Up the Mast – Monday 4th March

Position: Chinaman’s Bay, Maria Island

We had consulted charts and tide tables on Sunday night to determine our plans for today. To get through the Marion Narrows and the Dunalley Canal we need to arrive close to high tide, otherwise we risk running aground! From Schouten Island it would take us around 5 hours travelling at 6 knots to get to the Narrows. High tides today would be around 9am and 9pm. That made it a tad tricky, so our only real alternative was a lazy day with a short sail down to Maria Island, and an early start the next morning to get the high tide just before 10am.

While Derek enjoyed a Monday morning sleep-in, I was up on deck enjoying the peace and quiet of Crocketts Bay. Soon after dawn all the fishing boats had left and I watched a couple of them collecting and setting cray-pots along the nearby coast. It seemed the other six or so cruising boats were also enjoying a sleep-in on the calm waters.

After eating my signature bacon and egg scramblette (a scrambled omelette) we motored out of the bay and around the corner of Schouten Island. Our first challenge was to weave through the field of craypots laid around the coast and reefs by our fishermen friends of last night. I had sympathy for the poor crayfish, with so many waiting traps! We continued south to the Mercury Passage, passing Ile des Phoqes this time without getting close enough to see or smell the phoques/folks (seals). It was a mild day with little wind, and with that broken lazy-jack, well we just couldn’t be bothered sailing – so I guess we’re the lazy-Jacks today.

At Maria Island we turned in to Chinamans Bay to find another half-dozen cruising boats in the anchorage off Encampment Cove, as well as a few scattered along the shore to east and south. We found ourselves a patch of weedy sand in three metres of water and set the anchor. Maria Island is a beautiful spot to go ashore, and in the past we’ve done a variety of walks, a favourite being to French’s Farm to watch the wombats and kangaroos graze at sunset. This time, however, we stayed aboard. As it was so calm this was the opportunity we needed for a trip up the mast!

As I mentioned, the lazy-jacks are a web of thin ropes strung up each side of the boom to make the mainsail stay in the boom-bag as it is hoisted and lowered. Without these the excess sail tumbles out of the bag onto the deck (as well as any crew hovering its zone). When lowering the sail in a strong wind or rough seas it would get blown about, making the job of flaking (folding) the sail and securing it in the bag, or with ties, a difficult task. Our starboard-side lazy-jack had snapped a few days earlier, with the break near its highest point where it attaches to the top spreader, over two-thirds of the way up the mast.

So, the question is – who goes up the mast? Or more accurately, who wants to winch the other person up the mast? Yes, you guessed it – I go up the mast and Derek does the winching. Phew! And as I was going up, why not go right to the top of the mast and replace the masthead light globe with a power-saving LED? To get me up we attached the bosun’s chair to the main halyard (the rope that pulls the mainsail up to the top of the mast) with a second halyard attached for safety. This nifty little seat-harness has a pocket for all the tools you need, so in went pliers, screw-driver, globes, tape and my phone to take some pics. Then Derek got to work on the winch, and I helped a little by pulling and climbing where possible.

From the top I had fantastic views of the anchorage, and whilst I replaced the light-globe someone on shore sent their drone out to investigate! I gave it a wave, hoping they might share any footage with us later*.

I took photos of all the masthead fittings. Our problem number two this trip was the VHF radio – it has been flaky since we left Wineglass Bay on the way north, and testing and trying various connections it seems to be an issue with the aerial or its wiring. So, I took a look at the aerial up top. I couldn’t see anything obviously wrong up there, but took photos for us to scrutinise later. And if you’re worrying about us out on the high seas without a radio, worry no more – we have two backup handheld radios which we used instead.

On the trip down the mast I repaired the lazy-jacks with my newly learned knot – a double sheet-bend. The rope is fairly worn so will need replacing before long, but this will get us by for a bit.

Later, once I was back with my feet on the deck and all was squared away, we pulled out and dusted off the little portable Cobb barbecue. Tonight was unbelievably our first opportunity to use it for the whole trip! Every evening it has been either too windy or too late getting to our anchorage, or we were staying on shore. I had provisioned us for a minimum of four barbecues during the trip and the tiny freezer was still bulging with steak and chops. We chose loin lamb with roasted potatoes, pumpkin and carrot, followed by golden syrup pudding, eaten on deck in the colours of another spectacular sunset to the accompaniment of a whistling gull. This is the cruising life at last – and literally last as this will be our final night on board.

*As we didn’t go ashore we didn’t catch up with the drone operator. It could have been someone from the next-door boat Close Encounters. If you know who it might have been do ask them to get in touch!

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