The previous day had seen us tuck into Port Kennedy when the 18 knot Easterly intensified to a 25 knot Southerly. At midnight the wind dropped and we hoisted our sails on the mooring and slipped out of the sheltered bay with a moon so bright it was possible to see the surrounding rock islands and surging reef. I am always quite anxious around reef, so I was pleased not to be on the helm and to let the skipper follow the beacons as well as our route in on the chart plotter. The swell was big and the waves quite steep, almost stopping us in our tracks. I was worried about rouge waves coming unannounced in the night and kept a vigilant look-out for cray pots and areas of white water as we motor-sailed beyond the leads, past the breakwaters and into the open sea.
Safe out at sea I went back to bed while the skipper took the first shift on the tiller. I lay on the bunk bed in the forepeak attempting to ignore the swell we were pounding into so I could be fresh for the dawn shift. Holding myself taut so as not to roll out and feeling increasingly nauseous and listless, I must have dozed off. Eventually I noticed the sky through the porthole was lighter, so I donned a life jacket, gloves and beanie and stumbled into the cockpit to take over the morning watch.
The rose and gold coloured dawn etched out the distant land formations in solid black ink. With very little wind we were sailing slowly. In four hours we hadn’t got much further south than Mandurah. The swell was on the nose and, in an effort to catch more wind, we had steered a course 10 miles out to sea. After taking some sea sickness tablets I took the tiller. The fresh air and tablets should have set me right, but I was too far gone. Fifteen minutes later I was vomiting over the side. I tried to focus on the horizon and to keep an eye on the chart plotter to maintain our course, but the steep waves and lack of wind were slopping us about so much that at times we were going sideways. The motion not only continued to see me throwing up over the side, it made me incredibly sleepy and I found it very hard to keep my eyes open. Every now and then, in spite of the argument raging inside my head about not falling asleep at the helm, I would close my eyes.
Thankfully the skipper couldn’t sleep and after only an hour or so (I lost track of time) came back into the cockpit. He admitted to feeling pretty queasy himself and took over the tiller, but he couldn’t get much more headway than I. I began to dread the day ahead, the prospect of hot sun, no sleep, a rolling swell on the nose and the only likely wind to also be from the South and also on the nose, combined with the growing awareness that our progress might see us not make it to Bunbury before nightfall, made me want to turn around and head home. After another argument inside my head about whether I should abort a trip we had been looking forward to (we were supposed to be cruising in company with other members of the Sailing Club and had arranged to meet up in Quindalup for the holiday period) my dread of the day ahead got the better of me. Although, rather than returning home, I suggested we look for an anchorage in Mandurah.
Without more than a moment’s hesitation we turned the motor on and steered the tiller in the direction of Mandurah. With the skipper at the helm, the motor on and capable of seeing us through the three hour trip to Mandurah, I curled up on the narrow cockpit seat and fell asleep…..