Banyandah lies alongside one of the friendliest clubs in Australia, a stone’s throw from a mangrove forest alive with herons, pelicans, grebes, and cormorants. Peace reins supreme after yesterday’s fierce fifty-mile passage, now nearly a forgotten memory, except for the fantastic speeds that made it possible to make the high tide necessary to traverse the seven demanding miles through the mud flats of Barker Inlet.
This is as far as we’ll sail this season, our flight home to nine grandchildren, our sons and their lovely ladies has been booked for the 5th of June. That gives us a week to clean everything, pack away our sails, running rigging, life raft, and outboard, and of course our favourite toy, the Green Machine.
Last night, Judith sharpened her pencil and perused our logbooks, coming up with the following stats for the last twelve months of adventure. She says we travelled just a smidgen short of seven thousand miles, leaving Ballina on the north coast of New South Wales and sailing up through the Coral Sea to Australia’s furthest possession more than 550 miles offshore, then we went on to the tippy top at Cape York, across the Arafura Sea to Darwin and through the Kimberley. After that we battled down the West Australian Coast, rounded notorious Cape Leeuwin, the world’s third most feared, and onwards to Albany reaching there midday on Christmas for good times with old friends. In Albany we took a six weeks break, flying to Tasmania for a film shoot then home for three short weeks to cuddle family. Returning we challenged the Great Australian Bight to Port Lincoln, and now have at last completed the final leg into South Australia’s capital city of Adelaide. Phew! Makes us dizzy just writing that many destinations. No wonder we’re a wee bit knackered.
In doing those miles, our new Manson BOSS anchor went to the bottom nearly a hundred times firmly holding our ship against all seas and winds, except for one and half times when it lost its grip. The half we think it would have regained its hold, but we moved instead as the wind had done an about face. Thinking of planet Earth and our pocketbook, our engine consumed 743 litres of fuel, which even though that sounds a bit, equates to about 743 miles of motoring. Comparing that to the miles travelled indicates we used wind power to sail nearly 90% of those miles. – We’re chuffed with that achievement. Our three 80 watt solar panels provided all our electrical power, and Sir Aries steered us all the way, needing but a few drops of lubricating oil.
Voyage from Port Lincoln
A week without wind followed the very lovely two-day stay of Tim and Anna and their two iconic little ones. What a treat to see this young couple make the transformation from free spirited adventurers to parents truly in rapture with their new roles. Not once did we hear a lament about loss of freedom. Instead we witnessed the complete fascination that we experienced many years ago when we took our children off to explore the world. Home schooling was a hot topic on board. Regrettably, the still quiet days following their visit made their absence even more melancholy and the anchorage in front of Port Lincoln seemed lifeless. So upon waking one morning Jude announced we were shifting up Boston Bay to North Shield, namesake of her childhood town, and promptly started the donk then set off, leaving Jack below writing.
North Shield is a small gathering of houses around a pub on the shores of a shallow bay fronted by a long crescent shaped beach. Jude waved to a few fishing off its timber jetty then kept going to the very furthest reaches of Boston Bay. For as far as the eye could see stretched sand and low scrub, except directly in front of us where an inviting wind blown sand dune tempted us. Once that was explored, we again felt restless, and without wind in the foreseeable future, we felt powerless to change that spiritless feeling.
May 19th ~ Machinery Troubles
The next day, Jack decided we should burn the fuel to motor nearly twenty mile out to an anchorage in the Joseph Banks Group, hoping that we’d find some Nature and critters. Who knows, we might even find better fishing, and better scenery to paddle around in our Green Machine. In a roar our straight six Perkins fired up and we were slipping towards the far point when Jack, ever thoughtful of his machinery called out, “Ladders Away!” It’s a safety warning so Jude knows that he’ll be removing the stern cabin ladder to duck through the aft engine room doors.
Imagine Jack’s alarm when reaching to grease the raw water pump he saw a steady stream of salt water coming out the end of our heat exchanger. Like a car’s radiator, a heat exchanger cools the fresh water circulating through the diesel engine. Inside its long copper tube, salt water flushes around smaller tubes carrying the engine’s fresh water. In a dash, Jack rushed topsides to swing our lady towards the shore where in shallow water he plonked down the BOSS anchor.
After the engine room cooled, Jack tried to jury fix the leak, but after the sealant cured overnight, upon starting our engine the next morning the stream of saltwater still pissed out the heat exchanger. A total extraction of the offending machinery followed, accompanied by many grunts and expletives from Jack. Closer examination found the leak to be through a corroded solder joint between the end piece and outside tube. Being miles from an engineering shop, in an effort to seal the joint Jack set to work with his only source of heat, our camping stove. But thinking this only half-successful, he squeezed some blue silicon sealant around on the inside then reassembled the lot uttering silent prayers.
The next morning, holding our breaths, we fired up our Perkins and beamed when Jack gave thumbs up, and away we putt-putted to Stickney Island, a four-hour motor. Stickney is tiny and low, but has a lovely open bay that would give us protection from what we hoped would be a slight north breeze. We arrived in time to launch the Green Machine and paddled around the island looking for sea lions but saw only Cape Barren Geese and a mass of beautiful rock with breaking surf. Later that night Penguins serenaded us. Noisy critters, don’t they ever sleep!
May 22nd ~ Wedge Island
Expecting a sailable breeze we departed early next day motoring south searching the cloudless sky for any hint of wind. Drone, drone, monotonous diesel noises saw Stickney disappear and then our destination slowly rise above the flat horizon. At noon a ruffle upon the flat sea rewarded our patience and immediately Jack pulled the kill rope for the Perkins, leaving us wallowing and going no-where fast. Jack’s a persistent bugger and amazingly Sir Aries humours him by steering our ship at speeds slower than any crippled man can crawl. Or maybe Jack is psychic for the wind gained strength until we worried the open anchorage at Wedge Island might not be tenable. In the end, late that day we sailed wing and wing into the shallows off the few houses on Wedge, and miraculously as the anchor went down with the sun, the wind evaporated.
Catching squid at Wedge is simple. Fling the jig in the water and wait a few minutes. Yum! We tried a new recipe for this insipid creature – Ginger Squid Japanese Style, Ika Shoga Yaki.
Against all odds, next morning a light west wind was begging to be put to work so in quick time we raised sails to fast drift toward West Cape Bay, our next destination. We had tried anchoring there once before, at about the same time of year, but had nearly lost our boat in the attempt. This area of South Australia is exposed to the Southern Ocean and the huge swells that are generated by storms not seen far to the south. This time though, conditions had been quiet for some time and the ripples moving us and down were hardly more than a metre. The other time, a gale had just gone through and we’d had six and eight metres of power rushing across the sea.
May 23rd ~ West Cape Bay
Surprisingly, patience provided a reward in that we sailed every inch of the twenty miles to reach West Cape Bay by late afternoon, in time to try fishing for flathead in the huge sand patch under our boat.
Next morning, a brisk north breeze ruffled the waters calling out like a siren to sail to a new location, but instead we launched our favourite toy to explore the impressive sandstone and calcareous cliffs behind us.
This kayak has widened our horizons immensely. One can only see so much from the boat and walking the shores gives just an additional, rather narrow view of the magical kingdom we visit. But the Green Machine needs only inches to float and is so stable we feel safe next to breaking waves, therefore we can paddle close to the interface between land and sea, and marvel at the life calling the inter-tidal region their home. At the same time it is ever so comfortable to paddle, hopefully in unison, which adds to the pleasure. In this way we have explored rivers and bays, and farther out in the ocean where we’d never dare go in an open dinghy. We often paddled for hours, which helps keep our upper bodies in tone, giving us the joy of feeling muscular and frisky even though we approach our seventh decade on Earth.
West Cape Bay lies just north of Cape Spencer at the bottom of the Yorke Peninsula, which Matthew Flinders called the “ill shaped boot.” It’s that bit of land, long and slender, separating the two gulfs of South Australia. After our vigorous paddle, often interrupted by Jude clicking the shutter of her new camera, we returned home, winched the Green Machine onto the foredeck then raised sail to be whisked away at an exciting pace.
There was enough power in the ocean to break majestically in white curtains upon the mellow yellow cliffs, and upon hidden rocks that lay waiting to claim an unwary prize. At increasing speed we rounded the cape on a high like a druggy getting an overdue fix. Faster and faster the breeze strengthened until we thought we could make a further destination before darkness spoiled our fun. And so we watched the tall, steep Althrope Island slip astern and then with the wind coming directly off the land, we enjoyed a pleasure often remembered in our most cherished dreams, sailing fast in clam seas with winds from land close enough to see and inspect. All that day we sat in glee, giving ourselves a little pinch as we closely watched the electronic device tell us how fast, and more importantly, how far we had to go to a our next anchorage.
Miraculously we negotiated the shallows guarding the lonely, out of the way cove called Davenport as the sun sank below the flat horizon. Then in last light, the Boss went down in shallow water encumbered by heavy ribbon weed, home we knew to many squid. It took only a few minutes before one silly critter mistook our make believe lure for a real fish and became our dinner.
Every day on this voyage Jack studied the weather map and forecasts and kept saying that we’d be taking the winds generated from a cold front to cross the Gulf of St Vincent to Adelaide. The front was expected to strike Tuesday, two days ahead. Therefore when a light northerly blew mid-morning the next day, he became enamoured to shorten the distance to our kickoff point at Edithburgh on the Adelaide side of the Yorke Peninsula.
The last few miles into Edithburg turned out to be much like the last time. A storm was coming, rain fell and the sky was dark and forbidding, but there was no wind. We motored the four hours, rounding Troubridge Point into the Gulf of St Vincent then negotiated the sand flats into the anchorage by way of Sultana Passage. Unlike travel by car, every movement of a vessel is subject to decisions and discretion. There are no painted white lines on the sea. When fortunate to be in a well-marked area, there are beacons. That means we are on deck searching for these marks, and even after finding one we are watching our depth instrument to ensure not grounding our vessel, which is nothing like running our of fuel on a country road. The approaching storm had already sent harbingers to warn us. Big black rolls of power herald its coming. If we grounded on some unseen shoal, our ship might pound the bottom time and again. Then what?
But, even this little drama provided nothing more than an increased heartbeat until we secured a mooring off Edithburgh. Meanwhile deeper black clouds rolled towards us from the west. All that evening Jack studied the weather information from several sources. The one he trusts most is the Australian Bureau of Metrology. They provide three sources of information. One is their standard mariners forecast, which said to expect northwest winds tomorrow, up to 30 knots. Their beta program MetEye said the wind would blow north overnight then change to northwest before dawn. Strong north winds wouldn’t do. They’d be too close to our destination. To try crossing with them would court disaster, bringing us upon a lee shore in strong gusty conditions. Jack had decided we’d only go when the wind turned northwest.
That night we went to bed early after setting the alarm for 5AM. If we got away before six, sailing at five knots we had a chance of making the Black Pole by 2 PM, and that would give us a couple of hours to negotiate the tricky shallow part of the Barker Channel before the tide began to fall.
We slept until one AM then the bouncing of our home started making a racket. Jack got up to silence a banging headsail pole. An hour later he got up again to bring home the anchor released to allow the mooring line to reach our bit. Between all the noise, and up and down motion, we got very little sleep attested by hearing the ringing of our ship’s clock strike every half hour. You may think we are sufficiently experienced to be impervious to worry and concern, but nothing could be further from the reality that we too are subject to the unpredictable forces of Nature.
Before the alarm sounded Jack was up making a coffee before firing up his netbook to check the latest weather information. Our compass still pointed north, as it had every time he’d looked during the black wet night. The outlook worried him. Weather stations up and down the Gulf were reporting moderately light north winds as they had all night. Gloomily Jack said he might have to come up with an alternate plan and began to delve into the next few days forecasts. It seems following the front the winds would dissipate and shift to a headwind, meaning unless the wind soon shifted northwest we’d be left with a long voyage under lessening breeze. He thought if the wind shift came late in the day we might sail up the coast to Stansbury and lessen the distance across the gulf then attempt the crossing the following day.
While Jude dozed in bed, our clock chimed seven bells. Jack continued refreshing the station reports hoping he’d see a shift in the wind. Then at a quarter to eight, Nature gave him his wish. A squall came through lashing us with heavy rain, and jumping up into the cockpit, he saw our compass pointing NW. After the squall passed he refreshed his screen and saw reports of the wind shift up and down the gulf.
“Out of bed my sweet,” he gave her a shake. “We’re off, and fingers crossed the wind stays fair for us.”
We didn’t get away at six as planned but left at eight, motoring-sailing into a bumpy head sea created by the night’s wind. To the west over the land, grey cloudbanks were fringed with gold lining, a few dropped black curtains of rain. Ahead, a large anchored ship waited to load grain at Port Giles in Wool Bay. As we passed its stern, we shut down our engine. Now well away from the land, the breeze had stiffened, creating white topped wavelets that tried to hop aboard. Under a double reefed mainsail and full headsail, Banyandah raced forward at over seven knots. That’s getting near her top speed with winds off the beam. An hour later with land nowhere in sight, the real wind began to batter us, increased seas slopped high, blowing spume across our decks. It was time to roll in some of headsail to get our lady more upright and more manageable. Faster and faster we flew. Our log touched then passed eight knots in the squalls. Jack never left the helm although Sir Aries steered a somewhat straight course, but the squalls sent it into an overload tizzy, and we’d round up in what was then near gale conditions. At those times, Jack would help by adding his weight to the helm. Several times he’d race aft between flying wetness to click us right or left to maintain a straighter course, mumbling when he returned to our dry, safe cockpit that he wished he’d rigged the extension lines to Sir Aries adjusting head. And although he held the lines in his hands for a long time, he never took the chance of getting a good wetting by going aft to rig them. Instead, he’d watch the sea for a calmer patch then race back to click his much loved device.
In the end, it became a fairytale ending to a magnificent voyage around Australia. Like a pedigreed greyhound, Banyandah raced to the Black Pole at the head of Barker Inlet, barely seen in the sea of white whipped up by the day’s strongest winds that then blew over 35 knots. Handing the mainsail and lashing it to the boom, we flew round the mark in shallow water a little over twice our draught then raced for the even skinnier water at hull speed.
Once behind the mud shoals, the big seas subsided although the wind continued its fury. Jude hand steered while Jack spied ahead through the glasses to find the next port or starboard marker. Jude steers, Jack screams. “More Right!” “Left Now!” And so we proceeded at a scary fast pace through the mudflats at the top of the tide. Running off line into the flats would be rather disastrous with this much wind and top of the tide, but unerringly we worked together like a well-oiled team. It brings tears to our eyes to reflect upon such a wonderful experience. The rest is much in the same vein. Alongside at Garden Island Yacht Club, calm conditions, we were greeted by our dear friend Bosun John who gladly joined us in a tipple of the best South Australian red wine that he’d brought to welcome us back.