They say a ship should never leave harbor on a Friday. It brings bad luck. I’m not sure who decided this was so, or why, but in seafaring ways you never tempt ill fortune.
Day 1: Saturday, 13 October
- Departing Mackay Marina
- Miles to Sydney: 950
- Conditions: Wind SE 15 knots
0200 We decided to leave Mackay on a sunny Saturday afternoon after checking the weather gribs and discovering it was going to be a shit few days at sea. Strong southeasterly headwinds are expected for the first two days, but a high is expected to roll in behind it. We are determined to get to Sydney as soon as possible, so we are just going to go for it. We’ll take the headwinds to start, given it will afford us to hook into the back of this pending high and hopefully manage some smooth sailing. The winds should turn to the north as soon as we get out of the trade wind zone.
We had help from some of the rally boats to slip lines and wave us off to sea. John and I realized this was one of the few send-offs we’ve had with bodies left ashore waiving a farewell. It was a touching goodbye. We are not sure when we will see our shipmates again – people who’ve become family through the past six months. They provided support when we needed it and companionship when we wanted it; the friendships forged at sea are often short but sweet. We will miss these ocean allies.
Day 2: Sunday, 14 October
- At sea, heading south to Sydney
- 1200 22°09’S, 150°38’E
- Miles to Sydney: 840
- Conditions: Wind SE 10 knots, 110 miles covered in the past 24 hours
0900 We motored throughout the night, partly due to headwinds and partly due to the labyrinth of shoals, islands and sand spits that are scattered inside the Cumberland Islands, south of Mackay. The weather is pleasant and the seas slight despite the constant headwinds. All are happy onboard and we are settling into our routines.
1100 We’ve adopted a three-hour watch routine, which we’ve both agreed strikes a good balance between enough sleep to make it through the next shift and not too long as to become clock watchers. Braca has learned to sleep through the night, which will make the evenings easier on us all. John is dawn watchman and as B tends to rise at the crack ‘o dawn, “baby-sitter” is added to his list of normal seafaring duties. The boys will keep good company. Chaos, I am sure – I’ve no doubt I will be rising to a cabin and cockpit in all sorts of disarray.
Braca will not be allowed on deck while at sea, and we’ve baby-proofed the cockpit so we have safe conditions onboard. Now the only matter is to keep us all entertained for an expected seven to ten days it should us to get down to Sydney.
Day 3: Monday, 15 October
- At sea: 1200 23°15’S, 152°01.5’E
- Miles to Sydney: 725
- Conditions: Wind SE 10 knots, 115 miles covered in the past 24 hours
1600 We’ve been beating down the Capricorn Channel all day. This is the large southern entrance to the Great Barrier Reef and conditions remain quite reasonable despite the less than ideal light headwinds. We continue to motor, and the drone of the engine is starting to invade our dreams… Braca more than any of us, I am sure, as we’ve set his cot up on the pilot berth which is directly adjacent to the engine room. Turning the engine off would mean a much longer passage, so we are choosing the lesser of two evils. We would like to try and get as far south as quickly as possible as to take advantage of the back of the next high, which we are hoping will provide much-craved for northerlies. Atea is not able to carve her way to windward like a racing yacht. She is great on a reach or off the wind, but needs a little help in current conditions. Hence, we are resorting to what is often known as “the Iron Topsail.”
Day 4: Tuesday, 16 October
- At sea: 1200 24°20’S, 153°11’E
- Miles to Sydney: 629
- Conditions: Wind SE 15 knots, 96 miles covered in the past 24 hours
0200 There are big merchant ships out here, line by line of light passing our little ship in the night. All dark but for a white light punctuated with a dot of red or green to indicate direction. As passages often mean not a sight of human existence for days on end, it is fun to have the repeat of silent passenger slip by us in the night.
0800 John dipped the fuel tank this morning, fetching a reading of 650 litres. Atea carries 850 litres of diesel at full tank, which under normal conditions should be enough for eight to ten days of continuous running. We should have enough fuel to motor all the way to Sydney if we have to, though we hope it doesn’t come to that. Too noisy, too wearing on the nerves and too damn expensive!
1300 Argh! We’ve had slow progress over the past 24-hours and are only just off Lady Elliot Island. Beautiful sight, however; the island is off our starboard side and a pretty to behold. The wind has increased and we bash into it as we continue to make ground to the southeast, directly into the wind. Slow progress. We tried motoring directly into it and we’ve also tried tacking, but neither is ideal and I wish there was another option. We considered tucking into Lady Musgrave to wait for better weather, but we’ve word that good friends are in Sydney this weekend and we are trying to make way to reach them by Sunday. Appropriate, as our guest is Braca’s godmother, Glenda, and partner Johnny. Besides, if we waited for the wind to change this time of year we could be waiting for weeks, and we can’t afford that. Onward we press, engine drumming a repetitive beat into our heads.
We are not alone out here, however. We are accompanied by humpback today, confirming earlier sightings of large sprays of water in the distance. This afternoon we had a spectacular sight of a whale repeatedly breeching, only a half mile away.
Day 5: Wednesday, 17 October
- At sea: 1200 27°08’S, 153°36’E
- Miles to Sydney: 469
- Conditions: Wind E 15 knots, 160 miles covered in the past 24 hours
1000 I am not sure who coined the term, “miles and miles of Bloody Africa,” but they could easily have been talking about Australia. This coastline seems to stretch on and on without end, mile after bloody forever mile. Jet travel reduces one’s appreciation of distance, but travel by yacht and you certainly notice distance, and Australia offers plenty of that.
1400 Today is Braca’s first birthday! We’ve decided that his first birthday is as much a celebration for the parents and have been feasting on treats all day long. What a star he’s been! We received emails from both his maternal and paternal grandparents wishing him a merry one and raising a toast. I see that the excuse of claiming B’s first birthday as reason for one’s own self indulgence extends a generation! While we were opening a bottle of wine to celebrate, so were his grandparents.
1800 We are off Fraser Island. Long stretch of sandy shore. It is a beautiful evening with calm, clear sky and a rich blood-red sunset over the sand dunes that are just a few miles away. Atea is finally pointed due south and we are no longer hard on the wind. Still motoring, though – I wonder if we will ever get the sound of the engine drone out of our head and the vibrations out of our bones. Poor little Braca, so patient. It is no wonder he is waking so early….
Day 6: Thursday, 18 October
- At sea: 1200 29°20’S, 153°37’E
- Miles to Sydney: 330
- Conditions: Wind NE 15 knots, 139 miles covered in the past 24 hours
1000 As forecast, the winds have backed to the northeast and we are finally sailing without the engine helping us along. The northerly winds mean that both Lucy Lister (our hard working diesel) and ourselves are getting a rest day. At long last!
2000 This evening we can see the glow of lights at Surfers Paradise. It really feels like we are making progress now and we have covered 1/3 of the distance. We seem to have found the Eastern Australian Current, giving us a healthy 1-2 knots of current boosting us southwards – “Grab shell dude. Here comes the ride!”
We are not the only one’s out here riding the EAC. We continue to have Humpback sightings along the way, providing us with a unique escort south.
2100 Braca is tucked in bed, our sleeping beauty. Routine has settled into a comfortable pace, and I’ve really enjoyed this past week at sea. I expected a hard dash to windward in heavy swells, strong winds, and poor weather. I expected to be holding Braca in arms all day to protect him from crashing about the boat. We’ve received very little of that. As such, we’ve been able to allow him his freedom to crawl, climb, and roam on his own. Toys are brought out and strewn throughout the saloon, jumbled in the cockpit. He enjoys standing at the companionway and holding onto the washboards, throwing random objects down the stairway. He has adopted a habit of stashing all variety of object in the bin, and we’ve adopted the unpleasant task of sorting the rubbish for hidden treasures before discarding it. This search is often quite cursory and so many an object has gone missing.
Day 7: Friday, 19 October
- At sea: 1200 31°00’S, 153°01’E
- Miles to Sydney: 193
- Conditions: Wind S 25 knots, 137 miles covered in the past 24 hours
1100 Today we passed Cape Bryon, the easternmost point of Australia. Our luck with agreeable weather seems to have ended as today we’ve run into strong headwinds again. We are reefed down to just the staysail with two reefs in the main, and the day is grey and the seas hostile. Atea is a strong boat and seaworthy in these conditions, but we have to take extra care with Braca to keep him warm and safe. Mr. B seems perky though; I love how he is so indifferent to the bouncing of the boat and wants to play regardless of weather conditions. He seems not to notice the motion and he has none of the adult concepts of risk and fear that might cause upset when you consider the windy, wet and rough world outside.
We continue to be thrilled by plenty of Humpback sightings around us; today one sounded and showed his tail not 100 yards from the boat. We’ve also seen other whales breeching out of the water with a great crash of spray, thankfully these more rowdy displays at a distance. One doesn’t want to be too close to many tonnes of whale frolicking and leaping out of the sea.
2300 The wind has eased and the night is calm and placid. There is a lightening storm off to our port side in the distance, and we hope that it doesn’t make its way towards us. Two nights ago we had a new moon, and new moons mean dark nights. This allows us to see twinkling lights in the ocean rather than in the sky; the phosphorescence are out in force tonight, making each wave shimmer. That with the rise of a crescent moon has made this evening particularly beautiful.
Day 8: Saturday, 20 October
- At sea, final stretch into Sydney Harbour
- 1200 33°20’S, 153°00’E
- Miles to Sydney: 63
- Conditions: Wind E 20 knots, 130 miles covered in the past 24 hours
1000 It is a stunning day today, not as predicted. We’ve been hustling along at 8 knots with the engine on, but winds have been building and we were able to cut her and roll along in 18 – 20 knot winds off the starboard bow. Gribs have predicted the winds to turn late morning to south/south easterlies, rising to 25 knots. It is late morning now and very pleasant with SW15 knot. The angle could be better, but the sea state is calm, the sun shining, and winds moderate. Right now we have 51 miles t go and at our current speed we are projected to arrive in Sydney Harbour at 8:30PM
While both John and I have spent weeks at sea before, it has always been on the open ocean – surrounded by the endless ocean. We left Mackay a week ago and have been traveling along Australia’s east coast ever since; her shore stretching alongside us as we trek south, sporadic lights dotting the coast at night reminding us of her presence.
Prior passages also bore the impression of isolation, of being the sole breath in a vast landscape. In comparison, this passage has brought us ships. It has brought us breeching whales. It feels as if we’ve been driving down a busy thoroughfare, in constant surveillance for other vessels traveling along our path.
I’ve enjoyed the company and the sense of solidarity: Pack travel. Shadow shipmates. Silent partners. All of us with our own itinerary, individual accountabilities, personal objectives. But I feel intimate when passing each other at night, each of us in our own secluded space doing the same thing: watching the night, monitoring our instruments, observing the weather and scrutinizing our progress in it. I’ve enjoyed the companionship, perceived as it might be, and the change of scene.
I’d better start getting used to it, an indication of the shift we are all about to make from the sleepy cruising lifestyle to the bustle of a rushing, busy city. I’m prepared. Bring it on. I’ll miss this blue ocean and the wide-open space, but change is a good thing and in my back pocket is the knowledge that our departure from blue water will be short lived. A summer ashore and then we cast lines again for a new adventure, turning Atea back out to sea.
2000 Well, the southerly change arrived as predicted and as often happens, the last 50 miles are proving to be the hardest! We had to reef right down for a while, and are now bouncing along making slow progress to windward along the coast with the lights of Sydney visible and tantalizingly close, but there is another few hours of night passage before we can get into shelter. Frustrating since if the wind had changed just a few hours later we’d be happily at anchor in calm waters celebrating, instead of still crashing into waves and wind straining to reach our goal. Just a few more hours now. Patience.
One Hour into Day 8: Sunday, 21 October
- Final Destination: Sydney Harbour – we set anchor on Australian shores at 1:30AM
- Miles to Sydney: Zero
- Conditions: Shimmering lights of the city and the glow of Sydney Opera House in view; calm in the protection of the harbor and Kia buzzing with enthusiasm for this next stint of Adventure Ashore.
We slipped into the welcome shelter of Port Jackson at 1:30AM. Tomorrow we will happily embrace the new city, but tonight is time for the bliss of a quiet boat, a flat anchorage and, finally, rest from the noise and vibration of a hard working diesel engine. Peace surrounds us, and at the moment it feels all of Australia is out there waiting for us to explore and enjoy.
Atea has logged close to 6,000 miles over the last 6 months. This has been a very good season for us. We have had some fantastic adventures and got time in three splendid countries, all of which we knew relatively little about before hitting their shores. Atea has performed very well and has had no major mechanical issues, and she is proving to be an excellent little ship for blue water cruising. The main engine, electrics, sails, AIS, watermaker, hull maintenance are all in good order and last year’s refit seems to have been money well spent. More expenses are coming up since both of our GPS screens are virtually unreadable, we’ve had two water pumps fail, the genoa roller furler is having issues and various other items are on the list that will need repair. But alas, it isn’t a boat if you aren’t bleeding money. At least we are gaining wealth in the lifestyle she has afforded us. As they say, “owning a boat is like standing in a cold shower naked, ripping up $100 bills.” But they never tell you just how much fun that cold shower can be!