Gears and Grease

When I say we have a yacht some people imagine my life is all sunset cruises, gin and tonic and feet up in the sun. Others just get nauseous at the mention of sailing. But any boat-owner knows that aside from a small amount of both of these, much of your time on board is spent on the endless maintenance tasks needed to keep it afloat!

Our most recent task was to service the winches. We have four of these on board; two on the cabin-top for handling the plethora of ropes that are routed here from the mast and foredeck, and two larger ones at the rear of the cockpit for handling the fore-sail sheets – jib and spinnaker.

These winches are two-speed, and geared to make the job of pulling in the various ropes easier – or even possible! This means that inside the sleek black body are a collection of gears, pawls, rings, springs and pins, all sealed away from the corrosive effects of sea and salt, and greased and oiled to keep them moving smoothly. Every two years or so they need to be dismantled, cleaned, re-greased, oiled and reassembled. The last thing you want is to be straining to control that spinnaker under twenty knots of breeze when the darn winch jams… things could get scary with a Chinese gybe (dangerous), or the spinnaker turning into a drogue anchor for instance!

So recently we spent a day on board in the marina up to our elbows in grease. First we dismantled the winches, taking a few photos as we went, just so we could remember how to put them back together, then cleaning all the moving parts to remove the old grease.

We sat at the cockpit table, which we covered in an assortment of rags to keep it clean, with a basin of soapy water, scrubbing brush, paper towel, rags and even cotton-tipped ear buds to clean between the cog teeth. A mindless and tedious task. At least the sun was shining, the wind wasn’t blowing and we could listen to the radio.

We had a half-time break, wiped the grease off our hands and ambled up to Abundance, a lovely little café in Bellerive just near the marina, for a restorative brunch and two coffees. We also went on the search for another tube of grease – a white version, so hopefully we’ll be grateful for this next time around.

By the day’s end we had four smoothly operating winches. One of the four had obviously had some seawater infiltrate inside, as there was evidence of a bit of rust, so our task was timely.  It wasn’t until we were packing up, however, that we remembered we should have cleaned the grease off with turps! It would have made the whole task a lot quicker and easier. Let’s hope we remember that in two years when the task comes around again.

Sunday in Surges Bay

On Easter Sunday we sought out a spot to try out our new dive gear. Instead of heading back to Ninepin Point Marine Reserve, we thought an easy spot for my first dive would be Surges Bay, a very sheltered anchorage further up the Huon River. Here Derek and I donned our wetsuits – an exhausting 20-minutes of tugging and squeezing for me (the salesman insisted this was the correct size and I admit, once it’s on it fits fine!) – and we hopped in. It took a bit of adjusting of our weight-belts to stop me bobbing like a cork on the top. Below the surface we were expecting more river water to mean more tannins staining the water brown, but what we didn’t expect was the soup-like quality with so much gunk in suspension. Visibility was only around a metre. We descended to around six metres but it was dark and murky so we gave it up as a bad idea. Next time we’ll find a spot with clearer water – and far away from any fish farms!

We spent the day chilling out. The wildlife was not so chilled out though, with a flock of at least fifty crows hanging around to hassle a family of sea-eagles taking junior out for a training flight. The caws and honks kept us entertained all afternoon and into the evening.

Next morning we dropped Anne and Andrew off at their car and made the long trip home, motoring all the way, with some assistance from the sails. Back in the Derwent we encountered the new fast-cat, Molslinjen, doing sea-trials. It powered past us doing 42 knots.

Resourcefulness, and a brief history of McGyver

Another aspect of sailing that I like is the way it forces you to be resourceful. Whether it is steeling myself to climb the mast to replace a light globe, like on Friday, or reverse-parking this twelve-metre long boat into our tight marina berth, even these small tasks can make me feel a great sense of accomplishment. When the weather is against us we know we can trust the boat but are always aware that something could break and we might need to make running repairs, or use our wits to get out of a tricky situation. Even with a boat as new as ours, there are always things to maintain or repair. This trip began with Derek diving six metres below the boat in the marina to recover a part of our barbecue that had accidentally fallen overboard at the end of our regatta fireworks night. That was a dive I didn’t volunteer to do! And it gave Derek a chance to try out our new hookah dive system in the sea. He retrieved the part, removing a small marine ecosystem from its bowl in the process, however the bottom had rusted through. This trip we have also had to replace two fuses, top up the fluid in the depth transducer and repair Derek’s glasses, which he accidentally trod on. There’s also a rusted nut on the dinghy’s oar-lock we are yet to tackle, and now the toilet has sprung a leak!

My friend Anne has been our regular sailing companion since we bought the boat, almost nine years ago. She has always been resourceful when it comes to catering, and usually comes laden with fresh produce from her garden, and freshly cooked goddies. Back then she was single, but she’s since added to her usefulness by meeting and marrying Andrew, aka McGyver. Andrew is a lawyer, but his skills include diesel mechanic (oh, so handy when you have a 40hp motor inboard), metalworker, lift designer and builder and general handyman – oh and he’s good company, and not too bad at cards and board-games.

Andrew earned his nickname during our first trip to Port Davey, in Tasmania’s extensive World Heritage South-west Wilderness Area. Derek and I had sailed the boat around this rugged coastline with a boatload of fit young adventurers (our daughter included) who then walked the South-Coast track back to Cockle Creek. A few days later, Anne and Andrew flew in to meet us on a tiny plane that landed at the Melaleuca airstrip. During the intervening days we had been battered by a strong easterly weather system – unusual for this area which is usually subject to strong westerlies. We had spent a few uncomfortable and frankly frightening nights at anchor in 50+ knot winds. Our bow-rollers were damaged by the anchor chain bashing back and forth, but more worryingly our inflatable dinghy had been blown over not once, but twice! The first time the outboard motor, which we had unwisely left attached, had taken a dunking, and Derek had pulled it apart to dry and clean its components. The second time we’d lost the two seats, with their covers, and half an oar.

If there’s somewhere you need to be resourceful, it’s Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour. Andrew foraged around behind the old house at Clayton’s Corner and before we knew it, he’d fashioned a new oar-blade from a piece of timber. It was just like an episode of that 80’s tv show, where McGyver can build anything from a piece of string and a rubber band to get himself out of a pickle. So the name has stuck and that oar was so good we never replaced it, until last Christmas Anne and Andrew gifted us a new set.

Yesterday we picked up Anne and Andrew at Copper Alley Bay, just south of Cygnet. Before he came, Andrew had cut out a steel disc to fit the bottom of the barbecue. It worked a treat, and a few hours later we were enjoying perfectly sizzled steak and roast vegetables cooked on our little Cobb. Followed by a few board-games and a round of cards, which Andrew diplomatically lost! And this morning he fixed the leaky toilet as well.

Morning Musings

It is early morning and I’ve come up on deck to enjoy the view. We are anchored off Simpsons Point, South Bruny Island. The water is glassy, and I can see the passage of the slightest puff of wind as it travels across the surface. Sounds travel from the nearby bushland. Occasionally a fish surfaces with a splash.  I’m reading when I hear a thrum approaching from the south. I turn to see a huge flock of cormorants approaching low on the water, their white under-parts glinting in the sun. The flock parts around the boat, then re-forms, slows and one by one the birds splash into the water close to the point.

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A movement in the nearby trees catches my attention. It’s a white-bellied sea eagle come to join its mate perched less than a hundred metres from where I sit. The two of them sit so still in the treetops that they merge into the grey trunks. I pull out the binoculars for a better look. It is so still I can hear bird calls from all along the coast. In the grass I see a tiny flash of sunlight reflected, perhaps in a bird’s eye as it forages on the ground. A snap in the tree-tops makes me look up and it’s a sea-eagle I’ve heard launching into flight from its perch. It soars below the tree-tops, perhaps surveying the water for breakfast, and alights in a tree further along.

This is one of the reasons I love sailing – waking in a still anchorage right in the middle of nature. We had arrived late in the afternoon and found more than twenty other boats anchored along the shoreline. This is crowded for Tasmania, but to be expected during the Easter break, as everyone with a boat tries to get away for their final escape before winter sets in. Despite this every boat has plenty of room and thankfully none of our neighbours were loud party-boats. Before dark I had an essential task to perform. Our anchor light at the top of the mast wasn’t working, so Derek winched me up to replace the globe. A better scenario than me trying to winch him up, and thankfully I’m not afraid of heights. The view from the top is quite something I can tell you – though I didn’t take a camera up to get a photo.

Soon boats are beginning to make a move, rattling up their anchors and motoring slowly away. We’re assured a stunning day on the water, even if we don’t find enough wind to sail.

Last Twilight for the Season

Autumn is definitely here, with the days growing ever shorter. Wednesday was almost the autumn equinox, and with sunset drawing the day to a close at around 7.15 we were in for a short race or a dark finish!

This race was the final of the season, and the final of the women’s series, with results only counting for boats with a helmswoman. I found myself in charge of a boat full of crewmen – I couldn’t convince any other women to join us for the race.

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from left: Ben, Lachy, Michael, Willem, me, Paul and Tim

With a third place in the first race (the second was cancelled) I needed a good place tonight to finish on the podium for the series. I was feeling more confident at the helm after the previous two races without Derek on board, so the pre-race nerves were less of a distraction this time. With Derek back on board, however, I was in for more coaching, and a lot of keen encouragement. I tried to get him busy on the main sheets, but he handed this role to Tim so he could keep close to my ear. The only thing I could distract him with was the role of photographer, which he needed reminding of, and only conceded once the sun was well on its way to bed.

Our course was Q (for Quebec – appropriate as Derek had just returned from Montreal in the province of Quebec!) – one large triangle travelling first to mark G (off Sandy Bay point), then to H (Howrah) and back to the finish at Bellerive. We made a pretty good start on starboard, then tacked and headed into the middle of the river. We were flying with a good strong breeze, and as we tacked down the river we were making ground and passing most of the other boats in our division. It all came undone, however, as we approached the first mark. The wind began to drop, and then I had to tack to give way to Wildfire, who sped past us as we tried to keep enough height to make it around the mark. With boats to the starboard side we were unable to tack again to ensure a quick and efficient mark rounding and as we slowed painfully, then finally swung around the mark we were at the back of the fleet of seven in our division. B***- bother!

It didn’t get any better from there. Though we kept in touch on the downwind leg to H we didn’t catch up, and we feared losing the breeze altogether as the sun steadily sunk behind the mountain. The breeze dropped down to six or seven knots, but stayed steady long enough for us to make it home – seventh across the line, and about the same on handicap (the results are not clear). That means no podium finish for the series either. Oh well – I promise to do better the next time!

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The last leg

A Balmy Breeze

It was one of those hot late summer days we get in Hobart – when the mercury pushes over 30 degrees and you can feel the desert heat on the northerly wind. All day I was anxiously watching the wind buffet the plane trees in Salamanca Place and my office window – an old French door that was propped open to relieve the heat – and watching my weather app which promised the wind would drop to a comfortable strength for the evening’s race.

And it did. By the time I’d mustered my crew, readied the boat and motored out into the river, the wind had dropped to a brisk 15 knots, and remained between 10 and 22 for the race. With Derek still overseas, the crew for this final race in the series was Tim, Nick, Paul, Michael, Andrew and Anne – who decided she would leave the work to the fellas and enjoy the beautiful evening.

We were set course T for Tango – a two lap course beginning with a triangle to mark X at mid-river, to B1 (permanent mark off Bellerive) back to the start line, and then a ‘sausage’ from the start out to X and back to the finish.

I was determined to make a better start this week, and steeled my nerves to jostle with the quicker boats around the start line. As usual, Tim played the role of tactician, and also confidence-builder, encouraging me on at every step. I offered him the helm this race, but he declined, preferring the role of encourager, delightful boy!

With the wind from the north-west the race began with a down-wind run. We crossed the line mid-fleet for a change! Then pointed our bow towards the mark and set the head-sail out on the pole. With the wind behind you sailing is quiet and the boat remains flat. You can hear the sea sizzle along the hull. The sun beat down on us, turning the river to copper. What a way to spend the evening!

Despite our better start we eventually ended up near the back of the fleet, crossing the line only 13 minutes behind the outright winner, Hot Prospect. So I added another 13th place to my belt – oh, well, I don’t really like those T-shirts they give out for first place… I’m hanging out for the prize next week for the women’s race! Oh, and Tim did take the helm to park the boat, doing a super job of reversing.