Voyage to King Island

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Blog of Jack and Jude
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Escape from Macquarie Harbour
After nearly two years of peace and security inside Macquarie Harbour, the word daunting came to mind when we considered leaving that safe haven to sail the wild Southern Ocean. For such a long time our ship had been a palace of serenity surrounded by beauty, so just thinking of leaving that behind and trading it for the unexpected to forge across some of the most feared waters in Australia had our brains mentally shivering with weird thoughts of a dismasting or cracking open our fifty-year-old hull.

Pre-voyage rig check

Pre-voyage rig check

For sure Jude and I have earned our sea-legs, little used these last 22 months. But, oh my, as we prepared our ship and ourselves for the challenge we wondered if we were up to the task. Mind, the weather ahead looked good, a mere 20 to 25 knots with the wind right behind for the period of our exposure. And while that meant we’d be rolling like a pendulum suffering heartburn, all we’d have to do is hang on and let our ship take the punishment.

Decision made, announcements proclaimed, we had to go. Or did we? A little saunter to the green forested hills bordering the fabulous Gordon River seemed an attractive alternative. But no, it was best we test our once mighty sea legs. And so, with a little cuddle in the cockpit we promised each other that we’d take it easy, rather than suffer a fall and break another bone, or worse, suffer a compound fracture when far off Tasmania’s west coast.

When the first weather window arrived, we passed it up as it came on the backside of a middling LOW that was compressed by an emerging HIGH. Hmm, possibly a roaring lion with blustery conditions and rain, when what we really wanted was a purring pussycat. So we kept tackling our list of jobs, until three days later the perfect weather picture appeared on our screens – a big slow moving HIGH, a fat bubble more likely to bring steady winds.

After a better than expected sleep, the morning of our departure arrived bringing southerly winds laced with grey clouds dropping steady cold rain. Burr, it took a bit of insanity and plenty of pluck to climb onto the foredeck in pouring rain to roll up the awning and fold the sail cover, all the while wondering whether leaving another day wouldn’t be a better idea.

Dropping our mooring lines sealed our fate, especially when Jude pulled back the engine throttle to have Banyandah closing towards the narrow exit of our bay. Once out its protection and into Macquarie Harbour we found ourselves bashing into a head-sea with spray flying back at us that jerked our lazing eyelids wide open. It was a good thing the roar of the engine kept conversation to a minimum or we might have discussed letting this opportunity pass. But, made of tough stuff, we braved that cold wet with an eye on the ship’s clock as Banyandah crawled at a snail’s pace towards the channel leading to Hells Gate.

Wet and daunting

Wet and Daunting

Our day began to brighten once we turned into the channel and took the wind on our beam. Now our wind-assisted passage raised our speed to over seven knots, adding a new liveliness to our ship. As if that wind breathed new life into our sluggish ship, she took off like a greyhound, her motion responding to every blast adding even more excitement to shipboard life. And as she came to life, so did her crew. Smiles widened. Eyes brightened and our gaze searched ahead to the opening looking for the limitless horizon.

Across the sand flats lies Hells Gate

Across the sand flats lies Hells Gate

Assisted by a fast outgoing current, at lightning speed the infamous Gate approached while we took happy snaps and rushed about like headless chickens, checking again that everything on deck was double lashed for we were irreversibly going out into the wide blue ocean. Then, Whoosh! Out we went through that narrow gap that had put fear into so many long ago. But unlike those sorry convicts of the 1820s, our hearts were lifted towards the stratosphere to see such vast distances expand to infinity. This euphoric feeling increased dramatically when miraculously the wet misty rain suddenly ceased. It was as if the heavens had given us a “Get Out of Jail Card.” A fresh breeze now filled our sails, lifting us off that dangerous coast and setting us towards our destination one hundred and forty nautical miles up the coast.

Approaching Hells Gate

Approaching Hells Gate

Gone were the pleasant placid waters as Southern Ocean swells swept round Cape Sorell setting Banyandah rolling and swaying. But thankfully our bodies remembered the motion as the friend who had accompanied us on so many other adventures. With a widening smile, Jude swayed a jig in tune to its melody, while I played a rollicking tattoo with my feet trying to find balance. Then Sir Aries was engaged to take over the steering duties, letting two lovebirds embrace to celebrate successfully escaping those dangerous shores.

Cape Sorell Lighthouse

Cape Sorell Lighthouse

Long Hours of Sail Began
Then the long hours of sail began and straight away we were entertained by old friends when a pod of porpoise began cavorting back and forth across the bows, riding our bow wave. Oh, what a grand feeling it is to stand at the very front of our craft with unlimited views and feel the power of Nature driving us forward, and then gaze down to those beautiful sea creatures effortlessly matching our speed. And then be thrilled to see them roll over to exchange eye contact. We could communicate with them is our belief. Which begs the question of why do we humans put so little importance upon Earth’s other creatures? Hunt them, kill them, eat them, exterminate them seems human’s way. So is it any surprise that Jude and Jack think humanity is missing the boat?

After a small lunch, I stretched out for a Poppi nap while Jude stood head and shoulders above the dodger gazing at the passing sea and fluffy clouds replacing the dwindling shoreline. She had her big Panasonic in hand capturing images of Nature and the occasional Australasian Gannet with their gorgeous bright yellow head, brilliant white body, and long pointed beak dive bombing school fish close to our vessel. Snuggled in my bunk below, I could hear her oo’s and aahs rise all the louder when a majestic albatross glided past our rig with turned head to examine this new creature entering its domain.

We had promised each other that we’d play it conservative and so I sent Jude to bed when it was still sunny and bright at an early six o’clock. Aboard Banyandah, we change watch at midnight. Six hours on, six hours off watch. Long watches gives the off watch time to get a good rest. We don’t always sleep, quite often the first day we just rest, eyes closed, mind blank if we can. With Jude in bed, I picked up a handy book, in this case, “Longitude” by Dava Sobel. It’s an exceptional book about an amazing man, John Harrison, who created the first accurate sea going chronometer which made finding ship’s longitude possible. Rather amazing, his first clock was made entirely of wood!

About nine PM, we sailed past the Sandy Cape lighthouse flashing once every five seconds and should have changed course for King Island. But we were still taking the wind on our port quarter, and with our ship rocking smoothly, I left Sir Aries doing its thing instead of getting Jude up to gybe a sail to run downwind, figuring what’s a few miles off course with nearly a hundred to go.

At midnight, and now six miles further out to sea than our rhumb line, I got Jude up, and while she rubbed sleep from her eyes I made a yellowbrick waypoint and recorded the log then prepared myself for my first deck work at night in a very long time. I was still wearing our watch keeper’s safety belt comprising a high intensity strobe light, personal EPRIB, and a “Mobilert” pod that sets off a screeching alarm and logs the position if it should go underwater or loose contact with its controller. Nevertheless, I put a harness around my upper body, then a life jacket over that.

Before leaving we’d checked that the deck lights still worked, but it was so reassuring to see our decks bathed in good working light. Ours are LED which take little power, not like our old quartz halogen ones that we’d only leave on the briefest time needed.

New Course to Grassy
Our new course to Grassy Harbour would put the wind on our starboard aft, requiring gybing the mainsail then poling out the headsail. Doing that required the furling headsail be rolled in. Jude took control of the helm to do that, and then working together we rolled up the headsail after first blocking the wind from it with the main. Following that, gybing the main was easy-peasy, and with its restrainer secured on the port side, we were safe to run straight downwind while I snapped onto our lifeline to go forward to set the pole for the headsail. That also went smoothly as it should considering how many millions of times we’ve completed that task in all kinds of sea conditions. Then finally, out came the furling headsail to its full length, poled out opposite to the mainsail to sail wing n’ wing.

Reengaging Sir Aries, I again went forward, this time to check that all was good and correct, and to take up the slack on the pole downhaul that’s secured to our bollard. Then I checked that the pole was correctly against its mast attachment ring – which it wasn’t. We’ve got a customized arrangement for our two poles, one for each side that are permanently attached at their lower ends so that we don’t have to attach the pole to the mast, but just lower one using its topping lift. Occasionally the lower attachment slides off the bearing point and when that occurs the force is taken by lashings, which if left unchecked could wear. We don’t like that.

Sailor’s Nightmare
Chafe is a sailor’s nightmare leading to bigger problems. So I had Jude slacken the furler’s sheet while I gave the pole a shove into its proper place. Unfortunately, I was wearing new Ugg boots while doing that work while standing atop the upturned tinny, and I slipped. How easily accidents occur! In a flash, I was on my back, head next to the passing sea. No real problem really, unhurt, not even winded, but it could have been worse. Guess I’ll never be wearing those lovely warm Ugg boots while doing deck work ever again.

We "hot bed" the hammock on this voyage

We “hot bed” the hammock on this voyage

Work completed and a new course set and the dangers ahead noted, I setup the hammock fore and aft in the stern cabin, and then jumped in, a doona under and over me to keep warm. Amazingly, the sea was fairly gentle, just an easy rock back and forth that my mind soon shut out. Whacko, I fell fast asleep.

At first light, a little after five AM, I opened my eyes believing I was in a steady bed. But knowing how it would be once out the hammock, I turned over for a few more winks in heaven. Jude was nearly a zombie when I first saw her lying back against the settee struggling to stay awake, and after one quick cuddle saw her toddle off to hot-bed the hammock and instantly fall asleep.

Dodging Bell’s Reef to starboard with fishing lures trailing astern I hoped to attract a yummy yellow fin tuna. Alas, no strike! So, clicking Sir Aries a couple of times to port set us heading directly for Grassy Harbour 15 nautical miles ahead, a perfect 18 knot southerly breeze propelling us nicely towards our destination.

King Island
King Island, notorious for taking many lives in horrific sea catastrophes, was named after Governor Philip Gidley King by Captain Black in 1800, but was first discovered by Captain Reed in 1799 while hunting seals in the schooner Martha. Like all sailors should, Jack and Jude have a high regard for its treacherous coast and challenging weather. One slipup, like a trailing rope caught around a prop, in fact, just about any miscalculation can put lives and ship in harm’s way. With that knowledge, we double-checked our ship then together we went over our forward plan.

King Island is relatively low and flat, therefore sighting it, especially on that cloudy morning, was a long time coming. In our early sailing days using only a sextant to navigate, that would have been unsettling. But using today’s chart plotters, we simply watched our blinking icon creep closer, narrowing the distance to our destination.

The King Island coastal waters are dotted with isolated reefy bits, reminders that this is a dangerous place. Surprise Point is one. And many other horror points have been named for ships that crashed into these steeply rising rocky shores. “It’s like nature’s own mincer” says historian and author Luke Agati of the array of sharp and semi-submerged rocks just offshore. There have been hundreds of shipwrecks around the coast of King Island claiming over 1000 lives. Like the Cataraqui wreck in 1845 where only 10 survived, killing 400, a great many of whom were women and their children.

We’d chosen the southern entrance to Grassy Harbour even though it is a bit shallower than the channel north of an obstacle the locals call, Oh my God (Omagh) because it just suddenly appears when you’re right next to it. Doing this allowed us to hold the wind and not have to gybe the mainsail in difficult circumstances. Rolling up the furler as we came abreast of the hard to see Omagh Reef on our starboard side, Jude then shaped a course for the harbour entrance while I made ready to furl the mainsail. Like Harrison’s wooden clock, it all went to perfection and in a flash Banyandah was once again enjoying placid waters with beautiful scenery.

Our friends John and Lyn had organized the use of a mooring right in front of the sailing club, and its bright yellow disk made it easy to spy as we entered the harbour. So within minutes, we were easing our lady up to her new home, where Jude dangled the boat hook to retrieve the mooring’s painter.

Grassy Harbour

Grassy Harbour, King Island

Gosh, in a blink of just twenty-four hours, Hells Gate to Grassy Harbour, we could not have asked for a better first passage after 22 months “on the beach.”

We have taken much from this challenge. One, do your homework diligently. Have confidence by not being careless even when conditions are easy because Nature can pack a surprise for the arrogant. Plus we have taken renewed confidence with our masterful homebuilt craft that has plied the seas since ’73. She’s probably older than many of our readers. She’s a good vessel made of simple materials, easy to maintain, stout, and sea friendly, even if she likes to swish her tail at quartering seas, and roll a bit when the waves come from right aft.

Christmas is upon us in just a few short days. Another year is ending, bringing 2019 filled with the promise of many more encounters with this mighty creation we humans call Earth. We’d like to close out the year with this thought: Work hard for your dreams, never give up, otherwise there’ll be regrets. That’s always been our way and so believe us when we say, fulfilling your dreams is worth all the effort.