All day on Wednesday the wind blew hot from the north as the temperature climbed. After a very cool and changeable summer so far, with rain on and off over the past few days, we were suddenly facing a day of extreme fire danger.Through the day I kept my eye on the bit of harbour I can see from my office window, to see boats bobbing around on the choppy water. The huge plane trees lining Salamanca Place were being buffeted by the wind with aging leaves torn free to dance in the eddies. I watched the anemometer, mounted on top of a pole right outside my window, spinning madly, the wind vane switching direction in confusion. It looked like it would be challenging conditions out there tonight.
On Sunday we had taken the main sail off the boat and on Tuesday morning taken it to the sail-maker for a minor repair. One of the lugs that run inside the track on the mast, securing the luff (mast-side edge of the sail), had broken when we did a fast gybe a week or two ago. Perhaps it was when we had a reef in the sail or it had been too strong for me to ease with the sheet and traveller. Either way, the repair, though very minor, required taking the sail off the boat. Many racing boats remove and stow the sails after each race, but our boat, built for cruising, has a furling headsail (this is stored by wrapping it around itself on the fore-stay) and a canvas bag on the boom into which we drop the main, flaking it into neat folds, and zipping it up to secure. So removing the main-sail is a bit of a chore. On Sunday it had been fairly windy as well, and Derek and I had tied the sail into a bundle then slid it out of the boom-bag, rested it on the marina arm to remove the battens, then folded it up to wheel back to the car in a wheelbarrow.
On Tuesday we had dropped it off to the sail-maker on our way to work, and picked it up again on Wednesday afternoon before heading through the snarling traffic to the yacht club. On the bridge we got a good view of a frightening bushfire burning on the Lindisfarne hills – gumtrees bursting into red flames and billows of black smoke rising. Two small planes and a helicopter were hovering anxiously as the fire front threatened to sweep downhill towards houses. Downwind, the marina was veiled in smoke, with wind whistling through rigging and halyards clanging. As I walked out towards the boat I was afraid I’d be blown off the narrow walkway as I held tightly onto my dress! I looked back at the club flagpole and saw the sorry sight of two racing code flags – N (blue and white chequers) and A (half blue, half white) signalling ‘Race Abandoned’. The yachties I passed expressed disappointment mixed with relief.
When I reached the boat, Nick, Paul and Lockie, who had arrived early, had already prepped the boat for departure, but now we set them to work helping to re-mount the mainsail that Derek had wheeled out in a barrow. It was a struggle in the wind to unfold and flake the sail on the marina arm ready to re-install the battens. Then, again tied up to prevent it flying away, we all heaved it back into the bag, slid all the lugs into the track and reattached all the ropes – outhall and two reefing lines – and two big shackles at each end of the foot. Once that was done we zipped up the bag, packed the boat back up and headed into the club for an early dinner.