Mendana – Journal #4

Here’s hoping that 2006 treats you well.

New Year’s Day 2006 found us struggling with mild hangovers and incipient seasickness whilst leaving Port Fairy in Victoria, heading for King Island off the north-western end of Tasmania. For the first few hours we both wished we’d indulged our instincts and stayed in bed. As it turned out we had one of the best overnight sails we’ve endured since leaving Perth and arrived in Grassy Harbour at the bottom of King Island just as our fair?weather window closed and the south-westerlies climbed up to gale force.

We had arrived in Port Fairy via Portland, Victoria and American River on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, where we spent a lazy two weeks adjusting to the constraints of life aboard without the comforts of a marina and nearby supermarkets etc. Six months over-wintering alongside at the Cruising Yacht Club of South Australia in North Haven, Adelaide, had left us soft and flabby. Strangely we soon adapted to cold water, washing clothes in a bucket and donning foul weather gear to go ashore to the toilet. What was harder to bear on the moorings at American River was the odd motion of the boat as she lay side-on to the prevailing wind, pulled round by the keel to face into the ebbing or flooding tide. We left Kangaroo Island alongside our friends Doug & Mary aboard ‘Cartref’ (Welsh for home) confident that we’d re-acclimatised to the cruising life. We’d been very blasé about the forecast weather along our intended route to Portland, having (we thought) experienced similar conditions in the past. As we headed south-east through ‘Back Stairs Passage’ to the open ocean it soon became apparent that we were going to have a brutal reminder of:

  1. Conditions can always be considerably worse than forecast and
  2. Two weeks sitting on a mooring after a casual daysail down from Adelaide is not adequate preparation for 5 metre seas and 35 knot winds with frequent squalls above 40.

Fortunately our vessels were up to the task even if our feeble bodies weren’t.

An old friend in Adelaide had given us some aircraft life-raft rations to test out in sailing conditions. We were both too queasy to go below and prepare food so these marvelous self heating packet stews (complete with knife fork and plastic plate) seemed ideal. I’d already enjoyed mine and started heating one for Lorraine. Unfortunately even the smell of food tipped the balance, and in one motion she passed me her bowl then dived for the leeward rail. It was too bumpy to set the bowl down, and safe in the knowledge she wouldn’t come back for more, I enjoyed hers too. Not to say that I wasn’t sea sick as well, though I managed to hang onto my food. Perhaps I’d have been better off getting rid of it like Lorraine, as the action always seemed to give her instant relief from her misery.

All the comedies of life at sea in a small boat were played out over those two days and nights. During a particularly bouncy phase I slid off the toilet in mid-***p. It was pretty nasty, but could have been far worse. Both of us suffered ‘locker avalanches’ – where the entire contents of a locker (on the uphill side of the boat) back up behind the door, waiting to jump out and surprise you when you open it for one tiny item. The other little treat that still catches me out is the vessel rolling heavily just as I stand to pull my trousers up when dressing and I can’t move my feet to keep my balance. Even making a cup of tea is a challenge of mountaineering proportions. Getting boiling water or milk to flow politely down from the spout into the mug rather than up or side-ways over you or the galley is only half the battle. I’ve turned my back for a second to return and find my mug tipped over and the teabag (the last Earl Grey) missing – it took half an hour of frantic searching before I eventually located it hiding behind the fridge. The conditions abated to allow for us to recover a little before dropping anchor in Portland harbour, and we had time to wash the streaks of vomit off the side of the boat before our Adelaide sailing friends arrived the following day.

Portland was a great spot to spend Christmas and relax in the company of friends, old and new, before moving on to Port Fairy and more celebrations to greet the New Year.

Leaving Portland was intended to be a smooth well planned and prepared operation. We began lifting our anchor just as Cartref sailed out through the harbour entrance, and finally retrieved it an hour and a half later. A nasty front had swept through the Portland anchorage a couple of days before Christmas, forcing one boat onto a mooring and another into the fishing boat harbour. We’d remained at anchor and been pleased, surprised and perhaps a little smug not to have it drag. I discovered on diving down to investigate the snag that the weather had dragged our chain full circle around two separate rocks. It was very fortunate that I’d recently finished a homemade 12v diving hookah (plans supplied free on request ‘at your own risk’). I could perhaps have retrieved it with just a snorkel, but it would have been quite a struggle in 5metres of water.

In a couple of days, weather permitting, we plan to continue south-east down Tasmania’s west coat and through ‘Hells Gates’ to Strahan, where we should catch-up with our Adelaide friends.

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