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Sailing Home

SY Curlew - Sailing home

There is a particular look that accompanies a yachtie who is in the process of delivering their new prized yacht. It is a combination of awe, exasperation and maybe befuddlement (If such a word exists).

This was the look I saw on the faces of three intrepid sailors who stepped off a 33 foot canoe stern yacht when I was catching a lift to SY Curlew. They were stopping in to top up LPG and make some repairs, and up for a chat.

On their way south to Tasmania, the crew (who’s average age was over 70) were asking for local knowledge (the equivalent of stopping to ask for directions in my opinion) and were trying to make some headway prior to some poor weather closing in on them.

I recall being confident of our schedule, route and destination, conscious firstly of the safety of my crew and of course the boat (despite a very worried look on my face each and every time I have been photographed at the helm, effectively my game face!) and hopefully I don’t come across as befuddled. The crew however, needs to have confidence in their skipper and in this case my crew was very inexperienced .

The final stage of delivering Curlew was almost perfect despite the weather not co-operating for the first part.  The expected Northerly winds (to push us South) were a little later than forecast and on departing the marina we were warned of the incoming Southerlies. “Are you sure, mate?” I asked incredulously as we passed. He was positive there was a Southerly change coming through. The forecast for days had been Northerlies and I trusted this over the word of a tinnie pilot just outside the marina so we pushed on.

The Northerlies came (eventually) and our trip was broken up by some bulk loaders on anchor setting off the AIS alarm, massive pods of dolphins and even a ghost trawler (well we thought it was a ghost trawler, in reality the skipper probably was down below making a coffee!)

In hindsight we carried too much sail into the expected building winds of the night but I was keen to get as far down the coast as possible and at a particular point in our trip I was beginning to regret the decision to not reef the mainsail before dark.

We had a preventer rigged on the main which, as the name suggests, prevents any accidental gybes, and I was comforted when, on adjusting our course towards the coast, the main became backfilled by an extra large rolling wave and strong winds so Gaz had to manually take the helm and bring her back on course. We gybed a little later than initially expected due to the swell keeping us comfortable and we found the Barrenjoey Lighthouse with its 4 flashes confirmed via Navionics.  

Once in the lee of Box Head down came the main and we motored into our desired bay and were greeted by a wall of boats in the dark by torchlight. Luckily a commercial mooring was directly ahead of us so we collected it and had a well-deserved beer and glass of port ensuring that along with fatigue, the world of slumber would meet us quickly.

Despite all of our inexperience, AP and Gaz (the crew) performed well and we all learned a lot (including how capable we are in doing this sort of trip). This is where we assess risks and realise the risks are outweighed by the rewards of this adventure by at least a hundredfold.

Upon waking the next morning we realised how close to our final destination we actually were, with only 200 metres to motor until we were on our designated mooring.

Lessons from this trip:

Inexperience is ok, but clarity of instruction is key. On a couple of occasions, we had some misinterpretations or miscommunications where I had made assumptions about the levels of skills required to complete a task (including when I climbed the mast to fix the masthead light).

Safety, safety, safety - We are a cruising boat, not a racer. So when the sails are set and the winds are consistent, we rig and lock! In other words, two preventers are setup to protect the crew and the gear from damage due to an accidental gybe. This saved us when a lateral roll and slightly adjusted course caused us to back fill the sail.

Fatigue will affect judgement - Don’t be a hero, rest! After 32 hours continuous sailing we were all fatigued. But we were able to get some rest along the way. Manage your watch keeping and stick to it, but more importantly, get the crew to stick to it also. And, finally, never sail on a budget or a schedule. We are constantly told how the crew pushed hard in order to meet an outbound flight schedule and something broke.

The fact is, something will break, it is after all a boat. But let it not be while the gunwhales are in the water and a crew member is hanging off the edge of the boat!

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