Sunday, December 30, 2012

Between the Zoo and the Zoo

Taronga Park Zoo

It’s New Year’s Eve and we are anchored off of the Taronga Park Zoo inside a zoo of vessels all vying for front row positions!  You might think that it’s for a race start- Sydney Hobart or something big like that- but it is for the Sydney Harbour (yes, with a “u”) Bridge New Year’s Eve Extravaganza.  This extravagant show begins at 6:00 p.m. with an Aboriginal cleansing of the evil sprits from the Bay Ceremony and lasts until midnight, complete with an air show, two fireworks shows from The Bridge and barges around the Bay, a Parade of Lights, and a light show on The Bridge itself!  We are in a perfect viewing spot along with 500 or so other boats to see the display over The Bridge and Opera House.  THEY say it is going to get more crowded before it gets better!  But hey, the wind is only supposed to be 25 knots this afternoon.  No worries, mate!  Besides, it’s a great way to meet people….

Athol Bay Zoo
  Rutea sailed in to this beautiful harbour a week ago.  Two magnificent headlands mark the entrance to the bay and enclose hundreds of miles of shoreline.  The spectacular city of Sydney wraps around the water interspersed with old Victorian mansions surrounded by beautiful gardens, nature preserves thick with trees and birds, white sand swimming beaches enclosed by shark nets and high rises, cafes and bay-side walk ways.  The water is continually criss-crossed with ferries, sea planes and boats!  Boats!  There are thousands of boats that live in Sydney Harbour.  Interestingly, most of the boats live on moorings, marina berths being very few and very expensive.  From cove to cove there are occasional free, pink, beehive moorings for the transient vessel but we mostly end up anchoring in protected coves for southerlies and a northerly protected cove for….. you know what!  The fetch is l o n g here and in the past week we have had two 30-knot blows.  It always blows hardest from the southeast.  I’m just sayin…..

The North and South Heads of Sydney Harbor
 Now that we are here…. did I say I am surprised to be here?  I was NOT planning to sail so far south again this year…. We are at 33º50.8 South (again).  Now that we are here, Rutea plans to stay for a couple of months (no we are NOT sailing to Tasmania).  We are cove shopping and exploring neighborhoods, surf spots and dinghy docks to see which part of the harbour, or perhaps river tributary, we want to call home for a while.  It’s all good!

The Famous Sydney Opera House and the Famous Harbor Bridge
 In the meantime Rutea is loaded up with food and booze.  Corie has invited a couple of friends aboard, we have cruising friends (brand new and long time) nearby, stopping by and we plan to bring in the New Year Ozzie style!  Yes, it’s all good!

Happy New Year Mate!  Good on ya!

R of Rutea
Sydney Harbour, Australia

Monday, December 17, 2012

Port Stephens, New South Wales

After waiting for five days for the weather to change, we were anxious to continue south and to leave Yamba.  When the forecast on Saturday showed northeast winds, we made sure we were ready and we pulled up the anchor before the sun rose.  As we steamed out the channel, the waves piled high, each one threatening to break on top of us but we avoided any mishaps and soon we were out to sea again, heading for Port Stephens.  Our calculations had us arriving just before sunset on Sunday and we were pleased when the wind filled in, giving us some of the fastest sailing we had ever done.

The wind didn’t last and sometime after midnight we put the engine on, motoring for several hours before the wind picked back up again.  As we sailed into Port Stephens, we called the Port Stephens Volunteer Marine Rescue on the radio, letting them know we’d made it safely (and four hours ahead of schedule).  While I had them, I asked if they could recommend an anchorage as the Australian Bureau of Meteorology had issued a High Wind Warning for the area.  The man I was speaking with suggested Fame Bay, a small bay about 12 miles from the entrance and well protected from every direction except southwest.  As the winds were forecast to come from the southeast, this sounded perfect.

As it turned out, Fame Bay reminded us of places we had been to in Canada with trees coming right to its rocky shore.  It was small – not much room for more than 10 or so boats but it seemed peaceful and isolated.  We dropped our hook and backed down on it hard, which is our usual procedure, simulating forces on our anchor that we might experience in 40+ knots of wind.

I was anticipating that it would be an early evening for me as I had hardly slept the night before – usually I don’t sleep well on the first night of a passage (the truth is, that as a professional insomniac, I rarely ever sleep well) but I surprised myself and easily stayed up until almost midnight.

It was about an hour later that the wind filled in except instead of being from the southeast as forecast, it was from the southwest, the only direction that our anchorage was vulnerable.  With a resigned sigh, I got out of bed as I knew that sleep would not be forthcoming.  I sat in the cockpit and kept an eye on our location using our position relative to other boat’s anchor lights and our chartplotter.  By 0300, the wind was up to 30+ knots and the wind waves were running between 2 and 3 feet.  My heart fell as I saw our position on the chartplotter change, a sure sign that we were dragging our anchor.  I fired up the engine and in seconds Ruthie appeared in the companionway.  “What’s up?” she asked.  “We’re dragging,” I said, “Let’s get out of here.”

It was no easy feat to raise the anchor as the foredeck was pitching wildly.  Under normal circumstances when I’m raising the anchor, Ruthie and I communicate by hand signals but in the pitch blackness it was impossible and the roar of the wind made shouting useless.  Finally, with the anchor in its chock, we made our way out of Fame Bay and swung around to the north to a bay called North Arm.  Between the chartplotter and the radar we maneuvered through the narrow entrance but as we got deeper into the bay it began to shallow and the waves were just as big as they were in Fame Bay.  “This isn’t going to work, either,” I said to Ruthie so we turned around to leave.  With Rutea’s engine running at about three-quarters throttle, we could only make about 3 knots of headway into the wind.

We were just about to clear the entrance when all of a sudden the radar screen went blank.  “Unable to receive information” was what the display said.  Our hearts sank.  We had the chartplotter still but that doesn’t show us other boats that might be moored or anchored.  The radar is like having eyes at night - without it, we feel blind.  Our hearts sank further still when seconds later the engine sputtered and died.

It was almost too unreal.  Surely this had to be a nightmare from which I’d awake, shaking my head, saying, “You’ll never guess what I dreamed last night . . . “ but no, this was the real thing and seconds counted.  The odds of having two major failures simultaneously was stratospheric.  I tried to restart the engine but it wouldn’t start.  Without too much hesitation, I ran forward and kicked over the anchor, letting out as much chain as I could, as quickly as I could.

We were in a bad spot.  The fetch was almost four miles long and the bay was whipped into a fury.  Just off our starboard beam was the buoy marking the entrance to North Arm and less than 150’ behind us was the steep shore where the heavy waves were breaking.  After I got the anchor bridle rigged, I went aft to talk with Ruthie.  In typical Ruthie fashion, there was no panic and she was making one of her famous lists of the things we should be doing, although doing it mentally.  The good news was that the boat was stopped even if it was jumping around like a badly-behaved terrier at the end of a leash.  And, after rebooting the radar, it came back to life.  The bad news was we only had 10 feet of water under the keel and with the seas as there were, it wasn’t enough.

I tried some quick troubleshooting techniques to see if I could find why the engine wouldn’t start but I could quickly tell that the problem was going to be elusive to find.  I called the Port Stephens VMR and told them our situation and they asked me if I wanted them to dispatch a rescue vessel to help us.  After thinking about it for about two seconds, I said, “Yes.”  They advised me that it could take some time for them to reach me and asked that I stay close to the radio.

Things were getting worse.  It appeared that our 30-kilo Bruce anchor was still dragging as now we only had 4 feet of water under our keel.  I went forward again and deployed our second anchor, a 20-kilo Bruce attached to 50’ of ” chain and 100’ of 1” megabraid rope.  The wind lightened slightly.  I activated our masthead strobe light.

I went back to work on the engine.  It was clearly a fuel delivery problem and it appeared to me that the mechanical fuel pump must have gone out.  Fortunately, we had a spare – if only I could find it.  It took me longer to find the spare fuel pump than it did to install it!  Alas, even with the new fuel pump, the engine would start and run for a few seconds before sputtering and dying again.

At 0430, the Rescue Vessel Danial Thain, a 58-foot, 35-ton all-weather ship sporting two 460-hp engines arrived.  I was still trying to get the engine running and asked them to stand by for just a couple of more minutes but in the end I had to ask them to tow us away.  But first, I had to weigh the second Bruce anchor that I had deployed and with the first Bruce anchor occupying the windlass, it meant I had to do it by hand.  Hand over hand I strained to pull up the anchor, the bow of Rutea plunging and rising, sometimes helping and sometimes working against me.  As I pulled the anchor in, Ruthie flaked the rope and chain into the anchor well.  The worse part was the mud.  It was everywhere.  The chain was covered with a thick layer of slippery, sticky mud and since it was so heavy, I couldn’t hold it away from me.

Once the second Bruce was on board and stowed, the Danial Thain slowly approached and threw a heaving line to which a tow rope was attached.  I unhooked the bridle from our anchor chain and put the bridle through the eye on the end of the tow rope.  Gently, the Danial Thain pulled away, taking the load off the anchor and allowing our windlass to do its job.

The first light of morning was beginning to appear as we were being towed away.  We were in constant radio contact with the Danial Thain and they suggested an anchorage for us with good protection and we agreed.

At 0530, the Danial Thain slowed as it entered Salamander Bay and I released their tow line from our bridle.  We drifted to a stop and dropped our anchor once again, this time into good sand.  The Danial Thain circle and approached, giving us a folded pieced of paper before they pulled away.   The paper said that they had spent two hours retrieving us and even though there was no charge for the service, it would have cost us about AU$200 to have it done and they would appreciate a donation.  We thanked them profusely.

Rutea was a mess.  Her foredeck was covered with mud.  We had mud everywhere.  It was in my hair.  It was on our cockpit cushions.  It was in our galley.  It was on our Cruising Guide to New South Wales.  My clothes looked like they were camouflaged.  But, other than that, there was no damage and no one got hurt.  We had been very lucky.

The problem with the engine turned out to be a kink in a fuel supply hose.  Of course, I had changed the mechanical fuel pump and a couple of fuel filters before I found the problem but the engine now purrs like it always has and I still have a tremendous amount of confidence in it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

By The Numbers . . .

Now that we've been gone for two years, I thought I'd go through some of the statistics relevant to our trip so far.

12,958.3 - Number of miles we've sailed since leaving San Diego.

10 - How many different countries we've visited

97 - Days spent underway

21 - Different  stamps in our passports (American Samoa gave us 5)

1 - Times we've run aground

3,817 - Liters of Diesel we've used

1,079 - Hours we've run the engine

816 - Hours we've run the genset

2,081 - Games of Scrabble played on the iPad

844 - Games of Scrabble won against the iPad's CPU

3 - Number of times I've caught the iPad's CPU cheating at Scrabble

172 - Blog posts (including this one)

Of course, we can't count the hundreds of new friends we've made or the hours we've spent snorkeling.  I don't want to count the number of drinks we've had nor do I want to talk about the amount of money we've spent.  Needless to say, the days we've gone without shoes is exponentially higher than the days they've been worn.  We've spent more time at anchor than at marinas but we did stay at a marina for 5 months in New Zealand.  There have been countless books read and a much smaller number of videos watched.  We've made repairs but not an exorbitant amount.  Obviously, we've had some bad days but they're too infrequent to count.  The main thing is that we're still having fun.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pinned Down in Yamba

Lighthouse at Clarence Head

We hadn't originally planned to sail this far south - we thought we'd sail to Brisbane and spend the summer's typhoon season there but so many people we talked with said, "You've got to spend Christmas and New Year's in Sydney.  You've just got to."  Ruthie was dubious as we'd once again be sailing into higher latitudes (high latitude weather comes at low latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere) but I promised that we'd just 'harbor hop' and we'd stay put if the weather wasn't great.  Me and my big mouth.

We left the protected and shallow water of South Port, destined for Coffs Harbor, which is almost halfway to Sydney.  It was going to require an overnight passage but, hey, we've done lots of those.  About an hour before sunset, an Emergency Weather Bulletin was broadcast on the marine radio calling for severe thunderstorms right in our course.  Fortunately, we were just about 6 miles from Ballina, a small port where the Richmond River enters the Tasman Sea.  We hadn't even considered it as an anchorage as it's very shallow but, under the circumstances, we decided to take a chance.

We had good local information:  All up and down the coast of Australia are Volunteer Marine Rescue stations, most of which are staffed 24 hours per day.  They provide weather information, bar conditions (no, not that type of bar.  Where a river empties into the ocean is called a 'bar' and they can be extremely hazardous if you get the tides and seas wrong.  Crossing a bar can be benign or hair-raising.) and other information that is helpful to boaters.  If you're making a passage, you can file a 'float plan' with the VMR and they'll keep an eye on you the entire trip, passing your information on to the next VMR station who has jurisdiction over the vicinity through which you're passing.  We don't need any hand-holding but it's kind of fun to check in with them on the radio.  Everyone we've spoke with has seemed very eager to help.

We entered Ballina (pronounced băl' ĭ nă) just after sunset and found our way to a small anchorage that the VMR told us was deep enough for our 2-meter draft.  Two boats were there already and we slowly tried to maneuver around them so as not to be too close but not too shallow either.  We ran aground.  With Rutea's powerful engine, we freed ourselves and made several more attempts.  After dropping and retrieving the anchor four times,  we finally settled down for the night, albeit almost in the entrance to the anchorage.

Early the next morning we were underway again, this time our destination was a more modest Yamba, where the Clarence River empties.  We easily found a spot to anchor (a whopping 8-feet of water under our keel!  Woohoo!) and the holding is excellent.  A quick tour through the town finds it to be an interesting cross between quaint fishing village and resort get-away.  And here we sit.

Rutea at Anchor in the Yamba Channel with the Yamba-Iluka Ferry in the Background

The winds have filled in from the south - not that they're horrendous - they're not.  But they would make sailing uncomfortable and I had promised Ruthie that we'd only sail south under good conditions.  The trouble is that there's no break in the weather forecast.  We could easily have southerlies like this for the next 30 days.  So, we're steeling ourselves to spend Christmas and New Year's Eve in our new favorite port, Yamba, New South Wales!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dawn Comes Early

“Dawn comes early on a boat.  Just about sun-up every day.”  (Captain Ron)  And here at 27: 30. south, first light is about 4:00 a.m. and sunrise is at 4:43 a.m.!  That makes for some pretty long days!  You might think that means that we get a lot of extra stuff done…. but not necessarily!  However, when we first arrived I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the Ozzies out sailing already at 5:00 a.m.!  It certainly does help, though, when you are trying to time an early outgoing or rising tide. I think as we sail south it will get lighter later.  The Queenslanders don’t believe in daylight savings time.  They say it fades the curtains and confuses the cows.  However, in more sophisticated New South Wales we will begin daylight savings time and spring forward an hour.

After an expensive five days in a Mooloolaba marina (don’t you just love the way that word rolls around your mouth?) we decided that this Newport- Beach-like- scene wasn’t where we wanted to spend the next four months.   Instead of watching Corie leave for work every day by 6:15 a.m. we opted to again cross the (continuously being dredged) bar and sail on down the Sunshine Coast, past the Gold Coast, into New South Wales and perhaps see a little opera in Sydney!  We timed the tides, listened to the VMR weather said good-bye to Maroochydore, Marcoola and Yaroomba and headed towards Moreton Bay- again timing the tide to eek around Skirmish Point (5 feet under the keel- thank you very much…) anchoring in seven feet under the keel at mid tide in Deception Bay, six and a half hours later!  Whew!  It’s intense sailing down this Aussie coast!  So many bars and not the kind you are thinking of, either!

Sailing across Moreton Bay we could see Brisbane which is twelve miles up the Brisbane River!  That is the other thing about this country…. it is flat!  We sailed passed miles and miles of pristine, white, soft sand beaches with no backdrop except an occasional ancient volcano shaped cinder cone or outcropping of jagged rock jutting up at 90 degree angles.  The air is clean, the water is blue and the surf is non-stop.  You might be pleased to know that we are now out of croc, cyclone and box jelly fish territory and only have to remember to worry about dingos, death adders and sharks.

Now anchored behind Peel Island we discovered the favorite anchorage of the local cruising fleets who were fortunately leaving late Sunday afternoon as we pulled in.  Monday morning finds us almost alone as we plan to walk the mile long beach and venture in to the eucalyptus forest.  You can hear the forest (almost from the boat) as it is full of birds and ZZZzzzers!  Something (I don’t know what they are) that make a crazy, loud, zzzing noise….. like a cicada?  We need to plan our route down through the inside passage to Gold Coast Seaway which like Sandy Straits is very shallow and needs to be timed with sunlight (not a problem) and the tides.  Today and tomorrow we have 25 knot winds from the northwest, but tomorrow night it switches around to 25 knots from the southwest.  Go figure!  Hmmm, so an anchorage in the straits that is protected from the north and the south with a  MLW depth of seven feet!  In the meantime, Neal has made scones for breakfast and the sun has been up for five hours (dawn comes early on a boat!) and all I have accomplished is this meandering blog!

Cheers Mate!  No worries!  See you in Sydney!

R of Rutea
27:30.3 South
153:21.7 East

Found the ZZzzzers!  4 inch long Cicadas!