The Final Leg
9 - 28 November 2008: Port Stephens, Australia
The overnight sail back up to Port Stephens was uneventful, and this time the weather stuck to the forecast and we had light winds the whole way. We made it to the harbour entrance at first light, and were at anchor in Salamader Bay by mid morning. We had chosen that spot as we needed some deep water to remove our 4m long stuck Daggerboards. The boat had been in the water for so long that the wooden boards had taken up water and expanded and one had cracked under the loads. They needed to be taken out so that they could be refurbished. They were stuck in a half down position, and could not be taken out through the top as usual. James devised a clever contraption involving 3 broomsticks, some carefully stitched webbing and various ropes to help us push the boards out through the bottom of the casing. The day after we arrived we set about the task of getting the boards out. We started on the worst one, and forced it down with the help of James' contraption and whole body weight. It went down easily until the last little bit, when it needed a little help from me on a winch. Suddenly the board jumped out with a pop and we saw its edge floating on the water just under the boat. James got in the dinghy and retrieved it, tying it to the back as if it was a surfboard. The process was repeated with the second board, and soon we had them both bobbing around Rahula's stern. But the task wasn't over - we had to get them back onboard. More bits of ropes and complicated knots from James helped to hoist the boards onto the side decks, and by lunchtime they were both secured and the dreaded job was over. (The thought of this job had kept me awake for ages because if we couldn't get them out, we would have to hire a crane to lift RAHULA at considerable expense. J).
Unfortunately, our trip ends for a while in Australia. We have run out of money, are a little travel weary, I'm missing all the civilised comforts of home, and of course we both miss our family and friends. We have decided to break up our adventure and go home for a while to earn money and build up the energy to finish our circumnavigation. We are leaving Rahula in a yard in Australia while we go back to the UK, and will decide how and when to finish the trip over the next year. This means that she had to be thoroughly packed away so that nothing was damaged by the weather or sun in our absence.
We spent the rest of the week onboard preparing Rahula for her extended stay in the boat yard. I was responsible for the interior and gave the boat a thorough clean, including inside all the lockers which hasn't been done since we moved onboard two years ago (icky bits where stuff had started to evolve… J). In the process I threw away lots of stuff that we had brought with us "just in case" and never used in the hope of lightning the load on our poor little boat. James started removing all the ropes and sails, until at the end of the week the decks were naked and Rahula was becoming a bare shell (you would be amazed at how much rope there was to remove… J).
Occasionally we popped into the local town to buy food or visit the hardware store. The contrast with the big cities we had visited previously was striking. As we wandered through the town filled with retirement bungalows and wide streets lined with trees we realised that provincial Australia was quite different to the cosmopolitan cities where you can buy and do anything. The people were still very friendly and it seemed like a relaxed and safe place to live.
Finally the day came for the boat to be hauled out of the water. James drove us alongside the pontoon on the edge of the slipway, and the yard staff swarmed all over the boat tying ropes and checking for structural strong points. A tractor drove up to the edge of the slipway and pushed a trailer under Rahula. Then an important man armed with a long stick ran the stick along the bottom of the hull to find the exact location of Rahula's small wooden sacrificial keels. The boat is designed to rest on these keels to prevent damage to the fibreglass hulls. When all the yard staff's seemed happy with Rahula's positioning the tractor revved, and the trailer lifted to meet Rahula's hull. Then she was unceremoniously hauled out of the water as if she was a small dinghy being pulled off the beach. It was a little disheartening to see all our worldly possessions and our pride and joy being pulled on the back of a tractor. We followed her to her new berth on the edge of the yard and watched her being carefully propped up. The trailer was lowered and towed away, and there she was, 2m up in the air, surrounded by grass and trees.
We lived on the boat for another ten days, completing the long list of jobs we had to do before we left her. Living on a boat out of the water is an unpleasant experience, as you have to climb a tall ladder to get on and off, and you can't really used any of the sinks or toilet which discharge straight over the side. Luckily there was a shower block not far from the boat, but if nature called in the middle of the night it was an uncomfortably long way in the dark! On windy days it was also frightening to feel the boat shake and worry about the long drop if she fell off her props.
The other big job we had to complete was to remove the main outboard engine so that it could be taken to the mechanic to be refurbished. We had never removed it in the four years we had owned the boat, and though in theory it should only involve undoing four bolts, James knew that the job could become a lot more complicated. He carefully removed the hydraulic lifting ram, then started undoing the bolts. To our surprise, the engine yielded without a fight, and it was soon dangling on the edge of the mainsheet hung on the end of the boom, with various steadying ropes tied off around the cockpit. We lifted the engine up over the transom, and carefully lowered it to the ground. Amazingly, the rusty small lifting eye held the whole way. The success of removing the engine and the dagger boards is totally due to James, who has lain awake at night for months thinking about how it can be done and devising various mechanisms to make the job easier. I would help, but of course I am not that sort of engineer…(is she ever that type? J)
The boat yard we had chosen was typical of Rahula's resting places (which have been Millbrook, Emsworth and Fareham Creek). It was up a muddy channel at the extreme end of the harbour and in the middle of nowhere. The advantage of being in the middle of nowhere is that we were treated to a wonderful display of Australian Fauna on nearly a daily basis. We had wild kangaroos roaming in the fields outside the yard's fence, and a huge variety of colourful and noisy birds. The disadvantage was the distance from any shops. I had to go to the post office and supermarket one day, and when I asked for directions in the office they said it was 5 minutes by car. Now in England, where cars usually drive at 30-40 MPH in villages, 5 minutes in a car is about a 30 minute walk. So I headed off in the direction indicated along a straight road through scrubland. After half an hour I hadn't even reached the main road, and when cars passed me doing 80 MPH, I realised the error of my assumption. As I didn't know where I was, I didn't know if it was quicker to carry on or turn back. I carried on, and after an hour, finally reached the main road. Luckily there one of the ladies from the yard's office picked me up, and gave me a lift to the supermarket. It seemed I still had quite a way to go… Needless to say I got a taxi back!
In one of those coincidences that make you realise how small the world can be we bumped into someone we had met in Panama in the yard's office on our first day there. Didg was delivering a catamaran from the Caribbean to Australia, and we hung out with him for a week in the Panama Canal Yacht Club before we moved to the other side of the harbour to take part in the Bond filming. We haven't seen him since. It turns out that he lives locally, and works on one of the whale watching boats that operate out of the harbour. The boat was in the yard for some maintenance, which led to our chance meeting. We renewed the friendship, and Didg took us out one night to sample the social delights of the area. We went to a Bowling Club (lawn bowls, rather then 10 pin), which was like a Working Men's Club in the UK, but much bigger. The club had a huge bar area, betting shop, slot machines, kids play area, and a restaurant serving cheap wholesome food. We ate until we were stuffed, then had a flutter on the slot machines. As always happens to beginners, and to annoy the die-hard gamblers, we all won some money, and Didg even managed to scoop the jackpot! We left while we were still in credit, smiling all the way home after a really fun evening.
Didg helped us out again by driving us to Newcastle when we finally left the boat and headed down the Sydney. Newcastle is his home town, and he gave us a short tour of the city, showing us the huge docks and coal mountains, as well as the pretty Victorian buildings in the old city. He has offered to keep an eye on the boat while we are away which is very kind, and has taken a big load off our mind.
Just over a month after we arrived in Australia, on a wet and stormy day, we finally said goodbye to Rahula. We had completed all the work we could do while in the yard's storage area (where officially no work is allowed), and were getting fed up with living on a boat out of the water. So we packed our stuff and headed down to Sydney to stay with my uncle & aunt until our flight back to the UK. It was sad to say goodbye to the boat, which has been our home and looked after us for so long. We knew she was in good hands, with both the boat yard and Didg looking after her, but we wished we could stay and keep sailing her to new places. This marks a pause in a wonderful adventure, which has taken us half way around the world through some beautiful places, living amazing experiences and meeting interesting people some of whom have become friends for life.
This will probably be the last blog until we return to continue the adventure and see what the other half of the world has to offer. Once we fly back to the UK we are back to the boring life of work and weekend socialising, so there won't be much to say. The website will remain active, and you can still contact us via the message board. Thank you for reading, and for all your support.
Amelia & James.