Melbourne to Sydney November 2011

It was a brave little band that came to farewell us at some ungodly hour on Friday morning 11/11/11. Dennis was joining us for the "Passage to Eden" and we wanted to get going early so that meant a very early start for the support crews! 

We had watched one storm come through Melbourne from the safety of our berth at Docklands and didn't really want to face another one like that one

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Of course getting out of the river meant dodging a few of our larger friends but we certainly got used to that over the next week.It was a slow trip down the bay with light winds but that gave us a chance to farewell Rob who had motored out in Dalliance to give us a wave.

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As it was, it was perfect timing and we headed down and out, turned left, and had the low and eventually disappearing sun behind us. We went into the night's sailing with a little trepidation. We were sailing further south than we had hoped as the winds had stayed easterly longer than we had expected. We also knew we would encounter a number of ships coming towards us and we were relying on the AIS to give us adequate warning. At dawn we were passing the Glennie Group off the Western side of Wilson's Promontory and, apart from dodging some shipping we were doing well.  

A few hours later we were entering Refuge Cove. We were accompanied in by a pod of dolphins who came to play on our bow and we were still excited from our first whale sighting. A humpback breached 2 or 3 times about 150 metres off our starboard side as we rounded the lighthouse at south East Point. Hard to believe that all this was happening. We still feel overawed at times with the reality of this new life.

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It was great to get to Refuge Cove at about 4pm on Saturday , not only because it's such a beautiful place but it was also the end of a 32 hour sail from Docklands (25 hours from Port Phillip Heads).  Much of Wilson's Promontory is still closed because of the flooding earlier in the year so the sense of peace and solitariness of the Cove is even more pronounced.  There was one other yacht there when we arrived and they soon came over to say hello and tell us that they were going ashore to find mobile phone coverage up on Kersops Peak. In the meantime we settled down to a quiet dinner and a well earned rest after our first overnight sail. We had tried out 3 hour watches which gave us 6 hours off with the 3 of us on board, but we felt that we would try shortening that to 2 hours each watch for the next leg.

We moved New Horizons to the north side of the cove early in the morning of 13th as we were expecting northerly wind. It was a bit more rolly over on the north side which wasnt really a problem until Michael headed off up the mast to untangle a halyard on the staysail. It made climbing the mast at Docklands seem like a dream as he swung about like an insect in a spider web, collecting bruises but getting the halyard fixed.

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We had a delightful couple of days getting ourselves organised and sorting out the boat.  We waited until Tuesday to leave, picking what we thought would be the best weather window for the 40+ hour trip to Eden. So when dawn broke on the 15th we headed out of the Cove and set course for Eden.

The next leg to Eden was the challenging one. The first day was one single tack East, with a NNE wind at a steady 16 knots. Very unusual to have such fine and constant conditions. It was sunny, the sea sparkled, and it was just lovely. We skipped along at 7 knots and it was what the brochures call "champagne sailing". We were waiting for and watching the developing front come through. We could see it all gathering on the horizon behind us and prepared inside and outside the boat for what we could see would be quite a front.

It came through at night time and brought strong winds and driving rain. Hard stuff to sail in and really difficult to manage the sails without the usual visual cues such as sail shape, wind direction, land marks. It was absolutely pitch black. We only had the headsail up but at 1am, with the wind shifting and waves building, the sail kept changing all over the place. We had decided to have two up on that watch, anticipating the change. All the action woke Dennis so he got up too. Just to add to the excitement, the AIS alarm went off to warn us that a ship had turned in front of us and was going to cross our intended path. We furled the headsail and turned on the motor until the gusts had stabilsed from a constant direction. It was all a good lesson about how to manage sails in the dark.

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The next day was lumpy and stormy and the sailing difficult with cross-swells to the wind. We motored for a lot. Saw wonderful displays of whales and their young, quite close, and wandered around in circles having a look at their antics, trying not to get too close in case we bothered them. One whale kept rising out of the water, tail first, and slapping his tail on the water repeatedly. We took this as some sort of warning to keep away, so we did exactly that. Dolphins joined us also. It was spectacular!

"During the night we continued to motor, with lumpy seas, swell going across our beam, and not a lot of wind to enable us to sail well over the swells. But the moon created a white blanket over us, through the clouds, and at 4am it was a beautiful sight. I could see so clearly and thought about how glorious it was feeling like I was the only person awake at that moment anywhere on the east coast.

Dolphins joined us again for the two hours leading up to dawn.  The bright navigation lights lit them up as they played in the bow waves and so we had red and green dolphins dancing in front of us." - Christine

We had slowed down in the last few hours in order to arrive at Eden in daylight.  The Marine Rescue people were already up and about and called us by name as we motored into Twofold Bay to welcome us to Eden and to offer any assistance we needed. They guided us to a fishing jetty where one of the locals living on his boat was waiting to take our lines. 

It was a great welcome to the town and very typical of the friendly help that was extended to us everywhere - from the NSW Port Authority officer who welcomed us, gave us his mobile number and charged $5 per night, to the local supermarket staff who offered to drive us back to the boat and go via the laundromat to pick up our washing.

 Dennis got his plane home to Melbourne on Friday morning. We were sad to see him go. He was such a great help and was always uplifting company. Having a third pair of hands was always welcome. As too were the wonderful meals prepared for us in advance by Gaye.

"Eden was beautiful. A fishing village, where people are very close and supportive. The weather was warm and I finally felt that the bone-chilling cold of Melbourne was being burned out of me." - Christine

We stayed on the jetty until Saturday afternoon, then went to the other side of Twofold Bay (where Eden is) to get protection from a southerly front and thunderstorms coming through. Had a lovely afternoon fishing and getting the boat ready to leave at 5am the next day to head to Bermagui. Caught our first fish, a flathead, and we filleted it and had it for dinner that night. Wonderful storms came through, with lots of rain and thunder and lightning, and we were very protected. Felt safe and snug.

We raised the anchor at 0630 to set off for Bermagui. The storms had passed and the winds were fairly light but we were expecting them to build during the 9 hours we had planned for the 45nm to Bermagui.  We radioed Marine Rescue Eden and thanked them for their hospitality and set up a tracking sheet with them.

As we expected the winds were not a problem but the storms had left a large South-Easterly swell of about 3 metres which was on our starboard quarter and rolling us about.  As a result we decided to go with the headsail only and leave the main safely zipped up on the boom where it couldnt do any damage by gybing on us.

As the winds strengthened to about 22-24 kts we reefed the headsail and were still managing a healthy 7.5 kts. The winds kept building and, despite the reef, we were beginning to round up as the wind gusted to 30 kts and the waves started breaking on top of the swell.  This was when the addition of the staysail on its furler proved itself. We furled the headsail and pulled out the staysail which immediately calmed the motion of the boat and took the pressure off the helm and still we were coasting along at 6.5 kts.  We even allowed the autohelm to take control again since it had been struggling a bit as the swells built and we veered down the face of a couple of waves.

 We were welcomed to Bermagui by a young man from the fishing co-op who told us that the co-op welcomes visitors and hoped that we have an enjoyable stay. We tied up behind a fishing boat and were assured that we wouldn’t be in the way there but there was a quieter berth available if we wanted it.

Actually we enjoyed being part of all that was happening on the jetty and we soon found that the skipper of the boat in front of us had no trouble easing his boat in and out.  It is amazing how these guys can spin their boats into the tightest places with ease.

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It was also remarkable that, including us, there were 3 yachts visiting Bermagui and all were from Brighton.  David James was helping deliver a Compac 35 from Pittwater and “It’s a Privilege” tied up behind us. It was nice to see familiar faces and chat about their trips.

The new Co-op building is busy with restaurants as well as with the bustle of the fishing boats coming and going, repairing nets and their equipment and unloading their catch. We loved the old Massey Ferguson tractors which were a key part of the operation. We were told that the Co-op had bought them for $50 each and they hadn’t missed a beat in years.

Bermagui is a wonderful little town, full of interest and activity.  We have been here before for the “Four Winds” Festival so knew something of the town already. We had been particulalrly keen to stop here to see our friend Neilma and we were pleased we had the chance to catch up with Neilma and Yanni over dinner. We also spent time exploring the latest coffee shop to open in the town. Matt Jones opened "Mister Jones" as a way of supplementing his award as the Community Artist and he is obvioiusly working hard at connecting with the people of Bermagui and afar, if the stream of customers to his streetfront cafe is anything to go by.

The walks along the foreshore were beautiful and we visited the "Blue Pool" which wasnt very  blue but with its hard lines against the natural backdrop looked like some modernist painting dropped into the landscape.



The trip from Bermagui to Ulladulla was like most of our “hops" along the coast in that it was about waiting for the strong northerly's to be quelled by a southerly change and then setting out 24 hours later on the back of the cold front as it passed into the Tasman. It was not very typical weather for New South Wales coast and it meant we spent a long time managing the swells rather than taking advantage of the winds.


As it turned out on this leg the winds were fairly light, lighter than were predicted so it wasn't long before we had shaken out the 2 reefs we had put in the main to start the morning and cruised fairly easily up the coast keeping in touch with the Marine Rescue services as we went.

Having left Bermagui at 0615 we arrived off Ulladulla about 2030 and found the 2 blue lights which serve as the leads into the harbour. Chris kept us perfectly on course as we approached, which was just as well because the entrance to the harbour is very narrow (breakwaters on port and starboard are only about 50 m apart). As we entered the harbour Marine Rescue Ulladulla radioed us to check on progress - which was very kind of them - but the call came in just as we were trying to locate a berth in the small harbour. As Chris  put down our spotlight and answered the call it was only sheer luck which helped me avoid one of the 3 unlit buoys which separate the narrow channel from the moored boats on the starboard side.

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We rafted up 3 deep on 2 fishing boats which were in the harbour for maintenance and there we stayed for a week, unexpectedly, as we repaired the motor. But that's another story.

The next morning we were surprised by a number of things - firstly, that our gas alarm was going off and secondly that Co-op wanted $40 per night for the opportunity to raft up at the jetty. But first things first - a gas alarm takes precedence over anything. We were relieved, sort of at least, to discover that we didn't have a problem with the gas - we had a lot of diesel in the bilge. So we emptied the starboard locker which gives us access to the engine and spent some time crawling around the bowels of the boat looking for the leak that we knew had to be there somewhere. When we found that it was in a part of the engine which I have never played with, we set out to find a diesel mechanic in Ulladulla.

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Things didn't start well with the mechanic. When he turned up he announced that he loved sailing but hated yachts, which I think meant that he hated crawling into the tiny spaces in which yacht designers manage to put large diesel engines. While I have some sympathy with his view, it didn't help us that he decided that our engine was fine. Again, I think this was code for “surely you don't seriously imagine I'm going to crawl into that tiny little space for you, do you?".


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Anyway the upshot of it was that I was left to solve the engine problem myself, along with phone calls and advice from the ever-patient Jai at Mariner Engineering in Melbourne and various gurus who emerged from Google searches. Eventually I found and removed the faulty part and sent it off to Nowra 70 km north to be repaired.

In the meantime Chris and I explored the delights of Ulladulla. Apart from ventures into Aldi and Coles we found a delightful coffee shop, friendly people and the joys of a gourmet restaurant nearby. The gourmet restaurant wasn't the delightfully named “Yes I Am" - the local Thai restaurant, but Bannister's restaurant where a well-known international chef, Rick Stein, prepares outstanding food accompanied by fabulous wines, perfect service and stunning views.

Once again the people that we met were almost universally helpful. The Ulladulla Marine rescue people were there to help us with friendly advice and to provide us with the use of their showers and bathrooms. And the owners of the boats to which we were rafted up were also very tolerant of us climbing over their boat several times a day to interrupt their work. (See the 2 videos below). They even made sure that we had shore power by connecting an extension lead from their power outlets to ours as we piggybacked on their power supplies.

Eventually, the leaking fuel injector was delivered back to us by the wonderful courier who charged us $7 each way for this 140 km round-trip and, miracle of miracles when I put it all back together the engine started and the leak was fixed.

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And so we headed off for the short hop to Jervis Bay where we were intending to enjoy a few days at anchor off the beautiful beaches.

The trip to Jervis Bay is just a short hop of 25 nautical miles, and it was just like all the other coastal hops in that we had following winds from the South West and a lumpy swell from the south-east - all of which made some uncomfortable but not difficult sailing.

We were looking forward to enjoying the beaches Jervis Bay and finding a quiet anchorage after the busy noise of the Ulladulla wharf. It was a delight to turn in between the heads and pick up a mooring at the Hole in the Wall just off the beach at Boodooree National Park where we settled down to watch the sunset.


The next day was just as we had hoped - blue skies, lots of sunshine and a chance to walk on the beach. We inflated the dingy and headed for the beach to soak up the sunshine.

Unfortunately we were not able to stay at all that long as the predicted northerly wind was starting to pick up speed and the short sharp waves made our trip back to the boat a bit wet at times. We decided to head to the northern end of the bay to spend the night in the shelter of Callala Bay. 

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 When we got there we found the north-easterly was blowing fairly hard into the bay and it didnt look like the comfortable anchorage we were hoping for. We dropped anchor in the designated area off Montague point, north-eastern side of the bay and settled down to watch the comings and goings of the charter boats with tourists gathered on the decks hoping to spot a dolphin. Again it was an idyllic evening as we enjoyed a glass of wine and fish from the barbecue as the sun set.


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The only concern we had was that there was another southerly change predicted to come through at 5 or 6 the following morning, so we were expecting to be up and on the move early. Just in case, we set the anchor alarm to go off if we moved north of our anchor position. In this way we had an early warning system should the change come through before it was predicted. Of course it did! And at 0217 the alarm woke us and we found the southerly had arrived and was building. By 0245 we had the anchor up and we were navigating back to the mooring at the National Park in the endless game of weather ping-pong. We arrived with enough light at 0500 to find the mooring, secure the boat and get back to bed.

When the storm came through the beautiful white beach we had walked on just some 18 hours before it was dark and blustery and hissed with the sound of rain splashing down hard. As the weather didn't improve much over the next day or so we spent 2 days tucked up away from the rain, reading, cooking and planning our last leg before heading for Sydney.


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It was a great feeeling to sail through the heads into Sydney Harbour.  It was the end of the first leg of a journey that felt like it had no clear end, just a beginning and the "here and now" - very different from the strutured lives we had been living.

We allowed ourselves to pause for a minute and savour the moment...... but it wasnt long before we were dogding Sydney ferries and we quickly headed for the mooring at Balmoral which we had booked many months ago.

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We both have family in Sydney, and it was a wonderful time to have so much time with them. Our first job was to house sit while Paul, Sally and Dan were away.... not so much a trial really given the house and the view!  But it was strange to be on land again. We had bee living on the boat for 9 months and it was difficult to get used to a house again..... in fact once or twice we lost each other!

In particular we spent a lot of time with Kath who gave birth to young William (now universally know as Billy) in March. It was wonderful to be able to spend so much time helping out and being first time grandparents.

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© Michael White 2013