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.