Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Wirrina to Robe 
1/3 - 2/3 2016

(Blog readers please note - by left clicking on  photos you will see them full size and a photo gallery below.)

Land travellers with car, campervan or caravan, face few restrictions as to when they can travel, save perhaps concerns about encountering kangaroos on outback roads at night. At sea the wind rules the waves and rules when we can travel and where we can go. In the early hours of Tuesday 1/3/16 the wind finally released its sou-easterly grip, swung to the north – east and then disappeared. 

We are on our way!
We slid out of Wirrina in calm, set a stabilising reefed mainsail, called the wonderful Carol Miell at American River Volunteer Marine Radio (VMR), to signal our departure for Robe, and made for Backstairs Passage, the oft storm-tossed waterway separating the Fleurieu Peninsula from Kangaroo Island. The tide was about to ebb and as it did it would lift us out of St Vincent’s Gulf, past Cape Jervis, then on past Cape Willoughby and The Pages islets for the open sea.

On approach to Cape Jervis
We were away. No turning back now. Any wind that had been there overnight had wafted and in its place the sea took on an oily visage with clouds gathering in the west as weather slipped away far to the south. As we made our way to the SE, Kangaroo Island reduced in stature, to become by mid-afternoon as thin an outline as a slice of shaved ham on a butcher’s tray. Still the lofty uplands of the Fleurieu defied extinction, until the curve of the earth swallowed them and all that was familiar to us, and they disappeared from view. We were alone and yet not alone, for Carol was only a click of a radio button away, our chart plotter via its AIS ship identification feature (more of this later) showed a bulk carrier behind us and making for Geelong, whilst not far away a cruising yacht Urchin had departed before us from Kangaroo Island, and grasping the same window of weather were making for Cape Jaffa. We were glad of the comfortable conditions to reacquaint ourselves with routines at sea.

Gliding across an oily sea in the afternoon light.

Early March is still Cray fishing season in SA waters and although many fishers may have reached their catch quotas, there would still be plenty of pots off the SE coast to threaten our progress. Awful memories of being snared by a pot rope at sea with night closing (see calista10.blogspot.com – Port Fairy to Kangaroo Island) saw us push on well out to sea toward the edge of the continental shelf and the abyss beyond. Cookie’s veggie combos in white sauce are a popular favourite on board, and we supped royally on these ere nightfall before donning our safety harnesses and tethers for the darkness to come.  Later, the loom of Adelaide and Victor Harbor lights far over the horizon, gave the only hint of what we were leaving behind.

Sunset and night navigation

The setting of the sun on board marked the time to illuminate our navigation lights; a LED port and starboard set at the bow, a tri-colour light atop the mast, and a white “running light” on our stern. When motoring, a front-facing white light half way up our mast completes our night-time livery. Those not used to being at sea at night might be surprised that very large ships such as container ships or bulk carriers carry a similar set of lights at night, and the notion that “the bigger the ship, the more lights that they carry” does not apply. A big ship approaching at night will only show a port and starboard light, with a white light between.  If a red and green light with a white light in the middle is spotted then….get out of the way!
A flick of the navigation light switch below, for us, however showed trouble. The navigation lights did not illuminate and the circuit breaker tripped. No nav lights. Our nav lights never fail! How could this happen, and this, our first night at sea. Swapping the circuit breaker from another part of the system did not help either. Nor did Cookie’s noble attempt to dismantle the rear running light where we had undertaken some restoration before leaving. No, the new LED globe was not at fault. Why would it be? But where did the fault lay? Somewhere in the system a short was occurring, but out here at sea was not a good place to go troubleshooting, especially up toward the bow. There was nothing to do but set our mast-head anchor light for extra visibility and ready ourselves with torch and radio should any vessels come nearby. This was a frustrating start, offset considerably by some delectable banana cake and brownies supplied to us by Charmaine Hird and daughter Sarah Mack prior to our departure. Yum. They supplied welcome warmth within as we slipped into our watches of two hours apiece as our ship forged on to the SE and into the night.

Sunrise on approach to Robe.
With first light, and still in relative calm, we altered course to port, put one of us on “pot watch” ahead and made for Robe. The devil wind was scheduled to resume its malevolent work later in the day and we were keen to get in before it arrived. Closer in to Robe as the limestone coast took shape and the lighthouse at Robe confirmed the accuracy of our chart plotter, there were pots aplenty on the limestone shoals and our course became a slalom as we closed on the harbour breakwater. 

Dodging craypots on our way to the Marina entrance.

As we dropped our main, tell-tale fluffy clouds scudded up over the town heralding the return of the Sou-Easter and condemning us to life for the time being in this most delightful of places. Lake Butler, the town anchorage is favoured by natural beauty, is secure from all points of the compass, and with all the requirements of civilised life readily at hand, was a fine port to make landfall after our first leg at sea.
We minded not if the devil wind blew for a day or two…or even more.
Dawn light in our berth at "The Karatta Moorings" Robe Marina precinct.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Preparations.....to go or not to go.... that is the question!'

“Final checks….everything stowed……Instruments on…..radio on….engine on….spring lines released…stern line free to run…bow line free…all clear astern… reverse out of the berth…..forward…..fenders aboard….secure safety lines…OK to go!”
At 0745 hours on Tuesday 1st March there was no one there to see the sloop Calista set free from her lines, make for the entrance of Marina St Vincent in South Australia, and head for the open sea. A Voyage to Vanuatu would start in familiar waters, but over the horizon lay the unknown, the enticing, the distant shores of….New Caledonia, Vanuatu……the South Pacific.

The South Pacific.  Adventures in Paradise; James A Michener, swaying palms and sun drenched lagoons…the evocative South Pacific. In the great days of sail master mariners like James Cook sailed half way around the world, and in places like Tahiti found paradise. Today you can fly there in a handful of hours and be on a lounge on a beach for a Pina Colada on sunset. The South Pacific still grips the imagination of sailors in little boats like ours, and it is common for cruising sailors from around the world to depart the west coast of the USA, or from the Caribbean to pass through the Panama Canal and catch the trade winds on the long haul to the Marquesas, Tuamotu, and on to Tahiti and beyond. Other sailors adopt the languid lifestyle of the migrating seabirds, to make, annually, for the islands of Fiji and Tonga in the southern winter and retreat to New Zealand with the onset of the cyclone season. For years they ply these routes. For others, like us, the fabled isles can be reached by making for Australia’s East Coast, and in mid-year to pick up the South Easterly trades, bound for New Caledonia, and Vanuatu to the north, before the threat of cyclones prompts a return to Terra Australis Incognita.

Could that be us anchored here ?
Could we, would we, should we set our sights on the South Pacific? Should we embark on a Voyage to Vanuatu? In our little ship we have travelled over 18,000 nautical miles, and in 2010/11 we reached Wari Island in the Louisiade Archipelago, further north than Cape York and within sight of Papua New Guinea (see Blog calista10.blogspot.com). In 2015 with the world of work astern of us, we crewed on the 45’ Yacht Exotic Escort, in the Fremantle to Bali Rally, then on through the Flores, Banda, Timor and Arafura seas to Darwin. We are familiar with the expanses of the open sea and have learned much about sailing upon it. Above all though, we respect the ocean and the forces of nature that control it. No voyage to a blue horizon can be taken lightly.

On a dreary August Monday in 2015, in nearby Victor Harbor, we sauntered into a travel agency with an enquiry and left an hour later having booked on the P&O Pacific Pearl, departing Sydney the following weekend for Noumea, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. In our minds was the invaluable experience prior to our voyage to PNG, of being on board MV Andante a luxury 55’ Fleming motor cruiser with owners Tess McGrath and Geoff Gowing, in 2008, to visit many of the isles of the Louisiades, and, closer to home, heading by car to the anchorages and bays of the far West Coast of SA, prior to our sail to Ceduna (see blog calista15.blogspot.com) from Port Lincoln. 

Passage making on a big ship

Checking out the local markets
Visiting our potential destination on a 66,000 tonne ship, would help us decide whether we should take our 8-tonne ship to the same waters. We reasoned that whilst our fellow passengers bought cheap t-shirts and gathered garlands of flowers we would take note of harbour approaches, and ashore check out moorings, service facilities and the range of supplies available at food stores and markets. What we found was that in New Caledonia and Vanuatu, everything that we would potentially need was there to be had, and that the people were a delight. We returned home, committed to preparing both our boat and our house for our absence and for months in distant places. There was so much to do!

Calista on the slip at Marina Adelaide

Although some cruising yachties travel overseas uninsured, we would not contemplate this and to be covered beyond 200 nautical miles off the Australian Coast, there are extensive criteria to be met including the obligation that the vessel must pass a below and above waterline inspection by a qualified Marine Surveyor. This process, and the need to re anti-foul our hull (antifoul is a foul paint that when applied helps prevent marine organisms from growing on the hull) saw us on the slip at the Adelaide Marina in November, scraping, sanding, painting Calista’s bottom and undertaking a host of tasks best done within easy reach of marine chandleries and expertise. A cruising yacht has many mechanical and electrical systems that need to work in concert, quite apart from the things that make it sail well, provide comforts, and keep the crew safe at sea. Having all these things ship-shape is a formidable task in itself.

Back at Wirrina, with lots more to do, we were bedevilled by the tyranny of distance and ready access to most that we would need. Tasks that we felt would take an hour or two often took a day or more, and when we needed anything of a marine nature the nearest chandleries were back in Adelaide or over the range in Goolwa – literally hours away. On our annual sail to Port Lincoln we leant on the marine skills of good friend Graham Daniels, who with son Tom originally delivered Calista from her home port of Mooloolaba, to Marina St Vincent for the formal or Wirrina for locals. Graham’s crafting of an exquisite “hungry board” at the stern of Calista was an ample illustration of his remarkable and wide ranging abilities.

Our new teak "Hungry Board"
In the midst of these activities, Cookie’s knee called out for repairs too, and an arthroscopy meant that her normal mode of scampering around on deck was a painful pipe dream. In recovery at home, she surrounded herself with porthole frames that needed sanding and back on board she crawled where formerly she flitted like a gad-fly. Driving our endeavours to a potential end of February departure were her endless lists of things to do, lists that were without end, lists that never seemed to shorten.
The frenetic nature of our preparations probably meant that we had less time to stop and double think what we were about to do. Sailing away from home, from all that is safe and familiar, and sailing over the horizon to the unknown is a contemplation that could convince many a soul with good marine skills and a sound vessel to stay tied up safely in the marina. Calista, however was not built for the marina life of canap├ęs and champagne….she is a classic cruising yacht, built with oceans in mind. She is at her best at sea.
Good friend Adam Foot, inspirer of young people in the surf, at the Surf Club and at school, calls the South Easterly winds that grip our southern coastline in summer “the devil wind”. They blow without end it seems. Then, at the end of February, a respite in the devil wind, appeared at hand, giving us a chance to get overnight to the southern outport of Robe. Not all of our list items had been deleted and some would have to await a safe harbour over the horizon. A weak trough between two high pressure systems offered a period of calm before the devil wind found its feet again.

It was time for us to go.