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!

Amongst the Animals – Tuesday 26th February

Position: Port Davies, Flinders Island

Partridge Farm has a curious collection of livestock. I ate my breakfast on the deck overlooking a paddock of deer, complete with sproinking fauns and the odd sheep or goat, whilst fending the rather bold and vocal partridges off my food. All around on the grass scampered more than 30 guinea-pigs, ducks and chickens, all watched curiously by Jess the sheepdog. We packed up and before we left the owners entreated us to help ourselves to the Nashi pear tree. As soon as I entered the orchard the pig began to squeal in excitement – so of course I had to share the pears!

We drove the short hop back to Lady Barron, piled everything into the waiting dinghy and re-boarded the fair Ariadne’s Clew. It was time to see if the new motor was going to get us out of our pickle. It took a while for Derek to get it lined up and onto the mounting screws, a bit of puzzlement with the wiring, and a couple of bouts of testing with a spare battery. It wasn’t until we disconnected the cables from the battery in the back cabin, gave them a blow, wipe and reconnected them with an extra twist, that the thing finally burst to life. Yes, we now have an operational anchor winch! Hooray! We’re very thankful to Andrew, who arranged the delivery and talked us through getting it going again.

It was after 1pm when we motored out of Lady Barron for (hopefully) the last time! With our cruising time in the north cut short by our troubles we decided to push on up the west coast to Emita, the location of the museum we’d visited by car on Monday. Again we had the flood tide pushing us west in Franklin Sound, but the easterly wind was barely enough for sailing, and as we went further west the wind dropped to almost nothing. The sea was glassy, the early morning cloud had burnt off leaving a blue sky. We saw a flock of gannets resting on the surface, the odd little penguin paddling about, a couple of lazy seals with their flippers in the air and then, three or four dolphins joined us to play. One spent ages surfing our bow-wave and we went right to the prow to watch. Through the crystal clear water we could see it swimming along with its tail almost resting on the bow. From time to time it would put its head on the side and look up at us. After a good while it would swim off to the side to take a breath then return.

We didn’t see any short-tailed shearwaters until we came further north and into some wind. Then we could see flocks of them wheeling around using the wind-shear off the water to keep themselves aloft.

We pushed on north, passing Mt Chappell, Big Green and East Kangaroo Islands, then the Chalky Islands and inside Prime Seal. There are several nice anchorages around Settlement Point but by this stage the wind had picked up so we continued around the point to Port Davies hoping this would be out of the wind. It wasn’t, but we grabbed the MAST public mooring and here we stayed for the night. There was one other yacht anchored closer to the protection of the dunes, plus a rusty fishing boat, and we all wobbled about in the wind.

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.

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.