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Continued — FINALLY — from part 2.
Hoist the Mainsail - Part 3 of 3
Well, this only took 4 years to complete. Be amazed at my lightning blogging skills! Anyway, as Paul Harvey used to say, "and now, the rest of the story"...
Dear reader, when last we spoke about my life-changing sailing trip from Hobart to Sydney, I had just awoken on a starkly clear and warm summer day at Clarke Island. We were gearing up to make our way across the Bass Strait, except the wind had other ideas.
The modern sailboat has an amazing capacity to sail at an angle very close to the wind, the best a typical sailboat can do is probably about a 30º angle, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. Generally if the wind is blowing the wrong way, you can angle yourself back & forth and make your way overall in the right direction. But there are times when tacking is also a somewhat futile exercise. We needed to sail northeast to hit the coast of southern New South Wales and make our way in sight of land back to Sydney, and the wind was blowing in pretty much exactly the wrong direction. So we decided to wait it out. We made a short trip around Cape Barren Island to the sheltered southern tip of Flinders Island and the quiet town of Lady Barron.
Fortunately, Lady Barron had an awesome pub, because we were stuck there for several days. I also had to try and use the pay phone to call work and tell them I was going to be at least a couple of days late back to work. After a night sleeping on the boat plagued by mosquitos the size of small birds, we even treated ourselves a motel room adjacent to the pub. The motel had a bed that wasn't rocking, and even a shower. Despite the fact that the pipes were completely rusty and the first 5 seconds of water were coloured a deep brown, the shower was completely glorious.
The wind, as it usually does, changed. Our couple of days of rest, fish and chips, beer, and idleness went by and suddenly the weather was ready to co-operate and propel us on our way north. The big moment had arrived and we were about to sail across the notorious Bass Strait.
The first few hours were fun and energising as we picked up speed and made our way over huge rollers. The day was bright and clear, and in every direction there wasn't a hint of land. We were a tiny dot bobbing across an immense expanse of rushing, heaving blue water.
But after the bulk of the day passed, I started to get wet, cold, and exhausted. The wind was blowing incredibly hard, making the boat heel over at an extreme angle. The best thing to do was just brace yourself with your legs and hang on as tight as you could to the railing. After several hours my arms were extremely tired, and as night fell I made my way below and curled up in a soggy, scared, tired ball.
The wind was howling along at 30 knots, gusting up to 35, only a moderate gale force wind, but strong enough to finally shake my confidence. I wasn't able to get up for my evening crew shift and drowsed restlessly in and out of sleep as the boom clanged and the boat pounded its way across the waves of the strait.
Fortunately as the next day dawned, the wind had calmed down to a level I could handle and I was rested and myself and pitching in as a crew member again. I thought everything was going really well— the sun was shining, albatrosses were flying, when BAM! the whole boat shuddered as if it had hit a rock. Surely there wasn't anything under us out here in the middle of the strait? Turns out we had hit a sunfish, a huge animal that can weigh over 1000 kg and likes to swim near the surface of the water. They aren't particularly manoeuvrable, so apparently it's a common thing for boats to hit them on the open ocean. We think it wasn't too badly hurt from the ordeal.
The rest of the trip was pretty relaxed, and at some points even magical, at others, just plain boring. The wind calmed down to the point where we were becalmed, so we had to motor our way up most of the coast. On the way, we had bioluminescent tides, dolphins (including some baby dolphins, which are pretty much the cutest thing in the universe ever), a stop at Ulladulla at my favourite fish & chips shop, and views of the New South Wales coast line.
With all the motoring during our last few days, the trip would have felt really anti-climactic, except for a change just as we were coming up to the entrance of Sydney harbour. The wind picked up just enough, so we shut off the motor (what a relief after days of diesel fumes!), hoisted the sail, and sailed our way into the harbour entrance.
By the time we pulled up to the dock at Rushcutter's Bay, I was sunburnt, tired, ebullient, and definitely feeling in desperate need of a shower. I had my moments of weakness during the trip, but overall I was proud of myself just for showing up on what had been a fairly challenging and epic trip.
After four years, I still haven't taken much time out to do more sailing, but I know it's still something I want to do more and get better at. While I'll probably be content with toddling around Sydney Harbour and maybe cruising along the coast, I'll never be sorry that I took the challenge and sailed from Hobart to Sydney. It was definitely a formative and worthwhile event in my life.