud

Justifiably proud

The Tale of the Propeller

Pindimara came equipped with a neat three-blade folding propeller, designed to collapse in on itself when under sail in order to reduce drag. It was supposed to be nice shiny brass, but in fact bore a closer resemblance to an old hub cap that had been languishing in a coral reef. Wielding a wire brush on an angle-grinder, I made short work of all the white stuff, and then took the whole thing apart and greased it and reassembled it with a liberal coating of lanolin, which looked great but made me smell like an old sheep. Then I painted the sail drive itself with several coats of special aluminium-friendly light blue paint, and stood back to admire my handywork. Lovely, it was. A work of art.

Shiny with sheep fat

Shiny with sheep fat

On the Monday morning, we were up bright and early to supervise Pindimara’s return the water. However, we couldn’t find any of the slipway staff; because of the rain, they were all hiding somewhere and wouldn’t answer their radios, so we had to go to work and hope that they’d reappear and do the job later that day. In the evening, we turned up and she was waiting for us, tied up to the fuel dock. While Bronwyn drove the car around the bay to our home marina, I motored off into Pittwater to meet her. Once in the open water, I couldn’t resist opening the throttle to see what would happen. Remember that before we started this work, she would barely make one knot. Four knots… five knots… six knots… seven knots. Incredible, and very, very smooth. Pretty happy, I made my way through the falling dusk to the marina dock, where I could vaguely see Bronwyn standing on the decking, and the low shape of the Zodiac in the water beside her.

The tide was low, and opposed to the rain and wind. I had to be careful in my approach, and so nosed up ever so carefully, squinting in the dying light. Then, suddenly, nothing seemed to be working. The engine started hammering loudly on the deck under my feet, and I couldn’t get any control. I managed to swing away, and came around for another try. Had I hit the bottom? Was I tangled in fishing line? Bronwyn waited, puzzled, on the dock as the boat ran around in circles. I really couldn’t make any sense of what was happening; steering and power seemed to come and go at random. Finally I got the nose up to Bronwyn, who hopped aboard, trailing the tender behind her. Immediately I powered away to prevent the current from ramming us into the dock, and although the bow peeled away, it still all felt very wrong. We were almost around and clear when the engine started banging again and the yacht started to crab mysteriously sideways toward an oyster-encrusted piling. I glanced back; if I let off the power, the stern would connect with the dock; if I did nothing, we would hit the piling. Bronwyn stood on the pulpit, shouting something, and I realised that she still had the tender’s painter in her hand. I hit the power, the engine slammed up against the soles of my feet, and the yacht ploughed into the Zodiac inflatable and crushed it against the razor-sharp oysters. Seconds later, we bounced free. I killed the power, and watched as the crushed remains of our tender bobbed sadly to the surface, remarkably still afloat despite the slashes down its side.

Getting to the mooring was hard work with little in the way of power or steering, and eventually we realised that we would have to stay the night and sort it out in the morning, because there was no way that we were rowing back to shore in half a tender.

Morning came. The tender looked pretty bad in the light of day, but the yacht had sustained no hull damage at all. With a slack tide and no wind, we motored around a bit trying to figure out what was wrong, but in the end crabbed our way to the water dock and asked a local firm of engineers to take a look.

Later that day, I got a phone call. They’d sent a diver down, and apparently one of the blades of our shiny beautiful folding propeller was twisted backwards, giving us two thirds forward motion and one third backward. No wonder the engine was banging; the poor thing was trying to jump up through the hull with the forces that were being applied to it. I asked the engineers to take her back up onto the slip and fit our emergency backup prop so that we could take a look at the old one. Deeply embarrassed, I could only think that Id somehow fitted one of the blades backward, and I couldn’t understand how that was possible.

Once we got hold of the failed prop, it became clear that I hadn’t been immediately to blame. The brass teeth that work the folding mechanism were old and worn, and in fact the layer of coral that I had diligently removed was all that had been holding the thing together. The prop would have failed eventually, but cleaning it up had hastened the day.

The Tale of the Zodiac

The tender came home to live on our balcony. Every day I would pump up the poor flaccid thing, add soapy water, draw circles around the biggest bubbles, and then patch them. As the days (and expensive patching kits) passed, it soon became clear that this wasn’t really sticking-plaster territory. The gashes were so big that I was having to patch my patches just to cover them. Something more drastic was needed.

A tender tender

A tender tender

Taking it to Zodiac for repairs would cost almost as much as a new tender. However, we had been noticing adverts for something called Tuff-Cote, which was a repair paint alleged to bond to hypalon and repair pinhole leaks. Well, we certainly had pinhole leaks; dozens or perhaps hundreds of them. We resolved to give it a go, but to stop repairs when our material costs exceeded $500; after all, a brand new Zodiac only costs a couple of thousand, and ours had already enjoyed a number of owners before we laid our hands on it.

My daily routine changed. Every day I would pump it up, add soapy water, draw circles around the largest bubbles, and then dry it off and add another layer of Tuff-Cote. The stuff certainly seemed to do the job, but for every hole that was repaired, a bunch more would be revealed. It became a bit of a joke, checking to see how soft it had got while we were away at work, but one day we returned from a whole weekend away to find our tender standing as full and proud as the day wed left it.

Hurrah!

Hurrah!

The aged rowlocks had broken long ago, and since then we had been paddling canoe-style. This was fine for two people, but tricky with only one. I celebrated the end of my nightly balcony visits by fitting shiny new rowlocks with lockable paddles, and painting all the woodwork a nice bright gloss blue.

The finishing touches

The finishing touches

It was a proud moment for Mr Stubborn.

See? I told you I could do it!

See? I told you I could do it!

The Floating Gourmets

There is a whole philosophy, espoused most eloquently by Mireile Giuliano in her landmark book French Women Don’t Get Fat, that says that food should not just be treated as fuel, but should be enjoyed. In contrast to TV dinners and fast takeaway food, she suggests that we should return to the old-fashioned notion that mealtimes are an occasion. The table should be cleared and set, the TV and computer should be turned off, and everybody should sit down and concentrate on the business at hand, which is to eat, drink and be merry.

We couldn’t agree more, and, on land, have found that little touches such as clearing the mail off the table and lighting a candle before dinner have a wonderful focussing effect on the palate. We also buy only fresh, in-season produce, and don’t have or need a freezer or a microwave, much preferring the taste and flexibility that comes from freshly prepared ingredients. Rather than hastily cramming pizza over a magazine, we like to dine in style on artistically presented fresh food, perhaps accompanied by a glass of wine or two. Rather than gulping down the food in haste before returning to some interrupted project, we find ourselves relaxing, taking our time, chatting and laughing, often finding that our evening meal stretches out through another leisurely bottle of wine until it is time for bed.

This is, of course, our land-based philosophy. Reading the cruising tales of other couples, we couldn’t help but notice that many of them adopt a calory-counting, expeditionary, “Its Thursday so it must be tinned spaghetti” style of provisioning. On the face of it, that makes a sort of practical sense. Lots of similar objects (cans, packets) are easier to pack together than lots of dissimilar ones (leeks, eggs), and its pretty easy to deal with inventory when you can just count how many tins are left in the locker.

We were still a couple of years away from setting off across the Pacific, so we had plenty of time to experiment. We decided to try to develop a processed-food menu that could fit into a standard sized plastic box. Our reasoning was that we could pack one box per week full of useful ingredients, and combine them in different ways to give some variation, while maintaining a standard inventory. We had a lot of fun hunting through unfamiliar aisles at the supermarket, perusing use-by dates, discarding packaging, and finding out the most efficient way of cramming all the stuff into one big 3-D jigsaw puzzle and still get the lid on. Finally, after several nights and a lot of rethinking, we succeeded.

Living in a box

Living in a box

The box was pushed into the corner of the kitchen, waiting for a suitable date to start the next phase of the experiment: living out of the box for a week. Days passed, and it never seemed to be quite the right time to start. First, strawberries came into season, and then some friends came over for dinner, and then we were going away to a wine fair. The box sat, colourful labels frowning at us through the transparent plastic. Still, we reasoned, at least we were testing the longevity of the products.

Weeks later, we decided that wed had quite enough procrastination, and started in on our menu. Now, Bronwyn is a quite remarkable chef, and can turn almost anything into a delicious feast, but we were suddenly faced with entire meals consisting of nothing but dried and processed foods. There was nothing wrong with each individual dish, but we very quickly found that there was a terrible sameness about everything, and all the joy went out of our mealtimes.

On day three, we gave up. It was time to re-think the whole thing. We began to buy fresh and preserved foods simply to leave them lying around in the house. Our flat became a treasure trove of vegetables and bags and packets, stuffed away into odd corners and under the sink, to see how long they would last before going putrid.

Let's leave all this lying around somewhere

Let’s leave all this lying around somewhere

We also moved some of the more likely candidates to the boat, and left them at the back of lockers and in the bilges to see what would happen to them. On the whole, we were favourably impressed. With the exception of supermarket vegetables (refrigerated in transit, which ruins them) most things were pretty resistant. Vegetables from the greengrocer were just fine, lasting weeks or, in the case of some root vegetables (one particular sweet potato springs to mind), months.

None of this is too surprising; people have been keeping vegetables on shelves and in larders for thousands of years, but it is curious how we have been infected with the insidious virus of “due dates”. Once you get used to ignoring them, provisioning gets a lot simpler.

We made some interesting discoveries. For instance, in the Arab world, butter can be bought in tins. When we got hold of a tin and discovered that it is made in New Zealand, we thought that we had it made, but it turns out that the only way to buy it in Australia is to order it to be shipped at great expense from America. While doing some research into other possible sources, Bronwyn discovered a whole host of American survivalist websites that, as well as teaching you how to skin a cougar or defend your house from marauding aliens, had many useful things to say about the preservation of food. Butter can be boiled and then stored almost indefinitely in sealed jars; we tried it, and it works just fine. Some of the most interesting and innovative recipes of all come from The Hillbilly Housewife.

Bread Yeast Cultures
Many cruising books mention how great it is to have a sourdough yeast culture aboard, so that you can bake fresh bread. Some of those books make a big deal out of how hard it is to keep the culture alive, discussing the perfect container and position, and laying out complicated routines for feeding (even to the extent of cutting short shore leave to rush back and feed the yeast). This seemed a bit excessive, so we performed some experiments.

Bronwyn's first ever bread loaf

Bronwyn’s first ever bread loaf

We started yeast cultures from commercial dried yeast, from the sediment in the bottom of a beer bottle, and from the scrapings of root vegetables. They all worked just fine, although the commercial strains were more active. We fed them on various kinds of flour, and discovered that they liked strong bread flour the best. We tried a few different containers, but in the end settled on a simple plastic tub.

Then we got nasty. We let the culture dry out and die, and then a week later added a bit of water and flour, and it sprang back into life. We put a sample in the freezer for a fortnight, and then woke it up the same way. We left the lid off the tub and let the whole thing go green and furry; when we scraped the mould off and added flour and water, back it came. These cultures are unkillable!

Once a day we just throw most of it away, and add some water and a handful of strong flour. That’s it. There is no drama if we miss a day or two. Sometimes if we’ve been particularly mean the mixture starts to smell evilly, but after a day or so it always seems to come right… and if we really need to bake something and the culture is having a bad day, we can always start a new one with commercial dried yeast. Oh, and it makes wonderful bread.

Yoghurt Cultures
We also acquired a yoghurt maker, which is simply a double-walled thermos flask. You mix some milk with natural yoghurt (or with commercial yoghurt mix) and put it in the flask with a dose of boiling water in the separate compartment. Once the lid is closed, the water keeps the inside of the flask nice and warm and, overnight, you have as much fresh yoghurt as you like. We weren’t planning on taking any cows with us on the boat, so we tried it both with UHT milk and with reconstituted powdered milk; both worked just fine.

First Maintenance

We sailed, and sailed. We sailed in heavy winds, and practiced reefing, both together and single-handed. We sailed in light winds, and tried our light genoa. We went out into swell, and practiced hoisting and lowering sails on a heaving deck. We stayed out overnight and practiced anchoring.

Off we go again!

Off we go again!

We booked marina berths, and practiced entering them both forwards and backwards, in wind and in current. We stayed overnight in berths, and practiced setting mooring lines and springers. We practiced picking up a mooring under sail, heaving to, and crash-stops. We practiced using the autopilot, and steering to the wind, and steering to a pre-set course. We even tried steering with the emergency tiller, which really wasn’t a lot of fun.

A Touch of Wind

One morning, after a pleasant night at anchor, a big storm started to brew. It took us a few hours to sail out of the secluded creek where wed been staying and into the main body of the river, by which time it was gusting an exciting thirty knots or so. We put in a couple of reefs and headed down the Hawkesbury river for home. The wind got steadily stronger, until we reached the point where we thought that it would be prudent to bring the sails down altogether, and motor. The main dropped down just fine, but the foresail roller furler jammed with about a metre of sail still sticking out. It didn’t look much, but boy! did it have an effect as the winds got up to 35 knots. We were heading into wind, and the steering was all over the place as intermittent gusts grabbed the sail one way or the other, but there was no way that I was going forward as it was flogging dangerously and we had no tethers. The fight was hard, and we soon got tired. We were still a couple of hours from home, so we nipped into aptly named Refuge Bay to pick up a mooring and see if we could sort it out.

The first mooring that we picked – which was, necessarily due to our lack of precision steering, in the open far from shore – was a disaster. We got attached alright, but that little square metre of sail just kept on powering us forward, dipping the bow under the water first to the left, and then to the right. I tied myself on to the thrashing deck, and by dint of some interesting ropework, gradually got the free end under control without being hit on the head very much at all, and built a sort of rope cage around it to stop it from thrashing so much. By this time, the waves around us had breaking white tops and we were being pelted with spray, so we decided to move to a more sheltered mooring before figuring out what was wrong with the furler.

Across the bay, close in to the shore, was a mooring that looked OK. Since we now had proper steering, we tucked in behind a sheltering rocky peninsula and celebrated with a bite of lunch while we watched the white-tops rage past. We now had time to peer up at the foresail and pull and poke at it, and we came to the conclusion that in the excitement of high-wind furling, the first few metres had probably folded over and furled backwards. This would mean that as the rest of the sail furled correctly over the top of it, the twisted portion would be pulled ever tighter until no amount of grinding on the winches would get the last part in.

The only way out was to deploy the headsail, and furl it back up again. The problem, of course, was that we had to do this downwind (you can”t realistically furl on a mooring, or upwind), and so in the interim we would be sailing shoreward with a fully powered headsail in 35 knots, with only one chance of getting it right, and banking on the hope that our analysis was correct and there wasnt something else fatally wrong with the furler…

We waited for a lull, then motored out into the breaking swell. I ran down to the bow, removed my jury-rigged fix, and ran back to the stern. The foresail deployed with an evil crack and then it was winch, winch, winch, all the while keeping an eagle-eye out for backwards folds, until the last blessed metre rolled safely around the stay. Superb. Better turn now, before we hit the rocks.

Out in the channel, the wind increased to 40 knots, and since we were approaching the headland leading to the open sea, the swell was increasing to suit. However, Pindimara felt safe and happy, and the motor had plenty of power in hand, so we ploughed on.

Bronwyn in 40 knots. Shortly after, it was 50 knots.

Bronwyn in 40 knots. Shortly after, it was 50 knots.

At the mouth of the Hawkesbury is an area of confused waters where the river meets not only the sea, but also the mouth of our home Pittwater arm, and the waters around Lion Island, which is a big slab of rock that reflects any swell back at a 45 degree angle. Its a bit of a maelstrom at the best of times, and there are some broaching rocks on the lee shore leading to Pittwater. However, we are familiar with the area and it holds no fear for us, so despite staying a safe distance from the shore, we were not too perturbed and could concentrate on rolling over the swell without getting the decks too wet.

We were quite surprised to find a small open metal boat motoring along in the trough of the swell, but you get fishermen everywhere and we turned away to give them some space. Suddenly they started waving and shouting; their engine had chosen that moment to give out and they were drifting onto the rocks. There were four people aboard, none with life jackets and, apparently, they had no oars.

The gusts were now hitting 50 knots. We circled around, wary of the rocky shore, and tried to throw them a line. It was incredibly difficult to stand on the heaving deck and throw a heavy, wet rope with any kind of accuracy, and I suddenly gained an immense appreciation for the people who do this for a living. A couple of attempts fell well within reach of their boat, but now it seemed that they didn’t have a boat-hook either; evidently I had to actually drop the rope inside their tiny little vessel.

All the while Bronwyn was fighting to avoid the rocky lee shore, and trying not to crush their little egshell with our five-tonne hull, which meant keeping at least one trough away from them. Over the radio, we could hear the coastguard rejecting calls from any boats in inland waters; all their efforts were concentrated on a series of dismasted yachts and men-overboard along the coastline. We weren’t going to get any help from them.

At one point I did manage to get the end of a double-length rope into their boat, but somehow while they were making fast a knot came adrift and they ended up with both ends of one of our mooring lines, while I was left standing with a loose end of a second one secured to our boat. We were just going round for another try when we spotted another small motor launch heading our way. We intercepted it and asked if they could help. They were much closer in size and weight to the stricken tinny and I thought that they should be able to get in close without danger, and that is what they did.

We hung around and escorted the pair as the new boat towed the old one out of danger, and then watched in stunned amazement as a fuel can was passed over and their engine sprang into life. The idiots had run out of fuel! Even worse, without any acknowledgement or backward glance, they then motored off towards shore, taking our mooring rope with them, and we never saw them again.

Ah well. At least it gave me something interesting to write in the ships log.

Updating the Captains Log at the end of the day

Updating the Captains Log at the end of the day

Many feet make heavy work

We had also been taking on board a lot of guests. We soon decided that although it is technically possible to sleep six on board (and day-sail with eight), a total of two couples aboard is really the maximum if you want to have a good time. As captain, we are responsible for all crew, however inexperienced, and we felt that responsibility keenly. After a weekend of entertaining, however enjoyable, we often felt as if we needed another weekend off in order to recover. And then we had the guests who insisted on “helping”, and others who just broke everything they touched… Thankfully, these were in the minority, and of course on most weekends we had a real ball even if we were completely knackered.

Chris pretends to be happy about far too much wind

Chris pretends to be happy about far too much wind

Parties at anchor were one thing; it wasnt until we started giving interested friends basic helming instruction and found ourselves quietly compensating for their mistakes that we realised just how far we had come since our first forays onto Lake Burley Griffin. It was also always a lovely moment to see somebody suddenly “get it” and become a completely natural helmsman.

A season of sailing, and a season of guests, all took their toll on our nice shiny boat. Inside and out she started to get a bit ragged around the edges, and we began to notice obvious scratches and stains in the fittings, and wear and tear in the equipment. It was time to call a halt to the festivities, and do some maintenance.

Up the mast

One of the items that had been broken right from the start was the close-hauled indicator, an instrument that tells you where the wind is coming from. In actual fact, that didn’t bother us greatly because it isn’t particularly useful in ordinary sailing. You can get the same information from the wind arrow on top of the mast, the telltales (our wedding ribbons!) flying from the stays, the state of the water, the wind on your face, and so on. The real purpose of the close-hauled indicator is to feed wind direction information to the autopilot. Our autopilot has two modes; one where you simply give it a compass heading and it chugs along in that direction (useful under motor), and the other which is supposed to emulate a self-steering windvane (a kind of extra sail and rudder which you find on proper cruising yachts). The idea is that you can set the sails, and then tell the autopilot to always maintain the same angle to the wind, thus giving you a break from steering.

The wind sensors at the top of the mast

The wind sensors at the top of the mast

This still isn’t critical for anything, but its an expensive piece of broken equipment to carry around, and in any case, since the sensor is at the masthead, it gave me the perfect excuse to climb up the mast. There are a number of authentically nautical ways of going aloft, but I already owned a perfectly good climbing harness which I trusted to keep me safe while abseiling down waterfalls in the Blue Mountains If I was going to climb a fourteen-metre mast, then I wasnt going to mess about with unfamiliar techniques.

In actual fact, climbing is a bit of a misnomer. You wouldn’t want to put your dirty great feet on the expensive aluminium spreaders, and the mast itself is shiny and smooth without much in the way of finger-holds. No, what you do is assign a likely-looking crew member to the winches, attach the main halyard (and the topping lift as backup) to your harness, and lie back in luxury while she winches you to the top.

Helloooo from the top of the mast

Helloooo from the top of the mast

This is what Pindimara looks like from up there:

Seagulls eye view of Pindimara

Seagulls eye view of Pindimara

Buffing and Polishing

Our yacht is made of fibreglass. We had naiively assumed that this was a fairly indestructable material that would look good with nothing more than the odd hose-down now and again. However, in the marine environment, the gel coat discolours and even oxidises. Add to that the roughening impact of endless guests and their bags, and the deck and the inside of our cockpit began to look decidedly shabby.

Scratches on the deck

Scratches on the deck

I tried to buff the deck myself with a 12 volt sander and a sheep’s wool pad, but it was impossible to get a good finish. We engaged the services of our friendly local shipwright, and the weekend after a phone call telling us that she was as good as new, we popped out to the mooring expecting great things. Sadly, it was not to be. The yacht, which we had recently cleaned inside and out, was absolutely filthy and the cabins were full of dust. The deck was, if it were possible, even more matt than before, and the various old oil stains and bird droppings had apparently been ground into the deck with a power sander. The cockpit itself, which had been our main concern and the reason for getting the job done in the first place, had not been touched apart from to fill it with a layer of dried paste and some old rags. We were not amused. After some quite energetic discussions, the shipwright agreed to waive the bill, and we looked around for somebody else to do the job.

The general consensus among local people was a company called Reflections, who agreed to come aboard during the week and sort it out. After their phone call, I rode straight from work to the marina, got in the Zodiac, and rowed out to have a look, preparing myself for the worst. When I got to the boat, I almost didn’t dare set foot aboard. Somebody had apparently taken our yacht away and replaced it with a new one; it was an incredible transformation. In addition to spotless, shining decks, our teak flooring, which had always been a sort of beech grey, was suddenly a rich golden colour. I rowed straight back to shore, headed for their office, and willingly gave them a pile of cash. What an incredible job!

Compare and contrast with the previous photo

Compare and contrast with the previous photo

Sucking oil

Pindimara’s motor is a three-cylinder 29-horsepower Volvo Penta diesel engine. The service intervals are 100 hours, or once a year, whichever is soonest. We had now owned her for a year, and I had long been suspicious that precious little maintenance had been done thus far; not unless the previous mechanic had carefully repainted all the new filters in the original Volvo green colour.

Volvo Penta MD2030 lives under the stairs

Volvo Penta MD2030 lives under the stairs

In addition, I am always uncomfortable running an engine that I haven’t seen the inside of, so it was time to roll up my sleeves and get oily. Being more used to land-based engines, I had to learn some new tricks. Even changing the oil was interesting. Since the bottom of the block rests directly in the bilge, there is no room to get a tray underneath it. In fact, you cant even get a spanner to the drain plug. What you have to do is to buy a special pump and suck all the oil out from the top. I read various manuals and descriptions of how this process was supposed to work, and all clearly stated that the oil was sucked out of the dipstick tube. I managed to buy an oil pump (a nice shiny piece of engineering, made of brass) without any problems, but just could not fathom how I was supposed to push the sharp end down a tube that was almost completely inaccessible and shaped like yesterday’s share index. After much cursing, and to-ing and fro-ing with bits of brass and plastic tubing, I finally banged my hands painfully on a hitherto invisible pipe projecting from near the base of the block. Aha! A special, purpose-made oil pump tube. How convenient. From then on, it was just a case of pumping. And pumping. And pumping…

It works!

It works!

The Penta is water-cooled, by means of a seawater heat exchanger. All the various filters are easy enough to check and to clean, but the screws that held in the pump impeller had clearly never been moved, and one of them snapped right off, so that I was obliged to call in the local shipwrights for a bit of work with a drill and thread-cutter. The impeller is downright weird; it’s made of rubber and is designed to be far too big for the hole it turns in. The crankshaft obviously provides enough power to turn it, but it looks like a piece of old chewing gum when you finally cram it into place. As for the fuel filters… I broke two strap wrenches trying to get them off, and postponed it for another day.

Scrubbing the Bottom

It was by now some eight months or so since we had treated the underside with antifouling paint. During the process we had been forced to miss out on treating a transverse strip that had been occluded by the load-bearing strap at the yard, and I’d been keen to drop under and see how that patch was doing. For some weeks I had also been noticing a distinct sluggishness in the engine response, so one day at anchor in a small bay, I donned a wetsuit and went down to have a look. The strip of untreated hull was thickly overgrown, but I had expected this and had brought a stiff brush to scrub it off. However, there were other surprises in store.

Growth on the sail drive, and on the band of untreated hull

Growth on the sail drive, and on the band of untreated hull

First of all, I found a length of fishing line wrapped around the prop. This had been intercepted by our line-cutter which had almost cut it all away, so it wasn’t hard to pull out the melted remainder. The real surprise was the amount of marine growth over the propeller and the sail drive itself. You may recall that while we used expensive semi-professional paint for the major fibreglass portion of the hull, we had borrowed some cheap copper-free paint from a neighbour to do the few metal parts; the sail drive and the through-hull fittings. This was, it now turned out, a mistake. While the main bulk of the underside was perfectly fine and untouched by marine life of any kind, all the metal fittings, including the crucial seawater intake vents, were festooned with coral. An hour or two with a snorkel and brush soon sorted that out, and then it was time to quit working, and go sailing.

Going Coastal

New Year: Pittwater to Swansea Bridge

Apart from the occasional fair-weather foray outside of the heads, we had still yet to sail upon the open sea. The main reason for this was that we had decided not to go until we had an absolute minimum of quite expensive cruising safety equipment. I had made up a couple of wall-posters with lists of equipment and prices, and, crayon in hand, juggled them almost daily, rethinking and prioritising them within our monthly budget.

Lists, lists, lists

Lists, lists, lists

Life ring and amazing floating torch

Life ring and amazing floating torch

EPIRB

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)

Our model is demonstrating the latest in self-inflating life jackets

Our model is demonstrating the latest in self-inflating life jackets

The last essential item on our list was a pair of jack stays. This became a real sticking-point. Jack stays are safety lines that run all the way along the deck from bow to stern. The idea is that whenever you leave the cockpit, you clip your safety harness to the stay and you then get freedom of movement while remaining attached to the boat. The jack stay obviously needs to be strong and well-made, since it is supposed to save your life if you get washed overboard. They’re not an off-the-shelf product, though; they need to be tailored to each individual boat.

Australia is, unfortunately and in line with many other western countries, becoming increasingly litigious, and we found it very hard to find any company that would make them up for us for fear of legal action if the stay should fail. The general consensus was a shaking of heads and tutting, and “we used to make them all the time, but….”

Eventually, however, we met up with a rigger who was prepared to take the risk. He made us a beautiful set which fitted perfectly, and we finally felt that we were ready to go cruising.

Personal harness (black) clipped onto a jackstay (blue). Note also how filthy the boat is!

Personal harness (black) clipped onto a jack stay (blue). Note also how filthy the boat is!

We had about a week encompassing Christmas and New Year. Theoretically, we could in this time sail all the way up the Australian coast from our home mooring in Pittwater, New South Wales, up to the next state, Queensland. However, we fully expected the weather to throw in a few spanners, and in any case we wanted to enjoy the scenery and see what there was to see, so we decided to head for the next available deep-water anchorage, Lake Macquarie, and take it from there.

One small step

One small step

The week started with rough weather, so we pottered around for a few days inside Pittwater, trying out some new anchorages and practicing single-handed sailing.

Route planning

Route planning

When the weather finally improved, and the forecast swells dropped below two metres, it caught us by surprise with only half a tank of fuel. We had intended to leave at dawn, but even though we anchored overnight outside the fuel station, we still had to wait for it to open in the morning, and so we didn’t actually clear the heads until ten. However, it was blowing around twenty knots and we figured that we should be able to make good speed. How refreshingly naiive we were! We had not factored in the fact that we were heading north-east into a nor’easterly wind, across a south-easterly swell.

A yacht cannot sail directly into wind; to travel upwind, it has to tack (zig-zag) from side to side. This substantially increases the distance that you need to travel in order to get from A to B. The swell was also a real pain. Usually swell follows the wind, so that you are travelling in more or less the same direction as the waves. On this particular day, the swell was crossing the path of the wind, making the waves steep and confused, so we spent a lot of our time climbing up waves and then falling off the top to crash into the trough, before the climb up out to the next one.

A cruising yacht accelerates only slowly; when your speed is continually being scrubbed off in every trough, its hard to build up any momentum, and as the boat wiggles over the waves it is hard to keep the sails at anything like the correct angle to the wind to provide motive power.

And finally, we were sailing close-hauled. A note here for the uninitiated about points of sail. If you are standing at the helm and the wind is coming from behind your shoulder (known as broad reach or running, depending on exactly where it is coming from), the hull sits flat on the water and the sails need little attention. It is possible to leave the wheel unattended for short periods and nothing bad will probably happen; more sensibly, you could turn on the autopilot and sit down and relax. Sailing with the wind coming from the front (close reach, close hauled) is more exciting; essentially you are flying a small aircraft sideways across the water, always threatening either to stall or to dive. The sails need constant trimming, the deck is heeled over at up to 30 degrees, and you are quite likely to get wet from spray and even broaching waves. In these conditions, the autopilot simply doesn’t respond fast enough and human control is essential.

All points of sail are equally valid and will get you to where you want to go. Some are just faster or more efficient than others. In a pottering-about or racing situation you just take whatever wind there is and deal with it. Cruising books, on the other hand, always talk about how important it is to make sure that the wind is behind you. Now we really understood why. When you’re just messing about in sheltered waters, you can always change direction and go somewhere else when it gets uncomfortable; in a racing situation, you only have to hold on until the next buoy. However, out to sea, you are travelling in the same direction for hours, days, weeks; the choice between fighting the wind and waves every minute of the time, and just relaxing and letting the autopilot sort it out, quickly becomes a no-brainer.

Nevertheless, we soldiered on. Our instruments were showing speed through the water of three knots. We were pretty sure that the instrument needed calibrating and was reading about a knot too low, but that still wasn’t fast enough to get to port before dark, so we turned on the engine for a little extra power. Purists will probably stare aghast, but it gave us an extra couple of knots and, in our book, safety is better than style.

Going out of our Heads

Going out of our Heads

We had logged on with the coastguard when we left, and they were passing our paperwork up the coast from station to station. Periodically we called each station on the radio, and reported our best guess of what time we would reach the next one. Our guesses, based still on our original estimates, were pretty much on the nose, so we felt that we were doing something right. Of course, one of the important things about checking in with the coastal patrol is that you actually know where you are when you speak to them, so I had to periodically go below and see how the coastline (now several miles away) matched up with the chart. In this we were considerably helped by a book of photographs and charts published by Alan Lucas, a local sailor who has extensively surveyed this part of the coast. This made the task much easier than doing it from the official chart alone, but I still had to hang on to my seat while the boat pitched and crashed, trying to concentrate on little symbols on a big piece of paper that kept threatening to roll up.

Inevitably, I got seasick, but the jack stay allowed me to hang over the side with impunity, and the breaking seas quickly washed the transom clean.

Time passed. The seas got bigger and more confused. We passed one landmark after another, until at last we came in sight of Moon Island, which guards the entrance to Lake Macquarie.

The entrance to the river crosses a shallow sandy bar. As Australian bars go, it isn’t too bad, but it was still going to be touch and go with our two-metre draught. For the time of the tide, though, the charts showed that the bar should be open to us. The key was to line up with a row of port marker buoys which pointed the way to the dredged channel. However, on rounding the island, we found that the seas were so crossed-up and confused that we couldn’t see any buoys at all, just violent whitecaps.

Eventually, however, after bringing the sails down and slopping back and forth under power, we found the first of them, which led to the second, and to a clear shot at the bar. Lucas suggested hugging the port markers as we came through the breakwater, so that’s what I did, watching in bemusement as the depth-sounder dropped to only a metre of clear water under the keel. I waited for a break in the surf, and then gunned it through; the depth-sounder read 0.8, 0.6, 0.4, 0.2… and we gently tapped the bottom, once, twice. The numbers started to climb again: 0.2, 0.4, 0.6 metres. Clearly our depth gauge needed recalibrating to account for a 20cm error.

As we crossed between the breakwaters, dusk fell, and some previously unnoticed, bright blue lead markers lit up in front of us. They were not on our Admiralty chart and off to one side of our position; presumably the channel had been moved since Lucas had done his survey. We made a note to keep an eye on them on the way out. Meanwhile, we were through and in the channel.

It was still shallow and narrow, and it was hard to see the coloured channel markers because of all the christmas decorations on the shore, but we got round safely and picked up a visitor’s mooring in a few metres of water. Swansea Bridge was closed for the night, and wouldn’t be opening until the morning.

Safe haven

Safe haven

In the morning, the bridge opened, and we motored through.

Swansea Bridge

Swansea Bridge

On the way through

On the way through

Looking back at Swansea Bridge

Looking back at Swansea Bridge

Lake Macquarie

We weren’t in the lake yet, by any means; there is a long and winding channel over shifting sandbars from Swansea Bridge into Lake Macquarie proper which, combined with a fast-running tide, made for an interesting trip. Once through the channel, we found a pleasant, large, and above all shallow lake, well populated with services.

Lake Macquarie

Lake Macquarie

Over the next few days we tried out a few anchorages, watched the New Year’s fireworks, visited a few marinas, and generally relaxed. Our favourite place turned out to be the Lake Macquarie Yacht Club at Belmont, where we secured a berth for a week so that we could take the train home and go back to work.

The Lake Macquarie Yacht Club, Belmont

The Lake Macquarie Yacht Club, Belmont

Running Home

The following week, with the forecast showing nor’easters and very little in the way of swell, we rejoined Pindimara for the trip home.

A gentle run before breakfast

A gentle run before breakfast

In a light pre-dawn mist, with the rising sun shining directly into my eyes, I failed to see one of the channel markers. Since the channel zig-zags about to follow the shifting sands, the result was an impromptu off-road shortcut which saw the bulb keel firmly embedded in the bottom. With a strong current running, it all got a little exciting until I managed to turn her around and power back the way we’d come. Bronwyn has been below when we’d hit, and had taken a bit of a tumble, so I was relegated to coffee duty while she took over the helm. While still wagging her finger at me, Bronwyn then ran aground herself; this time we were exactly between the channel markers in precisely the right place. The tide was high: it was just too darn shallow, whatever it said on the chart.

After an interesting time trying to refuel (most of the fuel docks in Lake Macquarie are too shallow for us, and the one that is deep enough, runs with a 6-knot current), we anchored up close to the channel entrance and waited for morning.

The bridge opened for us, we followed the leads out across the bar, and we were back in the open sea.

What a difference it made going in the other direction! The deck was flat and the sails well-behaved, and we easily got up to four or five knots.

Just cruisin'

Just cruisin’

After some hours of breezing along, Bronwyn went below to sleep, and I tied off the boom and switched over to George the autopilot, who could easily cope with these conditions.

This was clearly the way to do it. We made a note never to beat into wind again.

Through a dodger, murkily

Through a dodger, murkily

Steeling Up

It was time to spend some big bucks, and to get a stainless steel frame made for the stern. This would carry a sunshade for the helmsman, provide extra security around the cockpit, and serve as a mounting place for our solar and wind generators.

After getting a number of quotes, it was quite clear that getting work done in Sydney was far more expensive that getting it done further up the coast, so we decided to shift our base of operations up to Port Stephens, about seventy miles to the north east.

Chris and Nicky were keen to do some offshore sailing, so we invited them along for the trip.

A quiet night in

A quiet night in

After a quiet night on the mooring, we got up sometime before dawn, waved goodbye to Gibson Marina for the last time, and motored out to the heads. We had only been going for about half an hour when the engine overheat alarm went off. I quickly shut down and we drifted under the stars while I searched inside the engine bay for any sign of a problem. However, everything looked just fine, and the engine restarted with no problems at all, so I could only surmise that a plastic bag had temporarily wrapped itself around the cooling intake.

Where the jumblies live

Where the jumblies live

Dawn came as we cleared the headlands, bringing with it a light wind that spun gently around the compass for a couple of hours, before firming up into the promised 10 knot easterly, punctuated by 25 knot squalls that each merited a reef in the mainsail. We tried to reef the foresail, too, but it wasn’t terribly effective when partially furled so we just left it flying. Apart from the odd drop of rain and some mal-de-mer, it was a beautiful trip, very different from our previous attempt. We headed out on a broad reach until we reached a depth of 40 metres, passing lines of empty coal carriers queuing up to enter Newcastle.

Bulk carriers and a reef

Bulk carriers and a reef

In sight of Moon Islet we dropped the sails and motored across the bar. Last time we’d hit bottom, but on this occasion we followed the lead lights religiously and got through with 0.6m under the keel. Rather than go through the bridge and up into Lake Macquarie, we just hooked up to a courtesy buoy, as we were planning to leave early the next day. The engine hadn’t caused us any further grief. I had intended to dive down and have a look at the intakes, but there was a strong tidal rip and I didn’t want to risk it in the gathering dusk. We judged that the same currents were also too strong for our rapidly deteriorating Zodiac, so instead of rowing over to a nearby pub, Bronwyn knocked up a meal from things that she found in the lockers. As usual, it was excellent.

During the night there was a heavy squall, and the boat got caught up in the battle between the tide and the wind. I got up several times to try to prevent the courtesy buoy from banging on the hull, and on one occasion I noticed rainwater pouring in through the ceiling of our forecabin, running down the bulkhead and disappearing into the bilges. Finally, then, I had tracked down the source of all that mysterious fresh water that kept accumulating in the bow.

The tide finally turned at 01:00, and I dropped off into blissful sleep as the boat quietly settled down. Of course, I was up again at 04:00, motoring back down the channel in the dark. We cleared the bar, only to find that the horizon was lit end to end with the lights of dozens of bulk carriers, all anchored along the 50 metre line. It looked like an entire city out there. As we headed towards them, the sun came up to reveal patchy blue skies with flocks of little white cumulus marching out the south east, and small squalls mooching about beneath.

Uh oh. Whats going on up there?

Uh oh. Whats going on up there?

Our plan was to head out past the anchored ships to the 100 metre line and then aim straight across the enormous width of Stockton Bight toward Port Stephens, because the inshore waters had a bad reputation and in any case have never been adequately charted. However, just as we reached a depth of 40 metres, one of the squalls came our way, so we turned to run before it, and once it had passed we were right in amongst the ships.

 Hah! Call this rain? We English laugh at this light drizzle

Hah! Call this rain? We English laugh at this light drizzle

This turned out to be an interesting detour. Most of the ships seemed to be, as far as we could tell, either Japanese or Korean, although most were registered in Panama. There was a lot of foreign language chatter on Channel 16, and many of them seemed to be undergoing repairs; at least, there was a lot of angle-grinding going on.

We picked up a passenger

We picked up a passenger

The wind came and went as we zigzagged between the enormous walls of rusty steel. The bottom readings were very strange; at one point the depth jumped from 48 metres to 4.1 in less than a second. I put the helm over hard, and we didn’t hit anything. Because of the flaky nature of the charting, we couldn’t tell if we’d encountered the mother of all sea mounts or an inquisitive great white shark, but Bronwyn quickly plotted us a direct-line course to Port Stephens, which was still over the horizon, and we got the hell out.

A life on the ocean wave

A life on the ocean wave

The weather turned beautiful, and we got up to our maximum speed of five knots. A pod of dolphins showed up to play in our bow wave, and surface-skimming petrels, groups of yellow-headed gannets, and long-necked divers congregated all around. Our charting proved to be on the nail when land appeared on the horizon, and we dropped sails to motor across the entrance of the bay, which turned out to be shallow but with no real bar. Willing hands took our mooring lines as we backed into an easy berth at The Anchorage, where we headed for the excellent Merretts restaurant for a well-earned restorative. We had arrived.

Antifouling

Our next task was to get her out of the water for her annual antifouling. Last year, we hauled her out with a cradle, which meant that there was quite a large area that remained unpainted because it was under the sling and we couldn’t get at it. This year, we went to the excellent Noakes Boatyard in Nelson Bay, who took her out with a crane and plunked her down on four little pads, so that we could get at almost the whole hull.

Motoring up to the cradle

Motoring up to the cradle

Up she goes!

Up she goes!

One thing that was patently obvious was that although last years expensive hull paint had done a fine job, the cheap stuff that wed used on the sail drive and propeller had definitely been a false economy. This time, we would use better stuff. We also needed to add an extra couple of inches to the waterline to account for all the extra stores she now carried aboard.

Portable coral reef

Portable coral reef

All manner of growth

All manner of growth

Before

Before

After

After

Looks much better now, eh?

Looks much better now, eh?

Chuffed!

Chuffed!

The nice guys at Noakes also gave her a thorough polishing and fixed some gashes in the fibre glass that were the legacy of a lee wind on an old wooden pontoon at Lake Macquarie, and, after some detective work with a high-pressure hose, we located and taped up the defect in the deck that was the source of our freshwater leak.

Sail Maintenance

We invited John Herrick, a local sailmaker, to come and check our sails. He professed them baggy but repairable, and also agreed to add a third reefing point, as well as to make us a new small, strong cruising genoa and a storm trysail. Later on, as we let down the mainsail, we discovered (courtesy of a bloody finger for Bronwyn) that all the battens were fractured, as well as a few of the sliders; maintenance was well overdue.

Ouch!

Ouch!

I loaded both sails onto the back of the motorbike, and then contrived a tube so that I could also take the 3 metre battens, stayed with guy wires to stop them whipping around too badly. It was an interesting ride into town, avoiding overhanging trees, and, in downtown Nelson Bay, a 3 metre clearance footbridge which meant that I had to slalom the bike to get safely through. However, I got to Johns workshop without any problems, and left them with him while we rode back to Sydney.

Wrestling with the main

Wrestling with the main

How to fit a complete suit of sails onto a motorcycle

A complete set of sails on a motorcycle

Interlude

Then came the cyclone, which destroyed a whole marina in Lake Macquarie, damaged yachts up and down the seaboard, and even tore up one of the bulk carriers and drove her onto the beach at Newcastle. The roads were closed to traffic due to flooding, so we couldn’t even get up there to check if Pindimara was OK, and it was several nervous weeks later before we saw her again.

Bouncing around on her mooring, she had scraped some of the antifouling off near the bow, but apart from that she had sustained no damage at all, and as a bonus there wasn’t a drop of water in the forward bilge.

The poor old Zodiac, however, which was our sole method of access to our boat, was getting more and more battered with every use. The supposedly indestructible, lifetime guarantee rowlocks broke again, so I threw them away and poked the oars through the carry straps instead. This made everything a bit slower and less efficient, but at least I didn’t keep falling backwards when the rowlocks snapped or jumped out. Then the spring lock broke on one of the paddle blades. I taped it back on, but then the floor came away so that I had to row with gallons of water aboard. The whole thing was by now in such a bad state that I was just leaving it rolled up behind the bins, trusting that nobody would bother to steal it.

It was definitely time to buy a new tender, but we couldn’t really afford it, and even if we’d bought one, there was nowhere at The Anchorage to store it. We decided to move to a marina that provided a free taxi service. Soldiers Point Marina had a spare mooring, and a little metal speedboat that they used as a tender. They were also the home base of Bluewater Stainless, who we had chosen to do our steelwork. It seemed like an ideal choice, so we said goodbye to the fine people (and fine dining!) at The Anchorage, and set off around the bay.

On the way, we picked up our refurbished sails. What an incredible difference! As well as repairing and strengthening the seams and replacing the battens, John had taken out all the bagginess in the sails, restoring the balance of the boat to as new. We had been fighting the weather helm for so long that we’d forgotten that it used to be any different; now we could sail close-hauled with but a single finger on the wheel. Pindimara was reborn.

Fantastic!

Fantastic!

Soldiers Point

Once installed on a swing mooring at Soldiers Point Marina, we had to wait for the guys at Bluewater Stainless to fit us in to their schedule. The weather was conspiring against any marina work, so they were concentrating on other projects. The months wore on. One weekend, I rode up from Sydney to check that she was OK and to do some minor maintenance. I hopped into the marina’s tender for the quick trip over to the boat, and sat back and chatted about the weather as we motored out to the swing moorings. The tender lacked fenders, being a simple aluminium dinghy with a steel scaffold pole welded around the bow, but this didn’t matter much because Pindimara’s sugar scoop stern entry is protected by a full-width rubber bumper. There was a bit of chop, so the helmsman announced that he was going to tuck under the side rather than head straight for the stern. I often do this myself. When the yacht is streaming off a buoy, it can be worthwhile to come up in the lee of our big fat beam and hand-over-hand around the corner to the stern entry, rather than try to crab sideways into the wind and current for a direct approach.

We were powering up to the port side, and as I waited for the turn alongside so that I could catch hold, I admired the fantastic job that Noakes had done with buffing and polishing the fibre glass. Pindimara looked like a million dollars. At the last second, the helm said something like “Can you fend off?” and then t-boned her amidships. I had reflexively jumped onto the bow and did get one hand to the toe rail, but I was pushing against the thrust of the outboard motor and all that I really achieved was to get a grandstand view as the scaffold pipe punched a hole straight through the fibre glass with an awful crunch. We bounced and hit twice more until the helm finally got the outboard into neutral, leaving me staring in disbelief at the palm-sized hole and long black streaks down our pristine hull.

I was not best pleased. The pole had gone in across the junction of our blue and white gel coats, meaning that two separate repairs were required on the same hole, one for each colour. Incredibly, the marina were very slow to admit responsibility, and it took a lot of arguing before they finally agreed to get it repaired. Then they said that for insurance reasons they would have to withdraw the tender service to our boat, which left me with a bad taste and us stranded without transport again. Nevertheless, we didn’t want to leave for another marina until the fibre glass had been repaired, and in any case we didn’t want to miss out if Bluewater suddenly got a chance to do our steelwork.

I unrolled the Zodiac again from its resting place on the hatch cover. Although the main structure was failing fast, at least my puncture repairs had held up for all this time. I reckoned that it could survive a few more trips, and, once back on shore, I tucked it rolled up under a pile of scrap in the shipyard. Hopefully we would be gone in a couple of weeks.

Another month passed without any action. Then, finally, our yacht was moved into the work berth, and Bluewater made a start. They disassembled our safety lines and stern rails, and made some progress making up frames in their workshop. However, the weather was not cooperating with actually fitting the steelwork to the hull. Because of the configuration of their berth, they had to ensure that they were not welding in a westerly, because that would blow the sparks onto craft in the surrounding marina. Naturally enough, we had weeks and weeks of alternating westerlies, storms, and rain. More weeks passed, with no progress that we could see apart from some holes in the stern that precluded any sailing, and the four-hour commute at weekends to sit on a stationary, half-disassembled boat started to get a bit tiring. At last, some six months after we first arrived, the weather started to cooperate and it all came together. The hull was patched up, and our new stainless went on.

Rather than just build and fit our targa top, the guys at Bluewater had pulled out all the stops and provided us with complete solid side rails all the way along the cockpit, and even some gates on either side. It looked absolutely spectacular.

All it needs is a bit of canvas

All it needs is a bit of canvas

It was at about this time that we began to get suspicious about the amounts that the marina were debiting from our credit card for our mooring. The numbers didn’t match up with what we had originally been quoted, and, after an uphill struggle to obtain a copy of the invoices, we found they had also charged both us and Bluewater for the time that we’d spent on the work berth. It was pretty clear to us that this was their way of raking back the costs of our hull repairs. We had intended to use a third local company to make the canvas for our targa, but when we found that they wouldn’t be able to start work for another six weeks, we decided that it was time to leave for friendlier waters.

Night Watch

We watched the weather carefully, and the very next northerly that came through saw us skipping work and taking the train up to Port Stephens. The conditions were predicted to hold from Friday evening until Saturday lunchtime, so we thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to make our first ever night-time passage. Our newly refurbished sails set us zipping along into the evening at almost seven knots. As we cleared the heads and got into the open sea, a humpback whale breached in front of us, which had to be a good omen.

Several tonnes of frisky whale

Several tonnes of frisky whale

Since there were only two of us aboard, we had to maintain a night watch, manning the helm in shifts. After some discussion, we had chosen an evening of two-hour shifts, followed by a night of three-hour shifts.

We had very different expectations of the night ahead. I was a night shift worker for many years, and was used to having a zonked body clock and coping with the circadian plunge at 3:00am. I had hiked, climbed, and camped extensively at night, and was familiar with the trick of seeing by starlight. Bronwyn, on the other hand, was a bit of a city kid and found the darkness unsettling.

We were both awake for the first couple of watches, during which we checked the boat over and made and ate dinner. As darkness fell, we realised that there was no light in the compass binnacle, but we had a torch to check it with and in any case we could read the heading off the GPS repeater.

At 22:00 I went to sleep in the forepeak while Bronwyn took the first three-hour watch. It was a fine, clear night and the wind was warm and steady and coming from behind us; perfect cruising conditions. Bronwyn started to relax, and when it came to 01:00 she decided to let me sleep for an extra hour. At about this point we were passing the queue of bulk carriers waiting to load coal at Newcastle. There were about forty of them strung out along the 50 metre line, all showing bright white lights.

More tired that she realised, Bronwyn started to get confused about which lights were houses on the shore, and which were large ships. I was woken by the sound of sails flapping, and came up on deck to see Bronwyn peering into the dark compass rose and muttering about the wind changing. In fact she had got disoriented by the ship lights and had got us turned around 180 degrees. There was no harm done, and I took the helm as she went gratefully to bed. It all showed just how easy it is to make mistakes when you are tired.

It was 02:00. We got past the big ships, and the sea became quiet and dark. I fitted a boom preventer and sat and waited for the evil 03:00, the time when the bodys circadian rhythm hits absolute bottom. It was at about this time that I realised that our new stainless frame was causing a problem. One of the supporting struts had been mounted aft and outboard of the stern light, and was casting a reflection of it back into the cockpit. The actual amount of light coming off the one-inch steel tube must have been tiny, but in the deep darkness of the night it was more than enough to completely ruin my night vision. I tried wrapping a rope around the tube, but even the light reflected from the dull matt fibres was too bright. In the end, I found that the only tenable position from which to steer was over to the starboard side with my back to the stern light, which wasn’t hugely comfortable. The stern light would have to be moved.

Distant lighthouses came and went on the shore as we ploughed our lonely furrow. The moon came up behind us in a beautiful red glow, and the first fingerings of dawn touched the eastern skies. I made an entry in the log, woke a restored and cheerful Bronwyn for her shift, and lay down on one of the sea berths. This was also a first, as until now I had only ever slept in the fore or aft cabins, but I found that from the berth I could see out to the helm, and Bronwyn could see in, which was comforting for both of us. I closed my eyes and in moments was fast asleep.

At 08:00 I got up to a day of glorious sunshine. Bronwyn had taken us almost to Broken Bay, and as we made the final course adjustment to take us through the heads and into Pittwater, a pod of dolphins played briefly in our bow wave. We grinned and waved at them. We were home.