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Saturday, July 31, 2010

ETA at Royals, Sandy Bay - approx 3:00pm (if not a fraction sooner!)

Hobart, here we come!

By the time we anchored last night at Chinaman's Bay, Maria Island, we had about 2 hours to get some sleep before we had to be up and making our way to the entrance of the Narrows in order to get the rising tide. At least it was a still, calm, relaxing 2 hours.

7am we were off, excited at the thought of getting home but a bit nervous about the possibility of running aground! To give you some idea of the depths and widths, at one stage we had pelicans standing on a sandbar to our right and an oyster farm on our left, neither of which require deep water...


Oyster farm

Stu took the helm and Barney and I kept a keen watch for the channel markers. You may remember that our cockpit depth sounder stopped working when it filled with water at Fanning Island, so part of my job was to dash downstairs and call out the depth readings from the chart table depth sounder then rush back up to help keep watch. Luck was on our side and the markers were accurate so we had no problems. 

Entrance to the Narrows

Ariel coming through
(note the stylish lump of seaweed attached to the anchor at the bow!)

Coming through we were reminded of what a beautiful place Tassie is! We've seen some great places but Tasmania can really hold its own on the world stage whan it comes to scenic locations. Even the Dunalley marina looked lovely!

Once through the Narrows we headed for Denison Canal. This was also quite narrow and with a strong tide running against us is was quite an effort to keep the boat on course and in the centre of the canal. We could see the bottom on both sides of the boat and had no desires to touch - particularly because we would have had an audience of people on the bank as well as the traffic that had to stop so the canal bridge could be opened to let us through.

Ariel in the canal

Ariel coming through the open canal bridge

As tradition (and courtesy) dictate, we dropped our offering of a few cans of beer and a few dollars in to the bridge operator's bucket...

 I'm guessing this guy doesn't pay for too many of his own drinks!

Through the canal and there it was - Mt Wellington, that mountain that looms over Hobart and can be seen from pretty much anywhere. Once we saw that we knew we were nearly home - a real mix of emotions knowing that the journey is nearly over but knowing that home and friends (and Squirrel!) are so close!.

Right now we have just passed Clifton Beach and are motoring on our way to the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania (Marieville Esplanade, Sandy Bay). At this stage we're hoping to get in at around 5:00pm (but could be 4; could be 6...will keep you all posted) - I can't wait!

Bass Strait

Bass Strait - pffttt...piece of cake - I don't know what people complain about!

We had a dream run from Eden - the wind swung North East so was pushing us along nicely and the swell was relatively small. We were cruising along at about 6 to 7 knots and had no problems. That said, once we were close to Tassie and could hear the weather reports on the VHF it was confirmed (as we had suspected) that if we had left even a day later we probably would have gone through some pretty rough weather. Thank goodness we decided not to stay a night in Eden! As they say, timing is everything!

To add to the enjoyment of the passage, we had another person for conversation and got double the amount of sleep we would normally get overnight. It's amazing how refreshing four hours of sleep feels when you're used to only getting two - bliss!

Finally, there it was - Tasmania!

This thin little line of land caused a lot of excitement!

At this stage we were undecided as to whether we would go through the Narrows and the Denison Canal or go around the bottom of Tassie. The Narrows can be a navigational nightmare as they are very shallow in places and the sand moves so there's no guarantee that the marked path is deep enough. Going around the bottom would of course eliminate that problem, but it would add about 50 miles to the trip and could be rough. Needless to say I voted for the Narrows! In the end we decided on the Narrows and the Canal, and headed for Maria Island, on the East coast, where we would anchor for a few hours until high tide before we tackled the passage.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Port Stephens to Eden

We are about 5 miles from Eden, after a trip from Port Stephens that was very different to the conditions we had coming from Coffs Harbour. Rather than bashing in to strong headwinds and big swell, we had very little wind and relatively flat water. Again we had to motor the whole way due to the lack of wind but with the better conditions we were able to travel at a decent speed and have made good time.

We received a call from a friend (Andrew Balmforth, aka Barney) while we were in Coffs, wanting to know if he could join us on the trip from Sydney to Hobart. We like the idea of an extra pair of hands to cross Bass Strait, plus an extra person to do dreaded night watches therefore giving us more sleep, and he is very keen. I hope he knows what he’s getting himself in to! Of course, we didn’t end up stopping at Sydney so he has made a mammoth trip to get to Eden - flying to Sydney, train to Canberra and bus to Eden. As I said, he’s pretty keen! He’s already been a huge help, ringing us to say that he’s arranged somewhere for us to tie up at Eden wharf and arranging a fuel truck.

Barney came prepared!

At this stage we’re planning on getting in, refueling and restocking, having a decent feed and a shower and heading off again. The weather is pretty good at the moment and we don’t want to waste it. In my opinion, the sooner we cross Bass Strait the better! Knowing that it is one of the worse stretches of water in the world, and we’re crossing it in winter, has me expecting a pretty revolting trip but it can’t be bad all of the time so I’ve got a faint glimmer of hope that we’ll get lucky and have a great crossing.

Less than 400 miles to Hobart…

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Detour to Port Stephens

Battling South in 30 knot (plus gusts of up to 50) southerly winds with a huge swell is not easy and not at all nice... Unfortunately it seems that no remedies are helping with the sea sickness these days either, so that definitely detracts from any enjoyment I may have of the sailing! We had no chance to even get the sails up and so we were motoring all the way. 240 miles to Sydney should have taken about 2 days but the headwind meant that we were only travelling at about 2 knots. On Wednesday night we started to run low on diesel - which we realised when the engine spluttered and died (the fuel gague doesn't work...). We spent the next half hour putting more diesel in to the tank (filling the tank in that weather meant that we wore most of it...) and trying to start the engine which would start then stop again after a few seconds as the tank and lines had run completely dry. Eventually we got the fuel flowing properly and the engine started again. A quick fuel vs. miles calculation and we decided to make a slight detour to Port Stephens for sanity and refuelling.

Port Stephens is a nice little town - and we finally got the pub meal that we've been craving for so long! We've also been enjoying a warm boat for once now that we have attached an extension cord to the shore power allowing us to run a fan heater. What luxury!

Pelican Parade
Nelson Bay Marina

We're heading off again today (Sunday 25/7) as the winds finally look to be more favourable over the next few days. We probably won't stop in Sydney now (unfortunately...) but will go straight through to Eden where we'll wait until we get reasonable conditions to cross Bass Strait. The trip to Eden should hopefully only take about 3 days, so all going well we will arrive late Wednesday or early Thursday, but as we've shown many times on ths trip there are a lot of variables and so we will have to take what we can get!
Next stop (hopefully!!) - Eden!

Friday, July 23, 2010

22/07/10 - A message from Rich (Stu's Brother)

Hi everyone,

Just a quick note to say that Kym and Stu are at Nelson Bay waiting for the weather to improve before pressing on. After a few days of head winds and large Southerly seas, they made the decision to head for shelter rather than continuing when the conditions were so uncomfortable and progress was slow. With any luck the weather will improve on Saturday and make for a more suitable passage.



Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Big Banana

When we suggested that they could come and visit us, we didn’t realise that the trip was 4 hours each way...But to our delight some friends from Hobart, who now live in Brisbane, decided to come and visit us here in Coffs Harbour. Kel and Andrew gave us a taste of normality again (well, ‘normality’ could be argued...) , and a taste of home, and we commemorated the occasion with a visit to The Big Banana!

‘The Big Banana – it’s a whole bunch of FUN!’
(Promises, promises...)

Yes, yes, I know it’s “bigger than most bananas, plus probably bigger than what you have been living in for 6 months” (thanks for pointing that out JK...) but I was imagining a colossal structure that would awe me with its mammoth proportions! But I guess that yes, it is a big banana, as far as bananas go...

And I guess there aren’t many banana that you can walk through, either...

The gift shop was filled with all thing banana-ry (it's amazing what you can give a banana theme to!!) and the cafe full of all things banana flavoured. Lucky we like bananas.... We settled for banana fritters with ice-cream (yes, banana ice-cream):

(tasted better than it looks, particularly once all the cream had been scraped off!!)

and the failsafe banana lollies

Banana cheers!!

Once we were all banana'd out we went for a bit of a cruise around Coffs (in a car! What a novelty!!) and finished up back at the marina where Stu and Andrew indulged in some fresh oysters from the local fish market.

Thanks again, Kel and Andrew, for driving so far to see us! We really appreciate it and it was lovely to see you :)

Wednesday 14th July 2010

We collapsed in to bed last night after filling our bellies with a fantastic antipasto platter, chilli calamari and chocolate crème brulee, however with the forecast gales hitting as predicted and the wind howling through the rigging of all the boats in the marina we didn’t sleep very well . We woke up hideously early – about 5:30am – but were treated to yet another speccy sunrise plus some impressive spray over the breakwater. We were very glad that we weren’t out in it last night.

The best beach we've seen in 6 months

We filled our day finding the world's best hambrger shop, doing our laundry and wandering up to the supermarket. The supermarket! We couldn't believe how wonderful that little IGA was after all the rubbish shops we've seen! We are really very lucky to live in a country that has such good quality food - a great range and no shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables, and healthier options just about everywhere you look. Cereal without added sugar, fancy that! Yoghurt made simply from milk, fruit and live cultures without a long list of numbers and chemicals, can you believe it? Fresh milk without anything added (in the US the milk has added sugar, and once we left mainland USA it was long-life milk everywhere) - who would have thought? Bread that actually has to be chewed and doesn't just dissolve in your mouth due to all the added rubbish and, once again, all the added sugar. Imagine! Lean meat, RECOGNISABLE meat!

We're also loving being in a clean place that doesn't smell of sewage, isn't covered in rubbish, doesn't have beggars and winos sitting on the street and where we always feel safe.

As much as it is sprouted around and sounds like a load of guff, we really do live in the lucky country. This trip has really reiterated that for us and we hope that we will no longer take it for granted. We love Australia  :)

Noumea to Coffs Harbour

That good old quote ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ was obviously written about this trip... I seem to recall writing some tripe in Noumea about the weather being nice and having a good feeling about this trip. The good feeling disappeared as we motored out of the harbour in the cold, wet, grey weather but I was living in hope that it would all be fine if I just stayed positive!

We had decent wind, however it seemed to be blowing straight from Coffs Harbour. Of course we can’t sail directly in to a head wind so our course, which in the past has sat right on the rhomb line, was up and down and all over the place. No, we weren’t hand-steering unsuccessfully as some have queried – we just couldn’t set a direct course! The swells were massive and it was cold; not a pleasant start. I also recall singing the praises of the sea sickness wristband that I wore on the trip from Fiji to Noumea. I don’t really want to take that back...let’s just suggest that if I hadn’t been wearing it maybe I would have thrown up 20 times instead of 10. In the end I was eating simply so I had something in my stomach to get rid of an hour later. Eventually Stu insisted I take a tablet and I zonked out for about 12 hours while Stu treated that time as if he was single-handing. I felt terrible when I eventually came to and realised that I had been sleeping for so long – I was convinced that I’d only had my two hours sleep and was ready to do my next watch. It was worth it though as I felt 100% better and was able to function much more successfully.

Within a day or two the weather improved – the wind eased, the sun came out and we were back to shorts and t-shirts, enjoying sitting in sun in the cockpit with a book. You can have too much of a good thing, however, and in this case the weather calmed until we had no wind. The water was flat – not even a ripple at times, and definitely not enough wind to give us our planned 120 miles per day (we work on that number but generally do a bit more) to get us to Coffs in 6 or 7 days. We were making very slow progress of 60 or 70 miles a day, and one day we only achieved 44 miles. A couple of nights we took the sails down and drifted – there was no point exhausting ourselves even more by sitting up and trying to steer all night when we were only making 1.5 – 2 knots.

At least, I hear you say, we had the autohelm fixed in Noumea. At least that was working! Yes – the autohelm worked perfectly well for the entire trip. Unfortunately by day four the engine didn’t....which meant that we couldn’t run it to charge the batteries....which meant that we didn’t have enough power to run the now-working autohelm.... You guessed it – hand steering! How frustrating to know that the autohelm worked perfectly but we couldn’t use it! On top of that, the inability to charge batteries meant that we needed to conserve the power that we had in order to run the chart plotter when we got close to Coffs to navigate the approach and entry to the harbour and marina. This meant that we had to turn everything off so we had no autohelm, chart plotter, navigation lights (or lights of any kind) or fridge and had minimal water pressure, VHF use, bilge pump, etc. Obviously we could flick the batteries on in order to have short stints of power to enable us to cook and to get water, etc, but the power hungry things were kept off. Where we would usually have the chart plotter on showing us our position and course (follow the pink line – easy!!) we now had to mark our position on the paper chart using a handheld GPS. Not a major inconvenience, but I have to admit that I like to see the little picture of the boat and our course on the chart plotter – it’s like proof that we’re actually ‘somewhere’ rather than feeling like we’re just bobbing around aimlessly. Where are we? I don’t know exactly but look, you can see us on the chart plotter so we’re obviously somewhere, and heading in the right direction for our destination along the pink line.

We were also limited with food. We had enough, however we had been unable to refill our gas bottles in Noumea so we were unsure just how much gas we had left. Based on previous consumption we were pretty sure we’d get two weeks out of it, but if our calculations were incorrect it would mean cold food until Coffs, plus with the lack of wind our trip could well take two weeks! We played it safe and meals consisted of whatever took the least amount of time to heat up – lots of tinned soup, baked beans and 2-minute noodles...

We both agreed that this was by far the worst sailing leg of the trip...’the worst of times’... Then, on day 9, after what felt like the longest and most exhausting night time steering session of the whole trip from California, we realised that we only had about 70 miles to go! Five hours later, after much squinting at the horizon, there it was – the Australian coast – ‘the best of times’!

35 miles from Australia
(Trust me, there is land on the horizon!!)

About 15 miles away

You have no idea how exciting that first sighting was! All land sightings after being at sea are great, but this one was by far the best. This was our country, which we hadn’t seen for almost 6 months! This was being so close to our friends and family! This was coming home! Suddenly the day was brighter, our mood was happier and even steering was no longer a chore as I belted out the national anthem (yes, both verses!) and ‘I Still Call Australia Home’, much to Stu’s amusement.

Steering us home!

This last 35 miles was the longest – being able to see our destination but knowing that we were still 5 hours away (provided the wind didn’t die out again) was torture, although it was made so much more bearable by the fact that my phone picked up a signal and we were on the Australian map

We’d seen some whales spraying earlier, and suddenly Stu called for me to come up and have a look because we were following a couple of whales! Stu’s eyesight isn’t all that wonderful (either that or the light wasn’t very good – ha!) and as soon as I saw them I realised that rather than following them they were coming straight for us. Of course whales are highly intelligent creatures so they would know to avoid us, but just in case we had stumbled across the duds of the species we steered around them and the two humpbacks came past us about 10 metres from the boat. Wow. They were absolutely massive! Their backs were hardly breaking the surface of the water and the bit we saw was still a good 2 – 3 feet wide! An awesome moment, but also a little scary... one flick of their tail... Typically the camera was downstairs.

We also had a couple of dolphins leaping around the boat. We have seen a lot on the trip, mainly in the US, and compared to the US dolphins, which were rather small and stumpy, these were huge! I’d put my money on an Aussie (bottlenose, I guess) dolphin VS an American dolphin in a showdown, that’s for sure!

As we got closer the weather deteriorated, as did our mood... We were listening to the weather warnings on the VHF giving us gale warnings and predicting big waves, and we could see the clouds coming in and the rain threatening. We were still about 12 miles away and were starting to stress about the weather and the fact that we had no engine. These factors, plus the excitement of getting to Australia, plus the lack of sleep made for relatively short fuses but a good old argument seems to be part of our routine for getting in to a port!

Luckily for us Stu’s parents had reached Coffs ahead of us, with the luxury of being able to motor through the lulls, and we called them to arrange for them to bring the dinghy out and tow us in to the marina. We finally came through the harbour mouth at about 5:30pm – just on dusk – with the swell and winds building, and out came our ‘rescue’ dinghy with Max and Richard, who had told us that he was starting work again on July 2nd in Sydney but apparently that didn’t eventuate... It was a surprise to see him here but nice to catch up again. So far we’ve met up with him at every port except for Noumea and usually he arrives the day before we are planning to leave. They tied the dinghy to the side of Pelon and in we motored, to be greeted by 4 or 5 guys at the marina berth who did a brilliant job of stopping us before we hit the end of the berth (no motor = no speed control and no reverse to slow us down!).

To our surprise (and appreciation!) the Customs guys had waited for us to arrive so that they could clear us in straight away which would allow us to get off the boat for food and showers. Thankyou!! The process took about 45 minutes as we filled out forms and had all of our cupboards checked for food and products that are not allowed to be brought in. To their credit they did a fantastic job. All countries have their restrictions and at all ports we have been asked what supplies we have on board, but the Aussies were the only people who actually bothered to check and to do the job properly. For all the signs and warnings you see around airports and on TV telling us not to bring pests in to the country, it’s nice to know that it’s not just lip service and Customs and Quarantine are actually doing a great job of keeping nasties out of the country.

Safely in and finally off the boat we headed over to Stu’s parents for a lovely hot shower before heading up to the yacht club for a much anticipated meal. After our diet over the last few days needless to say we didn’t order the soup of the day...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Goodbye Noumea, Hello Australia!!

We're leaving Noumea today (in about 1 hour actually), heading for Coffs Harbour. We're expecting the trip to take about 7 days. The weather looks good, we feel good about the trip (unlike last time when I had a bad feeling about it, and look what happened...) and we're keen to get going.

We had a look on board Plastiki while we were here – it’s surprisingly big inside! Mind you I’m sure it would shrink drastically with 7 people onboard – Pelon does that with only two of us. The bunks look quite cozy and it has a real homely feel about it.

Looking aft from the cockpit door



They have also been able to get their garden going again, now that the weather is cooler. It would be fantastic to be able to have ready access to fresh vegetables at sea.

Port Moselle marina has been a great place to stay.

Pelon is the second boat along

It has a nice feel to it, and is close to markets and shops – we are never far from a pastry or a crusty baguette!

Mmmmm - fresh baguette...

865 miles to Coffs harbour - next post from Australia!

Saturday, July 3, 2010


We ate quite well at Fanning Island...

...but I think Mike and Kirsten ate better...


(Thanks for sending the photos through Mike!)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Thursday 1st July 2010

We had hoped to leave yesterday, however time gets away and weather windows – which are more important in these last few legs as we are coming in to an Australian winter (I don’t think winter in the tropical Pacific counts the same way!!) – come and go. Plastiki arrived in Noumea a couple of days ago and after talking to them about the advice given to them by their weather router we have decided that Saturday is the day to leave. Our auto helm is fixed (new fluxgate compass, as suspected), our anchor winch is too far gone and can not be fixed (but has been removed, leaving a hole in the hull that I didn’t need to know about), our macerator pump has finally, FINALLY been replaced (no more using the aft head which isn’t wonderfully reliably, or worse still using a bucket!) and we will reprovision tomorrow and be on our merry way.

Tonight we are going out for tea with some of the crew from Plastiki (Jo, Skipper; David, Co-Skipper; and Max, camera man filming for National Geographic - keep an eye out for the finished piece!!), which should be good fun. We feel sorry for them – we are expecting a 6 or 7 day passage from here to Coffs harbour; they are looking at around two weeks!


Tea was fantastic. Apologies to those who are after some food porn - it looked so good that we started eating before we thought to take the obligatory photo.We ordered through Max's translation of the menu - a close call for Stu who thought he would have the hearty venison kebabs before Max suddenly realised that it was actually venison heart kebabs... Stu promptly changed his order! (Dave White and Bruce - I told Stu that you would be very disappointed). A really great evening with fun company, good wine and awesome food. Maybe we could stay just a little longer...


Ah, the pastries, the pâté, the meats and deli items, the desserts!
Food that we only dream of at sea, and unlike any food we have seen for the last few months!

Crème Brulee
(The general consensus was that Max makes a better one, however I think Stu is just keeping his crème brulee options open for when we get home...)

(so good that I could overlook the revolting piles of spray cream...)

There is a market right next to the marina where we go each morning. Just to look, of course, and to absorb the sights and smells...

Of course it would be rude to just stand and stare at all of the delicacies without purchasing something... And it IS our last hurrah before setting sail again and then hitting the Australian coast where we will be only a week or so from home and back to normality...

(and people are asking me whether we have lost weight or put on weight on this trip... I’ll leave that to your imagination...and just add that we are blissfully living in gluttonous sin...)

(if your initials are JK or RK please disregard that last bit...)

Suva to Noumea

We left Suva on June 18th – a Friday, much to our concern, as leaving on a Friday is supposed to be bad luck for sailing. Not being suspicious, however, and wanting to get to Noumea we left on a lovely sunny day. Well, whatever were we worried about? The weather was lovely, albeit a bit cool at night (we had to put the doona back on the bed and wear trackies on night watch), and the sailing was the nicest we have had on the whole trip to date! Added to that, I had borrowed a motion sickness wristband from Stu’s brother (by the way – Richard, I borrowed your motion sickness wristband...), which he had left on Stu’s parent’s boat, and what a change it made! Usually I feel quite revolting on day one and sometimes day two, to the point where I have to take a tablet that makes me feel very drowsy (or risk throwing up numerous times, as happened on a previous leg when I decided to see whether I could cope without taking one... turns out the answer’s no...) and leaves me pretty pathetic and helpless for a while. This band delivers an electrical current of varying strength which I could barely feel (except occasionally when my little finger took on a life of its own when the current obviously hit a nerve!!). Wearing this band I had NO nausea at all, and felt absolutely 100%. I even had no problems cooking tea, which I can never usually do on the first night and even after that I have to come up for air regularly. All I can say is that if you suffer from motion sickness then invest in one of these bands – they are fantastic.

On day two I was sitting in the cockpit in the sun, reading a book and thinking how nice the day was, when suddenly the movement of the boat changed. It wasn’t a hugely obvious change, but after living on the boat for so long you tend to become in tune with little variations (even me, with no sailing experience to speak of, can now pick up very subtle changes in the way we are sailing, usually requiring some kind of sail or course alteration). I looked up, and saw the wheel turn full lock to port, then full lock to starboard, and I felt sick as I hollered down to Stu that the auto helm was playing up again. My sick feeling was justified when Stu confirmed that we would have to hand steer as the problem was most likely the fluxgate compass and therefore not something that we could fix on the way like last time. Typically, within an hour or two of starting to hand steer the weather went downhill.

We spent the next three days in rough seas wearing our wet weather gear and unsuccessfully trying to dodge the constant spray coming over the decks. We had managed to stay within sight of Stu’s parents and the steering was made so much easier by using their lights to steer by rather than the compass, particularly on the last night when we decided to push through the tricky navigational part as we hit the channel heading to Noumea, and find an anchorage for the night. This was by far the worst weather of the trip, made so much worse by the fact that we had not been able to sleep for the past 24 hours and were insanely tired. At about 2:00 in the morning we finally found a sheltered bay, dropped anchor, and went to bed – for more than an hour at a time and in a still, quiet boat. Bliss.

Not much to look at, but at the time and with the conditions it was absolute heaven on earth!

The next day we raised the anchor and set off on the last 30 miles to Noumea. This was not without more dramas of course, as we burnt out the anchor winch motor getting the anchor up. This caused a few tense moments and Mr Crabby made an appearance for an hour or so, but day was beautiful and the sailing was quite good, and after a reasonably good night’s sleep and with the thought of getting to Port Moselle marina in a few hours even he wasn’t able to hang around for long!