Sailing: Lake Macquarie to Melbourne
Sailing from Lake Macquarie to Melbourne by sail boat is easy - you just need the wind to do what it's told.
When you take the plunge and buy a cruising sail boat, you envision cruising on yourt yacht with a steady breeze, friendly seas and leisurely progress. So when I bought Voyager II, a South Coast 36, on Lake Macquarie of course I was going to sail her home to St Kilda. And after refreshing the rigging, engine and wind instruments, and adding sailing mates Barry and Will as crew, we cast off.
Straight out of the lake we hit a touch more breeze than we wanted while we were getting familiar with the boat. Reefed, we could cope with the 20kt winds but a relentless series of squalls made up our minds – 30kt was beyond comfort and Pittwater was at hand. The next day was worse; we only got to Botany Bay.
From Botany we pushed out early – well fed and having absorbed all the fat in the passage plan – and enjoyed some friendlier breezes. But within hours the Raymarine i60 wind gauge dropped below 1kt and the sea became glassy.
It wasn’t until the following afternoon that the breeze picked up, and we motor-sailed at 7kt into Eden. After refuelling we headed for Green Cape but in the dark the ‘washing machine’ had the better of us and with no time left for a second attempt, Plan B kicked in – Voyager II was parked in Pambula and we caught the coach.
A month later delivery captain Pat, with crew Max and Ray, met me in Eden. The forecast gave us useful breezes past Gabo Island for a week, and clear of Twofold Bay’s headlands, the Raymarine wind instrument said 9-14kt. We motored to Gabo rather than make tedious tacks in a full-keeled cruiser but when we turned and the wind moved 45 points off the nose, the sails took over from the iron.
Forty-five degrees is close to the wind for a South Coast 36 and we needed to be close hauled. But without a hydraulic vang, hauling on the mainsheet simply flattened the sail and we staggered to 4kt. Pat was unimpressed – we had the wind for sixes and his passage plan demanded a 5kt average.
With the traveller hard to port, the sheet was eased, the main took shape and we accelerated to 5.5kt. Throwing up the mizzen to the same plan added half a knot and tweaking the leech of the genoa coaxed a few more tenths onto the readout. With the wind obeying the forecast, we had nothing to do until we got to Wilsons Prom (except create a makeshift toilet after the electric flush packed up).
Around the Prom it looked like we might need to motor for a while but we made it around and out the other side – as forecast – the wind moved west while we turned towards north-west and home. Net result, wind around 50 degrees. With next to no swell, we cooked dinner and settled into our watch rotations.
Overnight, however, the wind started edging back south and my instinct to ease the sails lost speed. Luckily Pat was still awake; he flicked the i60 from True to Apparent to illustrate how boat speed meant the apparent wind was still ahead. Sheeting back in what I’d let off rewarded us with hull speed – 7.3kt – so no harm done.
My watch ended at 2am. Voyager II was still making good time but a now softening wind was still moving astern and gently easing everything picked us up from mid-fives to sixes, giving us a shot at the early slack tide rather than midday.
Before dawn I was woken by a rolling motion that rattled everything in the boat. With the wind at 6kt, even riding the flood tide only gave us 4kt over the ground – we’d miss the slack unless we fired up the iron.
So it was on genoa, motor and the tail of the tide that we cruised through a millpond Rip as the sun came up. With 8kt SOG, we were past Queenscliff before the tide turned but by then the wind had returned and sailing again, we aimed for St Kilda in the sixes.
After being forced to stop at Eden, I have to admit my head was down; the cruise had been more a matter of clawing in the miles. But the sail from there to St Kilda restored my spirits. The only question is: where next?
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