09/15/2011, Albany Western Australia
This week we found ourselves featured in the local Albany Advertiser newspaper.
It was strange but a little exciting to open the paper and see ourselves smiling back at us!
We had been contacted the previous week by a young reporter, who had been asked to contact us following a letter I had written to the paper. My letter was a note of thanks, passing on our appreciation to the lovely people in Albany who have been kind and helpful to us. Apparently, in addition to publishing the letter, the editor wanted to run a piece about us. So on a windy day last week a photographer came along with the reporter to talk to us and take some pictures.
The article was headed: Family set for the adventure of a lifetime on high seas.
Toyah Shakespeare, who wrote the article said:
A family is destined to sail the high seas when they set off from Albany soon on the adventure of a lifetime.
Peter and Sue Watt, from Canberra, who married this year each for the second time, will sail their yacht Argos around the country taking Sue's youngest children Erina and Liam along for the ride.
Mrs Watt said they were inspired to set sail for a number of reasons.
"Sometimes you think 'what do you want to do when you retire?' and what if you can't do what you want to when that time comes?" she said.
"We bought a boat earlier this year and had the best time, we would go each weekend and spend some time on the boat and wish we didn't have to come back."
Moored at the marina, the 20 year old boat features a wind turbine and a mermaid figurehead called Mara, meaning "the sea" in Gaelic.
"We're having the best time in Albany; we had no idea about the history of the town," she said. "Canberra is a kind of insular town but we've found Albany so incredibly friendly."
The Watts have been living on Argos while getting it prepared for travel and learning more sailing skills.
They hope to leave at the end of the month and spend a year sailing around Australia.
While some of the details were not quite right - we are leaving in late October, not later in September as stated, and our reasons for beginning this adventure were not quite so simple as mentioned, it was novel to read about ourselves over our morning coffee! We have been getting used to people taking photos of us as we sail and dock and sometimes as we sit on board Argos, now we can add to this the idea of getting used to reading about ourselves in the newspaper. I think we will cope!
09/12/2011, Albany WA
As the moon rose over Mount Clarence , the setting sun was casting golden, red and pink shadows over Princess Royal Harbour. It was the perfect location to be sipping chardonnay and snacking on Brie and wafer-thin crackers. It had really been a beautiful day - sunny, warm, with light North Westerly winds that wanted to dance with us rather than power us, but still a beautiful day to sail!
We had been expecting a lovely day, looking forward hopefully as we followed weather reports throughout the week pointing to a lovely warm Sunday and when we woke in the morning we were not disappointed. It didn't take long to decide to set sail. It takes about forty minutes for us to get ready - secure what can fall, prepare the sails, organise snacks and drinks, untie the lines that hold us. Once the engine was started to motor us out of the marina and harbour and into the open water our sense of excitement grew - you never know what to expect when sailing - it's not something you can plan and control - I think that's one of the things that draws me to it - the sense of being taken and not having to controlling everything.
Peter wanted to try out a sail we haven't used yet - one of the flying sails - one you would only use in light winds. We had never seen it used and all we had to go on, to figure out how to set it, was a photo of Argos under full sail. Well we got it so wrong! We ended up with the sail going up the mast side-ways - which wouldn't have been a big deal if it had come back down again - but as luck would have it, it refused to budge! So there we were, sailing along with this silly looking thing hung up on top of the mast! At first, much to his consternation, Peter thought we would have to wait until we got back into the marina to be able to pull it down, but with a bit of thinking and talking we figured out that if we pulled down the sail beneath it, it might come with it. We were happy when it was down, and decided not to try and hoist it the way we now thought was right in case we were still wrong - concluding that it might be better to have a second go while in the marina!
Later we found out that we were being spied upon during this less-than-satisfactory display! Wouldn't that just be the way! Yes, binoculars afforded friends a very clear view of our amusing mistake!
After the sail debacle we spent a lovely day sailing, tacking and enjoying the water.
There are moments out on the water that are breathtakingly beautiful . As the sun pours down its rays the ocean becomes a dazzling spectacle - it's as if an immense hand has waved across it, scattering diamonds in a perfect arc, like a moving carpet of gems, rising and falling with the swell. It can hold you spellbound, watching the twinkling and sparkling in the opalescent blue. That's why we sail. Well that's why I sail!
Moored just across from us on the marina is a magnificent catamaran. After our gorgeous day on Argos we had been invited to a twilight cruise on Mirragen. One of the highlights of our time in Albany has been the new friends we have made. It was a delightful way to finish a lovely day, to sail out on this magnificent yacht, watching the moon as it rose in its full splendour over the harbour while enjoying the evening and the company. As darkness fell the clear crisp night allowed the moon to paint a sublime portrait on the shimmering water, providing us with even more breathtaking moments.
As we sailed around there was plenty of chatting, sausages and onions sizzling on the BBQ, glasses of red and white wine clinking along with glasses of coke for the children - who could not have enjoyed the balmy early spring evening!
Mirragen is a fabulous yacht. Finished to such a high standard. The children have decided that they need to do everything they can to help me get published so that we can 'upgrade' to a yacht of this standard! Not that we don't all love Argos - but who couldn't admire the sheer beauty of a million dollar yacht! At the end of the day we skipped back around the marina to our home - not sad that it's not as grand as the catamaran, rather feeling the thrill that this new life we are living gives us all of these amazing opportunities and moments!
09/10/2011, Albany WA
It's a quiet Saturday in pretty little Albany. Our life here is often very uneventful - and the smallest of things amuses us! But it is, for the most part, a peaceful life, and we do love it!
Erina conjectured today that for the most part we are not even technically in Albany as we are rarely on land - and that living on the yacht on water, by definition we are in a sort of no-where place - not really in town, or anywhere else!
Each day there are things happening around us of interest. Like the thirteen, no, make that fourteen, starfish left visible at the water's edge following an unusually low tide this afternoon. We knew it was low as soon as we walked over to the beach (or up into Albany as Erina would have it!)- the ramp we walk along to get off the marina felt a bit like a mountain climb instead of being flat! Erina and Liam found the starfish and then made a star out of them.
On quiet days we watch as boats of all shapes and sizes come and go, both from the marina and the adjacent boat ramp. Sometimes even the tug boats or pilot vessel from the Port pass us by as they go to shepherd a bulk carrier into the Port - we can't see much more than the tugs coming and going to alert us of this though.
We watch as boats are backed down to the water's edge by experienced boats-men, unhitched from their trailers and then gently slid down into the water. When done well, even the biggest boats slide down gracefully. Some of the bigger boats look so awkward and ungainly when still on their trailers, but they transmute, ugly-duckling like when their hulls reach the transforming water and become elegant swan-like things, beautiful to behold.
Of course there are times when it is apparent that the boats-men are less experienced, when the process resembles the percussion section of an orchestra warming up - all clanging cymbals and thudding drums! Ah well, we smile and know that we all start somewhere!
You see all sorts here: beautiful boats that are someone's pride and joy; interesting boats that look as if they might be home-made - perhaps with bits added on here and there for some important purpose - function being apparently more important than appearance - Frankenstein monsters of someone's invention; plenty of plain old tinnies filled with local boys going out to catch a few fish; and of course everything in-between.
It's usually a two man job this, one to secure the boat and one to manage the car and trailer. Some attempt to multi-task, and that can often lead to amusement for the on-lookers, though plenty succeed and impress us! At certain times of the day it can all be quite a spectacle - usually just before sunset, when most boats come in for the day. They have to line up. Only two boats can get up the ramp at a time, and two more can be coming in, tying up and getting ready. Often, on a lovely day there can be a whole crowd jostling for a spot, with others circling around waiting for their moment.
It always interests us to watch the boats come and go. It can be a delicate dance, the slip-in, the gentle herding manoeuvres to guide the boat along the jetty to where it can be hooked up via the winch to the trailer, much like the process of herding any animal into its stable or stall! The electric winch does the heavy pulling, but it's got to be done right to avoid scratches or dents to the boat.
You can tell the ones who really love their boats. They are the men who immediately wash off all traces of rust-inducing salt water before taking their loved ones home. Some even go so far as to wash off their trailers too - preserving not only the life of their boats but all their other equipment too.
There have been lots of lovely days this week, with sun and activity all around us. There has been fishing and digging in the sand, walks to the best cafe in town for coffee, lots of relaxed reading time and all the necessary tasks of course. There is little left to do to prepare to leave, so a large amount of our time is free for...well nothing at all - except to watch as boats come and go and notice the little things that we used to be in too much of a hurry to see!
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.