09/02/2011, Albany Western Australia
Winter is over in Albany - we have already had some beautiful sunny days where the children have worn shorts and tee shirts, played at the waters' edge and we've all sat outside enjoying the warmth of the early spring sun. We've also had spring rain and storms - but we definitely prefer the sun!
We have been pottering about - doing all sorts of jobs on board - some little - like replacing cleats that were worn and no longer gripping, a few halyard lines that were chaffed and wearing out, inside jobs like servicing the engine and what not. Since we arrived we knew that we would spend the winter here - waiting for good weather before beginning our adventure - and while the day of our departure, being determined by weather more than anything else, is still not a certainty - we do know it is getting closer.
Almost every day, when he completes a job, Peter announced that ,'We're ready now,' but then the next day we think of something else we can do and then - when it is done - he announces again that we are ready! The fact of the matter is that you are never really ready as such - there is always something more that can be done, added, fixed, replaced, serviced - it's simply a matter of being ready enough!
A few of our readers have commented to us that we write a lot about the things we do wrong - and not so much about things going well.
Well it's quite deliberate!
When we first thought about sailing we both began reading things - books, blogs, magazines, articles - anything we could get our hands on. A lot of what we read left us feeling quite daunted. Some of what we read made us feel as if this was an exciting challenge but one we could undertake.
When we looked at the different things we were filling our minds with, the thing that stood out the most to me was that those people who wrote of their failures, their mistakes, their accidents and then how they recovered, left us feeling like these were normal people, people just like us, with a goal and a dream and the willingness to learn, and that if they could achieve their goals despite setbacks, so could we. How could you not conclude that when reading Jessica Watson's account of slamming into a whopping great big bulk carrier on her last sea trials but still setting sail to circumnavigate the globe alone? It takes guts doesn't it to not only make a mistake but to talk about it. But we contrast that with writings by others who only talk of what goes well, with no hint of mishaps, well it leaves you wondering if these are not ordinary people. For me, it's not relatable and far from inspiring.
So to all the bloggers and writers of sailing before us, we say a hearty thanks for your honesty and feel that if it wasn't for such truthful narratives we might not have had the courage to embark on our own adventure. You allowed us to feel that it was possible and that we could do it! So when it comes to our blog - well the heart of it for us is honesty but also a compulsion to encourage others with our trials! Yes things go wrong, and no we don't shirk away from talking about it! Not as an act of self-abrogation - but in the interests of encouraging others that they can venture out and have a go. They might, like us, get things wrong, but then they might, like us, keep going anyway! Not everything will be perfect and you will have moments - but at the end of the day that's where the humour in life comes from! Someone told me once that it was better to laugh at yourself first - before others did and in a way I believe this is true. The capacity to say - oh my gosh, you won't believe what I did, frees us from feeling that we must get it all right to succeed but it also allows us to laugh at our failures and encourages others too to have a go!
And after all that's what humour is, isn't it - problems + time - todays struggle becomes tomorrows laughter - we just try to get in early!
In reality we actually get a lot of things right! Our confidence in our capacity to sail around the Australia - and then the World has grown hugely - the children have developed skills and grown in unimaginable ways - it's really quite an amazing thing. Our yacht, which has already circumnavigated the world one and a half times, is so well prepared and equipped that we can be completely confident in her. After spending the winter preparing her we now know this yacht so well - every detail - every system - every piece of equipment.
So as we spend our last weeks getting all those final little things done, finish stocking the cupboards and getting everything ready that might be useful to us, we will be anticipating lots of fun sailing days ahead - and, no doubt lots of moments - good and bad - and we will be sure to document all the best bits!
08/27/2011, Albany West Australia
Well we headed out this morning on what the weather pundits told us would be a sunny day with a few scattered showers, with light Westerly to North Westerly winds aiming for a small sail. Instead of returning to the Princess Royal Harbour and our pen at the marina, we planned to have an overnight stay on a swing mooring at Oyster Harbour near Emu point where we had our yacht out of the water recently. The swing mooring belongs to the shipwright who helped us with the anti-fouling and other maintenance we did on the boat while it was slipped, and we had intended to hook up and then use the dinghy to motor over to the Squid Shack for dinner. They have by far the best squid of anywhere in Albany.
I have maintained, since we first started sailing on our first Yacht Selah, that you learn more when things don't go according to plan than when they do. When things don't go smoothly we call it a training session and remember that it's an opportunity to learn.
So what did we learn today?
We learned to always check charts and never rely on instructions like - just follow the first two markers and then turn..... That there is nothing better than absolutely knowing where you are going!
To ensure when tying on the dinghy that the line is totally secure!
That the depth meter doesn't emit an alarm when you have been in a trench that has been dredged as a shipping channel and you slip out the side of it.
That the navionics on the iPad is the most superb program and incredibly accurate - perhaps the best piece of equipment we have on board.
To not tie a tow rope on to the new guard rail at the stern of the boat and expect it to hold!
Oh and I learned how to reverse the boat when Peter was busy elsewhere!
Things were going quite peachy for us as Peter and Liam hoisted the foresail, the jib and the flying jib although the weather was looking more grim than we had expected and the wind was chilly. Still, nothing another layer of clothing couldn't fix! We were trying out our plan of wearing a harness and being clipped on even in fine weather. It was tricky for the boys putting up the sails and we decided to tweak what we had and replace rope lifelines for stainless steel and to get our second tether lines remade in webbing of different colours - so that when setting sails we don't mix up the tether lines with any other ropes! We had a few funny moments when we would forget we were tethered and try to move further than we could and one or two when one person's tether got caught on someone else's! We have no doubt that this will make for better safety - and we will persevere - and we are committed to not grumbling about it! Actually, for me, watching the children move about on deck while tethered is so much more comfortable than before when they moved around freely - I feel I will be able to relax so much more now!
We had tea, drinks and snacks and then we were approaching Oyster harbour and were all watching the channel markers and other landmarks. We entered the channel and still all was good, but then, as we turned off towards the swing moorings, turning at the point we thought was correct, we felt a small shudder and realised, we were stuck. Straight away peter tried reverse - but no go. We had run aground. All too late the depth sounder told us we were in water too shallow for us - like we didn't already know. Then there was a flurry of activity - and talking about options. We did have some - after all this wasn't the first time we had experienced being unexpectedly grounded - and as any experienced sailor will tell you - not likely to be the last either - and that more important than getting grounded is the capacity of the sailor to deal with it.
We were less than 500 yards away from the sea safety people - and a marina full of other boats - one option was to see if we could get assistance to pull us out. Another was to drop our dinghy and take the anchor into the deeper channel and drop it, return to the yacht and then winch ourselves forwards on the anchor. We had lowered the dinghy preparing to take this course when a fishing boat came near to us. We called out, 'Hey, can you give us a hand?' which they were more than willing to do. After a few tugs, one of which involved the tow rope being tied too close to Peter's newly built hand rail and ripping it down, Slinky Malinky got us free. If any locals reading this should happen to know the owners, do please pass on our sincere thanks for their time - and apologies from Peter for his adept throwing of ropes which were almost always head high!!!
So we were off and ready to try again to head towards the swing moorings. This time though we took a look at the new iPad navionics and were horrified to discover how very tricky the passage would be. The area is riddled with shallow water and the path through it would be extremely hard. But we had a go. And guess what? In a few moments felt that familiar thud and slowing down - yes, we were grounded again. Oh dear! But, because we instantly recognised the sensation, Peter was able to immediately reverse and we were safe. But alas, at that moment the dinghy line loosened and to our horror was slowly drifting away from us. Would this never end??? Once more we reversed and I ran and grabbed the boat hook, then ran to the bow of the boat and to my amazement both hooked up and then safely tied off the dinghy before we had a chance to run aground again.
At that moment I announced to Peter that I had had enough of this game and I wanted to go home. We all agreed - oh yes, we had all had more than enough - so we turned the yacht the other way in the channel and headed towards Princess Royal Harbour once again.
We arrived back in our pen, a little disappointed that we would miss out on a good dinner at the Squid Shack, but happy that despite the difficulties, we had done okay. Anyone can have problems, we are feeling like what's important is that we can think, plan, address difficulties and then afterwards sit down and discuss ways to avoid getting into the same situation again.
On a positive note, the new iPad navionics is so amazing - the picture above is the screen shot of our path through Oyster Harbour, the green is shallow water, not land and the yellow line our path - accurate, clear, very visible - the big screen is fantastic and it plots our course so accurately. It will undoubtably become the best piece of equipment we have. We learned lots as we do when things go pear shaped - but really - would you do it any other way!!!
08/26/2011, Albany West Australia
One of the biggest concerns that cruising sailors have to deal with is the issue of what to do if someone goes overboard whilst out - especially in big seas.
As part of the skippers ticket, Peter and I had to master the man-overboard manoeuvre - it's tricky and although we could perform the manoeuver sufficiently for the test, everyone we speak to tells us that out at sea and when the weather is heavy, it is so much harder.
The more we read the more we are convinced that the best way to deal with the situation is to no ever allow it to happen - to lose someone overboard is a risk we are unwilling to take.
In a recent edition of Sails Magazine there was an excellent article titled 'Left For Dead', by Nancy Knudsen identifying several practices which could really minimise the risk. It was a really good read and really helped us to identify ways in which we could establish better practices to reduce the risks for ourselves.
The main point in the article is for all crew members to wear safety harnesses at all times when on deck.
We already had a policy about the use of harnesses whenever we were in heavy weather - but this article pointed out, very validly, that when the weather whips us there is enough going on already - enough to deal with - remembering to at this point attach a harness is simply one more thing to think about. The article suggested that if a harness was used as a routine element of being on deck then it became a habit and not some additional thing to remember. For us, sailing with children, this added a degree of safety, which, quite frankly, satisfied my mother-heart more than anything else we have discussed about safety the entire time!
We had four harnesses. Today we have spent time ensuring that each person has a harness that is dedicated to them, adjusted to fit them perfectly and in addition, has two clip points. Our harnesses originally had only one point at which they could be tethered, meaning that to move from one point on deck to another you have to unclip and for that moment not be clipped on at all. The double clip system ensures that you are clipped on at all times and moving about on deck is no longer potentially a life-threatening hazard.
Our rule is that the harness is stored below deck and you are not allowed to come up on deck without first putting it on. When leaving the safety of the companionway you must first clip on to a strong point in the cockpit. Then even in the cockpit you stay clipped on. If you must leave the cockpit, which you only do if necessary in heavy weather - and for us - only Peter or I do so - you must use the double clips and remain clipped at all times.
While it is a basic requirement that our yacht is equipped with the appropriate gear for retrieving a man overboard, and that we are confident of using them and competent, the truth is that even for the most experienced sailors the chances of a successful retrieval are low. We don't want to be amongst the statistics.
The article suggested a few other safety practices which are such good sense and I loved them - never go out of the cockpit (especially on night watches) unless another crew member is awake and in the cockpit. The author spoke of situations where one crew member was on watch alone, went overboard and the other crew member was blissfully asleep and unaware of the situation. Because the boat sails with auto pilot it might be hours before another crew member is aware of the problem - by which time it's is simply too late to find the missing person.
When working on deck make sure that you are tethered short enough that if a wave takes you, you will not go overboard. Our harness tethers were too long. We have now shortened them.
Lastly, never climb the mast without an extra safety line attached.
These things might seem like pedantic and over-the-top measures - but to me, well it simply makes sense to err on the side of caution.
I particularly liked the suggestion that by doing this at all times and not as a secondary and additional practice for heavy weather.
Before we left Canberra Peter told me that losing someone overboard was not an option. Now I feel that we have all the resources and skills to ensure that that is actually possible.
08/24/2011, Albany West Australia
It's a quiet Wednesday. The rain awoke us this morning and we have watched as one storm after another has passed over - slipping away into town during brief breaks in the rain to check on mail at the Post Office and do other small jobs while the children completed school work on board.
When we decided to begin this adventure we knew that it would involve taking the children out of school. This never bothered me. Twenty five years ago I was about to give birth to my first child - already I was thinking about his or her education and options that we might take up. It wasn't long after he was born that I came across a book written by someone I really respected that spoke about her choice to home-school her children. I was impressed and challenged, inspired and prepared to consider this as an option I might take up. Twenty years and eight children later I had to make what to most people was an easy decision but to me an earth shattering one - I had to send my children to school. Up until that point I had only home schooled them but my husband-of-then had found greener pastures and I couldn't hold onto the house any longer without returning to work full time. So the day had come when I had taken my children for their first day of school - one was eight, one eleven. My thirteen year old son resisted staunchly and the older ones were already involved in study programs outside the home and simply continued with these.
I value parents being actively involved with their children's learning. I believe that a lot of time is wasted in the classroom situation waiting for teachers to be able to assist students, waiting for others to catch up, waiting, waiting, waiting. The best teachers in the world when faced with twenty or more pupils simply can't assist everyone at once and so a lot of time is taken up with what home schoolers call 'busy work'. Taking the children out of school to take them with us simply meant reconnecting with how things used to be.
We made the decision to enrol the children in Distance Education to assist them to stay on track with their schooling and to ensure that at any time they need to reconnect with the school system it is practical and easy for them.
Liam's school work arrives intermittently in a huge blue envelope. Usually he gets two weeks work at a time - but then he might not get another envelope for two more weeks after returning the envelope. It's a bit erratic but we don't find that to be a problem. When he has school work to do we encourage him to work on it a little at a time. It usually involves some maths pages, some English grammar and some books to read and then write a little about. When he has no set school work I give him other things to do. As he loves to read it's never very difficult - he has read all the Lord of The Rings books and is about to finish reading The Silmarillion. He does rather like Middle Earth and finds a way to relate it to many things in life that no one else would! He is also a fan of Bear Grylls and was delighted to hear today that Bear's new autobiography, Mud Sweat And Tears is out! He also devours anything he can get his hands on about fishing and fish both in book and magazine form as well as on the Internet.
Of course doing the written school work is a very small part of his education. What he is learning just being here is unquantifiable. He has developed in social skills through talking to fishermen and asking everyone he can about local fishing spots and techniques. He researches things that interest him and asks questions all the time. True we sometimes find this exasperating but then how else is he going to find out things!
So between sailing, fishing and reading he fills his days and then fits a bit of school work in when it's available and possible.
For Erina it's a little different. She also receives some school work in envelopes which arrive randomly but she also is sent work via the internet and this is pretty well always available to her. She is working on year eight material and is keeping up pretty well despite the issues we have had with the internet.
She self manages her work very well and in addition reads. She has just finished reading Jessica Watson's book True Spirit and is about to begin Jesse Martin's Lionheart.
Her biggest interests at the moment involve hair. She thinks she might be a hairdresser - but then again she has many things that interest her! Recently, when I went to check if we had any mail at the Post Office, I was handed a large box. It contained a head. No - not some macabre anatomical piece - a hairdresser's mannequin! She was flown over to us from Sydney and is affectionately called Lucy. She's rather lovely and although she sometimes gives us a shock when we come below and she's just sitting there at the table, she has fitted in quite well! Erina spends quite a lot of time looking at hair styles, figuring out how various styles have been achieved and then having a go at doing them on Lucy.
She is amazing. To be honest, looking at how nimbly her fingers can take strands of hair and turn them into exquisite styles is impressive! She can do such elaborate things and is becoming very capable. So as with Liam, I am happy to ensure she has plenty of material to work with. The mannequin was the first thing - but in time we will work on using colours and trimming the boys hair and whatever we can fit into our sailing life. She may not go on and do hairdressing but for the moment this is important to her.
We discovered the other day that sailing and hairdressing are closely related. Yes I know that probably surprises you too! Let me explain! It's the ropes you see - braiding hair - especially some of the more complex braids, actually use the same techniques as braiding ropes - Erina can see how her ability with hair makes her capable of doing things with ropes that no one knew how to do! Like splicing and joining - twists to connect ropes and even making stronger ropes by braiding ropes together. Who would have thought!
For both the children the biggest learning is just being part of what we are doing. Understanding weather patterns, sailing, geography of coastlines, physics with regards to sails, mechanics and a whole host of other things that come up as a direct result of living closely together on board the yacht and travelling. This kind of learning is priceless!
Peter has just reminded me that he also has done some school work. Well actually we both did! The Skippers ticket!
In the end we decided that we didn't both need to actually get the tickets - especially considering that it is only relevant while we are in WA - but only after I had fully prepared! So on a sunny day last week Peter took his test. On the written part, which he was the most worried about, he made one tiny mistake which he self-corrected. He did extremely well! The practical part - well that was a breeze for him! Yes, I guess we are all learning in one way or another - some lessons bigger than others - but what an adventure we are all on!
08/17/2011, Albany West Australia
We were out walking this morning - as we do - aiming for the Post Office to check on mail. It struck me as we walked along how, even though I had driven up this particular road many times, I hadn't noticed things around me nearly as much as I did when walking. It's like that isn't it? We drive past so much in our rush-here-and-hurry-there lives. But these days, while we take everything so much slower, I find we notice so much more. It reminded me of something I heard once about not always taking the highway, but savouring the scenic route and how much this sailing life allows us - actually makes us - do exactly that -take the meandering route - the stop-and-look-at-the-flowers route.
Our time in Albany is quickly coming to an end. Winter will end in a little over two weeks and the local wisdom suggests the ideal time for us to begin to sail towards the East is in late September to late October. That means that the best weather window to go begins in only about five weeks.
We have almost completed all the routine maintenance required to embark - the overhauling of the plumbing, electrical systems, motor, sails, rigging, hull and navigational equipment. We still have a few tiny things to do.
We have almost completed the preparations for sailing the Bite:
We have thrown out the old life jackets that we inherited along with the boat and purchased new, compliant, excellent ones;
We have ensured all crew members are outfitted with good quality and well-fitting wet weather gear for the storms/ heavy weather days we are sure to encounter;
We have checked all hand holds and life lines, and fitted a new centre lifeline on deck to ensure easy and safe mobility during windy/ heavy weather days;
We have ensured we have adequate harnesses for each member to use ;
We have two levels of food for travelling - planned meals for when I can cook and cans of ham/chicken/soups for when I can't, as well as long life milks, bread mixes fresh water etc;
We have prepared our emergency equipment - bought a new EPIRB and some new flares and only kept those we had that were serviceable;
We have checked the contents of the emergency grab bag (what you grab in the unlikely circumstance of having to abandon ship) - first aid supplies, emergency food and water, torches, flares, radio and spareEPIRB.
We have been plotting our course, checking all the weather sites (the Bureau Of Meteorology -BOM, and Seabreeze are our favourites) and checking these against the information provided by weather routing sites - we like 'Predict Wind' and obtaining weather routing charts for the oceans we will sail - learning, learning, learning - soaking up all we can about weather prediction.
We have carefully plotted our route. We want to see certain things - places we have read about that look beautiful - breathtaking beaches and scenery - but we are also taking into account where we will stop.
Our time in Albany has educated us about where we will stop and stay. It has been quite eye opening for us to learn that not all marina's welcome travelling yachts. Not all have good facilities - ie warm showers! And not all are located within easy walking distances to shops. Now when you arrive in a yacht it really matters if the marina/ mooring is located somewhere gorgeous or somewhere near town! With no car we walk everywhere - and sometimes that's just lovely - but when the hardware store is across the other side of town, or several hours walk there and back you start to appreciate that pulling into a new location isn't as easy as heading for any old marina! So we scan blogs, maps, talk to other sailors, learn anything we can about the places we intend to visit to determine exactly where we will aim for.
Here in the area of Albany there are three options. We've tried them all!
There is a marina at the Princess Royal Sailing Club. It is outside the town of Albany - a good ten minute drive in a car and not at all accessible to those without. There is though, within walking distance of the marina, a small general store-cum service station that carries all the basics, at convenience store prices. It's an old marina and has problems. On the plus side it's quiet and peaceful - on the down side - the club is far from welcoming to visitors, there are supposed to be hot showers available but that's only so long as no one turns it off (as happened to us a few times) - there is power available for your yacht but it is intermittent and unreliable. We could not recommend this marina to other travellers.
On the other side of Albany is another marina, at Emu Point. There are also a couple of very cheap swing moorings near here. On the plus side, it is less expensive than Princess Royal, and is in a very pretty beach area and right next to the marina is a fantastic take away - The Squid Shack that does The Best squid ever! But on the down side the facilities are pretty non-existent - toilets during daylight hours only, -but not much else. The swing moorings are a lovely place to spend a day or two.
Last but not least is the new marina that has recently been opened here. It is located right in town. The town, like many smaller centres is quite sprawling and of course hilly, so while there is a small independent grocery store a very short walk away, you can end up walking quite a way if you want to get to the Woolies, Kmart, Coles etc. However, it is quite do-able and the many café's make the walk quite pleasant!
At the marina itself the facilities are great - lovely hot showers, clean bathrooms, coin operated washing machine and dryer. The marina is run by the local council who can be contacted on 98927312.It's not cheap but is very pleasant to be at and welcomes visiting yachts.
I think the day we sail out of here as we begin out trip around Australia on the scenic route will be a funny day, with mixed emotions. Albany feels a bit like home and we have grown to love the friendly nature of the town. People recognise us on the street and smile at us even if we've only spoken once or twice. We are the people from that boat. We have felt a bit special. So there will undoubtedly be an element of sadness on that day. But there will be the thrill of anticipation that we have really begun - we are not getting ready, not preparing, not organising, shopping, packing, fixing, improving, reading about - but actually off and begun! No doubt there will be nerves in that too - are we ready? Have we done enough? Have we read enough? Practiced enough? Learned enough?
But I think that we will crack a bottle of something like champagne - I know champagne sounds nice but we don't like it much so we'll have to stick with a chardonnay or a Riesling I think! Our focus will be on how very, very far we have come from that drive up to Newcastle when we decided to look at a yacht and our drive and flights over here when we decided to give this sailing thing a serious go! Yes, we might have fears and worries, but I have no doubt at all that the dream, the thrill of adventure will be what is foremost in our minds on what will be the most momentous day of the journey so far!
08/11/2011, Albany Western Australia
The water this morning was like a sheet of smooth glass - flat, still, opalescently reflecting the sun's rays.
We had hoped to sail but with no wind it wasn't looking promising. Instead we decided to motor out for a while and then, if there was still no wind, drop anchor and do some fishing.
We hadn't gone far when we saw the Whale Watching Tour boat coming towards us. It wasn't time for the tour to end, which aroused our curiosity. In a moment though we discovered why they appeared to be returning to the harbour so early.
There are usually whales in King George Sound at this time of year, but this morning the whales must have decided to put on a bit of a show for us all as at least three pods of humpbacks (with several whales in each pod) were right in Princess Royal harbour - within sight of our pen! They were swimming, breaching, playing and performing for us and the whale watch tour boat passengers!
We cruised about for over an hour, watching and following one or another of the pods.
The children were mesmerised and watched enthralled - climbing out onto the bow-sprit for a better vantage point.
The majestic creatures entertained us simply by their presence.
After a while one of the pods swam through the entrance to King George Sound and we sailed out with them where there were, unbelievably, even more pods! We decided that in whale world it must have been National Whale Day!
The swell was so gentle, the water rippling softly past us and still no wind, we put out a line, put on the kettle to make some tea, pulled out books to read and soaked up the sunny day.
The peacefulness and tranquillity of the day was only broken by the occasional excited shout of, 'there's another,' every now and then - whales, and then later some seals as well.
When we are making passage somewhere, no doubt a day with little wind will feel frustrating to us, but today we have no goal beyond enjoyment and we have already more than achieved that!