Sailing across the Tasman Sea - what is it really like on a passage
March 30th - Leaving Australia
We checked out of customs officially at 3.30 yesterday, the culmination of what seems like decades of dreaming and months of preparation.
This is it, we are finally leaving mainland Australia and are heading properly offshore to Lord Howe Island.
As is always the case prior to setting off for a few days sailing the last few days have been a whirlwind of provisioning, finalising jobs, laundry and co-ordination with our friend Dave who is joining us for this first passage. Tiffany, his wife, is planning to fly out to meet us on the island.
We have spent the last few weeks obsessively studying the weather, running our offshore Predict Wind weather routing and departure planning software and have settled on today March 3oth as the day of departure.
This passage can be as short as 2 days, its 320 nm, however we predict (or Predict Wind does) that it will take us 3 days. Due to the prevailing SE and NE winds we will start by heading south in a NE light wind for a day, tack and head NE for a day and then tack back to SE and head for the island.
All this zig zagging will take advantage of these light winds 5-15 knots and should see us have a slower but relatively comfortable passage.
As we say goodbye to the mainland we place bets on what time we will catch our last glimpses. Dave is spot on with his guess of 9.30 aided by low cloud and light rain, Jamie and I’s guesses of 12 and 12.30 respectively are way out.
The early morning is full of radar targets with an abundance of fishing vessels both commercial and private heading out, giving us lots to watch for.
Dave sets to work rigging up his fishing gear, we discuss night watches and routines and talk seriously again about 15 minute 360 scans of the horizon to look for ships or other hazards.
I have pre made all our dinners for the trip and as we discuss which to have first I realise that with the individual portions I have made we can each have whatever we want whenever we want. End of that discussion!
A mid morning buzz of excitement as the smaller reel screams into action, becomes disappointment as the fish gets away. Good for him I think as the freezer and fridge are already bulging with produce.
We settle into various spots on the back deck, lazily sharing the watch making sure to communicate who has the “con” as we read, listen to music and generally catch up.
Day slips into night, the boys head off to bed and I take up the 9-12 watch.
Its been an uneventful evening however as Dave relieves me we discuss the weird noise that the auto pilot has started to make. Dave thought Jamie’s snoring had reached a new level!
I hand over our course, the sea state, harness Dave in, do an over view of the safety procedures and ensure he is feeling comfortable. Dave’s an experienced boater (on his power boat) and has spent many days with us on Lukim Yu, however he’s never sat a night watch and I wanted to make sure he was comfortable to wake either of us up if anything changed that he was unsure about.
As I slip into bed I realise that the sound that was irritating at the helm was deafening in our bunk. Jamie and I chat about this for a while as I worry that the autopilot is having a mechanical problem.
Jamie hops up onto deck to investigate with Dave and after much messing about in the engine bay they decide its probably the brains of the unit and switch if off to reboot it. It comes back on line beautifully and stays quiet for the rest of the night.
March 31st - Crawling along
Jamie relieves Dave at 3 am and I take over at 6am.
We are nearing a tacking point but as the wind has stayed relatively consistent Jamie and I decide to keep heading SE until it dies completely.
Not 3o mins later it does so and I take an easy tack to head NE.
This tack will see us gain a lot of ground north but very little east.
Dave pops up early to see if I need relieving but I send him back to bed, everything going smoothly.
So smoothly that I make myself a cup of tea and get a pre boiled egg out of the fridge, I am still feeling a little oomy so I carry my egg up to the helm, this involves going up two steps and around a corner. While doing this I am not as careful as usual and am not holding on as well as I should be when I lose my balance off the second step and fall magnificently backwards landing hard and in a heap in the footwell, slamming my elbow into the door frame.
In shock I call out to Dave as I know he is still awake (he tells me later that he thought I had lost one of his fishing rods over the side, hence his rapid response). He bolts back up on deck and asks what he can do. “Nothing” I reply, as I break out into a hot sweat, “just stand there while I try to extricate myself from the footwell in case I have broken my arm or done some damage to my back or neck". Gingerly I pull myself up and lower myself painfully onto the outdoor seating. I do this whilst stripping off all my outer clothes as my body is reacting to the pain and sweating profusely.
I have full range of motion in my arm but it is incredibly painful to move in any direction and I think to myself you may well have chipped a bone but it’s probably not broken.
Dave takes the helm and pulls out the bag of frozen peas for me to use as ice. All in all, not a great start to the day. I’m feeling pretty stupid for nat having held on properly, but as it turns out come of pretty unscathed. It takes the better part of the morning for me to be able to even sit up, but by evening I am well enough to take my usual watches 9-12 and 6-9.
The rest of the day is spent as all days at sea are, vaguely passing time talking, reading and listening to music, or just staring out at the waves and birds. Given my low levels of tolerance for boredom it amazes me how mesmerising I find watching the waves, its almost like a type of meditation and hours can pass while I do nothing else.
Overall today we only gain 30nm towards Lord Howe, while travelling 110nm north. Although this is intentional, it is demoralising to see almost no progress on our DTW (distance to waypoint). Based on our weather routing software if we head north enough we will pick up a nice NE wind which will take us all the way to Lord Howe
I have woken up feeling like I have been hit by a car, stiff neck and sore all over. Now that my elbow pain has decreased it has allowed for all the other areas I hit to make themselves known.
Watches overnight were ok, however sleeping is as always hard!The boat is on a beat still, and the uncomfortable motion along with waves slamming into the catamarans’ hulls combines to make it near impossible to sleep.
Its hard to describe exactly how loud this sound is, Dave’s pretty sure there is a log under the hulls that we keep slamming into, he might be onto something as it is alarming loud, unpredictable and coupled with the motion of the boat it is pure exhaustion only that sends us off to sleep. Most nights I wake up every 45mins or so, listen carefully to the sounds and feel the motion of the boat to see if anything has changed. Jamie and I sleep directly under the helm so from my side of the bed through our roof hatch I can see the person that is sitting at the helm. Usually, when it is just Jamie and I on the boat this gives me some relief as my biggest fear always when sailing at night is that I will wake up and find that Jamie has fallen overboard. Its a moderately irrational fear given that we are harnessed in and attached to the boat, and have a strict set of rules as to what you can and cannot do when up on deck alone, nevertheless worrying about it at night can become a full time obsession for me, so it always relaxes me to see him sitting at the helm safely.
The night passes uneventfully except for poor Jamie who sits through multiple showers of rain, a pattern that continues each night as Dave and I see no rain, but Jamie is constantly in his wet weather gear.
We finally tack back to SE early that morning and it is full steam ahead, a direct route now to Lord Howe Island!!!!
Day 4 - Jurassic Park
Our watches overnight are delightful, I finish my audible book of Jessica Watsons remarkable non stop unassisted solo sail around the world at exactly midnight when Dave takes over from me. A remarkable feat at any age, but at 16 just wow! Her ability to weather (pun intended) the most appalling storms, and knockdowns was inspirational. As I head back down to bed I take one last look to see if I can make out any lights from Lord Howe Island (we are technically close enough that I might be able to see a lighthouse), but alas darkness. We are now no longer on a beat, but a shy reach and it is much easier to sleep. I wake up to sunrise streaming though the cabin side window a blend of orange, pink and yellow that draws me out of bed early, excited to see Lord Howe. As I climb the stairs to the main cabin I look forward through the main windows and see the spectacular mountains backlit by the sunrise. Although not advisable to jump with excitement on a moving boat, I hold on tight this time, and jump up and down. The next few hours are spent transfixed in awe. Not only have we accomplished our first extensive passage (and I am incredibly proud of us all) we are drawing closer and closer to what can only be described as Jurassic Park. The towering monoliths that are Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird reach into the clouds. To the south is Ball’s Pyramid an island pyramid that pushes through the sea dramatically just a short distance away.
We are talked through the passage by the Lord Howe Island Police who beautifully describe how they would like us to attach to their mooring.
Exhaustion gives away to excitement. We all jump into the water to clean ourselves up (washing while underway is perfunctory at best) we then clean the boat inside and out, she has done such a great job and is beyond filthy. An early lunch is voted for as we are now ravenous and I put together my first real meal of the trip (everything was pre made and microwaved) of tuna bruschetta and then we head off to explore……..