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.

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.

Long Weekend in Longreach, Rottnest

We departed Fremantle Yacht Club at 9.45 am with wind speed at 8-10 knots and enjoyed a broad reach averaging 4-5 knots. Our maximum speed was 5.9 knots. We experienced a bit of weather helm and thought maybe next time we would ease the sheets as the main sail may have been over sheeted. We used about 50 amps having only used the motor for exiting the marina and entering Longreach anchorage. The regen seemed to provide 4-5 amps but we weren’t sure what the solar panels were feeding into the system so we ran the generator for a couple of hours while we went ashore.