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

Archive for the “Australia” Category

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 on 10 Sep 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 on 06 Aug 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 on 04 Aug 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 on 12 May 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 on 12 Apr in: Australia

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