Disasters - the FEAR!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The fear of a disaster while cruising or racing should always be in the back of sailors' minds.  No matter how prepared a vessel and their crew are, the possibility always remains that something drastic will go wrong.

Lately (April 2012) there has been extensive media coverage of the tragedy on the Farrallones race.
Photo from Facebook - Wil Paxton

This morning I read an article about the dramatic rescue of a crew in the Melbourne to Port Fairly race.

And last night, a friend sent me a link to this video of the crew of an Atlantic 57 being rescued. (I'm waiting to do a delivery of a big cat from Sydney-NZ that has been delayed due to the autopilot flaring up).

The fact is - disasters can happen to anyone.  

Being Prepared
Racer, cruiser - it makes no difference - being prepared is important.   I know first hand how hard it is to get people to practice safety drills - particularly cruising.  Who wants to do a man-overboard drill on a Saturday when the weather is perfect (and more over, who wants to try it with a real man-overboard - someone in the water to have to get back on board in full foulies?).  

I 'tried' to get Megan to do drills before our first charter, and again once we started coastal cruising and ... I'm embarrassed to say ... we never did them because each time we were having too much fun and I caved to the "but it's such a nice day - let's do it next time" argument.

This isn't Megan's fault - it's mine.  I knew we needed to be prepared in the case of an emergency, and while we never faced one, the fact is I don't feel like we would have been adequately prepared if something drastic had gone wrong.  We had talked through everything a few times, but after our cruise back from Jervis Bay (when the mainsheet block came loose and flew around the cockpit), Megan began to appreciate the need for doing man-overboard drills (particularly in a scenario where she was the only person left on board).  It's all well and good once you've had a scare to realize you need to prepare, but I knew we should have been doing this from day one and didn't hold my ground.

I am being honest here - and know that some of you who read this will 'tut tut'.   But I would wager we weren't alone in not taking adequate time doing drills in advance.  

Most offshore racers I know do take the time in advance - practicing reefing, putting up storm sails & man-overboards - perhaps not so much on fire response/water ingress.

But I would guess many cruisers don't - and realistically the impact of a disaster on a short-handed crew (most cruisers being two-up) will probably be magnified.  One person trying to do a man-overboard rescue in rough seas would be almost impossible - steering, reducing sail, keeping an eye on the man overboard ... scary stuff.  Even scarier if the 'survivor' isn't on deck and doesn't notice for some period of time.  This is our biggest fear.

Something I hadn't previously considered practicing, but am now thinking about is practicing 'drift' rescue (i.e. practicing trying to plot the drift of a man-overboard).  The article I linked to above with the rescue by Grant Dunoon & crew makes clear that this navigational skill can be the difference between life & death for crew in the water.

For friends & family, please understand - Megan and I weren't completely unsafe when cruising.   We planned around the weather rather than trying to push through it (except one time when we returned to Sydney at the end of a weekend cruise and spent 9 hours slugging away upwind in 30+ knots & 3-4m swell!).  We wore lifevests/harneses offshore, had jacklines in the cockpit and running the length of the decks and were tethered in at night and in 'rough' weather (as defined by Megan - so pretty much any swell or wind above 15 knots) or when alone on deck, and we both 'knew' where all the safety gear was (I say 'knew' in quotes, as we had put it there, but may not have known where to go right away in an emergency).  We had an EPIRB and DSC VHF radio - but other than when we first bought the EPIRB, hadn't gone through the procedures to deploy it and I doubt we would have been able to do so without reading the instructions on the side.

Crew briefings, training sessions etc. may seem a bit pedantic and are definitely not how most of us would want to spend a weekend, but unless these are a regular part of your sailing regime, the skills and response time may not be there when you need it.

We've talked about this for our long-term cruising plans, and Megan and I have agreed that when we get our new boat, we are going to dedicate a day early on to doing rescues/safety drills in nice weather - and to 'test' those periodically thereafter (we're thinking every 3 months).  

It's so much easier to know you should be doing this stuff than to do it.  But, hopefully this post may remind someone (besides me!) to get their but in gear and do it! 

PS - Friends & family who may come on board with us along the way - please understand when I take the time to walk through safety with you WHY I think it's important and pay attention - even on a day trip things can go wrong!

NYE 2012 - Sydney Harbour

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sydney Harbour is one of the most beautiful places to watch fireworks on NYE.  The setting is picturesque with the iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

Anyone who has seen the Harbor on NYE knows, the beauty is only surpassed by the volume of traffic.  Most bays begin to look like mooring fields!

NSW Maritime and the NYE organisers go to some effort to publish information on the special restrictions put in place to handle the volume of traffic and firework displays, which include the establishment of large exclusion zones for the bridge and fireworks barges.

Having just returned from our Jervis cruise, Megan and I did a quick turnaround at home - showers & naps - then headed back down to Haliastur to watch the fireworks on the harbour.

It was quite the adventure - our mooring is on the western side of Rose Bay at the Rose Bay Marina, and we went all the way to ... the east side of Rose Bay and dropped anchor! 5 minutes off the mooring still counts as a trip!  The wind was from the ENE, so this was the ideal location despite the lack of any real adventure to get there.

I was a bit nervous about the thought of anchoring in amongst a bunch of boats on NYE, but the space between the yachts already anchored was actually huge compared to some of the anchorages we had seen in our bareboat trip in the Whitsundays.  We found a large spot with a great view - and maybe most importantly, all the boats near us were either couples or families (as opposed to the boat with 30+ partiers booming out Daft Punk).  I also, probably irrationally, felt comforted by the perimeter of 50+ foot motor yachts surrounding us - big & bright enough to be evident to even the worst sailor (drunk) on NYE!

We had decided to try and raft up for the fireworks with Jules, a fellow sailor from DBSC.  As Jules came alongside, we opted to have him drop anchor slightly to the north of us (at about a 40 degree angle to handle the anticipated shift to the north).

Given his heavier anchor and all chain rode, once we were rafted up I payed out more rode so we were effectively relying on his anchor with mine as a backup.

Jules has converted from owning keelboats to a sturdy little motor-yacht - quite sensible given his young family!

Jules & family - the deep cockpit is definitely a plus for young kids
As the sun set, we settled in for a bbq and some drinks.  Thankfully, Jules had been able to get in touch with T as she headed down to the Rose Bay Wharf where he was picking up the family, and she was able to pick us up a roast chicken - in our rush out the door we had left the steaks on the counter!  It worked out as a fair trade - they had forgotten their veggies!

As the sun set, the temperature began to drop, but that didn't stop us from enjoying some cold beverages!

Or showing off Megan's 'engagement ring'!
We thoroughly enjoyed the 'kids' fireworks at 9pm, after which the children were put to bed.  The adults then partied all night!...actually, we all fell asleep between the kids fireworks and the real thing, and were woken by the midnight fireworks.

After they were done, we all fell into our bunks and tried to sleep.

I say 'tried' as one of the unfortunate aspects of our rafting up was that the fenders rubbed quite noisily (vertical motion up and down) all night long any time swell hit one of our boats before the other.  Talking to Jules the next day, they were very glad when we got up at 5am and decided to drop our lines, pick up our anchor and head back to our mooring to get the last few hours sleep before the tender service started up at 8am.

This being the first time I had rafted up with another boat overnight, I'm not sure if this is a common issue or not, or how to avoid it.  (If anyone knows why/how to avoid this problem, please feel free to explain in comments or shoot me an email for next time!)

Cruising Jervis Bay - Christmas 2011

Sunday, April 15, 2012

22-30 December 2011
Haliastur anchored off Red Point, Hare Bay (Jervis Bay, NSW)
Over Christmas 2011 Megan and I cruised Jervis Bay, NSW.  It was a fantastic experience, and would have been a 9 out of 10 trip normally, but throwing in my wedding proposal (and Megan's acceptance!) this trip received a 10 out of 10 from both of us!

We decided to start our trip from Sydney down the coast to Jervis on Thursday 22nd December.  Our plan was to leave in the afternoon once Megan was done work, and sail non-stop to Honeymoon Bay.

This decision itself represents one of the reasons why Jervis seems to be a less favoured cruising destination - despite its many charms.  There are few options for stopping over between Sydney and Jervis (Wollongong being the only real choice along the way).  As a result, the 85nm trip represents a challenge for cruisers who do not want to sail overnight (or can't average 10knots!).  Once in Jervis, there are also limited amenities for cruisers, but we found the reduced number of boats cruising the bay to more than offset any of these limitations.

This trip was Megan's first overnighter, and while she was a bit nervous, I was excited as I had extreme confidence in her abilities and wanted to get her over that hump.

In typical fashion, there were a few last minute items to finish before we headed off that I rushed to complete on the day of departure - the key one being to head to Whitworths to pick up a part needed to mount our new autopilot.  I had only figured out the optimal fitting the weekend before, but thankfully Raymarine were able to get the part delivered in time, and it only took a few hours to fit the autopilot and finish off the other odd jobs (changing oil, new fuel filter, new strong points in cockpit for tethers).

Megan relaxing under newly installed autopilot as we leave Rose Bay.
With the autopilot up and running - and our new 150% genoa from Quantum only a few weeks old - we were ready to rock!

The weather forecast was for a light 10 knot North-Easterly - which held true to start with and we made around 5.5 knots for the first few hours south out of the heads.  As the sun set, the wind dropped off and we were left with a fluctuating breeze most of the night, from almost nothing to around 5 knots.  Needless to say, in order to make any headway we turned to our trustee auxiliary.

Haliastur, our Duncanson 29, was equipped with an 8hp Yanmar (YSM8) and two blade fixed prop.  While reliable and efficient (about 1ltr/hour fuel consumption at maximum output), the extra 'umpf' is limited.  Even with the motor running all night, we only averaged around 3.5 knots.

These conditions, while less than ideal normally, actually suited us perfectly for Megan's first night sailing experience.  I couldn't have asked for a better set of conditions - calm seas and a light breeze for her to handle her first watches!  I was very confident in Megan's skills, but knowing that she wouldn't face any real challenges (other than sleep deprivation and the constant stream of tankers anchored off the NSW coast - which we were well clear of having taken a rhumb line route from Sydney to Jervis) was very comforting for both of us.

Sunset on our way - easiest first night watch ever!

The next morning the wind began to fill in again around 9am and we were able to get the moving average back up around 5 knots as we broad reached along the coast towards Jervis.

The rest of the trip to Jervis was very uneventful - though the cost of the autopilot was quickly put into perspective as we were able to enjoy our watches without having to helm continuously!

Megan was therefore able to pursue her favorite part of sailing for much of the day ....

We entered the mouth of the bay around 3pm, passing under the Point Perpendicular Lighthouse.  Keeping to the north side of the mouth of the bay (be cautious of the bombora off Longnose Point), we headed towards Honeymoon Bay where we picked up a visitors mooring.

Jervis Bay is replete with moorings, which are a necessity given the restrictions on anchoring imposed as part of the Jervis Bay Marine Park.  Honeymoon Bay had more than ten moorings - though many were in less than 2 metres (and some more like 1m) at low tide only leaving a few which would be suitable for boats with any significant draft (most of these were occupied by tinnies or small motorboats).

I took a quick snorkel down to check out the mooring, and was surprised at how robust a mooring system was in place.  It appeared that a pillar was driven into the seabed, from which a horizontal arm extended that could rotate above the height of the seagrass - definitely an ingenious way to protect the habitat while allowing mooring to take place.

We quickly settled in, went for a swim to the beach and back, then cracked some Coronas and enjoyed steak and salad as the sun set.  The following morning we decided to relax and enjoy the day on the mooring, a perfect opportunity to test out our new hammock!

 The following day we dropped the mooring and headed to Hare Bay, which is the north east quadrant of Jervis Bay opposite Callala.  There is a large marine sanctuary zone which occupies most of Hare Bay with prohibited anchoring & fishing.  There are designated anchoring areas from Green Point south to Montagu Point, and a much smaller area around Red Point.

While these restrictions are apparent on the charts, I highly recommend picking up a copy of the Jervis Bay Marine Park Zoning Plan users guide produced by the Marine Parks Authority.  This provides greater detail on the sanctuary zones and restrictions.  We were lucky enough to have a copy with annotations, which came in a fairly comprehensive package of information concerning Jervis Bay prepared by our friend Ian.   Thanks again for that!

Anchored off Red Point ... perfection!
We anchored just west of Red Point in anticipation of stronger north easterly winds to come that afternoon/evening.  While we will always be partial to Hole in the Wall (for reasons that will become obvious below), we agreed that this was our favorite anchorage of our time in Jervis.  While exposed from all but north or north-north east winds, in those conditions the beauty of this location is well worth it!

We rowed ashore and had the three kilometres of beach from Red Point to Hare Point to ourselves.  It was a magical afternoon walking the beach, talking, swimming and feeling like we had a slice of paradise to ourselves.

The vibrancy of the marine sanctuary was evident by the amount of fish species prowling the beach - we saw numerous rays looking for lunch!

After a relaxing afternoon, we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset to close out Christmas Eve!

And woke Christmas morning to find Santa had visited us on Haliastur - how he fit through the hatch one will never know.  (And yes, Megan definitely deserved the "Nice" stocking from our "Naughty & Nice" pair!)
 We were enjoyed breakfast with a pod of dolphins providing entertainment as they cruised along the coast.
Our next destination was Orion Beach off Vincentia on the western side of the bay.  With a 12-15 knot north-easter blowing and anticipated to pick up later in the day, it was a great sail across the bay but I was quite nervous about anchoring and leaving the boat for the afternoon to have a Christmas day lunch with our friends Sam & Julieanne and Sam's family at their place in Vincentia.

Thankfully, a number of the private moorings at the west end of Orion/south end of Collingwood beaches were unoccupied.  While I believe these are commercial moorings, we decided to chance it and pick up a mooring rather than anchor - rationalizing that, being Christmas day, they would not be needed.

This proved to be a great decision as, feeling comfortable that Haliastur was safe and sound, we were able to fully celebrate with our friends - multiple kilos of prawns and bottles of sparking later, I was relieved not to have to a) row us back out in what was now 20+ knots or b) fear that the anchor might drag onto a lee shore.  As a result, we felt comfortable to take up the offer of staying the night ashore with our friends.

We woke the following morning with Megan feeling a bit rusty - while I on the other hand was pumped with adrenalin from the moment the sun rose.  I had snuck a bottle of our favorite Rockford's Black Shiraz on board, which was hidden in with the tools together with a giant fake diamond ring.  I felt pretty confident Megan wasn't going to be rummaging around in there!

The plan had been to propose to Megan at some point over the trip, and with a southerly supposed to come through the evening of the 26th and the uncertainty of what the weather do from then on, I made the call ... today is the DAY!

After a quick stop at the grocery store and petrol station in Vincentia to re-supply, we headed to the south-east corner of Jervis Bay to pick up a visitor mooring at Hole in the Wall Beach.

The entire trip down I was thinking over in my head what I wanted to say and how I was going to do the proposal.  Meanwhile, Megan was struggling from the celebrations of the day/night before.

When we arrived, there was only one other sloop on a mooring with no-one to be seen.  I packed a beach bag with a European style lunch (hard-boiled eggs, pears, ham, brie, baguettes and hummus) and pleaded with Megan to go ashore and have a nice lunch.

She had no idea what I was up to - but it did take some convincing that a nap wasn't in order and she should take a swim to shake off her hangover while I got lunch ready!

Needless to say, I was very relieved when, with the spread layed out she finally relaxed on our beach blanket.  At which point I got the camera out to "take shots for the blog we'll start".

Then ... down on one knee ... I pulled out the bottle of black shiraz with the ring around the neck of the bottle and said some special words to my love!  We both teared up and had a lovely hug and kiss, cracked the bottle and celebrated the occasion!

It was about ten minutes later that I realized, in all the special things I said to Megan about her, us, and the life I hoped to share with her, I had forgotten to actually say "Will you marry me?".

I quickly got that out of the way, and then we were able to celebrate in earnest.  Megan decided some cartwheels were in order!

After a few hours alone on the beach celebrating, we headed back out to the boat and Megan started the requisite calls to the world.

Very quickly, our friends Sam & Julieanne decided they would come out the following day to continue the celebration with us, which they did bringing us some more sparking.  Thanks again guys!

Megan, Julieanne, Mike and Sam - loving it despite the weather!

Where it all happened!

The Hole in the Wall

We decided to spend one more day at Hole in the Wall before heading back to Sydney.  The moorings had filled up the previous day, and a number of additional yachts came through and anchored in this lovely location.  

The moorings are at the eastern end of Hole in the Wall beach, but you can walk west along the beach all the way to HMAS Creswell.  The further west you go, the more campers from Booderee National Park you will encounter.

Hole in the Wall - Jervis Bay
On December 29 we dropped the mooring and headed out of the mouth of the bay with a lovely southerly breeze of 10-12 knots pushing us nicely towards Sydney.

Just off Wollongong we enjoyed a spaghetti bolognaise and Coke Zero before getting ready to start our watches - we weren't going to get back until early the next morning.
 It was right after dinner that we had our only major drama of the trip.  Suddenly and without warning the boom shot skyward and the mainsheet and blocks flew violently around the cockpit!  Thankfully, the flying block missed Megan's head as it shot up and to leeward.

We quickly headed to windward, dropped the main, furled in the genoa, tidied up the main and lashed the boom to the deck.  After a damage/rigging inspection, we got underway again under genoa alone.

The lower mainsheet block was attached to the traveller by two shackles.  Over the course of the day, the pin must have loosened and slid out enough that the pressure of the main bent the shackle, as below.

Lower mainsheet block - the hole is where the pin from the shackle passes through.

Traveller attachment point
While scary at the time, in hindsight this little emergency was great - we communicated with each other well, responded rapidly and, all up, it was another great learning experience that provided more confidence for our upcoming demi-circumnavigation.

Rather than chance the only other shackle that would fit the opening in the mainsheet block, we decided to continue under genoa alone back to Sydney.  It was a beautiful sail the rest of the way.  Megan had the first off watch, but I was enjoying the sail and decided not to wake her.  Coming up the coast at night is an amazing view, and I listened to music on the IPod and enjoyed the rest of the trip.
Sunset off the coast - Royal National Park, NSW
Coming back through the heads into Port Jackson (Sydney harbor) just after 2am, I was looking forward to pickup up our mooring in Rose Bay and nodding off.  Rather than tack back up the harbour (the wind still being out of the south southeast), I dropped the sails off Sow & Pigs reef and motored home.

Megan woke as I settled into my bunk, snug on the mooring and with a smile on my face after an excellent adventure.

All in all, a wonderful trip and I highly recommend Jervis as a destination along the south NSW coast!