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.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Yamba to the Gold Coast - and another daring rescue

The unplanned break in Yamba gave us the chance to walk out to the headland to look down on the impressive man-made sea walls at the entrance to the Clarence River before we motored out on Sunday afternoon.

Looking south-east from the Yamba headland....

... and looking north, with the surf beach in the foreground and the long sea walls of the river entrance behind.
The exit between those sea walls has to be approached with considerable care because the 'bar' (shallows) just beyond them kicks up some horrible and dangerous waves at times. The trick is to cross the bar when the tide is flooding in, up the river; if it's ebbing, the flow of millions of litres of water running at up to 4 knots creates huge standing waves. We left in very light winds at the time when the flood should have been well and truly developed but found ourselves being flushed out in a 2 knot ebb, caused by all the rain that's fallen in the Clarence River's vast catchment over the past week. It was only when  we were about a mile out to see that we crossed a very definite line in the water, leaving the brown, silty fresh river water and crossing into the blue ocean.

After that, the 100nm passage was very easy. The winds were light so we had to run the engine the whole way but we once again hugged to coast to avoid the current and had some nigh-time entertainment using the radar to help us dodge several fishing boats in our path. However, there's no such thing as an incident-free voyage on Maunie and we had our autopilot suddenly sound alarms and switch itself off three times, with the boat suddenly veering off course as a result.

So where has it gone, then?
 Thankfully, this problem seemed to fix itself so we didn't have to hand-steer for hours and we could concentrate on some interesting pilotage.

A slalom between the Danger Reefs off Tweed Heads. They were so named by Captain Cook who saw breaking waves and took Endeavor off shore and hove-to overnight. As a result he was the first navigator to discover the south-going East Coast Current as the ship was 20 miles further south by daybreak
 As dawn arrived we could see the delightful skyline of Surfers Paradise which meant our passage was nearly complete.

We are now anchored at Paradise Point, only a mile or so from where we'll leave Maunie in two weeks' time. Emails to the technical support team of Raymarine Australia have yielded very quick responses so we'll hope to get a local technician aboard in the next few days to find out why the autopilot's playing up. Meanwhile Maunie's reputation as the boat that tows others was further confirmed when we spotted a motorboat drifting past us on the fairly swift tide. Their engine had overheated and cut out so, once Graham had introduced them to the safety concept of throwing the anchor over before they hit something, he got in the dinghy and towed them back to their pontoon.

Clueless motorboat owners - all the gear and no idea
Having got the engine on the dinghy we then took the opportunity to go round to recce the mooring for the nest 6 months, which looks as though it'll be great.

The day ended with a really lovely bbg on the shore - the Australians provide these fantastic outdoor hotplate bbq's (which are free) and we ended up chatting to a couple of other yacht crews doing the same thing.

Di stirring the Royale sauce for the fillet steaks, with sweet potatoes and carrots. Yum-oh! Maunie's visible in the background.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

R&R in Yamba

Sydney Harbour bade farewell to us in some style on Wednesday night. Just as we’d gone ashore into Manly to get final provisions from the supermarket, the sky turned suddenly to an inky black (at about 5.00pm), there was a VERY loud clap of thunder and then the ‘southerly buster’ storm arrived.  Horizontal bullets of rain scattered pedestrians into whatever shelter they could find and the wind howled through the pine trees along the esplanade. Thankfully, we’d moved Maunie onto one of the very good courtesy moorings just off the beach, otherwise we’d have worried about her dragging her anchor, so we took shelter as best we could in the nearest available place – which just happened to be the Bavarian bar at the wharf. Our timing was perfect – it was Happy Hour so wine and beers were $5 a glass.

As abruptly as it had arrived, the storm departed and, after emptying our glasses of alcohol and then the beached dinghy of several gallons of rainwater, we made it back to Maunie to get her ready for our sail north at first light the following day; dinghy deflated and packed away on the foredeck and loose items stowed below decks.

The 306nm passage was pretty good in terms of speed, to our surprise. We had fast downwind sailing for the first 20 hours or so and then had to do a fair amount of motor-sailing as the wind dropped to less than 10 knots. We managed to dodge the worst of the 2 knot southerly current that had been such a bonus when we were sailing towards Sydney in December, by dint of steering as close to the coastline as we dared; to our delight, we even found some back-eddies where the current was pushing us northwards for a few hours.  However, the weather was at best grey and at worst very rainy so the only photo taken on the 2 days was this one:

Night watch on Maunie - we use red LED lighting to preserve our night vision for when we go on deck to look out for other vessels
Unfortunately, and there’s always an unfortunately to spoil the fun, Dianne’s hacking cough, which, ironically, she’s had since we were in Port Hacking two weeks ago, made life pretty uncomfortable for her and left her short of both sleep and energy. Meanwhile, Graham was being a brave little soldier but fighting the symptoms of early-onset man flu. So, armed with the latest weather forecast yesterday evening, some navigational calculations were performed and we decided that a diversion into Yamba marina, about 100 miles short of our destination,  would not only be feasible (the tide has to be just right to cross the shallow river bar) but eminently sensible. We arrived at about 07.30, still in heavy drizzle, but our reward, apart from the still waters, was the welcome sight of some blue sky and sunshine this afternoon, the first we’ve decent break that we have seen for a week or so.

Yamba Marina - Maunie berthed to the left of the big motorboat

Stocked up with new supplies of tissues and tablets and well rested, we’ll set off again tomorrow afternoon for a final overnighter to the Gold Coast, just across the border into southern Queensland, and that will give us a good two weeks to put Maunie to bed for her six months without us. The Gold Coast usually enjoys calm, dry and stable weather conditions in the winter whilst northern Queensland has a much more tropical climate. It’s coming toward the end of their cyclone season now but Cyclone Debbie is about to pounce, landing very close to where niece Laura is working in Airlie Beach sometime in the next couple of days. Compared to a Category 4 cyclone, a thunderstorm and a few days of drizzle perhaps weren’t so bad after all.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Sydney update (in the rain)

We've had a week in Sydney and enjoyed exploring more of the city in spite of some pretty awful weather; lots of heavy rain and wind squalls have rather dampened our enthusiasm at times. The only real exception was last Sunday when we had a lovely sail around the harbour, with Kerry joining us for the day, dodging the racing yachts, ferries and motorboats; there was a great picnic lunch in the cockpit (with a training course by Kerry on the best way to peel prawns) and an entertainingly brisk return with the Parasailor.

Passing the Opera House with T/S Tenacious (last seen in Hobart)

One of the racing fleets

The latest must-have accessory? Oh dear....

Heading back under the bridge after a great day. Unfortunately the wind direction didn't allow us to sail through the bridge with the Parasailor flying.
Full moon rising in the last clear skies we'd see for a week
With the wet weather enveloping us like a soggy blanket this week, we've got on with a few jobs - some re-varnishing below (not a perfect success due to the humidity, it has to be said, but an improvement) and we collected the SSB radio, back in working order (a $10 transistor replaced, plus $320 of labour). We also replaced a corroded connector on our VHF radio aerial which we hope will solve our intermittent problems with receiving and transmitting.

In between the work, we've managed to tick off a few more city sights. We did join a free guided walking tour of the city one day but, when the heavens opened and the wind threatened to wrest the golfing umbrella from our grip, we peeled off (almost Mary Poppins style) and enjoyed a much drier, free guided tour of the excellent Art Gallery of NSW. The Asian Art section was a real hit, as was the Aboriginal Art gallery.

Asma'al-Husna, 99 Names of Allah (2014) by the female Iranian artist Azra Aghighi Bakhshayeshi

detail of an Aboriginal piece

... and another
 There's been some good social life too - a great Nepalese meal with Kerry and her friends Pete and Gwyn (whom we last met 3 years ago in Fiji) which was followed by watching Crab Racing in the wildly-eccentric Friend in Hand pub, an event which required unbrellas, again, but this time as protection against the water pistols and hose pipe. Only in Australia! 

We then caught up with Waiheke mates Trish and Ian who were over here for a long weekend so we dodged most of the showers and anchored in Athol Bay, just across from the Opera House for a prawns and salad lunch. Time for a little, belated celebration of Trish's and Dianne's 50th's

Thanks to Jenny for the 50th Bunting!

Look, some blue sky!! A slight clearance last night so we managed a walk over to Darling Harbour without getting wet

The plan now is to leave Sydney as soon as the wind goes southerly again - Wednesday night or Thursday morning probably. We have about 450nm to cover to get back up to the Gold Coast so we'll probably try to knock off a big chunk of that with a 2-3 day passage whilst the breeze is favourable. 

Saturday, 11 March 2017

What are the chances…….?

Readers of our last update will know that we succeeded in sailing under the Sydney Harbour Bridge on Thursday (this was a thrill for both of us, a bucket list event and included a few tense moments for Di on the helm with ferries approaching from all directions); also we alluded to being spotted as we sailed under the bridge.

Now we all know about the 6 degrees of separation and strange coincidences but we’ve come to the conclusion in the sailing world that there is a much stronger bond that draws us together and very often cats are involved! At the very moment that we sailed under the bridge, one of those bridge walking climbs (for which people pay $270) was being led by a woman called Lily.

That evening when we were anchored in Blackwattle Bay, one of many anchorages further up the river, we heard a knock on the hull and voices. It was Lily, along with her partner Mark, who had spotted Maunie as she cycled home from work to where her boat was anchored. Lily introduced herself: ‘Remember me? We met in 2013 when we came for drinks on board Maunie’. We obviously looked confused so she added some details about Pixel, the cat. Well that clarified things in our heads as we recalled quite clearly meeting up with two boats in Moorea: Duncan & Jess on S/Y Alliance and Charlie, Lily & Pixel on S/Y Portal. Our invitation for them all to join us for drinks on board Maunie had the condition that ship’s cat, Pixel, must be in attendance (having spotted the gorgeous Maine Coon strutting his stuff on deck). You can follow this link to see that Pixel did indeed come across for drinks and it was very difficult to persuade him to disembark from Maunie at the end of the evening: http://maunieofardwall.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/exploring-moorea-and-meeting-pixel.html

Back to the coincidences, Lily happened to lead a climb across the bridge just as we sailed beneath and she actually spotted us and recognised the name of a boat that she’d last seen four years earlier. Later she cycled past our anchorage on the way back to her boat for new partner Mark to pick her up by dinghy at the pontoon near us, as their boat is anchored in the next bay.

More ‘small world’ moments followed the next day:

First of all, as we sat on the ferry from Darling Harbour to Parramatta to drop off our SSB radio for repair (and do some touristy bits on route) Graham spotted a yacht called Zeena on a mooring, among hundreds of other boats. We first saw Zeena's crew in a restaurant in the Galapagos Islands in 2013 and then the boat plus crew on board in the Marquesas later in the same year when we were all battling against strong river floods and the resultant debris being carried past our boats. Another link from 2013 to 2017!

Finally, when we returned to our anchorage, a new boat had joined the three or four others around us; a Vancouver 34C had dropped its anchor just along from Maunie. As far as we know, there are no connections to 2013 or to cats but what we do know is that there aren’t too many Vancouvers around (and sadly numbers won’t increase as the yard is closed and therefore ceased building our beloved yachts). Maunie was built in 1997 and Nausikaa, the other Vancouver, was built in 2009 by Northshore. Her current owner, Kayo, sails her single-handed and she too has just returned from Tassie.

Here are the two Vancouvers sitting majestically in Blackwattle Bay, Sydney: two proper British yachts!

Sunset in Blackwattle Bay, with the full moon rising 

So, once again, we ask: what are the chances of two Vancouver Yachts being anchored in a bay on the opposite side of the world to where they were built?

Friday, 10 March 2017

Dark skies and big waves

We are now back in Sydney and are delighted that the water in Blackwattle Bay is flat; it was anything but as we sailed up the coast from Bermagui. We did two, long day-sails, stopping in Jervis Bay (arriving after dark) and then Cronulla, noticing, with some dismay, the difference that the south-going current made to our speed compared to the trip down the coast in January. The sea swell was also building this week so our dash northwards to get to Sydney before the southerlies switched to northerlies was enlivened by some pretty serious up and down motion, whilst the sky was full of some very foreboding clouds.

These clouds carried plenty of rain, which was preceded by a significant increase in wind. We were kept busy with reefing and un-reefing the sails

The wind was behind us but blew pretty consistently at between 20 and 25 knots, with gusts of around 30. With a steadily increasing SE swell, the waves were pretty impressive but, of course, always look smaller in photos!

As we moved closer up the coast towards Sydney on Thursday, we had a good view of the famous surf beach at Bondi and some valuable real estate that's probably not fully appreciated by its tenants:

The beach at Bondi on a windy and cloudy Thursday. It'll be packed at the weekend when the sun is forecast to return.
A few acres of otherwise prime development land just south of Bondi is the last resting place of early settlers
As we turned into Sydney Heads, the entrance of the huge harbour, we met one of the big Sydney to Manly ferries nosing out into the swell. We're not sure if they do this to avoid being side-on to the waves as they cross the entrance or whether it's the crew getting their kicks from showing nervous passengers how much the ferry can roll!

The ferry rolls as it turns back into the harbour
For the two of us on Maunie, we we were delighted to get into the sheltered waters and we had a brilliant sail up past the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge, only starting the engine once we were in the lee of the tall buildings near Darling Harbour.

Our sailing under the Harbour Bridge was noticed -
more on another rather unbelievable coincidence that followed to come in the next update
 We'll be here in Sydney for a week or so to catch up on boat jobs and to see some more sights of this vibrant city. Today we combined the two and took the long fast cat ferry ride up river, as far as it's possible to navigate, to Parramatta to drop our SSB radio off for (we hope) a repair. It was a good day out and we were glad to leave the navigation to someone else, for once.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

"Push on, Push on. You can sleep when you're dead" - Capt Barbossa, Pirates of the Caribbean

“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow” – Charlotte Brontë

Well, Miss Brontë, with respect, I suspect that you, living as you did in the land-locked Yorkshire village of Haworth in the mid-1800’s (when it probably wasn’t de-rigeur for Ladies to venture anywhere near sailing boats), never experienced a pillow as restless as the ones on Maunie for the past 3 days.

We are now safely in the fishing town of Bermagui after the 3 day passage from Tassie. Bermagui (pronounced, of course, with a rising inflection at the end) is probably known as Bermie to the locals. It’s an Australian habit to shorten words and give them an ‘”ee” sounding ending (Tassie for instance); we watched the TV news when we first arrived here and were slightly perplexed when the reporter told us that the Firies had attended a nasty car crash somewhere. Firies? What the feck are Firies? Ah, yes, I see: firefighters….

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, the passage went as well as we could hope for in terms of weather – great sailing for the first 24 hours up the east coast of Tasmania, then 14 hours of motor-sailing through the high pressure ridge, where the wind was just enough to give the engine some assistance, and then excellent broad reaching and running up the SE corner of the mainland. The south-running current was a pain, as expected, flowing at up to 2 knots at times so, in spite of boat speed of around 7 knots (very happy with that) we seemed to be crawling northwards at times against a travellator switched to go the wrong way. The challenge for us, though, was the waves.

The Bass Strait is notorious not only for the wild Roaring Forties winds which can whistle through it if one picks the wrong moment, but also for the confused and uncomfortable seas it delivers as an added benefit to miserable seafarers. It’s shallow, you see, and is subject to sea swells refracting around the top of Tassie, as well as current-driven, short-interval waves. The maritime weather forecasts here give no less than three wave patterns at the same time: the First Swell is the main direction of the big waves, usually from the Southern Ocean, then there’s a Second Swell, often at 90 degrees to the First Swell, and then finally there are the Seas, the wind-driven waves which can often run in an entirely different direction to either of the Swells. So for, example, today’s forecast for the waters here is:

1st Swell: Southeasterly 1 to 1.5 metres, increasing to 1.5 to 2 metres.
2nd Swell: East to northeasterly below 1 metre, increasing to 1 to 1.5 metres
Seas: 2 to 3 metres.

This kind of mix made life interesting aboard Maunie.

“Insomnia is a gross feeder. It will nourish itself on any kind of thinking, including thinking about not thinking” – Clifton Fadiman

For this passage, of course, we didn’t have the luxury of crew to break up the night watches into an eminently-sensible 2 hours on, six hours off arrangement – Suzie and Roald, where were you when we needed you? With just the two of us, we were back to 4 on, 4 off at night which means that, by the time you’ve done a watch handover and got in to bed (and allowing for the need to be up 10 minutes before the next watch), the off watch gives you only three and a half hours to get some sleep. 

Oh yes, get some sleep, with the boat bouncing in three directions, the water rushing past the hull beside your head and various creaks, groans and rattles emanating from various parts of the hull. “Must get some sleep, must get some sleep!” you tell yourself but, by then, your mind is churning through all sorts of subjects. I found myself thinking about boat maintenance jobs, the plans of how to leave Maunie safely tied up to the pontoon when we fly home in April, the jobs that need to be done on the cottage when we return and, uh, oh, what was that funny noise just then? “Just stop thinking!!” I tried but, as Mr Fadiman said, that very act seems to require concentration that diverts the mind from the concept of accepting the oblivion of deep sleep.

So we both lived the half-life of sleep deprivation for most of the voyage and it was surprisingly debilitating. It also had some distinctly odd side effects – when we did manage to sleep we woke (or were woken at the end of the too-short off-watch) from that period of sleep that creates maximum dreams. We both refrained from sharing too much detail for fear of scaring the other but Graham did admit to a lurid dream of going to visit our storage unit for our furniture back in Somerset to find it transformed into some kind of subterranean grotto with small but vicious purple-winged bats hanging from the ceiling! To make him feel better, Di shared her dream of visiting various bakeries in an Australian town to check that they each had the right amount of cream cakes; if not, she made sure more were delivered. Ummm?!

Even when awake, the tiredness delivered some odd moments, chief among which is the moment when you Hear the Voices. We should point out at this moment, lest you think we’ve completely lost the plot, that we not alone in Hearing the Voices on board a boat; other sailing friends have admitted it too. It’s still quite disconcerting, though. What happens is that, typically, you are up in the cockpit and from somewhere deep in the boat, you can just hear a noise that sounds just like a conversation but without being quite able to make it out. In the past we have both called down to the off-watch partner, thinking that they were the source but, since that wakes them up from their half-sleep and makes them even more grumpy, we now wait, come below to check that the radio hasn’t suddenly burst into life and then realise that it’s just a pan squeaking against its neighbour in the galley locker and, apparently, saying “honestly, I just don’t know how they cope”.

So, arrival into Bermie was a blessing and we celebrated, Aussie-style, with a Sunday lunch of pie, peas and prosecco.

We’re tied up alongside a 60ft fishing vessel undergoing a refit and her crew were very friendly and helpful as we came alongside. 

We had planned to head off early this morning to head further up the coast whilst the southerly winds prevail but today’s forecast is for strong winds and big seas so we decided a lie-in and some general recuperation would be more important. At least, that’s what the voices in the galley locker told us, and who are we to argue?

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Leaving Tasmania (if we get past the guard dogs!)

We are very sad to be leaving Tassie after a wonderful four and a half weeks. We've only scratched the surface of the place and the summer (which the locals all rated as 'poor' when we arrived) has now decided to deliver the goods. However, we have an eye on the calendar and another on the weather forecast and it looks as though the next few days will present us with a good window to cross the Bass Strait.

Our anchorage tonight is a slightly eerie place called Eaglehawk Neck. The view from the masthead this afternoon, as we completed a rig safety check, showed a glimpse of the open ocean across a narrow spit of land:

Looking due east towards Eaglehawk Neck
However, when you have a look at the place on Google Earth, its rather macabre history becomes much more understandable. This was once the natural barrier to prevent 19th Century convicts from escaping incarceration.

Maunie is anchored at the yellow square

A closer view of Eaglehawk Neck
To the south of this narrow spit of land is the Tasman Peninsula, which became the home for many hundreds of unhappy convicts. Port Arthur, photos of which we posted a couple of weeks ago, was the main prison and workhouse and lies at the southern end. The narrow neck of land provided the only, easily patrolled, link to the rest of Tasmania and ferocious dogs were chained up across it to deter any would-be freedom-seekers. The waters either side of it would be an option, of course, but the word was put out that they were stiff with sharks and, in any case, in the 1870's most people didn't learn to swim (and certainly not how to swim when manacled with heavy leg irons!).

For Maunie, this is a perfectly sheltered spot to allow us to prepare for the 3-day passage north. Graham has dived under the hull to clean it of speed-reducing weed and barnacles (and reported no sharks, thankfully) whilst the forward fridge is now running as a freezer with some pre-prepared meals already stashed in it. The latest lasagne (a favourite on-passage meal) has a slightly different key ingredient (locally sourced of course):

Tomorrow we head north via a shortcut, rather than having to 'retrace our steps' around the often rough seas of Tasman Island. We are going through the Denison Canal, built in 1905 to give coastal vessels a very welcome alternative route to and from Hobart. Today the entrance to Blackman Bay to the north-east has silted up fairly badly so only small boats can get through - we'll have to wait until a couple of hours after low water and will have to follow the buoyed channel very carefully so we've planned to do it on a rising tide, just in case we get in wrong and touch the mud! We're secretly hoping that we'll be able to follow a local boat!

The hand-dug canal at Dunally is about 900m long and transfers us into Blackman Bay 

The Narrows look as though they might be a bit challenging!!
Once through this little chicane, we'll sail north towards Wineglass Bay, where we first made our Tasmanian landfall, and then north to the SE corner of mainland Australia.

The weather models suggest that we'll get a healthy southerly wind on Thursday night and Friday but then a high pressure ridge will pass over us so there'll be a bit of a wind hole. We are hoping to get the timing right in order to cross that with minimal motoring and then get more ESE winds on the west side of the High (winds go anticlockwise around Highs here, of course) to push us up to the New South Wales coast. We'll see - we seldom get it entirely right but we'll be happy to do some motoring rather than bashing into heavy winds and seas. It'll come as a bit of a shock, as well, to have just the two of us aboard - four-hours-on, four-hours-off night watches won't compare to the two-on, six-off luxury of the sail down with Suzie and Roald!

As ever, we'll be updating our position on yit.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall as we cross.