Across the Tasman

Donald Begg
Sat 18 Nov 2017 23:58
Sunday 5th November, and I have the green light from Bob McDavitt, weather
router. The high pressure that has given us N winds for the last week is
away to the East, the N wind will back to the SW in the afternoon. There is
then a deep depression well down over South Island which will give me strong
Northerlies day after tomorrow for a 60 mile corridor which I can cross at
right angles, then a nice High taking over and giving me SE Trades all the
way to Bundaberg. Farewell NZ, and all the familiar sights like the Mammoth
and Ninepin Rock. Full sail, and 7 knots on a grey afternoon.


Cathy, the woman who looked after the boat during lay up in Raiatea, struck
me as being a bit of a witch. She said to me never start a voyage on a
Friday, it's certain bad luck. I believe her, I wouldn't have started on a
Friday, this was a Sunday. But, three weeks ago I had launched the boat
back into the water in Whangarei on Friday 13th. That can't be a problem, I
thought, I'm only taking her a couple of miles up the river to Whangarei
Town Basin today, it's not the start of the voyage proper. I lost the aquadrive coupling on the way up to Opua, was that my penance?

The depression hit me as forecast, not a big problem, N wind between 25 and
30 knots. But then a secondary depression formed around Norfolk Island,
giving me similar strength winds from the S for an additional couple of
days. The first consequence was that I abandoned my thoughts of calling at
Norfolk Island, which I had been tempted to do, I needed to get West and into
the High. The wind itself was not a problem, but the seas were very steep,
and on the quarter, so the boat was slewing and I had to slow her down to
avoid a gybe or a broach. For a while I was in what I think of as my storm rig,
staysail only. The staysail does not set well with the wind abaft the beam,
but it's steady, and the boat was comfortable at a modest (for the conditions) 5-6 knots.

At this stage, my autopilot failed, after sterling performance all the way
since Lymington. Luckily, and for this very circumstance, I have a hydrovane
as backup. But I had never really made friends with the hydrovane,
suspecting it of being too light for a heavy boat like a 48 foot Bowman, and
had lazily preferred the electronic convenience of the autopilot. Here then
came the most positive element of the voyage: the hydrovane behaved
impeccably all the way from here on in varied conditions, and we actually became firm friends. So
off George, and on Hydro. I wanted to call him Hydra, but if you look at him
from the cockpit he is definitely not a girl. His disadvantage, of course,
is that he can't be used with an engine, so later on in light winds it was
either sail slowly or hand-steer. Levity aside, I have to say that the
sudden realisation that I was alone without an auto-pilot, 300 miles
downwind from NZ and 1000 miles from Australia, was probably the most
sobering moment of my sailing career. I am surprised in retrospect that I
had not agonised rather more over the prospect in the past, and promise to
keep it high on the priority list in the future.

Just as the wind was beginning to ease and the sky to clear, the port inner
shroud parted. I've no idea why, it wasn't under particular strain. The
rigging is only 3 years old, and it was surveyed and approved by the rigger
in Whangarei. If that wasn't enough of a surprise, two days later the
starboard inner shroud parted also. Luckily, a Bowman has several strong
stays backing eachother up. I was careful not to put up too much sail, and
the mast never showed any sign of distress.

Then, a more serious malfunction. The sprocket at the front of the boom is
retained in the gooseneck by a nut which has in the past shown a tendency to
work loose. I therefore make a point of checking it morning and evening and
carry the appropriate tool in a cockpit locker, and recently it has remained
nice and tight. Now, suddenly, the nut was rolling on the deck, and the boom
was out of the gooseneck. There was no way that I was going to get it back
in on my own at sea, so from now on the mainsail was out of action. The
consequence was that we sailed most of the way from NZ to Aus under one
foresail alone. It won't happen again. I shall have serious talks with a
rigger and make sure that that nut is somehow permanently secured in the future.

The weather became sub-tropical, the sky was blue, the wind was in the right
direction. There was the occasional dolphin, and the sheerwaters had kept me
company all the way. But the wind fell to 10 knots, and boat speed to 5, 4,
occasionally 3 knots. Not a safety problem, but hard on the patience. This
is why the voyage took 12 days, when it should have been 10 or less.
Eventually, agonisingly, we crossed the shipping lanes, rounded Sandy Cape,
the wind freshened to 15 knots, and we clipped along the 50 miles of Hervey
Bay at 6 or 7 knots under the yankee with morale on the up and land in sight.

We came up the Burnett River just before midnight, Port Control instructed
me to anchor below the marina and await Customs in the morning, that suits
me, I feel a night's sleep coming up. I selected a spot to anchor, made my
approach, put the engine into astern to take the way off her, and... the
engine lever jammed solid. Was this Neptune making a sort of an offer of
peace? It happened to be the last manoeuvre of the voyage, further out it
would have caused me serious difficulty. I slept, and the marina boatman kindly
towed me in in the morning.

For the record, Lydia is not a boat that is thrashed. She is regularly and
professionally serviced and maintained, and I do not skimp on cost. Oh, by the
way, the joker valves on both loos failed during the voyage.

Friday morning in Bundaberg. The sun is shining, long trousers are quickly replaced with shorts.
The infamous Australian Customs are actually quite charming,
I was even allowed to keep enough of the contents of the fridge to make
lunch. Jason has removed the autopilot and taken it to his workshop, Gary has had an initial look at the engine lever and will be back on Monday, Colin will be along to look at the stays on Monday.

A new chapter in the adventure begins. Pace, Neptune?