From Brisbane to Sydney

If you follow the position tracker or the Sail Evenstar Facebook page, you know we’ve moved from Brisbane to Sydney. We moved last week, about as late as we could stay in Brisbane. Brisbane is a lovely city and altogether too comfortable, so we got pretty complacent there.

One thing I’ve noticed talking to other Americans is that many of my countryman have no idea how large Australia really is. On the US-centered Mercator projection maps we have on the walls in school Australia looks sizeable, but smaller than Greenland. But off by itself, you don’t really see the size of the place compared to North America.

It doesn’t look small, but it doesn’t really look like it should. The effect then, is that when we say something like “We’re sailing from Brisbane to Sydney next week” it doesn’t occur to some that this actually isn’t a short trip like heading out to Block Island, or even moving the boat from say, Rhode Island to Boston. It’s not a failing of the geography curriculum so much as a distortion created trying to map the surface of a globe on a flat piece of paper.

In fact, it’s about the same as sailing from Myrtle Beach to Miami; about 500 nautical miles.  And that really only covers a small part of the East coast of Australia.  Sailing from the Cape Howe in the Southeast corner of Australia to Cape York, the northernmost point of the main land mass, is almost 300 miles further than sailing from Maine to Key West as the crow flies over land (about 1,200 miles for that trip). Sailing around all the hard bits of land will put it closer to 2,000 miles.

Here is a more telling image:

Brisbane is up in Virginia, Sydney is down in Georgia on this map.

Australia has less that 1/10th the population of the U.S., which also contributes to the perception that it is smaller than it is. Population-wise, it’s not a large country but geographically, it’s huge. Unlike the U.S., the middle of Australia is nearly empty.

Taking Care of Business

Before leaving Brisbane of course we had to undo the effects of nearly three months of not moving. A lot of little things, from changing oil to putting things away where they wouldn’t fly around if we hit rough conditions. And taking care of all the last-minute things we could do in Brisbane but didn’t know how to do in Sydney, like sending packages and picking up the new grill. We finally got our act together and cast off the pilings on Saturday, December 10th.

Our first stop was Rivergate Marina, about seven miles down river from the moorings. Three months of running the generator after the trip from New Caledonia meant we needed to refuel. We got to Rivergate quickly, then spent the next hour circling in the river waiting for the fuel dock. A power outage had slowed everything down, but we got in and picked up a little over 700 liters of diesel (185 Gallons).

Next stop, Sydney!

Watching the Weather & Route

Or, maybe not.

The weather prediction for the day read 10-15 knots from the Southeast. When we left the river, the wind was blowing more like twenty-five knots and gusting higher. Moreton Bay was riled up and choppy.

In some conditions, this discrepancy in the forecast wouldn’t have been much of a problem. But it was getting late in the day, and we knew we had a lumpy trip rounding Cape Moreton ahead of us in these conditions. And the wind was expected to stay Southeast for another day after this, which would be largely on the nose for our trip South to Sydney.

As you can see in the above chart, we had to go North first to escape Moreton Bay before we could begin the trek South. What you can’t see so well there is that the area around Cape Moreton is rife with currents and shallows, and has the potential for some lumpy seas. We had zero desire to pound through this in the dark, in windier conditions than the mild forecast we had. With discretion being the better part of valor, we sailed over to the spot where the blue route up there begins (conveniently labelled “1”) and dropped the anchor for the night.

After a restful night, our first at anchor for some time, we awoke to a calm, clear morning with light breezes. After a quick breakfast we set out as the breeze started to fill. With favorable currents and a breeze behind us we fairly flew out of Moreton Bay, and the rounding was pretty easy with the lighter wind.

The wind was dead on the nose and light, so we kept motor sailing with the main up as the day progressed. Approaching sunset, the wind had picked up to over ten knots but was still in our faces. If we wanted to sail, we would be sailing close hauled, in the dark.

Sailing close hauled (right up to the wind as close as we can go) makes the boat heel a lot. More important though, it’s a trickier way to sail.  The autopilot isn’t smart enough to do it, because it can not respond to the minor wind shifts, so it will end up sailing to high and stalling the sails much of the time. To sail that close to the wind, one had to hand steer. And that only worked really well if the driver could also see the “tell tales” on the sail – small bits of cloth that clue us in to how the wind is flowing over the sails.

An eight inch strip of cloth on the bow if the boat isn’t so easy to see in the dark. Given the light air and the wind direction we decided to motor sail over night, and wait for the wind to back and fill from the North the way it was predicted for the following day.

Riding the East Australian Current


The EAC is nothing like you saw it in Finding Nemo. First, it’s only a couple of knots at most. I suppose if you are a three-inch fish that might feel like a wild roller coaster ride, but you don’t actually see it on a fifty-three foot boat. You don’t feel it at all, either.

Second, we didn’t see a single turtle. Seriously, not one, okay?

But we did get a nice little speed bump from the current, which was very nice. One or two knots of extra speed makes a big difference on your trip lasting two or three days.  It helps you cover an extra 20-50 miles every day.

The Wind Fills In

On Monday in afternoon, the wind finally shifted North and we cut the engine and put up the sails. It started out light, so we put up the main, Genoa, and staysail.

By dusk, it was blowing harder and we’d reefed down the main and the Genoa. Kathy and I switched watches, and by the end of her watch at 2:00 a.m. the wind had moved further North, and was now blowing steadily over thirty knots with gusts to thirty-five.

We were FLYING, with the wind and the boost from the EAC. With the wind shift, we were also flying off in the wrong direction, out so see and away from land. We were over fifty miles off shore by then, and needed to jibe back.

Staysail jibing in the dark

Jibing Evenstar in the dark with the staysail up is a slow process. Our rig requires the use of “Runners” or “Checkstays” (there is a technical difference between the terms, but I’ve heard them used interchangeably) to support the mast with the staysail up. These are lines that connect to the mast around the height of the head of the staysail, that run down to the deck. The windward checkstay must be loaded up hard and cranked down, there is a 4:1 purchase system to do this. It makes the check stay stiff as bar, and supports the most from shock loads and bend caused by the staysail.

The downside to the checkstays is that are in the way when they are tensioned. So while the windward side checkstay must be kept loaded, if the leeward side checkstay isn’t eased it keeps the main sail from moving out when the main sheet is eased.  So the checkstay must be eased before the sail can be trimmed. If the checkstay is eased, it flaps and flops around, so it must also be secured somehow. We have small bits of rope attached to the lifelines for holding the checkstays back.

The other complicating factor in the jib is the “preventer”.  Jibing intentionally is a normal, safe and reasonable maneuver. Jibing accidentally – letting the wind switch from one side of the boat to the other while sailing down wind – is dangerous, violent, loud, and can break things and hurt people as the boom slams from one side of the boat to the other with incredible speed and force. We try to avoid it.

One tool we use to avoid it is the preventer. This is another line that is run forward to a block on the bow, and back to the boom. The end of the boom has a roughly 12′ strop line permanently installed on it for the preventer. This has an eye in it, and the line that was run forward through the block has a shackle that can hook to this eye. This is actually a simpler system, because the preventer needs to be able to be run on either side of the boat, and the line on the boom end means we need shorter lines to connect it to.  The preventer is tied off at the stern cleat, so it can be adjusted without sending someone forward to handle it.

When the main sail is eased WAY out to run off the wind it’s time in put a prevent on. The line run to the bow at a steep enough angle will keep the boom from bouncing and banging as the boat rolls, greatly lowers the chance of an accidental jibe by stopping the boom from gaining enough momentum to start a jibe, and can minimize the damage if we do jibe by keeping the book from flying out of control.

So…with the ground work laid, the rough steps to jib Evenstar with the staysail up running off the wind are as follows. We’ll go from Starboard to Port in this jib, so the wind will be coming over the starboard, aft quarter at the start.

  1. Furl the head sail. Because it’s just easier (cockpit)
  2. Ease the preventer (port side, aft)
  3. Bring the boom in closer to the boat. (cockpit)
  4. Detach the preventer line from the strop (port, midships)
  5. Clip off the preventer to the lifeline to secure it (port, midships)
  6. Center the boom (cockpit), bringing the main centerline on the boat
  7. Snug up the slack in the preventer (port, midships)
  8. Detach the leeward (port)  checkstay tie down (port, midships)
  9. Pull in slack from checkstay blocks (port aft) and run to winch
  10. Tighten checkstay  with the winch (cockpit) and get the line off the winch
  11. Pre-load the lazy (unused) staysail sheet onto the winch that was vacated in step 10. (cockpit)
  12. Break (remove from the self tailer) the staysail sheet and hold it. (cockpit)
  13. Steer the boat downwind, across the wind and actually do the jibe.
  14. When the boat jibs and the staysail fills grind it in and trim it on the new tack. Also ease the other (now lazy) sheet.
  15. Ease starboard checkstay (starboard, aft)
  16. Secure the starboard checkstay; this involves easing about 80′ of line through a 4:1 block setup and walking it forward to tie down. (starboard, midships)
  17. Move the preventer strop on the end of the boom around and to the other side
  18. Ease main part way out.
  19. Ease preventer (starboard, aft)
  20. Reconnect preventer to boom (starboard, midships)
  21. Ease boom out and trim main (cockpit)
  22. Snug preventer tight (starboard, aft)
  23. Put Genoa back out (cockpit)

Simple, right?  Of course, this is at night, in the dark, when it’s blowing thirty-five knots in six-foot seas.

For this jibe, we added a couple of steps, and eliminated #23. Since it was blowing the dog off the chain and we went no slower once we furled the Genoa in, we decided we didn’t need it since all it was doing was overpowering the boat. But to make it more fun, we added a couple of steps, including:

  • Because we forgot to pre-run and secure both checkstays when we set the staysail, before step nine you need to go midships, get the checkstay from it’s “out of use” stowage spot and “install” it in operating position. This is a pain in the neck, since you have to hand feed stiff line through a 4:1 block and tackle type setup.
  • After step 14, notice that the staysail is making a weird “fwump fwump fwump” sound and shaking the whole boat. With a flashlight, figure out that somehow we managed to “hourglass” the staysail and wrap it around its own forestay. Don’t ask me how.
  • Jibe the boat back quickly, and with a stroke of luck, clear the mess from the last step by fulling the sail while sailing “wing and wing” with an over-trimmed main and twisted staysail. High fives all around for dodging that bullet, even though we weren’t sure how we did it.
  • Jibe back, trim stysail, and proceed to step 15

Generally – and I do not agree with this logic – I lose the argument about who leaves the cockpit to do this stuff. I’m stronger than Kathy, faster at these tasks and have a bit more insight into them. Kathy is quite competent, but more deliberate and less strong.

Her argument for doing the work is simply that she firmly believes the odds of me recovering her if she goes overboard are much higher than of her being able to handle the boat well enough to get me back. At night, offshore in the dark, I’m not sure how much those odds are improved by my driving, but I am more skilled and comfortable at the helm so she has a point.

This sounds wildly dangerous, and to a point there are safety concerns. We take every step we can to avoid sending someone out on the deck at night. Our hope when we started the night was to stay on this tack all night and jib in the morning, but the wind shifted and blew us offshore.

We also are very, very careful about safety when working on deck. We run “jacklines” from the bow to the stern of the boat. These are very strong webbed lines with reflective tape. Everyone always wears a PFD with an integral harness, and we have tethers to clip the harness to either the jackline or a hand piece of boat. The tethers have two lines on them, so one can clip on to a new fixed point before unclipping from the old one. So everyone operating outside the cockpit is always tethered to the boat. This is an immutable rule we follow in all but the most benign daylight conditions, although we never leave the cockpit without a PFD no matter what.

Getting Into Sydney

When we left, we figured on a three day trip. Leave Sunday morning, get in Wednesday morning. Three nights of watches.

Flying along in the EAC with a reefed main and staysail only, we were putting up some huge speed numbers. Our ETA in Sydney at times showed as early as Tuesday afternoon, so we had optimism that we might get to skip the third night of watch.

The wind did hold, and we blasted into Sydney Harbour around midnight.

Ordinarily we have a “no strange harbors after dark” rule. The charts of Sydney showed that it was an easy, easy entry with no real hazards. If you turn right right after the entrance, there is a wide open anchorage that is also easy to find and free of hazards.

So with a full moon and an easy approach…we decided to bend the rule a bit and get some sleep!

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