Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

In brief, the weather will be normal for the time of year

Back home, Britain is getting its first deep freeze of the winter (very early for temperatures to be reaching minus 9 degrees C in Wales, that's usually a post-Christmas thing) and here the coasts of Queensland and New South Wales are getting into their storm season. When they say 'storms' here, they mean thunderstorms - and big ones at that.

We got our first at-sea taste of these on the way down from the Gold Coast to the Clarence River last night and it was quite an experience! We left in bright sunshine and a lovely 15 knot NE wind, passing down the first few miles of coast dominated by the high-rise towers of Surfers Paradise. 

The forecast looked good - winds of up to 20 knots from the NE in the evening - but did mention the slight possibilities of thunder further south. Pretty soon, the sky started to look distinctly ominous and, as a tanker passed us heading south, the dark clouds were beginning to look very unfriendly:

The last patch of blue sky gets swallowed up in cloud
We had been told about a very good feature on the BOM (Bureau of Meteorology) website which gives real-time weather radar images all along the coast, with a loop of 5 pictures taken at 5 minute intervals helping you to see the direction of travel of any rain cells. The Telstra mobile phone signal is good for about ten miles off shore and so we were able to have a look at what was going on. Initially it just looked like a single rain squall heading from inland towards the coast: 

A few minutes later, however, and we could see two storm cells coming out to sea and we were right between the two of them!

The sky continued to darken around us and our own radar showed heavy rain (the pink splodges overlaid on the chart, below) just behind us.

Maunie with rain on her tail - the tanker is the blue triangle just to the SSW of us
Pretty soon the air was crackling with forked lightning and the thunder was pretty loud; we managed to stay ahead of it all, but only just.

After many attempts, we just caught the tail of a lightning strike in this photo
As darkness fell and we moved further down the coast, the cloud lifted and we thought we'd be spared any more weather action. Wrong! Yikes, ahead of us the radar showed another big storm cell heading across our path and the wind did a very quick 180 degree change to the SSW and started increasing in strength. Forewarned by the BOM radar images, Graham (who was on watch) lost no time in reefing down and adjusting course as best he could to avoid the weather then sat and watched the most impressive (and, considering our proximity to it, unnerving) lightning display he's ever seen. Thankfully, after about an hour it became clear that the storm had missed us and so the rest of the passage was a gentle motor-sail where Dianne's on-watch activities centred around dodging the many fishing boats.

So we're now anchored in Iluka but it seems that the storms haven't finished with us. The coastguard has just issued a warning for potentially destructive winds, large hailstones, lightning strikes and heavy rain for this evening. This is the full text of the warning:

The advice to move cars, avoid power lines, etc is all very well but it doesn't mention what we should do if we're anchored in a boat with a metal mast right in the middle (next to Yamba) of the forecast area! Pour a stiff drink is probably the answer, but we've lashed everything down, checked the anchor and will be refreshing the BOM radar screen at regular intervals. The laptop, phone and GPS will be going in the (cold) oven if anything threatens to come close - the theory is that it acts as a 'Faraday Cage' in the event of a lightning strike so that the energy dissipates around it, protecting its contents. The rest of the boat's electrics would probably be toast so we very much hope we don't have to test that theory.

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