What doesn't break us makes us strong!
It was 5am and the sun was just beginning to poke its head up over the horizon as we sat down to eat breakfast and enjoy a hot cup of tea on deck. It looked as if it was going to be a lovely sunny day and we chatted about how we would fill it in this new location. Strangely none of us felt very tired, and yet we had all had so little sleep. We were, to say the least, exhilarated. We had battled and struggled, tried one idea and then another until finally we had done it: we had tied up safely at San Remo on Westernport bay.
Turn back the clock 36 hours:
We left Port Fairy on Boxing Day amidst a hail of cheerios, horn blowing and people we had met during our stay calling out goodbye to us. It was sad to say goodbye to this pretty town and we called back that we would return one day, but how lovely to have made friends there and to have come to feel so at home in such a short time.
We sailed out into Port Fairy Bay and promptly the engine stopped. As Peter shot below to check what was happening this time, we sat on deck discussing how at least now, if there was another issue, we were so close to port and that we could, and would return if something was amiss. It turned out to be a simple gauge error, telling us we had more fuel in an ancillary tank than was actually there, and easily corrected when we switched tanks. And so we began.
This journey was to take us to Westerport Bay, to tie up at San Remo near Philip Island. At this point the children were to be met by their father, on route to Melbourne, where they would then visit their grandparents, and we were to spend some time with several old friends from the years I spent living in Melbourne. It would be the start of the part of the journey that was more familiar to one of us. I had spent many years visiting Philip Island during my years living in Melbourne, this would be the first time I had returned in around twenty years. Getting to familiar terrirory was quite an exciting thought, plus the fact that it was taking us closer to where we could see our other children.
The South Westerly wind we were promised showed up and we delightedly sailed along, making some good progress. But for this journey I was struck with terrible sea-sickness. It was by far the worst I have known and at first I was at a loss to understand why. As I lay on my bed, unable to lift my head without feeling wave after wave of dizziness I thought back to the ear-ache that had irritated me during our stay at Port Fairy. Any of you who knows me well will likely remember the ear issues I have struggled my whole life with – the hearing loss following a ruptured ear drum thirty odd years ago and the failed repair operation. I thought little of the pain I knew, it was so constant, but it occurred to me as I was trying to figure out why I felt so terrible, that if I had a middle ear infection my balance would be out and that would likely contribute to the motion sickness scenario. Thankful for the antibiotics we carried in anticipation of illness at sea, I hoped my guess was right! We still had another twenty or so hours at sea, but I looked forward to some slight improvement now and the hope of being more well before we left San Remo for the Prom.
Of course the most significant consequence of my sickness was the effect on poor old Peter, who had to just get on with it. I was able to get up every few hours albeit briefly, and rustle up something he and the children could eat before collapsing back onto my bed. He managed ok, snatching moments of sleep as he could, getting a taste of life as a solo sailor.
‘It’s just very lonely,’ he told me, when I said how sorry I was to not be there to relieve him. But he managed, and although it was possibly one of the least pleasant parts of our journey so far, we all did ok.
By midnight on the 27th we were following the lead lights into the channel of San Remo. I was feeling better than I had all the way, and we were several hours earlier than expected and we were all feeling enormously relieved to be there. The only draw-back in having had a quicker trip was that this put us arriving in the dark, which we definitely prefer not to do, but with me so sick, Peter had decided to not slow us down to enter in daylight, preferring to navigate in the dark than prolong the journey.
That’s when the fun really began. And, when I say fun, I think you will know that I mean difficulties, trials, dramas, stresses.
San Remo, you see, is a pretty boat-harbour town, with good facilities and easy access to shops, parks, beaches which sits, as we soon discovered in an area which has a massive tide race. We estimated, as we came into the jetty area that the tide was running at around 9 knot. A hardy, powerful motor-boat would have no difficulty dealing with this strong current, but Argos? No, for us this was a serious challenge.
As we rounded the turn into the wharf area, to slow us down some, Peter put the engine into reverse. We still travelled forwards at over 5 knot – it made no difference to us at all! With the jetty coming close way too quickly and the bridge to Philip Island approaching Peter had to do some amazing steering to keep us on track. We rounded the corner into the first wharf and Erina and I set to throwing a rope over one of the posts, we thought we had achieved some success, only to find that our yard arm was caught around an attractive but impractical lamp-post! We hastily backed away, (well done Peter) but then the tidal current prevented us from continuing along this part of the wharf and took us to the far side. We didn’t mind that so much but as Erina and I tried to hook a rope over the post there the current pulled us further and further off.
Peter I must say, despite his tiredness did an amazing job managing Argos in these conditions. It never ceases to amaze me how capable he is. Mind you, Erina impresses me in these tie-up situations too – she is always ready, always capable with the ropes, and can leap off when we are close enough and tie us off with an ease I could not have imagined her having when we set off from Canberra last June!
Over the next ten minutes, which seemed more like ten hours, we negotiated the current, the wharf and a sand bank and eventually tied up perpendicular to the wharf at the end of it – not exactly where we wanted to be, but secure and safe for the moment. Just as we got everything sorted, Liam came up on deck to help! You’ve got to love that!
We checked the tide information on the internet and decided to set an alarm for 4.30 am (it was 1.30 am by now) when the tide set to turn. We figured this would give us a window where the current had ebbed and we would be able to leave one line attached and ‘walk’ the boat around the corner of the wharf and re-tie her properly to the side. With great relief, after Peter checked the lines once more, we all headed off to get some sleep.
Thankfully, I had slept on and off during the trip and was not so sleepy. I did sleep a little, but at regular intervals I checked the ropes, the position of the boat and the height of the tide. At 3.30am the tide had risen sharply (I mean at least 1 meter!) and we were now sitting almost at the top of the wharf where before we were alongside the pylons! But we were still safe so I went back to bed. At 4am I was up again, but we had risen ever higher up and the tide seemed to be ebbing and I decided that the predicted tide change was already upon us, so I woke Peter. Together we untied the stern and bow lines and tried unsuccessfully to walk her around the corner of the wharf – with the engine on we succeeded. We were feeling so pleased with ourselves, so happy that I had awoken at just the right time, and were so close to getting everything perfect when the cables that hold the bow-sprit caught on a ladder-rail alongside the wharf. I tried to pull them free, catching a finger in the process, and just got it out in time to not lose it, but the brief period of tide change ended so quickly and the tide had turned, pushing Argos with such might that we couldn’t free her from the ladder rail no matter what we tried to do. We spent an hour. Erina woke and raced out to see what she could do to help – how I appreciate her attitude and availability. It was such an intensely stressed scenario. We tried winching Argos backwards. We tried motoring her backwards. We had tried pulling her but that was never going to work. The problem was we couldn’t untie her fully to release the cable lest she got caught in the tide and we lost all the ground we had made. So we tried everything all over again. Winching, motoring, both at once. But all to no avail. The cable was firmly hooked around the ladder and with the tide changing rapidly, all we could see was the bow-sprit tearing off completely, doing untold damage.
Walking back and forth along the wharf thinking, Peter decided to do the only left to us – he decided to untie the stern line, leaving only the bow line in place and let the tide swing us around. This, he hoped, would free the cable. With the tide running at around 9 knot his fear was that to release the stern line would possibly result in the boat swinging around with such force that she would smash into the wharf. But there was nothing else left. To do nothing would cost us the bow sprit – to do this might cause other damage but might not. It simply had to be tried. The stern line was so tight it couldn’t be untied and had to be cut through – yay for Liam’s Bear Grylls knife!
I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be sitting eating breakfast together just a little while later. How good that tea and toast was! The boat had swung around beautifully. Peter managed her speed with a finesse you would have to see to believe. I was on the wharf to release the cable, which came away with just a nudge, and then fend off the bow as she swung around, and then we hastily got all the ropes retied in an incredibly short time. There was No damage done! Can you believe it! Just as we were tying off the ropes a sleepy Liam came up. Incredibly he had slept through everything! But as he came up we needed a shackle and Peter called to him to get one. It was the funniest thing to see him reaching into the storage box trying to fish one out with his arm still trying to get to the end of his sleeve! He was up and straight away trying to help! He did find the needed shackle and then got his sleeve on properly, but the image of him trying so hard and reaching for it with his sleeve all floppy stayed with me for quite some time.
I love how, in the midst of so much stress everyone tries their hardest to pitch in and help. It’s not always easy, and yes, sometimes there is tension and pressure, but we do work as a team and eventually, amidst the difficulty, get the job done.
We couldn’t sleep after all that and so we were up for the day. We were good little hobbits though and had both second breakfast and second morning tea! We enjoyed a lovely time catching up with old friends of mine in the afternoon before having the most wonderful hours of unbroken sleep last night. The children have gone off to Melbourne with their dad for a little Christmas visit to Grandma’s and already Peter has fixed the damage to the bow-sprit cable. We have the day ahead of us today to explore San Remo, rest some more and recover from the trip!
The one thing that sticks with me about our arrival is that though we were unprepared for the tide race, and though so much went wrong, we did cope. I feel like no matter how hard things get, when we face the challenge and find a way through it, it strengthens us. It would be nice if nothing went wrong. If we had ‘smooth sailing’ (excuse the pun!), but then if we had it easy all the time our idea of what sailing was like would be so wrong. And anyway, life is simply not like that. I’m glad that things go wrong. I mean that. When it doesn’t work out we figure it out. We struggle but we succeed.
I know that next time we feel really overwhelmed we can say, ‘Yes, we felt like that at San Remo, but come on, we did it – we can face this too’.
The only thing that could have made this episode easier for us would be to have known in advance that the tidal current existed – but nothing in the navigational info we had told us of it.
Quick thinking and stubborn-ness won through though in the end and now we are back to the fun bits!
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