After the lead up to the launch, Deb & I were both very tired and rung out. Yes we were jubilant that we were finally on the water, but we also had to make the transition from boatbuilders to sailors. Selah was no longer static, she was now at the mercy of the elements.
In my mind, after launch, I had envisioned a quiet transition, puttering around the protected Rubicon estuary, testing out our systems, and working on unfinished jobs.
Alas, it was not to be.
We had arranged to hire a mooring at Squeaking Point, a mooring field around 2 kilometers from our launch site, at Port Sorell.
Having learnt to sail in Southern Tassy, with its negligible tidal flows, I was unprepared for the wind against tide conditions we encountered at Squeaking Point. In any winds above 10 knots, nasty standing waves set up by the 4-knot current, made access to the shore almost impossible. We, however, were experiencing 25 to 30 knot SW winds every day. Cats have a unique tendency to “sail around” in these conditions. This places a very high strain on the mooring gear. I found this quite unnerving, as all our cleats, fairleads and ropes were, as yet, untested.
So it seemed my choice of sanctuary was not as I had hoped.
In addition, I had also been nervously tracking an extreme front that was forecast for our region. The prediction was for wind speeds of more than 70 knots.
I was unsure of what to do.
Should we hang on, or try to find more protected surroundings?
I realised this was my first major decision, as a skipper. The safety of our new home was dependant on me making good decisions.
The clincher came when we were informed that had picked up the wrong mooring, which was only rated for a 25-foot craft.
I checked the detailed wind forecasts and saw we had a three-hour weather window the following morning before the big front moved in. I proposed to Deb that we leave Port Sorell and make a dash down the coast to the Tamar River early the next morning. The forecast was for 20 to 25knot SW at 8am, picking up to 30 knots around 11 am. By then, I had calculated, we should be at Low Head at the mouth of the Tamar River, with a protected river passage up to Launceston, where we could take a marina birth.
Two things made it possible. Firstly, we would be running downwind, so we would not be fighting the winds. Secondly, low tide at was at 11 am, and coincided perfectly with our plan. We could then catch the flooding tide all the way upstream to Launceston.
Our friend, John, graciously canceled appointments and offered to accompany us on this, our first passage. He is very experienced in the region, having lived on the coast all his life.
Our choice of the Tamar river was for two reasons. Firstly it offered excellent protection from the coming storm, also we needed to go to Launceston to have the mast raised in any case.
I did not feel prepared to head to sea. We were embarking out into Bass Strait with a massive storm on our tail. Our engines (the only means of propulsion) and steering systems were untested. I had not had a chance to build the emergency tiller. I had scarcely had a chance to turn on the navigation system. I talked it through with John. He had an old genoa (fore-sail). We figured, in the unlikely event we lost both engines, we could set up a jury rig, and with the forecast wind on our port quarter, maintain steerageway to Low Head, and arrange for a tow into the river. I had some clamps and other bits and pieces I thought I could use to make an emergency tiller, should the steering fail. I spent the evening setting up the B&G Chartplotter as well as plotting a course to Launceston on the Navionics App on my phone. (I was surprised to learn that it was around 50 nautical miles – 93 kilometers). John had paper charts of the river and entrance. This gave us three stand-alone navigation references.
This may all seem overly dramatic, but after 20 years driving throughout the remote outback of Central Australia, I have learnt to always have a plan B.
John arrived at 7 am the next morning and we prepared Selah for her first voyage. We lifted the dingy and tied it to the turret roof. I lashed the mast securely in place, and Deb busied herself below making sure anything that could move was stored away.
At 8.15 am, Monday 2nd December, we headed out through the Port Sorell heads and into Bass Strait.
We were met by a confused, 1.5 metre swell at the entrance. For the first mile or so we pushed out in the Bass Strait, into the waves. I wanted plenty of sea room, before swinging to the east and following seas. We we being thrown around, and took a few waves over the bows. Selah tasted salt water for the first time on her decks and windows. After we swung east, the motion became less violent, and we settled down for the passage to Low Head, at the entrance to the Tamar River.
Once in the river, I allowed myself to relax. The navigation was pretty straight forward, as I had plotted the route all the way to Launceston. All we had to do was keep a look-out and follow the blue line on my phone! As we passed Beauty Point, I went below for a hot shower.
We enjoyed the four hour river trip to Launceston. Along the way, Deb made contact with Seaport Marina and booked a pen. We arrived at 4 pm, and after a little drama getting in, due to my inexperience managing a big cat in close confines, we tied up. John’s lift was waiting for him, so we quickly offered our gratitude for his guidance and support, and he left for home. We were alone again, and very relieved to be safely tied up. Already the wind was whistling through masts and dark clouds rolled overhead, announcing the arrival of the westerly front. The following day, Devonport Airport recorded 120-kilometer winds.
We had four days before the mast was to be raised. We did some catch-up jobs in preparation. I had to drill and tap the mast to fit the halyard winch, plus install the electrical conduit exit from the mast. Seaport is an excellent little marina, and quite inexpensive. Our cost was $28 per day for a one-week booking. It’s within easy walking distance of the CBD, and plenty of coffee shops. Also, it was close to the riggers so we were able to co-ordinate with Mitch, our rigger.
There is a 3-meter tide at Launceston, so it took two visits to get the mast raised. Finally, on Sunday 8th December, all was done, just in time to hitch a ride with the falling tide down the river, to Dark Hollow, a favorite anchoring spot for local boaties. We were thrilled that Russell and his daughter Becky were able to make the trip downstream with us and stay the night. Our first overnight guests!
Dark Hollow is close to the mouth of the river. I had been closely watching the weather, and Monday 9th was perfect for the return trip, with light NE winds. Unfortunately, Russell had to be back at work, so arrangements were made for Jody to meet us at the Clarence Point pontoon at 8 am, where they did a swap. Jody joined us for the return leg back up the coast. A local girl, she enjoyed looking at all the landmarks she knew well, from a different angle.
This time, however, we had further to go, as we had arranged to hire a mooring in the Mersey River at Devonport, two hours further on past Port Sorell..
We have joined the Mersey Yacht Club which gives us access to the pontoon where we can tie the dingy when going ashore. Also, it is more protected than Squeaking Point, and we have been very comfortable here. We have been warmly welcomed into the local boating community. New builds are rare here, and our arrival has created quite a bit of interest. Our first job upon arrival was measuring up for our sails. It turned out to be a big job, made harder by the constant winds. Our sails are now ordered and should be ready by mid-January.
Before we knew it, Christmas was upon us. Deb decorated the boat, and we enjoyed our first Christmas aboard, in between family celebrations in Port Sorell and Hobart.