Off to see the Wizards!……Our Sail to Australia…..

October 22nd – October 26th, 2011 (Eastern Hemisphere)

Dear F&F,

As predicted by our weather software and watching the \”BOM\” (Bureau of Meteorology) website in \”OZ\”, it was time to go. The winds were backing from South to East and the seas were coming down rapidly in size. We expected the trip to take five plus days.

We were also not truly alone. Unusually, a group of five boats would all be leaving New Caledonia at the same time. The unusual part is that all five of us were catamarans! Cats are becoming more and more popular for long distance cruising at the years go by. Safe, fast and roomy. Also we don\’t \”heel\” (lean over) like a monohull and that alone is far more comfortable.

As the South Pacific Cyclone season was about to officially get underway on November 1st AND we are again in a declared \”La Nina\” year, I thought it prudent to not try and hang around to see if we could find a big whirly storm now (or ever for that matter).

We waved good bye to Jerome, Nathalie and family who had come over and given us a lovely bottle of wine to celebrate our crossing the Pacific upon our arrival in Brisbane. We hoisted the main sail with one reef to test the winds that might be stronger a bit offshore. We would be headed just south of due west. Once we cleared the bay, we realized that the far western reefs of New Caledonia still had to be either left to starboard (our right) or we would have to negotiate our way through them. As they did not appear to have obvious passages, discretion was the better part of valor and we headed initially more south to avoid the reefs altogether. This further validated our decision to wait a day as otherwise it would have been pretty bumpy trying to go closer to the wind and have the seas more toward our bow.

Day One – We covered 170 miles and Kay seemed to do just fine. This would be her second ocean passage and she began to find her sea legs. With our reefed main and either the genoa or the staysail, we had a nice first day at sea. We would do our standard \”four hours on – four hours off\” watch system. Kay took the mid night to 4 a.m. watch and I took the two other \”dark watches\” on either side of hers. We were in morning and afternoon communication with s/v Dream Caper, s/v Tyee and s/v Gabian. Gabian was the race horse in our group doing 200 mile days right off the bat. With Kay\’s tummy and less experience in mind, I wasn\’t about to go into boat racer mode and keep up with them. S/v \”Dream Caper\” with Steve and Portia aboard were out of San Rafael, California. S/v \”Tyee\” with John, Lucy and two sons aboard were out of British Columbia. S/v \”Gabian\” from France. Our last big cat, s/v \”LuCat\” was headed toward Bundeberg, 100+ miles north of the other four of us. We four all headed to Brisbane.

Day Two – Again we covered 170 miles and the winds were going even further aft as expected with the passing high pressure system to our south. Kay and I put up the spinnaker pole and used either the genoa or the staysail on it to keep our \”VMG\” (velocity made good) as high as possible. It also makes \”Miss Piggy\” real comfortable being that far off the wind. With the wind still in the low 20 knot range, we were flying along just great. We kept not only a twice daily radio schedule with the other Cats but also checked in with the Pacific Seafarer\’s Net to log our daily position reports. It\’s a big Pacific wide \”safety net\” for cruising vessels with \”Ham Radio\” operators participating from all over the USA, New Zealand and Australia. It\’s a comfort to get to know these great volunteers. Many have become good friends over the last several years. It always takes till the second day to get into the rhythm of a passage and this one was no exception; everything going along smoothly.

Day Three – The winds began to lighten (as expected) and we hoisted the spinnaker to maximize our sail area with a full main sail. This was the first time I\’d actually put the upwind end of the spinnaker to weather on the pole. It worked perfectly and we kept this going all afternoon, through the night and actually watched our day\’s run decrease in the lightening winds down to 160 miles. The boat however was very easy to handle and very comfortable. This was a major improvement over our Galapagos to Marquesas passage where Mike, Cindy and I had to always keep a close eye on the autopilot with the spinnaker up.

Day Four – When we finally dropped the spinnaker, the winds were really getting light and we were now in a race to get into Brisbane ahead of the coming low pressure system. It wasn\’t predicted to be that strong, but hey why take a chance! We fired up both the \”iron genoas\” (engines) and with plenty of fuel floored it headed right toward Brisbane. The current is generally north to south along the east coast of \”OZ\”, but we found it erratic. Sometimes we\’d be going 9 knots and sometimes 5.5 knots depending on the vagaries of the gyre.

Day Five – Still motoring, expecting the frontal passage tonight with ETA around 8 a.m. at the Outer Moreton Bay Buoy. Last night on Kay\’s watch, she got whacked by 30 knots out of the south with the frontal passage. The wind shifted from the northeast to the south in an hour. Kay got to watch a lightning show, get bounced around and pretty wet too! Her first lightening at sea story. No biggie. The ocean got lumpy and we\’d be happy to be in protected water within 10 hours.

Day Six – Officially began at 8:30 a.m. just as we arrived at the Moreton Bay Buoy. Moreton Bay is huge. Think San Francisco Bay size, maybe a bit bigger. Also, it\’s completely shoaled up everywhere; a giant sand bar. Good thing we got that chart chip! Actually, there is a deep water channel dredged to 15 meters (48 feet) from one end to the other for the commercial traffic. It is also very well marked and controlled by \”Vessel Traffic Controllers\” which we were in communication with the entire trip within the bay. We had to stay off to one side to allow the big ships to go by and we\’re able to take a few short cuts as we only draw 4 feet (1.5 meters).

We had southeast winds at 20 knots, but fortunately had Moreton Island to knock down the ocean waves. The shoaling however made the chop, short, steep and lumpy. We also lost the incoming tide half way up the bay and were slowed down to 4.5 knots against a 3 knot outflow. At first, we were going 8.5 knots WITH the current. As they say \”down under\”, \”No worries mate, she\’ll be right\”….and it was. S/v \”Tyee\” was having some engine issues and they were slowed to 3 knots. No fun!

Finally, we made the Brisbane River\’s outer entrance for the last 6 miles before we would be \”on land\”.

The trip up the river was uneventful, but we had to move out of the way of a couple of large commercial ships and stay in contact with Brisbane Port Control; the local \”VTS\” system. Finally we arrived at Rivergate Marina where Australian Customs keeps a permanent dock for small craft check in\’s. Here, we met Officer\’s Tracey and Ryan who were delightful and checked us not only into the Customs part our entry, but were also able to act in the stead of Immigration services. One last hoop was clearing Quarantine. Here, our fresh foods would be removed and the boat checked for things like pests. All was good, we \”Jumped the Puddle\”…… at last……

See the Brisbane Photo Gallery for our arrival photos and trip up Moreton Bay. Stay tuned,

Scott with Kay…now home in OZ