Refuge Cove to Eden

Our first "Real" trial

We finally left Refuge Cove 3 weeks after leaving Queenscliff. The morning was breezy and we were ready to lift the anchor after tidying up a bit and making a loaf of bread to get us to Eden.

As soon as we left the shelter of the cove we hoisted the sails and headed north-east toward Cliffy Island, (see lighthouse link) 11 miles offshore from our bay and Port Welshpool. The wind was easing all the time.

From there our course led us 87 miles through the oil rigs of northern Bass Strait to the bottom corner of New South Wales. We very slowly sailed through the night toward the loom of the oilrig's lights, where we were nearly becalmed. The sea was glassy and there was very  little swell. As daylight broke we were very slowly approaching the oil rigs. Then the wind started to pick up. We were still sailing on the same course that we had been on since rounding Cliffy Island at about 1:30 the afternoon before, taking turns at the helm. The boat began to pick up speed and was frolicking in the stiffening wind. By midday it had strengthened more. By this time it was blowing over 20 knots and we felt the need to reef the sails because the boat was becoming unmanageable. In a very short time the wind was at galeforce, 35 knots. We lost a few slugs on the mainsail during the morning and the boat was becoming even more unmanageable with the amount of sail we had up. As we were lowering the main the rest of the slugs pulled out. It just unzipped as each successive slug broke and  the mainsail tore – not badly, but enough to prevent any more sailing until we repaired it and were able to get some more slugs. The rest of the trip to Eden was, therefore, going to be under motor only.

 

The storm

By 15:00 the wind was still gale force and the seas were now  very uncomfortable too – heading toward 6 metres. The boat was being slammed from side to side on the enormous waves as we were trying to keep control of the direction she went over the huge mountains of water. Each wave threatened to knock us over if we did not approach it at the right angle. Greg crawled to the bow and spend an arduous half hour or so deploying the drogue so that we could get some rest. 

I was at the helm struggling to keep the boat on course, trying to keep an eye on Greg to make sure he was still aboard, and trying to approach the wave crests as safely as possible. I was so scared. I don't know what I would have done if he had disappeared – I don't want to think about it. It was comforting to see the fluorescent hood of his wet weather coat still there each time the boat went over another wave. I just hoped that he was still inside it! I was very relieved when an exhausted, frozen and dripping Greg finally returned to the cockpit and said that the drogue was down. Now all we had to do was hang with the boat facing into the wind and wait for the wind to abate. We had the last of the oil rigs behind us finally and we were 8 miles off 90 Mile Beach in Gippsland. We went downstairs to rest after we had checked the speed of drift. We were drifting about 1 mile an hour so we set the anchor drag alarm for 5 miles and rested on the warm floor of the cabin.

We listened to the radio weather forecast while violently rocking from side to side on the floor of the boat, but it was the warmest and safest place to be just then.. The news was positive, the weather was improving a little.

We were so exhausted now that we had been at sea for more than 24 hours. Greg had made an effort to keep taking his sea-sickness medication (Kwells) at 4 hourly intervals and I was beginning to feel the need for them as well, anxiety, I think.

 We were both feeling the effects of the swell, the effort of driving the boat in  6 metre seas, lack of sleep and not much food. Who feels like food in those conditions? We knew that we had to have  something to warm us up. Cups of soup are great in this environment. We ate some dry biscuits and had some canned fruit as well to keep our energy levels up. The weather had now been bad for several hours. The boat rocked violently in the heavy seas and we lay on the floor after having a hot meal and drink. This was the most comfortable place on the boat, the centre. It did not move as much here and it was warm from the engine. We lay there cuddled together listening to all the things in the boat rattle and crash. The things in the food cupboard were crashing around inside their crates and the crates themselves were slamming backward and forward in their frames. It was very difficult to sleep but eventually tiredness took over and we dozed a bit.

By 3 am the wind had stopped roaring but the boat was still rocking badly in the swell but we decided that we should press on. We started the motor. Greg struggled forward again and worked hard to gather in the drogue. It was on the end of 10 metres of chain and several metres of rope. And then we turned the boat around and headed offshore. We don't think the drogue was very effective because when Greg pulled it up it was torn all down one side. We were not sure whether it was like that from soon after being deployed or if it happened when it was being pulled in. The motion of the boat was much better now that we were moving, although the water was scary – sometimes it is good not to see what you are sailing through.

At daybreak we were off Lakes Entrance and we still had a long way to go – more of the same by the look of it as the wind was beginning to strengthen again. It was cold. It was miserable and we decided that we loved the indoor steering station. We spent the day motoring from inside – much more comfortable. It is much harder to do this at night because of the reduced visibility. We had more "sea-budgies" accompany us.

By 17:00 we decided to rest again and spent a couple of hours as we had the day before, rocking and rolling and listening to the noises of the boat and the waves. A steel boat is noisy compared to other boats – it is like being inside a big drum when the waves slap against the side.

After resting for 3 hours we were ready to go again – the motion was better when we were moving. We were nearing Point Hicks. (see lighthouses)

We decided to shorten our watches to 2 hours. Our course by now was heading toward Gabo Island, which we passed at 3 AM. We had thought of stopping there for a while but it was now Greg's birthday and we wanted to celebrate it at the pub in Eden so we kept on going.(see link to Gippsland lighthouses)

“Not far now !!” we thought.

Green Cape was passed at 7 am just as it was getting light. The dark clouds on the horizon looked ominous but the coastline was bathed in the first rays of the sun. It looked promising.  A rainbow hung in the blue sky over the land. Our first sight of New South Wales was a double celebration – finally escaping Victoria, and Greg's birthday. It was done in style with a coffee and dancing to Country and Western music on the radio muffled in our thick, warm wet-weather gear that had not been removed for 3 days. We had a pair of fur-lined riggers gloves that we wore while steering and they kept our hands toasty warm. They were the best thing for ocean sailing in cold climates! We took special care that the insides of them did not get wet. If our hands were warm, the rest of us felt warm.

We arrived at Twofold Bay about 10 am and headed to the East Boyd Anchorage behind the woodchip mill,  to rest but the adrenalin was still too high and we couldn't sleep. It was so cold that we thought we had returned to Tasmania, especially because the landscape here is so like Tasmania. So different to the scenery in Victoria.It was here where we saw our first dolphins of the whole trip,