Crash, burble, splash! Some water spattered through the closed coach roof hatch, rudely awaking me from my dozing as Lyn swore loudly from the cockpit. “We’re going too fast, there’s huge waves breaking over the fore-deck”! Somewhat of an exaggeration, the waves weren’t huge, but they were steep and sharp as the building northeasterly wind met a new north-bound current. Swearing under my breath, I stumbled wearily up to the cockpit and helped to furl the jib, with some difficulty as it flogged wildly in the wind.
Our final night on the trip from Newcastle to Lord Howe was proving to be a bitch, the 25 knot wind was stronger and had more northeast and less north than forecast and we were beating into it trying to fetch the island. It was the final act in a trip that was somewhat frustrating with more upwind sailing than we had ever done before and plenty of adverse current.
Friends, boat tasks and a bullet dodged
Before this our cruising plan for the year was going quite well. We had spent two weeks in Newcastle, both working remotely whilst hauling the boat out the water at our favourite boatyard Mid-coast Marine and catching up with our good friends Joe and Belinda (and Karma and Drew). The boat work went mostly really well with many ticks on The List completed including Lyn anti-fouling the boat by herself (for the first time) and me replacing the generator exhaust through-hull fitting and a bit of a Macgyver effort at stopping the lightning cable slapping in the mast. Our friends Jeremy and Mel of “Felice” were also at the Marina, starting their maiden voyage up to the Whitsundays. Jeremy is a marine diesel mechanic and we were very lucky to have him agree to give the engine an once-over whilst they were there.
Jeremy’s experienced eye revealed a few serious and unexpected issues with the engine which could well have resulted in major engine failure. A broken raw water impeller, with bits in the heat exchanger (impeller was replaced recently and I would not have checked it). Leaking oil seal on raw water pump (Jeremy re-conditioned the pump with a new seal I bought up the road – I love Newcastle). Gear lever connected incorrectly.
Most serious, whilst checking the tappet clearances we noticed that there was a cylinder block head bolt loose, which on tightening resulted in the bolt head sheering off easily. Checking the next bolt had the same result. A late Friday afternoon phone-around revealed that there appeared to be zero of these head bolts at any Volvo Penta dealers, the distributor or warehouse in Australia! I ordered the bolts online direct from a European parts dealer – cheap bolts, but about $100 shipping! In the meantime in my quest to get the bolts earlier I had two failed missions – the local high tensile bolts shop had bolts that appeared to be the right size, but turned out to be 7/8th UNF not the required M11 1.25mm. I ordered two Perkins bolts from an Australian online site that I thought were the same (our Volvo Penta is a marinised Perkins), but when they arrived I discovered they were M12, not M11. The fact that engine manufacturers purposefully use unusual sizes like M11 is infuriating! Anyway all ended well as I managed to persuade Jeremy to stay an extra day and the bolts from Europe arrived on Tuesday, earlier than expected.
We like using our mate’s skills when my own are not up to a task, but we do insist on paying them if it is their profession. In this case Jeremy’s time and mate’s rates was so worth every penny spent, heading off a future engine failure that could have spoilt our entire trip.
A frustrating crossing
A good weather window for a direct sail to New Caledonia coincided with the Saturday at the end of our remote work commitments and we were stressing out trying to get everything ready to leave as well as doing the paying work. In the end we decided to pull the pin late on Friday, we were both exhausted and the boat only half-ready – not a good state to be leaving on a long voyage. A health scare of my Dad, David was another good reason, and this gave us the opportunity to leave after he had a successful procedure (shock treatment to rectify cardio arrhythmia).
We finally set sail from Newcastle at about 2PM on Wednesday the 17th of August. The forecast wind was going northerly in the next few days so we elected to head for Lord Howe and await a new weather window there. The trip started beautifully with a mellow flat water reach out past Port Stephens in the forecast north westerly, but here it turned a bit pear-shaped as an unexpected north easterly direction greeted us accompanied by the contrary Australian east coast current. It was the start of quite a rough trip, much more upwind work than we normally choose to take on, and mostly current against us. Final approach to Lord Howe early on Saturday morning was the roughest (as forecast).
With the height of the mountains you see Lord Howe from over 40 miles away and it always looks closer than what it is – which makes for a frustrating approach for the impatient mariner. Finally we were being talked in through the North Passage by Christo, the friendly policeman/port control officer. Learning from our rough mooring experience a year previous, Lyn had requested the inner catamaran mooring off Dawson’s point. We knew it would be better protected, out of the tidal flow of the pass and with our shoal draft (center board up) there would be sufficient depth. After a bit of a struggle getting the lines through the mooring hard eye in the gusty Northerly wind, at the second attempt we were finally moored safely. An over-optimistic meeting time at the jetty for the formalities meant there was little time to relax as we frantically tidied the sails and boat, inflated and launched the dinghy from the foredeck, motor on etc. Christo and Rachel from Border Control were super-friendly and helpful and we were soon back at the boat where we enjoyed a day of rest and recuperation.
At sun-down we watched an approaching cold front of rain and lightning, which turned the wind around to the south west but did not have much in it.
Sunday dawned with perfect weather, a clear blue sky and light wind. After a lazy start we headed ashore for a much-needed shower. The island uses rain water and the lovely soft hot water reminded us of this joy that we had previously experienced when we lived on Scotland Island. We booked the guided climb of Mount Gower (not permitted to do this alone) and then decided to explore the eastern shore. Starting at Middle Beach we worked our way northward along the rocky shoreline, exploring numerous little beach coves and points.
The green lush grass fronting onto steep sea-cliffs and interesting shaped sharp rocky structures is one of the beauties of Lord Howe. It was probably the undoing of a poor dead bull that we found in one of the gullies, who had obviously slipped to his death. Many of the farmers have electric fencing along the cliff line perhaps to prevent this type of tragedy. Later when we came across some younger stronger bulls we wondered if perhaps the old stud just couldn’t bear losing the cow attentions to the newer more virile opponent. Bull suicide.
Just before Ned’s beach we were thwarted by an impassable cliff and forced to abandon the shoreline and climb up to the top. We cut through some farm land and bush, following the orange tape on the bushes, which we assumed to be marking the way. We later discovered that the tape is marking weeding areas, and the many plumbing fixtures we saw are rat poisoning stations.
On our previous visit last year we had foregone this headline experience of the island, believing we were a bit too unfit for it. It is a full day of steep walking to scale the majestic 920 meter high mountain. This visit we are probably even less in shape, having spent the past few months sitting on bums in front of computers. Nevertheless we decided that we just had to do it. We met the guide Jack Shick and the other hikers at the South gate, taking the dinghy down the lagoon to Kings beach.
From the moment friendly Jack jumped down to the beach and helped us carry the dinghy up above the high water mark, it was clear what a nice person he is. He regaled us with many interesting tales and facts as we walked up the mountain. We found we had a lot in common as he is a sailor and also a keen kite surfer and I was able to get a lot of good information on the best kiting and surfing spots on the island. Jack is a 5th generation islander, inherited the Gower guiding from his dad, has been doing it for 25 years, two times a week and is closing in on his 2000th climb! He also has a boat that he uses for fishing and sight-seeing trips out to Balls Pyramid.
The other hikers on the climb were all older than us, but much more experienced walkers. I was relieved to discover that I appeared to be stronger than most of them and in general I was amazed at how well my body coped with the climb. This was mostly due to the enforced slow pace of the lowest common denominators of the group, which meant frequent rests for us faster walkers. I think also the many rope sections on the steeper parts helped as one could use the arms to take some of the load off the knees. This was a big plus going up, but particularly going down as you can avoid the killer knee jolting. Lyn had no such concerns, clearly the strongest of the group she charged up the mountain on the tail of Jack.
The scenery on the climb was nothing short of spectacular, affording glorious views down into the Lagoon, across to Mount Lidgard and out over the ocean to Balls Pyramid. We walked under some amazing high rock cliffs, with climbing lines that would make our climbing friends’ mouths water. The flora was pretty and diverse and the summit area had an enchanting feeling with moss-covered ground and trees and unique palm tree species. The resident Petrels were away for the day, fishing for food for their chicks in their underground nests but curious Currawongs and Bush Hens provided much entertainment.
The benefit of modern weather forecasting is that you know with some certainty what to expect days ahead. The bad side of this is that you have the suspense of waiting, knowing something is coming. After incessant rain and windy south easterlies on Tuesday a secondary low had been forecast for some time to cause gale force winds and huge waves out of the west on Thursday. These conditions are notorious for causing extremely rough conditions in the lagoon, which over the years has caused many horror stories of boats breaking mooring and get damaged.
Christo had assured us that the mooring we were on was rated for a 25 ton boat at 50 knots of wind, plenty strong for JoliFou, however I was not happy with the way the mooring lines attached by passing through the hard eye of the mooring, which has a bit of a sharp edge and the mooring buoy attachment gets wrapped around everything and can also cause rope chafe. Our mooring lines were also long in the tooth and showing signs of wear.
On Wednesday my mission was to devise and create a bullet proof mooring line system. Sacrificing our 100 meter 20mm 3 strand nylon extra anchor rope, I constructed 4 new mooring lines, two of which have hard eyes spliced on one end. We removed the anchor from the bow roller and ran the two hard eye moorings over the anchor rollers and attached to the mooring hard eye using the massively strong Jordan Series Drogue shackles (7 ton working load) which only just squeezed over the eye. Then we also attached the two other mooring lines with bowlines to the mooring hard eye and direct to the bow cleats, leaving them slightly loose so they would only come tight as the boat was thrown sideways.
I then dove down and shackled our anchor chain directly to the mooring chain, keeping it slightly loose as the ultimate backup if the mooring leader line broke. All shackles were cable-tied to ensure they stayed fastened and hosing used to protect the bow lines from chafe. This all was of course hugely over-kill and would probably survive the worst cyclone conditions, but it certainly made me sleep a lot better. As an additional precaution we also unfurled the jib, dropped it and packed it away, which would reduce the windage up front and stop the bow from blowing off sideways so much.
The wind arrived as forecast, but was probably only 30 to 35 knots and an added bonus was it arrived earlier than expected and thus the main strength was during daylight hours, which is always a lot less scary. The waves were quite boisterous but again not as bad as the images conjured up by my dreadful imagination. We both remained on the boat for the day, a dinghy ride in those conditions would have been ill-advised. Needless to say, the hurricane mooring system coped very comfortably.
Office in paradise
Friday dawned sunny and blue, the wind faded to a light south westerly and the lovely relaxing feel of the calm after the storm. Lyn is continuing to do part time marketing work for IWE Group (industrial LED lighting) during this cruise and we went ashore and set up office using the wifi at the Anchorage Café. Lyn did her marketing work and I worked on this blog, choosing photos and taking a couple more of JoliFou on mooring with the big waves behind.
We invited Jack (the guide) for sun-downers on JoliFou and he brought along his friends Rex and Lisa, islanders who are also really experienced cruising sailors. The left over swell and high tide made for boisterous conditions on the boat, but all guests were seasoned sailors and we had a wonderful evening of stories and hilarity. Rex and Lisa have been cruising on a South African built Miura 38, currently left at Whangerei in New Zealand, and have done some pretty extreme voyaging, including the Patagonian canals which we aspire to in the future. We discovered that we have many friends in common, including Tim and Lisa Stranack from the Pittwater and Jim and Anne of Insatiable 2.
Waking up a bit hung-over this morning, the weather is again raining as we complete this edition of the blog. Lyn has declared that she has never slept better than our week here at Lord Howe, which is hugely ironic considering the bumpy motion and associated noise we have experienced. Her use of ear plugs probably has a lot to do with it.
The weather window appears to be lining up nicely for our departure for New Cal tomorrow morning and we are hopeful of a beautiful fast downwind sail with plenty of broad reaching angles. It will be with a large dollop of sadness that we leave this friendly jewel of an island, we are both feeling a strong affinity with the place and feel a bit half-done in terms of our experiences here. However the wonderful land of New Caledonia awaits and we are very much looking forward to that!