A whale of a time

A friend joined us for coffee while the new chart plotter I’d purchased as a birthday present was fitted. (Would all birthday presents from here on be boat things?) My brother arrived shortly afterwards, ready to join us for the weekend sail to Rottnest and, just as we were about to depart, another friend, also arrived  for coffee. The later arrival was given a rain check with profuse apologies and left unceremoniously to wave us goodbye as we headed off with grey skies and a 16 knot south westerly breeze that was building.

With two experienced sailors hoisting the sails I felt none of the usual apprehension about sailing beyond marina walls and into the open ocean. Under their tutelage I paid attention to the sails, they pointed out leech was luffing in the main which may have been due to a lack of tension in the gaff halyard. They also pointed out the staysail boom needed to come up so the leech rather than the foot did the work. I was also getting a little weather helm and they pointed out the main was slightly overpowered and could have done with a reef. But in the open ocean the weather helm wasn’t a problem even when the wind increased to 18-20 knots.

In the distance I saw a whale breeching, it’s flukes coming right out of the water. We watched for a while and thought there were three of them. My brother suggested they might be Wright Whales but, when one seemed to follow about 200 metres behind our boat, he thought it might be a Pilot Whale. Thrilled simply to see a whale, it hardly mattered what type they were. We kept our eyes peeled on the pod as they swam northwards and watched a whale watching charter boat heading towards them from the Hillary’s Marina.

We had sailed the southerly on a beam reach so when it came time to turn toward Longreach Bay we had to punch into the wind and a short chop. We dropped the sails as we approached the treacherous Longreach Channel and motored into the white sandy bottomed anchorage. Lunch, beers, rum and a dinghy ride to the beach. A walk into Thompsons Bay, happy hour, pre-prepared dinner in the oven and Neil Young’s Harvest album belting across the water, life was grand.

Rottnest Island by Mistake

The weather has been so changeable these past few weekends and we have been itching to be away sailing, but to no avail. So ignoring the forecast last Saturday and the promise of strong winds and wet skies over the weekend we headed off to Carnac Island regardless.

Leaving the Fremantle Yacht Club marina just before noon the wind was a pleasant 12 knots and skies were blue – so much for the forecast. So all sails hosted and off we go. Ashanti (albeit with a dirty bottom) is reaching at a pleasant 3.5 – 4 knots in calm seas. My this is good, too good to stop, so the crew voted unanimously to make it a weekend away at Rottnest.

We arrived at Thompsons Bay Rottnest after a pleasant three hour sail. Drop anchor and lunchtime. However a bit fearful that the predicted strong winds might eventually arrive overnight we moved further north and picked up a rental mooring nearer the fuel jetty in the Bay. Before settling in for the night we inflated the tender and rowed ashore for vital supplies – wine, oh yes and some food.

The weather was by now starting to change but with our clears down around the sides of the bimini it was pleasant enough for a glass of wine or two in the cockpit and to watch the full moon rising. After a satisfying curry for supper we snuggled down to bed in the forward cabin. To be honest the seas and wind had started to rise and it was a bumpy night on the mooring. Feeling just a little jaded in the morning we decided to leave early before the winds started to rise to the predicted 25 knots in the afternoon. It was already 18 to 20 knots but it would be a fairly broad reach home so not too uncomfortable. In fact the sail home was a delight. With only the foresail, staysail and jib up we romped along at a pleasant 4 to 5 plus knots arriving home by noon tired but satisfied with the weekend to Rottnest Island by mistake.

Surfing to Pigs Trough

The iPhone app ‘Sea Breeze’ forecast the prevailing southerly wind to rise through the day, it’s colour code key indicated brown, soil your pants kind of conditions. We headed out of Mandurah in the early morning, planning to tuck into Pigs Trough Bay where we would be more sheltered from the southerly. With a heavy swell behind us, we ran before a 30 knot wind with gusts up to 40 knots. It was a thrilling sail and our top speed was 7.5 knots as we surfed down the face of the waves.

As the wind built and the size of the waves increased on the windward side of Garden Island I began to appreciate the benefits of Ashanti’s curved shape. We remained dry as her stern and bow lifted well above the white capped waves. I had no fear of being pooped or of broaching, but imagined what kind of adrenalin rush you would get if you were sailing in a racing boat with an open transom on the waterline. You would be racing down each wave to avoid the crest from cascading into the cockpit. Furthermore Ashanti’s bowsprit provides for greater reach without having to increase the length of her hull. Like a slalom kayak she was infinitely more manoeuvrable in the surf.

We rounded the foaming waters past Herring Bay keeping watch for the craggy reef that littered the shoreline. There were several powerboats hunkered down within the shelter of the reef, but we knew this wasn’t the place to take a keel boat and we turned towards Pigs Trough Bay. The seas subsided as we rounded the point but the wind continued to rage. We turned on the motor, dropped our sails and secured Ashanti to the Fremantle Sailing Club mooring we’d managed to reserve just ahead of our arrival. The mooring was only available at the last minute because the person who’d booked it hadn’t ventured out due to the weather.

As I went below to felt smug

Gybe Ho-me

There’s more to our Quindalup sail, a repeat attempt the following evening to get to Bunbury after we’d slept some and recharged the battery but with the same result…We made it to Dawesville when our dawn coloured sails indicated we would have a strong southerly on the nose throughout the long day ahead. Sick of pitching and pinching, having made a little headway through the night, we turned the tiller and bailed for Mandurah. We didn’t like going to windward against the swell.

As we gybed, the sails filled, the boom swung and we surfed with the waves. We experienced the kind of immediate relief you feel when you fill your stomach after being hungry. We sailed effortlessly through the morning, and in next to no time we had covered the ground it had taken all night to gain. We didn’t feel badly, the omens were good, the fabulous DPI mooring we had departed from the river mouth was still available. For another day Mandurah would be our playground, where we would swim, dine at local establishments and read under a shade of a tree for the afternoon.

In gybing ho-me, I learned to go with the wind and water conditions, to be flexible and allow for whatever time or direction they may take me. Having decided we weren’t going to Quindalup we suddenly had loads of time and we planned an alternate holiday to visit anchorages at Garden and Rottnest Islands. We both felt excited to be heading in a spontaneous and different direction together.

Too tired to notice

After a rough night at sea we motored into the gold hued morning light of Mandurah with the oily calm swell behind us. Although early, the day promised to be hot with hazy patches of water vapour rising from the ocean where the sun’s rays were most intense. I felt exhausted and imagined how easily I could drown if I went overboard in this state.

As we motored towards a small anchorage just next to the marina entrance and river mouth we didn’t notice the cardinal and danger markers, just the free DPI mooring which another yacht seemed to be beating a path towards. I was on the foredeck with the boat hook in hand and screamed out when I realised we were going over a shallow reef. Lucky for us Ashanti’s draft at 1.5m allowed us to clear the sandbar and reef and to arrive at the mooring first. The other boat turned around, its crew must have been shocked and surprised by our extreme tactics which in reality were simply due to being too tired to notice, a lucky break. Secure on a mooring I plunged into the ocean to wash away the stress of the night before slipping into the forepeak to sleep a few hours as the heat of the day crept in.


Southbound and seasick

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…..


Holiday shakedown

The sky was blue, the sun was bright, the wind was strong and the ocean warm, perfect conditions for a sail. We started early at 7.10 am, hoisting all Ashanti’s sails in an 18 knot easterly breeze. With no swell we skimmed through the whitecaps on a broad reach at 5.5-6 knots. We hadn’t attempted more than 3 days away, so this trip was to be a bit of a shakedown to see how we and Ashanti would perform over a week to ten days.

We wanted to conserve power so kept electronic gadgetry and instruments to a minimum. The icebox was full of frozen items and ice, the wine was safely stored in the cool of the hold. This was just as well because we despite the good speed we were making, the regen on the electric motor didn’t appear to be feeding power back into the batteries. Although the skipper was confidant about our course, I made a mental note to ensure we not only include waypoints when planning our route on i sailor, but also on the chart plotter, as this is our primary navigation instrument. We also hadn’t turned on the depth sounder which, given the shallow waters we were crossing, might have provided me added reassurance.

I particularly enjoyed sailing past Garden Island as I had not previously been on the ocean side of the island before. There were vast numbers of cray pots bobbing along the reef demanding vigilant navigation, but the jagged rocks, aqua blue sea and rugged island vegetation was an attractive sight. The skipper referred to it as a poor man’s Rottnest, a military zone surrounded by industry. I tried to ignore the smoke stacks and restricted access causeway on the skyline and focussed on picking out the bird and marine life that inhabits Garden, Seal and Penguin Islands.

As we sailed beyond Penguin island the wind picked up to 25 knots and swung further south. I was pleased we had only set our sights on reaching Port Kennedy, as the wind would have been on the nose the rest of the way to Mandurah. We consulted our cruising guide and determined where best to anchor for maximum protection from sea surge and wind. Just in front of the headland we were lucky to find a DPI mooring and only two boats attached to other moorings in the vicinity.

The sun and wind are wearing, even if much of the day is spent sitting in reflection in the cockpit. Knowing we would be starting out the following day well before dawn, we blissfully curled up in our bunk before the sun had even set for the day.

Open Day – Start of the Sailing Season

Friends joined us for the sail to celebrate Open Day and cruise past the Governor’s boat in company with other craft at  Fremantle Yacht Club. We motored out of the marina to a light North Easterly breeze and hoisted our sails near Bather’s Beach. We circled around the colourful fleet with our flags flying and had a lot fun checking out the various boats and their crew. We promenaded alongside another lovely gaff rigged schooner and, from the camera lenses directed our way, were much admired and photographed.

After the sail past the Governor’s launch we joined the cruising club for a race around the buoys. With the wind on the nose we couldn’t point high enough and had to cheat by motoring around the first mark and cutting the corner on the second. Down wind we kept abreast of some of the smaller boats and maintained a nice goose winged action when the breeze was directly behind. Rather than going around the course twice we sailed back to our pen on a lovely broad reach, of course we were the first back in and we won a bottle of wine for our stirling effort.

Carnac Island Return

It was a little tricky getting out of the pen – we reversed all the way out to create lots of turning room at the bow but because the wind and current were pushing the stern back into the dock we needed to put out fenders and push off from the marina. The wind was 12 – 14 knots from the North and we had a great sail to Carnac. There we had lunch on our new little table and rang Dave who was at Pigs Trough on Andrew’s boat.

Dave and Andrew sailed across and we threw a line between the boats so Andrew could come aboard and check us out. He was suitably admiring. We would have sailed home together but our jib furler got caught and it took us a while to get going, in the meantime they headed off to Fremantle harbour into the strong 16 knot sea breeze. We sail surfed home with a following sea making six knots on a broad reach.

Lovely homeward sail

Departed Longreach 12:15 pm with wind speed 4-5 knots, increasing 10-12. maximum speed 5.7 knots on a broad reach. Regeneration shown on monitor as battery draw down, not positive. Power usage was 63 amps by the time we reached Fremantle yacht Club at 3:45 pm.