Preparing Esprit for the trip North

We have been very conscious of safety measures for this trip. We are not getting younger or stronger as the years pass. Unlike our South Atlantic race from Cape Town to South America in 1982 and the Indian Ocean race from Mauritius to Durban in 1987, when we were younger, carefree and stronger, we are older and wiser now. So we set about ensuring safety as far as it was possible.

The first rule is: don’t fall overboard; second rule: follow rule one; third rule: guess what, follow rule one and two! Therefore, the first priority was manual self-inflating life jackets with built-in harnesses. These are attached to Jackstays running the length of the boat on both sides, to which we are hooked onto while sailing. Each life jacket has attached an EPIRB which is activated by water, to transmit an emergency signal to Canberra and Marine Rescue giving an accurate position of the person in the water by satellite to within 50m.

Each life jacket also has an AIS beacon attached which is activated by water, to transmit a position of the person in the water to the GPS on board, allowing the person on board to locate the one in the water on the GPS. We also have a self-inflating dan buoy to throw to someone in the water. Needless to say, there is a 4-person liferaft, flares, EPIRB and AIS.

AIS (Automatic Identification System) is a marvelous system which will replace radar in time. It gives an accurate description, position, heading and speed of any commercial vessel (compulsory) and yacht registered, on our GPS (chart plotter). We have the usual VHF radio for communication at sea and mobile phones when within reach of the 4G network up to 50km out to sea. Beyond that, when we sail out into the Pacific we will switch to satellite phones like the Iridium or Inmarsat systems.

The unpredictability of the weather is still the biggest threat to safety in sailing. Weather forecasting has improved dramatically since the blurry weather faxes of the 80’s. In addition to all the free Government meteorological websites, we have subscribed to “PredictWind” which utilizes complex algorithms to calculate optimum departure dates and weather routing for the areas we are sailing into.

Physical systems which require checking are numerous. We have had our rigging (standing and running rigging) checked and adjusted before we set off, as this has stretched and settled down over the last 8 months. We have bought a “SeaClaw” storm drogue for extreme conditions, added another 120m of 18mm rode and a spare anchor. Not least our own physical systems: Annie is as fit as a fiddle after years of gym and I have carefully calibrated my wine consumption to cope with the possible sea conditions.

Shake down cruise

Performance Boating Sales, the importers of Jeanneau yachts in Sydney organised a Jeanneau rally to Newcastle and Port Stephens from the 9th to 14th April 2016. We saw this as a good opportunity to stretch Esprit’s legs for a shake down cruise before we set off North in May.

Approaching Newcastle

Approaching Newcastle

Our friends Ron & Michelle Watson and Peter & Mandy McLean joined us for the sail up the coast. We departed Saturday at 9:30am from Barrenjoey light house in light Easterlies for the 48 nautical mile sail to Newcastle. We had to motor initially, but the wind freshened from the South-east, allowing us to hoist the asymmetrical spinnaker. We arrived at Newcastle Yacht Club around 5pm and after a few sundowners joined the rest of the Jeanneau sailors for dinner and a party on the floating “The Princess”

Michelle, Ron & Annie

Michelle, Ron & Annie

Sunday dawned with some serious headaches, but our new Aldi coffee machine produced some strong blacks to soothe the nerves. We departed at 10am for Port Stephens on a glassy sea with no wind. The 54 hp Yanmar iron genoa came to the rescue and we watched some dolphins as we motored up the coast. A Southerly breeze allowed us to sail the second half of this leg into Port Stephens where we tied up in the d’Albora marina.

Mandy, Dirk & Annie

Mandy, Dirk & Annie

After some sundowners, Peter and Mandy treated us to dinner at the local pub. We had an early night! The following day Annie and I did extensive walks around Port Stephens, which is a beautiful area just 3 hours North of Sydney. With our sailing companions bussing home, Annie and I sailed out of the heads on Tuesday at 8am, into a freshening South-easter.

Annie & Dirk

Annie & Dirk

The seas were rough and with the wind building to 25knots, we reefed the main and furled the headsail by 50% to make good headway at about 8.5 knots. One long tack out to sea allowed us to clear Newcastle by about 4 miles, to ease out and sail a straight beat into Lake Macquarie. We arrived after 7 hours at about 3pm, with enough depth before low tide to clear the bar at the entrance. We picked up a mooring just outside the draw bridge.

The rising tide meant we could sail out of Lake Macquarie at 9am into a moderate 13-18 knot South-easter. One long beat to Barrenjoey light house and we arrived at Royal Motor Yacht Club at 4pm after 7 hours of sailing. The boat performed very well, making a good and dry passage and promising excellent passage making come May. We look forward to this.