When we were just starting out on this adventure, a week at sea seemed like an incredibly long and almost inconceivable amount of time. And it turns out some things never change. Even with half the Pacific under out belts now, our last weeklong voyage to Australia still seemed nearly as long and daunting as it would have at the start. But if we were going to deliver ourselves and Te Mana to a safe spot for cyclone season, this last passage was unavoidable. So when the weather window presented itself, we wasted no time setting sail out of New Caledonia’s protected lagoon into the moving ocean swells once more.
Part of our dread for the longer passages stems from the fact that we both still get sea sick, at least for the first few days. Having given up on seasickness tablets early on (vomiting them back up seemed to prove their ineffectiveness) and deciding we just needed to tough it out, it was a welcome relief that this time round we seemed fine. I’d like to say this lack of our usual queasiness was a sign we were finally real sailors with hard earned sturdy sea legs. But most likely it was due to the fact that for some reason we just thought we’d try our luck with a different lot of pills we had on board.
But what a difference not loosing your lunch and actually being able to eat for the first two to three days makes! Ocean sailing almost becomes, dare I say, enjoyable!
Good winds and only moderate swell for the first few days also helped, as we sailed along in our newfound comfort. But unlike most of our other passages, which had been lit by full moons, the nights this time were dark. Oh so dark. But a lack of moon means a whole lot more stars, and they definitely did not disappoint. As the sky sparkled spectacularly above, we glided along smoothly leaving a mesmerising glitter trail of glow in the dark phosphorescence in our wake.
But by day three we’d started to run out of wind. Although there was just enough to keep the sails from frustratingly flapping, our speed was so slow were wouldn’t make it at that rate to Australia in time for our friends’ upcoming wedding. So, on went the engine and motor sailing it was. And as the wind continued to die, it became more of a motor than sail. But at least we were making good time, the seas were calm, and the sun was out. Things could have been worse. So onwards we went, enjoying the endless horizon, and our ever increasing thoughts of familiar surrounds.
Sun rise. Blue sky. Sun set. Stars upon stars. 3 hours watch. 3 hours sleep. All on repeat. Aside from the sleep deprivation, it’s not a bad daily routine to have to partake in.
On the 6th night under my watch, a particularly large shooting star caught the corner of my eye on the horizon. A little while later it happened again. Knowing that shooting stars don’t repeat themselves, I realised we were alongside Byron Bay’s lighthouse. We were getting seriously close to home.
It was time to finally stop sailing east, and turn the corner to start sailing south.
Which was a nice change, until we ended up having to hand steer the last 12 hours as the disorganised swell was overworking our poor trusty autopilot. A tiring end to our longest passage, just the two of us. Our empathy goes out to anyone who’s autopilot has broken on passage (thankfully ours had not!).
Although having desperately wanted to pull into Lord Howe Island, the available weather window, time constraints, and fact that it isn’t an official entry port into Australia meant that we instead had chosen Coff’s Harbour as our check in point. So as the sun rose and Byron’s light house faded away, we found ourselves flying along in the East Austrailan Current. Before we knew it we were sailing into Coffs. But we were exhausted. And our depth perception unused to having to look at anything but the horizon. So much so it took us two goes to tie up to possibly the easiest dock we’ve encountered for check in.
Finally at anchor (cruelly in the rolliest anchorage since Niue), the only thing left to do was get off the boat and find ourselves a good steak for dinner. We succeeded.
But after waiting out the weekend for customs clearance to head south to Sydney, we didn’t quite get the rest we were hoping for thanks to the easterly swell and southerly winds. Pendulum rocking was not at all conducive to sleep. But despite our lack of rest, once we were cleared we were keen to knock off the last two nights at sea and get ourselves safely tucked into Pittwater. Two more nights at sea couldn’t be that bad?
Unfortunately they were. In fact we found the sail from Coffs to Sydney to be the most challenging and uncomfortable we’d encountered across the whole Pacific. Squalls, squalls, and more squalls. Rain, rain and more rain. Tankers, tankers, and more tankers. Fatigue, fatigue and more fatigue. And to top it off a very confused and uncomfortable sea. Oh and lets not forget the unforcasted head wind.
At least the autopilot was happy again. But rain makes sailing just so miserable. Especially when you can’t just hide inside because there are tankers bearing down on you from all directions, and there seems to be a never ending supply of black rain clouds heading your way. Being now at nearly two weeks of sleep deprivation, we can see why it’s used as a form of torture. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired but required to stay so alert. Never ones to wish time away, we were suddenly doing just that. When would this all be over…
But the squalls were kinder on the second night, and by morning the seas were calm and friendly once more. As the last sunrise unfolded in front of our eyes, the Palm Beach light house was in our sights.
It was a strange feeling gliding past such a familiar landscape. Rather than setting our sights on new lands and adventures, our minds were taken back to old memories instead. And our emotions jumped around confusingly between excitement, sadness, achievement, and relief… we’ve made it, we’re still floating, we’re still smiling!
Sailing through the busy waters of Pittwater with day sailors everywhere, we felt like we wanted to shout to everyone – ‘Hey!! Do you know where we’ve been?!!, Do you know what we’ve seen?! Do you know how far we’ve travelled?!’. But of course we just glided up silently to our mooring ball, dropped the sails, cut the motor, and simply looked at each other in some sort of disbelief that our last amazing year had even taken place.
But of course it has. And it’s only the beginning of our sailing adventures. But for now we can get some rest. And enjoy the simple delights of land.
A warm shower and a sleep in a still square bed with crisp clean sheets will be a good place to start!