Yacht Fathom - Setting off from England in May 2016 on a single-handed voyage somewhere a bit warmer
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28

After leaving the U.K in May 2016 i’m sailing

around the world in Fathom, my Vancouver 28.

 

map

Madagascar

There is a lot I could write about my visit to Madagascar and I will have the time to do so in future. But in the meantime just some photos which I hope will show what an incredible few weeks i’ve had here. I’ve been lucky to meet some amazing people and a special mention goes to Max, Tania, Clem and Emma from SV Alalila. They invited me to join them on many adventures, we raced Alalila in the local regatta (and won), and we have pretty much spent all our time together. Madagascar would not have been the same without them.

The Nosy Be area is a beautiful cruising ground with flat water and good sailing, a sea teaming with life, healthy coral, and on the whole friendly locals. I have been surprised at just how happy and content the village people are despite being incredibly poor. Highlights have included sailing on a local outrigger pirogue at Russian Bay, swimming alongside a whale shark, chilling in the pristine and beautiful waters of Nosy Irandja and Tsara Banjina and a beach fire and jam session with the locals at Nosy Mitsio. Thank you Madagascar for all the memories!

Nosy Sakatia, Crater Bay and Russian Bay

 

Lima Island, Honey River & Nosy Irandja 

 

Nosy Be Regatta & local Pirogues

 

Whale Shark, Tsara Banjina, Nosy Mitsio

Posted in: Madagascar

Cocos Keeling to Madagascar

Heading out into a rough sea to commence a 3,000nm passage when feeling fresh and topped up with sleep is one thing but when suffering from an unusually bad and unexpected hangover is another. I don’t recommend doing this. During my last afternoon at Cocos Keeling I had got chatting with Marques and his crew from SV Matau, a large catamaran in the anchorage. They had come ashore for sundowners with a large coolbox full of (very) cold beers and as we sat on the beach a new one continued to be passed my way. Later I was invited back to their boat for a delicious dinner with good wine and it was a great evening. The trouble was the next morning the last thing I felt like doing was going sailing. Des, the weather guru in South Africa, had agreed that the winds would be a little lighter for the next couple of days and it was a good time to leave for Madagascar however the 3.5-4m swells rolling up from the Southern Ocean would continue. After setting sail on the 13th September it actually took me three days to start to feel good and comfortable and get into any kind of rhythm. Three long days. To make matters worse I had injured my shoulder when filling and transporting the water cans at Cocos and I could now barely raise my right arm. A true single-handed sailor.

 

By the fifth day at sea the sky was overcast with frequent rain showers and the wind hovered between 30 and 35 knots with cross swells around 4m. I was feeling better at last and my shoulder was working again but Fathom was being rolled all over the place and it was incredibly difficult to carry out any task in the cabin. Cooking was a bit of an ordeal and half my dinner ended up on the cabin sole that evening despite my best efforts to keep it on the stove. The new mainsail got a thorough workout and for a few hours I was quite glad there were four reef points. I received an email with some brief news of the huge 70knot storm below me in the Southern Indian Ocean that had rolled and dismasted two yachts in the Golden Globe Race. I was happy not to be down there and reminded myself I shouldn’t complain too much about 35kts of wind. I had hoped conditions would moderate substantially the next day but they didn’t and in fact for most of the next week the wind never dropped below 20-25knots with the relentless swell picking the boat up and throwing us all over the place. At times, even with three reefs in the main and a scrap of headsail, I was struggling to slow the boat down as we surfed down waves at over 10 knots. Exhilarating the first time but scary thereafter! On numerous occasions at the bottom of one wave the next one would hit us from a completely different angle and Fathom would slew round and water would nearly fill the cockpit. If i’m honest it all got quite tiresome, I was sailing this leg from Cocos Keeling to Madagascar unaware of any other boats going the same way and I was not in the best of spirits. I attempted to cheer myself up with the realisation that things would be a whole lot worse if I hadn’t changed plans and was heading South West towards Mauritius, a closer angle to the wind and waves, rather than West towards Madagascar.

During the second week there were less rain squalls and the swells and waves finally began to moderate. A huge morale boost was locking in to the west flowing South Equatorial Current which acted like a conveyor belt and increased speed over the ground by up to 1.5kts. A new 24hour distance record of 151nm on day 19 a nice achievement. Over the following seven day period Fathom was a rocket ship with 24 runs of 151, 144,147,144,133,135 and 150nm which was the best weekly progress of the whole voyage by a huge margin. I baked some bread and cake and life got a whole lot better. My new friends on SV Matau had set off for Mauritius and emailed me a little concerned asking how my little boat was coping with the big waves. I reassured them that I was being well looked after and all was well. The only problem I had was the house batteries were showing significant signs of dying despite being less than three years old. I have always looked after them never discharging more than 50% but for some reason they now had minimal capacity and would have to be carefully nursed to South Africa where replacements could be sourced.

By the third week at sea progress had been so fast that my thoughts were firmly on the rounding of Cape d’ Ambre, the most northerly point of Madagascar. This has something of a fearsome reputation as it is a compression zone caused by the SE trade winds hitting the land, being bent more to the south and accelerated over the top of the island, sometimes doubling in speed. To make matters worse the swells and currents combine to make washing machine like conditions. Many boats sailing from Chagos and the Seychelles to Madagascar have got beaten up. Des advised the best tactic was for me to make landfall off Diego Suarez, about twenty miles south of the Cape, and then sail north within five miles of the coast where the fast north setting current would flatten out the swell. I got very lucky with the timing and my arrival coincided with a couple of days of weak trade winds. In fact I only saw 10-15kts of breeze during the rounding of the Cape and all went well. At other times it would have been a different story (see image of the forecast a few days prior). It was a great feeling to round the Cape and almost instantly escape the relentless swells and rocking and rolling of the Indian Ocean but another 24 hours of sailing lay ahead before the anchor could go down. No sleep was possible that night due to frequent rain squalls, low visibility and proximity to land and reefs.

 

The final day of the passage was definitely one of those special ones that will live long in the memory. As the sun rose in the morning, my 22nd day out from Cocos Keeling, the clouds cleared, the waves subsided, and I was filled with the optimism and excitement of making landfall in a new country. As I sat on deck with a coffee I watched in awe as breaching humpback whales splashed about close alongside. By mid afternoon I was sipping my anchor beer in the calm, safe anchorage of Nosy Sakatia with turtles swimming past the boat. Within an hour of the hook going down I had got chatting with the two other yachts in the anchorage, SV Barbara Ann and SV Proud Cat, and at sunset we were all swapping stories and enjoying beers on the beach. Instant friends and we had only just met.

 

For the previous three weeks I had been alone at sea, happily immersed in my bubble of solitude but very much concentrated on dealing with the tough conditions, making sure Fathom was happy, that i’m eating well and getting enough rest. One moment i’m bobbing around in the big blue staring at the waves the next i’m playing silly games with local kids on the beach. The sudden contrast was almost overwhelming. I was in Madagascar and had safely crossed the Indian Ocean. It all seemed a bit surreal and hard to believe. Definitely time to get some sleep.

Posted in: at sea - 2018

Cocos Keeling

Unexpectedly, my stay at Cocos Keeling has provided a sad reminder of how polluted our oceans really are. At a brief glance this place looks just like it does in the tourist brochures – beautiful turquoise waters and palm tree fringed white sand beaches. But after I took a stroll along the beach at Direction Island a few days ago the reality stared me in the face. Mountains of plastic strewn along the high tide mark and in the most concentrated areas stacked over 50cm high. Not a few isolated patches but all along the south and east facing beaches. Even during one snorkel session I saw some plastic caught on coral a couple of metres under the surface. This plastic waste does not come from the local population, in fact there is a serious recycling effort going on here and beach clean days are organised every so often, the source is Indonesia and South East Asia with the pollution being carried by the ocean currents. Quite rightly, us yachties have to take all our rubbish away with us.

 

The anchorage at Direction Island is nearly a 2 nautical mile dinghy ride from the next island, Home Island, which supports the Islamic Malay population. There are absolutely no facilities at Direction Island except a few shelters and a large rain water tank which is not potable but good for do it yourself laundry and shower water. A trip to Home Island is required to clear in and out with the Police, visit the one supermarket, obtain drinking water and diesel and find some internet on the wifi hotspot. A ferry only runs only twice a week from Direction to Home Island so most the time I have taken the dinghy which is quite an adventure punching into 25 knot+ plus headwinds and choppy water. Coming back with 100 litres of water in jerry cans and a large amount of food the other day was a good test for the 2.5hp outboard! The Malay people are extremely friendly and helpful and seem very content with their island life. The only other inhabited Island at Cocos is West Island where the Aussie expats live. This is a longer ferry ride away from Home Island and due to the difficulty in matching the ferries from Direction to Home to West and the lively weather I never managed to get over there. Apparently the only thing I have missed out on is the liquor store!

Despite seeing the scale of the pollution here it has been an enjoyable stay and a nice respite from the uncomfortable waves of the Indian Ocean. The perfect place to recharge the batteries before the long miles ahead. There have only been three or four other cruising yachts in the anchorage but a great bunch and new friends I hope to bump into again down the line. We have shared dinners, cold beers, movie collections and snorkel sessions and it has been good fun. Wherever I end up, I always seem to meet great people and for me, more than the places I visit, this is the best part about voyaging by sailboat.

 

My intention had been to sail from here to the island of Rodrigues with later stops at Mauritius and Reunion before a 1,400nm voyage direct to Richards Bay in South Africa, passing south of Madagascar. But on the advice of other yachties and particularly Des Cason, the generous and extremely helpful ex-cruiser and now weather guru, I have changed my plans. I will sail directly from Cocos to NW Madagascar passing over the northern tip. This is the best part of 3,000nm and a month at sea. After spending a few weeks cruising down the NW coast of Madagascar i’ll hop across and down the Mozambique Channel to SA. This route will provide more places to shelter from the strong SW fronts that blow through on average every 3 or 4 days. If I had stuck to my original plan there would have been no where to hide. I’m looking forward to getting this next long stretch out the way and seeing what Madagascar has to offer. Fathom is full to the brim with food, water, diesel and most importantly I have two new jars of Marmite and Branston Pickle in the stores, a couple of tasty and hard to find reminders of home!

Posted in: Misc

Darwin to Cocos Keeling

The passage from Darwin to Cocos Keeling is the best part of 2,000 nautical miles and would be the longest passage I had done since Panama to the Marquesas last year. In the dry season there is very little wind around Darwin and several hundred miles to the north and west too. On average every couple of weeks a 15-20 knot S.E wind fills in for a couple of days when a strong high pressure system moves across South Australia. You want to leave Darwin at this time to provide a good push to the west.

With a S.E breeze forecast, and with the new mainsail successfully installed, Fathom and I were raring to go and set sail on the 19th September. In the wee small hours of the first night at sea I was woken by a strong squall and 30-35 knots of wind. Out on deck it was a bit of a struggle to pull the mainsail down and in the process one of the batten cars on the luff of the sail caught on the lazy jack line (ropes that stop the sail falling off the boom). The whole thing jammed up but eventually I got the sail down though in the process the lazy jack line had gone up the mast. Until this was retrieved it wouldn’t be possible to pull the main sail back up without it jamming again. I went back to bed with Fathom happily sailing along under heavily reefed foresail. At first light the wind had calmed down to 15 knots but there was a bit of a sea running. I had never been up the mast before at sea but the folding mast steps make this much easier. I wear a harness connected to an ascender which slides up a fixed halyard and grips in case I slip. By standing on the spreaders I managed to retrieve the lazy jack line and all was well but have to say it was a quite rolly and exciting up there and I didn’t stop too long to admire the view. The next couple of days were spent sailing along in 15 knots making good progress west.

 

Then, as expected, the wind died, but little did I know I would be plagued by calms for the next 1000 plus miles. I was in touch with Des Cason, an ex cruiser who together with his wife Nell sailed 40,000nm over a 13 year period around South Africa and Madagascar. He is very familiar with the Indian Ocean weather patterns and kindly offers a free weather and routeing service to cruising yachts on passage to South Africa each year. Every day, Des would send me an email with the expected weather for the next few days. It is incredibly reassuring to know there is someone looking at the big picture as I can only download a small area of weather onboard due to data limitations of the satellite phone. Des indicated that I should reach the S.E trade winds in about three or four days time at about 120degE longitude. In the meantime I sailed under cruising chute in daylight hours and motored at night. The breeze rarely rising above 8 knots and mostly in the 4 to 7 knot range with a flat sea.

As I approached 120degE it was evident from the GRIB files (see image) that the calm area was catching me up and I would not find any decent wind for the foreseeable future. On the positive side some strong SW flowing currents, up to 2 knots at times, helped push Fathom along. I had left with 127 litres of diesel in the main tank plus 100 litres in jerry cans so had plenty for the time being. It is just incredibly frustrating having the engine on so much and the constant noise. But less frustrating than making good 50 miles a day. As the miles ticked by and Fathom got a little closer to the Indonesian coast I began to see Indonesian fisherman. The vast majority of them had no AIS or radar signal and some even without lights at night. Most of these fishing boats are very small and low profile making them hard to see beyond two miles in the ocean swell. On several occasions I looked out the window to see a boat less than half a mile off. Some were towing large buoys several hundred metres behind them which increased the collision risk. At night I used the watchman mode on the radar and a guard zone to keep a look out for me while I slept in 30 minute to one hour blocks. At least the big ships are easy to see. These days all large commercial vessels are required to transmit an AIS signal which I can detect . This means crossing busy shipping lanes such as the ones from Indonesia to Western Australia are not too much of a drama. One ship however seemed intent on coming very close to Fathom but a call to the bridge and a chat with the officer of the watch resulted in them turning immediately ten degrees to starboard!

As it turned out, the first eleven days of the passage were spent mostly in winds under 10 knots. Never have I used the cruising chute so much. Flying this sail in daylight hours allowed Fathom to move at around 4 to 4.5 knots boat speed in 5 to 8 knots of wind which is pretty good going. One morning at first light I looked over the stern and noticed a large amount of plastic had caught on the rudder or propeller. I was not able to dislodge it with the boat hook so as the sea was calm and there was little wind I jumped over the side to free it. Incredibly refreshing to have a dip in the 27 degree water and exhilarating to do so alone, far from dry land. While asleep one night I woke to the sound of some banging and flapping on deck and rushed up to discover a bird trying to land on the spinnaker pole which I had left rigged. It was very amusing to watch the bird try and get a grip as Fathom motored along at 5 knots rolling around in the swell. Eventually it managed to find a perch and looked set to rest there for the remainder of the night. The next morning the bird was still in place and despite offering a beaker of coffee and some home made bread crumbs little interest was shown. We watched the sunrise together with conversation somewhat one way. All of a sudden a flock of birds circled the boat and my night-watchman must have recognised some mates and flew off with not even a thank you.

 

At long last on day 11 the wind began to fill in and it was a great relief not to have to motor. The following morning a pod of dolphins surrounded the boat and began playing and jumping in the bow wave. I never get bored of watching these playful creatures and every time i’ve been lucky to have them alongside since leaving home it cheers me up. After being alone at sea for prolonged periods perhaps it is suddenly having some unexpected company, the feeling that I can interact with them and they respond to my voice, that they clearly have intelligence, that creates a very powerful sensation of well-being and contentment that I find hard to describe.

A few days out from Cocos Keeling it was clear from the weather forecasts and updates from Des that conditions were deteriorating and I could expect some stronger winds and rougher seas. At last the Indian Ocean was waking up. The penultimate day at sea the wind hovered around 20 knots and the sea became uncomfortable as the waves reached 3 to 4m. The final approach on the 4th September was in 4m+ waves with the wind regularly topping 25 knots. The GRIB file (See image) clearly showed a band of 25 knot+ winds surrounding the Cocos area which is normal at this time of year at the hight of the trade wind season. As I rounded the edge of the atoll the rain hammered down and Fathom bashed into the waves on the approach to the lagoon anchorage at Direction Island. I received a call on the VHF from an Austrian yacht in the anchorage, Plastik Plankton, who kindly offered me some advise on avoiding the bommies on the way in. It was with a certain amount of relief that the anchor went down and I could relax. The last few days of the passage had been quite tiring and I was ready for a rest. That afternoon the wind reached 30+knots and began shrieking in the rigging while the rain hammered down. I was lucky to arrive when I did. Overall, despite the calms, I had enjoyed the passage and had slipped quickly into the rhythm of being on a long passage. It had taken me 17 days, interestingly the same duration as my Atlantic Crossing.

Posted in: at sea - 2018

Australia – Darwin

Darwin would be the last semblance of civilisation before heading off into the Indian Ocean so much of my time there was spent preparing Fathom for the potentially tough miles ahead. The sleepy, laid back town is quite a contrast to the Aussie cities I had visited in Queensland and New South Wales. People are generally more friendly and relaxed in Darwin although sometimes this means it takes a long time to get anything done – “it’ll be all right maaate, no worries” is the answer to most questions. I had visited for work back in 2012 and it was pretty much as I remembered it except the lack of trees following the cyclone that hit earlier this year.

standing on the rocks watching my last Aussie sunset

There is a very high tidal range in Darwin, 6-8m at springs, so anchoring requires some planning. I decided to take Fathom to Cullen Bay marina where it would be easier to work on the boat and get about. Due to the tidal range the marina is behind a lock and before being allowed to enter a treatment has to be poured into all the raw water inlet pipes and left for ten hours to kill any mussels or other organisms which may infect the marina. Once inside it was full speed ahead on boat jobs. I removed the mainsail and my neighbours in the marina, Mike and Chrissey on catamaran ‘Ohmless’, kindly gave me a lift to the sailmaker so he could repair the small tears in the upper panel. Mike also gave me a lift to the camping store with gas bottles to get them refilled. I climbed the mast to do a rig check, adjusted the rigging and changed the engine oil. One of the Raymarine ST2000 tiller pilots used for steering the boat under engine or in very light winds had failed beyond repair so I decided to order another one (I like to have two working units) which had to come from Melbourne and would take about 8 or 9 days.

I’m ashamed to say that I dug the fold up bike out from the bow for the first time since leaving the U.K. Cycling to town and the supermarkets from the marina isn’t much slower than taking the bus, plus Darwin is very flat so it was well worth it. Great to get cycling again and do some exercise and I enjoyed some rides along the coast to the Mindle street markets and to the sailing club at the north of Fannie Bay which has a very good Sunday carvery for 20 bucks. The weather was warm, dry and sunny without fail and Darwin knows how to put on an impressive sunset. I spent some time with Don and Erika on Wasco before they headed off to Cocos Keeling and met some other cruisers in the marina so it was an enjoyable time.

However, not everything went to plan. While checking the gearbox oil it turned out the plastic dipstick had snapped with most the thread still screwed into the metal gearbox casing and the top part with plunger completely loose. I spent a while working out how I could unscrew the plastic part from the gearbox – it had snapped inside the casing so there was no way to grip it from above. Some cruiser friends in the marina lent me a releasing drill bit, which turns the opposite way to a normal drill bit and as you turn it it grips and you wind out what ever is stuck. I gave this a go with a hand tap as opposed to electric drill and very, very slowly began to turn the bit. Then all of a sudden DISASTER! The bit fell out of the hand tap and dropped INTO THE GEARBOX!! I could not believe it and now the worst case scenario whirling round in my mind was that Fathom would have to be towed out of the lock to a boat yard miles away, the engine hoisted out, gearbox removed and turned on its side to remove the bit. I apologise to everyone in Cullen Bay marina, and the surrounding area, for the loud expletives that could probably be heard from Dock E that morning. But what this voyage has taught me, on the many occasions when things don’t go to plan, is stop, don’t panic and put the kettle on. By shining a torch through the one inch hole in the gearbox I could just make out the drill bit leaning vertically inside the casing. Thankfully it hadn’t fallen all the way to the bottom or onto its side. I dug out a telescopic magnet from the toolbox and knew I had one attempt to try and pull it out. If the bit fell on it side it would never come out of the hole. Gingerly I lowered the magnet into the gearbox and felt it grab the bit, very slowly and with a shaky hand I raised it up and to my great surprise the bit came out perfectly! Lucky lucky boy, disaster averted! My marina neighbours suggested I go and do the lottery that evening. The problem still remained of how to remove the plastic from the thread of the gearbox and in the end I managed to do this by pushing a blade of a pair of scissors into the plastic and unscrewing as I applied downward pressure so they gripped. Should have done this in the first place! A new dipstick was ordered, the last one in Australia that matched the gearbox model as it turned out, and would be sent up from Melbourne. I really should have done the lottery that night.

The second thing that didn’t go to plan was the mainsail. I picked it up from Gary the sailmaker after he completed the repairs and that afternoon set about installing it back on the mast and boom. While putting the battens back in I gently straightened out a kink and immediately a 6 inch tear appeared! It was now evident that the sail cloth had deteriorated significantly and was incredibly weak. I called Gary and he told me he was unfortunately too busy to make a new sail but I could bring it back and he would have another look at it. The other sailmaker in Darwin was also too busy. Back at the sail loft Gary had a look and confirmed the sail was well and truly shagged. Thankfully he changed his mind and in view of my itinerary to cross the Indian Ocean before the next cyclone season and told me he should be able to make a new mainsail within 7 days. A big hit to the wallet but with something so important this was definitely a blessing in disguise.

 

True to his word a week later the new sail was ready and I installed it without any issues. I had asked Gary to install 4 reef points in view of the potentially stormy weather ahead and because there is no trysail onboard. The last job remaining was to clean the hull. The good point about jumping over the side in the marina is that there are no crocodiles or sharks to eat you, the bad point is that there isn’t a big flow of water and its a marina and despite not being allowed i’m sure some ‘things’ end up in the water…. But with such a long way to go I needed a clean hull so spent a few hours diving on the hull at the dock. Thankfully only some slime to clean off so not too difficult but it was not a pleasant experience. I write this many weeks later and am still alive so as they say in Darwin “no worries”. A final food shop, top up with diesel and water and Fathom was ready to tackle another ocean. After checking out with Customs I walked down to the beach that evening and stood on the rocks to watch my last Aussie sunset. I had seen so many over the last months it was hard to believe that this was the last one. Sailing single-handed from Sydney all the way up and across to Darwin had been quite a challenge and harder work than I had envisaged but a memorable experience nonetheless. Such a bloody huge country I was well and truly done with coastal sailing for the time being and ready to be heading out to open ocean once again.

Posted in: Australia

Australia – Cairns to Darwin

My stay in Cairns was a complete blast and by far the highlight of my Australian cruise. Not only did I make some amazing new friends it was also an opportunity to catch up with old friends too. A laid back city with plenty to do in and around town and with the Great Barrier Reef right on the doorstop it was a super place to spend some time. Waiting at the marina office when I arrived were two packages – a new Aries self steering gear paddle and a woodburning of Fathom sailing under the Southern Cross, a gift from my hugely talented friend Oceana. I am so thrilled with the wood burning it now hangs in the cabin and will continue to bring back happy memories of voyaging in the South Pacific last year.

farewell rainbow from Cairns

Through Neil and Chris on yacht ‘Tusitala‘ that I had met in New South Wales I connected with their daughter, Bree, who lives and works in Cairns. Spending time with Bree was a lot of fun, not only did she know the best bars and restaurants in town she was kind enough to drive me around on various sightseeing trips including stops at the beachside village of Palm Cove to the north and a hike up to the Glacier Rock Lookout. Thanks so much Bree for the amazing hospitality! The following week Oceana made a late call to fly up to Cairns from Sydney for a short holiday and after Kimi and Trevor arrived in the marina on their yacht ‘Slow Flight‘ we had an unexpected South Pacific reunion. As we hadn’t seen a wild crocodile yet Bree drove us all to Hartley’s Crocodile Park where we went out on a boat to watch a guide dangle a lump of meat over the side encouraging the crocs to jump up. Seeing the strength and ferocity of these creatures at close quarters was a reminder not to go swimming off Fathom for the foreseeable future..

Once Oceana had flown home it was time to get back in sailing mode and as Kimi and Trevor were heading in the same direction we planned to buddy boat the 520 nautical miles to Thursday Island. We left Cairns on the 3rd July and were treated to a farewell rainbow before a brisk 20-25knot breeze pushed us towards Low Islet. On arrival I was surprised to see ‘Bogart‘ in the anchorage and shortly after I had dropped the hook Tony sent me a text asking which pub I was watching the England world cup game at! Being an uninhabited small island I had resigned myself to missing the game so was pleasantly surprised when Tony offered to pick me up in his dinghy at 03.30 that night so I could watch the game through his Aussie TV feed. Very memorable all round especially as England finally won a game on penalties!

 

The next day was a 41nm passage to Hope Island. The weather was not so good with frequent rain squalls and the wind gusting up to 35 knots. To enter the anchorage a narrow dog leg through the reefs had to be negotiated and just as I was taking Fathom through a large squall passed directly over head reducing visibility to virtually nothing. I could hardly see the edge of the reef but had thankfully downloaded the satellite images before I left Cairns which was a useful backup and meant we got through without drama. Due to the bad weather a 4th July party on Slow Flight was postponed for another day. Early the next morning we set off on the 50nm passage to Cape Flattery which required good concentration crossing several shipping lanes in 25-30kts of breeze. The anchorage at Cape Flattery was good holding although wind bullets fired down from the hills keeping my nerves on edge as the rigging shrieked. A short sail of 20nm on the 6th of July to Lizard Island where we planned to stop for a few days to let some bad weather pass through.

Lizard Island was an interesting stop as it was here in 1770 that Captain Cook climbed up to the 370m summit from where he saw a gap in the reefs and realised he wasn’t trapped and could sail his ship, the Endeavour, into open water and away from danger. Kimi, Trevor and I did the hike and enjoyed looking out at the same view Captain Cook had witnessed nearly 250 years before. Waiting for the strong winds to blow through was a good opportunity to meet other cruisers in the anchorage including Donald and Erika on Wasco who are sailing the same route as me towards South Africa, Michael, Caroline and Joyce on Henrietta, Amy and David on Starry Horizons and Carlos and Linda from Mirniy Okean. Although it had been delayed a few days Kimi and Trevor invited six of us over to Slow Flight for their July 4th American independence celebration. A memorable evening with no shortage of excellent food and ‘Kimi strength’ cocktails. The next day a few of us walked over the island to the picturesque Blue Lagoon and en-route met a local Cooktown resident, Robyn, who offered to be our tour guide and provided lots of local knowledge as we walked around. That evening was drinks on Starry Horizons and an opportunity to become envious of all the living space on a catamaran. Next up was a tour of the coral research station where we learnt about the fish and coral conservation efforts on this part of the barrier reef. Our final evening on the island was spent having sundowners on the beach where I met a local Cooktown resident who was once a crocodile hunter back in the 1960’s and who had also kept a pet crocodile on his fishing boat. A real life Crocodile Dundee!

 

By the 11th July the wind had moderated but there were still gusts up to 25 knots on the 75nm passage to Bathurst Bay. Fast sailing under just headsail. I left at 03.00 in order to arrive in daylight with Slow Flight leaving a little later as they are much quicker than little Fathom. Another big day and 3am start on the 12th -74nm to Morris Island but at the bottom of the Princess Charlotte Sound there was a big wind hole so most the day was spent motoring. I threw the fishing line out for the first time in a while and couple of hours later pulled in a nice sized Yellow Tailed Kingfish. Trevor offered to cook it up for dinner so once at the anchorage he picked me up and shortly after dinner was served. This was the start of an excellent agreement between us, I would catch the fish and Trevor would cook them!

Between Cooktown and Thursday Island, roughly 400nm, there are no townships the only semblance of civilisation a few houses and a cafe at Portland Roads. This was our destination the following day after a 61nm sail in 15-20 knot trade winds from Morris Island. With Fathom and Slow Flight safely anchored by mid afternoon, Kimi, Trevor and I went ashore only to find the cafe was fully booked from a land based tour group. A bit disappointing but a delicious home cooked curry on Slow Flight was undoubtedly even better. Portland Roads to Margaret Bay was a 41nm passage on the 14th and from there to Escape River on the 15th, another big day and early start at 71nm. In the morning I noticed the fishing line was tight only to find a small shark had taken the lure. I managed to unhook it and let it go without losing any fingers. Then early afternoon another bite, this time a biggie, a beautiful 80cm yellowfin tuna. I excitedly called Slow Flight on the VHF to inform them dinner had been caught and once at the anchorage Trevor did the rest. Sushi for starters followed by Tuna steaks, rice and veggies. It doesn’t get any better!

It had been quite a slog up the coast so it was with a fair amount of excitement and satisfaction that Fathom and Slow Flight sailed past Cape York, the most northerly point of mainland Australia on the morning of the 16th. This area reportedly has the strongest tradewinds in the world but we only saw an agreeable 15 knots from the SE. The currents run very strongly through the Torres Straits so we had to time our passage along the Flinders Passage to the anchorage at Horn Island accordingly. All went well and we found space in the busy anchorage mid afternoon. This is true crocodile country and sure enough the next morning a large 4.5m croc could be seen sunbathing on the mud bank at the edge of the anchorage. The next few days were spent provisioning, catching up with other cruisers and taking the ferry over to Thursday Island for a tour. A really interesting place with a melting pot of different peoples and cultures, mostly originating from the pearl shell farming days. A completely different feel to mainland Australia and more like being back in the Pacific Islands.

There wasn’t a great deal going on at Horn Island, two shops and a bar the highlights so I was looking forward to getting to Darwin. First light on the 21st July, Fathom and a small flotilla of yachts including Slow Flight and Starry Horizons left the anchorage and headed out into the Prince of Wales Channel on the flood tide to go our separate ways. I headed west while they pointed their bows towards Indonesia. It had been an absolute pleasure to buddy boat with Kimi and Trevor since Cairns. A potentially tough couple of weeks had been made much easier. They had kept my water tanks topped up with fresh water from their watermaker, invited me over for numerous dinners and given me lifts everywhere in their dinghy so I didn’t need to pump mine up. Such great company and good fun, I will really miss them. But maybe not the Slow Flight hangovers!

It was quite a contrast heading offshore on a 650nm passage after three and a half months of coastal day hops but felt good to get into the rhythm of being at sea again. The first day out from Horn Island the breeze gave up and the motor was required but thereafter it was decent sailing in 12 -18 knots across the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Alcaro Bay anchorage at Cape Don where I arrived five days later on the 26th. On passage I had been looking out for the P&O cruise ship ‘Pacific Aria’ as Nick and Gail, who I had stayed with in Mooloolaba, were passengers. Late afternoon on the 25th the ship appeared ten miles astern as an AIS target on the chartplotter so I called the bridge on the VHF and asked the Master to pass a message to Nick and Gail saying all was well with me and to wish them a nice cruise. The Master replied saying he knew all about me and had been looking out for Fathom! Our respective headings and speed meant the ship was due to pass 5 miles to the north so I gybed and changed course to ensure our closest point of approach would be just under one mile. After sunset in the last of the evening twilight the ship passed close alongside and we took photos of each other. The Captain called back on the VHF to say Nick and Gail were standing amidships waving. They were a lot closer than it appears in the photo. A really nice moment.

 

After sailing slowly overnight so as not to arrive at Cape Don before sunrise I was pleased to see Wasco in the anchorage on arrival as well as a catamaran called Showtime that I had met down the coast. Despite being in a bit of a daze after very little sleep over the last couple days it was good to have a couple of beers on Wasco that evening and catch up with Don and Erika. Back to Fathom for a few hours sleep before the alarm went off at 01:00, a very early start in order to work the tides through the Van Diemen Gulf to Darwin. By 02.30 Fathom was motoring along in a calm and with enough sea room I took a series of 15 minute naps. I woke up after one of these naps to find the boat headed NE when our course was supposed to be SW. It turned out Fathom had been going round in circles since I dozed off as the electric tiller pilot had turned off and the engine noise had drowned out the off course alarm. Don and Erika a few miles behind had assumed my erratic course was the result of catching a large fish! The tides all worked out as planned and despite a long day of motoring I reached the Fannie Bay anchorage at Darwin just behind Wasco and in time to see the blood moon rising in the east. The next morning I took Fathom to the waiting pontoon at Cullen Bay marina in order for a treatment solution to be put into the raw water inlet pipes before being allowed through the lock into the marina that evening.

It is hard to believe that 3,226 nautical miles have passed under the keel since arriving at Brisbane in November, including the trip south to Sydney Harbour and Pittwater, then north again to the Torres Straits inside the Great Barrier Reef and across to the Northern Territory. Such a HUGE country! From strong adverse currents, thunderstorms, howling head winds and exciting bar entrances in New South Wales, to fast trade wind sailing and reef dodging in Queensland it’s been quite a trip and I’ll admit fairly tough at times sailing solo. But a great experience nonetheless and a nice contrast to long ocean passages. I’ve met some amazing people, made some great friends and sailing alongside various buddy boats has been a lot of fun and made the trip much easier. Having reached Darwin, my last port of call in Australia, it was time to catch up on some sleep and start preparations for heading out into the Indian Ocean. There is a lot of sailing to come.

Posted in: Australia

Australia – Gold Coast to Cairns

The first challenge on leaving the anchorage at Southport at the end of April, affectionately known as ‘Bums Bay’, was weaving through all the excitable locals in jet ski’s who it seemed had no regard for others using the shipping channel. Being Anzac Day, a pubic holiday, the area was even more chaotic than normal and as I steered Fathom along the channel towards the Broadwater a jet ski at full speed came so close alongside that it sprayed me, and my coffee, with wake. Some friends of mine who live on the Sunshine Coast describe the Gold Coast as a sunny place for shady people. That morning I would have definitely agreed with them. The next days I travelled alongside Dave and Rosie on ‘Alfresco’ stopping at the pretty Jumpin Pin and Slipping Sands anchorages. The crab pot given to me by William and Alison at Southport had its maiden outing and was an instant success catching six Blue Swimmers at the first attempt which made for a tasty lunch.

Birthday sunrise

The plan was to haul Fathom out and apply some fresh antifoul at Mooloolaba but after stopping at the Moreton Bay Tralier Boat Club in Manly for a couple of days discovered that they had a small boat yard and availability the following week so why not get on with it. A very busy few days were spend preparing the hull, re-antifouling, polishing the topsides etc. Thanks to Bob from Robara who would drop by every day with a cup of coffee and a sandwich to keep morale up. For the first time I had PropSpeed applied to the propeller so will be interesting to see if it works better than propeller antifouling I have used previously. At the club I met a local sailor called Alen who very kindly offered to make a spare tiller for the boat free of charge. I had intended to have a spare before leaving home but had run out of time. A huge thanks to Alen and another example of the friendliness and generosity of fellow sailors I meet on my travels.

Alfresco’ caught me up at Manly and once Fathom was back afloat we buddy boated through Moreton Bay to the anchorage at Tangalooma and then after a 3am start north to the harbour at Mooloolaba. It was a really great few days here where I enjoyed the generous hospitality of family friends Nick and Gail, some delicious home cooked food and even a night ashore in a proper bed! I also managed a catch up with Neil and Chris from ‘Tusitala’ who had me round to their unit for lunch and a couple of beers. A really nice and sociable stopover.

55 miles north of Mooloolaba is the Great Sandy Strait which offers a calm water alternative to remaining at sea around Fraser Island and provides a final escape from the south setting East Australian Current which I had been battling on and off since Sydney. In order to get into the straits the Wide Bay Bar needs to be crossed which has something of a bad reputation. The bar is unusual due to the duration spent crossing it the most uncomfortable section commonly known as ‘The Mad Mile’. Like the bars I had crossed further south it is important to cross with low swell conditions and incoming tide to avoid standing waves. In the end it wasn’t too bad the local marine rescue centre provided coordinates to avoid the shallow areas and ‘Alfresco’ and ‘Fathom’ reached the calm water anchorage at Inskip Point without drama. Dave and Rosie had caught a good sized Tuna during the afternoon so we celebrated a successful crossing of the bar with sundowners and Tuna steaks for dinner.

 

There are some pretty anchorages in the Great Sandy Strait and by working the strong currents to your advantage it’s easy to find a good place to stop within a few hours sailing. Sadly it was time to say goodbye to Dave and Rosie and after tying alongside ‘Alfresco’ near Turtle Island for a goodbye coffee we went our separate ways. The sail across Hervey Bay to Bundaburg was fantastic in 15-20 kts breeze from the south east and flat water, Fathom making good speed with her new bottom job and at long last no adverse current to slow us down. A bit too early in the season to see Humpback whales unfortunately.

After a few days spent at Bundaburg next up was a long day sail to the anchorage at Pancake Creek where I stayed a while to let some strong winds and rain pass through. Another solo sailor, Warren from ‘Wunjo’, suggested a walk up to the lighthouse at Bustard Head where we got a tour from the caretaker who lives there. The lighthouse is 20km from the nearest settlement and was the first to be built in Queensland in 1859. Once the weather had bucked up an overnight stop at Cape Capricorn before heading to the marina at Rosyln Bay to stock up on provisions. They offer a free courtesy car for two hours which makes provisioning a lot easier. My birthday fell on a Sunday and that evening the marina bar & restaurant was so quiet it only contained Warren and I but that didn’t stop the chef and waitresses bringing me out a chocolate mouse with candle for desert accompanied by them singing ‘happy birthday! A nice touch.

The following five days were spent sailing up to Mackay with stops at Pearl Bay, Middle Percey and Curlew Island which are close to an area called Broad Sound which experiences the biggest tides and fastest tidal streams on the east coast of Australia. I purposely waited for neap tides before travelling through here to make life a little easier. The S.E trade winds were blowing consistently 15-20 knots so ideal conditions and flatter water now that the Great Barrier Reef was blocking the ocean swell. A strong blow then came through so I was forced to stay at Mackay marina a little longer than planned but it gave a chance to catch up with some friends from the Oyster World Rally and keep on top of boat jobs. Despite being moored up in the safety of the marina as the wind howled in the rigging I found myself for the first time in a while feeling quite daunted about the huge length of coastline still to sail until Darwin not to mention the challenging Indian Ocean to come afterwards. I didn’t like Mackay either, the town centre had a seedy feel to it with tattoo parlours and strip clubs at every corner and there wasn’t much else going on. Two days after I left I heard on the news the town was in lockdown after some local nutter started walking round shooting off a gun. Luckily no one was hurt and it all ended peacefully.

Next up the Whitsundays, a fantastic cruising area with a 100 mile stretch of islands to explore but sadly time was ticking so I had to rush through with only a few stops. Airlie beach did provide some civilisation though, a cold beer or two and a chance to stretch the legs with a good hike up to the Honeyeater lookout. On the way north from here I had a message from Dave on ‘Tomboy’, a local sailor I had met down at Pittwater and an excellent source of local knowledge on the coastline. Dave suggested I look out for some friends of his on yacht ‘Bogart’. It just so happened that we were in the same anchorage so I met up with Tony and Lindsey on several occasions over the next week as we day sailed towards Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island. A nice evening was spent having dinner on ‘Bogart’ at what turned out to be the worst anchorage I have been to in a long time – Cape Bowing Green. Minimal protection from the tradewinds and big enough waves to cause Fathom to pitch heavily made for an uncomfortable motion but I slept well after a double portion of Lindsey’s excellent homemade curry.

A nice few days at Horsehoe Bay but with so much coastline still to sail it I had to get some more miles under the keel. The paddle of the Aries steering gear was leaking again despite being rebuilt in Pittwater so I decided to bite the bullet and order a new one from the manufacturers in Holland. It would be waiting for me in Cairns all being well. Sadly the tradewinds went on holiday for the next week with dead calms most days so a lot of motoring all the way up to Fitzroy Island after stops at Orpheaus and Dunk Island. Dunk island once had an internationally famous resort and was viewed as the jewel in Queensland’s tourism crown but after Cyclone Yasi hit in 2011 it now lies in ruins. It was surreal and slightly eerie to walk through the deserted resort and see all the damage. You could almost believe the storm hit yesterday.

 

Fitzroy Island was a highlight. After a long day motoring from Dunk I arrived at the island just on sunset and was delighted to beat a large motorboat to the last free mooring by a matter of seconds. They were not best pleased as one of the crew was poised at the bow with a boat hook but I definitely got there first! Nudey Beach on Fitzroy, not a nudist beach as the name suggests, has been voted the best beach in Australia but after visiting I can’t see how it won. It’s nice but more of a coral beach than a sand beach and i’ve been to much better beaches further south. A hike up to the summit on Fitzroy was a great way to stretch my lazy boat legs before sailing a few hours to Cairns a couple of days later. It felt like a bit of a milestone to get to Cairns. Sailing up from Sydney single-handed had not been easy at times and on occasions I would find myself becoming somewhat overwhelmed by the distances and passages still to come. After two and a half months of near constant moving I was looking forward to stopping for a couple of weeks and not having to worry about the next protected anchorage or good tidal window. There would be much more of that to come.

Posted in: Australia

Australia – Sydney to the Gold Coast

On the 3rd April I let go the mooring at Pittwater for the final time and pointed the bow north. The next chapter of the voyage had begun and it felt good to be on the move again. I was prepared for some tough sailing up the New South Wales coast and so it proved. Strong head currents, big swells, wind blowing out of the north for days on end, thunder storms and heavy squalls, dangerous river bar entrances and port to port distances too far to complete in daylight. Plenty to keep me occupied.


The first leg was an overnight sail to the large natural harbour of Port Stephens with progress aided by a gentle southerly breeze and to my pleasant surprise a weak north going tidal eddy right inshore. I didn’t feel very relaxed and was quite apprehensive about being at sea again. Despite having sailed many thousands of miles I quite often feel uncomfortable and lethargic at the start of a passage and this time particularly so despite it being relatively short. After 10/15 minute cat naps through the night and some weaving through a fleet of fishing trawlers I took Fathom through the entrance of Port Stephens at first light on the flood tide.  Captain Cook discovered this place in May 1770 and commented  “on the northern side of this point is an inlet that appeared to me from the north head to be sheltered from all winds.” He wasn’t wrong and I anchored Fathom off the beautiful Jimmy’s Beach in complete calm.

The weather turned with strong northerly winds pummelling the coast so I stayed put within the confines of this natural harbour over the next days. One night was spent on a free mooring off the largest settlement of Nelson and I took the opportunity to stretch the legs ashore and buy some fresh food. An enjoyable hike to the summit of Tomaree Head with beautiful panoramic views (photo below) and a visit to the local marine rescue station to see how it operated helped pass the time. Despite having paid a diver to clean Fathom’s hull less than two weeks previously it again looked foul so I spent four hours in the water one morning cleaning it off. The anti-fouling applied in Tonga appeared to have given up so a haul out required further up the coast unfortunately. I spontaneously decided to cut my hair one morning and with not much material to work with these days it didn’t take too long and wasn’t a complete disaster. No more visits to the barbers needed from now on! It was good to meet a couple of other yachts waiting to head north , Paul and Jenny on My Ruby and Chris and Neil on Tusitala and we studied weather forecasts together over cups of tea and coffee.


By the 9th April a short weather window appeared so I departed Port Stephens just before sunset that afternoon for an overnight sail to Camden Head. The south flowing East Australian Current (EAC) (see image) began to set in north of Seal Rocks but a 10-15 knot southerly breeze meant Fathom could maintain enough speed under sail and the engine wasn’t required. The Camden Head bar was crossed mid morning the next day without drama just before high water in convoy with four other yachts and I anchored Fathom up river in 5m water off the town of Laurelton.  The local services club offers its facilities to visiting yachtsmen so it was great to use their showers, bar and make the most of their cheap eats. The town has an excellent bakery and butchers and the local hardware store filled up my gas bottles.  A steep hike to the 490m summit of North Brother gave incredible views with Fathom a tiny dot swinging at anchor below in the river. Wherever I have sailed on this voyage I always enjoy the company of new friends and here was no exception. It was great to meet Bob and his crew Jacinta on Robara and Dave and Rosemary on Alfresco and catch up again with the My Ruby/Tusitala gang. A nice sociable time waiting for the next break in northerly winds.


Next stop after Laurelton was Coff’s Harbour, 85nm to the north, an all weather entrance as opposed to river bar. I hauled the anchor early morning on the 15th but the engine was needed for the remainder of the day as up to 2.5 knots of head current slowed progress. Overnight a southerly breeze filled in which thankfully provided enough propulsion and Coff’s was reached early morning after another night of 10/15 minute cat naps. I tried the anchorage outside the marina but it was too prone to swell and Fathom was rolling widely from side to side so a few days were spent on a pontoon inside waiting for the next batch of strong wind and waves to blow through. Nice to spend time again with Robara and Alfresco and meet inspirational sailors Phil And Di on their 28 footer Matira who spent 25 years circumnavigating the world and still live on board!

By the 19th it looked like there was another weather window to get north so just before sunset I headed out to sea for yet another overnight sail. It was frustrating that the distances were too far to sail in daylight but i’d much rather reach a destination in daylight rather than risk a night arrival at a river bar entrance. The bar at Yamba is renowned for becoming dangerous very quickly and I made the mistake of looking at some footage on youtube before I left of boats trying to enter in breaking waves.  It was with a sigh of relief that I got over and inside the bar without drama on the morning of the 20th and anchored on the south of the river beside My Ruby and Tusitala. Paul picked me up in his dinghy and we all had a nice lunch ashore.

The forecast now showed an unstable airflow over the next few days before wind and swell got up further at the end of the week. Either we left tomorrow for the Gold Coast Seaway or risked being stuck at Yamba for a week or so. We all decided it was worth leaving despite the risk of thunderstorms and squalls. Only an hour after departing Yamba on the morning of 21st April the first squall cloud passed overhead with the wind rising from 15 knots to 30knots+. I used a combination of radar and the Bureau of Meteorology radar feed on their website to keep track of the storm clouds. It was like trying to dodge bullets as they roared up from the S.E. Mid morning a very active cell approached and there was nothing I could do to get out its path. I dropped the main sail completely and left a scrap of headsail out. As the cloud hit the wind smacked into Fathom peaking at 49.1 knots and blowing over 40 knots for several minutes, the highest windspeed experienced since leaving the UK . I don’t think I have ever seen rain as heavy it pretty much flattened the sea. I hid below as the Aries steering gear kept Fathom heading north. A bolt of lightning came down I estimate less than a mile to our starboard side which knocked out the depth sounder for several minutes. If there is one thing that gives me the heebie-geebies at sea it is lighting and the risk of all electrical equipment being knocked out and permanently damaged.

Conditions deteriorated further through the rest of the day and overnight with lumpy and confused seas especially off the aptly named Point Danger. Squall clouds still passed overhead from time to time and the wind maintained a steady 25-30 knots even though the forecast had only been for 15 knots.  It was a horrible and uncomfortable night and the Bureau suddenly issued a strong wind warning. As the ‘border’ between New South Wales and Queensland was crossed the weather remarkably improved to such an extent that on approach to the Gold Coast Seaway at first light the skies cleared and Fathom was welcomed by a rainbow hanging over the skyscrapers of Surfers Paradise. It was a great relief to have won the battle with the East Australian Current and the treacherous NSW coastline and make it to the safety and comfort of the Gold Coast seaway. Over the following days it was fantastic to spend time again with Allison and William from m/v Esparanza who I first got to know back in November on my way south. They found me a free mooring, cooked me food and I thoroughly enjoyed their company. The highlight of our time together was surely visiting the ‘Fox & Hounds’ English pub with toad in the hole for lunch and a pint of ‘Old Speckled Hen’. Just like being at the local back home in the UK. Next up I sail Fathom up through the Broadwater and into Moreton Bay.

Posted in: Australia

Australia – Sydney Harbour

I sailed Fathom down to Sydney Harbour from Pittwater at the end of March after waiting a couple of weeks for a decent forecast. Despite being only about 25 miles from Barrenjoey Head at Pittwater to the entrance of the harbour I didn’t want to be bashing into big swell and headwinds for the first sail post refit. My patience was rewarded with a gentle sail south in 10 knots of breeze from the north west. It felt great to be on the move again after so long on the mooring. Seeing the Opera House and Harbour Bridge come into view as Bradleys Head was passed on the north shore of the harbour was quite a moment and one that stands out as a bit of a landmark of the voyage. The breeze gave up close to the Botanical Gardens so sails were dropped and Fathom drifted past the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge with the last of the flood tide as I stood on the bow trying to take photos remotely with the GoPro. I later found out that the maritime police don’t allow drifting under the Bridge and constantly monitor the area and issue fines so I got away with that one.

A good anchorage was found at Blackwattle Bay which is nice and central alongside the Anzac Bridge and Sydney Fish market and only a ten minute walk to Darling Harbour. As the sun set that first evening it was quite a sight looking at Fathom swinging at anchor in front of the city nightscape. I stayed for a few days while waiting for some south winds and over the weekend the anchorage became crowded with locals. On the Saturday evening the wind piped up just after sunset and a couple of yachts began dragging while their Owners were enjoying dinner ashore completely unaware. Fenders at the ready but thankfully no boats got hit. Great to catch up with some friends and family while in the city and to be a tourist for a while.

I couldn’t resist a few more cheesy photos in front of the Opera House before an uneventful sail back to Pittwater on Easter Sunday where I anchored at Towlers Bay for the night for a BBQ with some local cruising friends. The next morning the windlass was having a great deal of trouble hauling the anchor up which is unusual and investigation showed that all the oil in the gearbox had leaked out of a small crack in the plastic sight glass. That’s not good, the previous one cracked too. The whole episode was an excuse to take the windlass apart for a thorough overhaul and service. Gearbox oil replaced and the sightglass glued together as a temporary measure, another D’Arcy bodge, before a new one arrives from the UK.  All that remained before leaving Pittwater for good to head up the coast was a final trip to the chandlery and a large provision at the supermarket. Over the last weeks I had made so many trips to that chandlery that I was on first name terms with all the staff and was probably responsible for giving them a record month of sales. No wonder they were so friendly! Thanks to local sailor Shane for allowing me to fill up his Ute with about 6 months worth of food reserves thus avoiding the need for several bus rides. It was hard to find somewhere to sleep in the cabin that night though.

Posted in: Australia

Australia – Refit in Pittwater

After an amazing time in beautiful New Zealand I returned to Fathom at the end of February well rested and refreshed. The break from the boat was just what I had needed. Back in November, after eighteen months living aboard, and having sailed over half way round the world I was tired, a bit worn out and couldn’t shake some negative thoughts out of my mind with regards carrying on the voyage. At one stage I even contacted a local yacht broker about selling the boat but after some space and time away it became clear to me that I was too attached to Fathom to let her go. I had invested so much time and money in the boat and realised I didn’t want the adventure to be over yet.

Despite being slightly overwhelmed with how much I had to do I got stuck in with renewed vigour to the growing job list. The engine received it’s 500 hour professional service (at 700 hours!), the sails were overhauled by the local sail loft and Fathom received some nice new rigging. The old wires were nearly ten years old and after the forestay had broken in the South Pacific I decided, despite the cost, that it would be a good idea to get everything replaced. With the mast down it was a perfect opportunity to finish the strengthening of the mast step area which I had started from inside the cabin back in Raiatea. The existing mast step fitting which was badly deformed was removed and the fibreglass was peeled back to reveal several large voids. With the help of a local shipwright and his collection of tools the plinth area was rebuilt with fibreglass and a 12mm alloy plate and new step installed. A super strong setup and better than the day Fathom came out the yard I hope.

After returning to the boat I had noticed quite a strong smell of diesel in the cabin and it became apparent that there was a leak from the diesel tank. Having squeezed into the cockpit locker to access the back of the tank I could see drips from the connection between deck filler hose and the tank. The wrong type of plastic hose had been installed unbelievably, probably original, and as it was not resilient to diesel it had failed over time. Very uncomfortable job to replace due to lack of space but now thankfully no more leaks and no more bad smells. Other jobs I carried out included replacing the water and deck fillers, rebuilding the Aries self steering paddle, servicing the outboard, installing a new head pump, installing a higher spec bilge pump, polishing and waxing the topsides and cabin, painting the cockpit non slip, flushing and cleaning the water tanks and washing all the spare sails including storm jib which had a thick salt crust, a leftover from the wild arrival into Australia.

One of the most satisfying jobs was coming up with a solution to the gas bottle dilemma and saving a load of money. Australia is very strict on which gas bottles can be refilled and unfortunately no one will refill the blue European Campingaz bottles I have onboard. The vented gas locker on Fathom is built around the dimensions of two Camping Gaz bottles so larger bottles don’t fit in. I was put in touch with a marine gas ‘expert’ who came to the boat and was all doom and gloom and told me the only option was to pay him $450 to install a new large Aussie bottle on deck with new regulator and hose. Seemed extortionate to me so after a trip to the local BBQ factory I found one type of local bottle that would just squeeze in the locker if I turned the regulator upside down (it still works) and cut off half of the wheel which clamps it in place. Total cost $50 including bottle and no need to lash a bottle on deck. Gotta love a good bodge.

I can’t say I massively enjoyed my time in Pittwater. Despite it being a very picturesque place, great for leaving the boat for the season with good yachting services, I found it lacked soul and atmosphere and was basically a centre for east coast wealth, multi million dollar waterfront properties and bays full of yachts on moorings used one weekend a year. The yacht club appeared snooty to cruising sailors and the local pub was very clicky and filled with girls plastered with makeup teetering on high heels and gents wearing neatly pressed white trousers and suede shoes. I felt a bit out of place in my diesel stained shorts and holed t-shirts and longed to be back mixing with cruisers in low-key bars where barefeet are the norm! A trip down river would take me past five or six boats belonging, or previously belonging, to cruising friends from the South Pacific who had now finished with their trip, listed their boat for sale with the broker and returned to their land lives. It was quite strange and a little sad seeing these familiar boats now empty while remembering all the good times onboard last year.  I did however meet some local cruisers who have sailed up and down the east coast several times and their enthusiasm for the coast north of Bundaberg and inside the barrier reef has been infectious and I am really excited about what lies ahead. They have been a valuable source of local knowledge and recommendations and I am so grateful to Dave, Shane, Georgia and Ross for all their thoughts and encouragement.

By the end of March I had been granted a Subclass 600 Australian Visa which allows me to stay in the country without having to leave every 3 months to activate another 3 month stay. That would have been a nightmare while trying to sail up the east coast and then across to Darwin. Most of the big jobs were out of the way and it was a case of waiting for a good weather forecast before heading down the coast to Sydney Harbour to sail past the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge and get THAT photo! Time to get moving again.

Posted in: Misc

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