October 2, 2012

aussie bight & bass strait / 8 days: fremantle to melbourne

by Somira Sao

The third week of September, the boat was ready, we were ready, and the weather looked good for us to depart Freo.  A big thanks to Chris Bowman, Joel Ciszek, John Lyus, and the Windrush crew for helping us get sorted with the final items on our punch-list.

By then I was 6 months pregnant, and moving slower.  This trip would be the second Southern Ocean passage for baby #3 in the womb.  During the previous voyage from Cape Town, I didn’t realize that my excess seasickness and fatigue were just first trimester symptoms until we arrived and I started to investigate the cause of what became a rapid case of the “landfall belly.”  Check-ups, scans, and tests were all healthy and good, and everything low-risk.  Our sailing tribe would now be complete and Anasazi Girl would be making miles with her biggest crew yet.

In Freo, Tormentina and Raivo celebrated their 4th and 2nd birthdays.  Both of them grew up fast in the four months we were in WA.  Raivo especially, who was now off the breast-milk, talking like crazy, and in the first weeks of September, he had trained himself to use the toilet.  This would be our first passage without diapers!  What a nice reprieve with the upcoming arrival of #3.

Our plan was to depart Fremantle and sail via the Bight to the south-side of Tasmania.  If we needed or wanted to stop, we could pull into Hobart, but if the boat and everyone were well, the weather forecast favorable, then we would continue non-stop to New Zealand.

The day before we left, my friend Madeleine Stephens helped me do a final provisioning with my wild kids at the supermarket.  That afternoon & evening, we said goodbyes to all the good friends we had made in Freo.  Super nice to have so many people call, come by the boat, and send us their good wishes.

On Sunday, September 23rd at 3:45 am, our friend Bruce Diggins and his son Oakie showed up at the dock to help us untie our lines in the dark.  The last time we were helped off the dock at night was in La Trinité-Sur-Mer, by our friend Stephane Fauve.  It is unbelievably nice to have a send-off by friends like this, and especially appreciated at such an early hour in the morning!

Just after 4 am, we were on our way, booking it south to get ahead of a low pressure system that was forecasted for the Bight.  Big relief for me to finally be on the water again, away from the land, in motion, and on another adventure with my family.

By Day 3 we rocking and rolling, the miles melting away.  We had passed Cape Leeuwin, and were moving along nicely ahead of the big, slow moving front.  As we headed toward Tasmania, it was uncomfortable with big waves, bumpy seas, and wind speeds building up in the 40s and 50s.  Moving around underway was more difficult with my big belly and I was still finding it hard to keep the food down.  The kids and I were hunkered down, safely tucked into the berths, not moving around much in the cabin.  No trips to the head solo for either of the kids, no using the stove, & just eating simple food that required no cooking.  These were the conditions I had expected for the Southern Ocean.

Then things got complicated. 

James came down below to tell me that one end of the main sheet traveler car had exploded, and all the balls went flying into the sea.  I took a deep breath.  In the 13,000 miles we had traveled on the boat with the family, I realized that this was the first time we had really broken anything critical.  James immediately went back out to deal with the problem.

I opened the door and looked out at him standing in the cockpit surrounded by a mess of lines, the boom secured, but still swinging.  I remember thinking it was scene that should be photographed. But I decided I should probably stay hands free to keep the kids safe and help James if needed.  He said he would need to make a 2 to 1 mainsheet system, and got right to work sorting us out.

Down below, I listened and waited.  Big conditions we were in, and big appreciation for being there with James who always kept his head together in tough situations.  He worked alone steadily, and it was a big relief when all the unusual noises on deck stopped and Anasazi Girl was cruising along smoothly again.  James came down, totally bummed about the traveler car.  He said the new system was a little inconvenient, but that it would work.

Everything ran smoothly until late that night when I heard creaking noises outside and felt unusual vibrations in the hull.  I woke James up to investigate.  There had been some slack in the lazy main sheet and it had wrapped itself around the port tiller.  He freed it, and said we were super lucky.

The next day, James focused on possible temporary fixes for the broken car.  He also made some emails and sat calls to line up parts for us for the in-port repair.  We found out the end caps for the traveler car were now being fabricated out of aluminum instead of plastic, but that the parts were in-stock, off the shelf, and easy to get.  As we continued onward, James watched how the boat performed, we discussed our options for continuing as we were, or pulling into port.

Unfortunately, we were so focused on the traveler car, that after the first close call with the lazy main sheet line, we made a big mistake and did not clip the line back away from the tillers.

Later that day, we had a terrible repeat:  excess slack in the line that looped itself around the tiller.  This time, the wrapped line, pulled up by the force of the snapping main was strong enough to tear our starboard tiller off, and away into the sea.  This caused the rudder to stop momentarily, putting an intense resistance on the starboard autopilot, which sheared right off its mounting.  We didn't hear a thing as the mount pulled, but James immediately sensed that there was no response from the pilot, and he switched to our secondary pilot right away.  

We gybed to head north and get into calmer conditions to assess the damages, this time with the excess lazy main sheet clipped back with a biner and webbing to prevent the possibility of losing both tillers.  

A small mistake, and a cascade of bad events, and we suddenly felt f*#@'d! being left without our back-up systems.  I thought about the possibility of losing the second pilot, and imagined a horrible scenario of James outside driving manually in the rough conditions until we made it into port.  Serious mind control to not let your mind go "there" to negative thoughts.

James worked quickly, remounting the pilot so we would not be without a secondary, crossing his fingers that his fix would work.  We discussed options for making a spare tiller with the materials we had on board, and discussed options for pulling into port.  I laid awake with James that night, listening to the heater blowing as we waited for the epoxy to go off.

On Day 6 we were back in business.  The mount was fixed and holding, that pilot was driving again, and the 2 to 1 was working perfectly.  As we gained confidence in the repairs, the stress of the previous day's drama finally eased.

Unfortunately, we had slowed down enough during all the repairs that the big system had caught up with us.  We were now dealing with Force 10 winds, and realized that there was no way we could safely push south as planned.  We were forced to head east toward Bass Strait.

We talked things over, and though we felt we could continue now to New Zealand, we made a decision to head to Melbourne for the repairs.  The sailing conditions completely mellowed out as we committed to our new course.

On Day 8 - with the help of Chris Disney and Brett Avery, Anasazi Girl slid into a berth at the Sandringam Yacht Club.  Simultaneous feelings of relief that we were safely in port were mixed with exhaustion, and sadness that our trip was cut short.  Difficult to stop just as we were starting to get into the groove and rhythm of sailing.


  1. What a journey Somira! I was glued to my screen... I could read your stories all day.

  2. Who knew your writing is as fun to read as your photography is to look at!
    I can't tell you what a breath of fresh air your family blows to me and all that read your posts, THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!
    Be safe, have fun.

  3. Wow, my heart skipped a beat! You and James know how to write. I sense a book about your adventures in the future. Stay safe!

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  5. How long are you in Melbourne for? Would be great to meet up. Sounds like you got caught in the same system that we pulled into Eden to avoid.

    1. we leave withfair tide ad good forecast sunday @ 0600 local melb time
      we are at SYC come by please

  6. I will be down there tomorrow for racing, I will drop past. Where is the boat?

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