Tuesday 29 April 2014

Abrolhos: Wallibi Group

Another mooring area next to a tiny island - Easter Group

I was surprised to see how many islands are occupied. A dozen or more and must be hundreds of people living here without government infrastructure. In fact I think it was a free for all in the early days, now the state government strictly controls settlements, no new shacks (some are converted shipping containers), need fishing license to own one etc. We hung around Morley island for a couple days and noticed the perfect white sand beaches, WA has a thousand miles of white sandy beaches, really white powdery stuff, so I have to say, I seen it before…  
I know someone catches fish here, just not me..

Most the cruising boats here had an aluminium dinghy (with outboard), obviously prepared for the main activity on the Abrolhos, which would be fishing. We didn’t come for an Abrolhos specific holiday, just passing through, so weren’t adequately prepared. Though I did try to catch a fish with my puny 6 lb line and rod, for a whole day & failed miserably.
Rat Island - largest settlement in the Abrolhos

We decided its time to check out another island, this time it was off to the next island group, 10 miles to the north, called the Wallibi group and our destination is Turtle Bay. Also I wanted to sail past the biggest settled island here, Rat island. The one next to it is called “Little Roma” also full of shacks - guess which nationality named that.. After 2 miles sailing within the island group and we were in open sea again, but not away from people, several power boats headed for us for a closer look at the funny rig. Susie was quite perturbed by one boat heading straight for us, only for it to turn at the last moment. I had lifted my hand to…  wave… as the aft deck revealed a dozen people all with cameras pointed at us. Sure hope one or two of the multitudes who have photographed Ashiki so far would upload one to the net so my googling can find it…  This patch of continental shelf is swarming with Geraldton boat charters, busy business.

Charter boat made us a tourist attraction.
The cross we bare..

We entered the Wallibi group, wing on wong at 6.2 knots with zero rolling, because the water was completely flat. Susie took the opportunity to make coffee in the stable horizontal galley. We found Turtle Bay at the northern end, 3 of the 7 moorings were still unoccupied, the rest taken by quite large power boats. This island is the largest on the Abrohos and actually has hills and is quite pleasant to wander on.

Turtle Bay mooring - missed the Turtles..

East Wallibi Island has an air strip, which we tramped all over, when we got to the other end we saw the sign which said do not tramp all over..   Tourists are dropped off daily to hike across the island and sit at a purpose built shelter on the beach, and have a snorkle. We met the pilot of one of the flights, he had hiked to the top of a hill for phone reception, same reason we were there.  Susie asked him what iPhone app he prefers for wind and weather forecasting. As expected he knew a very good one “Willy Weather” -  a free app - for the Aussies. 

Wallibi Island trail, lots of lizards and heard there
are some wallabies, but very timid as we didn't see them
maybe because of the aerial predators, see other pics.

I never want to learn who owns the flash boats which may cross our path because often its some household name, but the pilot was eager to name drop. The guy on the next mooring to us bought a fishing license just so he could own a shack on Pidgeon island, then turned the interior into a palace, added a heliport etc. Two clues to who he is, owns a construction company and (for our English readers).. refurb of Wembley Stadium London…

Wallibi Airport - runway, tarmac, terminal, hanger & Novotel.. somewhere..
Airstrip jetty
Pidgeon Island in the distance

A few land bird species live on the Wallibi, here's
an Osprey. 2m wingspan.
Same Osprey
White Bellied Sea-Eagle on the loo.
About 5 Ospreys and Eagles call this little Island
home (1.5 miles across) and generally terrorise
the local ground critters..

Same Sea Eagle

Turtle Bay from "phone reception" hill..

Shelter for the plane tourists

View from shelter

Eastern side of Wallibi Is

Wallibi sunset

Saturday 26 April 2014

Abrolhos: Easter Group

At day break we had drifted above the southern entrance of the Easter group of islands, but the laptop battery was dead and the morning looked heavily overcast, not much chance of solar energy for awhile I thought. Susie’s laptop, our backup navigation computer had mysteriously stopped working last week so we had nothing to go by. We didnt have alternative means of charging, the outboard was supposed to fill that role, but its alternator never worked. So what the heck, nothing for it but head back to Geraldton. I was a fool believing we could cruise without paper charts. Boy what a fizzer this was turning out to be. At least we know where Geraldton is. 

Did I already mention it’s not easy in a small boat on the… ? I think I did.

Ten minutes on course back towards the mainland the current coming through the solar panels was encouraging. It was still overcast but at 8:30am there was enough glare to make electricity and the laptop's battery was beginning to recover. Booted it up, 11% charged, noted some chart way points for the Easter Group entrance, closed it down to help it recharge and punched the course into the handheld GPS (which aways works). We’re back in action.

We tacked the junk schooner back on course for the Easter Group, good thing Ashiki is an easy boat to tack, really nothing to do but put the tiller over. Just make sure there's enough boat speed if there are waves about so she doesn't stall midway. But on this tack the foresail sheet wrapped itself around the dorade vent funnel and started pulling hard. It popped off, bounced along the deck, over the side and into Davey Jones’s locker.

We were making Sou'west in a good breeze with 9 miles to go. Ashiki went faster, then faster. The sky looked a little dark to the south and the waves started shredding apart at the their peaks and Ashiki went a little faster again, 4 to 5 knots to windward. Then the rain pelted down at 45˚, Ashiki heeled over more and powered along, reefed a panel on each sail, we stayed mostly dry because of the weather cloths surrounding the cockpit. A little stormy. We were used to windy and a little stormy. After couple hours of sailing I rebooted the laptop, 55% charged, excellent, and saw we were approaching the reefed lined entrance. All I could see was breaking waves everywhere and wondered if the pilot book had something to say about this. I went back below to read it, also on the laptop..

It said: “The southern entrance should not be attempted in heavy weather”. My heart sank, I think this qualifies as “heavy weather”. I broke the news to Susie. We’ll have to try the northern entrance, 4 hours back the other way. :( We had just sailed 3 hours “this way”.

Maybe this is why the Batavia crew were at each others throats..

Tacked around and pointed Ashiki back to the North East, whence we came. Then I noticed she’s moving at 2 knots. Odd, a bit slow with this healthy wind…  errr.. um..  what wind? Then I noticed the waves were flattening out. The front had blown itself out and the seas were very quickly approaching calm!

Maybe we can enter the south entrance now. I fired up the motor, swung the boat back around and at full tilt headed for the southern entrance buoy, I didn’t know if another front was coming, though it didn’t look so dark southwards anymore but not wanting to waste any time. The little 6hp outboard can push 5 tons of Ashiki at 5 knots if the conditions are right. We’re at the red marker within 10 minutes, then a 90˚ turn to starboard and follow the rhumb line North. A few moments and we were in, gliding over the table top flat, protected waters of the Easter Group.

17 hours to get to one entrance.. Come on, if we did it easy I’d have nothing to write about..

Navigating the long loop around the coral reefs to the moorings was easy, I had moved the laptop to the galley bench where it is within view from the cockpit and because navigation these days is by video game. Your boat is the little red boat on the screen, you drive it around the screen by moving the tiller on your real boat. Just keep your little red boat away from the green bits, they be shoals. (You lose points hitting those.. and your real boat springs a leak..) 

I almost hit a shoal. Saw a marker buoy and thought that’s the place to turn and forgot about the “little red boat”. Only sharp eyes on Susie’s part saved the day…

Picked up a mooring in front of a white beach and the job is done. We’re at the Abrolhos Islands. Finally!
Then the sky cleared, the sun came out and it was a glorious day, and we saw a seal waddle around on the beach.

A seal, had enough of us and headed back over the hill.
When we get to a reliable 3G connection, I’m downloading charts for the iPhone nav app so we have another backup. "Electronic" backup.. don’t learn do I? ;)

Settled at Morley Island, Easter Group.

On the other side of the coral hillock, the cruel sea.

Some dead coral 
Small fish, keeping tight. Maybe they fool predators 
into thinking they are one big fish?

Morley Island

Morley Island, Rat Island on the horizon with fishing settlement.

Morley Island "landmark"

Wednesday 23 April 2014

An Island too far

Houtman Abrolhos Islands

At sea again, where's the wind?
We made an early start, stowed the hook and motored out of the bay to raise sail, after 5 pleasant days in Geraldton we were on our way to the exotic Abrolhos Islands. A collection of 4 island groups, mainly coral atolls as far as I can tell, 32 miles straight out to sea, but still just inside the Australian continental shelf. I know it has a semi permanent fishing community living there in makeshift shacks of which it is famous. In the old days it was like a heady gold rush attracting all nationalities. As the saying goes, the Finns built saunas, the Italians built chapels and the Aussies built bars. It is also a fairly popular long distance destination for Fremantle cruising yachts. I’ve heard about the islands my entire life, but never been there. There’s history in that place, and the beginnings of European involvement would be one of the most brutal and bloody in all Australian history. 

First glimpse. Really low island.

We were aiming for the closest island group, namely the Palseart group. Named after the Captain of the Batavia, a ship belonging to the Dutch East India Company, which shipwrecked there in 1629. The good captain took a long boat to Java where he was to return with a rescue ship for the remaining crew. After he left, merchant officer Jeronimus Cornelisz and his mutinous honchos went on a rampage and murdered 140 of his fellow crew/passengers and lay in wait to storm Palseart’s rescue ship on his return. His plan was foiled when some survivors made their way to the Walibi group (to the north) where ship’s soldiers had been left stranded. Palseart returned and learnt of the murders from soldiers thus able to capture the perpetrators who were then tried and hanged. Except for 4 of them who were deposited on the mainland to take their chances with the local aborigines. Palseart with 40 surviver’s continued to Java. (There’s been speculation in recent times that the 4 Dutchmen left behind mingled with the indigenous population and maybe there’s some European DNA in the descendants, but not substantiated.)
Fishermen settelment, basic housing.
We wanted to get there in daylight as there are reefs everywhere, but, of course, the day wasn’t ideal, the wind left us halfway across. We only use the motor if it is really serious, like today..  so we’d motor for 40 minutes, try sailing, then motor again.

A cairn! You know, those things mountain climbers
leave a top of mountains...
I figure these islands are so low lying, a wave can
obscure them, fishermen built it to
help find their way back.

We made the islands an hour before sunset so not enough time to find our planned anchorage, which would entail several miles of weaving around coral heads. Explains the name, Abrolhos is a shortening of Dutch phrase meaning “keep your eyes open”. The closest anchorage in the pilot guide was opposite an island called “the post office”. It said it was deep and recommended by “Fisheries Department”. It was 20m deep, and I don’t like dropping the hook that far down. So we motored towards the shore where there was a “real” house (not a shack), checking the depth sounder, at 5m Susie went forward to the anchor, then suddenly called back “Stop! Reverse! Its all coral!” I looked overboard, and there were the biggest coral platters I’ve ever seen. Several feet across, covering every inch of seabed and shoaling quickly. Wow. It looked like another planet down there! On the shore there was a man standing there, looking at us. But no time to hang around over a shoal. We couldn’t anchor here, probably never get the anchor up again..  As we motored back out I looked at the next anchorage the guide “recommended”, it was a good hour away. We had 1/2 hour of sunlight left. I came to the realisation we can’t do anything here. Its reef everywhere, no local knowledge, its dark soon and there’s no hope but to leave. Lets go to Shark Bay and Carnarvon now, 200 miles north and skip the Abrolhos as a bad dream. Susie understood the danger and fully agreed, care and safety of boat and crew overrides frivolous destination choices.

Yet another classic stuff up.

We should have gone yesterday (tons of wind then!) 

Nothing is easy in a small boat on the high seas.

I quickly plotted a course through clear water north east, out of here. Sails up and with Ashiki nodding along at 4.5 knots she was sailing beautifully, like she had not a care in the world, sailing like this has a calming affect. I started thinking of other possibilities. With a southerly blowing, we could heave to and not run into the next island group, another 5 miles to the North West. I knew the direction Ashiki would drift and knew what was possible. To quit Abrohlos all together was an over reaction, this was a better idea.

That is what we did, put Ashiki in heaving to mode, let out the sea anchor to slow our progress and sleep off the night in deep water in between the island groups. We would visit the Abrolhos after all, in the morning, choosing the 2nd Group instead. The Easter Group.

Monday 21 April 2014

New page - Why bother with a junk rig

On the right menu I have added a page on Why bother with a junk rig. Sums up the deal on going the path less trodden, and what we have found to be true about this rig.

PS, added more to this page - a negatives section.  22-4-14

Sunday 20 April 2014

Crayfish fever

Sailing closer to the coast on this leg to Geraldton, we get to 
see it. Sand dunes mostly.

We didn’t want to stay long in Port Denison, I read that the controlling government department expects boats to register with them and pay a mooring fee. Have to be joking, with a free anchorages up the coast we left at 6am the next morning. I knew the harbour was a fair distance from the town so there was little else to keep us there. It was 41 miles to Geraldton and I saw the coastal route inside the reefs was clear of any hazards. The Southerly was already filling in, after the first hour we were on a broad reach (wind on an angle from behind) hurtling along at 6 knots, with 1 to 1.5m waves sweeping under us.

We made the Geraldton shipping channel averaging over 5 knots (fastest 40 mile leg ever!), the final 3 miles to windward slowed that average somewhat. We had reefed downwind to make the point, then shaken out reefs to make windward speed up the channel, but we made the town beach anchorage, motoring the final 1/2mile dead into the 20+ knot breeze, next to one other yacht, right in front of the city centre. All this reefing and shaking out reefs, certainly is exercise, for arms, no leg work involved. If I’m steering I usually ask Susie to reef or drop the sails.
Downtown Geraldton accessible from the anchorage

200 miles in 5 days is pretty slow. I thought we’d do it in 2 or 3. It was the most arduous thing we had done on a boat but we learnt a lot. Ashiki had a few litres of water in her bilge, which surprised us. It was sponged out after the storm (too little for the electric bilge pump to pick up) and none had come back in. Looks like water had entered via the bilge pump thru-hulls which are situated just under the rub rails. While sailing fast in deep swell (and while hove to in a storm..) the rub rails are frequently submersed, so even the little U bend in the bilge pump pipe wasn’t high enough to stop the water flow.
Fellow anchorer. I like this boat, 
a Bruce Roberts "Pacific Coast Fisherman", 38' motorsailer.
The owner chose this design for extensive WA coast cruising.
Has a real engine room, full standing headroom walk around the diesel.

Back to Geraldton. 30,000 people here and it has pretty well everything, it is the hub for WA’s midwest and because we are visiting these places by boat, instead of passing through in a car, we really got to see the economic heartbeat of these places. Probably another advantage of a boat, when you reach a port you want to stay put for awhile, if only to unwind. In a car its too easy to just move on, be back in Perth in 4 hours, not 5 days… 

Geraldton style urban art

Just like Bunbury and every other coastal hub, huge bulk carriers, or grain carrying ships are escorted in and out daily. WA grows more grain than the 3 “big” states, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria do combined. There be more than just mining here though Geraldton port ships iron ore too. In fact WA is unique in that its economy has always been export orientated since settlement, the east coast has their domestic market to supply.

As true to form, Geralton’s downtown looks pretty neat, century old buildings with the odd assortment of ’30s art deco. The area has a genuine inner city feel, even though it is a small town. The residential area behind the city is attractive too. Plenty of old weatherboard cottages surrounded by lush gardens on large blocks. We stumbled upon these looking for the one supermarket that was open on Sunday. Geraldton has apparently resisted 7 days trading till now, they were still debating it in the local newspaper. We found the yacht chandlery too, replaced our lost sea anchor and bought a couple one way valves for the bilge pump through hulls.

Batten crunched between the pulpit rails during an 
accidental gybe, so we replaced it while on the dock at 
Geraldton's fishing boat harbour.

We decided to motor off to the fishing boat harbour, heard no one minds if we hog a some of their dock to water the boat and do some maintenance (like replace a bent batten) for a few hours. They only hate it when you overnight there, or for several nights like we heard one yachtie did…

Ashiki viewed from the other boat.

The fishing boat harbour reminded us that Geraldton is really the centre of WA’s crayfish industry and fortunes have been made and still are made here. There were far more crayboats here than anywhere else. We saw these vessels all along the coast, we just sailed over 300 miles of it, and there was always a cray boat insight. Never alone along this coast.. and I thought WA was “remote”! Didn’t like playing dodgem cars with the pots though, we found long lines of them 18 miles out. The catch goes to China and Japan who have a huge appetite for the crustacean, and they must be delivered live, by air. I’ve seen them in China, in fish tanks at the front of restaurants. Thus the high price and high profits. It’s a gold rush, though subdued now with quotas. To rub salt in the wound, I asked the retired fisherman we met what he had been doing for 40 years, he said “on holiday mostly”! Because the season never goes more than half a year! So he fitted in 2 world circumnavigations on sailing boats. What a job!

But the real impact doesn’t hit home till we see the Abrolhos..  thats another story.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Calm daze

We were in flatter water, the winds were more agreeable, but we weren’t interested in the Abrolhos Islands anymore, preferring to hug the coast, where the SE’ers can’t mess with us. The next destination would be Geraldton, major port 200Nm north of Fremantle and 150Nm from our position. By mid morning winds had dropped to under 10 knots between S and SE and we were crawling along 1.8 to 2.5 knots. Took all day to pass Cervantes (home of the Pinnacles Nat Park). While being thrown around in that gale, I would have given anything to be becalmed, never complain about it again and by the end of the day, thats exactly what we were. Windless and drifting in the 1/2 knot current. Obviously the forecast "storm" did not eventuate, so dropped the sails, hung our only sea anchor from the stern and went to sleep, 14 miles off the coast, little north of Cervantes. 6 miles in 8 hours that night. We both felt some sickness, it was taking a while wearing off, but we were eating again. Conditions in a calm boat are much better. We made a measly 38 Nm the last 24hours.

The wind didn’t come back till 11am. We were drifting for hours, which is not a problem by the way. No schedule to keep, apart from leave the south before winter, and with a boat well enough provisioned, we had no inclination to waste petrol on that noisy outboard. Besides, we only carry 37 litres of fuel and so far have burned it at a rate of 6 litres a month. 

At one point a pair of birds, some kind of sea terns took a liking to our boat, one landed on the furled main sail bundle, the other in the cockpit and wouldn’t leave! They seemed tamed. I had to shove the one off the sail and scooped the other with a bucket. When I tossed him overboard, the bucket went too. Lucky we have a another four. Never leave port without at least 5 buckets I say. They have a million uses.

Then there was the moth infestation, 13 or 14 miles off the coast there is still all this wild life. We had our hands full swatting moths out of the cabin. Moths onboard means, eventually, holes in our clothes and weevils in our food. So those little annoying creatures had to go!

I think there is still hope for our world when you could be miles from land and the air is still thick with birds of all kinds. That they eke out a living out here is hard to fathom. Two days ago when I was sick and sitting in the cockpit just to look at the large waves sweeping under our hull, I marvelled at the Shearwaters, they’d swoop low into the troughs, disappear between them, out off sight then appear again soaring up the next watery slope. It was fine precision flying.

Day 4 out from Fremantle we made 65 miles and becalmed at night yet again, opposite Leeming. At least I was finally getting over sea sickness and eating full meals. Susie could only manage half her dinner, she suspects we had suffered food poisoning rather than sea sickness, from the 3 day old mince beef we ate the night before the storm. We opted not to visit the harbour at Jurien Bay, hearing it over priced and under serviced (all that money for a cold shower!) and miles from the town.

20-25 knots and 2m waves on the stern
Reefed down to only 2 panels on the foresail and none on the main, junk version of a storm sail, still bowling along but steering was very easy.

Day 5 the wind picked up and by midday it was 20+ knots on our stern. Ashiki was hand steered at 5 to 6.5 knots for sometime until Susie wanted a more manageable tiller, it tends to be hard to hold at these speeds, probably due to do with the fact there is no skeg in front of the rudder. Disadvantage of a spade type rudder, so we reefed down drastically, still sailing close to 5 knots but much more docile steering. At this rate mid afternoon arrival at Port Denison became a possibility. 1 to 2m waves were rolling under our hull, one advantage of a double ender hull, no wave slapping on the transom, because we don’t have one. The ride was fun and cushioned too, the hull shape meant she rose to meet every swell but not abruptly. I think the fine ends, bow and stern make her more comfortable. 

Port Denison
We entered Port Denison before 5pm and picked up a mooring, our first harbour in 4 days. Longest period spent nonstop on a voyage so far.

Sunday 13 April 2014

Hell in a hole Part 2

“Verus, Verus, Verus, the vessel at 31 deg 24min South and 114deg 57min East please come in.”
I heard this a couple times before I realised it wasn’t a dream and had a strong feeling the radio voice was reffering to us. Slid out of my seaberth, stood up gripping the table fiddle and bookshelf fiddles, in the violently lurching Ashiki and climbed my way to the radio. By the time I had it in my hand, I saw the battery was almost flat, then I heard:
“Verus, Verus, Verus, will the vessel I have my spotlight on please come in.”
I peaked out the hatch, and through the murky gloom, over the din of 3 to 4m waves slamming our hull, I could see the outline of a dark hulk, about 1/2 mile away, with lights either side and a single powerful spotlight shining straight at us, like Cyclops had waded out to us. It was something out of a novel.
I ducked below and fumbled with the radio, inserted it in its cradle, made sure is was plugged into the power supply, and found the talk button “Ashiki, Ashiki, Ashiki, I think we are the vessel you’re referring too”.

Sea sickness is so debilitating. I was thinking how little I gave a damn about anything. I takes away your will to even help yourself. I could sympathise with sailors I read about who after days of rough seas and seasickness hit the Epirb button. Get me off this boat! Lose a perfectly good boat, nothing wrong with it, because you’re not feeling well… it happens. I heard of a guy who bought a large sailboat, went somewhere far, like Albany and back (where the weather gets really bad). After arriving back, walked off the boat never to step on it again. The boat went back on the market. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

While lying in the seaberth feeling like hell, I would listen to the occasional big wave slam the hull, never mind the talking sounds coming from outside, (they were still happening) and my mind would go to how we built this hull. Is it strong enough? Will it come apart? Two layers of plywood, fastened with epoxy and bronze nails and sheaved in fibreglass, 3 layers on the chines. Would any of these joins open up? And of course the perennial..  why are we even here? I tried to supplement my strength by eating a few tiny scraps, and drink some water, which all came back up of course. But it took many hours for that to happen, so hopefully some nutrition escaped to the bloodstream in that time. Susie did not even attempt to eat until morning. *

On the second night of the storm at around 10pm, the tug boat captain made contact over the radio. After my first transmission “Ashiki, Ashiki, Ashiki, I think we are the vessel you’re looking at”, his relieved reply “Well that was loud and clear!”
He saw our light out here in the middle of nowhere and wanted to know what we were (a 35’ sailing yacht) and whether we were in need of assistance. Not that he could give any, he was a tug boat towing a barge.
No, we were ok, we are laying to a sea anchor and waiting this one out, I told him. He relayed this to Fremantle Coastal Watch, since our 5W handheld radio did not have the range. They wanted to know how many people were on board and did we have an Epirb, (as well as our full names). Two and yes we did.
The captain was very helpful, noted that it can get “really rough” out here when a Sou’Easter is blowing. He said there were electricity blackouts in Perth because of this storm and tomorrow was forecast another one. (The forecast yesterday was for electrical storm and light winds - which is no big deal around here). I told him we aren’t ready to abandon ship yet and we’ll have to tough it out.

By 2am I had enough of sea sickness and waves slamming us and didn’t like the sound of “another storm” tomorrow, I had been thinking about the hole we were in, and maybe it was calmer nearer the coast, since the SE’ster is, after all, a land breeze. It was a mistake to go “offshore” in a sou’easter. I had a plan, conferred with Susie, and we decided to act on it. I was going to make Ashiki sail herself out of here. No need to supervise the finicky windvane (we were too sick to), because on a close reach (sailing slightly into the wind), Ashiki can sail herself. By lashing the tiller she holds a straight course. Just about all yachts can do this, the Hiscocks circumnavigated before windvane self steering was commercially available, and looked forward to upwind sailing as it was the one course the boat didn’t need crew in the cockpit.

The night was as bright as day, as I remember it anyway, because it was a full moon. Hauling in the sea anchors was really hard work and lost two of the three. The rodes were twisted together, I did it wrong, never lay out more than one line from a boat. Then I hauled up 3 panels on the foresail, nothing on the main (less than 1/4 available sail area) and lashed the tiller in the middle. No need for more sail, don’t want to go fast, only to be heeling & tossed around more. A reach towards North-East means going along the waves, not into them, fortunately. Ashiki started pulling herself along at brisk enough 4 knots, I was satisfied she was staying on course and went below and back to bed. I was still sick. But at least the motion was a little better, heeled to one side and not rolling about like a metronome.

I tried to maintain a look out, once every 20 or 30minutes, but more like once an hour. Susie woke me up at one stage suggesting that I should be looking out more frequently (she was feeling worse than me then, definitely a bed case). I looked at the screen (OpenCPN on a laptop) to check our progress, 2.5 to 4 knots in a straight line, hour after hour, then peaked out the hatch and saw 2 red lights up ahead. Raced down to get my glasses and saw them move away. Must be fishing boats. But Ashiki was pulling along like the dependable workhorse she was. If only the skipper was that dependable..

Next time I woke, it was dawn, 6am, and the seas were calmer. Much calmer, waves 1 to 2m, winds less intense, maybe 15 to 20 knots. Ashiki had sailed a steady 13 mile north east course towards the coast, while her crew were flat on their backs useless, she had sailed us out of the storm.

We're feeling better already.

* Susie: I am convinced that we had food poisoning from 3 days left over mince beef curry, having said that, we made haste to the local health food store at the very next port, to buy some ginger lozenges, as a precaution/prevention. They also have the added benefit of being yum. 

Saturday 12 April 2014

Hell in a hole

(Apologies for the recent delay in posting, just emerged from remote areas, reliable internet finally! Lots to catch up on.)

Watering the boat at Fremantle Sailing Club

This was not the most pleasant of journeys..

We were getting ready to leave Fremantle for the Abrohlos Islands, some 200Nm to the north west, after we had docked at the Fremantle’s Sailing Clubs visitors’ dock, to effect some repairs (a stanchion base had ripped out) and use their showers. At 2pm Ashiki had been watered, last of the stores had been bought from a nearby IGA and we set sail on a glorious Thursday afternoon. I had a plan to first sail up the coast as far as Cottesloe and take in the sculptures by the sea exhibition, never been to it, so we finally get to see it from the deck of our own boat, with the aid of a telephoto lens on the camera..
Leaving Fremantle

Cottesloe Beach Sculptures (use magnifying glass..)
Aided by the brisk Sou’Easter we peeled off the coast and made passage towards the Abrolhos. We hoped to get there in 48hrs and for some reason I chose a more offshore track. Ashiki was flying downwind, wing on wong again, making 5 to 5.5 knots. 100Nm per day is an ambitious target, and is entirely dependant on the wind, but what a start we had! We sailed 58Nm in the first 12 hours. 

Wing on wong into the sunset.

Looking up the coast, Scarborough

Perth CBD inland

After sunset, and after a meal, the SE’ster strengthened even more, so did the waves. We were surfing them, and reefed down to only three panels on the foresail and no sail at all on the main, and still made over 5 knots. It was getting rougher, by 10pm I was feeling queezy while below, then threw up in the galley sink. We ploughed on, Susie was clearly the stronger, generally less affected by sea sickness, and was taking the bulk of the steering duties. Although the windvane does handle the boat in moderate winds (we ate together down below with the windvane doing the steering), we decided not to bother in the toughter conditions, when the tiller tends to fly around wildly. By 2am during my turn on the tiller, with 2m waves passing under us I was having trouble concentrating, sea sickness was making me light headed and exhausted. I then made the decision to heave to, I didn’t want Susie, who felt a lot better, to steer all night. So with a few panels up, the sheets let go and the tiller lashed to the lee side of the boat, we settled the boat at sea. At this stage Susie started being sick too as Ashiki layed mostly broadside to the waves, not ideal. I had 3 sea anchors below, but they weren’t set up with lines yet, and I was in no mood to do anything more. So we bedded down,  and slept off the night, 20Nm off the coast, NW of Perth. It was a rough and tumble night.

Amazing sunset on the night before the gale.

After dawn I looked out the companionway hatch, the seas were big. I’d say around 3m waves, steep, coming at us in short intervals and winds at 35 knots. That was enough, I set about tying the sea anchors to their rodes and let all 3 out from the stern. This made a difference, Ashiki pointed maybe 30 to 40˚ from the waves rather than dead broadside. Then I went back to bed, Susie was feeling no better at this stage and remained in bed too. We slept all day, too sick to even eat. Getting up and moving around was a hazard, the boat rocked so violently. I think I only fell once, thrown onto the head door, bruises to show for it. Susie, fell once too, at the same place. We were like those little chrome balls in a pinball machine. Odd thing was I swore I heard voices out there. 

“Mo mo Mo it simply wa… snt  right..” 

What was that!? 

Sometimes it was a like a cackle of women just outside the hull, chatting and giggling. I think I even peered out the hatch to check..
Then there were the musical organ sounds. I’ve read of sailors pressing their ear to the mast and listening to the voices of perished sailors of yore, but this is all fable isn’t it? I told Susie of my hearing of voices and she said she’d been hearing them all along too. She figured it was the exposed pipe ends of the aluminium battens and the shrieking gale making those noises. Some of the pipe sounds would morph into something human like, or maybe it was my brain always looking to interpret it as a voice.

“wa.. woo.. was really drunk at the time..”

What the heck!?  I’m hearing a Pink Floyd album now! This seasickness and hallucinating is insane!

Sorry, no pictures taken while sick, I had no energy to get the camera, and the fussing around below would make me feel even worse.

(..to be continued)