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Saturday, June 08, 2002

June 8, 2002, Arrival In Yamba

Sailing to Yamba

June 6.
The open ocean, the deep blue sea. WINGS is back at sea and we're sure in the middle of it now. Blowin' forty out here. Wasn't supposed to, more like twenty the forecast said. Well, the wind is 40 and over, we're doing 9.5 knots on a broad reach with just a reefed main. We're rockin' and rollin'. What can I say? Here we are, like it or lump it.

We cleared Sydney Heads at 8:20, course 038 true, northeast towards Yamba. A nice, clear day, blue sky, blue ocean, but the wind was sort of strong, and we expected it to drop. It didn't drop, it got stronger. Then we got a revised weather forecast. They announced a gale warning. That explained it. Too bad they couldn't have done that about two hours previously, before we got 15 miles north. No way to beat back to Sydney then, or even into Pittwater easily. We just carried on.

It blew all day and we stormed north. Then the sun went down and it got dark, really dark, no moon, and the wind picked up. We saw 48 knots several times and the boat surfed up into the 10's pretty often. I recorded 10.66. That's fast for just a reefed sail.
We ran off a little. This took us offshore, into the East Coast Current. It runs south, against us. We averaged 9 knots through the water but we were only going 7.5 over the bottom. Still fast though. We were making time, if not having fun.

Even in these conditions the boat took care of itself, we just sort of rode along, watching for ships, waiting for the wind to go down. Wishing for the wind to go down. We weren't having any problems, but going 9 and 10 knots wasn't relaxing. The noise is what gets you. First it is the wind. The wind howls. Then there is the sound of the water. At 10 knots this boat digs a big hole and throws a huge wave out either side. All that water moving around makes a sound like a waterfall. Constantly. Also you can hear the breakers coming, They roar and they hit the side of the boat with a thump and a cloud of spray envelops you. When you hear that roar, and then the thump, you duck.

June 7,

By daylight the wind was down to 20 and our speed was off to 7.8. That's OK. Life is a lot better at 7.8. I made some coffee and watched the sun come up.

By noon the wind was just about gone, and what there was came in from the north, right against us. Not enough to sail on either. So we dropped the sails and started motoring. A school of dolphins came alongside and escorted us for a while. We motored in by the shore to get out of the current.

Can't say I think much of the weather forecasting around here. Yesterday they said 20-30 and it blew 48. Today they are still saying 20-30, and it is only 6. The forecast for tomorrow is 20-30. I wonder what we'll get tomorrow?

June 8,

With dawn the second day came a new wind. It was a sudden gust which heeled the boat as I was making coffee. I went on deck to investigate and I found a cold, damp, 15 knot breeze blowing from the land. Most offshore breezes you get in the morning are warm, earthy. I wondered where this wind originated. It chilled me, like it came from a graveyard, but with it we could sail. When we trimmed in our speed went back to seven knots from our motoring rate of six, and we thought we might make the tide at Yamba.

We did make the tide and we came over the Clarence River bar at 9:00 on Monday and motored into Yamba, though not without a little drama. The chart showed a channel, which after some discussion, we followed. It was wrong. Too shallow. We ran into the mud and were lucky to get off since the falling tide would have left us there for the day had we not freed ourselves right away. I guess the chart makers and the weather forecasters have something in common. Then we took the alternate path, which Judy had endorsed from the beginning. This one worked, and soon we were tied up at berth C11 in the Yamba Marina.

This is nice. It is warmer than Sydney, and a lot quieter. The boat doesn't move at the dock. Now we'll organize a haul-out and prepare to go overseas.

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Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, Yamba


Wednesday, June 05, 2002

June 6, 2002-Departing Sydney Austraila

Not A Nice Morning

It was like we hooked onto an out-of-control, unstoppable, railway train when we passed Sydney Heads outbound on that June day in 2002 and found 40kts of cold hard off-shore wind blowing us north. In that breeze all we could do is hang on for dear life and wonder. “How did this happen?” There was no going back.

How did this happen indeed?

Blame it on the Aussie weather forecasters: Their recorded message for the previous 12 hours was for moderate winds, 10-15 knots, and we believed it.

Fools ‘R’ Us.

Now we know better but not back then. The blokes from down under must issue their forecasts in the evening, put it on automatic, and go home. Overnight the conditions might change but nobody at Bureau of Meteorology is paying attention.

So that morning we made our departure decision on bad data. By 09:00 we were two hours out of port and still hearing the same obsolete forecast on the radio. I wondered, “Why don’t these guys just look out the window?”

Actually they did just that: As soon as they got to work, drank their morning coffee, read the paper, and finally sat their lard asses down at their desks; they realized that it was blowin’ 40kts not 15kts and likely to get worse. They updated the forecast. “Heavy Westerlies to 45 knots with higher gusts this morning, easing tomorrow”. Now they tell us!

But by then the train was out of the station already and we were flying low, with less chance of getting free than of stopping a runaway engine. We had just a reefed main and the wind vane was doing it’s best to cope and barely managing and the boat speeds were in the nines. In our foulies we shivered in that cold blast and looked out under a dark grey sky that gave a little too much drama to the scene, as if we needed more drama, and we blessed the flat seas. Thank God for that small favor. But we shook our heads; this is not the way we wanted to start our passage to New Cal.

And it didn’t actually start that way if you consider the pleasant morning we had before hitting the ocean. Casting off from our berth in Pyrmont may at 07:00 and under the Sydney Harbor Bridge by 07:30 we had glorious, if admittedly cool, weather and in the bright sun we reveled in the conditions, were optimistic, blissful, happy to be underway again after two years in Australia, while charging into the maelstrom.

The logbook records the cold hard facts:

June 6.
0705 departing Syd, No change to the weather forcast this morning. last night's forcast was for moderate conditions. Conditions beautiful in the harbor, clear skies, nice breeze, but cool.

0820 At Sydney Heads: "We got a bit of wind here" we noted, 33kts from the W COG 27 SOG 8.42. We dropped the jib, then reefed.

0900 35-40 knots of true wind, we're going 9+ and this lasted 24 hours. Oh, at 0900 the Aussie weather guys finally noted that there were going to be strong winds. Thanks guys, we're already in the ocean 4 miles north of Sydney!

When we got into more wind outside the Harbor we reefed the main and waited for the wind to drop. “It’s just the wind funneling out through the Heads” I said, still believing the radio. “It’ll soon be down.”

Instead it got stronger; all day and all night.

21:00 "Dirty Night, black as can be, tons of wind".

Oh Yeah, remember this?

Somehow over the long months of working in Australia and dreaming of those sailing days as we wished them to be, not how they really, too often, are we forgot what cruising is really like. Some how we gotten it into our heads that sailing was going to be like the magazines: easy and carefree. Actually it’s often scary and cold and wet and hard work. Reality hit us in the face like the bright sun we had that morning. This isn’t that much fun.

But still we roared on, what choice did we have?

The wind was on the beam and the waves too, but the waves were small: no fetch. However after dropping the jib I wondered if we’d have problems with the unbalanced rig, main and no jib, in the beam wind, but the boat handled it fine. I marveled at how well the rudder and that strong stainless steel wonder on the back, the Monitor wind vane, were holding us, dealing with the overpowering conditions. I was glad for a big, powerful, spade.

I don’t say we relaxed, but at least we weren’t in fear for our lives. We settled down and waited for an easing of the conditions, which never came, but we didn’t panic.

And we did knock off the miles on that trip: Twenty four hours later we’d covered 175 miles even against the Southward flowing East Coast Current. Did we like it? During the day it was simply a fast ride we’d rather not be taking. At night it was dark, loud, and scary but we carried on, and didn’t turn in until Yamba. And no, we didn’t like it.

But we got through it.

Fred & Judy, S/V Wings, Australia

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