A Fresh Foul Breeze

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Sun 9 Dec 2012 05:34
Noon Position: 38 17.4 S 148 27.8 E
Course: Northwest. Speed: 2 knots
Wind: southwest F5 fresh breeze
Weather: sunny and mild

We are about 120 miles past Twofold Bay, that is a good days run, and more importantly we are now around the corner of South-east Australia, invariably a bit of a tough nut, and into Bass Strait. Admittedly I managed to end up in amongst the Bass Strait Oil Rigs, but at least I do not have to worry about any ships running us down in here.

The front came through at just after 2200, right on schedule. Well done the Bureau. But while it was a punctual front it was nonetheless rather sneaky in its manner of arrival. Most fronts as they come barrelling through advertise their presence with some very distinctive cloud formations, but this one had only a wisp of a cloud leading it. I had reduce down to a double reefed mainsail and prepared the third reef point in preparation, thinking this wisp of cloud would be a mini-front which sometimes leads the main system, but it tricked me. As this wispish cloud came through it revealed a waspish sting - the wind suddenly shifted, which I expected, but also quickly picked up to 30 knots or so. I had not had time to get the jib pole down, so this frantically did. Meanwhile the mainsail went aback, gybed, and all my carefully laid plans went promptly out the window. Instead of ending up on the starboard tack heading away from the oil rigs, we were on the port tack heading into the rigs.

After securing the jib and pole, and getting the third reef in the mainsail, I reassessed our situation. We could continue on the port tack for quite some time before running foul of any rigs (we were only making good about a knot and a half under a triple reefed mainsail, and most of that was sideways). Seeing as we were nice and snug and the port tack was the better sleeping tack (the sea bunk is on the starboard side and when we are on the port tack I roll into it, and on top of RC, instead of out of it) I decided to leave things as they were for the time being.

Come 1 a.m. however, we were soon going to be entering the 2 ½ mile no go zone. There was no way we were going to be able tack, that is get the bow through the wind, so I tried for a wear instead, turning away from the wind and gybing the mainsail. This worked very well and it did not take me long to have everything snugged down again on the opposite tack, excepting now I would be falling out of my bunk instead of into it. Such are the joys of sailing, when one's world leans this way then that way, and everything in between. Regardless, heaved to as we were, we were going nowhere in a hurry, we were outside the shipping lanes, heading away from the oil rigs, the motion was pretty comfortable and, all things considered, things were pretty good. I turned the watch commander off and got myself a few hours sleep.

Come dawn the sun was shining, ne'er a cloud in the sky, the wind was still fresh though abated considerably from a few hours back, and Sylph was plugging a long, her bow gently rising and falling to the two meter swell. It was time, after breakfast of course, to get Sylph moving a little more, particularly somewhere roughly in the right direction as, for the last several hours we had been heading roughly east, admittedly at less than a knot, but the wrong way nonetheless. I set the staysail that I had prepared yesterday. I could have perhaps set some jib, but not having used the staysail for quite a while I thought setting it would be good practice and an opportunity to make sure it was still all in good order. With the staysail set and drawing we wore back around to the west, at least the bows were now pointing in the right direction, now we needed to do something about making a little more way. It was time to think about shaking out a reef from the mainsail. Unfortunately, while reefing the mainsail last night, the reef-line had pinched the leech and caused a small tear, so this needed to be fixed first. Out with the sailmaker's needle, twine and palm, and half an hour later the three inch tear was pulled together with a reasonable facsimile of a herringbone stitch, a mighty useful stitch to know that one. Sail back all of a piece, I let out the third slab so we were now at least able to keep our head to wind a little better.

So for much of the day we have been slowly creeping our way through the oil rig field. The wind has remained fairly constant at about 20 to 25 knots. I have been tempted to set a little more sail, but then we would be slamming over the top of the waves and swell, whereas at the moment we are just gently pushing up, over and through them, so, not being in any hurry, I have decided to maintain everything on a relatively even keel. I am sure RC would approve. Tomorrow the winds will back around into the east, 15 to 20 knots the Bureau assures me, and increasing to 20 to 30 on Tuesday. That should have us well on our way again, so no need to stress for the moment. For now I think we will keep everything nice and comfortable and await for the wind to shift in our favour.

All is well.