Stay Calm coming back into Rainbow Beach.
Twenty-twenty has been a year of change for most. A year of highs and lows, doubt and stress amongst extraordinary moments, both personal to each and shared by all. We went into the year with our first baby on the way. A beautiful girl. Little did we anticipate that she wouldn’t be the only lady to join our family that year. Having always talked of buying a boat to sail, a few months after our daughter’s birth we found ourselves looking at boats. We had little experience but a great desire for adventure, buckets of enthusiasm, a great deal of foolishness, a willingness to learn and just enough confidence to think we could buy a boat and just learn to sail.
Ryan, the captain, the dad, the dreamer and the fixer, will never let me forget that it was he who we have to thank for our catamaran Stay Calm. It was the second boat we looked at. He wanted to put an offer in that afternoon. I was tired from looking after our four month old and said “I’d prefer we slept on it, but if you won’t stop talking about it just do it. I can’t keep talking to you about it”. He took this as the go ahead to make an offer. It was lucky he was so brazen as to not read between the lines (I’d thought I’d made my intentions as clear as any woman could). Our offer was accepted and we were told that another couple had made the same offer, but slept on it. So here it is in writing, Ryan, you were right, good work. All hail Ryan the Great ...
Stay Calm is a Shawn Arber designed, Peter O’Brien built, 34ft 9in (it all counts, unless you are a marina and the fees are less for a 34ft) cutter rigged sailing catamaran. The boat is manufactured using ply over Oregon frames and an epoxy coating. She has mini keels and skegs for grounding, as well as daggerboards for windward performance. As much as Shawn Arber is renowned for his well performing designs, it was really her interior that captured us. Thanks to the many previous owners who loved her, the wood interior remains in its beauty.
Our first task, move her from the Gold Coast to her new home on the piles at QCYC, Cabbage Tree Creek. Absolutely determined to sail we set off from the Gold Coast through the main channel between Stradbroke Island and the mainland. The winds were light and northerly. In comes that foolishness and enthusiasm I talked about earlier. Our track looked like that of a drunk stumbling home from the pub. It crissed, it crossed and at times we just ping ponged from one side of the narrow channels to the other making little ground. When frustration got the better of us we put the motor on, but again the foolishness would take over and off we went again ping ponging across the channels. By the afternoon we got to the east of MacLeay Island and the channel opened up. We were finally sailing, really sailing. She flew, motor up, dancing across the water at 8kts. It was magic and we were hooked. After a night at Peel Island we set off early to beat some weather in the afternoon. I should at this point mention we had on board our little girl and our two dogs – a Blue Heeler and a small white fluff ball (who dislikes motor boats and pest-skis and insists on barking at them with her two front paws perched precariously on the gunwale). Well, we certainly got a lesson in sailing into the wind and making plans to ‘beat the weather’. We bounced across the bay with the stay sail and a reef in the main. There was strong wind warning with gusts up to 30kts. The dogs were not fans of this sailing business at this stage. They cuddled up on the saloon floor. Turns out though, that a pounding sea certainly helps rock a baby to sleep in a life jacket. Our little girl, bless her, slept in her bassinet in the saloon most of the way. A saving grace for her parents, battling their way across the bay, foolish enough and so hooked on sailing they relished the challenge and adventure. As we got to Cabbage Tree Creek though the shine wore off as we tried to figure out how we would get into the creek and then moor the boat on the pile mooring we had arranged. To Ryan, I am sorry for all the things said in frustration, anger and stress while mooring. To all those couples who sail, any tips on how to not kill or maim your significant other while mooring would be greatly appreciated. I don’t recall how exactly, but with an outgoing tide and strong winds we managed to secure Stay Calm to the pile mooring. No murder, maiming or mutiny was committed.
A jolly afternoon.
Our first big sail came about in a whirlwind. It was November and the dreamer suddenly found himself with the ability to take time off work until the new year. I was still on maternity leave. We had a boat. We’d sailed a handful of times. Here’s an idea, let’s sail to the Bunker Island Group. When? Next weekend, after his mates wedding. Excuse me?! He took my initial reaction of listing all that we needed to do before we could go as a desire not to go, all of a sudden able to read between the lines. But no, I wasn’t going to let him paint me as the girl who became a mum and lost her spark for adventure. Swallowing down the feeling that I’d bitten off more than I could chew I threw myself into organising provisions for the boat and presents for the Christmas that we would be coming back to. I won’t sugar coat it. Trying to figure out what we needed for the boat, the babe and how to fit in all the intervening engagements (two weddings and some university study) had me both crying and getting short with frustration.
The first leg of our trip started with a headache following a well enjoyed night at a wedding the evening before. My father joined us for the trip. Being the inexperienced, overly optimistic and naïve first timers we were, we gave an ETA of 3pm, because we were going to beat the strong winds that were expected that afternoon. We flew across Moreton Bay on the main sail and jib, cutting a straight line to Skirmish Point then North along Bribie Island. The swell started to increase to about one and half a metres as we tracked past Bribie but we continued to skate along at 8-9kts. Just shy of the Caloundra Bar we developed a bigger headache than those we woke with. The halyard on the stay sail went, with a bang it began waving vigorously goodbye to that ETA we had so confidently set. Scrabbling about we managed to furl the stay sail but our pace dropped. We then got a lesson in wind over tide while sailing into the wind. The learning curve was as steep as some of the waves. I stayed below with our babe while my father and the Captain were on deck. The north-westerly we had enjoyed in the morning swung to a northerly. The winds picked up to 25-30kts. We had to tack out to the east. On the tack back towards the coast my father said to Ryan, “we haven’t moved forward”. It was about this time that the swell had grown such that a wave broke across the bow and into the cockpit. The captain later told me that at that point while he had feared letting lose some stool, Stay Calm’s ability to traverse through even the steep 2.5-3m swell reassured him. He battled on over waves and we all grew comfortable with being uncomfortable.
It was about 4pm when we realised we were going to be doing our first night sail. The captain, exhausted from hours of sailing took a break as I got my hands on the helm. Hughie or whatever godly being is in charge of the seas must have heard, because as the sun set, the swell and wind eased and we sailed into a clear stary night. Still sailing into the wind, many tacks later we crossed the Mooloola Bar at 11pm. Slightly overdue, quite wet and only a touch wiser, we gulped down some warm, cheesy bolognese and chatted tiredly, but excitedly about the sail. We were still hooked.
Double Island Point Lagoon.
After a week in Mooloolaba, a halyard repair, a wedding and a change in crew (my father departing and Ryan’s parents joining us) we set off with the intention of getting to Double Island Point. Having not yet learnt our lesson about sailing into wind, we set off at 1am to give us more fat for the upwind sail. What rookies. We tacked west. About 20nm off the Noosa Headland we tacked towards the coast. With the angle we were able to point it was seeming that making Double Island Point before the afternoon’s strong wind warning was seeming unlikely. This is when the wind blew up, the waves grew and the lesson in sailing into the wind while trying to beat some bad weather finally sunk in. We had a look at anchoring outside of the Noosa River around Laguna Bay but in the northerly the anchorage was as exposed as our lack of planning experience. We called the Voluntary Marine Rescue. They discouraged us from attempting the bar alone given we are fairly underpowered with our 9.9hp ‘high thrust’ outboard. So we opted for an escort in, following in the wake of VMR vessel the John Waddams. The service they provided was excellent and given the narrow, shallow, winding and constantly shifting nature of the Noosa Bar it is not something I would have liked to have attempted without local knowledge. Despite our lack of power, our confidence in Stay Calm continued to grow. It handled the bar crossing very well, surfing down the waves all the while leaving the helmsman feeling in complete control. Once in we made a donation to thank them for their assistance. The days that followed were coloured by firey red sunsets from the fires to the north on Fraser Island and ice cream dates on Hastings Street.
It was a couple of days before the swell was safe for a bar crossing and the winds great for a sail. We used the track line on Navionics to ply our course out of the Noosa Bar without issue. Having now learnt our lesson in sailing into the wind we waited until the wind was at least 60° off the rhumb line and as we tracked along the Noosa North Shore the pleasures of sailing on a beam reach became as apparent as the wind angle. We smashed our ETA to Double Island Point, avoided having to do a single tack and all the while we sipped Sailor Jerry’s, letting the autopilot do the work. We entered the lagoon at Double Island Point and felt reassured that it was every bit as protected an anchorage as the members of the Sailing Australia Facebook page had told us. There were two other cats in the anchorage and as we motored past one of them, a beautiful yellow Lidgard called Cheetah, we noticed a man on the back waving frantically at us. We slowed down and yelled g’day, he said “that’s my boat”. Turns out he had owned her 20 years ago and sailed her from Coffs Harbour to Lizard Island with his wife and three children, one of which was four months old. It was a special feeling to have met a previous owner and have learned some of Stay Calm’s history. Ryan later found charts on board showing the various fixes he had plotted as he cruised up the east coast.
The following morning we departed for the notorious Wide Bay Bar at nautical twilight. With 10kt south easters and seas less than a metre it was a pleasant trip and we were treated to a stunning sunrise. We hit waypoint A an hour before the high tide, exactly as planned, and lead a fleet of trawlers through the leads in conditions that you could have water skied across. The next stop was Gary’s Anchorage for the night. We met another yachtie there who led us to a beautiful freshwater creek where we freshened up and let the yabbies treat us to a pedicure – on the house. After Gary’s we moved on to South White Cliffs where we waited out some severe weather for a couple of days after a low pressure system had formed off of the Qld South Coast. We anchored in 1.5m of water and paid out 30m of chain, heeding the repeated advice of Darcy, Ryan’s dad, that “it’s no good to you in the locker.” The next stop was Burnett Heads and we soon learned our next lesson that you pick either a destination or a date, but never both. Or as Darcy likes to say, repeatedly, it’s better to arrive late than dead on time. Being slightly behind on our spread sheeted itinerary and in a terrible display of seamanship, the cap’n decided to leave a shallow unmarked anchorage at night with a strong outgoing current. No sooner than the anchor was lifted we were stuck hard on a sandbank. We dropped anchor and went back to sleep until we were awoken by the boat creaking as it lifted off the sandbank with the rising tide. We got underway with myself and Darcy manning the helm when a crack of lightning exploded around us, the sky lit up so bright that it blinded us and a strange smell filled the air. We were all stunned and suddenly felt very exposed. After a few seconds we gained our composure, “did that hit us?” Darcy inquired. A quick search of Google (which has taught us virtually everything we know about sailing) confirmed that had we been hit we most likely would have lost all of our electronic equipment. Phew, everything worked, but it was without a doubt the closest any of us have come to seeing the light.
Dolphins enroute to Lady Musgrave.
With a great sense of trepidation we pushed on. Our spirits improved along with the forecast and as we passed the Urangan Fairway I put my skills as a surf boat rower to use, achieving a record for the boat of 13kts (with a little help from the swell of course). Unfortunately the weather deteriorated again and a number of cumulonimbus started to tower around us, the winds became highly variable in both speed and direction and the sense of trepidation that had only just left us began to befoul the crew once more. The decision was made to proceed under power. We dropped the motor, turned the key, it cranked for a second and then nothing. Uh oh. There was thunder, rain, we were making almost no head way and now the engine wouldn’t start. Paranoia set in and the hairs on my neck started to stand up. Darcy went below into the galley and wrapped himself in alfoil. A faraday cage should help he murmured (Just kidding). After an hour or so of following the Trouble Shooting guide in the Yamaha manual Ryan and Darcy identified a blown starting fuse, they replaced it and it blew again. Fortunately the previous owner was meticulous in his carriage and storage of spare parts (thank you Adam). We quickly located an emergency rope, wrapped it around the flywheel and fired up the engine. The rest of the trip into Burnett Heads was largely uneventful. When we arrived we were put in contact with a local marine mechanic known as Grumpy. He sent down his offsider to look at the boat and very quickly identified the problem as a faulty voltage regulator. In the space of less than an hour he had us back underway.
We spent a couple of days resupplying at the Burnett Heads Marina and waiting for the winds to turn in our favour. The hospitality of the locals at Burnett Heads was next to none. Ryan’s mum, Julie, and I set off to get groceries. No sooner had we walked up the pontoon next to the boat ramp were we greeted by friendly locals heading out for the day. They even offered us a lift to the IGA which was a short walk away. At the IGA we were happy to find that they offer a free shuttle service back to the marina. We loaded up on groceries and were unable to find a few things for the baby. So kind and generous were the folks at Burnett Heads that the courtesy bus driver took us to a small general store further away to check if they had what we were after. When they didn’t he offered to run into Bundaberg after he knocked off to get what we were after. It was the kind of mateship and generosity that really makes you proud to be Australian.
At this stage it was clear that if we were to see the reef we weren’t going to make it home by December 22 as we planned. Fortunately our housesitters were more than happy to stay on until Boxing Day and take care of the dogs so our holiday was quickly extended. Halfway to Lady Musgrave the winds shifted in favour of Lady Elliot Island. We were reluctant to stay overnight at Lady Elliot as we had heard that there was very limited real estate for anchoring but with a low swell and light winds we made the decision to divert. Approximately 10nm out the light house became visible. Ryan’s mum Julie screamed “land ahoy” just as a pod of dolphins came rocketing toward the boat. They hitched a ride on our bowaves and guided us toward the island. When we arrived at Lady Elliot we were contacted by the skipper of the research vessel Flying Fish who let us know he was leaving in an hour. Everything was falling into place, we had scored a secure mooring buoy on the best part of the island and the manager of the island was more than happy for us to come ashore to have our temperature taken so that we could explore the island and resort facilities. Despite preventing us from trolling, the effectiveness of the green zones was obvious. The flora and fauna was breathtaking with turtles, manta rays and dolphins all being spotted within 10 minutes of our arrival. As the tide went out on the reef large fins from fish could be seen breaking the surface everywhere and when walking on the island you had to watch your step to ensure you didn’t step on a Noddy Turn which were almost completely indifferent to our presence.
That evening we were rudely awoken to a large banging noise which turned out to be the mooring buoy knocking against the hull. This would have been an easy fix but as a consequence of our laziness the issue was compounded by the fact we had left the tender in the water and it too had swung under the bridge deck. After some mucking around securing the tender on the davits (not without chipping the transom with the outboard) we sought out the mooring buoy and got back to sleep. Another valuable lesson learned. The following day we visited Lady Elliot Lagoon and had two Giant Travelly come within arms reach while we were snorkelling. Around midday we dropped the mooring and set off for Lady Musgrave. Enroute we were once again accompanied by a pod of dolphins which this time put on an amazing show of aquaaerobatics. Again we were lucky enough to secure a mooring buoy in the lagoon at Lady Musgrave and for the next three days we fished, speared, snorkelled and explored the island. On the last afternoon we sat on the nets watching the sunset while eating Kokoda (Coconut Ceviche) from a parrot fish Ryan had speared. For dinner we grilled half a coral trout on the coals at the back of the boat. The other half was lost to three taxmen, otherwise known as white tip reef sharks. Earlier that day the taxmen had caused us to cease our spearing efforts for the day and as we motored our tender back to Stay Calm a large shadow was seen in the water, Ryan pulled on his mask and stuck his head over the side of the boat to take a look, almost falling overboard in the process, “tiger shark!.” While we were both in awe of this powerful apex predator that was as long as our tender, we were glad not to be in the water dragging bleeding fish on a float behind us at the time it showed up.
Afternoon drinks at Lady Elliot Island.
We departed Lady Musgrave for Burnett Heads with light winds over the starboard quarter. After two hours averaging 3kts Ryan emerged from the hull dragging a large bag with what looked like a giant parachute scrunched up inside it. Our sailing coach, Google, wasn’t available for training that day so we had to think for ourselves. We secured the tack to a carabiner near the anchor roller and hoisted the sock up on the spinnaker halyard. I pulled on the up haul of the spinnaker sock and watched as this beautiful giant purple sail filled before my eyes. I could feel the boat accelerate underneath me, it was awesome. Our setup was obviously less than ideal, the sail chafed on the bow rail and the sheet flexed the stanchions, after about five minutes we decided to drop the sail out of concern for the sail. Ryan went forward and took hold of the down haul as I released the sheet, he pulled with all his might but the sock wouldn’t budge. I thought to myself ‘this is going to be interesting’. Had Google been available that day he would have told us that the best course of action in the event of a jammed spinnaker sock is to shadow the sail with the mainsail, release the guy, drop the halyard and pull the sail into the cockpit by the sheet and the leech. Instead we did this backward, releasing the sheet and halyard and pulling the sail in by the luff onto the net. It took both Ryan and Darcy to pull the sail onto the net, at times they were lifted off their feet. When we finally got the sail down Ryan turned and said, “that was epic, just a few minor things to iron out and we will be gybing with this bad boy in no time”. I was less than impressed.