Escaping the Coffs Coast Triangle

Noon Position: 29 14.9 S 153 28.4 E
Course: North Speed: 6 knots
Wind: South F6 strong breeze
Sea: moderate
Weather: sunny, mild
Day’s run: 80 Nm

I caught up with my neighbour when he returned to his boat yesterday afternoon. We had a bit of chin wag, comparing notes, across the waters, after which, as there was very little reason to stay any longer, the wind was light, and the sun was still shining, I thought I might as well get underway and settled before sunset and before the strong wind which was forecast arrived. At four in the afternoon, we weighed anchor and sailed out of the harbour.

The wind remained light but with the strong wind warning in the back of my mind, the lumpy sea which was running from the northeast for no apparent reason, the thin wispy clouds racing past overhead, the lightning flashing around the horizon, and the unsettle feel to the weather, I decided on caution and partially furled the headsail and reefed the mainsail. We bobbed around, first this way and that, and once or twice went aback. Initially I put this down to the light winds, lumpy seas, and lack of sail, but, after we had fallen off the wind a couple of times I started to get suspicious. I looked over the stern and sure enough, the windvane rudder was spinning loosely on its shaft. The rudder shaft pin had come adrift. I assume it must have sheared off because I knew it was bolted on firmly. Bother! I figure I had two choices – either repair it or head back into Coffs Harbour. Of course, I decided to at least have a go at replacing the pin before heading back to harbour.

Now getting this particular pin in place is difficult even in calm conditions, and I have in the past even resorted to jumping in the water to do it, so contemplating doing it in the dark with a short lumpy sea running did not thrill me, but there was not a lot for it, so I scrummaged around in my boxes of bits and pieces, came up with a stainless steel bolt of the right dimensions, placed a headlamp on my forehead, a fender on the stern to protect my vital organs from the cleats and other protuberances on the stern, and leaned out over the stern to wrestle with the rudder, trying to line up the little hole where the pin had to go through. Fortunately the rudder was secured with a safety lanyard so at least it was still on the shaft and had not disappeared into the briny depths. It was wet work, as of course the rudder is underwater, and while I tried to time it so as to lean out as Sylph’s stern lifted out of the waves, it was not possible to get everything lined up without taking a few dunkings. Still, I got the pin in, and was not as wet as I could have been, and I was still on board and in one piece, so, all in all, I would rate that as a success.

We were soon making way again, albeit slowly in the light wind and steep sea, and for some reason Sylph seemed determined to want to sail between South Solitary Island and Black Rock. There was plenty of water between the two, and even in the dark I could make out the dark shadow of Black Rock against the horizon, so I eased sheets and allowed Sylph her way. This in turn led us to pass over the X on the chart, where our outbound and inbound tracks crossed marking the completion of our circumnavigation on 26 June 2011, just over two years ago already.

I persisted with reduced sail for several more hours but as we made our way north and the waspish clouds cleared to reveal a brilliant star lit night, I decided to let the apocalypse come when it may, shook out the reefs and settled Sylph down to a comfortable broad reach at a steady four knots.

Mild conditions continued all morning but the strong winds have at last arrived. We ran wing on wing before the southerly for a few hours, making good over six knots, but the wind is now, as we pass Ballina Head, the wind has freshened to a force seven, that is about thirty knots, so I have dropped the mainsail, and we are now running with just a bit of headsail out. Our speed has dropped a little, but we are making good time. We will cross into Queensland waters tonight and my intention is to enter the Southport Seaway some time tomorrow.

All is well.