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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Romper Stomper Second Sail

While we slept it blew strongly until the early hours. Greeting us at daybreak, a soothing calmness replaced the north wind’s heat, leaving a cool invigorating stillness, and a low tide exposing mud flats that left little water under our keel.

We awoke sore from tackling our first day’s challenging forty miles in strong winds. Ahead, sixty miles of ocean separated us from our next anchorage. With the forecast for more of the same, the extra distance meant an early start for more hard work.

Electing to breakfast underway, we raised anchor and very slowly eased towards deeper water, taking Banyandah out of gear several time to glide over skinny water until the sounder stopped beeping its low water alarm. Once in the main river, deep water prevailed, as did a swift current taking us towards the river mouth as the tide fell. Ahead, towards the river mouth, rising golden sunlight reflected off swirling eddies that spun Banyandah off her course, making Jude laughingly worked the helm to bring her back again in a little game of spin the wheel. Meanwhile I scurried about setting up the mainsail, raising it for the big day ahead.
Approaching over-falls when leaving the Clarence
In a quick call to the coast guard, I inquired about exiting the river to the south. The chart showed a heavy build up of sand on that side, and with it being dead low tide, the sea might be breaking upon it. I also wanted to thank the fellow on duty yesterday for his assistance in describing entry conditions as we’d approached with a big bagful of wind in our sails.

After the last land slipped past, a messy sea blocked the open horizon, but we smashed through that, and after a half hour of easy motoring, the backwash diminished to leave a relatively calm sea warmed by a whispering light north wind. An hour of that increased its strength sufficiently to shut down the donk and pole out the headsail, which had the log reading 3.5 knots, a nice, easy jogging pace. Add to that the south going current made our speed over the ground a respectable 5 knots, and more like a run. Keep that up and we’d make our destination in 12 hours.

What a glorious day unfolded. Easy seas making it comfy enough just to read or gazed towards a shore that seemed veiled behind a thin silken scarf that was in fact smoke or heat haze. Disconcerting that. The land so close, yet appearing so far away. But the current kept giving us free miles, and again, we had the ocean to ourselves, shared only by various families of porpoise that hopped and skipped quickly towards us for a few rides off our bow wave. After a few of those, a turn on their side to say goodbye before disappearing to who knows where.

It was after lunch that the wind found its real teeth. Like the day before, subtlety it crept in power, noticed first by our slewing round, with the windvane working extra hard to bring us back on course. The increasing wind built up the following seas and in the worst sets, several times the mainsail backed up. That is the wind got on the wrong side, and with a crack the sail would try to fly across the ship, but it's held from doing that by its preventer, a block and tackle set to restrain the sail.

Yesterday ,we’d been a bit lazy and not shortened sail when the wind had increased. With our destination in sight colouring my decision, we’d just tighten our grip rather than reducing the mainsail. But today we shorten sail early knowing it was just going to get stronger. We double reefed the main then settled down to a lovely salad lunch. Initially that slowed us a titch, but the speed was regained by the time we’d finished eating.

When overpowered, Banyandah throws us about like a troubled demon. And we gain very little extra speed, and the windvane struggles to steer her. After reefing, the result today was a rather relaxing sail past North Solitary Island, then a strange yellow buoy flew past. What it was doing out here in 50 M of water?

Vaguely did mountains and hills appear through the veil, though they lay just five or six miles away, further isolating Jude and I in our own private world and making me wonder how I ever navigated before the advent of the GPS satellite system.

Under press of sail approaching Coffs Harbour
Golly, I must have been lucky to have found anything in days gone by because as we approached Coffs Harbour we saw nothing but haze. In fact, even though the GPS reported our destination only three miles away, we only saw indistinct shadows of mountain tops.

Then suddenly at a quarter to five, the lump of Mutton Bird Island cut through, and minutes later we were flying into the harbour under shortened sail driven by what was then a strong wind of over thirty knots.

We had flown, making the journey in just ten hours, a bit more than six knots averaged over the ground.

Coffs Harbour Jetty and school kids in sports class

In far easier conditions, our anchor went down next to the long timber jetty that runs towards a yellow sand beach crowded with schoolies, with an equal number in the water paddling boards, swimming or rowing canoes. It was as though we’d landed amongst a school carnival. Behind us, kids jumped from the jetty while others madly paddled straight towards us, and when I asked if we had become their finishing line, their leader remarked, "Both the finish and start line," as he then commanded the group to rush back towards the beach.

What fun to come from privacy and open space into a group of youths enjoying life. Short lived though. To the south, black clouds brewed with silver lightening jagging through them. A cooling zephyr replaced the hot north wind. Then drops of rain were immediately followed by a blast from the towering black anvil now overhead. In seconds, our calm reverie was replaced by action stations as Banyandah got blown towards the rock break wall. Up anchor, motor back into open space then reset our plough anchor. What followed was typical of boat life. Changing winds with every passage of cloud keeping us popping up, checking our position.

Exhausted I crash out early and only woke once to see Jude gazing out the window checking our position against shore lights. How lovely to have such a good crew.

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