The annual southern migration of yachties (akin to the west coast movement of the great whales) to Busselton, Port Geographe and or Quindalup has been and gone. Among the flock of yachts and other more odorous craft were numerous S&S 34s, each of which has an owner and crew with a manifest of tales to tell. But true to the human spirit no one is prepared to say anything. Hence it has fallen upon this scribe to set forth the trials, tribulations and joys that precede and follow one element of that migration.
The largely placid biologically rich waters of Geographe Bay and the pleasant vistas around Busselton, not to mention the beauty of the Naturaliste Ridge with its beaches, forests and vineyards southward to Augusta, have attracted many good folk over recent years to follow in the footsteps of the Molloys and Bussells of yesteryear. Included among this bunch of ‘new lifestylers’ is my long-serving and suffering mainsheet hand who will pass within the context of this article as largely nameless, although Geoff will do. More recently the Port Geographe Marina has been established and with its concomitant canal estate is attracting new residences and boaties from all over. It is suffice to say for this tale that by Spetember 2003 Geoff and his wife Judy had built an attractive, functional and uncluttered residence north-facing alongside the canal opposite Port Geographe Marina.
But what is a canal estate home without a jetty and a vessel to adorn it? What would people say if January were to pass without a boat?
Oh dear more expense was indicated! So swiftly aj etty was installed and negotiations entered with relevant parties to a likely vessel that could reasonably tether at such a lovely location. Clearly you you can’t have a 2m dingy attached to a 5m jetty, abutting upon a 20m block with an extensive new house reaching over most of it. A substantial vessel was indicated.
You’ve guessed it, the fall of the dice fell my way. “Wouldn’t an S&S 34 look absolutely stunning at such a site – cheekily moored abreast of the ‘Marina’. Of course it would!”
But nothing in the realm of free time and cruising comes easy. Work and other commitments required that the only time available for Geoff and me to sail to Port Geographe was the weekend prior to Christmas. That was the window of opportunity. Geoff’s situation was easy he was having Christmas at the new canal home while I had to get to a family gathering at Walpole on the south coast.
However, we thought we could work the cruise out very nicely. We could leave on ,- Saturday 20th December and cruise in comfort on the anticipated south-easter to Mandurah or Port Bolvard for a stopover and restaurant night. Thence on Sunday to Bunbury to take in the hospitality of Koombana Bay Sailing Club, and early Monday onward to Port Geographe.
Of course there are problems, I had to factor in a bus trip back to Perth then a 6 hour drive south again to Walpole to be there by Christmas Eve. However our time frame looked workable, even allowing for a delay of a day if needed. So at the appointed time the plan was put into effect with one newly anti-fouled and provisioned S&S 34 moved to Challenger Harbour, Fremantle on Friday 19th December ready for the venture.
As they say the next morning dawned bright and clear.
The forecast was typical for December, “a fine sunny day for the Metropolitan Area 28C for Perth and 25C for Fremantle with a seabreeze freshening 25 to 30 knots by early afternoon”. Oh great the ‘Fremantle Doctor’ was in cooling the southern part of the State and bringing joy to the windsurfers and the kids now out of school trying kitesurfing but a bit much for a south bound cruise. So do we set sail and behave like the Jon Sanders’ and Dick Newnham’s of this world who appear to enjoy belting into it, or should we re-programme and suffer the Fremantle cappuccino strip and Saturday night fever? We opted for the latter. Hence early on Sunday morning and one day late, with throbbing heads and sour breath we left on a 12 knot southeaster reaching Port Bouvard around 1pm as the south westerly sea breeze swung in, again blasting to 30 knots on the ship anemometer. We sheltered the afternoon in the restaurant drinking Chardonnay gaining strength from the thought that only ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ would sail out into the ‘Fremantle Doctor’. However, as the evening progressed we saw that the wind was moderating and turning southerly. By 2am (up for my evening pee) I noted the wind was around to the southeast at 12 knots – so lets go and perhaps do the whole trip, and be back on timetable.
Off we went, surging down the Dawesville Channel out into the ocean as the offshore southeasterly breeze rapidly increased. It was as black as hades .but the GPS showed us Cape Bouvard which we nicked around before 4am. Thence southward at 7+ knots. It was warm and the sea smooth close in on the shore with the first vestige of dawn reddening the sand dunes..
This was what cruising was meant to be And so it continued as the sun rose until around 9am.
Then the fickleness of the wind north of Koombana Bay came into effect with the wind dying out, rotating slowly around the compass turning northwest then south and reaching the dizzy speed on 8 knots. In consequence we motored for 5 hours arriving at Port Geographe and the new canal estate jetty late afternoon on the Monday.
At last Geoff and Judy had both their home and canal adornment.
I secured the yacht, packed-up and left for Perth on the Tuesday to prepare for Christmas, not to return to Port Geographe for nearly three weeks – life is too full of commitments I could do without, (writing articles is one such commitment). Meanwhile Geoff spent the time designing ways to ensure that a 34 ft yacht alongside a 15 ft north facing jetty was moored safely in the usual northwesterly conditions which prevailed for a number of days. An old mattress proved to be a perfect buffer at one end of the jetty, and with anchors placed out into the canal, all was reasonably snug.
By the second week in January Geoff had the call to finish-up his sojourn in the south and to get back to work in the big smoke. So by phone we arranged for me to return and take a couple of days off cruising and boozing on geographe Bay before sailing the yacht back to Fremantle and its river hideaway. With my ears tuned as to the extent of my leave pass I went back to Port Geographe to collect my prize. The ‘Bay’ was full of yachts including a reasonable representation of S&S34s, with the Quindalup group in good form. Basking in the sunat Port Geographe were Morning Tide, Catalpa, Aries and Lady Anne II not to mention one other S&S34 watching the comings and goings from a jetty acrossd the way.
So we had two days fun, and we sailed to Castle Rock and swam and caught far to many crabs. It has been a bumper year for crustaceans of the order Decapdoa particularly the ‘Blue mana’ variety. Also of Panulirus cygnus going on the number or pots posing a navigation hazard along the 5-fathom bank and entrance to the Dawesville Channel.
By the time to sail for home the ‘Fremantle Doctor’ was again weak and on the first day we motored for 6 hours until well north of Bunbury. Again we were slack and headed for the resturant at Port Bouvard for some vintage ‘Peel Estate’ and a relaxing night. We left next morning at a reasonale time of 6:30am assisted by a gentle sourheasterly which slowly shifted to the sea breeze. This gave us time to lunch at Carnac Island before slipping into Fremantle and confronting, with the mast down to go under the Fremantle bridges, the steady stream of ‘stink boats’ homeward bound from rottnest.
There is talk that at last there will be compulsory training in power boat handling in Western australia. I wonder whether the courtesy of not overtaking or causing a wash effecting yachts with their mast down as the y pass under the bridges will be explained to the power boat owners. Once upon a time all boat owners knew not to send wash into the path of a yacht. Alas, with more wealth and noats galore, that knowledge appears now to be lost. In consequence at least two yachts lost their mast over the side this summer period while traversing the bridges. What a pain!
However, here we are back in the shelter of the Swan River esturary racing on Saturdays as usual and workshipping the ‘Fremantle Doctor’ – except for Saturday 31 January.
While the seabreeze has tended to lighten over the past month it returned with a vengence that weekend. In it came at 30 knots even on the river hitting 36knots on my anemometer at one stage. But the weekly Saturday challenge demands the focus of the devotees and out we went with one reef and a #3 headsail. We were going OK rounding the first upwind mark not far behind Swagman with Kungari trailing us. The 3 intrepid 34s each wanting to show their determination and strength to the rest of the small fleet put up their #2 spinnakers for the run up-river. Perhaps a bit daring but we were travelling OK. Some quarter way into the run one of the crew noticed Kungari being hit by a super gust and death-rolling then gybing and gybing back, then doing it again. I quickly felt the gust and the immediate death role to starboard with Geoff the sheet-hand moving quickly to flatten the spinnaker. Alas and alack too late.
In one superbly executed movement we ‘chinese gybed’ just in front of a tourist ferry. We swept from a stately controlled but speedy starboard run onto port in a complete knock-down with me and another crew member sitting awash the gunwale while the others just held on. Water filled the cockpit and I saw the tourists asking each other “is that yacht supposed to do that. Isn’t it exciting, will it sink?”. I yelled to the crew “do nothing just hang on and the yacht will righten and gybe back but prepare to flatten the spinnaker more”. I clambered uphill onto. the port side pulling the tiller with me to bring the bow – around. I could see the spinnaker beautifully set lying above the waters of the river straining in the wind which continued to howl; there was no let up with this gust. Hell she has got to come back! My sheet hand asked to let the spinnaker go altogether, and I replied “no hang-on, I dont want the ship to righten and fly around to starboard with an eased spinnaker” because that would throw the bow back again to port and cause another ‘chinese gybe’. As soon as I said do nothing, we were hit by another gust, which knocked the boat even further onto its starboard side. Water continued to pour into the cockpit and in the swash I went half over the side to leeward. I held on to the lifeline and slowly pulled myself back on board. I yelled to the sheet-hand to let go everything. And as happens the spinnaker halyard fortunately fired-off. The ship bounced upright immediately and gybed back to starboard as if nothing was wrong except for the spinnaker now dragging otherwise undamaged behind. Surprisingly also, and a compliment to the design of the S&S 34, while the cockpit was full to the seats with water but rushing into the self-draining ports, no water flowed into the cabin even though the wash boards were not in place (after all this was the river not the ocean). The spinnaker was quickly retrieved and there was spontaneous clapping and cheers from the passengers on the ferry which had stopped presumably either to give its patrons a close-up thrill or to attend to a sinking vessel. Looking forward was a different scene. The spinnaker pole was wrapped at 90 degrees around the starboard stays and facing aft.
We had been knocked over so far following the gybe the spinnaker pole had hit the water and had been washed stem-wise with great force against the stays bending the pole into an impossible postion. It took some heaving and shoving to free it from the mast. Moreover the mast was still up-and I could see nothing on the yacht that was any the worst for the experience, other than 5 crew. In the meantime Swagman had seen the drama and had time to get their spinnaker down. Lucky devils! However, to follow the rule, if you falloff your horse it is best for your spirits to get straight back into the saddle and ride on … so we continued in the race but declined to fly a kite for the rest of the proceedings. Such is sailing, but I digress.
The upshot of all this is that one day I might be able to get away from blood pressure raising activity and find out what cruising is all about. Oh, I nearly forgot the very reason for this article, there is a sturdy jetty near a pretty house at Port Geographe needing a dainty craft of the sailing variety to embellish it. Don’t rush I think I might go again.