LOWANA COMES TO DARWIN
An inexperienced new owner of an 8-tonne cruising sailboat is faced with the daunting prospect of getting it home through the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland in Australia, across the fickle Gulf of Carpentaria and the open waters of the Arafura Sea in the tropics.
the story describes events leading up to what brought this about, and the solving of the problems in getting the boat into the water. The reader is then taken on an often humorous description of events on a day-to-day basis including airless days and equipment failures. Plus the bad days of rough seas or being caught inside torrential defiles. Descriptions of places visited is complemented with touches of local history.
The big sail cascades down all over the deck, effectively blocking Paul’s view forward. There's almost a moment of panic. Paul yells to clear it out of the way. He desperately needs to see where the rocks are and already we are being swept to one side. The rocks loom up almost in slow motion.
Away At Last
The seas are calm and it's a nice sunny day as we leave the Inner Harbour. This is a new experience and I'm feeling a tad apprehensive, but also eager at the prospect of the trip. There's no turning back now and I suppose it's a sobering moment, at least for Brian and me. There's not a lot of talking going on as we each take in the scenery.
Paul has been a picture of confidence, calmly issuing his instructions. I reflected on the effort to get the boat ready, the problems already dealt with and the unknown challenges ahead. I had to acknowledge myself that to get the boat to its present stage would have incurred a good dose of bother, frustration and additional expense if Iâ€d tried it alone.
The seas have risen to slight swells when we get just outside the entrance to Mackay Harbour. The overheating problem starts again, most likely caused by the slight rolling of the boat and creating air locks in the water-cooling system. The water-trap is unbolted again and this time is dropped down as far as it'll go. The temperature gauge needle slowly returns to its normal position and we hope that will be the end of it.
Once clear of the harbour the sails are hoisted for the first time. The forestay has an interesting metal track system on it which allows quick sail changes. There's no need to physically clip each of a sailâ€s hanks to the forestay. Each sail has its own metre-long section of track, which simply clips into place as needed making the process of changing sails much simpler and quicker. We spend a little time sitting on the foredeck attaching each of the headsails to its track before lashing them down ready to hand.
The breeze is gentle and reasonably constant. Lowanas sails catch it and with a slight jerk, immediately heels over on a slight angle picking up speed. Paul turns off the motor and the relative silence is wonderful. At last we can listen to a radio station playing some music ... this is just too good.
We rock along with good breezes during the afternoon and the first half of the night under a full moon in beautiful sailing conditions. The boat handling proves to be excellent and any concerns I might have had about that are dispelled.
Friday 3rd September 1993
At 3:00 am Brian wakes me from a fitful doze with a gentle shake on the shoulder. It's my turn to stand watch and there's a welcome cup of tea ready as I climb out to look around. We've been making good progress and are passing through the Whitsunday Islands. After a few moments when I'm properly awake Brian gives me a handover briefing then heads off to his own bunk. Paul is still hovering around to make sure I know what to do, but eventually he goes to bed too. I know that he's readily available in the quarter-berth just one step away inside the wheelhouse if I need him.
The scenery under the full moon is delightful. There's a slight haze but it doesnâ€t obscure the lights ashore or the dark shapes of the islands as we glide by. The night is still enough that an occasional raucous shout by some merrymaker ashore can be heard faintly off in the distance, above the soft gurgling of the water sliding past the hull.
Our good conditions don't last and the weather turns on us later in the morning. The wind increases to an estimated 30 knots or more bringing large seas with it. The boat starts pitching and heeling up to 30-degrees causing the galley crockery, various utensils and food stores to start rattling around. Paper and towels have to be packed around these items to prevent any breakages or excessive movement.
This is the crews' first experience of moderate to rough seas, and of course being new to this sort of thing don't really know what to expect or what's normal. Our skipper is a steadying influence as he calmly moves around the boat telling us what we need to do. We are each wearing a safety harness clipped to a strong point, so that should a wave sweep one of us off our feet we will remain attached to the boat. Not that any waves have yet come aboard.
In the meantime the Auto Helm 2000 tillerpilot and the GPS are both functioning perfectly so there's no need for anyone to physically steer the boat, however at least one person remains as a lookout in the cockpit at all times. The rest of the day passes with no relief from the constant pounding and hard rocking but at least we make some good time.