Sunday, 16 August 2015

Our Great Barrier Reef adventure off to a flying start

August 13 2015

When we first purchased Our Dreamtime in February last year our plan was to refit, re-rig and re-jig the boat then head off into the Pacific. Well the job was a little bigger and took longer than we expected. As we finally began seeing the light at the end of the tunnel we finally had a rare attack of the sensibles. We suddenly realised that disappearing off into the wide and sometimes wild blue ocean with a boat load of untried new bits melded in with renewed bits and a lot of well seasoned ones might not be the smartest idea. Not to mention the fact that we really haven’t sailed her enough to know how she behaves in different sorts of conditions.

This attack of the sensibles saw us decide to put the Pacific on hold until 2016 after the next cyclone season. Instead we will steer north along the Australian coast for an extended shakedown cruise, learn our Whitby 42’s habits, both good and bad, and be in easy reach of the companies who supplied everything if we run into teething or warranty issues.  Let’s face it, a Plan B that involves sailing through the tropical waters of the Great Barrier Reef shouldn’t be too hard to endure.

It is a shakedown, so in this blog of our northern adventure, we will be looking at what we find works well for us, what doesn’t, what we do right and how we screw up. We hope you can sail along with us as part of our cyber crew and enjoy the ride.

The first rule of cruising plans is that cruising plans will always change. We set our departure date of August 12 over three months ago and have worked our tails off to have everything ready to go.  However Rule One came into play when the weather gurus at the Bureau of Meteorology stepped in with the weather forecast the day before.

After weeks of great sailing weather it turned to crap for our planned departure day

You see the second rule of cruising is, if the forecast is crap just don’t go. A forecast of 30 knots winds from the North, the exact direction we needed to go, certainly qualified as crap because the third rule of cruising is try to avoid sailing upwind whenever possible let alone directly into a strong wind. We would NEVER deliberately try to sail straight into 30 knots of head winds and associated waves working together to break our boat and spirit.

As a result Our Dreamtime sat safely at the dock for an extra day. We let the wind howl through the marina all it liked while we managed a couple of last minute chores. We then caught up with good friends Steve and Debbie for dinner at our favourite pub before turning in for an early night in preparation for a dawn departure next morning.

Finally, at 6.30am on Thursday August 13, we cleared the channel of Manly Harbour and turned the bow north towards Mooloolaba, our first port of call 55 nautical miles up the coast. The weather forecast told us to expect the wind to build through the morning reaching 25 to 30 knots before swinging to the south west.  In theory, this would give us a spirited square then broad reach all the way. Our course hugged the coast so with the wind coming offshore the sea state should be reasonable despite the fresh breeze.  Although we raised our sails in just 8 knots of breeze, we were conservative and went with a reduced sail plan of a reefed mainsail with full mizzen and genoa. Our thought was that if we found the boat overpowered as the wind strength grew we could easily reef the mizzen and furl away a bit of headsail.

Flat seas and mild winds as we set sail from Manly

The wind did as predicted and picked up quickly to high teens and occasional low twenties. The wind strength and angle with relatively flat sea were tailor made for a Whitby ketch. Before long we were scooting along at just over nine knots. We even caught and overtook a catamaran that had left port ahead of us. Happy days.

Very happy to finally be underway after so long land bound
Topping nine knots in high teens gusting just over twenty impressed us.
Two boats on the water means a race and we won this one.

As we crossed Moreton Bay to the southern end of Bribie Island we were further off shore. The waves grew larger and the wind grew stronger. Karen questioned if we should reduce sail further which called into play another rule of cruising. The time to reef your sails is immediately you even THINK you might need to.  It’s a lot easier to shake a reef out later if the wind drops than put one in when the boat’s overpowered and behaving like an angry rodeo bull in car wash.

We discussed options and decided to reef the main further, go to first reef on the mizzen, furl away the genoa and switch to the stay sail. We furled away all but a small amount of genoa to maintain control, turned into the wind, rolled away the in boom furling mainsail to the second of our five batons which all work as reefing points and reduced the mizzen to first reef. Sounds easy but, even with our well set up boat, it was hard work. We resumed course and sat for a bit taking a few deep breaths before setting staysail and putting the rest of the genoa away. Well that was the idea anyway. We actually found that the boat was now well balanced the way it was.  With twenty-five knots gusting to thirty blowing square on the beam, Our Dreamtime was heeling only moderately, easy on the helm and charging along in the high 9 knots area. We quickly decided to leave the headsail the way it was for while. Considering the now spirited conditions, we were happy we hadn’t procrastinated about putting in the extra reefs.

Reefed down on a square reach and flying with minimal heel

Before long we reached the lee of Bribie Island. Its low terrain did nothing to slow the wind which maintained both strength and direction. However, the sea state did moderate considerably from the rollercoaster we had just experienced across the bay. This saw the boat pick up even more speed breaking into the ten knot region which astounded us.

Bribie Island's low profile didn't hinder the wind but did calm the sea state a bit for us

We skirted the main Port of Brisbane shipping channel, sailed by the beaches of Caloundra and rounded Point Cartwright all in relative short order. The motor was started, sails came down and we entered through the breakwaters guarding the mouth of the Mooloolah River. We had originally planned a night in the Mooloolaba Marina but decided to anchor up river instead. We had no trouble finding a suitable spot and were soon doing our post passage tidy up with a cool drink in hand.

Rounding Point Cartwright at the end of our wild ride.

When we do our passage planning, we factor in an average speed of 5 knots in good conditions. We were more than a little surprised to be anchored up so early and downright amazed to have averaged around 8.5 knots over the 55 nautical mile distance from harbour mouth to harbour mouth.

There's nothing better than a cold beer and warm food after any passage

It had been a wild sleigh ride that had us both buzzing with excitement about our boat. Once the adrenaline drained out of our systems we realised how exhausted we were and both collapsed in our bunk before seven.

It's a good thing the sun sets early in winter or we would have been in bed before seeing this one.
Goodnight from the Mooloolah River!


What worked.

Our Dreamtime – she handled the conditions effortlessly and proved to be a much faster boat when reaching than we could have imagined.

What didn’t work.

Our autopilot lost its way on a couple of occasions forcing Rob to grab the helm. Admittedly it happened when the boat was a bit overpowered  and the sea state was up. It’s brand new to us and we’ll now study the manual to see if it’s a settings issue or whatever. If that doesn’t provide answers we’ll be seeking them from our supplier.

What we did right.

We adjusted our departure date to suit the weather.
We reduced sail in a timely manner.

How we screwed up.

Having predominantly sat in a marina for almost 18 months, you get accustomed to living as if on a house boat. The rollercoaster conditions across the bay quickly demonstrated to us how much we’d forgotten about securing a boat for sea. Things we thought were stowed away OK leapt out of lockers everywhere making below decks look like a bomb site.  Even Karen’s little herb garden needed major post passage surgery after upending itself in the forward head. All will be addressed before the next passage.

 In hindsight we could have been more conservative in our choice of initial sail plan rather than waiting until the wind got up. This would have seen us a little slower early on but would have saved us the need to reef later.

Poor Herbie

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