Blowing off the cobwebs

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.

Moored at Coasters’ Retreat
Coasters Retreat from the Bonnie Doon Wharf
Double rainbow after the thunderstorms

Power concerns

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.

The evidence! 13.7 knot speed, 21.8 apparent wind, 22.5 true wind

Here are a few images along the way.

We have just got out of Pittwater and are looking towards Bouddi Point
Sailing past the Norah Head Lighthouse

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.

White-bellied Sea Eagle with his catch!
Just about to pick up a mooring before the Swansea Bridge

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.

Port Stephens

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.

This starts with a spy hop and becomes a full breach!
And now the belly flop!
Port Stephens Lighthouse
About to come in to Port Stephens

Drama and delays

Bright and early Thursday morning, we left Port Stephens headed for Crowdy Head. It was a beautiful dawn.

Heading out through the gap!

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.

30 thoughts on “Blowing off the cobwebs

  1. We are about to leave lakes entrance to head into NSW. Got a permit so ready to go. Enjoying your travels and tips. Thankyou! We are on ‘Drooy’ 46ft Bahia Fontaine Pajot. Facebook page ‘grey navy’ if you wish to have a look at us. Hope to meet you both along the way.

  2. Yikes. There always seems to be something to repair or replace and I guess that eternal vigilance is the price you pay for the freedom that your lifestyle affords you. I absolutely love the rainbow shots–rainbows are always special and a double one is doubly so. I guess that I never really considered that whales might be a menace. I guess I have the perspective of someone who lives on the land, because for me it is so awesome to see your photos of them breaching. It is a little shocking to see the size of the waves in one of your images and hard to imagine being on a boat when the conditions are so rough. Still, I definitely got the sense that you are feeling good and positive after being cooped up for so long and are handling the issues one by one as they arise. Stay safe, Chris.

    • Hi Mike, love getting your comments. Yes maintenance is a big part of cruising whether you buy new or second hand. You are in a demanding environment that is harsher than when you live on land in a house. As you say vigilance is important and prevention can avoid drama. We should have changed all the halyards and probably will now!
      The whales are amazing and we love seeing them, but when they are in such numbers you have to be really careful. As for the conditions of the ocean, the beauty of being on a larger catamaran is that it is stable and strong and we don’t get thrown around like we would have been on our old boat. Waterline (length and width) is everything! Still, we choose to hide when it is too rough. We are in it for fun not fear!

  3. Gorgeous photos, Chris! I see that things are almost back to normal, It’s been a good thing to have seen your friends like it was before the pandemic. I’m happy for you, my friend. 🙂

  4. Oh Chris….. another slight setback to getting north. We empathise completely with the battery replacement. Andrew is on the phone now discussing a quote to install lithium batteries – not cheap…… Virtual hugs to you all. See you when you get here. xxx Trish

    • Hi Trish. We will test the batteries on Saturday when a friend is visiting and coming on board with a battery tester. If need be we will order the lithium and get them delivered in Port Macquarie or Yamba. We’ll probably go back to EV Power for the batteries. That’s what we had on TIE. But we won’t jump to conclusions yet! Who are you going with for yours and who are you using for the installation ?
      Right now the next challenge is replacing the halyard! Never a dull moment!

  5. I haven’t seen this many whales off Pt Stephens before, last Sunday over 1 hour I could see ~40, one group seen had a pod of dolphins as company. It’s a worry!

    Trial Bay is good inS or W winds.

    • The whales are amazing and a worry to yachties!
      Yes we have been at Trial Bay a few times before but first we’ve got to get the halyard back up!

  6. It was sooo great catching up with you on Friday. Loved the Sea Eagle and the whales.. Oops with the halyard. Anui will be like a new boat eventually. I hope repairs go well and the siding to Port goes well

  7. HI Guys, Once again, enjoyed your sailing adventures …. what a timely halyard break! And like a broken record, love your pics, esp sea eagle catching fish. Chris you must have your camera in hand all the time to get that one!?! I have a sea eagle story. While boring soaring at Tura beach cliffs, a sea eagle flew beside me (he was a regular at that site), and he was hanging on to a wriggling death adder! Bega Bill had already landed and I quickly followed. Who knew how good a sea eagle’s grasp was?
    Happy sailing!

    • Hi Elgar – I have a story too: I remember a Wedged Tailed Eagle soaring my wing tip on my 100km flight! We looked at each other and I prayed he would not decide to attack! No picture to show for it but an unforgettable memory.
      The camera is always in the cockpit at the ready. I saw the sea eagle flying over us so grabbed the camera. Those two shots – well really the second one – were the only focused images out of half a dozen… not easy to pan when in a choppy sea! But it is a fun challenge to try!

  8. Hi guys. Great stories and photos mixed with the necessities of boat maintenance! We left Port Stephens last Monday and had a very uneventful trip up the coast to Scarborough, albeit motoring all the way except for a lazy broad reach across Moreton Bay. I was wondering if you would catch us up before we left!
    Hope all goes well with the repairs. Richard and Judi SV Imagine

    • Hi guys- ah well we will get stuck at the QLD border! We have a permit for NSW but that’s it so until they re-open, Yamba is as far as we will go. A few things to sort out first and more friends to visit along the way…

  9. Hi Guys. Loving your blogs, please keep them up. The whale and eagle shots were incredible. Wow. Broken main halyard.. I too have gone aloft on a single halyard so I understand your fear! Most riggers now insist on 2 halyards attached when they go aloft and when these things happen you can see why!! Last time I went up a tallish mast was on a Lagoon 52 in Greece, and who knows how old that one was?? Second halyards or an extra safety line that can clip to a shroud or something to limit your fall isn’t silly and I think I will do that myself next time. Us older fellas don’t bounce well. Best of luck with the batteries and halyard. Cheers, Craig.

    • Always really nice to get your supportive comments, Craig. It is an uncomfortable exercise to have Wade climbing up the mast with the Top Climber but everything went well. Main halyard back up and we measured the spinnaker, screecher and Jib halyards to get them replaced too. We will get them sorted at the next big stopover. We suspect we will get new batteries… another painful hit on the bank account but we don’t want to have to worry about power!

  10. Sorry to hear about the halyard but pleased it happened before you were further north and very pleased you both are ok. That was a quick trip to Swansea!!! Beautiful photos again Chris
    If you get a chance whilst in Port Stephens Phil & I love walking over to Zenith Beach from Shoal Bay.

    • Hi Lindy – we did a couple of small walks but were mainly focused on fixing the halyard which they ok a while. All done and we are away again!

  11. Hi Chris and Wade, I am looking at a new lithium battery from EV power as well. I bought a Waeco portable fridge recently and don’t think my current 40Ah battery and 50 W panel will power it for long! However its no doubt less of a dent in the finances than your impending purchase.

    • Hi Graham – we have had our batteries checked and have escaped the need to do the change over to lithiums straight away. We have a reprieve! They are not perfect but are mainly affected by winter conditions.

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