Monday, July 4, 2011

Sailing North: Not all Bars are Fun

3rd July 2011

Last night we spoke with Mick and Marion from the Beneteau YesDear and the owners of another yacht Ambler via radio. We are all anchored in the bay at Double Island and we are all intending to cross tomorrow if the weather is favourable. I must admit that after the last crossing I am not keen to do this again but it does make a lot of sense. We decided to attempt the crossing together so, as high tide was at a respectable 09.38 we raised anchor together and steamed to the designated Waypoint One. (For the story of our previous crossing go to the blog from Wednesday February 16th. )

The procedure to get over the bar is as follows: The Coast Guard gives boats attempting to cross three waypoints. One is outside the bar. The idea is to assemble there and then take a direct route over the bar to Waypoint Two which is at the end of the first leg. Turn to Port on Waypoint Two and then motor to Waypoint Three. At Waypoint Three, turn to Starboard and you should be inside. The whole journey is about two miles and takes about 20 minutes. Easy!

The reality is that it depends on the weather, and keeping a steady nerve. Bad weather will kick the waves up until they are breaking right across the bar. The minimum depth is 5 meters and we need two. Coming down a decent wave could easily drop us the other three meters and we would hit the bottom, with the keel coming up through the boat. The next wave would probably break her.

The other part is nerve. Even in relatively calm water, (like today), the waves steep as the go across the shallows. The helmsman needs to surf the wave, while watching breaking surf just 30 meters ahead. Turn on the waypoint before you over run into the sandbar leaving it to starboard, and then do it all again with waves breaking just to port.

Mick from YesDear draws less then the other two yachts and as he has been over the bar several times, he was happy to go first. We donned Lifejackets and tethers and followed about one nautical mile behind. Ambler followed us at a similar distance.

The crossing was actually not that bad and we all breathed a sigh of relief when safely in deep water inside the bar. Our plan was to get to Urangan but Ambler and YesDear are staying in Gary’s Anchorage tonight. After studying the tides, and knowing what a problem we had coming through the straights last time because of the depth, we decided to join them and leave early on a rising tide to hopefully get to Urangan incident free.

Gary’s anchorage is a beautiful spot although it may be mosquito heaven in summer. The water is so calm that the sky was reflected giving the impression we were flying.

The Oracle, (and sunset over Gary's Anchorage)
The Oracle

I am not one for just buying things. If I buy anything it is usually because I need it. It does the job it’s supposed to do and I don’t really give it another thought. However, sometimes I buy something and think “Wow! This is brilliant!” Unfortunately it doesn’t happen very often, (or maybe I am just becoming cynical and hard to please in my dotage!) I think the last time I bought something that impressed me was my iPhone, nearly two years ago.

I have always been happy with the instrumentation on Dreamagic. I have a sounder to tell me the depth, a log to tell me the speed through the water, a wind meter that lets me know where the wind is coming from and how much we have, and I have an autopilot that steers the boat when I don’t want to. Down below there is a plotter which repeats all the readings that are on deck and has a GPS which tells me where I am. However it is a tiny, monochrome screen so chartwork is very difficult to do and consequently never used for that function.

Sitting on the nav table is my laptop which has a pirate copy of CMap4. I plug a GPS into that and it has successfully navigated me up and down the East Coast of Queensland and to the Louisiades in PNG twice. It’s a nuisance to have to go below to plot a course and then keep going up and down to check it, but hey! It’s exercise and besides, what is the alternative?

Sailing a WAGS on Madeira, a beautiful Jeanneau 54 that Mark Wilson drives I saw his Raymarine plotter. It showed a chart that you could follow from the helm, with all the relevant info from the various instruments relayed. It showed him his position and heading of course, but it also calculated tide direction and drift. That could be extrapolated forward to tell the helmsman what the current would do to the boat a few miles ahead, (or more importantly, whether you will make a mark or not.) A very convincing first place on Madeira was enough to convince me that one of these would make a huge difference to Dreamagic.

The Sanctuary Cove Boat Show was the following week and there was the same unit on the Raymarine Stand with a boat show special price of just over $4000. A bargain!! However at that price I had resolved myself to be ascending and descending the companionway of Dreamagic for a while when Don Cortis, a good mate of mine and owner of the Half Moon Bay Chandlery suggested that the smaller version of the same unit did all the same things and was around $1000. A deal was struck with Don and the unit was delivered. I installed it and connected it to the existing instruments. It’s brilliant! When WAGging I now use it to give some indication of when and where to tack, and our performance has improved because of it. However it’s real benefit became apparent today. Last time we came through the Sandy Straights we would have hit the ground 15 times. The marks are no where near the channels and with the muddy dark brown colour of the water it’s impossible to see shallows. Bearing in mind that for much of the time we are navigating with less than a metre under us even in the favoured spot, it doesn’t take much to touch. The plotter, or as we now call it “The Oracle” shows us where the deep water channels are and we weaved our way through the channels into the anchorage with a new found confidence. It’s fascinating to use and as I get more used to its functions it just gets better!

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