Solo sail starts with courage to leave harbor
I've been talking big lately about taking a solo sailing trip. But last week when I arrived in Australia's Mackay Marina, and it came time to actually do it, my bravery jumped ship. Going out alone was so scary I decided not to do it.
But I couldn't let it go. My whole purpose for the trip was to test the boat's systems. Honu has had her engine rebuilt and major components of her charging system repaired. Before I can sail the Great Barrier Reef with friends this summer, I have to make sure the boat works.
So I bought some groceries, stowed my gear and forced myself to start the motor. Oh, it was hard to cast off those mooring lines. With dry mouth, shaking hands and pounding heart, I threw the ropes to the pier, backed out of the slip and drove out of the marina.
My exhilaration over this successful launch lasted only until I left the protection of the breakwater. The wind was blowing 25 knots, and the water there, being only 35-feet deep, made steep, angry waves that caused the boat to pitch wildly.
Water crashed onto the deck and into the main cabin through an unlatched hatch. The temperature gauge on the new engine didn't work, and the engine leaked water. My newly rebuilt wind generator suddenly stopped working.
OK, so the boat needs more work. I turned the motor off and hoisted the sails. I was sailing alone!
My destination island, however, was about 20 miles upwind, and after two hours I was miserable: seasick, salt-sprayed and pounded half to death. I changed course for Brampton Island, also 20 miles away but a downwind trip.
The ride to Brampton was fine, but the anchorage there had a wraparound swell that rolled the boat hard from side to side. The spot I'd anchored in also had such strong current, it dislodged my anchor. Wearily I started the engine to try again.
And then, when I was sure the anchor was holding, I collapsed, exhausted, and fell asleep.
Apparently I died during that nap, because when I woke, I'd gone to heaven. The rolling had stopped and two dugongs swam nearby, so close I could hear them breathing. (Dugongs are the Pacific's version of manatees.)
I've had glimpses of dugongs before but nothing like this. The pair of adults swam shoulder to shoulder showing me their vacuum cleaner-type mouths, paddlelike front flippers and dolphin-shaped tails. I was so thrilled I wanted to jump in the water and plant kisses on those big goofy faces.
I inflated my dinghy and went ashore for a walk. And there, right at the beach, stood a family of kangaroos, so unafraid they let me take all the pictures I wanted before hopping off down the path.
A flock of about 25 sulfur-crested cockatoos shouted in their parrot fashion that this forest belonged to them. Shorebirds known as stone-curlews (also called thick-knees) owned the beach. I watched birds, insects, snakes and spiders, all native and all minding their own business in the protection of this fantastic national park.
The next morning, heaven became complete when a nice couple anchored next to me, and Steve, a marine electrician, fixed my temperature gauge and wind generator.
Sailing alone has had its ups and downs, but I'm drawing no conclusions yet. I still have to get back.