Monday, 1 April 2019

We left Hobart, enroute to Whangarei NZ, on a warm, calm and windless day. We motored down the D'Entrecasteaux Channel towards the open sea. The quiet conditions gave us time to reflect on how much we had enjoyed our visit to Tasmania. Being a weekday, there weren't many boats about, but, we enjoyed watching this pretty one pass us by.

We entered Storm Bay and as we reached open water, conditions soon changed. The wind and waves picked up and before we knew it, we were close-hauled and bashing into a lumpy sea. We'd hoped to pass close-by scenic Cape Raoul, but, it wasn't to be. All we got was a camera-zoomed image, still spectacular nonetheless.

We were barely away from the coast when we got hit with two, short, but, intense low-pressure systems a day apart. We hove-to for a while in both as it was gusting into the forties overnight and very squally. We were expecting unpredictable and quick-changing winds for this passage. We were hoping for a good run of maybe 18 days to do the 1800, or so miles. Instead, we ended up sailing 2,325 miles over 26 days in very frustrating conditions.

We got within 400 miles of Cape Reinga (the north tip of NZ's North Island) and were headed. The wind blew from the NE for eleven days straight, barely budging direction and directly on our nose. We beat back and forth endlessly, but, made very poor forward progress. If there'd been somewhere to go back to, we might have turned around, but, the NZ government, in its wisdom, has decided that there are now only four official ports of first entry for yachts and they are all on the east coast of NZ, not the west coast we were approaching on (it now looks like Auckland, on the west coast, may be added back to the approved port list soon). So, we persevered. We felt like sitting ducks, just waiting for the next huge low pressure system to swing up from the south and engulf us. We had to keep sailing back and forth as heaving-to would have caused us to drift backwards at 1-2 knots, losing hard-won ground. We held our nerve and worked hard to get within 100 miles of the Cape. Finally, there was a glimmer of hope when the gribs showed a coming one day window of reasonably calm conditions and lighter winds which, if the sea calmed quickly enough, would allow us to motor directly to the Cape and around the top. And so it was. At first it didn't look like it was going to happen as the winds were up all day. Then, all of a sudden, just when we were dreading another miserable night of waiting, at 1600, there was a very violent, fast 180 degree wind shift and the wind immediately dropped to almost nothing, just like somebody turned the switch off. It felt really good to just get that motor on and get out of there!  The first sight of land was very exciting.

We made it around the top and it was just getting dark as we passed the Cape on the north east tip of the island. We started down the east side and you guessed it, the winds were now from the SE on this side, not favourable at all, again. We did manage a few hours of sailing, but, in the end, just kept powering, we were like horses heading for that barn door. The scenery was probably spectacular as we passed by the Bay of Islands, Poor Knights Islands and other landmarks, but, it was pitch-black and we saw nothing.

The morning brought, rain, mist, wind and grey/yellow skies. We checked the gribs and noticed that everywhere in NZ had light winds except for where we were. As we approached Bream Head and the spectacular entrance into Whangarei harbour, the winds were a steady 28, gusting 30's. We surfed into the entrance channel with a container ship coming up quickly behind us. After almost missing the marina entrance, we doubled back and with great relief finally landed at the quarantine dock at Marsden Cove Marina. Another passage complete, but, I wouldn't say it was an enjoyable one.

During our campervan tour of NZ a couple of years ago, we visited Cape Reinga by road, Here are a few pictures of what it looks like from the land side and in better weather.

This is Cape Maria Van Diemen, arcing off to the west, very close to Cape Reinga. We were a few miles off, but, could clearly see the mist created by these huge rollers.

Although it maybe hard to tell in this photo, the waves in front of us were clashing in a decided v-shape, one side from the Tasman Sea, the other from the Pacific. I remember thinking at the time, that, if I was ever to round this maelstrom from sea to stay well off and we did!

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Sunday, 3 March 2019

The highlight of our recent visit to Tasmania was to complete a bush walk, the Overland Track and we did it, sixty-five kilometres in six days!

We had to book the walk months in advance as they limit the walkers allowed onto the trail each day. When we booked we weren't even sure we would make it to Tassie in time as sailboat travel can be unpredictable, but, luckily we did and all the advance logistical planning paid off. It's not an easy place to get to. The walk is done one-way, in season and we had to start at Cradle Mountain and finish at Lake St. Clair. The track traverses an alpine area in the northwest area of the state. There were many buses to book, a ferry and hotels for the start and finish dates. Walk fees were also quite expensive, $200 each and another $30 each for park passes.

It was tough and the weather was wet and miserable. At least it wasn't snowing which it was the week before we walked it and it wasn't too hot, the week following us had temperatures into the 30's. Looking on the bright side, all the rain we had showed the rain forest to its best advantage and the waterfalls and creeks were in full flow. We carried all our food, clothing, supplies, tent, sleeping bags, cookstove and fuel in our backpacks. There are huts available on the track, but, you're not guaranteed a bed, so still have to carry a tent. Luckily, due to the strict access restrictions, we were able to get a bed in a hut for each night, a relief to be able to dry out in readiness for the next day. The huts sleep 20-35 people and are just basic dormitories. Each hiker is carrying 15-25 kgs each of gear, so, it does become bedlam when everyone is trying to pack up in the morning.

The first and third days were very hard, the other days were easier, but, not easy. The first day we had to get to the track from Launceston, then walk 10.7 km. It also had the most elevation and was almost vertical in places. Near the top there were chains to assist in your passage up and over the sharp rock. We were rewarded at the top with spectacular views of Cradle Mountain, Crater and Dove Lakes. The walk down to Waterfall Valley was almost as difficult as the up. On arrival at the hut, we were really wondering whether we'd taken on too much, but, we knew the worst was over, or, so we thought at the time.

Day 2 was only 7.8 km, Waterfall Valley to Lake Windermere. An introduction to the varied terrain on the walk. Many sections with wet and slippery tree roots, long sections walking through sharp rock falls and other rocky areas  that were like walking through a dry riverbed, lots of mud, many puddles and running water. This was interspersed with sections of man-made boardwalk over the marshy bits and often wooden steps. It definitely wasn't a 'walk in the park'.

Day 3 was very tough, the longest day's distance, 16.8 km with a very long, steady climb at the end. Once we arrived at the Pelion hut, we had a spectacular view across the buttongrass meadow to Mt. Oakleigh.

Day 4, just 9 km, but, a 300m climb over 4 km, to Pelion Gap. Here, we should have been able to see Mt. Ossa, Australia's highest peak, but, a dense, grey mist enshrouded the mountain tops and we only saw brief glimpses.

Day 5, 9.6 km, the coldest day and we were wet through at the end of day. Glad to arrive at Bert Nichols hut. As the days passed, you tended to end up with the same people in the huts each night. It became quite a convivial atmosphere and we met other tourists from the Netherlands, Italy and France. Many locals were also on the track. We met up with one friendly Australian group: Phil, Sophie, Mel and Abby. They really made our trip. On the second night out, when they learned it was our wedding anniversary (46!), they presented us with a camper's dehydrated apple pie to celebrate. I know this doesn't sound like much, but, it was delicious and very welcome. To give up food rations you've carried a long way was really something special. Maybe they also took pity on the two oldest people on the track that week.

Day 6, 9 km and mostly flat terrain. Our legs were tired, but, we had to make our ferry booking at the Narcissus hut which would take us to Cynthia Bay, the Lake St. Clair visitor centre and the end of the track. The morning was misty, beautiful and the sun came out, finally.

This is the end of the track, at Lake St. Clair, the deepest lake in Australia.

The last day was the only sunny one of the entire week. We were exhausted, but, elated, we can't believe we actually finished it. We were able to soak up some sun and bask in our accomplishment while waiting for the bus which would take us back to Hobart. We also managed a burger, chips and ice cream, who cares about fat and calories at a time like this!

We encountered some wildlife along the way, many cute wallabies.

We saw our first wombat.

Unfortunately, there were not many birds, but, we did see our first currawong. These birds are incredibly intelligent and can open zips on backpacks to find and remove snacks!

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Of course, any visit to Tasmania needs to include a nod to its rather notorious past as a penal colony. The history of convict settlement is evident throughout the state. We only had time to visit one site and we chose historic Port Arthur. Frankly, on arrival, it looked more like the setting of a Muskoka summer camp, but, the natural beauty of the spot couldn't hide its brutal past. Port Arthur was the prison for recidivists, those convicts who had been sent to Australia and who had then recommitted a further criminal offence.

The site was more than just a prison. By 1840 there were more than 2000 convicts, soldiers and civil staff who lived in the community there. The penal settlement was closed in 1877 and many buildings were destroyed by later bush fires, however, there are still over thirty intact historic homes and buildings as well as extensive ruins.

The homes of the professionals and free settlers were substantial and solidly built.

The Commandant's house occupied a prime waterfront site on a point of land.

There was a church where up to 1100 people attended compulsory services each Sunday.

In addition to the main prison, there was a large complex known as 'the separate prison'. This building was designed to deliver a new method of punishment to try and reform convicts through isolation and contemplation, rather than work and training.

The few women in the community had formal gardens in which to enjoy a convict-free space, as well as a separate beach.

This was the hospital.

After leaving the site, we drove back to Hobart enjoying the stunning scenery along the way.

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We first visited Hobart on a very quick cruise ship stop, in 2016. We were so taken with it then that we decided we definitely had to return on our own boat. This time, we've had four weeks to enjoy Hobart and some other areas of Tasmania, but, have only just scratched the surface. We wish we could stay longer, but, autumn is now here (although you'd never know it with the 39C temperatures we experienced yesterday, a new record) and NZ is beckoning. For our one month visit, we were lucky to base ourselves at Oyster Cove Marina, in Kettering, about twenty miles south of Hobart. It was a lovely place to stay, the rural setting was appealing, the people were friendly and the price was very reasonable. The bus service wasn't the greatest, but, we rented a car for the first two weeks which got us where we needed to go. Just up the hill from the boat, was a nice inn and restaurant overlooking the cove and we enjoyed a few meals there after our day's boat work was completed.

We had our usual share of boat problems and fixes to deal with, but, there's always somebody worse off. This local boat came into the marina after what must have been a rather bad day of sailing!

We took the car one day and headed to the lookout at the top of Mount Wellington, which looms over Hobart. Unfortunately, the top was completely clouded over and we turned around before getting to the summit. Here's the view from about 1/2 way up, from the top it must be even more spectacular, but, this view was great too, don't you think?

We had originally planned to stay at a marina in town, but, due to our arrival just a few days before the Wooden Boat Festival was due to start, everything was booked up. With hindsight, Oyster Cove was a better choice for us anyway, so, it worked out for the best. The Wooden Boat Festival is only put on every second year, so, you might think we couldn't have planned it better, but, wooden boats aren't really our 'thing'. However, they're very pretty to look at and the history and workmanship on display were bound to be interesting, so, we were eager to visit the show. It was small, as boat shows go, but, the variety of boats was tremendous and the atmosphere was very convivial.

Lots of great food stalls and demonstrations rounded out the activities. They even had Morris dancers! Not sure what they have to do with wooden boats, but, it was fun to watch them for a while anyway.

Our last night before we headed to Hobart to clear out was spent at anchor in Barnes Bay, just across the channel from Oyster Cove. That's Mount Wellington in the distance. It was a lovely, warm, calm evening. We sat out in the cockpit for a while and listened to the kookaburras in the woods adjacent to the shore, a great sendoff.

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Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Sunday, January 27, 2019.
44 19.6S  145 01.0E

It was all going so well, but, we just knew it couldn't possibly last forever.  We were hoping to have made it all the way from Perth to Hobart without getting whacked by a nasty low pressure system and we almost made it. Almost... The first 80% of the passage was great, the last 20%, not so much. We knew we had to head down from 34S at Cape Leeuwin to 44S in order to clear the bottom of Tasmania. That ten degrees of latitude is 600 nautical miles. Each mile south would take us closer to Antarctica and deeper into the 'Roaring Forties'. Like the 'Furious Fifties' and 'Screaming Sixties' the names of these bands of latitude give you some idea of the conditions to be encountered there.

We monitor the weather once daily on passage and use our satellite phone to download weather 'grib' (binary gridded data) files. These can be used, in some cases, to avoid low pressure systems that are in your path. The low pressure systems found in the forties latitudes travel continuously from west to east, around the globe unimpeded by any land mass and usually very quickly. They had been staying down south, lower than 44S where we needed to get to and were only a few degrees of latitude in diameter. Just a few days left to go in the passage we opened a grib file to see that our luck had run out. There was a huge wall of wind coming right at us. It was 600 miles wide and there was no avoiding it.

Here's how the grib file looked just as we were on the edge of the coming low, a forecast of 40-57 knots and 8.1m waves right where we were going to be (see our little boat icon). A little further south it was going to be 47-60 knots and 9.5m waves. Gribs typically underestimate wind strengths and gusts will always be more than indicated.

We had thought we had enough time to outrun it, but, we had underestimated the strength of a smaller, local low pressure system that was forming near Cape Leeuwin which was also coming right at us, before the wall was going to hit. The seas got quite large and winds were in the 35-38 knot range. It was hard going so we hove-to for a while overnight, knowing that any delay increased the likelihood that we wouldn't be able to outrun the coming 'wall'. The winds from the small, but, intense low passed and we were back sailing again, but, only for a short while as the wind then died. We put the engine on to keep going. At this point, we were only about 135 miles from Tasmania's southeast cape and we were pushing to get there. If conditions remained the same, we were thinking our eta would be about 1300 the next day.

We turned the engine off and were sailing again, fast to the E in the increasing NW wind. Around 3 am, the wind backed W and we could then only sail mostly N, or S. We chose S to avoid Tasmania's western lee shore. After about three hours we were motoring again to try for a better course, it was our last chance. The wind was now into the high 30's and increasing, we were heading mostly S, when we needed to go  E. The wind started into the 40's and the seas were rising and starting to break. It was a disappointing decision, but, there didn't seem to be any other choice and at 0730 we aborted our plans to round the Cape, we just couldn't make it in time. With the wind forecast to be well into the 40's and more the only option now was to deploy our new, all-dyneema Jordan Series drogue to slow us down and wait for the low to pass over us before continuing. Before we did that we wanted to get as much searoom as possible, so, turned directly south. By 1100, the wind was gusting into the 50's and it was time to deploy the drogue. The launch went fine and the boat immediately slowed down, we started to drift at a rate of 0-3 knots. We were glad to head down below and close the hatch.

Right after launching the drogue, there was an incredible deluge of rain, heavier than anything we've ever seen before, it was a spectacular sight and flattened the seas for a short time. We were quite comfortable down below, warm and dry, the boat's movement was fairly gentle, with occasionally a wave strike that knocked us around a bit. As designed, the drogue let us rise on top of the waves rather than through them and they passed mostly underneath us with little drama.  The only anxiety we were feeling was how long were we going to be 'stuck' here, we had been so close to completion and now we had this unwelcome delay.

The first day we laid with the wind off the stern quarter, we're not sure why we were laying like this as both drogue bridle legs are of equal length, maybe it was wave vs. wind orientation. The second day we became stern-on to the wind which is what we had expected to happen. This caused a few severe poopings. Unfortunately, this allowed some water ingress into the engine room through a faulty gasket on its overhead hatch. This kept us busy bailing and wiping up for a while.

We hung off the drogue for sixty! hours before there was a forecast twenty-four hour lull which allowed us to start moving again. The wind had stayed consistently between 45-50 knots, with no sign of abating, for the whole 2-1/2 days, with gusts to sixty knots. It had seemed like it would never end.

We waited until we were sure the lull was going to be real, then retrieved the drogue as quickly as we could and we were off. The wind was now in the twenties. We passed Tasmania's South East Cape in the dark and started up the channel that leads to Hobart. There looked to be an easy-in/out anchorage partway up and we decided to try for that. When we got there, around two am, the wind had changed to the north and increased to 35 knots. There were breakers rolling down the shallow bay and it was a pitch black night, so, we quickly abandoned any plans to try and anchor, another frustrating disappointment.

We pointed our bow directly into the north wind towards Hobart, but, didn't want to enter the shallow, narrow channel that leads there in the dark as the chart indicated there might be fish farms and other obstacles in our path. Instead, we drove back and forth to kill time for a couple of hours until four am and dawn. At dawn, the wind died to nothing and it turned out that, in daylight, the channel was wide, unobstructed and very beautiful. We quickly headed to the anchorage at Barnes Bay. There were pretty hills on both sides of the channel, but, they were shrouded with smoke from the bush fires and the smell of smoke was heavy in the air. On entry to the Bay, we were greeted by a family of large seals cavorting off our bow. The anchorage was calm, the morning sunny and warm. We were so grateful to finally get the anchor down, it set first time and we crashed into our bunk. We had made it, 24 days and 2345 miles after leaving Two Rocks.
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Thursday, 17 January 2019

Friday, January 18, 2019.
40 11.8S 127 30.2E

After we rounded Cape Leeuwin and entered the Great Australian Bight for our west to east crossing to Hobart, Tasmania, the wind died. We found ourselves in the middle of a high pressure system with light and variable winds. The gribs didn't show much relief for many days ahead and the prevailing westerlies were too far south to motor down to. So, we resigned ourselves to waiting it out. We experienced long periods of flat calm and winds less than five knots for up to twelve hours at a time. Once winds hit a consistent 8-10 knots, all sail went up and we were off sailing for a while longer. As long as we keep moving to the SE we should eventually pick up westerlies which are usually the top edge of the low pressure systems (which move clockwise in the Southern hemisphere) continually cycling through the latitudes known as the Roaring Forties. We don't necessarily want to get too far south into the middle of these very fast-moving systems as the winds can be very strong in the middle of them. We'll have to drop down to 44S in order to round the bottom of Tasmania. Currently, most lows seem to be staying south of this, but, that could change at any time.

Between calms, we've had two, twelve hour sessions of 30 knot winds so far and some more moderate wind periods. Unusually, we even had thunder and lightning. The lightning was very spectacular, luckily not too close. We could see the squalls all around us clearly on the radar. We were hoping for rain to wash the salt and bird deposits off the boat, but, we only got a very light sprinkle. Temperatures are about 20C during the day and the cabin drops to 15C at night, a little cooler than we'd expected. We're not sorry to be missing the 45C+ temps the rest of Australia was experiencing just before we left Perth. We've been enjoying seeing albatross and other pelagic sea birds against a backdrop of mostly sunny skies.

We've been at sea for eleven days now and have sailed 1,138 miles, all sailed and almost all made good! We have about the same again to reach Hobart, so, are just over halfway through this passage. It's been a little slower than expected, due to the number of calms we've experienced, but, we're thinking the pace will pick up now we're south of 40 degrees latitude and hopefully into those prevailing westerlies.

Sent via SailMail,
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Monday, 14 January 2019

Friday, January 11, 2019.
35 45.4E 116 54.4S

Ever since we arrived in Western Australia, Cape Leeuwin, the extreme southwestern point of Australia has loomed large in our thoughts. We knew we'd be sailing around it at one point on our planned route to Tasmania. As time passed, its reputation grew larger in our minds. Prevailing southerly winds, wide open ocean to the west, ocean currents and swell, no good anchorage or shelter, reefs, shipwrecks, the worries grew. As is often the case, but, not always, its bark was worse than its bite and our rounding turned out to be a benign experience. If I didn't want to jinx the rest of the passage, I might even say that we enjoyed it. We were certainly elated once clear.

It was a rough, early morning start leaving Rottnest Island, near Perth. Things soon calmed down though and we were sailing, in the right direction! We were able to put the boat through its paces and we were thrilled at how effortlessly, with our new cutter rig, we could cruise along at 6-8 knots in just 13-20 knots of wind. Sail handling was easier, loads were less and sheet leads were much improved. We could sail closer to the wind than on any other boat we've owned. One successful project almost completed! I say almost because there were a couple of failures as well. Both a staysail block and a running backstay tackle broke apart. We've now done the sails and standing rigging and had started a program of running rigging and hardware replacement (expensive), but, looks like we'll have to expedite that now.

As we continued south the winds tended to either SW or SE, usually 20-25 knots, none of the dreaded southerlies. We even had some hoped-for easterlies just as we started heading south from Cape Naturaliste along the last stretch towards Cape Leeuwin. For a change, even our tacking strategy worked really well. We were able to clear Leeuwin with one very long tack out to the west and then back southeast.

Once clear and into the Great Australian Bight we entered the middle of a high pressure area, little wind and flat calm, as you can see in the picture. Beautiful, but, you're not going anywhere unless you motor. There's not enough fuel for that, so, we will just have to wait the calms out, the wind will always come back sometime...
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Monday, 7 January 2019

It was an intense last few weeks at Two Rocks (near Perth, Western Australia) getting ready for departure, but, we're finally sailing at last! Here's a shot of our new cutter rigged sails in action. We're very happy that this significant change seems to be successful.  A cutter rig has three standard sails: main, staysail (smaller inner sail) and yankee (a high-cut outer sail). When winds allow, all three sails are flown together, like in this photo. The perfect conditions shown here only lasted an hour though. The winds went south, the direction we need to go and we were soon reducing sail and motorsailing, with the main sail alone, to get some southing in.

Shortly after departing, we had a few hydraulic hiccups in our steering and a few other issues cropped up. The wind started to pick up and when a strong wind warning was announced we decided to make this first day out a mini-shakedown cruise and stop into Rottnest Island, just off Perth, to wait for a better forecast and to deal with the issues prior to heading out on our planned, longer offshore passage to Hobart, Tasmania, about 1,900 nautical miles.

We got to the anchorage at Thomson Bay in late afternoon on a Sunday. It was packed with boats, mostly daytrippers from Perth, we were the only cruising boat there. Unfortunately, the first spot we picked to drop anchor was next to somebody who didn't want neighbours, insisting that we were 'on his anchor'. We weren't, but, he was standing on his foredeck gesticulating and as we didn't want him glaring at us the whole time, we picked up and moved, three times, before we got our anchor to stick. There's one in every anchorage, it seems. The worst part is he picked up to go home an hour later. We stayed two nights. It didn't spoil our stay though, we enjoyed a beautiful day at anchor. Here's the view from the port side of the boat.

In front of the boat...

and beside the boat...beautiful! G spotted a large manta ray on the bottom.

We would have liked to have gone ashore, but, we had many jobs to do and our dinghy was all packed up and lashed down on the foredeck for our offshore passage. The island looks lovely, has trails, accommodation and no traffic, only local service vehicles allowed. They also have 'quokkas' another of Australia's unique animals. has picked up our AIS (automatic identification system) already and will be showing our current position as we go along (assuming we're near a shore station, don't worry if we don't show up on there). You can access this site from the 'Find Gjoa' page tab on the menu above.

We won't have internet at sea, but, will be able to receive emails (no attachments). We can also post to the blog with one photo, will try and post something along the way.
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Friday, 28 December 2018

The New Year is always a time for reflection, a look forward and a look back. Last year we started keeping a collection of the witty and/or interesting signs that we came across in our travels during the year. Signs can often be a blight on the landscape, but, they can be entertaining as well. Sometimes, the best ones are seen on-the-go and you can't capture them, but, maybe, you'll still find something in this collection from 2018 that will raise a smile. Happy New Year!

This one was seen in Wales.

It took us a long time to figure out what a 'sticky beak' is. In Australia, it's like a 'nosy parker', or, someone who sticks their nose in where it's not wanted

A few more Australian specimens. The water looked very inviting at this spot, but, this scary sign makes it clear you wouldn't want to go in.

An historical reproduction sign.

Also in Australia, in traffic, we saw a rather politically incorrect bumper sticker: 'this car is made with spanners, not chopsticks'. Hmmm.....

In the UK, signs had a lighter touch. This one has a polite 'sorry' preface. In any other country, it would probably read 'NO CAMPING!'

Only in the UK would you find 'thatcher' as a profession.

Brits also have a unique sense of humour, we laughed at this boat name.

We couldn't figure this one out. What's a 'car trap'? Guess it means 'no entry' for cars.

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