We continue our escape from lockdown. This week’s sailing has been awesome and certainly has blown off the cobwebs! But first, we had the best time catching up with a few friends while at scenic Coasters’ Retreat in The Pittwater for five days. Sue, Matty, Lindy & Phil, thank you, thank you for really enjoyable afternoons together. Friends are precious. We have missed these warm reunions so much during months of heartbreaking family circumstances, medical challenges and isolation. These get-togethers are a wonderful way of recharging our personal batteries.
But talking about recharging batteries, it is also needed for Anui. One of the challenges of voyaging in this part of the country in winter is power generation. The sun angle is low, skies are often overcast, the days are short and the solar panels struggle to recharge the batteries, even with the boom set to one side when at anchor to avoid casting a shadow on the panels. We find we have to run the engines for a couple of hours most days. We are also not 100% sure all is well with our AGL batteries. They were new when we bought Anui, but we suspect they are the ‘El Cheapo’ Chinese model so we might need to get them tested. We talked to David of the cat XTsea who is an electrical engineer and has worked on Anui for us before. It was heartening to hear his advice: “Don’t panic yet, just monitor! It is likely to be just the winter conditions”. If we have to replace them later we will bite the bullet and have lithium ones installed. We miss the good set up we had on our previous boat Take It Easy. There is always something to worry about isn’t there!
On the move again
And then we were on the move again with the westerlies blowing and a large amount of Humpback Whales travelling north. There are so many that we keep a constant watch for them and for the containers that were lost at sea a few weeks ago. Hopefully by now the containers which haven’t been found have well and truly sunk. The whales however are very much on the surface. We see several small pods of two or three at a time every hour.
With the westerlies finally returning, we left Coasters Retreat in the Pittwater on Tuesday and headed to Swansea, only 42 nm on, needing to re-provision and do a ton of laundry. We had very cold conditions, requiring the full Musto catastrophe to keep warm! But oh what a fun sail, averaging 10 knots, with one reef in the main. In fact we got to Swansea in 4 hours, having left at 8.00 am. This was quite pleasing given we are going against the East Australian Current all the way up the coast! Since we went quicker than expected we were able to do all our chores in the afternoon.
Here are a few images along the way.
As well as the whales, we saw a sea eagle catching a big fish. It is the first time we witness this at sea. He caught what we think is a leather jacket.
Swansea, just at the entrance of Lake Macquarie is a really practical spot. There are three public moorings in front of town just before the bridge that lifts up a few times a day to let boats through. There is a floating jetty to dinghy to, with launderette, fuel, supermarket, chemist, pathology lab all close by. Yes it’s that time again for both of us to have our quarterly check ups.
The only drawback with this location is the current that runs through in and out of the Lake with the tide. On strong days with wind against tide it can send your boat spinning wildly. So we only stay there for a short time and on calmer days. There are occasions when we have wandered inside Lake Macquarie. But this time around it is a practical stopover only.
On Wednesday morning, we headed off with a strong wind warning, not sure where we would get to… Broughton Island (40 nm), Seal Rocks (60 nm)? It was all dependent on how we’d feel out there. We hugged the coast all the way to stay in the lee of the land. We had two reefs in the main and a few rolls in the jib but the westerly wind was blowing hard and the ocean was rowdy. We have been really impressed with how Anui handles the wind and waves. She is a strong vessel and we feel safe on her.
It is always hard to do justice to the sea state in photos, but this one gives you an idea of the conditions.
With the wind well into the 30s, it became evident the anchorages we were considering were not ideal. The wind stayed in the west rather than shifting south as forecast. Broughton Island in a westerly would not have been very comfortable and to get to Seal Rocks we would have had to point further into wind, less than 40 degrees and thus put up with 40 knots of apparent wind over the deck. “We don’t need to do this shit” said Wade! So we opted for the easier and more manageable option of taking shelter in Shoal Bay, Port Stephens, 38 nm from Swansea. Only half a day of sailing but better be safe and snug than sorry and soggy! And given what happened the next day, we are very glad we did.
The closer we got to Port Stephens the more we played dodgem whales. They were a bit of a menace. They don’t travel very fast – about 4 nm an hour – so when we do nearly three times their speed, we catch up to them quickly. They are big 13 to 18 m long creatures (Anui is 16m) and much, much heavier at about 40 tons! You spot them breaching or tail lobbing in the distance, or just see their blow, but soon close in on them. Sometimes you can simply pass them, but there are occasions when they just disappear without you noticing them diving down. It is really unnerving. “You scan the ocean anxiously, asking “where have they gone?” Ramming these gentle giants up the backside would not be a good thing. They were so numerous that Wade had to hand steer to be able to quickly change heading to avoid them. I was on the camera.
Drama and delays
Bright and early Thursday morning, we left Port Stephens headed for Crowdy Head. It was a beautiful dawn.
But we did not get very far. Drama suddenly struck just outside the heads you see in the photo. The mainsail came crashing down – a broken halyard! Why did it happen? Probably wear and tear – the halyard had not been replaced in 20 years… a lesson in there somewhere! We are incredibly lucky this happened where and when it did. Just imagine having this occurring a long way out at sea doing 10 or 12 knots speed rather than 6, or far worse, when Wade was up the mast! A 21 meter fall would have been the end of him. We turned the boat around and motored back to Nelson Bay. 65 meters of Spectra Superspeed halyard have been ordered from a chandlery in Newcastle and we will have fun and games feeding that up the mast when it gets here.
We won’t be sailing anywhere today! Our hopes of being in Port Macquarie and spending the weekend with our friends are dashed, but we have to thank our lucky stars.