Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Getting South

Moonbow storming across Storm Bay

A few days ago I sailed Moonbow across Storm Bay marking the end of our winter cruise. Six weeks earlier I had been in Airlie Beach and decided that it was time to head south. The beginning of August sees the southeast tradewinds well established in the Whitsundays and is perhaps the least ideal time to sail south. Clear of the tradewinds the next challenge would be the winter southwesterlies on the NSW coast and then a winter crossing of Bass Strait. I hate pounding to windward, most likely an after effect of the BT Global Challenge, and I will do anything for an easy sail.

So in light of the gap between my expectations and the seasonal weather conditions I thought I would share my observations on how to have champagne sailing against all prevailing wisdom. The key techniques are as follows;

1. Patience. It was very much a case of being prepared to wait for the small gaps in the weather that would provide favourable conditions. These gaps could be quite small at times and start at odd hours of the night. The abundance of weather forecasts made it possible to pick these gaps to "make hay while the sun shined". Equally important was being prepared to stop and hunker down in anchorages when it was not favourable. Not too hard to take, given the beautiful anchorages along the coast.

2. Ride the Tide. The tidal flow on the Queensland coast can be quite significant and by timing my passages I was often able to take a free ride down the coast, adding a couple of knots to boat speed at times. I was lucky enough to ride the tide south into Shoalwater Bay and then on tacking out to the east, ride the ebbing tide to the east. A lovely win-win scenario.

3. EAC. In a similar vein the East Australian Current was a real boost, hooking into that as soon as I sailed out from Fraser Island. Its effect was noticable as far as Bass Strait and at times reached four knots.

4. Lots of Options. I am aware now of more anchorages and refuges along the coast and as this array of options grew so did my ability to utilise small weather windows. I could keep making miles in favourable conditions knowing that there was refuge close at hand. Barred river entrances that I had discounted as too risky previously I discovered were workable in some, if not all weather conditions.

5. Pre-positioning. In cases where favourable conditions were preceded by slow but non threatening conditions I would head out early so I was in place to take advantage of the favourable conditions when they arrived. An example of this was heading out of Southport in the morning,  into a 10-15 knot southerly.  The headwind was not strong so it was easy on the boat. I didn't make many miles but by sunset when the wind swung into the east, Moonbow was down at Tweed Heads and took advantage of the fair winds immediately. This allowed me to make the very most of favourable weather windows.

6. Playing the Swings. This was a tactic used to good effect by my friend Nick who had sailed his WestSail 33 south against the trade winds just a month before me. He would head off around midnight when the wind had either died or had been influenced by a land breeze effect to be SW and ride it on a starboard tack down the coast. The sun would rise and the warming of the land would see the wind back into the southeast which would make a port tack more favourable.

7. Trade Wind Interruptus. As steady and relentless as trade winds may appear they are not beyond interruption or at least easing. This occurs as low pressure systems cause havoc on the NSW coast. Simply put, it seems that the bigger the storm on the NSW coast the greater the lull in the trade winds on the Queensland coast. Between Great Keppel Island and Hervey Bay I enjoyed a northerly wind, so trade winds are by no means absolute.

 Seven easy steps to champagne sailing, makes it look so simple. I should confess that the 185 mile jump from Eden to Babel Island did not go quite to script. I was fifteen miles short of the shelter of Babel Island when the wind swung to the west and blew 30-40 knots. This is definitely outside my preferred operating limits and led to an uncomfortable day of sailing east of Flinder Island. In retrospect, I knew that the weather window was marginal in duration and more PATIENCE would have seen me wait for a better window and have yet another dream run.

Sailing down Tasmania's east coast I could see snow on mountain tops but spring is taking hold here in Hobart. I am looking forward to doing some cruising in Tasmania's waterways over the summer.

The Beautiful Apache sailed across Storm Bay with Moonbow.