Although the morning was quite pleasant as I worked on my diary, it wasn’t long before Thursday’s weather began to deteriorate – over 30 knots at times at Coffs Harbour. The swell and surge in the outer harbour where we were anchored was surprisingly large; so big in fact that a 30 tonne ferro-cement ketch Capricorn Dancer lost it’s holding near the marina and drifted unmanned onto the rocks. Through binoculars we watched the potential disaster unfold at which point Wayne grabbed the VHF radio and called Marine Rescue to alert them of the yacht washed onto the rocky breakwater. They were aware of the problem and confirmed a Police rescue boat would soon be out to save the ketch from ruin. We heard the owner confirm his arrival through the VHF a little earlier that day, and it seems that after he dropped a large fisherman’s type anchor he then dinghied himself and crew to land.
The Police rescue boat came over and somehow the owner managed to get aboard his vessel and tied a tow-rope to his stern cleat. The Police vessel pulled it from the rocks and the ketch motored into the marina’s public berthing area. He was very lucky the boat wasn’t severely damaged. Apparently the owner was planning to leave at 1am the following day – an odd decision one would think given his boat had been crashing on rocks for about an hour and may require close inspection. We’re paranoid about leaving Blue Heeler on anchor at the best of times, and certainly would not in those ghastly conditions. Coffs is supposed to be an all-weather harbour, however after the weather we encountered I have my doubts. The conditions were pretty ugly and with a different wind/swell combination, I imagine would get very nasty indeed.
Besides that drama and while listening to the wind whistling through our rigging, Blue Heeler tugged on the anchor, pitched and rolled in the swell, we sat inside and planned the next leg of our trip. We agreed we would bypass Yamba and head directly for Southport at the Gold Coast, some 155nm away – about 30 hours sailing. The final decision to go would be made based on the BOM weather report on Friday morning.
Friday 6 May: The strong wind did not let up all night; Blue Heeler rocked and rolled all night long by heavy swells and a persistent 30 knot southerly wind blowing through the harbour. Up early and reviewing all the various weather reports available to us, plus taking a good look outside the harbour’s entrance at the 4m seas beyond, it was looking unlikely that we would leave that day. It was a shame because if we didn’t leave that day we would have to deal with diminishing winds and the likelihood to motor-sail on Sunday unnecessarily wasting fuel.
Preferring to sail and not motor up the coast, and to get out in the wind rather than sit in the harbour for another day, plus the wind speed reduced to a more comfortable 20 knots later that morning, we decided to leave and promptly prepared for sail, raised the anchor and left Coffs Harbour at midday, bouncing through the rolling swells as they forced their way into the harbour.
Once outside Wayne guided Blue Heeler on a heading of 45 degrees and we carefully rode over the 3-4m seas out beyond the eastern side of Black Rock a few miles away. The swell was consistent and luckily for us the strong southerly proved to be very handy for a swift downwind trip. With Blue Heeler now on a northerly heading, we poled out the genoa on the port side and unfurled the mainsail to the starboard side – sailing wing and wing – so that we could run with the wind up our clacker for a faster journey. It was a fantastic ride! The rhythmic swell passed beneath Blue Heeler sending it high before picking up speed and surfing the face of the wave into the frothy troughs below before the next wave lifted us up once more. Our speed reached over 11 knots at times and on average we managed 6 knots for the whole 155nm journey.
We maintained our 3 hourly watches and although there was only a sliver of moon, the coastal towns and lighthouses lit up the horizon some 5 miles to port. To starboard we could see the glow of ships heading south. We maintained the wing/wing combination for over 18 hours after which we removed the pole and headed on a port tack to come around Port Byron. During his watch, Wayne needed my help to remove the pole and change tack but rather than wake me during my off-watch sleep, he decided to continue on the northerly route taking Blue Heeler some 12 miles offshore beyond Port Byron. Bless…
The outcome of such steady progress was for Blue Heeler to pass Point Danger/Tweed Heads by mid-morning with only the final 20 or so miles left to Queensland’s Gold Coast. As luck would have it, the winds died in the last two hours and after an unsuccessful attempt to get the spinnaker to stay up in 2 knots of wind, we conceded defeat and motored the final 6 miles or so logging off at the Gold Coast Seaway Tower at 1515 – a decent 27 hour trip. Half an hour later Blue Heeler was anchored in a narrow bay just north of Seaworld and a few hours after that the crew of Blue Heeler were fast asleep.