A small sailing boat SV Corky sails along the East Coast of Australia, a distance of 1,700 miles from Sydney in New South Wales to Cairns in the tropical north of Queensland.
There are few islands along the New South Wales coast offering protection in other than calm weather. Thus it has a worldwide reputation for being one of the most dangerous coasts in the world due to shoals, rocks, treacherous barred harbour entrances, currents and constant trade winds. The Queensland coast is also hazardous with uncountable reefs making up the Great Barrier Reef, the largest living reef system in the world.
Diane and her husband Dennis set out from Sydney in a leaky boat with just sails and a small, cranky outboard motor for propulsion. They had limited resources - no compass, maps or radio, just a cruising guide.
Along the way they dodged storms, caught fish to supplement their diet, anxiously battled their way into harbours and learnt lessons on sailing and survival - the hard way. But they also enjoyed the camaraderie of cruising sailors and spectacular scenery, and conversed with nature with an intimacy only seen by those who live close to it.
Diane tells a delightful story full of entertaining incidents that gives the reader a first hand account of what such an adventure entails.
Read an extract:
There are few islands along the New South Wales coast offering protection in other than calm weather. Thus it has a worldwide reputation for being one of the most dangerous coasts in the world due to shoals, rocks, treacherous barred harbour entrances, currents and constant trade winds.
So far the weather had been kind to us: the sea relatively calm; we?˜d managed to dodge the storms; the scenery was stunning; harbours had been calm; and we’d had no troubles with the notoriously treacherous entrances that need to be so carefully negotiated. Additionally, nothing had fallen out of the shelves and since we hadn’t encountered any breaking river entrances, we were feeling confident.
A northeasterly breeze had set in by the time the sun rose and that meant the sea was going to get rough. Trial Bay was open to the north and it was obvious in the morning we’d have to leave. The wind freshened while we headed out, but although it was a good enough angle to make some progress the headsail was going to have to be changed to a smaller one.
I opened the front hatch and pulled the genoa down, then attached the storm jib to the halyard ready to hoist it up. Unfortunately I hadn’t bolted the halyard to the sail properly and when Dennis pulled on it, the jib stayed on the deck while the halyard went soaring to the top of the mast. It refused to be teased down so Dennis tried climbing up the mast to retrieve it.
“Hold the boat directly into the wind so I can get up,” he told me.
Feeling a bit shame-faced I tried to hold Corky with the wind on the nose to stop it heeling over, but his weight on the mast made the boat roll sickeningly from side-to-side.
Hold it into the wind can you? Its simple! he bellowed halfway up, swinging like an orang-utan through the jungle.
Get down here now, I pleaded. We’re going backwards fast and don’t have the time to mess around.
I wasn’t confident about being able to pick him up from the messy sea if he got flung overboard. Besides, I wasn’t even sure I’d want to. He was being a real rat.
I’ll just have to try to get there under mainsail only, he said, accentuating the statement with some heavily censored words.
Later he added, "I'll take the sail down and hoist the genoa. We'll have less sail area up than before but she'll sail better."
I insisted on performing the task to redeem myself. When the mainsail was dropped, the bolt on the mainsail halyard was put through the hole at the top of the genoa before the sail was hauled into position at the bow. With the headsail set we took off and although we followed a zigzag course we were going faster than before.
Corky sailed well with this sail configuration and we decided from then on that when we needed to reduce sail area we'd just drop the mainsail. To this day it's still a disputed point as to which of us had this bright idea but I wisely kept quiet.
Sunset was now upon us and we decided to go into Nambucca as we weren't going to make it to Coffs Harbour. The cruising guide gave scant details on how to get in there, but suggested it should only be attempted on a flat, calm day. This ought to have set off alarm bells in our heads, but then we weren't willing to sail at night ?” we had no battery power to run navigation lights for a start.
In any case the northeasterly was getting stronger by the hour and we badly needed a break. As well, the breakwater and a tiny island nearby offered some, albeit scant protection from wind and the roiling surf. After a short time spent in watching the bar and its wave patterns we eased sheets ?” the ropes used for working the sails and turned to go up the breakwater.
Dennis turned the motor on just in case we needed it. I had complete faith in him so wasn't expecting anything to go wrong, but I began to get nervous when he tied a rope to the tiller and held it.
"You'd better get below. This could get a bit rough," he ordered ominously.
This made me even more nervous. He was acting like there was danger in what he was attempting. I didn't mind being frightened but when I saw him acting so anxiously ?” well there must definitely be something to worry about.
"Can I watch?" I asked, concerned to see how things went and to be ready to handle any problems.
He reiterated the order so I didn't protest any further. I'd seen the surf on the bar but thought we'd go in near the breakwater where it appeared to be deep and calm, but there hadn't been enough time to discuss it. I made a last ditch attempt to yell out my thoughts but Dennis was too busy handling the motor, tiller and sails. I looked out the window and reckoned we were too far south of the breakwater.
Dennis shouted out, "We're going in. Yee-ha! Hold on to something!" he yelled in a way I believe to allay his fears and assure me it was going to be fine.
"You should get closer to the breakwater," I yelled back, trying to stand up.
"There's less surf here. Sit down! I know exactly what I'm going to do."
My protests couldn't be heard over the noise of the breaking waves and the outboard motor. But he was out there and he'd sailed a boat before ?” he'd know what he was doing, I thought.
A huge wave rose up when we were almost into deep water. It caught the boat broadside and she turned over on her port side like a motorbike taking a sharp corner. It was a move Valentino Rossi, the many-times World Super-Bike champion would've been proud of. The boat skidded along on her side; one moment I was sitting upright on the seat, and the next I was laid flat with my back forced against the wall and feet against the ceiling. There was a thud. All I could see out the window was boiling sea-water smashing against it.
Suddenly Corky jerked upright and there was no wind or surf. The bar was astern and we were in the lee of the hills with no breeze to roughen up the inlet and it was wonderful.
"Dennis!" I called out, wondering if he'd been thrown overboard. I was already thinking ahead about what I'd have to do: drop the anchor, launch the inflatable boat we had stowed somewhere and then try to rescue him. Corky would be strong enough to sit with surf pounding all around her if he needed retrieving.
I needn't have worried. As I came up on deck I heard him cursing, "The rudder's broken off and the outboard's hit the bar. It's tipped up and stopped."
He then pulled the starter and with a roar the boat bucked forward, the first time ever the outboard had started first pop.
"Don't worry," I remarked somewhat lamely, "we can steer with the outboard motor."
Suddenly I started to cry and shake. Dennis was a sickly grey colour, but our mood soon changed when we saw how calm and beautiful the harbour was.
There was a lone fisherman on the breakwater. By the time we got to the township the number of people watching us come in had swelled to about fifty. The tide started to go out half an hour later so at least we hadn't been fighting an ebbing current on the way in. It might've been a much rougher entry had it been going out against the sea swell.