Three Men in a Boat (Australian Version)

»«Tuesday 14th March 2017

Rob Alpe (Sydney Dragon Sailor) bought a small yacht (renamed Stealth) in Perth, West Australia and needed to deliver her home to Sydney.  The journey was to be south, then across the Great Australian Bight, through the Bass Strait and then north to Sydney.  Total distance is approx. 2,500 miles.  The journey was to be in Jan/Feb, against the prevailing SE winds at this time of year.  Several people commented that, with the SE prevailing wind, the correct way to go was to the N of Australia but this would be about 3 times the distance!  He recruited a Sydney sailor, Waz (Warwick Jacobson) and me.

Stealth is unusual, 32ft, one off, racing with minimum internals, aluminium hull, asymmetric rig, built in 1995 by Stephen Ward (famous as the builder of Australia II).

Alpe worked on her nonstop for a couple of weeks installing solar panels, navigation systems, an outboard engine, a porta-potti, a freezer and generally making her seaworthy. He then claimed she was ready and we stocked up with food, including great frozen meals prepared by our resident chefs, Holly and Penny.

Perth (Fremantle) to Albany.  Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean

We cast off on the morning of 22nd Jan straight into 20+ knots SW, the infamous Fremantle Doctor.  No 3 jib and double reefed main, soon to move to a triple reef! Discovered the boat is very wet at sea and had a couple of exceedingly uncomfortable days beating down the W coast of Australia towards Cape Leeuwin, where the Indian Ocean ends and the Southern Ocean starts.  Watch system develops of 4 hours on, 8 hours off but still very tiring in near survival conditions.   Started daily schedule 1200 Sat Phone reports to our ladies, lat/long and conditions.  A couple of quite large flying fish landed on the deck, but fell back into the sea. Everything is soaking below.  We then hit about 15 hours of  flat calm, very frustrating.  Alpe and Waz (against my advice) insisted on trying other headsails, firstly the asymmetric kite, then the No 2 genoa.  The wind filled from the E, once again on the nose, and steadily increased so that we had to change urgently down to the No 3, but not before the No 2 was ripped!  More beating and we closed in on Albany early on the 4th morning, 26th Jan.  Distance travelled around 370 miles in 4 days.  Great news, we have friends in Albany, Simon and Aileen Lucas (ex Burnham Dragon sailors) and we were made wonderfully welcome.  Warm, dry beds, steak and chips, a washing machine for both clothes and cushions.  Simon knows all the engineering subcontractors in Albany and we used many of them to repair and/or upgrade Stealth.  We had discovered the hard way a number of unsafe aspects on Stealth, lack of handholds, moving floor panels, lifelines etc that were sorted in our 3 days there.   The selfsteering gear also had to be repaired, nicknamed Wanda.  Simon introduced us to Mark McRae, who had sailed the Bight several times and gave us great advice (stay above 40 degrees parallel, the infamous roaring forties) and also volunteered to give us daily weather forecast via Sat phone.  Thanks Simon and Aileen, you were brilliant!!!

Albany to Robe.  Great Australian Bight.

W wind arrived so we left Albany at 1730 on 29th.  Great run for 24 hours, 133 miles, then the wind headed and died.  Frustration for 30 hours before a NE came in, allowing us to just about lay our course towards the SE tip of Australia, around 110 degrees.   Regularly seeing pods of dolphins and they play around our bow.  Great sailing but had to take reefs in and out regularly, Stealth is certainly tender.  For ease we are only using No 2 and No 3 reefs as No 1 reef is fine tuning (for racing use, not for delivery trips).  After 5 days, Waz decided to wash, salt water from a bucket.  Claimed it was marvellous but Alpe and I both declined.  Now around 300 miles from nearest land and also a long way from any shipping channels, very lonely.  Fantastic bird life, large birds swooping between the waves, inches from the water and gliding effortlessly for extended periods with wings completely stationary, amazing.  Good weather forecasts being received helped us optimize our routing on this section and probably saved us a day at sea.  Weather on 4th Feb beautiful, sensational sky at night, no moon, just a plethora of stars, magical. 

5th Feb and started to blow from SE.  Fully reefed and hunkered down for nearly 2 days close hauled on starboard with green water coming over the deck.  Thank goodness for Wanda who is a marvel when on the wind.  She enabled all 3 of us to remain below as so far from any land or ships.  Weather and water have both been surprisingly warm.  The discomfort factor is always wetness, both salt water from outside and massive condensation inside.  Will I ever be dry again?   I have the misfortune to be on the lee bunk and have discovered water slops straight out of the bilge into the lee berth.  Not nice!  We tried to maintain a modicum of civilization on board, whenever possible having a glass of wine at 1730 followed by dinner together.   We continued close hauled but started to get headed, our course steadily deteriorating from 110 to around 045.   Wind still 20+ knots and large waves breaking solidly over the boat. This took us N towards Kangaroo Island (still around 135 miles to the N).  We tacked as the wind continued to back and headed on port towards Robe, approx. 100 miles north of our original target of Portland.  Now nearing the shipping channel from Adelaide South and East, so a proper lookout again needed.  Wind steadily lightened and freed but we decided to go into Robe after 10 days at sea.  Distance made good 1,100 miles.   Very shallow entrance and we motored in gingerly under engine and having discussed it on the phone with the harbourmaster.  Moored approx. 2100 SA time (2.5 hours ahead of Perth time) on 8th Feb.  Robe very welcoming, good marina, showers and loos convenient and a short walk into town.  Robe is a beautiful little town, resident population 1,500 and used extensively as a resort for serious fishing, the marina was 100% fishing boats, no yachts.

Robe to Eden. Great Australian Bight to Tasman Sea via Bass Strait

Wind forecast to veer from SE to W so left Robe at 1200 on 10th Feb on beat S in perfect conditions.  Wind veered and we tacked after 6 hours, now on course for Portland and Bass Strait beyond.  We sailed through 2 large families of seals just lying on the surface sunbathing.  They all looked at us very casually, but they didn’’t allow us to interfere with their indolent inactivity!  Noted Stealth had poor boat speed and discovered massive clump of weed on keel and trailing behind.  We luffed, stopped her and managed to clear it with the boat hook.  Continued on, wind steadily increasing and us steadily reducing sail.  Wind well above 30 knots, we dropped the main entirely and were just about to replace the No3 with the storm jib when the No3 ripped to shreds.  Hoisted storm jib (cadetsized and bright orange) and wind and waves continued to increase.  Making amazing speed, probably averaging 9 knots.  Wind got to 50 knots, waves to 10 metres with incredible surfing.  Vital to keep stern on to the waves to avoid broaching.  Really hard work.  Watches reduced to 2 hours each to aid concentration.  Wind right up our backside, no chance of Wanda working.  Totally wet and uncomfortable.  Gybed off Wilsons Promontory, E of Melbourne with plan to make Lakes Entrance.  Decided that port is too shallow on a lee shore so necessary to go an additional 150 miles to Eden, a sheltered port with these strong SW winds.  Eden is famous as a shelter for boats damaged in the Bass Strait during the Sydney Hobart race.   Waves were now less than Bass Strait but more confused.  At 1200 on 14th Feb, Alpe was helming and Waz was sending Sat phone report with hatch open to get reception.  We had a total knockdown, swamped below and lost both masthead light and windex.  No damage to people, thankfully.  Spent the next few hours baling and finding where everything was as the cabin was totally soaked and in chaos.  Several items were lost overboard, No3 jib, winch handle, main torch etc.  We also discovered later that almost all digital equipment was down including GPS and Navionics, all caused by water ingress.  Thank goodness we had a back up Garmin system.  Early the following morning, wind eased somewhat and we gybed towards shore where we got a phone signal and told our ladies all was well.  As wind moderated, we increased sail and had a great reach (now heading N) towards Eden.  We arrived on 15th Feb at 1930, anticipating a meal and a few drinks ashore!  The engine wouldn’t start, more water ingress, so we had to pick up a mooring and have one more wet night, but we did have whisky, wine and noodles for supper.   Got towed in the next morning to meet Carol, Waz”s wife,.who had driven down from Sydney.  Distance travelled approx. 550 miles in 4 days.  2 days in a motel, more launderette (both clothes and cushions) and several repairs,  masthead light, windex, cooker.  Eden is a small town, quiet but friendly, population maybe 5,000.  The main industry appears to be fishing – we bought some delicious prawns straight from a boat.  I left Stealth here as I had a flight booked to NZ with Penny and Carol kindly drove me to Sydney.  Stealth left Eden, 2 up, at 1730 on 17th Feb with a good forecast of S winds for the next several days.  Distance to Pittwater (20 miles N of Sydney and final destination) approx. 400 miles.

Rob Campbell, 18th February 2017