Going north for Brisbane to Gladstone Race 2017
Tubby (aka Golden Haze) is once again in her winter playground, feeling a little over salted and ready for a relaxing winter playing with the turtles and the whales out on the Great Barrier Reef. We’ve just sailed the 1300 miles from Hobart to Gladstone in two and a half weeks with all the usual issues along the way; picking weather windows to get across Bass Strait, dealing with the joggle off Sydney Heads where the current nearly always runs south and the breeze is against it. I swear it is getting worse as I get older. Coping with crook crew, visiting old and new gunk holes and so on.
Tubby has a wood burning stove on board to keep the Tasmanian winter chills at bay and my usual response to the queries about how we stay warm in the winter down south is ‘Either fire up the wood burner or when April arrives, cast off for Queensland.’ This year it was the second option and just to spice things up a little I decided in my wisdom to enter the old girl in the Brisbane Gladstone yacht race (cruising division of course, at 18 tonnes she’s no light weight flyer). Having a deadline would also motivate me to get things moving. Sounds like a good plan… not.
As those of you who know the boat are aware, she is about as safe a place as you could be in the world and never safer than at sea, but I hadn’t allowed for the foibles of entering a category three ocean race and the associated rules, regulations and costs. An example of this is that we have a life raft on board which, albeit with an out of date survey, is lashed on deck alongside a new 2.9 metre Highfield RIB. Now anyone that has done ‘Survival at Sea’ will testify there is no question about getting into a life raft when you have a perfectly good RIB on board. Our ‘abandon ship’ protocol looks something like this; step up into the RIB as the last of the boat disappears into the deep, then step up into the life raft if we are unfortunate enough to lose the RIB.
But, Cat 3 cares not for the whims of an old sea dog and the rules will be followed. An in-survey raft was hired, along with the funds shelled out for a thousand other items I didn’t realise I needed to be safe at sea. And given that I was away driving tugs at the time, yet again most of the preparatory work fell on Vic’s shoulders. Between her and the local YA safety auditor most of the issues were sorted out, leaving me to round up a couple of old mates, my daughter Tess and her friend Kim, fuel up with food, booze, diesel etc. and we cast off only a couple of days late and missing a glorious window for getting across the Strait. Oh well, there’ll be another one sometime soon.
The Dunalley canal presented no issues and after an evening meal in Riedle Bay on the outside of Maria Island, I decided we would have a crack at the Strait. The way you go north is to check out how big the weather window is and if you need to get a little touch up at the start so that you miss a big one at the end, you opt to take the pain early. So, with a bit of a flogging on the first night at sea and a good chance of a sleep behind Babel island the next night before a quick dash to Eden we were in pretty good shape, until I was advised by one of the crew that a critical business call had to be made the next day; vaguely irritating when your arrangements with ‘Huey’ (the wind god) don’t allow for this sort of caper.
Anyway, I opted for a stopover in Lady Barren, the main village on Flinders Island, putting us in phone range and hopefully still allowing enough time to beat the next front into Eden. Getting across the Strait is more a game of planning for the worst and hoping for less than that and this time we were lucky, but I reckon I might ban phones on board next time.
We snuck into Lady Barron by running close in along the eastern shore of Cape Barren Island and headed out through the pot boil the next morning, with both tracks now safely stored on my Navionics programs on the two Ipads I carry for navigating. And when we made Eden the guys took a walk up the hill to the township. The front arrived an hour after us and was bad enough that we couldn’t stay alongside the wharf, so motored over to East Boyd on the southern side of the bay and settled in for a decent night’s sleep. The next day at sea saw Kim succumb to a bout of asthma combined with a cold she had been trying to shake and any one that has had an asthmatic kid trying to suck air through blocked passages will know why I treated this seriously.
We pulled into Bermagui and the local quackery, stocked up on Ventolin and received a cautionary warning from the doc not to get too far offshore, just in case. This worked well as the inshore current was in our favour, at least as far north as Jervis Bay, and we finally made it through Sydney heads after a very bumpy night at sea. Helsal 3 came cruising past off Kiama and we met up with the boys at the CYC for a fun session of beer and b……t later that day.
We had a partial crew change in Sydney, with my mate Tim joining the boat. Tim is a dive fanatic as well as an electrical guru and a real asset to any team. But we had to overcome a seasickness problem to get him into full swing. The first day out of Sydney his demeanor was one of stoicism and I was pretty sure this wasn’t going to last. While discussing Tim’s sad state with Vic, who was dutifully sitting back in Tassie looking after her crook parents, she made the startlingly simple suggestion of pumping him full of seasick pills. The transformation was wonderful to behold and within the course of a few hours Tim fired up with almost evangelistic enthusiasm. From that moment forward the party was on and we all had a lovely time.
I had intended to make the mandatory stop in Coffs Harbor for fish and chips but a south bound current set us back a little and so a pre-sunset entry into Trial Bay and their own excellent fish and chippery would make a fine alternative. Foiled again. The restaurant was shut, but the local waterfront pub on the Macleay river managed a pretty reasonable meal at the end of the day. I’d been in here before and the entrance was no more a challenge than the first time, although I will admit to doubting the Navionics for a minute or two before realizing my mistake. With Clint (like myself a commercial tug master) looking over my shoulder, I was unlikely to get away with any navigation mistakes.
So, the last day into Brisbane was just around the corner via the Southport bar and I promised the team a feed at the Irish pub at Jacob’s Well, half way up through the Broadwater. Jacob’s Well is historically the shallow point when heading through the Broadwater passage and we anchored up just after low tide, waiting for a bit of depth under the keel before proceeding. Right on cue the exhaust water pump decided to fail and with a replacement being days away, Tim decided he would hot wire a spare fuel transfer pump and press it into service, which subsequently reminded me of the value of having good people around you when the s..t hits the proverbial. Tim did a sterling job getting us mobile and into the Irish pub that night.
The next day, with Clint’s assistance, he managed to keep the over-stressed fuel pump cool enough to get us all the way into the Queensland Cruising Yacht Club. The boys took turns mopping down the pump with cold water for over four hours while we motored the final 30 miles to QCYC. I did shout them the Irish pub pie that night, by the way.
So, finally, we made it to the Queensland Cruising Yacht Club with a few days up our sleeve to get the old girl ready for the 69th Brisbane Gladstone Yacht Race! A last-minute safety audit, documentation coming out my ears and we were finally cleared as safe and seaworthy about 0900 on race day morning.
With the heavy weight crew flying in (two of them were more jumbo weight) we were on the race track early for some (actually the only) pre-start training because as all champions know practice is the secret weapon of winners. And I have to say that when the gun went the old girl was at the advantaged boat end of the line, in clear air with the field streamed out behind us. At least we won the start.
Sadly, it was all down-hill from there with little and not so little plastic boats bombing past us in a breeze significantly less than appropriate for a stately old lady like Tubby. So being in the cruising division we made very strategic use of the motor rule for much of the race (you can motor for part of the race and suffer an appropriate penalty). The end result was a very well deserved 3d place out of six boats in the cruising division, much laughter and frivolity along the way and a nasty hit of rope burn for my chef, who had to double as the for’d hand. He lost an argument with the tack line of the asymmetric kite, although fortunately it didn’t impact on his galley skills. We arrived in Gladstone even heavier weights than we were at the start.
Tubby is now snugged down in her pen in the Gladstone marina. This winter she is destined to play out on the Great Barrier Reef, before finally being sold after many fine years of cruising, to make way for a new yachting venture we have in the planning. For more details about Tubby and her owners’ seagoing adventures see www.bourkeysblog.net