Monday, December 14, 2009

Three things not to do on a boat

The weather here has not been conducive to sailing lately. Strong north-easterlies plus the Christmas king tides make for choppy conditions in the bay.

But last Thursday we had promised to take Phil and Ruth out in Bonnington. We met down at the jetty and, on the face of it, it seemed to be a good day. True, the wind was still NE but about 10-15 knots and a cloudless sky.

We ferried them across the channel in our rubber ducky and piled aboard. After stowing our gear (picnic lunch, etc) I busied myself unzipping the sails and centering the boom whilst Guy started the motor.

Woops! For the first time, black diesel smoke came pouring out of the motor. It's always been a great little motor, a Danish Bukh 12.8hp marine diesel. Guy thought it might be simply lack of use ... we hadn't used it for a while ... so we cast off and headed up the channel.

1st Mistake! We discovered we had little steering ability - obviously the prop was fouled (barnacles, seaweed, etc.) and without the sails, we were going nowhere and the engine was straining big time. This was when we should have returned to our mooring and called it a day.

But, unwilling to disappoint Phil and Ruth, and being a beautiful day, we simply hoisted the sails and cut the motor and sailed down the Canaipa Channel.

It was lovely sailing between North Stradbroke and Russell Island, admiring the scenery on Stradbroke and the houses on the foreshore on Russell. Turtles basked on the surface and slowly sank beneath the warm water as we approached. The occasional mullet leapt out of the water, being chased by a larger fish. There was just enough sailing to keep us occupied, as the channel is quite narrow when the tide is low.

We threaded our way down the side of Russell past Tulleenderley and turned round a small mangrove island to anchor for lunch. Cold chicken and ham, salad and a bottle of Sav Blanc. Wonderful!!! Guy took the opportunity to try to dive under the boat to check the prop but the tide was running strongly and he was pulled out every time before he could get to the prop.

After the picnic, it was time to go home. We had already discussed our options and thought it would be best to continue around Russell Island and head up the main channel from the south. The wind had picked up to 20 knots and the Canaipa Passage was looking a little unpleasant.

We set off around Russell Island and our problems commenced. At the bottom of Russell, around Rocky Point, there is a marine crossroads. One side comes from the south ... Cabbage Tree Point and beyond; to the West lies the mouth of the Logan River; north is the main passage to Macleay and Brisbane and east (where we were) is the entrance to the Canaipa Passage and the open sea. Complications arise from the presence of electric power lines connecting Russell to the mainland. And the channel is extremely narrow at this point.

Turning into the main channel, it became obvious that our motor was not going to help us. The wind had picked up to 25 knots and the tide was pushing us back towards the south. Beating is never a pleasant prospect and in a narrow channel, even less so. We double reefed the main and hauled in the jib a little and basically started tacking every four minutes or so across the channel. We would just start to gain a little speed when the depth gauge would show 7 feet and we had to tack again.

Luckily, we have a retractable keel. Otherwise we could not have progressed at all. But the more the keel is retracted, the less steering is available. And, of course, the prop was fouled.

After about an hour, we were no further north. After another hour, we had progressed about 100 metres. We were looking for options. Of course, we could try to turn around and head south to a marina for the night (wish we had!!!) or keep trying. There were no safe anchorages on the way home. (For those not in the know, this part of the trip would normally take half an hour, so we were not that far from home.)

2nd mistake!! We should have gone south and had a pleasant night at the marina. A few drinks and hope that the wind changed in the morning. (Of course, the fact that the wind had been NE for the past week was a factor in our decision. We might have had the same situation in the morning.)

We were hoping that dusk would bring a drop in the wind, which normally happens. Of course, it didn't ... the wind picked up even more. Guy, seeing that we would probably not get home till midnight, decided to ring our mate Brian and ask him to come down in his power boat and give us a tow.

I rang Brian on my mobile and he said he would pick up a mate and head down the channel.

In the meantime, we continued to tack, tack, tack. The wind was even stronger, gusting to 30 knots and the shallow water meant it was very choppy. Poor little Bonnington, only 2400 kg, was heeling desperately on each tack. Phil and I slaved over the jib sheets whilst Guy grimly held onto the tiller. Ruth fed us chocolates.

We saw Brian heading down the channel towards us just as disaster struck. We had decided to furl the jib and stand to until Brian reached us, rather than confuse him by tacking across him. The jib sheet stuck and Phil, not knowing the idiosyncrasies of our boat, grabbed a winch handle. Before Guy could yell "NO! It's just a kink in the jib sheet." Phil had started tightening. BANG!!!! The jib sheet broke from the furler and the jib was flying wildly in the wind.

Lots of trouble now. Phil raced up the front to try to pull down the jib and Ruth helped him hold it down whilst I released it. By the time we had it stowed away, we had drifted into 5 feet of water. Now we were seriously worried about going aground on the sandbank.

Brian had a rope ready to throw to us but he too was having problems with the choppy conditions. He tried to come alongside but came too close and the waves flung him against our side, scoring our fibreglass. He tried again from the front but yet again, the waves flung him onto us and our bow roller rammed through his side curtain and bent his aerial before he could pull away.

3rd mistake!! Don't come too close to a dangerously rolling yacht.

His third attempt was more cautious. He stayed well away and threw the rope several times before we finally caught it and tied it off.

Our end secure, Brian moved off. We were curious to see that his friend Jeff had disappeared into the cabin. We wondered why ... but it was not till the end of the trip that we found out. There was nothing on board to anchor the tow rope so Jeff, a considerable size of a man, simply wrapped it around him and sat in the cabin.

And pulled us home!!

Phil and I sat on the deck and admired the sunset as we were towed up channel and to our mooring in between Karragarra and Macleay. Once we turned the corner into the channel between the islands, the wind abated and Brian and Jeff were able to drop us onto our mooring without a problem. We tied off and headed ashore, ready for a few drinks and then bed.

Next time, we won't go!!!

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