Scawfell Island - 20 51.572S 149 35.966E

Mike and Liz Downing
Tue 9 Jul 2013 09:39
We should have known better after all this time. Sunday evening and preparing for the 100 miles or so passage the next day to the island of South Percy,the running backstays went on and the poles were both left up, all ready for a downwind passage the forecast promised. South Percy would not normally be the next destination, but as the Australians are still playing war games along the coast, all the normal anchorages have been closed. So us late yachties (late in the year that is) have to do a double hop in one go. It could have been an over-nighter, but for once we decided to get up really early and leave about 4am so it would just be possible to get in while still light. At 4am the forecast southeast wind was in the east. Not a problem, it's clearly being bent round the island, it'll be okay when we get out there. So up came the anchor, a very smooth operation considering we haven't lifted the anchor in the dark for a very long time, and out to sea to find the wind was still easterly! So we needed a traditional main and jib rig. But with both runners on we can't use the main and with both poles out we can't use either genoa (the windward one would back, not a good idea, and the leeward one would be too flat to draw). So after the preparation we now have no usable sails! It just doesn't pay to totally believe forecasts, as we should know by now. So in a lumpy sea the leeward runner had to come off (trying not to be decapitated by the top block that swings around and is definitely out to get me!) and the leeward poles has to come down (getting good at that - we work as a team and could do it in the dark, which is just as well as it was pitch black - no moon). Now up went the main and the genoa unfurled and we were finally on our way, albeit in lighter winds and making less speed than planned. The windward pole was left up, just in case our luck changed.

The forecast was for 15 to 20kts from the southeast, increasing to 25kts in the afternoon and 25 to 30kts in the evening and overnight. We had no second thoughts about going as the rest of the week looked worse, so now or never (or at least a week later). In open ocean this forecast wouldn't present a problem, but in the shallow coastal waters here we're still not sure quite what to expect. After a couple of hours the south easterly arrived, so down came the main, up went the leeward pole again and we were running under 2 poled out genoas making 6 to 7kts - just what the doctor ordered. The winds and seas increased, but it's easy to reef both sail as required, keeping the areas approximately the same the boat stays remarkably well balanced even in a choppy rolly seas. So we had a great sail during the day, but we hadn't quite left as early as we had intended and the delays in getting going and lighter winds to start with it was clear we would not get in until about 21.00, so in the dark, again! As the lights were switched off we witnessed the perfect sunset and saw a very clear green flash, only to be lifted up on a wave to see it again. (Didn't expect to see sunsets on the east coast, but being quite a way from land and the sun setting north of west at this time of year, we had a clear horizon.) As darkness descended the wind increased to 25 to 30kts and the seas got up, but one good thing about sailing in the pitch black (still no moon) is that you can't see how big the seas are getting! Every now and again you could hear an express train go past as a wave broke behind us and went rushing past. It became clear we were going too fast for the conditions so reefing down in stages we eventually had both genoas rolled away and set the new furling staysail. With a couple of turns on the furler, it can be set with both poles still up, so no need to take them down until we arrive (after all the winds might have reduced and they could be used again - ever the optimist!). As we approached South Percy island an executive meeting took place - do we go into an iffy anchorage in the dark in 25-30kts or more of wind or carry on for another 60 miles and go on to what would be our next destination, and a much better anchorage, which we would arrive at in the light. It was a unanimous decision to continue, whales or no whales (we hadn't seen any all day). So it was into our overnight routine and we pressed on (in full oilies - it might be the tropics but, but it's still cold at night). It was only when it got light that we realised quite how big some of the waves were getting - a good 3 metres plus and when they broke cascades of foaming water came past. But Aurora B always rose above them each time and apart from water along the side decks we stayed dry. It was only when finally approaching Scawfell that gave any scary moments as having to cross the waves meant risking taking one of the now very high express trains on the beam - all that rushing water, not a good idea. So we inched our way across, straightening up every time one came along and then getting as far across as we could before the next. And after what seemed like an age, we found calmer water, rounded the north of the island and into the anchorage. The highest wind recorded was 37kts. It was a passage of 171.7 miles and since leaving Pittwater we've now covered 984 miles.

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