Sailors take a ‘beating’ but survive
NEAR BRISBANE, Australia » I'm sure readers of this column are tired of hearing about my Australia sailing adventures, because I'm tired of having them.
The boat is near Brisbane now, having recently arrived from the north end of the Great Barrier Reef to the south end, where I started more than a year ago. During my year of going north, I often thought I was covering that 1,000-some mile stretch of marine paradise pretty fast.
But that was before my crackerjack crew of one, Craig, joined me on a mission: get the boat from Lizard Island to Brisbane in a month. We made it in two weeks.
Traveling 1,000 miles in two weeks might not seem like much of an achievement, but the boat goes 8 miles an hour, tops, and the prevailing wind and waves were against us.
"We'll never make it," I moaned, salty, wet and seasick two days after we started out. We'd sailed since first light that day, zigzagging upwind, with the boat heeling (leaning over) and waves breaking into the cockpit. Our destination for the day was 20 miles away, but we had to sail 40 miles to get there, and arrived at dusk exhausted and discouraged.
Well, one of us was exhausted and discouraged. "We're doing great," Craig told me. "The boat is working hard but that's OK. This is beating."
Beating, meaning sailing against the wind, is a good name for it. After another pounding day, the southeast trades grew stronger and soon became an invisible wall to forward progress, even to Craig. We holed up in Cairns during those high-wind warnings, but the break was brief. When the wind dropped a notch, we poked Honu's nose back into the weather and forged on.
Then, two days later, a miracle occurred: The wind stopped and the forecast promised northerly winds.
There could be no better news to this sailor, whose stomach far prefers going downwind to beating. Still, we had 660 miles to go and no idea how long the favorable wind would last. We decided to sail 24-hour days.
Getting up and down all night for watches isn't much fun, but getting somewhere fast is. One morning I woke up and didn't recognize where we were, and I'd only been sleeping a few hours. Craig was at the wheel grinning. "We've got current," he said, pointing to the GPS. Honu was racing along at a steady 10 mph, a record for the boat.
After sailing day and night for four days, our reward for the push south came in splashes, leaps and air shows. By moving away from the outer reefs into cool-water estuaries, we'd sailed into a different marine ecosystem.
Humpback whales breached near us, dolphins rode our bow waves, a loggerhead turtle visited the boat and seabirds fished by the thousands. It was time to slow down, and we did, filling the rest of the journey south with fabulous wildlife.
I'll be flying home this weekend, leaving the boat in Brisbane. I'm thrilled to get back to Oahu, still my favorite island in the world, and I can almost taste the luxuries of life on dry land. But after wasting water in the shower, driving my car at the breakneck speed of 35 mph and eating a few good cheeseburgers, I'll forget the pain of this trip and remember only the animals and the fun Craig and I had racing for Brisbane. Then I'll start planning my next voyage.