Friday, 12 June 2015

Sailing Around Australia; Crashing into Coffs Harbour

Coffs Harbour, NSW

12/6/2015 Crashing in to Coffs Harbour

Easy Tiger and crew have arrived in Coffs Harbour. Interestingly, Coffs Harbour completes a circumnavigation of Australia (minus Tasmania) by Easy Tiger.

The original owners had sailed Easy Tiger from Airlie Beach as far south as Coffs Harbour, before the boat was returned to the Gold Coast. It was there when we purchased it.

One local chap who has been around the Coffs Harbour for a long time came and introduced himself. He said he remembered the Easy Tiger from when it was next to his boat in the marina some years ago.

I only hope that the previous owners made a less spectacular entry into the Coffs Harbour Marina than we did yesterday.

For the last month and a bit, our sailing around Australia adventure has sort of lulled us into a false sense of security. During that time the only marina we have tied up to was at Cronulla, where we were berthed on the end of a jetty and Dave and Jack were on hand to catch ropes and help tie us on.

Since then we have been either tying on to public mooring buoys or anchoring through Sydney Harbour, Hawkesbury River, Port Stephens, Camden Haven and Trial Bay.

This day began well enough. We upped anchor at 0700hrs and set off from Trial Bay side by side with Paul and Sjarny on Skellum. The breeze was behind us and we made really good progress.  Just as we made it to our first waypoint and were preparing to turn the boat on to a new course, the fishing rod Leanne had out made the whizzing sound and bent into a tight curve. We had a fish and a big one.

For the next twenty minutes it was pretty chaotic on Easy Tiger. The fishing department (Leanne) trying to haul the fish in and the Sailing department (Me) trying to bring the boat around on the wind to stall our speed, which in 16knots of wind with our screecher up was driving us at nearly 8 knots.

Hauling in a 10kilo Tuna while doing 8 knots is no mean feat. Leanne and I had several attempts at bringing it closer to the boat only to hear the line whizz out as the fish fought for it’s life. I finally managed to get the boat around to wind which stalls the speed and with a huge effort we were able to slowly wind the fish in.

Once aboard Leanne’s fishing rituals were completed, then we turned the boat back towards Coffs Harbour, reset the sails and waited for the wind to start pushing as forward. By this time Skellum was a dot on the horizon.

As Leanne “processed” the great lump of Tuna, the wind picked up to 20 knots or so and we were again making good headway. Unfortunately a nasty 2nd swell was starting to knock us about and Leanne went down with a heavyduty bout of seasickness.

The weather continued to deteriorate and with Leanne already sick, we decided to contact the Coffs Harbour Marina again, to see if we could have the comfort of a still, secure berth for the night.

We also contacted Skellum, thinking that they would be in the anchorage by now. Maybe they could give us an insight into the conditions and capacity inside the breakwater, which is reported as being a bit of a dodgy anchorage. To our surprise, they said that they were in the marina, having rung ahead only an hour before.

We were a bit miffed, seeing that we had rung yesterday and were told they would get back to us, but unfortunately they didn’t. This meant there was a strong possibility that Skellum had been sold the last berth suitable for a catamaran.

That would also mean that we had to choose between anchoring in a section of the breakwater that had big rolling swell from one direction and 25knots of wind from the other direction. That would make for a really bad night. The other option was to continue through to Yamba, meaning sailing overnight and then waiting for the right tide most of the next day.

In a moment of desperation, Leanne rang Coff’s Harbour Marina, and asked why they hadn’t replied yet let others in in the meantime. She was told that they would make a berth available, but it was their last resort.

By now the wind was howling at over 20 knots blowing straight into the marina. The panic set in immediately as I rounded the end of the rock wall and saw how crowded and narrow the marina was. There would be no room for error in here and now with the wind pushing us in there would be no turning back.

I screamed to Leanne who was in position on the bow for directions to our berth. I knew there was someone waiting to catch our ropes, but could see no-one. I steered hard to the right the wind blew us to the left as we dodged around the of the boats lying either side of the channel.

“You’ve got to go in there and up the end” shouted Leanne, who was pointing to an even narrower channel to the left. I pulled the throttles as far into reverse as possible to stop out increasing forward momentum and swung the helm hard over. We only just took the corner, nearly collecting the bow of a boaton the inside of the corner but the rear of the boat swung wide. I looked out the other side of the boat to see our stern swinging fast and wide. We were increasing our pace around the corner, straight towards the bows of berthed catamarans. All I could do was close my eyes and wait for the sound of cracking and crushing fibreglass. I yelled out “fend off at the back”, knowing it was a fruitless order.

Somehow unknown to me we missed the bowsprits and bows jutting out. It must have been millimeters. My next challenge was instantly upon us. The pen that the marina had allocated us was probably better suited to an 8 or 9 metre single hull boat. Easy Tiger is 12metres long and 7.5 wide.

As the wind ushered us toward the end of the channel so again, I hauled the throttles back and the engines screamed into reverse at maximum revs. Our forward momentum was briefly halted, allowing me to slam one motor into forwards to spin the boat to an angle that now had us sliding sideways down the channel.

As Easy Tigers bows were almost in line with our allotted berth Leanne shouted “Forward”. Instantly I pushed the throttles forward as far as they could go, and Easy Tiger lurched forward into the pen. About half way in the wind caught us again, and pushed the boat on to the end of the pontoon causing a large scrape on our port hull.

Thankfully, Paul and Sjarny from Skellum were on hand to help fend off and were marvelous at assisting to tie ropes on.

Now in the berth that was simply too small, looking like an elephant in a Hyundai Getz, we attached every rope we had, to every available cleat on the decrepit old jetty.

Several times during the night, we got up to tighten ropes, but unfortunately Easy Tiger danced and pranced like a horse in the mounting yard all night. On closer inspection at daybreak I found that the rocking and rolling boat was not due to loose ropes, but in fact it was the old jetty cleats and in fact the port side jetty was twisting and flexing. The whole scenario looked ready for disaster at any minute.

The next day the weather was patchy. One minute it was raining, the next it was windy. We had things to do in town and needed water in our tanks. Each time we stepped out it would start raining again. Then the wind would blow the rain way and cause Easy Tiger to rock and roll in her ill fitting berth.

Finally a break in the weather around lunchtime saw us complete our tasks. Then in orderly fashion and overflowing with apprehension we took off the ropes one by one, started the motors, carefully selected reverse and slipped quietly out of the Coff’s Harbour Marina without incident.

Looking back I would say that this was one occasion I was happy to lose a race and be second to our destination. Thanks to Paul and Sjarny for their help with our crash landing. For their prize we gave them some of the Tuna.

The Tuna that cost us the "race" with Skellum....thankfully.

Easy Tiger looking like an elephant in a hyundai.

Whales seen at Camden Haven and Trial Bay

Leanne's done well with some photos of pelicans at Camden Haven

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