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

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

New Zealand

After 18 months living within the confines of a 28 foot boat and with a hangover from the stressful approach to Australia I was in need of a break from Fathom for a while. What better way than two months of land travel around beautiful New Zealand to recharge the batteries.

floating through the morning reflections of Doubtful Sound

 

sunset on Stewart Island

 

view from Roy’s Peak, Wanaka

Posted in: New Zealand

New Caledonia to Australia – Part 2

Following the passing of the front, the wind and waves increased throughout the afternoon of the 7th December. I remained hove to through the rest of the day and night and by morning began sailing NW in 25 knots of wind. Felt very fatigued after no proper sleep in the last three days and couldn’t help but feel demoralised as the forecast was showing no improvement. Conditions were at their worst over the next couple of days and I spent the time mostly hove to. Winds peaked at 25-30 knots in the afternoons which wasn’t so much the problem more the seastate. Despite being outside the EAC the waves were very steep and confused and this made being onboard uncomfortable. Fathom handled everything superbly and I had no concerns about being unsafe yet without being able to make progress towards shore it was tough times indeed. I even resorted to having a couple of sips of rum one night in order to switch off enough to sleep for a few minutes! To try and perk myself up I wrote myself a mantra on the white board which I read everytime I felt properly pissed off. The Wind will moderate, The Seas will calm, The Sun will shine, Just give it some time.

 

By accident I come across an area of sea with a small eddy of north going current alongside the edge of the EAC. By heaving to on one tack for a few hours then the other for a few hours I realised I could hold position within a few miles which worked well and stopped Fathom being pushed too far NW. I contacted the weather forecaster on the afternoon of the 9th who suggested a plan B, give up on trying to cross the EAC for now and head north on a 350 mile detour to Bundaburg. Initially this new idea gave me some encouragement before I realised that such a big detour could end up being a huge mistake if the currents changed so decided to wait it out for Brisbane. I received an email from the marina to ask where I was and after updating them they informed me their offer of a cold beer had now turned into a six pack! I contacted the border force again and asked if I could anchor inside Moreton Bay to get some rest before proceeding up the Brisbane river to check in at the marina. After checking with their bosses they agreed. By this point Alex and David had reached Coffs harbour but continued to send me supportive messages and weather information – legends!

The forecast still showed big waves and wind for the following 48 hours so I had to be patient and not try and head to shore too early. It was great to read morale boosting emails from friends – thanks everyone that messaged. Fathom was knocked down to about 80 degrees on a couple of occasions by breaking waves (see video at bottom). I can’t imagine what the conditions would have been like in the middle of the EAC. I must have been tired because I couldn’t stop myself thinking about selling Fathom and ending the voyage in Australia. It gave me a lot of comfort to think i’d nearly finished the trip. By the 12th I felt that, at long last, conditions and the forecast were good enough to head to shore and I spent the day and following night sailing the 90 or so miles to Moreton Bay, slowing in the wee small hours so as not to arrive at the channel entrance until first light. Conditions were bad in the EAC but not as bad as I had faced already and improved massively once inside the 100m depth contour. As the sun rose I finally began to feel positive and encouraged again.

By mid morning on the 13th Fathom was about 10 miles into Moreton Bay motoring against current and short steep waves. I emailed the border force to let them know I was proceeding to the anchorage to rest as previously agreed. A short and firm email come straight back instructing me to proceed up the Brisbane river to the marina immediately and without delay. I was then met by a border force boat which came alongside and told me again to proceed to the marina, still about 20 miles and several hours away. They then spent the next five hours following Fathom a few boat lengths behind. What’s going on here I thought?

 

I reached the marina about 16.00 and waited for the customs to come aboard. Six armed officers approached and I was heavily questioned about why I had spent several days holding position at sea, why I diverted from Coff’s to Brisbane and why I asked to anchor in Moreton Bay before coming to the marina to check in. I realised that they suspected me of picking up something from another ship and trying to smuggle it into Australia. I was so tired it all felt surreal and a bit like a weird dream. They asked to see the chartplotter and Fathom’s track. The area I had ended up holding position in for several days was close to a seamount (underwater mountain) over which were confused seas and bad waves so I had put a waypoint over the seamount on the chartplotter to remind me it was there and stop me drifting too close. It just so happens I had chosen a skull and cross bones symbol for the waypoint so this needed explaining too…! Eventually they seemed satisfied that I was just a tired sailor in need of a cold beer and left. The quarantine officer then came aboard, didn’t find any creepy crawlies, took my fresh food, complimented me on coming so far and having a nice boat and left me alone. A very friendly Aussie couple on the next pontoon having watched all this play out invited me aboard for some food and wine and I could finally relax at last.

The next few days were spent recovering, sleeping and giving Fathom a good clean and tidy. The marina staff were very helpful and fulfilled their promise to give me a six pack of beer and also drove me to the local supermarket a couple of times so I could stock up on food. I decided to head towards the Gold Coast on the 17th and was up early having a coffee in the cockpit that morning when a voice from behind me on the pontoon said “excuse me sir, could you please step off the boat”. I turned round to see eight armed border force officers and two dogs. They told me they were not satisfied and wanted to search the boat again. For the next two hours they interrogated me, went through every nook and cranny on Fathom, the dogs went aboard and sniffed round and they even took up the floor and pushed camera probes around. I had to give them my mobile phone which was then plugged into a machine and everything on it downloaded. Eventually they told me, I sensed with a hint of disappointment, that all was ok and I was free to leave. I couldn’t help saying that they had told me that the first time! The worst part was probably that Fathom’s nice clean cabin was now covered in dog hairs.

 

So, 18 months and 16,200 miles after leaving England, Fathom and I have made it to Australia! And for anyone wondering, after catching up on some sleep, i’m not quite ready to end the voyage quite yet :-).

Posted in: at sea - 2017

New Caledonia to Australia – Part 1

I set off from Noumea, New Caledonia on the 1st November bound for Coff’s Harbour on the east coast of Australia, 950 nautical miles to the SW. After sailing in the tropics for so long I was aware that this leg of the voyage could potentially be tougher as there was the possibility of hitting some bad weather from the south at some point. But the weather forecast, backed up by a professional forecaster in New Zealand, showed moderate E to SE winds and I hoped to make landfall in eight days time. Due to a history of drugs and people trafficking the Australian border force are very strict and I made sure I had emailed off the mandatory notice of arrival to them before leaving to ensure I wasn’t welcomed to the country by a $2,500 fine.

storm jib set as the front approaches (left of photo)

The first couple of days was good sailing and Fathom romped along under cruising chute in the daylight hours. My friends Alex and David on Bonavalette departed Noumea a few hours later and overtook on the second day. By day three I decided to ask the weather forecaster for an update as I could see on the long term forecast something stiring in the lower Tasman Sea a few days ahead. Sure enough an update was emailed back showing a cold front associated with a low pressure system sweeping up the east coast of Australia in a few days time and bringing with it a prolonged period of very strong S to SE winds. It was touch and go whether I could arrive in Coff’s Harbour before it hit. At this point I wasn’t overly concerned and decided to wait another 24 hours before making a decision on whether to divert to another entry port.

The following day it was clear that if I was to arrive in Coff’s Harbour I would have to meet the weather front at sea and then make landfall in the proceeding strong conditions. Despite Coff’s being an all weather entry I began to make enquiries about diverting to Brisbane, 200 miles to the north, but the more I read up on the approach and entry the more concerned I became. To clear in to Brisbane it is necessary to enter Moreton Bay through one of two narrow channels surrounded by shoal areas and rough seas, proceed more than 30 miles upwind across the bay to the entrance of the Brisbane river and then past the commercial ship docks six miles upstream to the Rivergate Marina. This would be simple in good weather and settled conditions but in strong winds and waves and when fatigued and sailing alone it would not be easy. After much tooing and froing I decided that despite the difficult entry the most sensible decision was to make landfall before the worst of the weather hit so peeled off from the Coff’s route and headed to Brisbane. I called the marina on the sat phone to let them know my intentions and they kindly said a cold beer would be waiting for me on arrival and wished me well. I notified Customs of my intended change of destination which they acknowledged. Alex and David already 150 miles ahead of me decided to press on to Coff’s.

It was the calm before the storm over the next couple days. The wind died and the engine was required to make progress westward but it was slow as Fathom encountered a head current. I started to become more and more tired and sleep was harder to come by as various scenarios kept playing round in my head. Every time I downloaded an updated weather forecast it showed higher winds and waves which would last for longer and arrive earlier. It was hard to find any positives. I realised that there was now no chance I could make landfall before the front hit. To make matters worse I still had to cross the EAC. This is band of south setting current which runs along the Australian coast at up to 4 knots and when up against 25 to 30 knots of southerly wind creates very steep messy seas and occasionally breaking waves. I suddenly felt extremely helpless as there was not one obvious solution to the situation I was in. I was caught in no mans land, hundreds of miles of open ocean astern and the dangerous sea conditions between me and the Australian coast. How on earth had I got myself in this situation when only a few days before there looked like a perfect weather window! The only seamanlike decision I could think of was to find an area outside of the strong southerly current to meet the weather front and bide my time by hoving to before conditions improved and I could cross the EAC safely without taking a big risk. On the evening of the 6th, 200 miles from the coast, I spotted a fishing trawler on the AIS and called them up for a chat, hoping they could give me some useful info on entering Brisbane in bad conditions. “I wouldn’t want to be in your position”, they replied, “friends of ours died when a fishing boat sank in similar conditions a couple of months ago at Bundaburg. Brisbane is not an easy entry when its blowing from the south, good luck, I don’t know what else to tell ya”. Certainly not the reassuring conversation I was looking for and I felt a whole lot worse afterwards.

I started making preparations for the weather front to hit during the early hours of the 7th December. The staysail was replaced with the storm jib, the first time I had hoisted this sail since leaving England and three reefs put in the mainsail. Lightning filled the sky to the south as the low pressure system spun up from the Tasman Sea and added to the feeling of apprehension. I tried to nap while waiting for the wind to back to the north as the front approached but couldn’t sleep so decided to list in the logbook what I thought would be the significant mile stones over the next days.

1. Windishift to the north (25 -30 knots)
2. Front hits – heavy rain & wind backs to S and builds. Waves build
3. Successful crossing of the EAC and big seas
4. Arrival and passage through Moreton Bay
5. Approach along Brisbane River and arrival at Rvergate Marina

It was fascinating watching the cloud formations during the morning as the front approached. At 2.30 in the afternoon a band of low lying cloud stretching from horizon to horizon consumed the sky and the front hit. I had already hove to and Fathom comfortably saw out the next hours as I stayed down below reading and trying to sleep while the wind howled in the rigging. Many birds filled the sky during the late afternoon and I stood in the companionway and watched them for some time, amused that they didn’t have a care in the world. At least I could now tick off the first two items from the list but knew that this was only the start and the worst was yet to come.

Posted in: at sea - 2017

New Caledonia

Clearance formalities completed, Fathom departed Vuda marina, Fiji, on 20th October bound for New Caledonia, 850 nautical miles to the WSW. Conditions were lively as the reef pass was transited just before dark, 25 knots of wind and a lumpy sea making it difficult to settle into the rhythm of sailing again. The next day wasn’t much better I felt lethargic and not in great spirits but progress was good with a daily run of 130nm. The conditions moderated over the next couple of days until the 24th when ahead of a weak trough the wind died completely and I was forced to use the engine for 30 hours straight. Morning of the 25th I headed into the cockpit at first light to see a large bird sat on the starboard cockpit seat, clearly in need of a rest. I offered it a sumptuous breakfast of soy milk or water, biscuit crumbs or bread crumbs (yes I gave it a choice) but it wasn’t interested in any and instead reacted to my generosity by taking another crap. It had also chosen to sit on two of the reefing lines for the mainsail so after giving it another three hours grace, with the wind building, I persuaded it to fly home so I could shorten sail.

heading out through the pass in Fiji

Entry into the pass at the south of New Caledonia at first light on the 26th presented no problems and a nice day was spent sailing the 30 or so miles through the channels in flat water to the marina at the large town of Noumea. Already arrived were my friends Alex and David from Bonavallete and Julius from yacht Trinidad plus there were lots of familiar faces. The following few days were spent becoming reacquainted with excellent french cuisine, the odd pint or two, and working through a boat job list in preparation for a potentially tough sail to Australia.

rig check in New Caledonia

For the first time since leaving the U.K I chose to get some professional weather advice for the next leg and was informed that anytime from the 1st to the 3rd of November was good to depart on the 950 mile trip to Coff’s harbour on the East Coast of Australia and would ensure me a good window to arrive.  It was a shame to leave so soon and not see more of New Cal but cyclone season was fast approaching and I was keen to keep moving. So on the morning of 1st November, with clearance formalities completed, Fathom and Bonavalette headed out of the pass into open ocean once more. Little did I know it wasn’t going to be smooth sailing, in fact, far from it.

Posted in: New Caledonia

Fiji

The sail from Tonga to Fiji ended up taking 5 days because I slowed intentionally during the penultimate day in order to arrive in the light.  Conditions were ideal for the first 24 hours with 15 knots of breeze on the beam allowing Fathom to romp along at full speed with her freshly painted bottom. Julius on yacht Trinidad departed just after me and despite his boat being 39 foot I managed to stay within VHF range for nearly 48 hours. The first evening out I had gone for a 30 minute nap but was woken early by the words “wakey wakey” blaring out of the VHF speaker on Channel 16. It turned out there had been a huge wind shift and the self steering had adjusted Fathom’s course as the wind turned and we were almost pointing back at Tonga! Julius had seen Fathom change direction from his AIS display and called to wake me up. The wind was quite shifty over the next couple days with intermittent squalls passing through before it died altogether. Approach to the main island of Viti Levi coincided with an acceleration of the wind to 25 knots and a fairly rough sea making entry into the pass as a container ship came out rather exciting.

Fathom at anchor alone, Naviti Island

After anchoring close to Vuda Point marina on the first night entry formalities were completed the following day with four other yachts also checking into Fiji at the same time. We were all welcomed to the country by the marina staff singing and playing guitar to us on the clearance pontoon, a unique and very nice moment I have not witnessed in any other country. I was hoping to take Fathom across to Malolo Island, home of the famous Musket Cove resort in time for the annual regatta there but the cruising permit was too slow to come through so instead of missing the fun decided to catch a ferry.  I got there in time for the round the island race which I sailed with friends on yacht Spill the Wine and attended the final night party. The next week and a half was spent back at Vuda point and it turned out to be very social with lots of friends and familiar boats around either on the water or on the hard. Every night someone seemed to be hosting dinner or pot luck and the marina bar was a great spot to sip a ‘Fiji Gold’ while watching the sunset.

Tim, an old friend from home then flew out for a couple of weeks holiday and we planned to cruise up the Yasawa group islands. On his first evening at the marina bar, after flying nearly 17,000km from Switzerland to Fiji, Tim was heard to say “I haven’t flown half way round the world to drink a litre of beer at an Octoberfest event served by a Fijian in lederhosen!”. I assured him this was a one off and he would see authentic Fiji soon. Our first stop after leaving Vuda was the anchorage at Saweni bay where some friends were anchored so I invited everyone over to Fathom for drinks. Then a day sail north to the island of Waya and anchorage off the Octopus resort where we played volleyball and watched a magnificent sunset with new friends from yacht Boisterous. The next stop was the anchorage at Blue Lagoon where we waited for a couple of days for some strong winds to blow through. The highlight was walking a path across the island and seemingly through several peoples gardens to reach a small shack on the beach known as ‘Lou’s tea house’ where we enjoyed fresh doughnuts and lemon tea served by a very nice Fijian lady.

Navigation here in Fiji is far more challenging than anywhere else i’ve sailed because the charts are so inaccurate. The Navionics electronic charts I use onboard do not show the majority of reefs so cannot be relied on. Instead the best method is to download satellite images through an app such as Ovital Map which then overlays the boats position and track. I know several boats that have kissed a reef in the last few weeks because they were relying too much on Navionics. It does make the sailing interesting round here.

These satellite images were really useful on the sail back south from Blue Lagoon to the island of Naviti as we weaved our way through the reefs. After anchoring off the small village of Somosomo Tim and I dinghied ashore with an offering of sevusevu (cava plant) for the village chief as a sign of respect. We were led to the chiefs house by a small boy and were met by a lady who told us to sit cross legged on the floor. A very elderly lady, aged 97, entered the room and was introduced to us as the chief. She accepted our gift of cava by clapping her hands several times and then granted us freedom to walk round the village and snorkal in the surrounding water. We then went and played a form of netball with the local kids who referred to us as Tom and Jerry. The following day we moved Fathom to the next bay and walked over the island where we swam round an old world war 2 plane that had crashed in shallow water.

Next stop was an anchorage close to Manta Bay pass, so named because if you are lucky Manta rays will be feeding and you can swim alongside them. The first day we arrived too late as the tide was slacking and only saw one Manta quite deep and swimming quickly. The next day our luck was in and we spent over an hour swimming alongside these magnificent creatures as they fed. The biggest was at least 9 foot across. Spill the Wine arrived next to us in the anchorage and Chris and Nancy, not for the first time, hosted dinner and a very enjoyable dinner onboard that evening.

Our final stop before heading back to Vuda point was Musket Cove and I managed to get a spot for Fathom right in the middle of the resort. Our arrival coincided with a get together of the Oyster World Rally and I couldn’t resist hoisting an ‘Oyster ‘ banner on Fathom. The smallest Oyster yacht is 45 foot and the largest 80 foot so the sight of my 28 footer flying the banner looked quite funny. Someone commented Fathom was the ‘pearl in a fleet of Oysters’ which was most kind. Before leaving Tim and I took a Hobie Cat out for a spin but the thing was so shot I was surprised we returned with the mast still up and the tiller attached. Exit from Musket didn’t go entirely to plan because as we let go of the stern lines to pick the bow anchor up the 25 knot stern wind pushed us onto the mud bank despite the best efforts of a man in a dinghy to pull the bow round (I had asked him to help just in case). Fathom bounced along the bottom but Tim got the anchor up just in time and I manged to motor us off before we got well and truly stuck. They say there are only two types of sailors who have never run aground. One never left port and the other was an atrocious liar.

Once Tim had headed back home I worked through some jobs in preparation for leaving Fiji. My intention had been to head south to New Zealand but after talking with several salty ol’ seadogs who had completed circumnavigations I decided that in view of continuing into SE.Asia/Indian Ocean next year it made sense to go straight to Australia. This would avoid the need to bash down south and back up again in a few months. I’ve sailed to New Zealand before and travelled round that beautiful country so i’m not missing out. I’ve really enjoyed my time in Fiji the people here are the friendliest i’ve met anywhere in the world. I would like to have visited the Lau Group but there is never enough time to see everything. The plan is to check out of Fiji tomorrow and head west to New Caledonia where I will make a quick stop before heading to the land down under.

Posted in: Fiji

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