Port Macquarie is certainly a nice place to keep a boat. But boat owners residing in faraway Melbourne are liable to suffer a degree of separation anxiety when their cherished vessel is resting on a swing mooring way up there on the Hastings River.
It came as no surprise to learn that RMYS members Sarita and Jamie were itching to bring their 58ft Roberts ketch Billie Holiday down to Melbourne.
first bounce just one of their supporters in the bar was game to wear the club colours, Sarita. During the conversation that followed our introduction she and Jamie revealed they had a boat up north that they intended to bring to Melbourne. In the bar of a club with a strong presence and culture in ocean racing the proposition of such a delivery sounded eminently feasible. By the time crews had returned from Hobart deliveries in January 2015 the project to bring Billie Holiday south began to coalesce. A week or two later Jamie had hunted down a crew, set a date, and we were all buckled in for lift off.
As to the crew, the ship’s master was naturally Jamie Andre de la Porte. He would be ably assisted by Ian Lyall, Steve Smith, Kitt Ross and David Gordon - plenty of useful experience in that lot.
We flew up to Port Macquarie on Saturday 14 February and began preparing the boat immediately after our arrival. It was such a treat to be there, so warm, lush and wonderfully subtropical. Great beaches, everyone wearing short summer clothes, the
place had an easy and relaxed feel to it. Once the barred entrance has been negotiated it’s a good port to stop and sort out boat things, especially provisioning and repairs. There are lots of shops, most major chains have a presence, and all of them
were close to hand.
Out on the swing mooring we found the boat trussed up in tarps and all manner of bird deterrents. Seagulls are not much of a problem there but pelicans are another matter entirely. Thankfully earlier efforts of Jamie and Sarita to deal with the problem meant that we were not faced with piles of accumulated guano to clear away as they had been weeks before. We slipped the mooring and moved the boat to the nearby marina. All hands worked diligently to effect our preparations, checking safety gear, provisioning stores and getting a feel for the ship’s stowage plan. Local diesel mechanics serviced the engine and although there was an alarm they could not figure out how to silence a decision was made to disconnect it, grab our weather window of favourable nor’ easterlies and monitor engine parameters closely as we travelled.
With everything ready and the tide and wind in our favour we slipped out through the harbour entrance on Sunday 15 February at 1745. Before departure we surveyed the entrance from an adjacent headland. The site is a grand amphitheatre for free maritime entertainment. Negotiating the entrance can be very tricky in a big sea – check out YouTube. Spectators on the grassy slopes are well rewarded on days when testing conditions prevail and it’s not hard to imagine a good crowd gathering. Hats off to the mariners of yesteryear – they endured many trials and tribulations getting in and out across that bar without the aid of motive power. The many wrecks dotted around the area provide lasting testament to the difficulties they experienced.
With the bar a safe distance behind us we hoisted sails to clear Tacking Point and then made for open water. The fresh following breeze helped us make impressive distances to the good. Sail plan was a poled out headsail and main shortened to reef 1. With 20 to 25kn of breeze behind us we were regularly getting 10kn over the ground. Billie Holiday is pretty quick for a cruiser and was also well behaved in the following sea, so she’s a very cruisey cruiser. Aboard we were not spared for creature comforts – fridge, freezer, microwave, two showers, personal bunk and linen, washing machine and dryer, a well appointed galley – she’s 58ft of indulgent luxury, not at all hard to get used to.
On our first night at sea a short-tailed shearwater flopped exhausted into the cockpit and stayed with us until shortly after dawn. Following a couple of laps of scuttling around the cockpit and over our feet it took shelter under an elevated step on the cockpit sole aft of the wheel and made itself comfortable there. When groups of shearwaters began to fly past in the morning it was time for our avian hitchhiker to join its northbound cohorts on their migration to the Bering Sea. It protested at being captured but didn’t look back after its release to the heavens.
The gloriously hot and sunny conditions of the day kept our spirits high and got the flying fish very excited too. We had lots of them gliding around us all day, some up to about 25cm long. It was worthy entertainment for what was already shaping up to be a great delivery.
Having covered more than 440nm at a very impressive clip we pulled into Eden in the late afternoon of 18 February. We’d achieved lots of 8-10kn and a maximum speed of 13.6, not bad for 32 tonnes of boat. The rhythm of each day had us dealing with light airs and low boat speeds near dawn before the wind increased with the arrival of the heat of the sun. By mid-afternoon we were getting our best speeds. At dinnertime the breeze eased off with the setting of the sun. Best of all was that the cyclonic conditions developing not too far north of Port Macquarie were thankfully a long way behind us.
We celebrated our illustrious passage thus far with a sumptuous barbecue dinner on board in Eden’s Snug Cove. Guests for the evening were Pambula’s finest, none other than David’s brother Silas and Vero and their delightful daughter Dixie. Spicy Peri Peri chicken, spotty potatoes and fresh salad was washed down with lashings of fine red and a little bit of rum. In the process we learned that Dixie is a thoroughly modern free market kid with the savvy to play off the tooth fairy against a sneaky tooth snaffling Argentinean night mouse. Going rate is $8 per deciduous fang, enough to net her a tidy $256 so long as none are swallowed in the night. Methods for self-extraction were self-researched, yes, on the internet. No one needed to tease her with the door handle and string method – she tried it herself – it didn’t work!
Next day the crew bustled to prepare the boat for another VIP. This time it would be royalty: skipper Jamie’s other half Sarita Maizel arrived via train and bus from Melbourne in the afternoon. Amongst several chores we had to move the boat over to
Eden’s breakwater pier to get access to the refuelling truck. The modest amount of motor-sailing we had done since leaving Port Macquarie had consumed 250L of fuel. Pushing the boat through the water at 6kn consumes 8L per hour, it’s a thirsty donk. Fuel tank capacity is a mere 500L.
Conditions at the breakwater pier give little comfort or relaxation to boat owners so having refuelled we moved the boat back to the Snug Cove pier. After a short delay to give the cook time to get the Bolognese finished we cast off at about 1800 on 19 February to begin our passage around the corner and across the Paddock. Breezes were very light so we motor-sailed through the night. At this time friends at RMYS entered in the gruelling 20 hour Big Bay Race were in our thoughts, but so too was the list of tasty meals we had enjoyed en route. Red chicken curry, sausages and lentils, kabana and carrots and fancy mashed spud, the unforgettable Hamster, a spectacular frittata, Dave’s very special fried rice, Jamie’s delectable guacomole. All hands concurred that the galley fare had been particularly good all trip. It was a pleasure to spread out the tablecloth on the cockpit table and dine in refined style each evening.
We slipped through the open forest of oil platforms in the Paddock leaving them all at a very respectful distance. It was all motor-sailing though, we knew it had to be because the dozens of albatross bobbing around in the water resolutely refused to take to the wing. On approach to the Prom large flocks of shearwaters rafted up on the surface entertained us by taking to the air as we neared them, the splashing of their feet as they get run along for take-off all together is a signature sound of Victorian and Tasmanian waters in summer. Conditions east of the Prom had an air of mystery. Clouds and mist condensed on the eastern side in the morning, but the bright and sunny conditions on the western side could be seen when the skirts of the mist began to lift.
Sailing passages can be full of surprises and in this regard the final legs of Billie Holiday’s delivery to St Kilda did not disappoint. Getting around the Prom we took a scenic route, passing close to the islands south west of the lighthouse. We made a special detour to check out the big seal colony on Kanowna Is. It’s a treat to observe their various behaviours, to see how far they manage to clamber up the massive granite slabs, and marvel at the speed big ones pick up when they slide down the steep slopes gravel-rashingly fast and plunge into the deep water.
Next on the itinerary was Cleft Island, aka Skull Rock, right next to Kanowna Island. It has a cavernous gash in its western face big enough for a helicopter to land in – a great place to stash buried pirate treasure! It’s also a lovely backdrop for crew photos.
With our morning of sight seeing over it was time to line up the four capes – Liptrap, Paterson, Woolamai and Schanck – as we closed in on the heads. After careful consultation with tidal race tables for the Rip we timed our arrival to the Heads approach to coincide with 2nd half of flood tide at 0400hrs Sunday 22 February. The lights at the entrance tell an interesting story as they come into view and a Heads approach and passage through the Rip is a different story every time it’s done. Lonsdale VTS assured us no outbound shipping was due so we turned in on the leads for the eastern side of the Main Channel. 32T of boat was soon making 10kn over the ground as we sluiced through Rip’s swirling waters straight into the brisk northerly breeze.
Entering the Heads is invariably a defining moment of a passage to Port Phillip. There’s always some relief to realise that you’ve made it through. All hands heartily toasted King Neptune of the Waves to thank him for another safe journey.
Once through the West Channel and into the bay proper a beautiful clear dawn arrived and it was high-5s all round as we celebrated our realisation we had only 20nm left to go of a voyage of 800-odd. But never count your chickens… We heard a loud pop! That turned out to be the heat exchanger cap blowing off. Then the engine hesitated momentarily. Sarita rushed down the companionway to investigate. The engine compartment belched a huge cloud of smoke and steam. Oh dear! Shut it down! Quickly!! There was now nothing for it but to sail to RMYS against the prevailing 15-20kn northerly breeze. We shook out all the rag – headsail, staysail, main and mizzen – and trimmed to point as high as we could. Our angle to the wind was not as good as a race boat would achieve but we made good progress nonetheless.
The plan was to sail up to the vicinity of the RMYS breakwater and once there radio for assistance to help us to berth. That plan soon became unworkable because the heady halyard blew at its splice. Oh dear, oh dear! We took the headsail down but in the process the foil feeder sliced into the bolt rope tape at the tack end of the luff. If not for that damage we could have used a spinnaker halyard but regrettably the sail was out of action. Without the heady we were incapable of making any headway. Although we’d tried to help ourselves out of our predicament we were now at the mercy of outside assistance. And there we were, going perpendicular to our rhumb line all the way down near Beaumaris.
Our modified plan was to keep our rescue in-house and we tried to contact club people to see if the William Patterson might be put into service to tow us. Having made a few enquiries down that avenue without success we took our pleas to VHF channel 16. Coastguard Melbourne was soon alerted to our situation. When providing our details there was a very long pause after Billie Holiday’s overall length and displacement had been communicated. We had a feeling that the matter of our rescue was being passed along and up the chain of command.
Following a short delay we were contacted by the Water Police. Their boat VP10 is a very high performance rigid inflatable boat and soon we could see it coming our way at blistering pace. After dousing sails we began preparations for towing. Initially the Police declined to take one of Billie Holiday’s heavy lines but when they were assured that we knew our bowlines from our double sheet bends, and that we had travelled 800nm to that point without assistance, they secured our line to a hitching post near their transom and began towing us up the bay at a respectable 3 or 4kn. They took us all the way back to the St Kilda breakwater, about 7nm. Thanks Rob and John, you’re our triple zero heroes. Hope you enjoy those beers.
Behind the scenes, RMYS member Dave Croke having learned of our plight had gathered together a crew for the William Patterson. He telephoned the Water Police station in Williamstown and arranged to meet us outside the breakwater. We were
relieved to see them, and so too were the Water Police who would not have been keen on assisting us to berth.
William Patterson took us to a swing mooring adjacent to Largo. Billie Holiday hung there while we secured lines and fenders to raft William Patterson to her starboard side. We then said a few prayers and slipped the mooring line while Dave Croke took a
practice spin around Largo, quite probably his first try at being a tug driver. Fortunately he got the hang of it very quickly.
After taking another deep breath William Patterson was soon guiding Billie Holiday smoothly past the eastern end of the wave attenuator. Spectators from motor-cruisers enjoying a picnic there were completely enthralled by these manoeuvres. William
Patterson pulled Billie Holiday around in a big, slow arc and then nudged her ever so slowly and gently towards the northern end of the floating marina’s main arm. 8 metres! 6 metres! 4 metres! 2 metres! 1 metre! Touch down! It was a perfect landing.
Sarita’s relief was near ecstatic. She leapt ashore, lowered herself to her hands and knees and kissed the concrete deck of the marina pontoon.
We’d traveled so far but had endured the greatest dramas of the trip in its closing hours. From Heads entrance to Police rescue to tug assisted berthing, we’d had a day to remember. It was a good feeling to have Billie Holiday berthed safely and securely at her new home in St Kilda.