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.

Mangles Bay to Fremantle Yacht Club

After an incredibly peaceful night and a wonderful sleep we departed Mangles Bay at 10:00 am and motored north (there was still no wind). Although not ideal for sailing, the lack of wind made for very pleasant conditions on the water. Ever hopeful we hoisted the sails but had to motor all the way to Fremantle Yacht Club. We docked in at Pen C1 at 3.30pm. Ashanti was in her new home.

Maiden Voyage

My cold and the weather delayed moving Ashanti to Fremantle until the day the lease on our temporary pen in Mandurah was to expire. Once again I couldn’t believe our good fortune and was glad we’d delayed our departure. The weather forecast indicated we had a two-day window of fine weather before the arrival of a front with strong winds. Motoring out of the Mandurah Marina at 11.30 am, I took the tiller while Jamie dropped the bow spit, worked out which sheets belonged to which sail and began the process of unfurling the jib, hauling the staysail, the foresail and the mainsail. I was grateful there wasn’t much wind making it relatively easy to guide the sails between the sheets that hung on either side of the topping lift. Having read a little about sailing a gaff rigged schooner we’d learned that it was unnecessary to overly tension the sails and Jamie left them relatively baggy so they could catch the light, northerly 3-4 knot breeze coming across the starboard side of the bow. I felt an enormous sense of well-being as we motor sailed out into the oily calm ocean with the sun kissing our faces on what was a cloudless winter day.

We headed away from the coast escorted by three dolphins surfing our bow wave. I lay on the foredeck and hung my head over the bow to get a closer look. The bow was too high for me to reach into the water, but the water was so clear I could see the bubbles that formed along their blowhole and it was as if I was snorkelling alongside of them. I watched them weaving between one another and the keel of the boat and marvelled at their timing and coordination. Although we were going only 3-4 knots the dolphins skimmed in and out of the wave we generated at an incredibly fast pace. I wondered whether they were playing or whether we were giving them a lift to where they wanted to go. Perhaps a bit of both, but I like to think of them as just enjoying the experience as was I.

The wind remained light and was pretty much on the nose so Jamie kept the motor going for most of the day. I was grateful I didn’t have to put up with the nauseating smell of a diesel motor and was pleased our electric motor was incredibly quiet with virtually no smell except that generated by the bank of warm batteries. The boat seemed to take care of itself, the waves were gentle and the blue mesmerising. While the going was pleasant, at times I wondered if I might find cruising for lengthy periods a little boring. Besides the dolphins I’d seen there was nothing but sea, sky and the distant shore. In my head I hummed the Neil Young song with the line “The ocean is a desert with it’s life underground …..” and wondered what was beneath us. I hoped for some excitement like a shark sighting, but when I mentioned this to Jamie he thought the contrary. Once a fisherman who had caught all too many sharks and now a surfer, Jamie did not want to be reminded of creatures he abhorred. I stopped looking out for something to hold my attention in the water and my thoughts turned to having a wine at lunch to ease my restlessness. I could understand why sailors turned to drink to allay both the monotony when becalmed at sea. To enjoy a sail like we were experiencing, I needed to relax and get into the slow rhythm of the boat.

Food, a glass of wine, the warmth of the afternoon sun and the gentle rhythm of the ocean put me into a more meditative mood better suited to sailing. I leaned my head against Jamie’s chest, closed my eyes and allowed random thoughts to float in and out of my consciousness. The afternoon slipped away in this peaceful state until Jamie felt compelled to run the new generator he’d purchased because the battery banks registered the charge at the halfway point and we had another day’s sail ahead of us.

Rather than going around the back of Garden Island to Mangles Bay, Jamie did a quick calculation comparing the height of her mast to the bridge clearance and opted to save time by navigating through the shallower waters and under the bridge to Mangles. He kept me busily looking out for a clear passage through the shollows and, as we approached the bridge, called on me to judge whether we would make it under! So from a relaxing afternoon, I was on high alert with Jamie ready to throw the motor into reverse as the bridge loomed closer. The bridge looked impossibly close to the top of the mast but we cleared it with room to spare, after all it was designed to allow boats to pass under and Ashanti’s topmast at just under 10 metres was not excessively tall.

The late afternoon sun dipped into the ocean, the wind dropped and the outline of Garden Island darkened against a brilliant red sky. We continued in the dark, still waters of Mangles Bay looking out for a DPI mooring to hang off for the night. With boathook in hand I shielded my eyes from the light spilling from the shoreline and directed Jamie to a dark object bobbing in the distance. We hooked up to the mooring effortlessly and checked the time. It was 7.00 pm and time to test out the galley’s cooking capabilities.

Becoming acquainted with a gaff rigged boat

Six weeks later I returned from Melbourne having bailed from the job I was doing. My elderly parents, my relationship and learning to sail Ashanti held priority. The day after I returned we sailed Ashanti by ourselves for the first time. Concerned about the age and capacity of her batteries, we had replaced them with something a little more heavy duty. I was pleased we had a mild and sunny winter’s day with very light airs to motor around and hoist her sails by ourselves in the ocean beyond the marina. Each of the four sails had a halyard, three of which had a gaff and topping lift that needed to be hauled together with the ‘throat’ and tensioned separately. The jib had a dingy furler that seemed to tangle too easily and of course there was the halyard to lower the bow spit. With so many and so much rope (I know you shouldn’t refer to it as such, but rather as a sheet a line, a halyard or a painter), it was a relief to be able to become acquainted with their functions in a calm sea and the gentlest breeze. Back in the marina we spent another night on board. I explored and began to make an inventory of the contents with the various lockers, although for the most part I really didn’t know the name or function of the item contained within. With our heads swimming with new impressions and information we took a break and headed to the beach with our boards for a surf.

We’d planned to move Ashanti to Fremantle by overnighting at a mooring in Mangles Bay the following weekend. As is typical in winter the weather turned foul and we both developed colds with hacking coughs. We were anxious to bring Ashanti closer to home but I wasn’t well enough to do the two-day sail. I prevaricated and managed to put off the sail until both the weather and I were better. To be completely honest, I also felt rushed and didn’t want to sail Ashanti until we were more prepared. Much to our frustration a second weekend of stormy weather delayed us further. I spent the time reading about gaff-rigged boats, watching Youtube clips about sailing and contacted members of the Old Gaffers Association for advice and support. My tentative attempt to reach out resulted in several members contacting me. Like Colin they were generous with offers of support and invited us to attend their AGM, which was to be held during the same week.

On a wet and windy night we donned rain jackets and stumbled through the darkened University Campus in search of the Old Gaffers meeting place. No need for a sign, we knew we were in the right place when we noticed a gathering of healthily weathered, silver haired people through a lit window in one the University lecture theatres. It was also no surprise to see Colin (Ashanti’s creator) in the same gathering. Introductions were made and they kicked off the AGM with a most interesting talk about the corrosive effect of salt water on various metals. If I understood anything it sounded like salt water and metal created a corrosive circuit akin to a battery and particular metals had a negative or positive impact on each other. I learned boats had sacrificial zinc annoids to reduce corrosion and consistency in type of metals used because combinations of different types (depending on where they ranked in relation to one another on a metallic properties table) had the capacity to increase corrosion. My take home was that bronze was okay as long as we didn’t use it in combination with other metals higher up the property scale. Our stainless steel rigging was also okay because it was wrapped in a type of tar and protected from air and moisture. I was amazed to found myself fascinated by the talk, heretofore being acquainted with Ashanti, I couldn’t have remained awake through such a lecture.