“Don’t wait to be shown a way, or be told how to get to your goal – if there’s no clear path then make one yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something if you know (or even think) you can.”
– Pip Hare
I came across this quote on Pip Hare’s Instagram account and it resonated with me. I’ve been following this inspirational lady for some time, since before I became aware that she intends to race in the Vendee Globe 2020. I first found out about her when I was searching for resources on how to sail with a spinnaker and how to troubleshoot potential problems. I found an entire series of super educational videos on youtube in the Sail Faster Sail Safer series from Yachting World. Pip explains the scenarios and what to do with such impressive clarity and calmness I immediately remembered her name.
Pip’s goal is to break the current female record of 94 days, 4 hours and 25 minutes set by Ellen MacArthur wayback in 2001. She has an impressive track record, over 25 years of professional sailing experience and a great team behind her. What’s even more impressive is that she has gotten to this point on a humble budget and only managed to secure a key sponsor Medallia, a leading customer experience solutions vendor, at the very last minute mere months from the start of the Vendee.
That’s one driven woman.
The quote caught my attention because I often hesitate and doubt myself. I wait and hope for someone to show me the way but reality is that with the goals we pursue, often there simply won’t be anyone to show us the way. I find it comforting to hear an accomplished sailor say these words because I wonder if these people simply have the support of mentors that show them the way or they somehow magically know they will not fail. To know that they too face doubts and must rely on their own faith and self determination is reassuring. I am not alone in having to find the inner strength and motivation to pursue my dreams.
New summer season of sailing is about to begin and requires me to change tack on some things. I haven’t sailed on Mad Jack since March as all racing was abandoned or postponed. Brisbane to Gladstone in April was cancelled and the Sydney to Gold Coast yacht race in July was postponed until October. I was keen to get back into racing and looking forward to a new season of racing on Mad Jack, including all offshore races, particularly the Sydney to Auckland yacht race, but the universe didn’t agree with my plans. I sensed a bit of a cold shoulder as the social racing resumed as I wasn’t invited to join the regular crew. When winter racing officially started I decided to ask the owner what the plans were to avoid making assumptions about whether I was included in those plans or not. Unfortunately my bad gut feeling that the owner had a change of plan was true. He told me he already had a crew in mind for the offshore races as he was after more experienced sailors and although I’m welcome on the boat, he was clear that if I wanted more of a regular guaranteed position on a boat, rather than an on / off thing, I would be better off finding another boat. I was gutted.
If I continued to sail on Mad Jack as part of core crew it would provide and excellent opportunity for me to keep on building more experience and develop skills. This plan seemed so certain, almost guaranteed but it still went down the drain in a blink.
Time to move on, change tack and find new means of achieving my sailing goals.
I reached out to a couple of skippers who do offshore races and even sent messages interstate. So far I haven’t had any luck but I’ll keep on trying to see if anything comes out of it. It’s still early days and in most states racing scene hasn’t yet quite picked up. I’m fairly certain there will be division yachts here and there short of crew for inshore sailing but I dread having to find and pitch myself for a position on a boat over and over again. I would much prefer to make a commitment to one boat and sail regularly with the crew for an entire season.
Magenta mentoring program also announced new intake for 2020. I applied last year, pouring my heart into it and asked Mad Jack skipper to be my referee but I didn’t get in. My goals and motivation for applying for the program is still the same after a year so I question whether it makes sense to re-apply with basically the same application but this time without a referee as it just wouldn’t be appropriate to ask Greg again. If I didn’t make it into the program the first time around I’m not likely to make it the second time unless I change something to make my application stand out more. Still on the fence on that one. The alternative is to simply focus my energy on finding my own way. I don’t have to have all the answers upfront and I don’t have to see a clear illuminated path to the end goal. I just need to have a goal and determination and I will find a way. The Solo Trans Tasman Challenge 2022 is still very much on the cards and the only way it won’t happen is if despite all my effort I find myself in 2022 without a boat or with a declined entry.
Meanwhile I’ve been social sailing quite often on our Fareast 19R. I’ve enjoyed it so far but I’m getting to a point where I’m craving a bit more competitive sailing and something to challenge myself. I’ve sailed a few times with friends like Christine, Wayne and even my husband and I found those time very pleasurable because we generally knew what we were doing. Then I’ve thrown a few sailing sessions with complete beginners in the mix – my non-sailing friend with two young boys and a couple of training sessions with the guys and I must admit that after a while I get a little fed up trying to teach and explain basics to beginners. It’s no longer enjoyable, it’s somewhat draining and I begin to want to go sailing for pure pleasure, where I don’t have to bother with the mental burden of explaining things in a patient manner. I just want to go sailing.
Lucky a long weekend is coming up and I will be doing just that – sailing for pleasure.
I spent a little less time sailing over the last couple of weeks and instead a lot more time thinking and planning. The #2 has been offered to me as a special token. I was asked if I would accept it and my answer was hell yes, I’ll take it! So the #2 is officially mine and I can’t wait to make an announcement.
Why am I doing this? Because I was born adventurous and nothing else in life brings me as much pleasure as exploring boundaries and seeking new experiences. I’m simply wired this way. Life is too short and precious to be wasted doing mundane things. Because I truly believe safety in the comfort zone is merely an illusion. And as the saying goes, when you’re old and infirm you will regret the things you didn’t do far more than the things you dared to do. I was born to be wild and since I haven’t been magically tamed well into my thirties I have a good reason to believe I will always remain a little unleashed.
Who needs to help me to to make this happen? I am blessed to have met many wonderful people who have offered encouragement and support along the way, who have taken me under their wing and inspired me to dream further and who’ve provided me with practical opportunities to make it all happen. I would not be where I am today without these wonderful humans. I can list just a few: Greg and the crew of Mad Jack have provided me with the most immersive opportunities to learn about sailing. When I started sailing with Mad Jack I was a complete rookie and they had to teach me the basics. Then comes the cheer squad who helped me get to Barcolana – Gerrit from Fareast Australia, the crew of Mad Jack again with their support and many friends who offered to crew while I learned – Bazza, Christine, Wayne and others. My husband is always there to support me and give me the freedom to do things I enjoy. I really hope I can continue to sail on Mad Jack and be a part of an ambitious offshore racing programme as this will allow me to gain the much needed experience in offshore sailing.
Somebody recently asked me what I think is most important to allow you to achieve success. The tools, the skills, the mindset or the environment? The answer is all four are required but the mindset is perhaps the most critical thing. With the right mindset you can help pull the other three in the right direction. Without the mindset it all falls to pieces. I feel I have the right mindset and I hope I can use it to keep me going and fill in the blanks over time.
I will need one thing more than all else – moral support, closely followed by seamanship knowledge. I’m only human and I know I will doubt myself, I know I will have my dark moments. It’s part of the journey – to achieve great things you need to put in the effort, to move forward you sometimes have to grit your teeth and so on. I will need my friends to offer me words of encouragement when I hit the low points.
There’s a thin line between being a leader and being called bossy. An even thinner line between being determined and being stubborn. Knowing when you’re being adventurous in a fun way versus being mad. I will need those who understand me and those who don’t sugarcoat or mince their words to speak frankly to me. I will listen to advice when someone tells me hold on, you should really consider this or that. I will need the wisdom of more experienced mentors to keep me on the right track.
I’m sure I’ll also need boat building advice a lot. How do I do this, how do I do that? I am truly lucky to know some great people who are happy to help in this department.
What I need to communicate to drive the momentum? I want to tell an authentic story about the journey. I could keep it all to myself and do it in secrecy to avoid the naysayers but then the value of potentially passing on the inspiration to someone else is lost and would hate to see that. I’m not all that experienced, I’m not rich and I don’t have any other major sporting or adventurous achievements under my belt so this is a big one for me but I can do it and so can others who set their hearts on it. Then there are those that like to live vicariously through others and why not let them. So this is how it will be – the good, the bad or the ugly – it will all be revealed.
How do I make this happen?
Lots of hard work over the initial 12 month period to float the project first. I have a long list of activities that need to happen but will reveal them a little later when I’m ready to disclose what’s been brewing. All that exists for now are: big dreams, a shed space, a big Excel spreadsheet with lots of numbers, notes and calculations, a secret folder with paper plans and notes I keep about as well hidden as a teenage diary and a CAD model of the concept I created myself during my insomniac nights. The ball’s rollin’, oh she’s rollin’.
Last Sunday my friend Christine organised and invited us to a women only training session on Bazinga. None other than Stacey Jackson offered to come sailing with us to give us some coaching. Now, that is a huge wow. Stacey Jackson is one of the most experienced and accomplished female offshore sailors and is an inspiration. She has sailed in not one but two Volvo Ocean races, the first time in 2014-15 as part of the first all female crew in 12 years. Her second round the world race was in the 2017-18. Apart from that she has sailed in numerous other offshore races, including Sydney to Hobart. To have an opportunity to go sailing and be coached by her is simply amazing.
I don’t know the full details of how it happened but apparently Ian, the owner of Bazinga, donated an old sail to Stacey who upcycles them and turns them into lovely bags through her fashion brand Nautibags (https://nautibags.com.au/). He mentioned he has a few women on his regular crew and the women sometimes take the opportunity to race the boat themselves as an all-women crew. So apparently Stacey offered to come sailing with us to give us some tips and Christine grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
The plan was to meet on Sunday afternoon, half hour before our magnificent coach arrived, get the boat ready and then have an intense training session. The weather forecast was looking really wet and up to 20kn. My husband and I met with friends for lunch beforehand and I was running late as the drive through the city in a whiteout downpour was slowing the traffic down to a crawl. Any thought of the cancelling the session because of a “bit” of rain. Pff, not us. It would take a lot more to stop us. As I was late I trotted through the carpark of the marina, down to the boat in some fancy skinny jeans and face plastered in make up. I quickly hopped into my wet weather gear, which my husband humorously calls the full GTX kit, thinking I was now looking like an overdressed pussy who’s afraid to get a little wet or cold. Lucky for me the other ladies also rolled in fully kitted up like we were about to cast off into the wilderness of the southern ocean. We were just going out to muck around in the bay where the water temperature doesn’t even go below 18 degrees even in winter. Hilarious.
The 20kn forecast never eventuated so we started off with the lightest headsail. We assumed our usual race positions, so I was on the bow, Becky in the pit, Hillary doing headsail trim. Christine, Meg and Annika would then rotate between main and helm. We started off sailing upwind in light breeze of around 10kn and a bit of a drizzle. On the plus side the heavy rain stopped but with it the wind also all but died out. Once we settled in and warmed up, Stacey started explaining optimum sail trim and weight distribution to the crew. We then sailed on a reach and started discussing what we’re going to do for the downwind sailing. Hmm, which kite to use? Christine wanted the smaller pink one because we still had some ingrained concern we’ll be hit by another squall. Since the pink kite didn’t have a bag we therefore decided to use the old Black Betty. The bag was passed up and my mind was telling not to fuck up, bwahaha. While Stacey watched I shuffled Betty to the foredeck and proceeded to muck around. It’s been months since I sailed on any decent sized yacht and my second or third time on Bazinga. I’ve only really done bow on that boat once before. I was way more nervous than I needed to be. Got it mostly right, tack line on, the right halyard on the right side and sheets clipped on. As I was about to say we’re ready to hoist I realised I rigged it back to front and I almost wanted to facepalm myself while our awesome coach was standing behind my back. A touch embarrassed, I rushed to fix up the blunder and we could finally hoist. Because the cockpit was a little crowded, Meg actually came to the front and did the mast. The wind was light so no big challenges there. We sailed on, did a few gybes all executed nicely. Then we dropped the kite which could honestly go better. I was squatting in a bad position and got half tangled in it while shoving it in through the companionway. We continued to upwind in even lighter conditions now and Stacey was giving us tips on how to fine tune sail trim for such conditions, what to look for in halyard or cunningham tension for both the mainsail and the jib, how to optimise the sail shape and so on. It was a really good explanation of what the different controls do to the sail shape. Even though I wasn’t trimming I was listening very carefully and tried to absorb as much as possible. We did a short upwind leg before turning around and practicing another kite hoist. This time we did it from the forehatch which was a first for me. This time we did even nice gybes before trying another drop. We opted for a different positioning this time and it wasn’t the best. As I was standing on the windward side pulling the kite in by the lazy sheet, the foot wasn’t scooped up over the rail, we dropped it a little too quick so the bottom went into the piss. The kite got pulled being the boat, an edge caught on the stanchion and without being able to do much to salvage the situation we heard the painful rip sound. Yikes! I was worried how big the rip was and how upset the owner would be with us. After that blunder we continued to sail upwind towards the leads, wrapping up our training session. With the conditions still being super light we practiced a few roll tacks, then started the motor and headed back in.
We later inspected the kite and the rip was about 30cm long to which Stacey, who is also a qualified sailmaker said that it can easily be fixed and that sailmakers have this saying: If you can put your arm through it, tape it. If you can walk through it, stitch it. And if you can’t find all the bits, bin it. So the plan was to dry it out and fix it up with stickyback.
Overall the training sesh was great and all the ladies were really chuffed to have the opportunity so we’re now planning to do a few more sessions in the following weeks.
I went over to my friends on Saturday to help with work on their boat. That’s my free therapy sessions at the moment. While I was over there they asked me if I’ve made any progress on my Trans-Tasman plans and I enthusiastically blurted out I did and told them all about it. Things are starting to get serious and I feel like a naughty kid.
My friends then showed me their “infusion room” where we’ll start experimenting with epoxy infusions from next week onwards. I was fascinated with the gear and setup and I can’t wait to see the process in practice.
We spent the next couple of hours sanding the boat in preparation for fairing and painting later. This time I brought over some personal protective gear and they gave me a nice set of overalls to wear. That was one lesson learned a few weeks back where I spent a couple of days itching and coughing like nuts. Murray, an old salt who worked on Aurora Australis icebreaker for a long time, happened to come over for a visit after I got home in the evening and was itching like mad. Rookie mistake he said. The insides of my forearms were covered with a rash, contact dermatitis. He suggested some kind of waxing and antihistamine cream would help. So next minute the whole family was waxing my forearms with duct tape. Getting that stuff on your skin is bad enough but breathing carbon fibre dust is seriously not good for you. Next thing on my list is to actually get a good quality respirator as the dust masks simply don’t cut it. This time wearing some more protective gear meant I was fine afterwards – not itchy just a bit congested. Definitely worth investing in some more gear to protect my lungs.
Before I left we spend some time discussing logistics. Early July is looking like a reasonable timeframe to start after all the planning put in place. That doesn’t seem that far away so I get excited it’s happening. We need to clear up some space in the shed and fill the ground with more gravel to avoid the construction area from flooding or turning into a muddy pit when it rains.
I’m continuously stunned by the pieces of the puzzle falling into place and support offered from unlikely sources, even if it’s just a nod of approval to guide me when I’m not sure and encourage me to follow my dreams.
The following quotation really strikes a chord with me. It’s very fitting.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
The other day I decided to get the plans printed so that I can lay them down on the table and tangibly interact with them, rather than just look at digital versions on my computer screen. Rather than driving to Officeworks and messing around with this myself, I reached out to a local printing company and asked them if they could do this for me, blowing them up to a larger format and printing them on a heavier paper. Among other services on their website they listed printing of engineering and architectural plans, so I figured they’d be perfect for the job. A few emails back and forth and we agreed on how I wanted the plans printed, the files were digitally delivered to the shop and I went about my day working in the office.
Later in the afternoon the company emailed me to advise my plans are ready to be picked up. So I jumped in the car about 30 minutes before closing time and drove over to get them. When I walked into their office there was another customer collecting his printing job and we got into an interesting conversation about what he was printing. His printed product on rather large laminated adhesive sheets sparked my interest as it was some kind of geometric pattern that looked like one of those optical illusion patterns. The shop owner assured the customer these will stick and cure even underwater, it will just take longer to get a strong bond. I was curious so I asked the customer what he needed these for and he said he’s designing a new device to take underwater photos and videos, a kind of underwater aeroplane. Hmm, that sound interesting. I asked if it was like a mini sub and he said yes, but much faster.
As the customer happily collected his prints and exited it was my turn to collect my job. The show owner asked how he can assist and I said I’m here to pick up the plans. He looked a bit baffled so I added – the boat plans. Then he blurted out, “Oooooh, I don’t know why but I was expecting a man.” I had to laugh heartily because it was so innocent and genuine. Oh well, you got me instead and I can understand why you’d be expecting a man. He apologised for casual sexism and said he’s simply assumed I was a man because that sort of thing is usually men’s interest. I was amused by the whole interaction and not even slightly offended. My plans looked good and I was happy with how they printed them. I’m just thinking I might go back and order another set and have them laminated so that we can handle them around in the workshop and not worry too much about damaging them.
After a full on week at work I was looking forward to a long weekend. The weather forecast was for cold westerlies which are typical for winter months and can range from light to quite strong. There was a strong low pressure system south of Australia moving eastward and it was definitely set to bring cold air up to Queensland with somewhere between 15-25kn of wind. Not exactly very strong winds but a little fresher than my usual single-handed comfort zone. Perfect for getting out there and pushing myself out of the comfort zone but still not doing anything reckless. I planned an overnight trip on White Sox, carefully studied the weather forecast, came up with a few possible destinations and researched appropriate anchorages.
On Saturday morning I made sure I packed up plenty of provisions to last me at least two days and I headed down to the marina. In my bag were essential items such as thermals, chocolate snacks, fluffy socks, fresh water and tea. When I arrived to the marina it was low tide so I had to wait anyway before I could get out. I was a little cumbersome to load up all my gear onto the boat at low tide, particularly the 10L container of water and 20L of petrol. I figured I can use a sheet to lower the items onto the foredeck which was about 2 meters below the dock. Then I carefully packed up all my items away, topped up the main fuel tank, prepared the anchor in the locker on the bow, moved the spare anchor away from the autopilot and selected the sails I wanted to use that day. The forecast was for 15-20kn with up to 25kn later in the afternoon and in the evening. So I chose to reef the main before I even left the marina and for the jib I chose the small storm jib. Better to be underpowered than to be overpowered and having had prior experience with westerlies I know they can be somewhat unpredictable and go from zero to hero within minutes. While I was rummaging around I discovered the bilge was full of very dark dirty water which surprised me. The bilge is usually bone dry. I turned on the bilge pump which was making noise but appeared to not be doing anything. I wasn’t sure where the bilge pump outlet should be but I was certain there was no water being pumped out so I gave up after about a minute and resorted to the hand pump. I was shocked by what came out – black dirty smelly water. I was embarrassed and hoped nobody saw me pumping that shit out in the marina. I have no idea how the water got inside the boat or how come it was so dirty. It didn’t look or smell like oil or petrol which is stored in the containers anyway so the only explanation I had was that it somehow got inside when we waterblasted the boat a few weeks ago. It smelled a little bit like a combination of rotting seaweed and someone taking a dump. The bilge was so full that if I didn’t pump it out it would definitely slosh around when I was underway and that would certainly ruin my day. I’m glad I noticed it before I set off. It took me at least 5 minutes to pump about 20 litres of that crap out. Then I was ready to slip the lines and go.
Just outside the marina I was very keen to get the sails up and get sailing. The autohelm remarkably behaved itself this time and worked while I hoisted the mainsail. My plan to reef it before I even hoisted worked a treat too. It went up easily straight into first reef – no flapping, no dramas, no stress. I think the autohelm also worked a lot better than it did recently because I moved both anchors away from the starboard side cockpit locker right underneath where the autohelm is mounted. Large ferrous objects will of course interfere with any compass, such as the one built into the tiller autohelm. No wonder the poor thing had a tendency to go in circles much to my frustration. We were underway and I hoisted the storm jib next. We have a slightly larger #3 jib for the boat but I don’t know where it went – missing, probably buried under piles of spinnakers. Note to self: find that lovely medium sized jib. The first 3 nautical miles until you round the eastern corner of Coochiemudlo island are always a pain in the arse with the incoming tide which can flow up to 2kn against you. On a boat that does about 5kn, that’s a big hit. So I motor-sailed up to Norfolk Beach before turning the motor off. It was delightful sail from then onwards and I had the biggest grin on my face. A beam reach all the way, past Banana Bank, Peel Island, Hope Banks and all the way to St Helena Island. I let the autohelm steer a good deal of the time to check how resilient it is and if the darn thing burnt a fuse and quit on me it would be a great excuse to buy a new one. But it worked. The wind was gradually building to high teens with a few gusts coming through. I was mucking around with something when I noticed we suddenly luffed up and then the autohelm started its usual beeping complaint. It didn’t die on me, just the mounting plate where it attaches to the tiller has come off completely. So now I had no way of connecting the autohelm to the tiller so it was back to hand steering. I was under the impression that the sun sets at around 6pm but when I thought it was quite low on the horizon and I checked the sunset time on the chartplotter it told me the sun sets at 5:15pm. Ah well, that’s just a bit short of me arriving to my intended destination. I considered the option of diverting to Green Island and anchoring behind that but as it is a small low lying island I thought it wouldn’t give me much shelter should the wind pick up overnight. I decided to continue towards St Helena knowing I’d have to anchor at night. I wasn’t fussed by that. I briefly lashed the tiller with bungee cord so I could go fetch the portable navigation lights and mount them on the stanchions. Handy little things – they run on batteries and they’re remarkably bright. Given that the wind was blowing about 20 knots and the autohelm retired for the day, I wasn’t in the position to rummage through the luggage to find my headlamp so I had to resort to using the hand torch for when the time came to anchor. Indeed it became quite dark shortly after the sun set but I knew where I wanted to anchor, I had the chart plotter, the depth sounder and the navionics on my phone as backup. How hard can it be?! Bah, just don’t stress.
Once I was in the lee of the island I had no concerns. I saw one other catamaran anchored in my chosen spot so I dropped the sails and motored a fair bit to the right of it to make sure we gave each other sufficient swing space. I wanted to keep 1.5m clearance under the keel at low tide. I arrived to the anchorage shortly after the 1.8m high tide, so I figured about 5m of depth should do it and I didn’t want to go much further below 4m of water depth at the time. The catamaran was anchored closer to the island but that’s cats – they don’t have pesky keels and can go into very shallow water. So I motored up to the desired spot, put the motor in neutral and reversed it just a touch to make sure I had no forward momentum left. I was in a good spot, just where I wanted to be, so I went to the bow, took the anchor out and as I was about to lower it down I remembered I hadn’t tied the other end to anything which is a bit of a risky move. So I put it back in the locker, fished out the lose end and tied it off before attempting the procedure again. By that time I was drifting sideways with the wind, that’s fine and expected if you don’t have anyone on the helm actively steering and it isn’t much of an issue. Once the anchor is set, the boat will point into the wind naturally. So I lowered the anchor and all 5m of the chain or so. Then I counted how many arm lengths of rode I let out. I counted 20 arm lengths or about 25m in total, which for anchoring in 5m of water is about 5x scope or 25m of rode out. The recommended scope is somewhere between 5-7x the depth of water at high tide. Less if your anchor rode is all chain and more if it’s rope or you need to hunker down for heavy weather. I knew the water depth there at next high tide in the morning would be a little higher, so about 6m for estimate. So I let out another couple of arm lengths for good measure and I still wasn’t satisfied. When I tugged on the rode it felt a little floppy. My imagination told me I must have dropped the anchor onto some rocky bottom close to the island and it was now skipping over the hard bottom. I went back to the cockpit to check the speed on the chartplotter and my eyes popped out. Bloody hell 0.5-0.7kn of SOG and 6m of depth. While I was mucking around tying the loose end of the anchor rode I must have drifted a little further back into deeper water than what I expected or the anchor wasn’t really holding. I tried to eyeball where that catamaran was now that I lost my night vision from looking at the bright chartplotter. It was to my port side at 11 o’clock rather than around 9 o’clock where I thought it should be. I quickly set the “anchor alarm” app on my watch and observed the distance go up to 10m, 12m, 15m. Well crap, I thought. So I dashed to the bow again, and let out another plentiful of arm lengths of that rode. Then I thought, fuck it, I might as well let it all out. I only left about 3 meters. I went back to the cockpit and checked the chartplotter again – the SOG still showed me moving but the anchor watch app settled down at somewhere between 20-25m drift. I pinned my location on Navionics app as well and that didn’t show me moving much so I was happy with that. The SOG – that was still disturbing but I figured I must have been sailing left and right on the anchor. I downloaded another “anchor watch” on my phone and set that to watch my position too.
It was cold and noisy from the wind outside and I was a little tired so I went below and laid down in the bunk to chill out first. I probably laid there for about 15min until I figured it would be a good idea to change from wet clothes into something dry so I put my warm pyjamas and thermals on with some fluffy socks to keep my feet warm. I was all out of hot tea so I decided to boil some water to make a new batch of tea. I didn’t feel hungry enough to cook a whole dinner but I decided I’ll make myself some Nutella sandwiches. While I was changing and boiling the water I became a little sea sick. It built up to the point where I didn’t feel like eating those sandwiches any more and at one point I nearly spewed into the cockpit. Well stuff that, riding the anchor shouldn’t be making me sea sick but why should I need to suffer when there’s a simple pharmaceutical solution to the problem. I popped a travacalm tablet thinking that will do me good as it will make me drowsy and I will have a good night sleep. It kicked in within 20 minutes and my tummy settled. I ate my chocolate sandwiches, had my peppermint tea, wrote in my diary or makeshift “ship’s log” and listened to music. It was nice and cosy inside the cabin with the wind howling outside. I popped my head through the companionway once or twice out of curiosity and it was very chilly. I checked the Navionics and the two anchor watch apps again and was content that the anchor was holding good. I could go to sleep. I opened two “hand warmer” packets and popped them in my sleeping back and it was so toasty. I drifted off to sleep.
I was woken up from a deep sleep by an alarm blaring on my phone. The unusual sound turned out to be the anchor watch app and the time was just around midnight. Blurry eyes focused on the figures on the screen which told me I have drifted 42m. Fark. I bolted out in pyjamas and socks and badly kicked myself on something sharp in the mad dash to the bow. I found the anchor rope completely slack and my brain in a dazed state told me it must have chafed and I was now drifting free of the anchor. Well crap, what do I do, what do I do? Start the outboard, point the boat into the wind, set the broken autopilot and then figure out how to set the spare anchor. Do I really have to go to all that trouble? I’m pretty sure I was running around the boat like a headless chook at midnight for a few minutes until it clicked. Hang on a second. What’s the tide doing? And why would I be drifting when there’s hardly any wind. The water was dead calm and the moon was shining. I looked at the island, found the nearby catamaran and the navigational lights in the distance and I was still where I anchored. The tide was near slack and was just turning to start flowing in so the boat was swinging on the anchor, hence the over 40m drift. All this panic for nothing.
My foot was aching and I was cold so I went back inside to have a look at the foot. I cut it on something pretty bad and was bleeding through the sock. I was feeling a little dopey, no doubt from the sea sickness tablet and I was trying to find the first aid kit. I couldn’t remember where it was and I couldn’t find it so I gave up and I patched up my foot with a piece of paper towel and a sock to stop the bleeding. Quit being a sook, it’s just a little cut. I tucked myself back into the sleeping back and went back to sleep.
Next I was woken up at about 3am by another fucking alarm. Oh, for fuck’s sake. This time, I turned the app off, set the alarm radius to 70m and hoped it would not bother me again for nothing. I put on a jumper and went outside to check regardless. As I opened the hatch I instantly thought, “What the heck?! Why am I sitting with the stern to wind and why am I looking at the bright lights of Port of Brisbane”. This can’t be right when the westerlies are blowing. I should be pointing with the bow in that direction. I went up to the bow, this time careful not to acquire another injury. Inspecting the anchor line it was going down from the bow, tight as hell, to starboard side then disappearing under the boat and I figured it must have wrapped itself around the keel and or rudder. But how? A fin keel and a skeg mounted rudder, how does the anchor line wrap around that?! I pulled up photos of the boat on the hardstand on my phone to analyse the possibilities. Although unlikely I figured it would be possible to get a rope wrapped around the keel. How unlucky. I tried to pull out some slack but the wind was now blowing the stern of the boat at an angle that made that near impossible. With about 1m of slack anchor rope I’d somehow have to pivot the boat around it’s keel with the wind against the hull to unwrap it. Not possible. Letting out a little more rope to make it slack and hoping it would unwrap itself wasn’t possible either as I’ve let most of it out already. I went to grab a torch to have a closer look. While hanging over the edge of the boat shining a torch into the water I could see… big fish, maybe a small shark, perhaps a figment of imagination and the anchor rope coming out the back of the keel. I could pop the outboard into the water, start it and reverse myself out of the situation but that would require effort, create a lot of noise and risk me getting the anchor line caught in the prop. That last bit would just absolutely make my night and was bound to happen if Murphy’s laws had anything to do with it. With the situation as it was, the worst thing that could happen is the anchor rope chafing through on the keel. I figured that was unlikely to happen in 3 hours given that the boat was recently antifouled and had a smooth bottom. I went back to sleep and set the alarm at the next high tide which was early in the morning just before sunrise.
Wake up alarm was set at 6am. I got up and was still sitting with the stern to the wind. I went out, lashed the tiller in the opposite direction with the idea that when the tide turned the boat would do a pirouette in the opposite direction and would unwrap itself. I put the water on the Primus burner in the cockpit to boil while I put some warm clothes on. While I was getting dressed I could feel the boat pivot and I looked out. Sure enough, it wasn’t yet high tide but she was doing a graceful 180° turn in slow motion. The tea was ready and I sat out in the cockpit to watch the sunrise. Because I’m not a morning person I don’t get to experience these very often. It was cold but calm and felt a little special to watch. The outline of Moreton and North Stradbroke islands in the distance with the South Passage in between seemed to change shape into something different with peculiar objects, or bits of land floating above the horizon, with crisp edges. They seemed to change shape for a minute or so. Some kind of Fata Morgana or a mirage, an optical illusion.
After sunrise I went back to sleep haha. It was cold and I had two interruptions to my sleep during the night so I had an extra little nap till 8am. By then the wind was howling again and it must have been blowing about 20kn with white caps visible further out in the bay. I was supposed to go to the marina in Manly but it didn’t seem like a good idea. I’d have to motor up the channel into the marina and having tried to do that once before in 20+kn I know it’s a pain in the arse. I can sail the boat in 20kn without too much issue but the 6hp outboard at that wind speed isn’t much help. After some consideration and the wind not abating, this plan was abandoned. I stayed put until much later in the day when I decided that I’ll sail the boat back to Redland Bay. I was in no rush. In the meantime I fixed one of the luff sliding track thingies on the mainsail which broke the previous day. I simply took one from below the reef and moved it higher up. I also found some epoxy based polymer compound that promised to set within 1 hour so I thought that would be a good solution to glue the autohelm mounting plate back onto the arm. An hour later the kneading putty was still quite soft so I decided to not use the autohelm that day to let it set properly. I made some food, another flask of tea and had another nap.
I weighed anchor and motored out of the anchorage. At midday the wind settled down to soft 10kn so I really had to get out of the lee of the islands to start moving. Later in the day it was forecast to pick up to 20-25kn so I started with the sail arrangement – reefed main and small jib. Underpowered at the time but with a peace of mind. I considered hoisting up one the larger jib but instead of doing that I rather spent some time mucking around with the sheet-to-tiller self-steering arrangements I read about in a book. I was intrigued by the idea and wanted to try the concept so that I have another self-steering solution in my pocket as a backup. I tried to rig it up with a short thin line first but it was a touch too short so I had to get the longer former spinnaker sheet out to use for the experiment. I tied that to the clew of the jib, lead it through a low friction ring on a softlink just forward of the mast, back to a turning block in the cockpit, over to the other side through another turning block and tied to a tiller. I tied an adjustable bungee cord to the tiller from the windward side to provide lee helm. After a bit of tweaking the arrangement seemed to work rather well. The bungee cord needed some fine tuning and the sheet-to-tiller line was cleated off instead of tied to the tiller to provide fine adjustment. I tried sailing on a beam reach and it worked perfectly. I then set the course to sail close hauled as I had quite a long way to go before sunset. It worked really well on a close hauled course too.
As I approached NW corner of Peel island I started getting some really nice bullets with big shifts in wind direction and strength. Could see them coming across the water surface and I intentionally didn’t do anything to see what would happen. It went from SW to SE over an hour or so, not steadily but in gusty shifts. I was now really impressed by how well the sheet-to-tiller self steering worked. On lifts she’d heel over then head up and settle down on a new course relative to wind direction. A little more sluggish reaction to what a human helmsman would do but good enough. The wind was now at around stead 15kn range then the bullets were coming in at about 20kn. On knocks the reaction was a little more sluggish compared to lifts. The jib would luff up a lot before the bungee did it’s magic to adjust the course. To optimise the system even further I think using a thinner rope for control lines would be good, maybe 4-6mm max, as light as possible, doesn’t need to be dyneema as not load bearing. For turning blocks rather than blocks with sheaves I’d prefer to use sheaveless low friction rings spliced on soft links to they’re super lightweight and can be moved easily. I’d need four of those to make it work.
Once I was past Peel Island the wind turned to a more steady SE in high teens with a few gusts coming through. This was an exciting time and with the wind against the incoming tide the sea state became quite choppy. I had enough mucking around with self-steering and I wanted to have some fun helming in those lively conditions. One more time, with a big grin on my face I had my hour of fun. How this boat goes upwind is magical for a relatively small boat. With a reefed main and a storm jib we were hitting up to 6.5 knots SOG, assisted by tide of course but it still seemed exciting and fast. She skipped over and sliced through the waves with ease with a bit of salty spray to wet my face. Close to Coochiemudlo where the water gets squeezed between the island and a sandbank, the waves really stood up and I had a giggle at how well we handled that. Then once we were back down the channel to our home port, things settled down as we were sheltered by the islands. I had no trouble dropping the sails and motoring into the marina.
I was really satisfied with how the trip went overall and I’m keen to repeat such adventures.
After a sailing session this morning with a friend who’s far more experienced and a conversation we had a couple of days ago I really started to think about all the things I’ll have to learn to fulfill my dreams. Sailing is one of those things where it seems you never stop learning, there’s always something new, next step. At the start of my sailing journey I was mostly a reactive learner. There was little planning required as my adventures were small and because my skill level was so low, a challenge would always present itself so it was easy to just pick that and get on with the job of learning a new basic skill to overcome the challenge at hand. For example, how to right the boat or how to gybe without capsizing. Later I started having more specific goals and I pursued a number of directed activities in order to learn. For example, foredeck skills or how to navigate.
The last really focused learning activity was the yachtmaster theory and prep about 3 months ago. After that I felt like I hit the learning doldrums. The objective was to get the yachtmaster assessment done so I’d officially pass that. It seemed vague. I felt slightly lost and needed to organise a plan for my learning activities for the next couple of months. Maybe I needed some guidance from someone more experienced to tell me what to prioritise. I would definitely feel relieved if someone came along and told me directly, do this and that and you’re on the right track.
The original plan for 2020 was – do more miles, as many miles as you can get. Yeah okay, I certainly need to do many more to build the experience and really bed the knowledge and skills but I’d like to have some little milestones along the way to keep myself encouraged and confident that I’m progressing to becoming a better more competent sailor. With all the impacts of COVID19 on various sailing events, this has of course disrupted all my earlier plans. There went my miles and I felt a little stuck. However, over the last couple of days a few light bulbs went off, ideas about alternative options sparked and this morning’s session has made me more determined to set some clear objectives.
What happened? Well, nothing terrible and in fact not a lot at all. It was a light wind day and we sailed out of the marina with the kite up before we even cleared the breakwall. I passed the tiller to my very experienced friend who dully helmed, while I hoisted the main and set the kite. Then my friend wanted to pass the helm back to me and I didn’t want it. I felt a commercial skipper is a far better fit for a helmsperson or a skipper even though it’s my boat. By level of skill or knowledge I don’t even come close to that, so it’s a rank thing. I didn’t want that responsibility passed back to me so I tried to weasel out of it in several ways without even realising that I was doing that at the time. Finally my friend devised some kind of ploy to flick the tiller back to me and it of course involved a rather funny competitive game with us trying to catch a much bigger sailing yacht and overtake them. Then it was on, I perked up and tried to steer the little one in slow mo pursuit. We got close, right on their stern but eventually, the large yacht caught wind and pulled away from us, so we bore away to sail a better angles and the wind dropped down to so light and variable it was practically a drifter and we even tacked with the gennaker. My friend drilled me while we were out and I was strangely disturbed by it. Why is a commercial skipper asking me to tell them how to gybe the main or how to drop the kite? Emm umm, if it was any other of my sailing friends, even minimally experienced I think I’d have less trouble explaining what I want them to do. This friend is also usually pretty direct and articulated, some say even a bit bossy, so why pick this particular day to stir me up by simply acting the opposite. It made me damn nervous and I wanted to pass the tiller back like hot potatoes and just be told what to do. Nope. I had to invent a job that had to be done right then and meant I can’t helm at the same time. I proceeded to roll up the mainsail while we were in the channel heading back in, then I put the fenders out and prepared the mooring lines. At that point, my friend remarked I ought to be helming and telling my crew what to do. Yep, hit the nail on the head – when sailing with other more experienced people I don’t have the confidence to do that. I go a little stupid even. I really do feel most in my comfort zone when I’m on the foredeck. So when I get to a point where I’m comfortable helming and skippering a boat with experienced crew I’ll tick that box. For now I’m a little junior skippy, happy to do it but only when conditions are ideal and there’s nobody more competent around me. At that moment it clicked my friend just gave me a valuable lesson in about 3kn of wind. As we approached the dock, I asked for the tiller to be passed back to me so I could do the docking as I needed practice far more than my friend who does this all the time.
So for a couple of specific goals this year I have:
How do I manage and deal with fatigue
Heavy weather sailing
How boats are build and how to fix mechanical and electrical issues
A couple of weeks ago Wayne called me to tell me he’s bored shitless and wants something to do, so he figured it would be time to finally get our arses in a gear and sort out the long overdue antifouling of White Sox. We quickly hatched up a plan to give her a bit of a cosmetic uplift at the same time. We asked for quotes to do this a couple of months back and some were from a slipping facility on the Gold Coast which, would be a logistical nightmare because it’s an hour’s drive away and others were so expensive it left me stunned. Wayne made a couple of calls and got a quote that seemed perfectly reasonable from the local sailing club so we both got excited. However when he tried to book in, they told him the next available slipping slot is in May! But Wayne was bored and itching to do something now. So we rang RQYS and asked for a quote from them. To my surprise the cost of services was also reasonable and on par with other providers and they also had a slot available within a couple of days. Without too much mucking around we quickly booked it.
We sailed the boat up to Manly on Sunday and then had the haul-out booked for Wednesday. I ducked down to the marina at lunch time just in time to watch White Sox be loaded up on slings and lifted out. Just like that, easy peasy. The guys then used an industrial pressure hose and gave her a good wash. This got rid of all the slime and a good deal of the antifoul, with a couple of barnacles left. She looked pretty daggy.
White Sox before…
I had to get back to the office after lunch but Wayne went straight to work to sand the bottom and apply the first coat of antifoul. I joined him again on late Friday afternoon. We decided to spray paint the topsides with some secrecy as you’re not meant to spray paint yourself. However we used a low pressure DIY spray gun and screened work area so there really wasn’t any overspray. Things looked great until we did a full circle around the boat, after which we discovered a couple of runs. Argh, what a bummer. Spray painting can be a bit finicky and I mixed way too much thinner into the paint.
Here’s a lesson learned: when mixing thinner into paint do it little by little. You probably want the paint to still be thick consistency. Like full cream milk at least, with a bit of extra cream in it. If it looks thinner than water, it’s too thin.
The following day I was there early in the morning to fix up the runs with a good deal of sanding. After that we decided to paint on another layer of Northane paint using a roll and tip method. This seemed to work great and give us a nice glossy finish. More importantly, there were no runs. We also sanded and varnished the teak handrails which were so worn out they literally absorbed about 3 layers of varnish. We painted the decks with glossy enamel and antiskid. Overall White Sox started to look wonderful. On Sunday we decided to apply the final coat of paint on topside and really ensure the waterlines were straight and clean so we masked them off. I bought some stainless steel polish and started working on polishing the stanchions which lost their shine and were quite badly corroded in some spots. Wayne finished off painting the decks and after the paint dried up a bit we could finally peel off the masking tape. That was so satisfying and she looked great.
White Sox after…
On Monday morning we were scheduled to put her back in the water. I popped down again to watch her be slipped back into water just before work. We’ve done great work in the 5 days she was on the hard and she looks marvelous.
Last couple of weeks can be described as strange – arrested, suffocated standstill, yet at the same time one of the craziest most busy periods at work. I don’t mind pressure, in fact I tend to work quite well under pressure. High workload and long todo lists usually don’t disturb me but this was something different. This was a period of a quite reasonable but poorly prioritised task requests so the whole team descended into chaos. Combined with poor productivity where everything seemed to go wrong and not much was getting done. Like hamsters running through some diabolical maze. There was no flow, no sense of accomplishment, all blah no yay. At the same time COVID-19 restrictions kicked in, for many of us taking away our established methods of work-lifestyle balancing, the pressure valves removed with everyone cooped up inside our homes bombarded with overwhelmingly negative media doomsday reporting.
Without a single mainstream goal, I had to find something to keep myself busy or I’d go mad so I did what I do best – start a whole bunch of projects. The funny thing is I still feel like I’m not doing enough. Spinning wheels…
One of the best things I did recently is help friends work on their project boat. This way I didn’t have to exert mental energy in planning what needs to be done. I just rocked up and volunteered my muscles for whatever needed to be done. It was perfect, itchy, dusty, sweaty and messy but perfect. I put on some work clothes and went for a short drive as their “shed” is close to my house and I was blown away by the size of the project. I simply said they can tell me what needs to be done and I’ll shut up and work on it. So that’s what it was for a couple of days – stripping the deck and interior of every fitting. There were screws that needed to be unscrewed and often they had nuts on the other side that would spin so it was a two person job. Someone in the bowels of the boat with a shifter on the nut and another person with a screwdriver or a powerdrill where possible. Often that wasn’t possible. Rusted or otherwise corroded screws would be stripped if not carefully loosened or screws in weird inaccessible spots. I stripped a few, then we had to angle grind them off. Sometimes we had to use a screwdriver with vice grips on the handle. Painstaking work. Fiberglass dust and lots of it, the itchy dust. Hammers and chisels to remove the backing plates where the were any. Hammering a back plate off with a chisel brings on that destructive pleasure. Many fittings were simply mounted with no backing plates. Holes drilled straight through the balsa core hull, not sealed. As the fittings were removed, the now hollow holes often weeped brown stained liquid. Labelling and bagging all the fittings, trying to decide what should be salvaged for possible later use. Spaghetti of wiring inside. Some useful instruments and some derelict antiques, including a weather fax that had to be smashed to bits to be removed. But it still had a serviceable roll of printing paper inside. It was good to see progress, each day a little more was stripped. One day I felt like I wasn’t making progress with the fiddly little things so I decided to go for big items. There was some kind of box mounted above the fuel tanks underneath the companionway. I have no idea what it was, perhaps a HF radio tuner or some other kind of mystery boxy device like that. I just wanted to rip out something big. I wriggled into the space on my back, some loose screws poking me into the sweet pressure spots. Among the tinkering sounds of stuff being pulled apart I closed my eyes to avoid specs of fibreglass dust falling into my eyes. It was like meditation. Shifter in one hand, screwdriver in the other, blindly feeling for screws. It was precious many minutes of mindful focus where my brain relaxed and slowed down. After some time, nostrils flaring with the burning sensation, the heavy box was free of whatever was holding it mounted onto the hull and I achieved a little bit of catharsis.
The decks were so soft it almost felt as if you might put your foot through the deck. After all the fittings were stripped, the top layer of deck could be peeled off. The core was all soggy wet inside. It’s not the kind of damage that happens overnight. I wondered who treats a boat like that. The new owners wonder that as well. 52 feet of utter neglect. It’s a great project though. I’ll volunteer my services whenever I’ll feel like I need some therapy and this will be a wonderful project.