With the anchor alarm set at 30m to ensure that a) we wouldn’t bang into the other yacht, or b) drag the anchor and snag the cable and switch of the power supply to Nth Straddie, we slept like logs for a few hours, except for me. As the tide turned and wind shifted, the alarm went off 3 times. I staggered up to the cockpit, each time forgetting that we had put the mozzie screen down, and walked into the net! At sunrise the anchor came up covered in mud (welcome home) and we sailed and motored our way across the bay toward Manly, keeping a look out for “The Matrix” who was racing in the 24 hour race around the bay. Just west of Peel Island she sailed past so we gybed to chase her and say hi. As we gybed my hat blew off which necessitated a MOB drill to retrieve it. By the time we got the hat back on board, The Matrix was well beyond reach so we turned around and headed home. We did a lap of honour in front of the house for Danielle (quite a long way off though as it was low tide) and then headed over to the marina, where Danielle and Mike greeted us. Berth E23 at Wynnum Manly Yacht Club will be Velella’s temporary home for a short time while we sort out more permanent berthing arrangements for her. So at 9:30am we had completed the circumnavigation of Australia. What a feeling! We covered 8959nm (16,592km) with an average speed of 6.2 knots and max speed of 18.9 knots, and had the most amazing experience of our lives. Thankyou, Velella, for being such a wonderful floating home and thanks to all our crew (12 crew changes in total involving 19 great people*) and of course Anne for helping us to achieve this long held dream of James. Also, big thanks to Gary for setting up the website for the blog. Now we’re back to reality, it’s time to unload all the wet stinky gear and get it home to wash!
*Crew list (in a rough order of appearance):
Deborah (Deb) Bradfield
As I came on watch at 3am, James and John had just pulled the headsail out as the wind finally decided to arrive and blow from the south. For a blissful one and a half hours we sailed along with no engines. After gybing to steer clear of 5 fishing boats just north of Yamba the wind turned 900 and promptly died. Pooh, on went the engines again and our peaceful night was broken. The rain continued all day and got heavier and heavier. With water seeping into places where it shouldn’t go, the auto helm decided to give up the ghost so we all had to remember how to manually steer! We steered by the compass, as the low clouds and rain made it just as difficult to steer as it is at night, with nothing to aim for. For the first time since we were in the tropics along the WA coastline, a brown booby came to say hello, and tried for quite some time to land on the bow rail. Of course the slippery wet rail and pitching boat made it just about impossible for him to get a grip and he eventually gave up. We passed Cape Byron (most easterly point of mainland Australia) at 1pm and logged our most easterly point of the trip (1530 39.120’E). John noticed a FAD (Fish Attracting Device) marked on the chart and ventured out of the relative dryness of the cockpit to set the trolling line. Within minutes a big fat yellow fin tuna was being filleted on the back deck with John neatly wearing his wet weather pants back to front! Good look John! As we passed Pottsville Beach I called mum to tell her where we were and remembered sailing past this point 11 years ago on Velella’s original delivery sail to Queensland, when mum and dad took a much younger Danielle and Jacquetta to Hastings Point to wave at us as we sailed past. Despite being only 2nm off the coast we couldn’t see the beach or the headland today – just a long low mass of grey cloud and teeming rain. If we don’t get home soon I fear we’ll start growing webbed feet and feathers. Everything seems just as wet inside the boat as outside with the humidity at 100%. The floor is damp and slippery, all surfaces like the table and bench tops are damp, and worst of all our bed sheets are damp. We climb into bed with wet feet and they never dry! At 7pm (NSW time) we crossed into Queensland waters – almost home! The highrise buildings along the Gold Coast were blurred by the misty rain, as were the beacons marking the Southport Seaway. With the cabin door shut and everyone on deck with lifejackets on we came through the Seaway (swells were quite manageable) and entered Moreton Bay at 8:20pm. The sudden calmness of the water, after days at sea non-stop, felt strange. I heated up dinner while James et al navigated our way through the maze of flashing beacons and occasional dredger to our anchorage at Canaipa Pt. We ran aground at Slipping Sands 11 years ago, so we ensured we would pass through this shallow spot on a rising tide. As we half expected we cleaned the hulls on the sandy bottom, and sat and waited a few minutes (in rain that was by this time, torrential) for the tide and the engines in full throttle to lift us clear. Finally at 10 minutes before midnight we had the anchor set alongside Nth Stradbroke Island opposite Canaipa Pt, between a submarine cable and another anchored yacht. What is this, we’re not used to having to share anchorages with others, but it was soooo calm and peaceful it didn’t really matter.
The rain continued through the night as did the distinct lack of wind. By morning the headlands and hills behind the coast were veiled in mist and low cloud which looked quite pretty. It’s amazing the little things we find to enjoy to take our minds off being constantly wet. As we passed the old Trial Bay Gaol, a group of sea kayakers had us thinking we had out of season whales on the horizon for a short time before we realised what they were. The usual assortment of shearwaters and terns kept us company most of the day, until we came into contact with humans again in Coffs Harbour. Our fuel is getting pretty low and with uncertain wind patterns ahead we decided to head into Coffs Harbour to refuel. But despite being the only full customs port between Sydney and Brisbane (i.e. with immigration, customs and quarantine if you needed it) there is no wharfside fuel available after 3pm. We knew this as we headed in around 5pm and figured we’d find a shopping trolley and walk back and forth between the petrol station and the boat with 8 jerrycans. Our first problem though, involved berthing. This is certainly not a visitor friendly marina. Our only option was a high wharf (deck at least 1.5m above our deck) with posts encrusted with sharp oysters. We tried lassoing the bollards and pylons unsuccessfully as the gentle breeze kept pushing us away. Looking like a bunch of amateurs, a local who was waiting for friends to come in, offered to catch our lines. Bless his soul, he then offered to give us a ride in his ute up to the petrol station, which turned out to be 2km away, with not a stray shopping trolley in sight along the way! To save our dicky backs, elbows and knees, we used the spinnaker halyard to hoist the now full and heavy jerrycans back on board. After refuelling just in time before the rain came again, a family sized serve of hot chips went down like a treat. Leaving Coffs Harbour just on dusk we continued motoring our way up the NSW coast in the rain, throughout the night.
After a leisurely start eating breakfast and transferring all but our last 20L of diesel into the fuel tanks we set off around 9am for Brisbane, out through the heads of Port Stephens which are quite spectacular. Given time and distance, it will be non-stop from here. There’s a strong wind warning for coastal waters south of here as a southerly change approaches, however we only had winds around the 15 to 20 knot mark. Annoyingly these were right on our nose, as was the moderate swell, so the sails were accompanied by diesel propulsion all day and our non-stop passage to Brisbane is certainly not turning out to be the express service. We managed to catch and free a shearwater hooked on the trolling line and our major excitement for the day came whilst Deb attempted to have a freshwater rinse off next to the esky. Just when she was all clean James yelled “watch out” as one of those waves that BOM predicts “may be twice the height” broke right over our bows, drenching everything and everyone. We once again hugged the coast to avoid the southerly currents and waited for the tail end of the southerly change to pass and turn the wind to a more favourable direction. This never happened. Storm clouds brewed to our west and as we approached Snapper Rocks we dropped the sails (which weren’t doing much anyway) in preparation for strong squalls which never eventuated. Darkness came early tonight with thick cloud and rain. No moon or stars out tonight. As the night progressed the wind dropped out to nothing so we chewed through the fuel as the 2m swells were still head on.
Pittwater was cloaked in an eerie mist when we woke with the 6am alarm. There was a “staircase” to the moon as she sat over West Head, and the sky was turning a deep pinky purple to the east over Barrenjoey Headland. We dropped the mooring and headed out into the swells as the sky continued to put on a beautiful show for our departure. Conditions were still calm but the wind from the NE soon kicked in, making sailing futile. We motored until midday when the wind turned a little more easterly allowing us to hoist the main and the jib on a very close tack. We kept the engines running as we had about 80nm to cover today. A south setting current also plagued us for most of the day so we came in close and hugged the coast (making sightseeing great) to try and avoid it. It was interesting watching the extent of the brown flood plumes extending out from the coastal rivers, with the edge of each plume being a hotspot for birds and fish and a few dolphins. No fish could see our lure today other than a tiddly sized tuna and a taylor, so there was little action on the fishing front. We made up for this by frequently changing sail arrangements and plenty of tacking. As we approached Newcastle we passed stacks of freighters and tankers lined up, anchored, waiting to come into port. One took us by surprise by being the odd one out. He decided to enter the shipping channel at the entrance to the Hunter River just as we were scooting across it. He was bearing down on us at 13 knots (the AIS predicted our closest point of approach would be 0.5nm – or 2 minutes away from each other) so we quickly pulled the headsail out to give us more speed, keen to avoid a Jessica Watson situation. Even though we were well clear, he gave us a nice long blast on his horn as he turned into the channel. Being close to an airforce base, we were then distracted by the antics of two hornets (or similar) zooming past. I think they liked having a target on the water to circle around. Port Stephens was getting closer and closer but the last 10nm seemed to take forever as we tacked our way across Stockton Bight – at least we had plenty of time to admire the huge sand dunes and the remains of a ship which came to grief here some time ago. As the sun went down, a leg of lamb went in the oven, timed to be ready to eat at anchor. It had plenty of time to slowly cook as we finally dropped the pick in Port Stephens, behind Yacaaba Head, at 9:45pm! It was a late dinner tonight, but well worth the wait.
After an easy start to the day (6:30am alarm) and breakfast, we dropped the mooring just after 7:30 and said farewell to Sydney as we embarked on the last leg of the journey back to Brisbane. Reddie waved as we sailed past her house and Mum, Wendy and Philip had driven up to North Head to wave as we passed beneath this imposing chunk of sandstone that stands sentinel at the mouth of Sydney Harbour, described as “the most beautiful harbour in the world” by early settlers and explorers. The incoming swell greeted us as we passed Grotto Point and we then dodged 4 Manly ferries as we made our way out towards the heads. As we rounded North Head, the wind was right on our nose so we headed slightly off course and tried sailing for a while. It wasn’t particularly successful, so down came the headsail and up went the diesel sails as we motor sailed our way past the magnificent northern beaches and headlands of Sydney. As we approached Barrenjoey Headland the water became browner and browner until at the mouth of Pittwater is was a distinct chocolate milkshake colour, thanks to the flood plume coming down the Hawkesbury-Nepean river systems. With permission from the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club, we tied up to one of their “members only” moorings, at the northern end of Barrenjoey Beach and enjoyed lunch. We have to move if a member complains or wants to use the mooring, so hopefully given the not so nice weather, we can stay here for the rest of the day and night. James has a sore foot after stabbing it with a knife the other day, so while he stayed on board, the rest of us (Aurelie, Deb, John and I) took the dinghy ashore and climbed up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse. Awesome views down Palm Beach and across Pittwater. After dropping me back to Velella to proof read some work James had been doing, the others went on a squid fishing expedition. True to expectations, they came back empty handed as the water is chocolate brown and no self respecting squid would have a chance to see the jig jiggle past, so we ate sashimi from the skipjack tuna John caught earlier in the day on the trolling line for sundowners. Yummy dinner of tuna and quinoa salad as bullet gusts of wind regularly rotated us 360 degrees around the mooring. The full moon, hazy through a thin veil of cloud, then popped up behind the lighthouse to finish off a perfect day – possibly our last “cruising” day. I fear the next few days will be fairly arduous as we tackle head winds and hopefully some reasonably strong southerlies to get home by Sunday.
James woke early for a busy day of taxi duties. As Anne left Velella to head into the city for the morning, I (Nicola) flew in from New Zealand with my mum after settling Jacquetta into university in Dunedin. Danielle also flew down from Brisbane to spend the weekend with us, so James raced between airport terminals and the back streets of Mascot, dodging parking fines and fees, to collect us all. Danielle and I spent the day at Wendy’s (my sister) house while James continued his taxi duties, dropping Deb and Aurelie in the city, and collecting Anne and taking her home. He finally rejoined us for dinner at Graham’s (my brother) house where we got to meet Willow, the newest member of our clan at 4 weeks old. Once back on Velella for the night, the wind picked up and the rain started, as the severe east coast low which had been making its way down from Brisbane, where it had been wreaking havoc, arrived in Sydney. The wind howled through the rigging and despite being dog tired and jetlagged I hardly slept a wink all night. Saturday brought rain, rain and more rain, and wind, wind and more wind. After spending the morning and lunch with my niece (Natalie) and little Rori (almost 3), we joined Graham for some “storm tourism”, checking out the huge waves crashing onto the coastline at Manly and through the heads, before dinner at the Harbord Diggers. I’m glad we’re not sailing out there! Back on the boat, once again I hardly slept. Around midnight the peak of the storm hit. Our mooring lines were jolting and jerking as wind gusts easily topped 35 knots (in the lee of the headland) and the torrential rain swept sideways passed us. As Deb, Danielle and I stood at the window beside the cockpit door like three monkeys, a bolt of lightning hit the water not too far behind us. By Sunday morning the weather had eased and Danielle and I drove out to the airport to intercept Casey, while she had a 3 hour layover en route to Lord Howe Island. She got the surprise of her life so our sleuthing with Deb last night was well worth it! James went to church with Anne and we all rendezvoused at James’ sister’s house (Yelena) for lunch, before returning to the Spit for dinner with Reddie and her family who were my neighbours many moons ago when we lived in Sydney. We had an awesome night reminiscing. Monday came with its accompanying list of chores as we hope to set sail tomorrow. With the shopping done, jerry cans filled, and new solenoid for the anchor purchased, James dropped me at Wendy’s so I could make some dinners ready for several expected overnight sails to come, while he “fixed” the anchor and moved Velella from the marina, under the Spit Bridge on the 2:15pm opening, to a courtesy mooring downstream of the bridge. After a family farewell dinner with my mum, Wendy and Philip (nephew) at a yummy steak restaurant in Manly, we found our way back on board and slept with the not so romantic drone of traffic rumbling over the bridge beside us. Sydney is a wonderfully vibrant city but very busy and noisy. As well as us, the rest of the crew enjoyed spending the last few days with friends and family, and are all keen to get going again to enjoy the wonders of the sea and to explore anchorages (if we have time! – James is supposed to start work next Monday).