Homeward Bound

Thursday 14 March 2019 (Home at Western Port Marina, Hastings)
Wednesday 13 March 2019 (At sea in Bass Strait)

The weather was mercifully calm for our final leg, across Bass Strait, home to Western Port Marina

After several days of strong, cold winds and overcast skies, Wednesday dawned calm and sunny with the arrival of a slow-moving high-pressure system.

Around breakfast time, John’s inquisitiveness with the “slackness” of Chimere’s steering led him to crawl into the back of the boat to inspect the mechanism.  This soon resulted in a request for spanners and a hammer to be passed in, which in turn led to the removal soon after of a large metal pipe that connects the rudder with the steering wheel.

Another trading ships enters Grassy Harbour

Whilst still functional, four bolt-holes in a vital universal joint had become flogged, creating excessive looseness that translated into there being half a rotation of the steering wheel BEFORE the rudder actually began turning. 

It now seemed imperative to get it fixed before we headed back out to sea and so it pushed its way to the top of the current “To Do List” … even higher than visiting the Cheese Factory.

Who could fix such a thing?  There was only one thing to do … call our fisherman friend Russell, he would know …

“Yeh, ya need to go to Williams Engineering, they’re on the road down to the Currie Harbour”, said Russell, “They can fix anything”  

So it was that our first stop off was Williams Engineering … on our way to the Cheese Factory … but the reality was, if we couldn’t get the steering column fixed, we weren’t going anywhere.

As it turned out, we must have looked a rather pathetic sight … quite obviously out-of-town sailors, walking in with a vital piece of equipment in our hands, asking nicely … “do you think there’s anything you could do to fix it??”

With plenty of work already in progress, it’s not as if they were waiting for us to drop in, but with a wry smile the first thing the engineering-bloke asked was … “… when do you need it, when are you leaving?” 

“We were hoping to leave this afternoon, all being well”, I replied.

In addition to the flogged-out universal joint, Ray was also able to point to a lack of lubrication between the shaft and the sleeve, which created excessive friction that no doubt contributed to the first problem.

“OK, leave it with me.  Can you pop back after lunch?  Give us a couple of hours”  

There was nothing more we could do.  From here it was up to the engineering-bloke to weave his magic.  We were totally in his hands

Next stop, the King Island Cheese Factory … https://www.kingislanddairy.com.au  I’d been here on our previous trip in 2014/15, so I knew what to expect, in particular the “Cheese Eating Room”.  Some referred to this as a “Tasting Room”, but it’s hard to restrain yourself when they put plates of cheese out with generous supplies of cracker biscuits to boot.  They even have a “Tasting Notes” sheet, with pencils, for you to keep tabs as you work your way around the tables.
I did my best to find fault, but in the end I had to give them all a ten out of ten.

Hard to find fault with any of the King Island cheeses … or maybe I’m just a generous marker
Isabel can’t say no to … “just one more” … pack of cheese
Kelp drying near Currie … useful in over 200 different products, kelp would have to be described as a wonder product. It’s in everything from food, to clothing.
John gets stuck into his Wallaby Pie

Whilst the King Island Dairy might have lost money on my “tasting” habits, they more than made up for it with our crew’s eventual purchases at the counter.      

Time was getting on and after a relatively quick drive down the coast to view the drying kelp, and stop off at the garage to fill the car with petrol, we had the car back at the hire place around midday.

Lunch at the King Island bakery, just a short walk away, was next and it is here that John ordered a wallaby pie.  We jokingly referred to the profusion of “road-kill” – mostly wallaby – we’d seen, but were quickly assured that these wallaby pies had nothing do with those wallabies.  But there seemed something symbolic in John, our only New Zealander, eating a wallaby pie when his fellow kiwis,  The All Blacks, have been eating up our national rugby team, the Wallabies, for years …

Our next biggest hurdle, apart from picking up the (hopefully) fixed steering column, was getting back to Grassy Harbour, 30-odd kilometres away on the other side of the island.  Nothing seemed to be jumping out of the woodwork and so I called the only taxi on the island.  The chap who answered was a really nice bloke, but he admitted that he was currently “hanging kelp”, then he had to pick up the kids, before going out to the airport and wouldn’t be available till after 5:15pm.  “Oh, we were hoping to get a lift before that, if possible, maybe we’ll give you a call if nothing comes up,”  I concluded, having learnt that it was likely to cost around $50-$60 for the ride.

Williams Engineering came through with a repaired steering mechanism, and in wrapping up payment I casually asked the engineering bloke … “don’t suppose you know anyone who might be driving over to Grassy this afternoon?”

I could tell he was racking his brain to think if there was a possibility, but each time he thought of an option, he had to think again.  Finally, he reluctantly said, “no, sorry, can’t think of anyone”.  Then, as we were about to leave, he said, “I’ll give a bloke a call”   After some small-talk with the guy on the phone he turned to me and said, “are you ready to go now?”  

“Sure,” I said, “from the car hire place … cos we’ve left our gear there … tell him I’ll pay $60” 

That’s how it was we received a lift from Currie to Grassy, with “Chris”, a long-time resident of the island and font of knowledge about the place.

Back at the boat, the steering gear reassembled and the latest weather forecast downloaded, it was time to look seriously about the last hop home; the 125 mile leg from Grassy Harbour to Westernport Marina. 

In the back of our minds we also had the “issue of the autohelm”.  Due to the excessive magnetic deviation message received on the way up from Hunter Island three days before we were left hand steering for the last 5 hours.  We certainly didn’t want to hand steer the 20 hours home, but there was always the chance that just maybe, it had corrected itself through having been turned off for a few days; the mystery of electronics!

Ray keeps an eye on the rocky headlands as we exit Grassy Harbour, King Island
Our wind gauge up close. Whilst the batteries never need replacing, the elements can have an impact making it necessary to reach for a new length of wool; preferably red. The added bonus is that when the wool gets wet we know it’s been raining
After some apprehension the Auto Helm decided to start working again, making the 125 mile final leg back from King Island a real dream run

Around 3:30pm we made our way out of the Grassy Harbour with a course set first for Naracoopa, up the coast. But before long we all agreed that we should continue on to Westernport.  Miracles of miracles, the autohelm started working again and in the end we surmised that the fixing of the steering column must have helped in some way. 

The wind was slightly off the starboard bow, making it almost northeast, but the sea was very calm, even though there remained a steady swell.  The combination of all the factors meant we could maintain a speed of around 7-8 knots for a lot of the way in what could only be termed “extreme comfort”.  We each took it in turns to sleep and apart from watching out for shipping, it was a most uneventful night.

Our final sunset at sea … that way, Cape Town, 6,000 miles away
Our track leaving Grassy Harbour, King Island was a straight line north to Westernport, compared with the jagged, tacking, line up from Hunter Island a few days earlier
John and Isabel look at the dolphins soon after leaving King Island, as the sun goes down
Hard to photograph on an iPhone in the fading light, but you get the idea
John getting as close to the dolphins as possible
The best I could do on my iPhone, but you get the idea … a beautiful still night with the moon and the stars reflecting in the water.

Morning had us off the Nobbies at the entrance to the Westernport Channel, with about an hour of Flood Tide still going our way.  Pretty soon, however, the tide turned and there was about 2-3 hours of Ebb Tide working against us, reducing our speed by around 2-3 knots.

The sails were dropped just prior to entering the Hastings channel, with the only thing left to do being the final turn into the Westernport Marina and our berth on A-Row.  The crew secured the lines quick enough, with the easterly breeze helping to keep us against the pontoon, and not the boat next door, as the engine was finally turned off.

Entering Western Port around the tip of Phillip Island showing us crossing the outward bound track from 45 days earlier
A welcome sight … the familiar tip of Phillip Island – The Nobbies and Seal Rocks, in the early morning
The sun sneaking up behind The Nobbies
Hard to do the scene justice with a small iPhone
Smoke? Smog? … we were back to civilisation?!
Not far now … the masts of the Westernport Marina
Time to focus as we make the final turn into the marina berth … without doing any damage
Westernport Marina ahead
Helmsman’s view, including the charplotter to left

We’d returned three days early and so our 45 day “Freedom Sail” was at an end.  

My thanks go to John, Isabel and Ray for their contribution throughout the last few weeks – all the way from Hobart on 23 February.  Thank you to all the other crew, Jacqui, Bill, Rosie and Alistair for your contribution, and a very special thank you to friends Liz and Murray who took charge of the “Land-Based Team” – complete with willing vehicle, plus my brother Andrew with his car-assistance while we were in Hobart. And of course, last but not least to my amazing wife Linda, who has been involved and supportive at every turn.

The Fabulous Four … Isabel, Rob, John and Ray
The Famous Five … as above, including Jacqui who had to leave us at Strahan 10 days earlier

This amazing adventure would not have been possible of course without “the other woman” … and I speak now of Chimere our trusty vessel.  She has protected us, transported us, housed us and taken care of us all the way.  And in mentioning Chimere I also include my ever-supportive and understanding boat partner Barry Crouch, who acquired half of Chimere six years ago in order to ensure the work of Medical Sailing Ministries in Vanuatu continues. (www.msm.org.au)

It all ends on the clothesline with a freshwater hose-down

Smooth seas, fair breeze and Homeward Bound

Rob Latimer


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