Before reading please make yourself a drink and find somewhere comfortable.
Set off at daybreak for Albany. Forecast is for South East winds until around 12 noon. Plan is to make as much Southing before the Southerlies come in. Plan worked pretty well and I tracked out to sea when they hit around that time.
Winds quickly grew to 25 kn with gusts to 30 kn (46 to 55 k/hr). Punching into big awkward swell with cross chop, very uncomfortable and horrible motion. Felt a little queasy so “Nil by Mouth” was the order of the day, for that night at least.
Had enough by 9.30pm when still about 15 Nm off Margaret River, very tired so heaved to and slept as best I could in 20 minute bursts.
This is a standard practice for single handed sailors and one I have adopted for my own voyage(s). The reasoning behind it is that a Freighter traveling at 20 knots takes that long to get within a Nm of you. So, a good look round then into the sack, 20 minutes later up and take another good look round. I had my AIS, (Automatic Identification System, mandatory installed transmitter of ships location, speed, direction etc) receiver looking for freighters and other large vessels at greater distances than 20 Nm. It can in fact detect the signatures of these monsters at greater than 60 Nm away. Some peace of mind as the greatest dangers out here in the ocean is not from the weather or animals, its other men and their machines.
0130 Thursday morning the wind had finally swung a bit toward the South West so I started to tack back toward land. Two more tacks saw me able to lay off Cape Leeuwin, then the wind died.
Not to be denied when so close I started the motor and set course to give the wild cape plenty of room. Finally rounding it at 10.15 that morning.
Feelings of relief came with the rounding after such a hard night of pounding into the unforgiving Southerly winds and swell. The rounding also brought fair South Westerly winds. I was escorted by a pod of 8 to 10 whales as I rounded the cape, though they were too far off to get a good photo.
I shook out the double reef in the Mainsail and rolled out the “Yankee” for a glorious sail across to the next headland, Windy Harbour, about 55 Nm away.
With the wind a constant 15 knots we beam reached the rest of the day and well into the night. Relaxed and rested made great time.
At this rate I would make Albany in two days….. boy did I get that wrong!!!
Friday 23 rd Nov 2012
After a trouble free sail through the night, the excrement finally hit the rotating fan blades this morning as I approached Cow and Calf Rocks (35deg S, 116deg13’E). This lonely pair of rocks some 7.35 Nm off the mainland I was soon to find out is a major rounding point for all commercial shipping East and West. As dawn broke over the Eastern sky my AIS now detected four freighters converging on my position simultainiously. One at the bow, 3 from the astern, all moving at 20 Kn or better with me in the middle. Nothing instils fear in the mariner more than being able to see both navigation lights of an oncoming freighter as I was now. This means only one thing… he is heading straight for you.
Time to get the hell out of there, figured I could duck behind Cow and Calf and let them fight it out between them who goes where.
At this precise point the motor went from hero to zero when it didn’t start. WTF???
Almost no wind, so no help there…. oh shit. Nothing for it but a few Hail Mary’s and a prayer to be forgiven for all the bad stuff I’d done in my life up to that point.. oh, and please remember all the good too!
All I could do is hold my course straight and steady and hope for the best.
This is almost as bad as it gets as I waited the interminable minutes to tick by ’til impact. Like standing on a multiple lane freeway hoping all the speeding trucks will miss me…fingernails what fingernails?
Despite my fears those metal mountains glided past like giant benign sentinals of the sea.
The one in front crossed my path whilst the other 3 split off and went around both sides of me. Whew, survived!
But of course with the immediate danger over, that left me with another problem ….. navigation lights and fridge etc eat up a lot of power and the solar/wind generators can only do so much charging in light winds and overcast conditions, as it was for the next 36 hours.
Then, a few Nm off Point Nuys I ran out of wind altogether.
Sails slatting and boat rolling uncomfortably as the wind indicator at the top of the mast lazily rolled around in 360 deg rotations.
Frustrating, and dangerous as the hostile shoreline, complete with huge breakers crashing in spectacular jets of foam against the ubiquitous rocks were now less than 4 Nm away and in my lee. Slowly, excruciatingly, I was being set upon them.
Somehow, by working the tiny zephyrs of wind I managed to keep those rocks at bay and oppose the set against them until a rainy front reached me with a 10-12 Kn breeze.
The breeze was welcome however the rain now blotted out the shoreline and I could no longer take my bearing off them.
The iPad chartplotter has been great all along, but of course it needs power and with no wind to speak of and overcast skies I was now low on power to run it.
Time for back to basics with the binnacle compass and with luck I managed to get a bearing to clear the next headland before the rain closed it out.
Becalmed again. Rolling, slatting … doing my head in.
By now I was approximately 10 – 12 Nm South of Walpole, night was closing in. Power to run my navigation lights was very low and I was smack in the middle of a major shipping route with no wind or power to run my AIS to see them, let alone avoid them. Add in sheer exhaustion from the close calls I’d already had and lack of sleep over the last 24 hours with everything damp and boat rolling, rolling, rolling….. I was in a very dark place.
Danger, danger, Will Robinson (yet again).
Running out of options I picked up the VHF and on only my second call reached Walpole VMR (Volunteer Marine Rescue). A friendly voice amongst the madness all around me.
After an exchange of information and the danger I was in they scrambled their troops and sent out a boat to tow me back to Walpole.
This took about 90 minutes during which times I fell into fits of a few seconds sleeps as I was very tired and worn out. When the team showed up I went forward onto the now heaving deck to take their line there was a lot of movement between the two craft as they edged closer. The first throw missed me and landed helplessly in the water near my bow. Approach and another throw saw this one hit the target and I grabbed the line and hooked it on to my bow.
Now, I was very greatfull to be out of freighter alley, but I also knew from my prior research that there is NO anchorages or wharf facilities for a boat of my 1.7 metre draft at Walpole. Just a shallow river mouth leading in from an open roadstead that cops every swell and breeze and whilst there was next to no breeze, there was quite a swell in progress. This is the Southern Ocean after all.
An hour and a half later we approached the shoreline. I went below earlier to be out of the wet but kept falling asleep.
At around midnight as we closed the shoreline I was confirmed correct about the open and exposed anchorage as we slowly came to a stop in about 10 metres of water with the loud sound of surf hitting a beach not far away. With great trepidation I prepared to anchor, knowing I didn’t have enough chain to give me an 8 to 1 ratio required for safe anchoring. This means for a 10 metre depth of water I would require 80 metres of chain/rode to be safe . I let out the 60 metres of 8mm chain I had on my main anchor and could feel that it was dragging on the bottom. Diving down below I hauled up another 24 metres of combined chain and rope, hooked in on and let that out too. Finally, it seems to be holding. Walpole VMS meanwhile stayed with me and made sure I was holding before returning to base.
Exhausted now I tried to stay awake and see if my anchor was holding by checking the movement of lights on the shoreline. What lights? It was just a wild bay, a moonless night and the sound of breaking surf was loud and seemed uncomfortably close.
Just have to leave that one to the universe to figure out as I went below and fell asleep in my clothes.
Saturday 24th Nov 2012
Awoke and cleaned up the messy boat, made some breakfast and then set about the business of resurrecting the motor.
I remember just before I lost the motor at Cow and Calf rocks that the very expensive gas detector I was forced to buy and install to get my gas compliance certificate, refused to allow gas to the boat as it detected a combustible substance in the bilge. As I was otherwise occupied at the time I dismissed it as an anomaly. Now, it was a clue as I looked the motor over for anything amiss.
Ahah! Found a fuel line running to the injector pump from the secondary filter had come loose from age and vibration. The rubber had lost its elasticity and the factory crimp was no longer capable of clamping it securely.
With rising spirits I looked and found a piece of gas hose. This was a new piece of hose that normally connects a bottle regulator to the device being used with it.. BBQ, etc. I’d kept it and today it was perfect for the replacement I’d need. I set about the task with renewed enthusiasm, having found some real evidence supporting the related gas detector warnings of fuel in the bilge and motor not starting.
All too quickly that enthusiasm departed me as it made no difference to the starting of the motor at all. Bleeding the system seemed to be obvious as air must have entered the lines, but despite a full bleed of the system and extraction of some air there was still no result.
One thing was bothering me though, and I apologise in advance to the non-technical reader for going into detail here, but I could not get fuel to flow up to the injectors themselves. Here was the real clue to the problem.
About then the Walpole VMR team showed up and asked how I was doing. Apparently they had been calling me on VHF but as I was almost (battery) powerless I kept everything non-essential turned off.
Explained what I’d done up to that point and Alex, a man with a somewhat technical bent came aboard to help. His hobby as a older diesel engine buff made him the obvious choice to help, but, as time would prove yet again, he could make no difference at all. Drawing the same conclusion as I with regard to the non-flow of fuel to the injectors (and thence into the motor itself).
Further discussion and a local diesel mechanic was sent for and despatched to the boat. He did the logical test bleed that Alex and I before him had done. With everything looking how it should, there seemed to be no reason why it shouldn’t work, but it didn’t.
Next Marcus on instinct opened a side panel where the controls met the motor and took a look inside. There was a small slide that connects to the shutoff lever that was stuck in the closed position, even though the lever indicated it was open. The second clue.
This slide seemed stuck and no amount of fiddling moved it. More scratching of heads. Finally Marcus picked up a big screwdriver and with it planted in the gap gave it a good tug. At last it freed up, fuel flowed to the injectors and the motor started. Overjoyed at this result we both were perhaps a little hasty in quickly celebrating this victory. Time was to tell yet again this folly as neither of us had paused to reflect on why it had become stuck in the first place…or… and this was even more important….what is to stop it happening again?
As I tidied up and prepared to set off once again, the Walpole VMR stayed around just in case as I hauled up the 80 + metres of chain and rope, manually. As you might remember I lost the use of my electrically operated windlass back in Bunbury. Not repairing it then I was really beginning to regret as I ground it in inch by inch. The team could see I was making heavy weather of it so we hooked up Freespirit to their boat (yet again) and they took the strain of boat against swell and tide whilst I hauled up the pick. It seemed to take a very long time but I finally got it all up, threw the motor in gear and headed for the open ocean once more.
I was full of relief to be leaving that open, exposed anchorage under my own power and at the same time full of gratefulness for the fine men and women who had helped me in every way possible to get going again. I am speaking specifically of Rob and Lois, Alex and Dennis. Also Marcus the magician of diesel. Thank you one and all you are hero’s to me.
Once again it seemed my optimism was to be dashed as after an hour running the motor, it quit yet again. This time accompanied by loud buzzer warnings and lights indicating oil problems. I turned it off having by this time gained enough sea room to sail off on a decent tack.
Beating, beating out to sea and back again all day I managed to get within sight of the outermost rocky headland behind which lay the Southern entrance to Albany.
With some trepidation I turned the engine on and it seemed to run fine. Dismissing the previous oil light warnings in light of the fact that we were at that time heading into a big swell and possibly the oil in the crankcase swishing back and forth had triggered the sensor.
No, no, and no again. Less than 20 minutes later the motor stopped once again.
In what has now become SOP I put up the sails and headed off the hostile shore once again toward the ‘relative’ safety of open ocean.
Plan was to gain some sea room, heave to and try to fix the bugger. As I was beginning to feel really tired I decided to do that first as I would be relatively more alert and attentive. Got to about 10 Nm offshore and heaved to (make the boat stop going forward whilst still having sails up, drifting sideways with the wind and swell).
Had a look at the AIS… shit! freighters all around me and one heading my way…. what is it with these guys!
Headed further offshore for another hour and pulled up yet again. Better this time, just a few nearby but not threatening.
As the night progressed more and more freighters showed up and started dodging around me, all that is except for one called “New Ambition” of several thousand tonnes who was on a collision course and closing fast. Perhaps the name reflected an ambition to run down other water craft in its way…. I hoped not. Still, with no motor and not a lot of wind I whipped off my little head torch, remembering it had a strobe function built in. Brilliant! It lit up the sails and rigging in perfect strobe flashes, making it bloody obvious to any myopic watch captain that he was about to run down a helpless sailboat. Watching my AIS I immediately saw a course correction from his position to one that would pass me by… relief at survival once again. I was getting good at this.
As dawn broke I still didn’t have a resolution to the motor woes and as I was now a long way offshore I thought I could keep working on it whilst Ray steered us slowly upwind (yes, more headwinds from the direction I wished to now go) back toward land.
If nothing else I was determined to get into Albany under sail as I figured that a very rough low was getting close and if caught up in it we would be swept out to sea for a very long way. It could take days just to get back to where I was then.
Copious amounts of toast and Nutella and coffee and I was back staring at the motor again.
Something seemed strange and out of place looking at the internals now, as opposed to when at Walpole. It must have been the sugar hit of Nutella as it suddenly occurred to me.. the motor gearing had cycled the internals and now they looked different because of that. So, I hit the starter and then took another look. Sure enough it had moved and seemed to be better so I put the cover back on. Its now or never.
Hit the starter and….. it worked!!!
Everything seemed to be normal as I took the helm from Ray and set a course for Albany harbour. I had taken the headsails down and left the unreefed main up to give us some stability in the increasing swell and wind. By the time I was at the South entrance to the harbour a couple of hours later the wind was piping up to 20 knots and a very lumpy sea. Now if I wasn’t single handed I would have brought that main down as soon as it hit above 15 knots but by the time it reached 20 the seas were really out of control, big lumpy and unpredictable… not a condition for standing out on a heaving foredeck to pull it down.
I hung on for grim death as we screamed along at 8.5 Kn with main up. The fastest I’d had Freespirit under her own power. Got through the entrance but the 25 knot winds now were following me in too and pushing and pulling Freespirit in an ugly rolling and semi broaching path through the waves. Have to get this sail off as its in danger of ripping and tearing itself to pieces as well as capsizing the boat. To try and do it here would be suicidal. I spotted Breaksea Island ahead, one of the sentinels of the Albany harbour entrance and noticed that it had a lee from the prevailing winds that I might use to gain some protection whilst lowering the sail. Closing the coast there was scary as there are lots of rocks and breaking seas but I did it anyway. Gained some protection and with Ray now steering I hit the deck and quickly pulled it in. Not textbook and not real tidy, but it was safe.
I was now inside the harbour but with lots of wind and waves still trying to broach me, (roll the boat around to face side on to the waves) as I surfed in under bare pole and motor.
Half way across the outer harbour I made a phone call and secured a berth at the Royal Princess Sailing Club jetties and headed over there to tie up.
Had a nice loooonnnngggg hot shower. Met a great local Ted North who drove me to the local shop where I bought hot food and booze (obviously). Now snugged down for the night with the essentials and will sort out the messy boat in the morning.
Safe at last.