Saturday, 20 May 2017

Sailing Around Sydney

'Twas a stormy afternoon that our noble mariners completed the crossing from Lord Howe Island and passed beneath North Head.

All those island adventures behind them, and so many more ahead! Sydney Harbour; Port Jackson, Pinchgut Island and the Rocks; relics from the convict days. We followed in the footsteps of the great explorers, although what we found was very different to the scenes that had greeted them back in the 18th and 19th centuries.

We made landfall at the Middle Harbour Yacht Club, of which George and I had been members in past years, and who gratifyingly actually remembered us! They allowed us to tie up to the end jetty for a very reasonable price, and enjoy all the club's facilities.

The weather was not the best; storms rolled across Sydney ahead of a series of cold fronts. Fortunately, Sydney Harbour has many inlets and bays in which to shelter. The maritime service has laid courtesy moorings; first come, first served; to which you can tie up for 24 hours at a time. We found moorings all around the place, and except for Saturday nights, when everyone with a boat comes out to play, we found moorings almost every time we needed one (the location and number of moorings are shown in the black circles below).

We discovered that the moorings were regularly maintained, as well as being situated in some of the most beautiful parts of the harbour.

Sugarloaf bay was especially useful; very sheltered in even the strongest winds, and a great place to hole up for a couple of days while the rain poured down.

Although it did entail numerous trips back and forth through the Spit Bridge. Having waited in traffic so many times while the Spit Bridge opened and closed, it was gratifying to be the one for whom it opened!

As the weather improved, our visitors began to arrive. First were Simon and Jess, who took to the boat as if she were born to the ocean.

Jess loved her fashionable life jacket and even took to sleeping in it.

We all tried our hand at fishing, in the front yard of some of Sydney's most exclusive real estate.

When Jess caught her first fish, she didn't know whether to laugh or scream!
 We motored around Sydney Harbour, admiring the sights.

We were hosted by Ron and Cecily at The Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron (see Alchemy 1 in the background), where we also met up with Sonia and Lucy.

 But the greatest fishing adventures were ahead, with the advent of William and Tom; whose exploits will be legendary for many moons to come.
Tom and William were with us for a week, and David joined us for the last few days. We left no part of Sydney Harbour untouched.

No fish in there, boys.

Deckhand David.

But is was the fishing - oh, the fishing - that stays with me.

Tom was the flathead specialist. He had the "knowin'", you see. No sooner than he threw his line in the water, the flatties would leap upon it.

William, too, was also a fine and dedicated fisherman. He always weighed and measured the catch.

Fair weather and foul, William wielded the rod. But it was with the crabs that he found his fame. For Will had no need of lines and nets. William caught blue swimmers with his fingers! One look at those nippers would make Batman quail, and a pinch would make Superman cry, but not our William.

My best friend from school, Sue, and her husband, Zol joined us for an afternoon.

 Tom left us with a poem.

 Our next visitors were Simon and Carina, and we demonstrated how arduous life is on the high seas.

Carina, a natural skipper.
Then we greeted my mother and father, Susan and Michel.

A colourful end to a wonderful stay in the most beautiful harbour on earth.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Volcano Nobody Noticed (Lord Howe Island; Part 1)

 Lord Howe Island started life as a shield volcano; rising from the ocean around 7 million years ago. It was first sighted in 1788 by Lt Henry Lidgard Ball, commander of the first fleet ship, HMAS Supply. There is no evidence that the island was ever previously inhabited, suggesting it was, until then, undiscovered. Which is not really surprising, seeing as it is in the middle of nowhere.

Administratively part of NSW, it lies in the Tasman Sea, 370 nautical miles east of Port Macquarie. But as we weren't in Port Macquarie; rather, we decided to stop in on our way south from Brisbane; it was 385 miles from Southport, and 416 miles from Sydney Harbour. Fifty-four hours out, and 58 hours back; give or take.

This was our longest ocean voyage to date, so we recruited two extra crew members, Geoff and Rod, to help out. Neither of them had been to Lord Howe Island before, and we were all quite excited by the prospect.

Rod, Geoff and George contemplating the genset locker.
Our departure date was completely dependent on the weather, so we only had about 3 days notice of a travel-window opening, and when the time came we grabbed it. Geoff stepped aboard at sunrise, we motored from Manly Boat Harbour to Southport, Rod flew in from Melbourne and, literally, hopped aboard at Southport Yacht Club as we bounced off the jetty (we didn't even tie up). The wind was favourable and ten minutes later, we were sailing out the Southport Seaway with an honour-guard of bottlenose dolphins.

Sailing into the blue.
All was plain sailing at first, with a decent knot southerly. We screeched along at 10 knots and wondered whether we would break some sort of record getting there! That changed as the sea built and the wind swung more to the east. We kept correcting our course and eventually settled for motor-sailing at an angle of about 30 degrees. Unfortunately, we were now heading into a building swell, causing an uncomfortable pounding that didn't bother our fearless crew, but upended our two mascots; leaving them looking decidedly the worse for wear!

 On our second night at sea, the engines started to play up. It was a problem that had plagued us for some months; a raft of sludge in the fuel tanks that blocked the filters when shaken up by rough conditions. George spent many hours in the engine wells, dismantling the filter system, blowing through lines, checking fuel nozzles and replacing filters. By the end of it, he and Rod knew Alchemy's diesel system far more intimately than they might ever have hoped and certainly more than they cared for.

"Danger, Will Robinson!"
Geoff and I thought the Racor filter housing showed more than a passing resemblance to the robot from Lost in Space, but our crewmates seemed unimpressed.

As we continued into the swell, reliant on one engine or the other, depending on which was working at the time, the waves began to thump the bridge deck disconcertingly; as if delivering a passing kick to help us along; sending coffee cups flying and making me lift the carpet to check the floor was still intact. Our spirits lifted, however, when we raised Mt Gower on the horizon.

"Land Ho!"
People often ask, "How far away can you see land when you're at sea." It depends, largely, on the curvature of the earth and the height of the land mass. As a rough rule, the visible distance (in nautical miles) = 1.17 x the square root of the height (in feet). As Mt Gower is 2800 feet high, you should, under perfect conditions, start to see it about 62 nautical miles out (about 9 hours at our usual speed). But because of the swell, sea haze, and clouds about the peak, we didn't recognise it until we were about 40 miles away. Due to unfavourable wind, and engine problems, we didn't reach Lord Howe until late afternoon on the third day, but the local police were very helpful in guiding us in over the radio and we had enough light to navigate to a mooring at the north end of the lagoon, where we gratefully tied up to await a predicted gale-force easterly. No anchoring is allowed in the lagoon, so prearranging a mooring is virtually mandatory.

 As it turned out, the Easterly would stay with us for almost a week; only dying down on the day we decided to sail home (but more of that later). We were tired and fairly quiet as we ate dinner and, due to the fact we'd had two alcohol-free nights (it's hard to keep your balance at sea even when sober), a large amount of whisky and red wine was consumed and everyone was in bed by about 7 pm.

I woke the next morning to a spectacular sunrise.

The weather was wet and windy, but we escaped ashore on the second day for a walk through the town and into the fields to examine the wreck of a Catalina flying boat from 1948 (Catalina Crash on Lord Howe Island). The tragedy claimed 7 RAAF crewmen and the remains of the airplane share a picturesque hill with a herd of black cattle. 

The boys inspect an engine from the Catalina.
The wreckage is scattered across this hill; a sad yet scenic sight.
Looking back across the lagoon towards Mt Gower.

The weather improved a little the next day and we went for a dive in North Bay. No spearfishing allowed in the Marine Park, but that means there are still plenty of fish to look at.

George helps Geoff into his wetsuit, with encouraging comments from Rod.
Underwater wonderland.
Hump-headed Wrasse.
Butterfly Cod and quizzical neighbour.
Angels all around us.
George swimming above a large puffer fish who'd taken up residence next to a mooring chain.
After diving, it was on to exploring the island, launching a ferry service and opening the Alchemy Restaurant to many new friends, but more of that in Part 2.