Leaping out of the nest
‘Dad, I want to buy Auberge and bring her back,” Baden said to me one evening.
Auberge was the Beach Marine Macro 25 that my daughter, Estelle, had bought in Townsville and sailed to Cairns. She had planned on tidying it up and sailing it back to Townsville to live aboard while at uni doing marine science. While working on the trampoline netting in the marina Estelle started chatting to a young man who was walking the jetty. Because of that moment, and subsequent discussions, plans changed over the ensuing months and she ended up moving to Adelaide and attending university there and I became the temporary new owner of Auberge until selling her to make way for our Crowther 43, Whim. Auberge sailed south to Rockhampton with her new owner.
After 18 months, Auberge was back on the market. Circumstances for the new owner had changed. Baden phoned the current owner, negotiated a price and made his own plans to catch the train south and sail her back to Cairns. He also planned to do this single handed.
Baden is my oldest son and has done many thousands of ocean miles aboard our catamarans. But he has never been the skipper and he has never sailed by himself. Ever. It was thus with some trepidation that I encouraged him. He started lists. We helped with suggestions and ideas. He read Multihull Seamanship and a few basic sailing books. We went through many ‘what ifs’ and pegged the charts he would use with anchorage suggestions. At 21 years of age Baden has both a maturity from being raised on or by the ocean and a blissful ignorance of the challenge ahead. The trip would probably either make or break him. I hoped the former.
Yacht racing is not for everyone. Although Baden had crewed on our Hobie 16 with me, was a trimmer and deckhand on Top Gun and aboard when we capsized, he was not at all enthusiastic to race. It was the adventure he was seeking. The Macro 25 would more than fulfil this.
On the long bus trip south, he was loaded with supplies but limited funds. There was no bank of Dad in this trip as I had my own catamaran to care for! Auberge was moored in the Fitzroy river in Rockhampton, many miles inland. She was in as good a condition as when we sold her, so Baden negotiated the sale transfer and became the proud owner of his first yacht.
The beach marine Macro 25 is the Tardis of multihulls. At 25ft length she has full standing headroom (6’2”) in the hulls, three generous bunks, a good galley, toilet and shower and a bridgedeck cabin that is kneeling height, cosy and comfortable. The design is also well rigged and performs both under sail and motor (single pod Yamaha 9.9). Baden’s first task was provisions, fuel and gaining familiarity with the systems. He spent a day doing this and 36 hours after arriving in Rockhampton he manually winched up the anchor and sailed downriver.
I can only imagine the thrill he felt when first under way. His own boat and 1000nm of adventure on the central Queensland coast ahead of him.
We set up the App ‘life360’ on his mobile phone. This is a position tracking app designed for land but if you set it on satellite image it works brilliantly at sea. When he was in mobile phone range we would have an idea of how he was progressing.
I designated myself as his land-based support. I watched the weather patterns, looked at places he was heading and worked hard at not texting suggestions to him. As the concerned parent it was a challenge, but I think I found the balance. Enough advice to help, but not too much that he could not make all his own mistakes.
Baden has featured many times over the past 20 years in the magazine articles I’ve written. As a child he was usually naked swinging on sheet lines or exploring exotic anchorages. He spent his formative years aboard Magic Happens (Hitchhiker 40MkIII) and Chaotic Harmony (Catana 42S). As an adventurous teen he crewed on Top Gun (Crowther 50 racing cat) and did part of the delivery on her from the Darwin to Cairns. He was never the studious child but did put in the effort whenever the skills being taught might involve surviving the next Zombie apocalypse. When he left school in 2015 after year 12, we discussed his plans.
“What do you want to do Baden?” I asked. In the back of my mind I was thinking he might be a personal trainer or take on an apprenticeship.
‘I’d like to be a millionaire Dad,” he replied with a straight face.
My reply took a few seconds to form.
‘Well … I guess you know that you will have trouble achieving this working for someone. I guess you need to start your own business?” I thought, thinking as I was talking. “Roll with a business idea and even if only one in 10 works, it might be the one that makes the million.”
Baden pondered my reply.
“How do I do that?” he asked. “Start a business I mean?”
The conversation evolved, and he started looking for opportunities. Two months later Baden had set up a company, had taken out a loan and purchased ‘Barrier Reef Jumping Castles’ – a hire business with popcorn, snow cones, fairly floss, a mechanical bull and 16 inflatable castles and slides. He was on his way. It was 22 months later that he made both his best and worst investment – he bought a boat.
Baden is tall, muscular in a lean cut way and wears his long wavy hair like only a 21-year-old can. The story of his trip north I have pieced together from anecdotal stories he tells and the five short YouTube clips he made. He had an adventure. He had lots of them. Along the way he made a few rookie mistakes. A couple of times he anchored without checking the tide and ended up parked on land. The topping lift was obviously left on in one picture I saw. Sail trim skills certainly needed some work. His biggest error was when he was well out of phone range and made the move to get back in phone range when he should have stayed put. Many problems occur when the skipper is pressured to move anchorage in uncertain or unfavourable conditions.
Auberge was renamed the moment he bought the boat – and was now called Cecaelia. A cecaelia is an octo chick – pretty much a mermaid but with octopus legs instead. It makes for a great logo and he has the t-shirt already. You must prioritise!
Cecaelia with her new skipper.
Cecaelia, on the morning of near disaster, was anchored at Percy Island under an ominous sky. We knew Baden would be out of range for three days and the plan was to not worry unless we had not heard from him for four days. On the third day he made the decision to sail to Mackay under grey skies. Once clear of the protection of the Percys the grey skies turned into grey squalls. Rain, wild wind and rough seas. Cecaelia was down to a partially furled headsail and still belting along downwind with minimal control. A monohull nearby put out a mayday and was abandoned when the crew were rescued. When Baden discusses hearing the mayday he tells his thoughts.
“I set out to have an adventure. Now I was in one. I felt I could die but I realised that I put myself here, so I just needed to man up and get on with it,” he said. “So, I did”.
Under bare poles, hand steering and being tossed by seas battling wind against tide, he directed Cecaelia toward Grass Tree Beach.
I watched my phone throughout the day at work, having no idea of the adventure he was undergoing. Late in the day the phone pinged with his position. A quick google earth image of Grass Tree Beach gave me an idea of where he was heading. I had no knowledge of the entrance and not much was available online. Fortunately, the Beach Marine Macro 25 is a nimble, shallow drafted cat with kick up rudders and long centreboards. He could slip over most shallow entrances and the tide was fair for doing this.
Ashore at Great Keppel Island. End of the first solo day.
The last part of the day for Cecaelia was under bare poles and poor visibility in thick rain. Once inside the river mouth and safely anchored Baden called to say he was safe. I was probably better able to concentrate on my job after that. He licked his wounds for a few days in the protected river.
Some fellow yachties from the catamaran Aussie Oi called in to visit him and bring some essential supplies and smiling faces. I love the fact that even though we had sailed with the Aussie Oi’s many years ago in Fiji, the bonds remain. Shared adventures do that.
Baden went on to explore deserted island resorts, isolated beaches and hidden anchorages. Things broke. He fixed them or worked around the need. When the autopilot bracket failed a mate of his, Hadyn, drove to Lucinda with a welder and in the local park they found a power point and did a repair that was better than the original. Baden continued to sail on solo and after a month of climbing a steep learning curve, Cecaelia motored up Moon Creek in Cairns and pulled alongside Whim. I was a proud dad and could see in his eyes the growth that only occurs with experience and developing confidence. Sometimes you must leap off the edge to learn to fly. Good to know a few principles of flight beforehand but nothing really prepares you for the ‘buck stops here’ moment. Flap or fall.
Cecaelia and Baden have since spent many days off Cairns, fishing, spearing, solo and with friends. His adventure of a life at sea is just starting. Check out Baden Le Sueur videos on Youtube or other images on Instagram.