October 3, 2012

freo to melbourne - captain's report

by James Burwick

In the world of backcountry powder skiing we used to leave only our signatures down the faces of the peaks. These were short to long lived histories of our descents.  They all disappeared with time.  This last voyage from Fremantle to the Southern Ocean we made signatures again.  This time in Force 10 conditions.  The liquid mountains were white with foam.  The signatures carved by the keel were black. These lines disappeared with the very next wave.

We left Freo with light NE land breeze and sailed hard to get ahead of one giant low pressure system, planning to ride it all the way to the south coast of Tasmania.  The monster system was slow moving and 1500nm across.

We sailed with wind just forward of the beam to get past the great Cape Leeuwin.  Once past the cape and off the continental shelf the westerly joined us.  It started accelerating immediately and off we went on port gybe.  We were on the rhumb line to Tassie.  Every mile made was one made good.  I love this.

Some very fast days with small sails as the sea built.  The weather system accelerated to Force 10 and it was approaching us.  For some reason as luck was with us we stayed ahead of the front.  Surfing we did.

Seas were not smooth.  Four times an hour we had a southerly wave bury the boat.  The wave would bring a few calamari aboard to the delight of the kids.

The SW wind came and we gybed.  Wind speed high 50’s.  Sea state wild and steep.

The moon getting big gave enough light to spare the head lamps. The gybe went smooth.

Easy when the main sail is reefed so deep.  As the main crossed thru the eye of the wind, the traveler slid across the track and exploded on the control car.  I dumped the main and got a line around the boom .  I was concerned the car would dislodge from the track but it did not.

With the boom under control and the pilot driving the unbalanced helm I set about to lash another block on the boom and make a two part main sheet system.  Simple enough with some Dyneema, a block, and a few simple knots.

We were sorted and off again.

This was the first time I had worked with a two part system and it seemed good.  Except for the fact that my blocks were inside my stern pulpit.  This did not allow me to use the leeward main sheet but the windward one.  The system looked good enough but after some hours it was evident that I needed to re-tie the block as it was getting tangled with the original one.

I gybed and went north to leave the wind pressure.  After a day and some we found the wind gradient that gave us wind speed in the 40s.  Gale force.  I dropped the main again and re-tied the block.  All good.

Gybed back south and all seemed good.

Somira woke me to a squealing noise.  I went on deck to find the lazy main sheet caught under the tiller.

Seems a loop of line created when the girl almost rounded up created the slack.  I thought I would  put a sling on the center stern stanchion with a carabiner and control the line.  Keep it aft of the tiller.

But I put off doing it until morning light.

Big mistake.

Later on…

Another big side wave buried the boat.  She popped up and the bow turned up wind, the storm jib filled and pulled her down. The next wave pushed her deep down. This is a common occurrence in converging sea states.  It normally takes a few waves for her to settled down. The kids  call this "bumpy" and we all stop and hold on.

But the girl kept going down deep this time.

An almost gybe gave slack in the lazy sheet.  It looped one of the tillers. This stopped the rudder from moving as it was now tied to the main sheet.

The pilot pushed hard and pulled out of its mounting. The mounting  bracket was secured by 4 @ 10mm bolts held by heli coils in a block held to the carbon hull with spa bong adhesive, carbon and epoxy. The pilot was not responding so I switched pilots and went into the transom to investigate. The pilot was laying on the hull. I was absolutely stunned to realize that boat had steered herself with the small main and over sheeted storm jib.  That is the plan but this was the reality.  The system gave me some breathing time.  Steering.  Out of the mounting holes were stainless steel heli coils looking like children's slinky toys.

In the process the line took the carbon tiller away into the deep.

Big mistake not respecting the road sign that was given me earlier.  So against my years of sailing as a prudent sailor not a lazy one.  Classic cascade of events at night that happen time after time at sea.

Now we had:
1 tiller.
1 auto pilot.
In Force 10.
With a forecast for another low coming up from behind also Force 10.

First to fix was the auto pilot mount.

With instructions from a phone call to my friend Brett Burville of Windrush Catamarans in Fremantle,  I cleaned the holes, filled them with Devcon Fasmetal epoxy.  Greased the bolts and set them in the holes.  I dismantled the heater hose and strapped it to the mount.

I cooked this for 6 hours and YES.
Solid as a rock.
I could not budge the bolts to loose.
I switched pilots and looked listened and felt.
Wow.  For years I have tried products that come in tubes and they never work.  I always wanted more out of the product than the marine environment demanded. 

Next was a plan for another tiller.  I have spare carbon battens a hacksaw and the original bolt through the tiller head.  A drill motor and a drill bit and some line.  I did not make one but it would not have been a problem to heave to and do the fabrication.

Somira and I discussed our options and the real answer came before we could decide. The NKE system shouted out a true wind direction wind shift that kept on going South as the weather system now had advanced.  With southerly flow and our more Northerly position to The SW Cape of Tasmania there was no way to penetrate Force 10 upwind on this boat. 

We bore off down wind to the Bass Strait.
Once in the Strait the weather was benign.

We were in a daze.
Forecast for continuing to NZ great.
But…  Not cool to pass a major port that we could enter fix the boat and leave again.
To sail the rest of Bass Strait and the Tasman Sea with respect.

Here we sit among new friends in Victoria. 


  1. Oh, wow, you are so brave! Happy that you stopped for repairs. A true family man now.