Sailing The World's Oceans

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A contemporary note: Tuesday July 16th, 2013.

The following log entry has been written over the last several weeks while traveling north.  It’s been hard sailing up the east coast of Australia and trying to write at the same time has been difficult to impossible at times.  So I apologize for the long delay in my log entries.  I intend to break up my trek from Sydney to Darwin in two groups. First Sydney to the Whitsundays followed by another entry from the Whitsundays to Darwin, which is where Solstice and I are now.  But I wanted to address something of much more importance that has happened recently before going onto the latest log entry.

For those of you who have followed my log you’ll recall that I wrote last year about my struggles with coming to grips with single-handing.  It was in Fiji last year where I found solace, understanding and inspiration from an incredible group of single-handers that all coincidentally were in Savusavu, Fiji at the same time.  I drew an incredible amount of inspiration from all of them and especially from an amazing 72-year-old single handing woman I met named Evi Nemeth.  Evi has an amazing outlook on life and is a great believer that life is not for sitting back to watch as a spectator but that it is to be joined in and lived, and lived to its fullest.  Just existing isn’t living.  Experience, adventure and putting yourself out on the cusp of where things make you feel alive are her notion of life.  Her eyes burned with the fire of life and she knows the essence of what it means to not just be alive but to live.

Evi sailed her boat Wonderland from Fiji to New Zealand last year. Yes, at 72 single-handed.  In the past she had found parts of the world that she wanted to go see but didn’t necessarily wish to take Wonderland.  So she’d hop aboard a boat that was headed in that direction, help crew and would later fly back to Wonderland and continue her journey.  I can only speculate that that is how she ended up aboard the vessel Nina sailing to Australia.

Nina, has been in the news recently as she is missing at sea.  She sailed from Opua, New Zealand enroute to Newcastle, Australia.  My friend Evi was aboard along with 5 other Americans and a young man from England.  The boat was last heard from on June 4th when it was reportedly in 50-60 knot winds and 26-foot seas.  A massive search was done but no trace of Nina has been found.  The boat has simply vanished.  They are now well over a month overdue from when they should have arrived in Australia. A trip for that vessel should’ve taken them about 10-12 days.

The news of Nina’s disappearance amongst the fleet here has been received with heavy hearts under a dark cloak.  Not just for those of us who had friends aboard but for all of us.  It has shaken the confidence of friends that were close to Evi knowing her capabilities as a sailor as well as the experience of the Nina’s skipper.  It’s a sobering reminder to all of us too of the seriousness of ocean crossings and how Mother Ocean is ultimately always in charge. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most experienced sailor in the world or are just learning, nothing rules over the sea and as soon as you think you’re in control, you’ll be quickly reminded that you’re not.  What ever has happened to Nina could happen to any of us at anytime.  I don’t say that lightly and it’s not just out here on the big blue but to all of us everywhere whether out here or driving on the freeway back home in L.A.  The reality of getting hit by a truck is every bit as real as the wrath of the sea.  Life is fleeting and fragile but it is also precious.  And the aim of it is to live it to it’s fullest.  To breathe in the beauty that surrounds us all and to be alive with the richness of this world in the time we have and to share it with those we love.

For me personally, I’m very sad about the fate of what has happened to Evi and Nina and her crew.  It breaks my heart and I can’t imagine the anguish, stress and fear that surrounded the boat and her crew.  But I have to raise a glass to Evi and thank her from the bottom of my soul for the love of life that she shared with me and for her wisdom in what it means to not just be alive but to live.  She would be the first one to say to all of us out here who have been shaken by what has happened to “Sail on”.  Sail on and continue to soak in the beauty of life and living until whenever your last day on this planet may be.  Her friendship and wisdom I will be forever thankful for.

I will end this note with one of my very favorite quotes:

“I would rather be ashes than dust!  I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.  I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.  I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.  I shall use my time.” Jack London

Here is my latest log entry:

Wednesday May 22nd, 2013 - 20:25 Island Creek Head, Queensland, Australia local time

Before I left the calmness of Bundaberg Harbour I listened to the voice of experience that I’d gained from listening to the weather gurus here in Oz.  They called for 10-15 knots out of the SW.  I put a single reef in the main and was ready to act quickly to put in a second if needed.  The weather gurus were wrong again.  So was I.  This time I didn’t get 25-30 knots but instead zero.  Not a stitch of wind ruffled the surface of the sea.  Only 1 to 2 foot swells brought any motion to the ocean.  The swells moved through and lifted the sea up and down gently.  It gave the impression that the ocean was slowly breathing in and out as she rested in a deep slumber.  It was beautiful to look at.  It sucked for sailing.

I ran the engine for the first 3 hours to charge the batteries.  There was a little wind in the beginning and it looked as if it promised to hold.  When it came time to shut the engine off the wind decided to shut off at the same time.  In my 26-hour trip to Great Keppel I motored almost 20 hours.  I burned up a lot more fuel than I had hoped.  I felt that perhaps it was good for the engine to help insure that all the water would work itself out of the oil.  At least that’s what I told myself.

The highlight of the journey to Great Keppel was a pod of a dozen or more big grey bottlenose dolphins that traveled on Solstice’s bow wake for a good 40 minutes.  The conditions were great and I could easily stand with them on the bow.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have dolphins on the bow many times and every time it is still excites me.  I’m like a little kid taking in the joy and beauty of them.  One particular dolphin swam upsidedown right at the front of the boat.  It was strange and funny at the same time.   At one point she slapped her tail repeatedly on the surface as if she was clapping.  She was having a ball, so was I.

Great Keppel Island is a long beautiful island that features two long sandy beaches on the north side that provide good shelter from the southeast trades.  Today, however, no shelter was necessary.

I had talked to Hokule’a on the radio who was a couple of days sailing time ahead of me.  They were moving quite quick with little time for each stop.  Catching them would require a breakneck speed on my part.  I decided to not try and catch them and instead to spend a day and a half here.  I needed some time on the hook, time at a beautiful island and time to walk on a beach.  And time to swim in the sea…. well maybe.

As you head up north along the Queensland coast there are many warnings about things in the sea that can kill you.  I’ve found these warnings more here than any other place I’ve ever been.  Most notably are the saltwater crocodiles and bull sharks that inhabit the coastline and estuaries where the many rivers meet the sea along the shoreline.  But more notorious than them are the jellyfish that can kill you.  One is the Box Jellyfish with tentacles up to 2 meters.  When they wrap around you they can cause a sting that will bring on cardiac arrest.  So common are jellies here that most beaches in this part of Australia have a stand with a bottle of vinegar.  Vinegar should be poured onto the stung area immediately.  It neutralizes the stingers of the jellyfish.  More notorious than the Box Jelly is the jelly that Alan Lucas describes in his coastal cruising guide as the “most sinister of the coral coasts killers is the tiny jellyfish known as the Irukandji.”  Your guess as to the correct pronunciation of that is as good as mine.  Lucas continues, “It’s greatest danger lies in the fact that it is too small to see or recognize by the average person, local or otherwise.”  Like the Box Jellyfish its sting can be lethal.”

There are few things I love more than having Solstice in clear warm waters where I can dive and swim from right off the boat.  I love it.  Great Keppel (in the same guide book) says it has good swimming and the water is definitely inviting.  I stood on deck and looked at all the boats in the anchorage.  I found it odd that nobody was in the water.  It was so beautiful.  The jellyfish problem is during the summer from Dec. to the end of May.  May was about over.

Surely these things must be gone by now, I thought to myself.

I put on my bathing suit and stood on the bow.  It had been so long since I’ve been able to just jump into a clean sea from Solstice.  I wanted and needed to do that.  So I made a judgment call.  Just a quick jump in and get out.  I held my breath and dove into the crystal clear water.  I wasn’t in long and I’m happy to report I didn’t get stung by an invisible jellyfish and die.  But the waters here make you think twice before taking a long swim like in Fiji.

I would have loved to stay in Great Keppel a week.  The anchorage was great, the beach was wonderful and the days were sun drenched with a deep blue sky.  But my engine and steering issues had put me behind in getting up the coast.  My dear friend John was due to fly into Hamilton Island on the 27th and I still had 200 miles to go to get there.  In that time I’d have to call into a port too to get fuel and provision.

I had read about a magical place and heard from other cruisers as well that Island Head Creek was a must stop.  After a wonderful 36 hours I left Great Keppel at 0500 and pulled the anchor in darkness.  An hour later I sailed along as the sun rose up over the horizon of the Coral Sea.

There was enough wind to sail but it was directly on the stern of the boat.  I tried a bunch of different sail plans and none worked well.  Ideally I should’ve flown the spinnaker, but Solstice’s spinnaker was buried deep in the bowels of the anchor locker.  I’ve also grown reluctant to fly it while single-handing.  Solstice’s spinnaker can’t be flown in much more than 15 knots of wind.  It’s rare too when it blows less than that, especially in the trades which I was now entering.  Perhaps that day will come when I won’t think twice about flying it, today was not one of those days.  Instead I tacked in and out off the coastline making my way north the best I could.

Island Head Creek was 65 miles away and offers it’s own challenges of big tidal changes along with sandbars that make it easy to run aground while entering the “Creek”.   Their definition of a creek here is not the same as the one I grew up with in Virginia.  You can’t sail in any creeks I know of in Northern Virginia.  But I knew one thing; I needed to make it there before dark.

About half way there, I grew frustrated in my lack of being able to sail course.  Something I’ve been trying to work on is with my attitude towards sailing.  Sailing should be to enjoy the sail aspect and not over worry about course.  Most of the time I concentrate too much on course and not sailing.  Especially when I’m trying to make a port of call by a specific time and can’t.  In those situations my happy attitude wanes.  Which is what I need to work on.

I started to think about blowing off Island Head Creek and instead head straight to Mackay, which was another 120 miles up the coast.  If I did that, I could be there by the next afternoon.  Jake and Jackie were in the marina there and I needed to stop there anyway to get fuel and provision.  The other dynamic that had presented itself was the approaching change in weather.  The southerly breeze I had was going to turn northerly in two days time.  I couldn’t afford to get stuck somewhere for too long and still expect to get to Hamilton in time to meet John.

Cell phone reception had been little to non-existent as I moved up the coast.  During a particular area I got a connection and gave Jake and Jackie a call to see where they were.  I told Jake of my new idea of heading straight to Mackay. 

“Dude, you should really stop, at Island Head Creek.  You’ve spent the last two weeks working on the boat constantly.  You need to do that for yourself,” Jake encouraged me during our brief phone call.

I stared at the coastline for a long while as I approached the moment of where I’d have to either turn in or keep going.  My original plan was to sail to Island Head Creek for a day or two, then to Middle Percy Island for a short stop before making the jump to Mackay.  I was trying to avoid any overnighters.

As the entrance neared to Island Head Creek something seemed to tug at me from the mouth of where that river met the sea. 

It’s right there, Bill, the little voice inside my head said.

You’ll probably never sail by this place ever again.  Stop.  Blow off Middle Percy and spend 3 days here while you wait for the northerly winds to change.  Why hurry to Mackay and spend that time stuck in a marina?  Spend it stuck here.

It was that last thought that spoke the loudest.  Spend it stuck here.  I turned in.

I had great entrance waypoints for the creek that my friends Jack and Zdenka on Kite (another one of my favorite boat names) had given me.  Over the last couple of years I’ve spent many times bringing the boat into anchorages and ports where the channels are narrow and shallow.  Currents along with shifting bottom depths force you to focus and pay extreme attention.  Over the past couple of years since I left California, I’ve grown to trust my instincts but I’ve never been at ease while traversing these unpredictable areas.  There is always a tenseness and focus that sets in during the approach and entry.  All fatigue dissipates as you hone all your energy into the task at hand.  My hands grip the helm a little tighter and I can feel the tightness in my jaw increase during my approach.  I long for the day when I become the confident mariner, who is able to be calm while entering, like Captain Ron.  I throttled back to a comfortable 4.5 to 5 knot speed.  I followed my waypoints diligently and stayed focused to stick to the cross track between points as I cautiously weaved Solstice in and around the sandbars.  I slowly worked my way upriver.  A group of boats were anchored near the mouth of the river, which on all my charts did not show up as a good/safe place to anchor.  I past them by and continued to where I had read was the best place to anchor.  Surprisingly another group of small boats were anchored in a tributary that from what I could tell showed little depth as the tide changed.  I took the advice of one of the guidebooks I had and anchored in the middle of the river where nobody else was.  I got there about an hour before sunset.  The promise of a peaceful night of sleep in a flat anchorage brought a sense of ease to my soul.  As soon as Solstice was secure on the hook, I relaxed.  I looked around and then really saw the complete beauty of where I was.  I knew in that moment the choice to stop, was a great one.  That night I slept wrapped in the peace and tranquility that a beautiful flat anchorage brings. 

I awoke the next morning about 45 minutes before sunrise feeling refreshed and happy.  I made coffee and went and sat up on the bow and watched the sunrise. It was magical and peaceful.  The air was completely still and quiet.  The silence was deafening and was only interrupted by the distance splash or a birds call.  I had not been in such a quiet place in a very long time.  When you are somewhere so quiet its power is amazing.  Nature wraps all around you and her expanse stretches across the oceans to the skies above and beyond.  I could feel the enormity of it all and just how small and insignificant I am.  It was the same feeling I get in the middle of the ocean.  But this was different, I wasn’t on a lifting, heaving sea, I was some place completely calm, sitting on the life raft mounted on deck in front of the mast, sipping a hot cup of coffee, wrapped in the warmth of it all.  Island Head Creek was magic.

In the distance I could hear the chug of a small boat break the silence.  The sound seemed to carry for 10 minutes before I saw the tiny trawler round a corner from upriver.  It was the only man made noise.  The boat had a small cabin and an open aft deck that was decorated with crab traps and fishing gear.  Gear that was old and well used.  Everything was neatly arranged and hung orderly.  She was a tiny vessel that was built to fish.  The man behind the helm in the cabin was equally as old and well worn as his vessel.  But he carried the same stocky strong look as his boat.  The boat chugged right up by Solstice and the man behind the helm was sipping his own coffee as he motored past.  He gave a big wave as he passed by as if he was acknowledging me for paying homage to the beauty of the dawn.  In that moment, a quiet kinship seemed to pass between us as he motored by.  There was a mutual understanding in the importance of taking the time to appreciate the beauty of early morning and the beauty in being alive.

This is why I’m out here, I thought.

I watched the trawler head out to sea.  As he moved further away the chugging of his engine was swallowed up once again by the silence of Island Head Creek and I was again wrapped in the peace of it all.  I wanted to get the dinghy in the water.  I wanted to go around the bend upriver where he had just come from to see what was there.  I wanted to explore.

I had heard that crocs would start appearing as I moved up the coast but I was still in an area where there were few.  After chatting on the radio with friends who had been here before I decided, it should be a non-issue and I made my days plan.  I’d go for an extended dinghy excursion.  After a breakfast of scrambled eggs with sautéed garlic, onions and tomatoes topped with sliced avocado and a buttered English muffin and more coffee, I got the dinghy in the water.

I spent the next 4 hours cruising around the different fingers and estuaries trying to see as much of Island Head Creek as I could.  The water was flat, perfect for dinghy exploration.  I was amazed that nobody was here.  This huge incredibly beautiful area was still untouched by civilization except for the occasional boaters and fisherman that come in.  There were many fingers and branches where smaller estuaries flowed into the wider “creek” and mangrove trees lined much of the shore.   There is something magical about where saltwater and freshwater mix.  Mangrove forests are an incredible ecosystem all their own.  The amount of life they support is truly remarkable.  I wouldn’t be surprised that if one person dedicated themselves to the study of the mangroves and where great amounts of freshwater and saltwater churn and mix that hidden somewhere in that amazing ecosystem they’d find the building blocks of this incredible planet we live on.  There are so many unseen treasures to be discovered.  I’d soon learn of one of the great delicacies that the mangroves harbor.

Island Head Creek is a large river that is navigable for miles.  It also has great areas that dry out completely.  Wildlife is abundant.  My spirit was lifted to where it needed to be by being there and exploring.  There is something that I can’t put my finger on about being in the middle of some place so remote.  The middle of nowhere is somewhere very special.  I am grounded and connected to the earth and all her beauty.  I am humbled by how small I am and I am in awe of how perfectly balanced the universe is from the ebb and flow of the tide pools, to the swaying mangroves in the breeze along the shore to the expanse of stars rotating above at night.  I feel a part of it all and although I feel small insignificant I also feel significant in some way.  Simply, I feel at home aboard this beautiful planet.

With all the surrounding beauty still one thing always stands out above it all each place I travel.  And that is the people I meet along this journey.  It has been the best thing about this adventure and it was the best thing about Island Head Creek.

I was nearing the end of my dinghy tour taking in the last shoreline moving slowly when a couple in another dinghy approached. 

“Good, day” the thin older gentleman with thick coke colored glasses said in his Ozzie accent.  One thing I’ve learned foreigners say “Aussie”, locals say “Ozzie”.

I introduced myself.

Paul and Lynn were from Brisbane.  He had been coming to Island Head Creek for years. He spoke of it as if it were the love of his life.  His eyes sparked with the fire of life as he pointed out a few of his favorite places.  Lynn sat next to him, quiet and smiled without parting her lips.  She understood what he felt.  Island Head Creek is a special place.  I felt stupid thinking that I’d only be here for a couple of days.

“Are you single handing?” Paul asked.

“I am.”

Paul nodded as if he had something to share.

“A few of us are going to gather on the beach later for sundowners if you’d like to join us,” he said.

“I’d like that,” I replied.

I have found that when I have been alone where I don’t know anybody and I’m not running in a familiar circle something happens and I end up meeting people that I wouldn’t normally meet.  I don’t know how or why but it happens.  Perhaps I change my energy flow and that opens myself up to people approaching me.  I’m not sure what it is but it happens all the time.  The remarkable thing about it is the quality of the people I meet.  They are kind, loving and caring and seem to have some truth or beauty to share with me.  It’s wonderful.

I’ve been to many yachtie beach gatherings and still I’m never quite sure what or what not to bring.  Of course something to drink but some food to share too is the question.  You never know, sometimes people bring a whole feast and sometimes nothing.  The safest thing was to bring something small and only pull it out if appropriate.  I always have a few things on the boat but my stores were running low as I’ve been waiting to get to Mackay (pronounced Muh-Kai) to provision for when John arrived.  I searched and found an unopened jar of kalamata olives.  YAHOO!  I took out a couple of dozen, popped them in a Tupperware container, grabbed one of the few bottles of red I had left and headed to the beach.

The beach was on the northern shoreline and stretched from a rocky outcrop to the mouth of where the river meets the sea.  The sand was fine, white and felt warm under my feet.  Paul and Lynn had their boat Sasha anchored within a stone’s throw of the beach.  A place only a local would know would make for a fine anchorage. 

As I approached several tenders were lined along the beach.  One thing struck me right away.  They were all “Tinnies” as the Ozzies call them.  A Tinny is a dinghy made of aluminum.  Mine was the only inflatable. 

“See ya, brought your Croc Biscuit, Mate,” a slim well-weathered Ozzie bellowed as I pulled my “Rubber Ducky” ashore.  The others all laughed.

A Rubber Ducky is what Ozzies down south called inflatables.  In Queensland they call them Croc Biscuits.

“Are there Crocs around here?” I asked.

“Yeah, but don’t worry, Mate, they only like Americans,” Slim said to more laughter.  My accent is a dead giveaway to where in the world I’m from down here.

Paul and Lynn had a table and chairs set up on the beach.  They also had real (not plastic) wine glasses and real cutlery along with an assortment of appetizers.  There was a pasta salad, fine Ozzie cheeses and crackers, toasted breads and small pickles.  My olives were a perfect addition.

There were three other couples besides Paul and Lynn.  Gary and Mel, Ray and Helen and Matt and Sharon.  All Ozzies.  No single ladies…. again.  I never did recall the name of their boats.  Except for Sasha, they were all anchored off in a cove away from Solstice

I was the only one headed north and Paul and Lynn were the only ones staying for any length of time.  I learned that Paul comes to Island Head Creek for a month every year and has been for decades.  He was also responsible for going around and bringing us all together by inviting us all for sundowners.  It was a kind gesture from somebody who not only wanted to share part of Island Head Creek with us but also wanted to share company.

We all talked story, about boats and life with much laughter. 


A sound from far away rumbled from the surrounding mountains.

“Thunder?” I asked as I looked at the clear sky.

“No. Shelling,” Paul said.  “The military uses this area as a bombing range on occasion.”

“They drop bombs on such a beautiful place?  That’s horrible,” I said.

“No it’s not, Mate,” Ray (aka Slim) added.  “They drop them over there, not in here.  If it wasn’t for them, there’d be hotels and developments all in here.  They help keep it pristine so we have this for us,” he said.

I thought it was strange how Ray believed that with so much undeveloped land along the Queensland coast that it was the military that was responsible for keeping developers from building in Island Head Creek.

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah, Mate.  The military’s saving this area.”


“I doubt it’s pristine on the other side of that ridge,” I added.
BOOM!  Another shell exploded over the ridge.

“What if you’re a croc living over there?” I asked.

I caught eyes with Paul and he simply nodded in my direction.  I knew in that moment he understood what I meant.  I also knew by watching the wisdom of his silence that I should shut up.

“What do ya want hotels all in here, Mate?” Slim continued.

“No, no you’re right.  That would destroy it for all of us.  Here’s to keeping Island Head Creek pristine,” I raised a glass to Slim and we all toasted to the preservation of the land here.

BOOM!  Another bomb rumbled from over the surrounding hills.

There’s no faster way to alleviate a potential conversation from going bad than to tell the other person that they’re right and you agree with them.  Paul was the one who was right.  There was no need to carry on the debate and I shut up.

The conversation turned back to how much we all liked Island Head Creek and wished we could stay longer.  Paul seemed dumbfounded at all of us for leaving too soon.  Though the northerly weather change was coming and at least I had a couple more days here.

The evening waned and we all headed back to our boats.  The last glow of sunlight faded and the sky burst forth in a plethora of starlight.  The universe surrounded everything and it seemed for a while I was anchored in a starfield.  I went to bed content with my choice to ride out the weather change here.


I awoke to the sound of somebody rapping on the hull. 

“Hello, Bill?” a voice called from outside.

I checked my watch, it was just past 0700.

Who the hell’s banging on my boat so early? I thought.  I hurried out of bed and looked out from the companionway.

“Hello, Bill?” the voice called again.

Just above the port rail I saw the tops of two hats.  I climbed up further and saw Paul and Lynn peering up from their dinghy.

“What are your plans for the day?” Paul asked.

“Geez, Paul I don’t know, yet.  Make coffee, then I’m not sure,” I said.

He smiled warmly.

“Well we’d like to invite you to the beach for lunch.”

Paul then raised up a big-netted trap in his left hand that I failed to notice.

“We got three nice Mud Crabs and they’ll feed a few of us,” he said grinning.


Two good size crabs were in the corner of the trap but both were dwarfed by an even larger crab that took up much of the middle.

“Oh wow!  Uhm, sure,” it didn’t take me long to figure out what I was doing for lunch.  “Crab is my favorite.  What can I bring?”

“Whatever you think goes with crab?” he said.

“Where did you get those?” I asked.

“Just over there.  I set the traps out just before sunset and picked them up this morning.”

“I love crab, but I’ve never had mud crab,” I confessed.

“You haven’t?” Lynn asked.


“Oh, you’re in for a treat then,” she said.

Paul smiled with a sharp nod.

“We’ll see you on the beach at noon,” Paul added and they sped off in their tinny.

After breakfast, I got busy trying to come up with the best thing I could find to go with crab.  Butter and garlic with a little white wine is what went best.  I had no butter left, no white wine but I did have plenty of garlic and only two cold beers.

Instead I put together a rice dish made with roasted garlic, olives, artichoke hearts and hearts of palm along with a few other spices. 

I got to the beach at noon to find only Lynn.

“Paul’s over in the mud flat getting Yabbies,” she said.


“He’s over there getting Yabbies,” she pointed to the mudflat just beyond the beach.

“What’s a Yabbie?” I asked.

“Don’t you know a Yabbie?” her English accent seemed particularly hard to understand this morning.

“A Yabbie!” she insisted.


She shook her head in disbelief at my ignorance.

“Oh.  Well come I’ll show you,” Lynn stopped setting up her table and chairs and took me over to Paul.

Paul stood in the mud with a long metal tube with a T-handle at one end and a pointed tip on the other.   The tube was hollow and Paul shoved it into the mud about 8 inches deep and pulled up on the handle.  He then pulled the end of the tube back out of the mud and pushed down hard on the handle.  Mud, shells and all kinds of things squirted out from the metal tube onto the mud flat surface.  Amongst the mud and stuff a bunch of critters squirmed about.

“Those are Yabbies,” Lynn said enthusiastically.

Yabbies look like a cross between a fiddler crab and a prawn.  Lynn picked one up and held up the prize catch.

“It’s bait,” she said.

“Oh, that’s what you catch mud crabs with,” I deduced.

“No,” Paul said.   “You catch fish with the yabbies’ and you use the fish heads to catch the muddies.  Muddies love fish heads,” he added.

Paul continued to jam his metal tube into the muck and extract core samples filled with mud and yabbies.  When he had collected enough we went back to the beach.

Matt and Sharon were there waiting for us.  Matt had a big bandage around his left forearm.  Slim and the others were not invited to the crab feast.  I felt honored to be one of the chosen few to feast on mud crabs.

“What’d you do to your arm?” I asked.

“Shark attack, Mate.” Matt said.

I felt like I was talking to Captain Ron.

“Seriously?” I asked.
“It was a shark attack.  Not a big shark.  He was in the trap trying to get at the Muddies when I pulled it up.  I grabbed him by the tail thinking I could fling himout.  When I did he turned around and clamped down on me arm.  Good thing I was wearing my thick overalls,” he said with a smile.  “I’m awhright.  Shark’s love muddies,” he added.

“Salties too,” Paul said.

“Salties?” I asked again.

“Crocs, Mate,” Matt said. 

They must love talking to an American who doesn’t know the language down under.

Matt’s shark encounter didn’t slow him down at all.  They had already cleaned and cooked their own muddies that Matt had got in his trap.  Paul’s were still alive and he brought the three over that were now in a bucket.

“Do you cook ‘em alive,” I asked.

“Hey?” (Ozzie’s say “hey” in lieu of “What?” or “I don’t understand what you’re asking?”)

“Back in Virginia where I grew up we cook blue crabs in boiling water with a bunch of seasonings while they’re still alive.  They’re similar to the blue swimmers you have here only smaller,” I said.

“Oh no Mate.  You don’t cook a chicken with the guts in it do ya?  We kill ‘em and clean ‘em and then cook em,” he said.

Paul gave me the run down on everything I needed to know about Muddies.  He told me the size limits and how to measure them.  He also explained how in Queensland you couldn’t take a female.  They’re protected.  Even the ones without eggs.  In the Northern Territory you can take a female as long as she doesn’t have eggs.  She holds the eggs under the abdominal flap similar to the way a lobster does with its tail.  You can tell the females from the males too by the shape of the abdominal flap on their underside.  The female’s flap is much broader and rounder.  The male’s is more triangular.  The males also have larger claws.  Finally came the time to bring out the crabs.

Paul turned the bucket over and let one of the crabs slide out onto the beach.  His claws went up immediately, ready for a fight.  Paul took a piece of lumber that he had collected from the beach that looked like a 1x4 and used it to push down on top of the crab’s shell to pin him to the sand.  He then reached behind and grabbed the crab by his hind paddle-legs lifted him up and turned him over on his back. 

“Some folks stab them between the eyes but that’s not effective enough in killing them rapidly.  I get him here,” Paul placed the point of a long knife blade on the crab’s abdomen and thrust it into the crab.  The crab’s legs tightened for a second and went limp.  He was dead.  He pulled the abdomen flap back and tore the top shell off.  He then cleaned all the guts out, and cut the crab in half.  It was ready for the pot.
Paul followed suit with the next two crabs.  He was fast and efficient.  He pinned him down, grabbed him from behind, flipped him over, skewered him through the abdomen, ripped the shell off, cleaned out the insides and sliced the crab in half.  It was obvious he had been cleaning Muddies for some time.  Lynn had a small gas camping stove set up under the umbrella.  On the stove was a big pot that they had filled earlier with seawater from the creek.  They cooked the crabs in only seawater and nothing else.  Once the water boiled they tossed the crab in and cooked them for 8 minutes.  When the time was up the legs were pulled from the pot with that bright reddish/pink color that’s always associated with a crab feast.

They all watched closely as I put that first hunk of Muddie meat into my mouth.  They couldn’t wait to see my reaction.  I’ve had many a crab in my day.  It is my favorite thing to eat.  My favorite had always been fresh Alaskan King Crab.  Blue crabs are wonderful too as is the sweet meat of stone and snow crab.  I love most all crab.  But the meat I had that day on the beach at Island Head Creek was the most sweet, tender crabmeat I have ever head.  If I had had butter and garlic to dip it in along with a nice buttery, oaky California chardonnay to wash it down with, I think I would have thought I had died and gone to heaven.  Even without that, it was best crab I have ever had.  The meat was cooked perfectly and melted on my tongue.  The claws and legs were big and extracting the meat brought the reward of a heaping fork full of meat.  The claws held the most sweet and tender meat of the crab.  Usually that isn’t the case.  It was true with the Muddies.  I brought along my last two beers, which stayed cool enough by the time we ate.  It wasn’t a California chard but it was excellent.

“What d’ya think?” Paul asked.

“I’ve never had crabmeat so sweet and tender.  And I’ve had lots of sweet crab.  Fantastic,” I said.

They all smiled and nodded as if to say Of course you haven’t.  You haven’t had a Muddie before.

I spent the better part of the next hour cracking crab shells and extracting every bit of meat I could get.  I sat on a blanket on the soft sand and sipped cool beer under the hot sun and savored every morsel of crab I ate.  About half way through the meal I turned to my new friends.

“I want you guys to know, this is the best meal I’ve had since I’ve been in Australia.  And I’ve had some nice meals since I got here.  Really nice meals.  Thank you,” I said.

“And this one is free,” Paul said with grin.

“Indeed,” I agreed.

“Everything you need is right here,” Paul said as he swept his hand with an open palm across the land in front of him. “Everything.” He was right.

By morning the northerly change had pushed through and the wind had shifted southwesterly.  It was time to head out.  I said my goodbyes with a promise to Paul that the first chance I got I was going to buy myself a crab trap so I could try my hand at catching muddies of my own.  How could I not?

I left Island Head Creek and headed north with a 15 knot breeze on my port stern quarter and one of the best memories of this voyage in my brain.  And to think, I almost didn’t stop there.

Mackay was my next destination, another 120 miles up the coast.  An overnighter.  I should be there at sunrise.

The rest of that day the sailing was brilliant.  10 to 15 knots out of the southwest.  It was forecast to stay at the same strength but to shift to the southeast.  That would be perfect to push me west to Mackay when I got further north.  This part of the Australian coast falls sharply west as you head north.  That evening was a glorioussunset and I hoped for a calm night.  As I look back now I should’ve read the signs in the sky that night but I didn’t.  At the time I just thought it was another beautiful sunset. 

The Bureau of Meteorology, which I now refer to as the Bureau of Moronolgy didn’t come close in their forecast for that 24 hours.  By about 9pm the wind started to veer to the north and increase.  By 10pm it was blowing 20 knots out of the west.  By 11pm it was blowing 25 out of the northwest.  By midnight it piped up to 30 knots.  Right in the direction I needed to go.

I had to tack way off course to try to get a favorable angle.  I never did get the angle that would allow me to make course.  I tacked back and forth fighting 30 knots.  Solstice, heaved and pounded into the onslaught of windwaves.  My hope for a leisurely sail was gone.  I spent the night braced within the constraints of the companionway and pitched forward when the hull slammed into a wave and then fell back again hard when the 30 knot breeze pulled the boat free.  I bounced back and forth incessantly.  It was like being repeatedly punched around all sides of my waist.  I fired up the engine to help make course.  I was able to turn another 20 degrees to windward, which was huge.

The constant roll and tilt and the whir of the wind in the rigging made for a long night of stress and tension.  As I neared the coast, I saw something on the chartplotter that wouldn’t allow me to go below to get any rest.  57 ships were anchored outside of Mackay.  Yes, that’s right, 57.  Ships.  Tankers.  A virtual parking lot for ships sat right on the coast and was in my direct path to the harbor.  I hadto choose a course that would avoid most of them as I approached.  I weaved Solstice in and around through the least of them and prayed that in the 30 now gusting to 35 knots none of them would part their anchor rode and go adrift.  The one saving grace was along this part of the coast I was inside the Great Barrier Reef so the swells were small compared to the deep rolling swells out in the ocean.  It could’ve been a lot worse.  Because of that, Solstice was able to make headway.  Still it made for a miserable washing machine night with short sloppy seas churning back and forth and Solstice and I were pummeled all night by Mother Ocean.

Sunrise could not have come soon enough.  When it did I happily found myself just outside the entrance to the harbor.  Of course one of the ships waiting outside at anchor was scheduled to enter the harbor at sunrise too.  I decided to let him go first and waited as the ship slowly negotiated the small entrance with the help of two tugs.  A huge welcomed relief washed over me when I finally made it inside the port.

I dropped the main and slowly pulled to the fuel dock in the marina.  Coincidentally, Hokule’a was moored along side, just having filled up with fuel.   They were on their way out.  Once again, I would be behind as they headed north.

I saw Jake and Jackie long enough to give them a big hug, say good morning, tell them about the conditions outside and to then say goodbye.  They didn’t like my report on the conditions but knew they still needed to go.  John would be here in four days and they needed to get to the Whitsundays to be sure somebody would be there when he arrived.  They left Mackay about 20 minutes after I arrived.

“Put in a double,” I hollered as they eased off the dock.

“Already have,” Jake yelled back.

You hear all the time about people pushing weather windows trying to get some place to meet the arrival of friends and family.  The worst of these stories end with a boat finding itsself lost on a reef or knocked down with broken bits and broken spirits aboard.  It’s a hard situation.  Safety comes first over everything.  But there is an added responsibility of needing to be there when somebody is traveling halfway around the world to come see you.  It’s not just the miles traveled but in far reaches of the world it’s thousands of dollars for people to spend to fly to where you are.  Such was our dilemma with John’s arrival in a few days.  My trip to Mackay sucked the last 10 hours.  But I knew too that it was only part of the way I still needed to go to get up the coast to meet John.  I had to get out of Mackay within the next 24 hours if I had any hope of being there before he arrived.

There was no time to rest.  After I fueled up, I got a slip for the evening, rented a car and headed off to the store to provision for the 9 days that John would be here.  When I got back to the boat, I stowed everything, gave Solstice a much-needed freshwater rinse and somehow managed to shower myself and do laundry all before the sunset.  It was an incredibly full day and one that had been preceded by a sleepless night.  But the evening was capped with a lovely almost full moonrise over the harbor and me eating a wonderful pizza at a nearby pub, accompanied with cold beer and a live local band.  I went back to the boat early and went to bed.  I slept hard.  Come the next morning, I surprised myself, I was refreshed and ready to go.  The wind was still blowing 25 knots and the seas were a sloppy mess.  Like Jake and Jackie I wanted to be sure to be in the Whitsundays before John arrived.  It wouldn’t be a comfortable ride but I knew it was safe enough and Solstice could handle it.  It was time to go.

By 08:00 I was headed out of the harbor and Solstice again heaved and bounced through the onslaught of waves.  Fortunately the wind had shifted back southerly and a mile out of the harbor I’d be turning north.  My plan was to sail to Lindaman Island.  About 45 miles north.  With this good wind and a following sea I’d be there two or three hours before sunset.  That would put me only 10 miles from Hamilton and I’d easily be able to get to John.

“Hokule’a, Hokule’a?  Kite!” my friend Jack’s voice crackled over the HF radio.

A bunch of boats that are headed to Indonesia have all been working their way up the east coast of Australia all on the same general route headed to Darwin.  Darwin is a great jumping off point for Indonesia and also where the Indonesian Rally starts.  The Indonesian Rally is an organized trek for boaters going to Indonesia from Australia.  I’ll write more about that later, but among the many boats headed to Darwin are our friends Jack and Zdenka (pronounced Zed-ank-ah) aboard Kite.  We have become close friends since we met them in Tonga last year.  They were anchored currently in Airlie Beach, on the mainland, just west of the Whitsundays.

At 08:00 every morning the boats headed North talk on a frequency called “The Reef Net” where boats check-in with each other and talk about the weather and boat things as well as contact other boats.  Kite wanted traffic with Hokule’a.

“Hey Jack, I copy you loud and clear,” Jake answered.

“Did you copy all that about the weather?” Jack asked.
“I sure did.”

The trade winds were picking up.  A southeast blow of 30 knots and higher was forecast for the next several days.  Hamilton Island, where John was scheduled to fly to, can be a challenging harbor to enter during heavy trade wind conditions.

“Well I have a suggestion for you.  Why not come to Airlie Beach, it’s really protected and comfortable during heavy trades and there’s a daily ferry that runs here from Hamilton that is scheduled to meet the daily flights at Hamilton.  John can get the ferry and meet you here and we’ll get to see you too,” Jack said.

“Oh, well that’s an idea, Jack.  I’ve been looking at other options of how to get John.  I’m not sure we could make Airlie before dark.  We’d have to leave right now.” Jake said.

“Oh it’s easy to get in here at night too Jake.  Where’s Solstice?” Jack asked.

“She was in Mackay last night and Bill planned to leave this morning and head this way, I’ll have to try and get a hold of him,” Jake answered.

“Maybe you could reroute him here too?”

One of the issues I have aboard Solstice is with my HF radio and how it affects my autopilot whenever I transmit.  I have an old, but very good radio aboard.  It puts out a lot of power and people can always hear me.  But it also messes terribly with Hahn, the autopilot.  If Hahn is steering the ship when I transmit, hewill turn the boat 180 degrees, usually right away.  I’ve had my share of accidental jibes while trying to talk on the radio when Hahn is at the helm.  Now anytime I want to talk on the radio, I have to relieve Hahn of his duty and hove-too and stop sailing.  Only then can I go below and talk on the radio.  It’s a huge pain.

I turned off the autopilot and ran below.

“Break, break, Solstice!”

“Hey Willie, did you copy what Jack said,” Jake asked.

“Hey Jake, I only got part of it.  I can’t really talk right now.  I’m still in the harbor entrance dodging ships.  Let’s talk on this frequency in an hour.  Then I can get the boat stopped away from traffic and talk. Over”

“Okay, one hour, Over.”


“God dammit!” I screamed.

Solstice’s boom had swung over when a rolling wave pushed her stern through the wind because I didn’t stop her properly before running below.  I still have a lot to learn about single-handing properly.  Another broken car on the main track needed to now be repaired.

Jake and Jack continued to talk.  By the time they had finished their conversation Jake had fired up the engine, hauled their anchor and Hokule’a was headed to the more protected anchorage at Airlie Beach.  Apparently, they spent a rolly night in the anchorage at Shaw Island.  I now needed to figure out if I could make Airlie Beach.


An hour later I hoved too and got on the radio with Jake.

“Have you had a chance to crunch the numbers,” Jake asked.

“Yeah.  It turns a 45-mile trip into a 65-mile trip.  There’s no way I can make it there before dark,” I said.

“Break, break, Kite!” Jack’s voice came in.

“Go ahead Jack,” I said.

“This is a really big anchorage and there’s no problems at all coming in at night.  I can even give you waypoints of where Kite is to make it easier.  There’s plenty of room to anchor and moorings can be picked up too.  I can also take the dinghy and get a waypoint for a mooring you when you approach.  But don’t worry about a night entrance.”

“Okay, thanks, Jack” I said.

I had looked at the anchorage closely in my guidebook while waiting to talk too.  Airlie Beach did provide a big open area and once I got a waypoint I felt more than comfortable in going in there at night.  I changed course and headed to Airlie.  John would have to take a ferry to meet us there, which sounded pretty easy for him to do.

The sail that night was gorgeous.  The wind blew 25 knots for the first part of the day and then laid down to 20 along with a calmer sea.  A full moon rose above Dent Island as I sailed through Whitsunday passage. My Grandfather’s name was Dent so I thought of him a lot and felt he was right there with me as I sailed by.  He died when I was 25.  I moved to California only a couple of months after then.  He was a big part of my life growing up and I loved him dearly.  Every now and again as a boy I’d catch him talking to himself out loud.

“Who are you talking to Granddad?” I’d ask.

“I’M TALKIN’ TO DENT!” was always his loud, emphatic reply.

I must have said, “I’M TALKIN’ TO DENT!” A dozen times going through the Whitsunday passage that night.  It made me laugh and it made me feel close to Granddad.

My favorite sailing is under a full moon.  It’s glorious in every way when conditions are right.  They were right that night.  I also melted into being patient on my way to Airlie.  I had resigned to the fact that I’d arrive at dark.  It didn’t matter what time I got there.  Too many times I’m hurried trying to make port before a tide or beat the sunset or am racing in before bad weather approaches or a million other reasons that get me hurried.  Being hurried and sailing shouldn’t go together.

Over the last year I’ve noticed a change in myself from a sailing perspective, ever since my hook-to-hook sail in Fiji.  I love to sail.  I love using the wind to make Solstice go.  Whenever I can I sail off the anchor or off a mooring I jump at the chance.  I’ve still yet to master anchoring under sail but it’s near the top of the list of how I want to sail in the future.  It excites me.  Cruising comes with a completely different mindset than going out for a day sail back home in Redondo.  Out here it’s easy to grow tired or burdened with the mechanics and work of sailing.  It’s easy to be lazy.  A lot of cruisers use their boats to just get from one point to the next.  They set the sails and go.  Trimming becomes a little priority.  I’m not a racer and I still have a ton to learn about trimming sails, but I do love messing with them trying to figure out what works best and how to get the most out of the boat.  It also gives me something to do.  So I sail Solstice every chance I get.  And I love it.

I started to get excited about this big open anchorage, sailing in at night and anchoring under sail and under a full moon.  That would be awesome.  The anchorage was only15 feet deep in a huge area.  I knew I could do it.  After the sun went down the wind laid down too to about 8 knots.  It didn’t matter, I had turned an important corner and was ghosting along beautifully.  As long as the boat was moving forward it didn’t matter.  I was excited, I was sailing.  I first thought I’d get there soon after sunset.  When the wind lightened up 9pm seemed more realistic.  It got lighter still and 11pm became the new ETA.

I had about three miles to go when the wind shut off completely.  I sat there and floated and stared at the lights of Airlie Beach along the shore.  They were so close, yet so far.  I was drifted at a half a knot. 

“Great,” I said to the moon.  “You give me 25 knots or nothing.”

I had suddenly forgotten about the beautiful sailing I had been given the last 12 hours. 

“Can’t just once you hold something long enough for me to sail in on?” My patience was gone.

Solstice and I sat there and floated for a long time.  I wondered what to do.  I wanted to sail in but should I sit out here all night trying to make it in under sail alone?  How did sailors in the days of yore do it?  Did they yell at the moon too or were they used to not moving when the wind shut off.  If I fired up the engine I could be there in less than 30 minutes.  Otherwise it could be sunrise before I got in.  I guess it still mattered to me when I go there.  I fired up the engine. 

“You still have a lot to learn about patience, Bill,”I said to myself.

30 minutes later I had the hook down and was anchored securely under the silver veil of a moonlit bay.  I was relieved to be in before midnight.  At least, I could sleep in my bed in a flat and comfortable anchorage.  And I needed the rest.  I knew immediately we had made the right decision to come here.  I also had a free day to rest before John “rocked up” as they say down here, to Airlie Beach.  Once again, I found myself waiting on my friend to arrive.  And for that I was very excited.

Much Aloha,


Friday May 16th, 2013 - 20:25 Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia local time

I left Mooloolaba a couple hours before high tide.  Mooloolaba’s harbor is actually at the mouth of a river that flows to the sea.  The harbor area has been developed for many years that started with the timber and fishing industries back in the 1860’s.  It still is home for many commercial fishing vessels but it has since grown into a holiday beach community. 

The harbor is big and has many canals and waterways that wind and twist themselves by beautiful waterfront homes. 

“Yeah, take the rubber ducky out and go see all the flash homes, Mate,” my Aussie neighbor suggested.  In English that means take a dinghy ride and go see all the pretty homes. 

Mooloolaba’s harbor has a small, shallow opening where it greets the sea.  Because of that, when the tides ebb and flow throughout the day a lot of the water flows through this small opening and creates a swift current throughout the entire harbor.  Similar as it does in an atoll pass or in Newport Beach, California.  In my short time here I’ve watched more than a few boats coming in and out of their slips lose control and smash into other boats.  You figure the locals would know better.  Most do, but some don’t.

Because of the current I wanted to time my departure with high tide.  The problem was high tide was at 18:00 and the sunset was around 17:20.  I hate starting a passage in the dark.  I wanted to give myself at least a couple hours of daylight while leaving if possible.  I watched the current closely and thought it had abated enough to not be an issue when if I left at 16:00.  I guessed right and all went well and we exited the harbor uneventfully, which is my favorite way to leave or arrive.

Whenever I put to sea things change.  Life ashore fades away and suddenly life becomes dealing with the conditions at hand, keeping the boat safe and secure, feeling the wind and the sea while also adjusting my body to the constant pitch and roll.  As I left the slip, I was filled with an initial stress and anxiousness about the engine.

What if the engine overheats and then seizes and stalls?  What if that happens as I’m exiting the harbor and I get washed ashore and end up on the beach?  What if…? What if…?

As soon as I left the shelter of the harbor I was greeted by a 2-meter plus swell and all those thoughts went away.  Suddenly I was back at sea and like normal, everything shifted to sailing Solstice and being at sea.  It felt great to be free of the worry and stress that the landlubbing life entailed.  I had hoped for a smaller sea though. 

The wind had been forecast to be 10-15 knots out of the southeast, which promised to be a perfect downwind run to Bundaberg.  Before I left the harbor I put a reef in the main.  Solstice doesn’t require a reef in 15 knots, but she does in about 17 to 18 knots and I figured why not put a reef in so that I won’t have to do it in the middle of the night if the wind picked up.  It wasn’t forecast to pick up but as a single hander you live more cautiously.  In reality, I wish I had put in a double.

I think all meteorologists around the globe who get unsatisfactory grades at weather school are sent to Australia to be weathermen.  I have never been any place where weather forecasters are almost always wrong.  Extended forecasts I can understand being unpredictable and difficult to forecast but here in Australia the weather people cannot accurately predict what’s going to happen with the weather in the next 24 hours.  Consistently BOM, is the Australian Government run Bureau of Meteorology, cannot forecast worth crap.  In fact, they know it themselves and make their excuse right up front.  Every weather forecast is preceded with this disclaimer:

Please be aware

Wind gusts can be 40 percent stronger than the averages given here, and maximumwaves may be up to twice the height.

That’s Aussie speak for “We really don’t have a clue as to how hard the wind or waves will be, so almost double what we say and you’ll probably be right.”

40 PERCENT????  In what other profession can you make a disclaimer that “Oh by the way, we’re wrong 40 percent of the time”?  Actually they’re giving themselves too much credit, I’d say they are wrong about 60 percent of the time.

Knowing this, I put in a single reef, thinking that I should add 5 knots to the forecast.  A single reef should be plenty, I thought.  Wrong!  When the sun went down, 15 turned to 20, which soon turned to 25 gusting to 30.  I kicked myself for not having put in a double.  I should’ve banked on the 60% error.  60% would’ve been 24 knots, which would’ve been accurate. 

I wasn’t about to go forward in the dark with a 2-meter swell rolling to put in a second reef.  Instead, I let out only a small amount of jib and spilled enough wind out of the mainsail to make Solstice sail comfortably.  We screamed along at 7.5 knots and rocked and rolled with the following swell.  At leas BOM got the direction of the wind and swell right.

The route to Bundaberg was 190 miles up the coast.  If I could sail at 5 knots I’d arrive in 38 hours at sunrise.  Sunrise coincided with high tide, which would have been perfect. Like, Mooloolaba, Bundaberg is at the mouth of a river and experiences the similar currents.  I’ve come to learn that in sailing whenever I want to sail at speeds of 7.5 to 8 knots I usually go somewhere between 3.5 to 4 and when I want to slow down and sail at 5 knots, I usually scream along at 7.5 to 8 knots.  With a 25-knot breeze I couldn’t slow the boat down, I was sailing at 7.5 to 8 knots.  Solstice sailed beautifully, she loves 7.5 knots but at this rate I’d arrive at midnight.  A midnight arrival meant floating around for hours outside the mouth of the harbor in the dark waiting for sunrise.  Bundaberg has a very narrow opening and is closed to all boat traffic at dark.  That suited me fine as I have a rule that I don’t enter unfamiliar harbors at night unless that are very well marked and promise easy access.  Bundaberg is not such a place.  But being that this journey had just started I figured I’d just sail.  Perhaps in the morning the wind would lighten up for me to slow down.  Wrong again.

By sunrise the wind had piped up even higher.  It was blowing consistently in the high 20’s and still gusting to 30.  The swell had increased to about 2.2 meters.  By sunrise I knew I had to put a double reef in.  When the sun came up I put on my harness and tether and went forward.  As always, I was careful to go about things controlled and slow.  Before I knew it we had a double reef in the main and Solstice sailed more comfortably and faster.  At least I could sip my coffee in comfort.  Well more comfortably.  With the swell the ride wasn’t exactly comfortable. 

It had been awhile since I’d been in a 2 meter plus swell.  Solstice rolled constantly from port to starboard in an unpredictable pattern that such a sea brings.  The seas were short and sloppy and I had to constantly be on alert and careful while moving throughout the boat.  At one point I went below and I lowered my guard for a second.  In that moment, Solstice pitched a bit to starboard before lurching hard to port.  I had ignored my three points rule.  The three points rule is to have three points of contact with the vessel at all times.  Either two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand whenever you are moving through the boat in a seaway, at all times.  Well at this time, I had two feet and no hands.  Oops.  Before I knew it I was flying across the cabin.  I tried to put my hands up to cushion the impact but it was too late.


I hit the port side of the cabin hard, bounced off and..

Hit the floor. 

“GOD DAMMIT!” I screamed.

My hand and thumb ached.  I first thought I had dislocated my thumb or broke my hand.  I pulled myself up off the floor and wedged myself on the salon satee.  A quick survey of my hand proved that everything looked okay.  It was sore but all the parts moved properly.

“Three points, Bill, three points,” I yelled. “Don’t be stupid, Man.  The last thing you need is to break a bone out here.”
I then raised my eyes skyward and thanked King Neptune for not breaking my hand and gave him the thumbs up sign.  A sore thumbs up, but a thumbs up. Being out here with a broken bone by myself would be a nightmare.  In that moment I promised to be more careful.

Sailing up the coast of Australia offers a lot of challenges that sailing offshore does not.  They consist mostly of obstacles.  Obstacles from fishing fleets towing long nets, to unlit fish traps and markers, to cargo ships, rocks, reefs and capes that increase wind velocity.  All of which made for an exciting and boisterous journey to Bundaberg.  Sleep doesn’t really come at all.  I lay down quite a bit at night but I’m up again every 15 to 20 minutes to check on things.  I’ve learned to use my radar more effectively by cordoning off zones and setting up alarms to beep when those zones are breached.  The bad news is a dense cloud cluster can cause the alarm to go off.  The good news is ships, rocks, and coastlines cause it to go off too.

The alarm went off quite a bit and I got little sleep my first night and less the second.  As anticipated, I arrived outside of Bundaberg at 2am accompanied with a rain squall that gave me zero visibility.  I could navigate only by the chartplotter and the radar.  It was surreal coming in.  Everything was pitch black and the rain hit the deck hard and the wind howled.  The display unit for my chartplotter was the only light I had and the little boat icon on the digital chart showed me where I was.  When I stuck my head out from the shelter of the dodger to look I could see nothing.  I had to trust completely in what my instruments were doing.  What I did do was sail to where I knew I had at least 5 miles of searoom on all sides.  And there I floated.  I hoved to and the boat relaxed and we rocked back and forth with the swell and the sea waiting for sunrise.

Sunrise took a long time to reveal itself but when it did it was beautiful.  Shafts of deep orange, dark grey and white light burst forth through the remnants of the dark clouds from the squall.  The wind blew hard and licked the crests of the swells and continued to whip them into a sloppy inconsistent mess.  I felt like I had been in a washing machine for 40 hours.  I was ready to get to port. 

There’s a long narrow entrance into the river at Bundaberg and the room for error is minimal.  You must line up lead lights and follow them in.  The light is white when you’re on the right course.  If you drift too far to port it turns red, if you drift too far to starboard in turns green.  With the swell and sea pushing the boat around it kept constantly switching between red, white, and green and back the other way.  The floods they had had here a few months earlier made the entrance even narrower from all the silt that washed into the entrance.  The entrance is still closed to big shipping because it’s too shallow.  The closer I got the more the sea flattened out and finally I could relax a little as I moved into calm waters.  It’s so lovely pulling into flat water.  I made my way up the river to the harbor and dropped the main.  I had made earlier arrangements with the marina and a berth was assigned to me.  I had talked to Jake earlier too and he was waiting on the dock to grab a line as I arrived.  Jake and Jackie had been here a few days earlier and had been holed up waiting for better weather to sail north.  I was happy because I had caught up with them again.

In these short trips where I get little to no sleep I’ve found that as fatigue sets in my body shifts and starts to pull energy from a reserve tank somewhere deep inside.  I start running on a mixture of adrenaline and silliness.  The adrenaline keeps me going and the silliness keeps my attitude in high spirits.  I find a lot of pretty stupid things funny but it gets me through.  I’ll have to expand on them at another time.  When I finally make it to port and the stress lets go, the adrenaline fades, and I’m hit with a tsunami of exhaustion.  I never realize how completely taxed I am until I get the boat stopped.

After clearing in with the marina I went back to the boat.  I told myself that there would be no boat projects the rest of the day.  All I wanted was sleep and I crashed hard.  I awoke about three hours later in time to meet Jake and Jackie for a cocktail aboard Hokule’a.  Jake made Dark and Stormys.  He said it’s the traditional drink you have when you arrive here.  After all, Bundaberg Rum is made here.  They grow a lot of sugar cane here and I guess they make a lot of rum too.  One of those drinks mixed with sheer exhaustion was enough and insured a good nights sleep.

I slept the entire night through, which is rare for me.  I awoke in the morning feeling re-energized.  Whenever I reach a new place I like to venture out with my camera.  I grabbed the camera and went to greet the day.  I walked down a small country road towards a grass field in the soft morning light.  The morning was lovely and it felt great to feel solid ground beneath my feet.  I strolled over to a large grass field and that’s where I saw them.  Big tall heads popped up from eating grass and looked in my direction.  It was a troop of about a dozen kangaroos.  Red Kangaroos or Reds as the locals call them.  They stand over 6 feet tall.  I was in awe.  I had been in Australia for nearly 6 months and had heard there were “heaps of them”.  Here they were grazing in the warmth of the morning sun.  My heart swelled with excitement.

I was still quite a distance from them when they all stopped grazing and stared at me.  We watched each other for the longest time.  I approached a little closer and they stretched their heads up even higher and focused in on whatever it was I was doing or wanted.  I stopped and decided to not approach anymore.  I took my flip-flops off and put my bare feet in the grass.  I wanted to connect with them and be touching the grass they were standing on at the same time.  I could feel our energies connect through the earth.  It was magical and wonderful.  We spent about 20 minutes together staring at each other.  I decided to venture a little closer but they figured that was close enough and felt it was time to go.  One by one they bounded off hopping across the short grass and into the bush and taller grasses.  A line of them leaped up and down, above and below the tall grasses effortlessly.  What a strange way to move across the earth, I thought.  I watched them as they hopped off into the distance leaping up high in the morning sunlight.  Each bound and leap lifted my heart.  I was indeed in some place very different than I had ever been.   They brought a joy to my spirit and a huge smile to my face.

I went back down to the marina restaurant and ordered a nice coffee and breakfast.  My mind ran through this past week and the trouble with the engine.  Seeing the troop of roos made that all trivial now.  I felt compelled to put to rest this last lingering boat item that had been on my list since before the engine issue, the hydraulic leak in my steering system.  I had huge powerful thoughts at that moment that perhaps it’s just a loose fitting.

I had put paper towels all around the hydraulic ram and the surrounding fittings to catch drips and help pinpoint where the leak was coming from.  I knew I had lost some hydraulic fluid and I needed to know from where.  The last thing I wanted to do was dive into another boat project but I knew I had to look at this sooner than later.  If it were just a loose fitting then that would be easy.  After breakfast I went back to the boat determined to put things to rest and tore up my bunk and got to where the hydraulic steering lived underneath.  Jake came by, too, to take a look.  It didn’t take long for me to see that the ram was indeed leaking.  Not in one place but two.  I had already pulled this thing out and had new seals put in it twice before.  Most recently when I was in Rarotonga.  My hopes for a loose fitting were dashed.  Another big project needed to be addressed. 

In a nutshell, I got in touch with a hydraulic shop and talked to a good old Aussie guy named Andy.  Andy came down to get the ram after I pulled it out.  I told him the issues I had had with it and how this was now the third time I’ve had to pull it out.

“Well Mate, there’s got to be a reason for it to keep leaking than just bad seals if you just replaced them not long ago,” Andy said.  “We’ll take a good look at it and see if we can figure out why?”

Andy called me the next day, “I’ve got bad news, Mate,” was the first thing he said when I answered the phone.  He went on to explain that the inner bore where the shaft goes into the cylinder was warped and the shaft was no longer running straight and out and was causing abnormal wear on the seals which caused them to wear out quicker and leak sooner.

“You’ve got some options, Mate,” Andy explained.  “We could just replace the seals in which case you’d have to pull it out in another year to do this again or  “You could get a new ram.  I’d have to try and find one with all the same measurements and foot patterns to match yours but that may be difficult.  Or we could repair this one.  It is repairable but it will cost more than getting a new one with the labor involved.”  A new one would be about $500-$600.  To repair it with the boring out of the cylinder and the fabricating a new bushing it would be about $800.  I gulped at the price of both of them.  Then Jeep’s phrase about money popped into my head.

It’s only money; there’ll be more. 

In the end, the only thing that made sense was to repair the one I had.  That one fit the boat and I could drop it back in at its normal position without having to modify the hoses or where it mounted.  It was more expensive but I felt it was the only smart choice.  Andy promised that the repair would fix the problem and it would be like a brand new cylinder.

Once again, I was sidelined with another boat project.  Jake and Jackie finally got their good weather window and headed north and once again Solstice and I stayed behind.  And again, I had no idea when I’d see them again.  Somewhere up the coast I guess.

Several days later I finally got the rebuilt ram back and last night I installed it in the boat.  Andy came down early in the morning to help me bleed the system.  An hour after his arrival we had Solstice’s steering working again.

The air has turned cool and a soft rain has fallen most of the rest of the day.  Tomorrow the forecast is for a sunny day with a light 10-15 knot breeze.  I will be heading out of the harbor north again around noontime the next day.  I wonder if I should put in a double reef.  After all there’s no way I’ll be getting just 10-15 knots.  At least we’ll be sailing.

Much Aloha,


Sunday May 5th, 2013 - 20:17 Australian Eastern Time, Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia

Mooloolaba, Australia is a beautiful beach town that is a holiday destination for many Aussies.  There is a beautiful beach with soft white sand that wraps around the bay in a long gentle bend.  The water is clean and wonderful and the long horseshoe bend of the coastline offers protection from the ocean swells that make splendid conditions for swimming in the sea.  The town is filled with wonderful beachfront shops, restaurants and wonderful watering holes where you can sit and watch beautiful girls walk by in front of the backdrop of a sunset lit beach. What a great place to get stuck, or so I’ve heard.  The only thing I’ve seen this past week has been the flashlight lit dank space that is the inside Solstice’s engine room.

My week has been spent soaked in sweat, oil, frustration, oil, anger, impatience, fury, oil and oh did I mention OIL?

After the discovery of saltwater in the engine, I spent the first day assessing my options on what to do.  Nobody I found had a Perkins 4.236 oil cooler in Australia.  I found a fabrication house that said they could make one up for somewhere between $800 and $1,000.

“WHAT?  That’s ridiculous a freaking new one only cost $350 in the States!!” I screamed to nobody after I hung up the phone with the fabrication house.

Their proposed design would also require me to change the plumbing for the raw water side of the engine.  They also said if I sent them the old unit they could take it apart and repair it for around $750. 

“WHAT?!  THAT’S RIDICULOUS!  A FREAKING NEW ONE COST ONLY $350 in the States!!” I screamed again to nobody inside Solstice’s cabin.

Wait a minute, there’s a spare onboard. 
That happy thought popped into my brain.

I seemed to recall that Doug, the previous owner of the boat, had a spare onboard.  I hurriedly tossed the cushions away from the only storage space I knew where I’d keep such a precious item.  I rifled through wares and stores of valuable spare parts until…. I stopped and stared in awe.  There it was, staring right at me, wrapped gloriously in newspaper and a plastic bag was a small parcel that seemed to gleam and sparkle like treasure as I looked upon it.  Scribbled in magic marker on blue masking tape on the outside of the package in Doug’s unmistakable handwriting were magic words:  Oil/Transmission Cooler (used) 3/94.

I lifted it out gingerly and placed it on the workbench.  It was as if I’d discovered a lost Christmas present found months after the holiday.  I couldn’t contain my excitement and quickly unwrapped it.  There it was before me, in all its old pale blue and rust spotted paint glory, a perfect replacement.  It wasn’t new, but it was a spare.

Was it any good?
was the question that ran through my brain.

I picked up the phone and called Doug.

I don’t talk to Doug too often but whenever I do his voice is always filled with joy and enthusiasm.  Doug is excited about living and it’s always a pleasure to hear his voice. 

“Hello, Doug, it’s Bill Babington calling you from Australia, how are you?”

“Hey Bill, ha, ha, ha, I’ve been wondering where and how you are and that I hadn’t heard from you in a long while.  How are things going?”

“Well, Doug, I need to jog your memory about the integrity of a spare part you have aboard…” I went on to tell him what had happened.

Had Doug been here after my conversation with him, I would’ve kissed him.  When I hung up the phone, I had a new plan.  It was simple, put Doug’s spare on and get a new one from the States.  That’s how the week began.  Like many jobs this one started off with excitement and a happy attitude that said, I can do this, lets get to work.

Things never go back as easily as they come apart.  And my happy attitude quickly turned into the frustration and pain in the ass that comes with working in a small spaces that are filled with grease, busted knuckles and the smell of a cramped engine room.  When I took off the leaking bad oil cooler I had to cut a piece of hose to get it off.  The spare hose I had aboard had wire in it which wouldn’t allow for any stretch.  And of course the shop in the marina carried every size of hose except the one I needed.  So after wrenching, screaming, bloodying my knuckles, screaming, wrenching, and bloodying my knuckles again, I was finally able to get the hose back together.  Finally the new/old oil cooler was back on the engine.

Next was the challenge of hooking back up the raw water to the engine.  My thru hull valve to the engine was broken open so Jake and I were able to take the hose apart from the engine and bend it in half with hose clamps boat plugs to stop the flow into the boat.  I now had to undo all that and get it back on the engine.  My great fear was something popping loose in the middle of the task and me not being able to stop the flow of water into the boat and sinking.  These types of scenarios run through my brain.  This part of the job went amazingly well.  I couldn’t believe it, with a smear of some 5200 around the hose barb inlet, a quick undo of hose clamps and plugs I unfolded the hose and quickly slipped it over the barb with only a minimal amount of seawater coming into the boat.  Once hose clamps were secure, and of course after a couple of knuckle busters, all was put back together.  Next, oil changes.

I detest oil changes.  Well let me be clearer, I detested oil changes.  I don’t mind them that much anymore.  Mostly because I have this new oil extractor pump that makes the job easy.  In the past, I had an electric oil pump that basically never sucked worth crap.  The most I could ever get out of the engine was maybe 5 of about 7 liters.  And it took forever and it was always a mess.  But recently I got a hand-pump device that creates a vacuum that sucks out the oil effortlessly.  Often the difference between happily doing a job and dreading it are the tools involved.  If you have the right tools to get the job done well, then it makes life so much easier.  This was huge, as I didn’t have to do just one oil change but basically 4 ½.  I say a half because the first one didn’t count, that was about throwing out old oil.

Under the guidance of mechanics from L.A. to Australia and per Jake’s expert input as well, I knew in order to get as much of the water out I had to change the oil that much.  After the first oil and water was removed and thrown out I replaced the oil filter, topped the engine up with fresh oil and startedthe engine.  As per advice of everybody I ran the engine only for 5 minutes.  Then I took all that oil out, put on a new filter and again topped the engine up with fresh new oil and now ran the engine for only 20 minutes.  Did the same again but for 40 minutes.  Each change increased the running time by 20 minutes.  The next 2 ½ days were spent changing oil and oil filters.  Each time the fluid extractor unit filled up with oil I had to walk down the street to dispose of the bad oil at an oil recycling place.  I was lucky one was within walking distance of a place.  The new oil extractor device also made it easy to transport the oil.  I didn’t mind the walk so much, as it got me off the boat and into sunlight.  I wondered what the same people thought of me as I strolled by their shops and restaurants carrying dirty oil while donning shorts and T-shirts covered with black smudge and engine oil and grime.  That stroll happened 3 or 4 times a day for 3 days.

I also had to make runs to an auto parts store to buy more oil, which extended the procedures and work for the week.  That trip was made via the dinghy.  At least I was on the water.  In the end, I went through four full oil changes and 5 filters.  Each time I ran the engine a little longer.  Finally the job was done.  And I’m happy to report.  The new/old oil cooler is working well and Solstice’s engine is happy and running wonderfully.

After it was all done, I was finally able to walk down to the beach and go for that swim that I’d been longing to take since I got to Mooloolaba.  There is nothing more healing than the ocean for me.  Immersing myself in a clean clear ocean, cleanses me inside and out.  I waded out into the water and let the sea wrap around my legs and pull me into her depths.  I watched the waves slowly roll in and surround me.  I filled my lungs with deep breaths of the sweet sea air.  Finally I dove into the curl of a wave just before it broke and the sea pulled me in and washed over me.  I immerged on the other side feeling refreshed and anew.  The daunting job and the fear of a deeply scarred engine was now behind me and all was well again back aboard Solstice.  I could now think about getting back onto the sea and heading north.  Geez, I wonder if the hydraulic ram is going to leak?  I quickly pushed that thought out of my mind and floated on my back and stared up at the deep blue Australian sky that shimmered above me.  A smile spread across my lips.  For now, I was home again floating upon the sea.  And one of my favorite film quotes for a job well done spoke down to me from above loud and clear.

That’ll do pig.

Much Aloha,


Monday April 29th, 2013 - 22:53 Australian Eastern Time, Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia

Once again, I find myself alone.  Hokule’a left the dock about twenty minutes ago.  I uncleated their dockline and tended the bow as they slowly backed out of the slip.  They needed to hurry to the harbor entrance to catch high tide at the right moment.  I stood there dejected as I watched their newly waxed hull disappear into the blackness of the night.  I had been so excited about sharing things and us sailing together again.  Only a few hours earlier Jake and I talked about the excitement of going up through the Great Sandy Straights.  As the last of their running lights faded into nothing so did the idea of traveling those straights together.  Instead, I’m on my own again and I have no idea when
I’ll see Hokule’a.  I was crestfallen.

Our time here in Mooloolaba has been spent doing a lot of boat things and hurrying to get many projects done that were still outstanding.  The trip up the coast has been challenging in its own right from a single handing standpoint and I hoped that that was what I’d be writing about, instead, I didn’t see the curve ball coming that was thrown at me this evening.

There have been a few things bothering me boat-wise since I arrived here.  The most notable was that I had started to notice a small drop in my hydraulic steering fluid.  I’ve been paranoid that once I research this more fully between here and Bundaberg I’m going to have to do the same routine that got me stuck in Rarotonga for so long and pull the ram out and get new seals put in.  The other thing that started to happen during this last leg up the coast was that the bilge pump started going off frequently.  The bilge pump issue I happily found was a result of the packing gland being loose.  The packing gland is a wax-like fiber sealant that helps seal the void around the shaft of the engine where it comes in through the bottom of the boat.  It lets a little water in to keep the shaft cool as it spins.  Sometimes it loosens up and lets more water than is needed or wanted.  Easy fix with the tightening of a couple of bolts.  No problem. 

Per Jake’s suggestion, I put paper towels around all potential leak points in the steering system so I could easily detect where a leak is coming from after the upcoming leg.  Once that was done I needed to check the oil, clean up the boat, put up the lee cloth, stow everything and be ready to leave.  I’ve been running around all week and I was already bummed, as I’ve had zero rest before we were to head out to sea.  That is never a good idea.  But I had shifted my mindset and as this was an easy overnighter I was ready to go.

Checking the oil is one of the many things on the pre-sail checklist that gets done all the time.  Solstice has always had a small oil leak and one that has been consistently monitored and maintained.  As Captain Ron says “A diesel loves her oil like a sailor loves his rum.” 

“Why is that Captain Ron?”

“Nobody knows,” is his perfect reply.

Such is the deal with many boats.  Such is the deal with Solstice.
It was a night time departure and we were timing the tides to not only exit the harbor at the right time but also to match the bar at the Great Sandy Straights that we would cross the next morning.  I put the dipstick in fully expecting a low level indicating that I’d have to add a little oil.  I was shocked to find that the oil was way full, too full.

There had to be an error in the reading,
I thought. 

I put the dipstick down again and pulled it out.  The oil mark again was high up on the dipstick way past the line indicating full. 

What the hell?

I dropped it in a third time with the same result.  My heart sank.

Something was seriously wrong.

Jake and Jackie were out to dinner enjoying a last meal ashore before heading out.  I picked up my phone and called him.

“Hey Willy, how’s it going?” he said as he answered the phone.

“Not good, Bro.  I think I’ve got a serious problem,” I told him.

“Oh, no.  What?”

I went on to explain what happened.

“Do you have something you can suck some oil out of the pan with?” he asked.


“Suck out just a little bit of oil and see what it looks like and call me back”, he advised.

10 minutes later I had my brand new fancy fluid extractor hand pump assembled and put the long suction tube down into the dipstick.  A couple of pumps later and fluid easily came up and into the container.  What entered the pump wasn’t oil at all; it was pure water.  This was not good.

I didn’t get mad, yell or freak out.  I just had this deep heavy feeling of dejection.  A major mechanical crisis was unfolding.  I already felt at the end of my rope dealing with all the maintenance issues on the boat.  Why was this now becoming my reality?  The one thing I knew for sure, I wouldn’t be going anywhere tonight. 

I phoned Jake and he said he’d come to the boat shortly.  With Jake’s help we determined that the oil cooler had taken a dump and my engine had filled up with salt water.

The other factor in all this was that my engine through hull valve broke while I was in New Caledonia.  The good news at the time was that it broke in the open position so I could still run the engine.  The bad news now was that I had no way of shutting off the water flow into the engine.

Jake had been through similar things before and he showed me how I could disconnect the raw water hose that goes into the engine, fold it in half and with a series of hose clamps and boat plugs I could stop the flow into the boat.

We worked together and Jake helped me disconnect the hose, bend it in half and secure it with hose clamps and boat plugs.  Jake’s attitude was positive and upbeat and he told me how I could fix all this.  He walked me through what I needed to do to successfully pull the cooler off the engine.  He also told me to get busy removing the rest of the oil from the engine.  He then ran back out to dinner.  I had no idea he had stopped in the middle of his meal to come and assist.

Once Jake left, I dropped the suction line for the pump back down into the dipstick and pumped the handle to create a vacuum.  The handle pumped easily and water began to fill up the pump container.  I didn’t see any oil come out until at least 3 liters of saltwater had been collected.  That’s right…


As all this unfolded my mind started to spin.

What the fuck?  I work so hard on this freaking boat to maintain it all the time and now maybe my engine is completely screwed.  There are too many things to know on a boat.  How the hell am I supposed to know every possible thing?  I’ve got to be a mechanic, a hydraulic expert, a fiberglass repair guy, a rigger, a sailmaker, a cook, a bottom cleaner, a varnisher and bright work guy, a chef, a painter, an electrician, a plumber, and sometimes, just sometimes….  A FREAKING SAILOR!!!!

“AAAAHHHHHH!!!!!” I yelled in complete frustration.

Once the water was removed the vacuum sucker slowed way down and very little oil started to come out.  I left the vacuum to keep working while I removed the oil cooler.  By the time Jake got back, I had the cooler removed.  Jake was great at calming me down and researching the cooler to see where the failure was.  He checked the antifreeze to make sure there was no salt water in there.

“That’s good, Bro, that means the head gasket didn’t fail,” he said.

He then poured the residual transmission oil from the cooler.  It looked clean with no water.

“See that’s good, only the oil side failed,” Jake’s much more positive when he’s helping on somebody else’s boat than he is on his own.  He’s also a better mechanic than I am. 

“You can fix this, Dude.  This shit happens a lot more than you would think.  The good thing is that you caught it here in the slip and not out there when you were crossing the bar, that could’ve been really serious,” he said.

I was mentally spent about this entire thing but I knew Jake was right.  I found this out in the safety of the slip.  I couldn’t have asked for a better way to learn this.  It easily could’ve happened out there and turned tragic as my engine seized up.  Solstice is great for giving me jobs to fix at the right time.  She looks after us that way.  It was huge that I found this in the slip.  For that I was thankful.  The other thing I knew is that I’d be sidelined here while getting this all fixed.

The big choice for Jake and Jackie was what to do.  There wasn’t anything more for them to do here while I went about finding a new oil cooler and getting Solstice back up and running.  I encouraged them to press on.  In some ways them leaving would also relieve pressure from me as I’d be holding them back while they sat here.  They were in the leaving mindset too so they opted to press on.

“We’ll head out and we’ll see you by the weekend in Bundaberg,” Jake assured.

I knew as soon as those words left his mouth that that wouldn’t happen.

“I’ll see you in Darwin,” I joked.  But a part of me was serious.  I had this feeling that I wouldn’t be catching up with them anytime soon.  Bad weather was forecast to be coming up the coast by the end of the week.  That was one of the reasons we were leaving tonight.  If that happens, I’ll be forced to stay in port and wait for it to move through.  I could potentially be here another 5 days or more.  Then if this hydraulic steering issue proves to be something more when I get to Bundaberg, well I could get stuck there too.  Only time will tell.  In the end, Hokule’a decided to seize the moment and catch the tide when they were ready. 

In all honesty, I’m relieved that they left.  It relieves some pressure in that I don’t feel like I’m holding them back.  There wasn’t anything for them to do here but sit and wait for me to get it fixed.  Don’t get me wrong; I am completely bummed about it all.  I really was excited about going up the coast together.  But things have changed, and everything happens for a reason.  There’s a reason I’ve been given this space again to myself.  The reason for that I need to figure out.  I have to look on all of this in a positive light.  It’s the way I’ve always lived my life.  Yes, I freak out, yes, I get pissed and upset but ultimately I have to gather those negative emotions and put them out of my space.  They are not productive.  In a few days time I will have it all sorted and the engine back up and running tip-top again.  Once that happens, Solstice and I will be on the move again.

In the meantime, it’s nearing midnight and I can hear the surf on the nearby beach.  A subtle reminder that there is a much bigger reason I’m out here than to work on the boat.  I hope that time comes soon and in abundance.  I need that.

Much Aloha,


Sunday April 7th, 2013 - 09:04 Local Time, America Bay, New South Whales, Australia


Can you believe it, a real update?  I know outside of my last entry in Jan. I’ve had zero updates.  I left Sydney yesterday and am in a little bay called America Bay about 20 miles north of Sydney. 

Since I arrived in Australia Solstice was in a marina for a little over 3 months and then anchored in Iron Cove for almost two months, which was less than a half a mile from where I was in the marina.  The water there is terribly dirty and only on New Years when people were drunk did I see anybody in the water.  I was not one of them.  Because the water was so dirty I never got in to clean the bottom.

With Solstice and Hokule’a back together we left our safe haven in Sydney Harbour and headed out to Manly last Thursday.  I thought I had a good idea of the state of the bottom, as Solstice was sluggish and slow in maneuvering.  I’d liken it to trying to run while carrying about 125 lbs.  She wouldn’t turn easily or get up and move when I gave her throttle.  It was like a big slow push and it was like driving her through a sea of molasses.

Manly is just inside the entrance to Sydney Harbour and is an affluent beach community.  It’s a hybrid between Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach in California.  Not as wealthy as Manhattan but wealthier than Hermosa.  And like the Southbay of Southern California it has everything modern and is filled with beautiful people.  The water in this part of the harbor is clean too, clean enough to get in and clean the bottom.

I knew the bottom was going to be dirty but I was not prepared for what I found.  Huge barnacles encased the prop from 2 to 3 inches on both sides.  Other patches where little paint is left on her hull were also encased with these giant barnacles.  Solstice’s bottom has never been so dirty.  A bunch of things ran through my head when I first saw how bad it was.  Mostly that I will never neglect the attention to this job like this again no matter how dirty the water is.  It took me 4 ½ hours and two tanks of air to finish the job.  It also reminded me of the neglect that I’ve given this log over the past few months.  So here I am trying to scrape of the barnacles and get back on top of a more regular update as I feel it’s important. 

America Bay is beautiful.  It’s flat calm and the cove is not more than 100 yards wide.  Moorings are everywhere as this is a very popular destination for boats in the summer.  But on this autumn day we are only sharing it with 7 other boats. 

The sound of rushing water from a waterfall at the end of the cove breaks the silence of the air and big moon jellyfish float in an out in the direction of the tides.  The shoreline is a dense wooded forest made up of tall scrub trees called Spotted Gum trees.  They splay out at the top where their leaves and branches twist and tangle with the tree next to them.  Together they form a thick canopy that covers surrounding hills and granite formations.  Also mixed in with this fauna are oak and ash trees. 

There is a lot of life in the water here.  Schools of fish teem in small groups of feeding frenzies throughout the day.  When this goes on the patient hawks leave their perch among the trees and circle above.  When the moment is right they swoop down in a flash and snatch the unsuspecting fish from the surface of the sea.  Hawks and Eagles can’t get in the water because if their wings get wet they can’t fly.  Hence this is the reason behind their technique, unlike pelicans that dive in headfirst.  Yes, there are pelicans here too.  But the hawks style is much more graceful and impressive.  How they know when to reach their talons in at the right time is amazing.  It happens fast but not that fast.  They circle above patiently and then swoop in a silent, controlled slow motion and just like that they are flying off with a fish firmly gripped in its talons.  Amazing.

The most magical part of the bay though was about 3am.  I awoke in the middle of the night and went out on deck.  Not a breath of air stirred the trees or rippled the water.  The cove was flat and smooth.  Not a ripple traveled across the surface.  As I looked into the water I noticed an incredible amount of light sparkling from about 3 feet under the surface.  They were bright droplets of light that pulsed under the surface and spread throughout the entire cove like raindrops of white light.  I looked at them for a quite awhile wondering what they were.  Perhaps they were some form of tiny jellyfish filling the cove with a magical presence.  Not until I looked up at the brilliant clear night and gazed upon the brightness of the stars arching overhead in the night sky did I realize what I was seeing.  The stars were reflecting perfectly in the calm of the cove.  I’ve never seen starlight reflect so magically in the water.  The air was as still and quiet as the cove and I breathed it all in.  America Bay is a powerful place and you can feel the earth breathing here.  I absorbed it all and it felt so great to be out on the move again.

I arrived in Australia almost 5 months ago.  And where have the updates been?  Well, things have been busy but in all honesty there hasn’t been anything too exciting to write about.  On one hand I have not done much and on the other I have done a lot during that time.  I was here for a little over a week before I jetted back to the States to spend the Thanksgiving holidays with my family on the east coast.  I spent two wonderful weeks there watching football, (YYYEEEAAAHHH!!! RGIII BABY!!!)  hanging with family and friends, eating great food, drinking good beer and fine wine, enjoying firm ground, flat beds and hot showers.  I indulged in the good life and like the pelican I dove in headfirst.  I then hopped back on a jet and headed home to Redondo Beach, California.  The geographical home that is, my actual home was floating in Sydney Harbour some 6500 nautical miles southwest of there.  There I spent another two sensational weeks seeing friends, watching football (RGIII BABY!!! OH NO HIS KNEE!!!), laughing with great friends, drinking fine California wines, (how I miss those cabs and chards) drinking good beer and eating great food, (the sushi was spectacular) and I loved being back there.  I stayed in King Harbor aboard Taylor’s boat Capella which was wonderful.  I had many offers from friends to stay in their homes and most were shocked and couldn’t understand my desire to stay aboard a boat where I had a small space, had to walk to shower in the morning and in their eyes be “uncomfortable”.  If for me it were “uncomfortable” I wouldn’t be living the lifestyle I’m living.  I love living aboard, whether I’m in Sydney or in Redondo Beach.  I did miss the comfort of Solstice but I loved staying aboard Capella.  For one, it gave me my own space without putting anybody out or overstaying my welcome.  I still spent much time with many friends so none of that was sacrificed.  But staying aboard offered much more than just a space.  It allowed me to be back in my hood, King Harbor and be close to all my friends.  Where Capella is berthed too is right below where Jeep and Joyce used to live and I loved looking up to their old apartment.  I felt their presence overlooking me from there.  It was warm, comforting and I felt at home.

Living aboard a boat is nothing like living in an apartment or a house.  For me it simplifies life and enhances your connection with the environment and the people in it.  No neighborhood I have ever lived in have people all known one another and also have gone out of their way to help each other all the time.  Some marinas are very exclusive but most are not.  King Harbors’ residents range from doctors to airline pilots to filmmakers to writers, architects, musicians, artist, machinist, ironworkers to bums and derelicts and many more.  Often it’s hard to tell whose the doctor and who is the bum.  I bet if I took twenty people from King Harbor and lined them up next to a random list of their professions you couldn’t match them correctly.  I’d venture to say you could do that with most marinas occupants.

But being aboard Capella gave me much more than being around old friends.  It gave me the opportunity to be home with Redondo Beach and the ocean there.  From Capella’s slip you can hear the crash of the waves on the beach, perhaps my favorite sound in the world.  Being on the boat also allows an incredible connection to the earth and to the sea.  A swell rolls in, you feel it, the wind changes direction or picks up by 5 knots you’re aware.  And when I’m connected to the environment there is a peace that soothes and fills in.  The sea lions swimming in and around the boat enhances the connection to nature and
the oneness of it all.  I was home and I felt connected to Redondo there.

The trip back to the States in December was my 2nd trip back to the States since I left on this voyage.  This return back was very different for me than the first time.  The first time I returned I had been a bit homesick for the comfort of my old life and all the wonderful things that come with living in Southern California.  Since then I’ve grown very comfortable being out of the country and my homesick feelings have past.  Yes, I still miss home but I haven’t longed to be there.  I know I will be back and the one thing the first trip showed me is that nothing has changed there, that life is still there and waiting to welcome me home whenever I do return.  That was also echoed during this visit.

When I left Australia I wasn’t ready to go back to the States.  Geez, I had just arrived in Sydney.  Sydney is the first world-class city I’ve been to since leaving Los Angeles.  Yes, Auckland is a city but Auckland compared to Sydney is like comparing Charlotte, NC to San Francisco.  There really is no comparison.  Sydney is the first place I’ve been since leaving that I’ve felt I could live.  It’s also the most expensive place I’ve ever been.  A 6-pack of beer is about $15-$18.  And that’s just run-of-the-mill beer.  A 6-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is $28.  YES $28!  FOR SIX!  The only beer I’ve bought since I’ve been in Sydney has been in a pub.  A beer is about $8 to $9. 

My time in Redondo did echo that Redondo was home and I loved being there.  I especially loved the peace of the Southbay in December.  Everything was decorated for Christmas.  Bright, sunny days were filled with the air of the season.  Manhattan Beach sparkled and shimmered in all her Christmas light glory.  It was great time to be back home.  I love the cool, clear, crisp autumn mornings in Southern California.  People on the east coast would laugh at my talk of the change of seasons in L.A. but those that live there know.  We have seasons in L.A. like everywhere, they are just subtle in comparison but when you take the time to feel and notice them they are every bit as enjoyable.  I enjoy them more.  I love them for their subtlety.  You are forced to focus and feel the difference.  They force you to be more aware, not like a foot of snow being dumped on you.  You can’t ignore that.  But the slightest chill in the air of an autumn day in Redondo is very different than the warmth followed by a springtime sunset.

This trip back to the States was much different than the one last year.  That time I carried a sense of polarization with me from the world I had been living in Los Angeles and the world I was now sailing in in the South Pacific.  This time I felt no polarization between the two worlds at all.  In fact, I felt the two worlds were completely interconnected and I was equally a part of both of them.  I felt like a global citizen.

Last year too I felt a little guilt having flown across a sea it had taken me so long to sail across.  Some people had even said that I wasn’t really sailing around the world because I flew back.

“I thought you’d be gone until you sailed back here.  You’re not sailing around the world, you’re cheating,” they’d say.

I’d snap back with a comment like “Well Solstice hasn’t moved one foot without me aboard.  I’m not trying to set any records and as far as I’m concerned I’m sailing around the world, I don’t really care what you think.”  My reaction was formed from the insecure part of myself that thought maybe they were right.  Maybe I was cheating.  Maybe I should be aboard Solstice the entire time until I sailed back into Redondo Beach.  This trip back this year has helped me see the utter bullshit in such thinking.

The truth was revealed in my first trip back to the States and then fortified during this trip.  There’s no great feat here, it is just life.  We all work to achieve things in this world and we do them.  Some of us make movies, some build airports, others help heal people and some help forge the laws of our land.  But all those things are just jobs or work.  They are achievements and important but they don’t define us.  They don’t reflect our identity.  Our soul is who we are and the every day actions we make as we move through our environment and our interactions with other people shows who we are.  Our job doesn’t define that.  Whether you clean toilets at some restaurant or are President of the United States that isn’t who you are.  What defines you is just you.  In many of the impoverished nations that I’ve been so fortunate to visit this past year that is evident.  People just care about one another and do whatever they can to help each other survive.  There is none of the “Hey what do you do for a living?” scenario.  We say that a lot in the Stares but the reality is it is no different back home than it is on some remote island in Fiji.  Bill in Redondo is the same as Bill in the middle of the sea.  I’m just me only my environment is different.

But one thing did echo very loud when I was in Redondo this time.  That Redondo is home.  And it’s home because of the love that surrounds me there with my friends.  My group of friends are everything beautiful in this world and my trip home showed me how important it is to share time with one another.

I had this incredible experience that proved just that to me.  My entire visit was spent trying to see as many people as I could, while also getting things I needed for Solstice.  I spent quality time with my family on the east coast and on the west coast I was running from one group of friends to another.  I am so incredibly blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life.  The thought of that alone is overwhelming to me and it’s easy for me to have my heart crushed under the joy of their love, which leaves me in a blubbery sensitive mess when I think of it.  Of course, I’m one to cry at a Kodak commercial but hey, pirates are sensitive people.

When I was in Southern California I was fortunate enough to go to have the time to go to dinner with Jake’s Aunt Lois and her other half Jean.  Lois is an incredible soul with a heart filled with much love.  She exudes it.  Her energy is powerful and strong and fills a room.  From the moment I met Lois I have always felt a huge welcoming heart from her.  Perhaps that extends from my relationship with Jake; perhaps it’s something deeper, I really don’t know.  But she is and always has felt like family.  I’ve gotten that sense from all of Jake’s family.

My dinner with Lois, like with most friends was not near long enough.  Before I knew it dinner was over and we were all going our separate ways again.

“Bill, there’s a Christmas party at my partners home in Manhattan Beach, next week.  You should come by,” Lois said as we parted.

The party was literally a 10-minute drive from where I was staying in Redondo.  I didn’t know anybody there except Lois and Jean but I wanted to see them again so I went.  It was in a beautiful home and was a Christmas party catered with all the trimmings.  The people there were wonderful and I enjoyed chatting and making new acquaintances.  During the party a small wave of excitement began to ripple around the party.  One of the guests there was an opera singer.  A real opera singer.  He had performed in some of the great opera houses around the world, including the Sydney Opera House.  Is seems that he had recently made a Christmas album and he was going to sing a couple of songs for everybody.

Everybody crammed into a living room area where the opera singer was waiting.  He leaned casually against a baby grand piano in the corner and introduced himself.  And then he began to sing.  His voice reverberated around the room and filled the air with the most glorious sound.  There were no accompanying instruments or microphones.  It was just him and his voice.  I could feel the vibration of his music deep in my chest and my soul filled up with an overwhelming sense of Love.  I couldn’t believe where I was and what was happening.  In the culmination of this holiday season my mind raced back to everything that had happened to me in this past year.  I had been to some of the most remote villages in the world, stood on the edge of an erupting volcano, rode out a storm at sea and sailed into Sydney Harbour.  And now here I was in this beautiful home in Manhattan Beach, California amongst wonderful people listening to this amazing singer fill a home with his beautiful sound.  My eyes welled with tears.  I felt so blessed and fortunate.  I wanted to share it with all my friends.  And I stood there with Lois listening to this beauty and I missed Jake and Jackie. 

When I add up all the time we have been apart this past year it has been six months.  It was six months of time I needed to find myself, deal with single-handing and re-energize my soul about this voyage.  It was a great time for me but I felt now it is time to get back together with Hokule’a.

When I got back to Sydney Hokule’a was waiting in the slip next to me.  Jake and Jackie had sailed down the coast and joined me there so we could celebrate Christmas and New Years together.  It was a great reunion.  We had other sailing friends also join us for the holidays.  My friend and fellow single-hander Kennedy off Far Star drove down with our other friends Gary and Jackie off Inspiration Lady.  Kennedy stayed aboard Solstice and we all had a magical Christmas and New Years.  Kennedy brought a fine scotch that we opened his first night there and we stayed up until the wee hours talking story and drinking fine scotch.  Kennedy swears that the quality of it is why neither of us had a hangover in the morning.  Christmas was followed by the start of the Sydney to Hobart Race and New Years was ushered in with the amazing fireworks display that Sydney Harbour is famous for.  Our slips had a wonderful view of the bridge where we all stayed aboard and took in the moment.

Jake and Jackie would go back to the States too for another 6 weeks and I spent most of my time in Sydney taking care of some boat projects.  I got new batteries, a new forward sail, a new alternator and varnished amongst a bunch of other things.  I also had made up my mind, I would wait until Jake and Jackie got back to Oz and we’d sail together again.

Life is filled with amazing moments and those moments are best experienced when they are shared with people I love.  Now we’re slowly making our way up the east coast of Australia to the Great Barrier Reef and beyond.  Some amazing moments lie just ahead over the horizon.  And those moments will best be experienced when I share them with those that I love so very much.  When I share them with Jake and Jackie.

Much Aloha,


Note to the reader:  I was going to attach pictures with this log entry but I decided that if you look at the pictures from the New Caledonia to Sydney Passage you’ll find that they go along nicely with the story that follows.

Thursday November 1st, 2012 - 11:28 New Caledonia/Sydney, Local Time
28° 37 South 158° 48 East – In the middle of the Tasman Sea

New Caledonia lies 550 miles to my stern.  Sydney is another 550 miles ahead.  Except for the two ships I saw the first 24 hours there’s been no traffic.  The occasional albatross soars around the boat or a school of flying fish take off as Solstice invades their space but besides that, there is not much out here.  Every now and again I find a squid that has
somehow hurled itself on deck where the sun quickly ends its demise.

I’m tired and ready to be there.  These first few days have been an exercise in adjusting to the routine of life during a passage.  It’s hard writing in the middle of the ocean as even when it is calm the constant pitching from one side to the other from the deep ocean swells forces you to hold on constantly.  I’ve wedged myself in tight in the main salon with my back pressed up against the starboard cushions and my feet pressed against the mast.  My computer sits on my lap and I’m braced in typing away.  As the boat rolls from port to starboard I’m positioned like I’m ready to do a leg press on a machine at the gym.  I actually do press with my feet against the mast when the boat rolls to keep myself from going anywhere.  It’s a good secure area.

The secure places that find me wedged in somewhere are the companionway where I can also press myself against secure solid parts of the boat or in my sea bunk on the port side of the main salon.  When the seas are flat enough I sit in the cockpit.  But even there my feet are usually pressed against something holding me in place.  It’s become quite natural holding myself secure in a seaway.  My legs and your arms get a constant workout just holding myself in place.

The first 3 days have been beautiful sailing with a 15 to 20 knot breeze out of the southeast and flat seas.  So I’ve spent a lot of time in the cockpit.  We’ve spent much of these days gliding gently up and over small swells while averaging between 7.5 and 8 knots.  Sometimes better.  Its been perfect sailing bookended by beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  A rainbow or two has revealed itself after a sprinkling of rain sweeps past from a small passing cloud.  At night the moon has blanketed the sea in a brilliant veil of ghostly tremulous light.  The sound of the sea rushing by the hull and the wind in Solstice’s sails has been hypnotic.  The occasional shooting star streaking across the tropical night reminds me that I’m not just small upon this vast sea but that the earth is small within this vast universe.  Being out here just a speck atop the sea, I feel insignificant.  It’s humbling.

Sailing under a full moon is magical, especially with the conditions I’ve had.  There is nothing like it.  These first three days and nights have been glorious.  On two separate occasions a big pod of dolphins has surrounded Solstice and IEach time they traveled along with us for a long time surfing on Solstice’s bow wake and the accompanying deep sea swells that race along with us.  On occasion, one will dive deep down, turn around and then head back towards the surface fast.  Suddenly he’ll burst out from the crest of a swell, leap across the trough and dive back into the top of the wave on the other side.  It all happens so fast.  It must be great to be able to swim like that.  On each visit they have spent more than an hour surfing, jumping, playing and racing along with us.  I’ve seen dolphins swim along with us many times and each time they breathe new life into my soul.  We’re kindred spirits and I feel its always a great sign when they appear.  The first time they arrived there was a good swell and it was blowing about 20 knots.  The movements of the boat were unpredictable and sudden.  I felt it was best watching them from the security of the cockpit.  The second the seas were flat and I was comfortable enough to go to the bow and be close to them.  You could here their high-pitched squeal as they talked to each other.  Every now and again one would roll on his side and look up at me as I hung over the pulpit staring down at him.  I have to confess; every time I lock eyes with a dolphin I try to open my mind to see if there is any way of communicating telepathically.  So far I haven’t been able to crack the code.  But I’ll keep trying.

When they decided they’d had enough and it was time to go they vanished as quickly as they had appeared.  It’s like the leader said “Okay, that’s it, lets go” and they all raced off together in a different direction.  Suddenly Solstice and I were alone again and a melancholy feeling washed over the boat.  It was great having them around.  I haven’t seen them in a couple of days now.  Perhaps they sensed the change in weather that was coming and have gone somewhere to seek refuge.  I’ve tried to enjoy these few days of great sailing but I know that it’s all changing.

I have been in the middle of a large high-pressure system but as I move southwest it’s moving east.  The winds have started to lighten up considerably.  Winds, mind you, that already were light.  I’ve also noticed the mare’s tail clouds in the upper atmosphere.  Those are the wispy cirrus clouds that often signify an approaching front.  Every morning I’ve been on the radio talking to Dave and Patricia from Gulf Harbour Radio in New Zealand.  He’s a retired meteorologist and along with his wife every morning they radio boats on passage between the islands, Australia and New Zealand and they give them up to date weather reports.  I’ve checked in with them every morning since I left.  I give them my position and they tell me what weather I should expect in the next 24 hours.  They also laugh and joke with me, as I’m the only boat stupid enough be going straight to Sydney.  They usually make a call like,

“Solstice, Solstice, Gulf Harbour Radio here, are you on frequency?”

“Good morning guys I read you loud and clear.  How do you copy me?” is my usual reply.
“Oh you’re booming in here this morning.  Quite good copy from you as usual.”

radio isn’t capable of handling e-mail technology but it’s a great old radio that puts out a strong signal that’s better than many of the newer models. 

“We’re all quite interested in how you’re doing out there, Bill.  You’ll be getting the frontline weather well before the rest of us so you can report to us so we’ll know what to expect in a couple of days. Ha, ha, ha,” Patricia’s transmissions are usually punctuated with laughter. 

I then give them my current weather conditions and Dave uses that to help pinpoint what he’s seeing in his weather models and then tells me based on his expertise what to expect.

“Well there’s a very deep low well south of you which is good but there’s a strong trough spinning off of it that’s coming your way.  It should be over top of you soon.  You can tell us all about it afterwards. Ha, ha, ha” they enjoyed me being in the middle of the Tasman.  I’m not quite sure where the Coral Sea becomes the Tasman but halfway to Sydney I was well in the Tasman now.  They also were telling me what I knew the high cirrus clouds were echoing.  A front was coming. 

The amazing thing with Dave and Patricia is that they get up every morning to check-in with boats on passage.  Nobody asks them to do it, they just do.  And they do it for free and on their own time.  As well as being a retired meteorologist they are also sailors that understand the value of what they provide.  Still, they take their own time and effort into providing this to each boat out here that wants to check-in with them.  They’re heroes to us sailors out here.

But it’s more than just that for the single hander.  Getting the weather updates was invaluable but it was nice to just talk to a real person.  I looked forward to connecting with them each morning.  It made me feel connected to a community and not so alone.

They went on this morning to tell me that the wind would slowly start to back from east to north to northeast.  It would then build to about 30-35 knots. 

“That will be your first sign and that the leading edge of the trough is coming,” Dave said.

“Roger that, I’ll be ready,” I said.

“Understand that that’s just the beginning.  When the trough arrives,” Dave went on,
“And it will arrive sometime in the next 24 to 36 hours, you will have a wind shift from the north northeast to south when it passes over you, over.” he said.

“Roger that, Dave.  When you say the wind will shift will it ease to the south or will it shift immediately, over?” I asked.

“With the nature of this trough, it will be immediate.  And it will be the same strength if not more than what you had before the shift.  30 to 35 knots over,” he said.

“Okay, Roger that, Dave.  Thank you guys so much for the update.  I’ll check in with you in the morning.  Thanks again, this is Solstice on the side,” I replied.

“Ha, ha, ha,” Patricia laughed.  “I always think it’s quite curious how people thank us when we give them the terrible news that they don’t want to hear. Ha, ha, ha.  Okay any other vessels on passage that want to check-in come now.”

I set the mic down and went outside and looked at the sky.  The mare’s tails were beautiful in the upper atmosphere and the ice crystals sparkled against the deepening blue of the afternoon sky.

24 to 36 hours,
I thought to myself.

When I left New Caledonia, I figured it would take 7 to 10 days to get to Sydney.  I’d hoped for 7 and with the great time I made in the first three days I still thought that was possible.  But with the little to no breeze I had had recently 10 days seemed more likely.

In an effort to solidify a hard day count with King Neptune and the powers that be before I left, I decided to start what I’ve called my “Banana Calendar”.  When I left New Caledonia, I bought 8 bananas.  I hung them up on the arch over the aft deck and I vowed to eat one banana each morning.  After one day I’d have 7 bananas left, after day two, 6.  By the time I got to day eight there would be no bananas left I’d be there.  I was being optimistic and purposely didn’t buy more than 8 as I had faith that I’d be there when I finished them.

With 4 bananas to go and an approaching front, the breeze shut off.  I didn’t want to be out here for more than 8 days so when the wind died I started the engine.  I’ve run the engine most of these past 36 hours.  Not constantly, but I’d say for 90% of the time.  When the breeze picked up a little I’d roll out the headsail with the hope of sailing.  Just when I felt like it had filled in enough I’d shut everything down and sail at about 4 knots in about 7 knots of breeze.  Ultimately the wind faded, the sails flogged, and reluctantly
I’d fire up the engine again.  But these, along with the wispy high clouds, were all signs of the change of weather ahead that Dave talked about.

The alternator/battery issue had also been a concern the past 24 hours as I’d observed some things that keep me on edge.  It seemed the even after running the engine for an extensive amount of time the batteries were not holding their charge like they had in the past.  Something wasn’t normal.  All I knew for sure is that I would be a happy man when I got to Sydney.  The idea of getting somewhere and staying put for a few months was exciting. 

As is the case before every passage an incredible amount of time and energy went into pouring over weather patterns and systems in the area of my route between Noumea and Sydney.  Ever since I arrived in New Caledonia any spare time I had, had been spent looking at the weather between the triangle of Australia, New Caledonia and New Zealand.  The Tasman Sea is notorious for its bad weather and rough seas.  Because of this I’ve been diligent about watching things very close.  Plus this was my biggest solo crossing to date 1,100 miles with just Solstice, the sea and me.  I tried to figure out some basic pattern of how the weather was acting in this part of the world.

Picking a weather window for anything longer than 500 miles is a challenge all its own because no good reliable forecast can really be called after 3 days time.  Weather is so unpredictable and patterns and systems change completely within just hours.  All you can do is pick what feels best, trust in your prep and the powers that be and go.  I sat in New Caledonia pouring through forecast and predictions.  Jake and Jackie had sailed off to Bundaburg a few weeks ago and they just barely got in a few hours before boats behind them were smacked hard by a southerly blow that came up the Aussie coast.  One boat sank while another was severely damaged.  Hearing about these incidents puts you on high alert and they are sober reminders of the ferocity of the sea.  I’ve known this front was going to come but after my radio conversation with Dave and Patricia my internal alarms were going off.

Another significant factor that comes into play with the weather in the Tasman is the East Australian Current.  This is a powerful current that runs southerly from the warm waters of the Coral Sea down the east coast of Australia to well south of Sydney.  It’s comparable to the Gulf Stream in the eastern Atlantic and was the current depicted in Finding Nemo when Dory jumps into the “super highway” current with Crush and the other turtles.  The current can be up to 7 knots at its strongest but most of the time it’s a 2-3 knot current.  Still swift.

When this current clashes with a southerly blow, like the one Dave had forecast that was headed in my direction the seas become… well dangerous.  It is to be avoided.  Sometimes though things happen and can’t be avoided.  The best we can do is try and pick what feels best.  The systems that move across the Tasman are fairly regular coming about once every five days or so.  Most people with experience with this crossing say that you are guaranteed to get smacked on the route by something.  For that reason I tried to pick the “something” that would smack that had the least punch.  I saw the potential of this front forming before I left but at the time it only was supposed to be about 25 knots.  The rest of the window looked great and these first 4 days had proven that.  Before I left I had also hired the help of local weather router from New Zealand who, like Dave and Patricia helped yachts on passage and was a retired meteorologist.  Unlike Dave, he charged for his services.   But he had done this for many years and is well respected by the yachties that have come before.

I had also learned before I left that some boats were planning to leave on Friday, two days before me.  But it appeared to me that if I left on that Friday with the rest of them I’d find myself right smack in in the middle of that current when the next front came up the Aussie coast.  I didn’t want to be anywhere near that current when it hit so a later departure and confronting it out at sea seemed to make the more sense to me.  I didn’t really understand the boats that had left on Friday.  They were going to be crossing the current when the blow hit.

The blast that I saw then was the same blast that Dave was now talking about coming towards me.  The original forecast was supposed to be about 20-25 knots.  Now they’re saying 30-35 knots. Because of my delayed choice of departure I was going to hit it as planned about 400 miles offshore.  Maybe I had made the wrong choice.  All I knew now was I was out here, and it was coming.

I’ve started to do a lot of things early single-handing.  If I was going to get anything approaching 30 knots I was going to need a 2nd reef in the main.  With barely a ripple on the water I decided to put in the 2nd reef when it was calm.  I knew I was acting way too soon but I justified my actions for doing so.  I could walk easily and safely on the foredeck right now and get the sail down and secure with a double reef in these “no wind” conditions.  After the reef was in I sat in the cockpit.  Part of me felt stupid because with barely a breath of air the main had two reefs in it.  Solstice’s sailing ability was deeply impaired.  But on the other hand I felt like I was being smart.

The wind began to pick up.  But I still didn’t have enough sail out and we didn’t sail well.  If I took out the 2nd reef we’d be sailing nicely with no problem.  But I felt that ultimately I’d have to put it back in sooner than later so I left it in and opted to motor/sail.  I putted along with minimal help from the engine for a few more hours.  The wind built more and I shut off the engine.  We were sailing well.  It then backed to the northeast just as Dave said it would.  It went from east to northeast and then to north.  Soon it was blowing 20 knots.  When the wind picked up to 25 knots with higher gusts I hauled in half of the jib and we were screaming along comfortably at 8.5 to over 9 knots.  The wind and seas were all from the right direction and I was comfortable and Solstice raced along.  Leaving in the double reef seemed like a great idea right now.

Day turned to dusk and dusk gave way to darkness.  Copious amounts of stars were thrown all over the clear night sky and the breeze blew hard.  The sea remained comfortable as we were traveling in the right direction.  But that little voice inside started to speak a little louder. 

Beware! A wind shift is coming!

When? Was the big question.  For now, things were comfortable, we were on course and we were making great time.  I decided to lie down get some sleep.

This being my longest solo crossing to date I decided that I would change my sleeping habits from how I had in the past because in the past I didn’t get near enough rest.  During the old way I had set my alarm and got up every 30 minutes.  Never did I get good long sleep.  On this passage I chose to not use my alarm clock but instead to stick to the natural alarm clock that I had also used in the past, which worked great.  That was to drink a large cup of water every time before I tried and catch some shut-eye.  The first 4 days this had worked great.  The longest I slept at any one time was two hours.  That was a great rest.  I then would wake, check on things and if everything were fine I’d pound another cup of water and go back to bed.  If the boat didn’t wake me up, me having to pee surly did.  The other thing I found was that in these conditions I slept with one eye open anyway.  Any sound or unusual movement sprung me out of bed.  The idea of sleeping through anything tragic didn’t’ seem possible.  I also had set alarms for the perimeters of the AIS and the Radar, which performed a series of sweeps every five minutes.  The alarm is loud and piercing and surly woke me as well.  So I was comfortable going to bed, and I needed to rest.

About an hour and half later I awoke needing to go to the bathroom.  I poked my head outside to check on everything.  There were no more stars in the sky.  The moon had risen and though it wasn’t visible it’s bright light backlit clouds that covered the night sky.  It was overcast.  The wind had also picked up.  Solstice still raced along and we were still on course making great time.

Hmmmm.  The front is near,
I thought.  Why do these things always hit in the middle of the night? I wondered.

I was tired and I didn’t want to make a sail change. 

A lazy sailor gets in trouble –
the voice inside my head piped in and spoke to me like a coach.  I decided I should pull the jib in a little more, anticipating the wind shift. 
I shook my head hard from side to side in an effort to snap myself alert.  That only seems to work well in cartoons, I decided afterward.  I turned on the forward deck light so I could see what I was doing.  I’ve gotten in a habit of doing this at night so that I can make sure there are no fouls as I go about the job.  As I pulled on my tattered and worn sailing gloves I went through each step I needed to do in order to safely reef.  It’s a simple thing, rolling up the headsail but at this stage of single-handing I still run the simplest job through my brain slowly before I set to the task.  I put on my harness and stepped out from the shelter of the dodger.  When the wind hit my face it shook me more awake than the shake of the head.  I clipped into the safety ring on the boom gallows and sat down on the edge of the cockpit and readied myself to ease the sheet.  I slowly unwrapped the line from the winch and let it out to unload the wind from the sail….


The sail banged from side to side violently like a giant flag whipping in the wind.  Suddenly I was wide-awake.  I pulled hard on the roller furling line but the force of the wind was too great.  I couldn’t get the sail to roll up.

Oh no!

The wind had picked up a lot more than I had realized.  I got a firmer grip on the line and…


I yelled as I pulled as hard as I could.  Slowly the sail started to roll in. 


The sail continued to flail and bang hard but it got easier to roll up as the sail area reduced.  I had it about where I wanted it and looked to the foredeck to see how much sail was still out.  My heart sank as I noticed what appeared to be a large tear against the night sky.  It was hard to tell exactly what I was looking at but something was wrong.  It was 3am and I knew I would have to wait until daylight to further assess the problem.  What I did know was something wasn’t right and I needed to pull the sail all the way in.  Solstice eased and slowed when I got the sail rolled up.  The feeling of goodness and wonder that had filled my spirit for much of this passage so far left me and the void was filled with an ominous sense of seriousness.  The feeling of having lost my forward sail put a knot in my gut that twisted tighter with each higher gust of wind.

Near the top of my list of things to have on the boat before I left was a spare jib but in the end I couldn’t afford it.  This was the only forward sail I had.  The choice to have left without a spare now seemed stupid and foolish.  Then a different mindset suddenly rushed in which caught me off-guard.

Forget that bullshit thinking of “should haves”, Bill.  Deal with the NOW –
The coach again spoke up.

The coach was right.  The thoughts of what I could have or should have were inconsequential and any energy directed in that direction was wasted.  I was out here; I had a torn forward sail and no spare.  That was reality.  I needed to deal with that and that alone.

I turned my attention back to Solstice and the situation at hand.  With just the double reef main I still sailed comfortably at over 7 knots.  I looked at the anemometer.  It was blowing a steady 35 knots gusting to 40.  The knot in my gut tightened harder like a clinched fist.  It was 3am and a fight was coming.  There wasn’t much else I could do in the night but wait.  I went back down below and lay down hoping to get some rest.  But I couldn’t sleep.  I lay there with my eyes wide open and a million thoughts running through my brain about what was to come. I longed for daylight.  Sometime before sunrise I managed to fall asleep, awaken, fall asleep, awaken and fall asleep several times.  Each time I awoke I’d have an initial feeling of peacefulness but then reality would come crashing back and I’d immediately tightened back up.  All I could hear were Dave’s words,

The wind shift would be immediate and the winds will be stronger than what you had been experiencing.

I was nervous.

I awoke at sunrise to find that it was still blowing out of the north at 35 knots and we still sailed along sometimes at better than 7 knots.  I wanted to pull out some forward sail because the boat needed some lift forward but I couldn’t because of the tear.  We hobby-horsed a bit but at least we were sailing and sailing in the right direction.  06:30 came around and it was time for my check-in with Dave and Patricia.

I gave them my position and conditions.

“Okay, Well you’re in it, Bill.  Congratulations you’ll be able to put this down in your log book, ha, ha, ha.” Dave’s an American but he had adopted the same laugh as his Kiwi wife.

“Okay,” I replied.  “Let me ask you this, Dave.  When the wind shift comes, will I be able to see any change in the weather beforehand so I can anticipate it or will it just happen?  Over.”  I asked.

“No.  It will just happen.  Over,” he said.

“Okay, When do you think it will hit,” I asked.

“You should expect to hit the trough around lunchtime.  Afterwards you’ll get some possible convection,” he said.  “Actually you might get some patches of blue sky right before the trough comes through but I doubt it.  I’d be interested if that happens.  You can tell me tomorrow.  The good news is, everything should start to clear tomorrow.  You’ll have a shift to lighter easterly winds that will carry you the rest of the way to Sydney.  Over.”
“Okay, thanks, Dave, I’ll give you a full report in the morning.  This is Solstice on the side,” I put the mic down.
I should expect to hit by lunchtime, was all I heard.  The nice winds the next day didn’t register in my brain.  The word hit, had an unsettling ring to it and stuck in my brain.  Tension squeezed me tighter.  I felt like I was waiting for the impact of a car crash.  I had tightened up completely waiting to absorb the blow. 

Just how hard would it hit?

It was blowing 35 knots.  It was going to shift immediately in the other direction as the trough passed over.  I thought back to the worst weather I had ever been in.  That was an easy answer.

Years ago I sailed my Tayana 37 from Hawaii to L.A. with Jill and Pete.  About 200 miles off the coast of California a storm developed right over top of us with no warning or forecast from any weather reports or faxes.  For 36 hours we had 50 knots of wind and 30-35 foot seas.  I haven’t seen anything approaching that since.  But I have often thought about what I would’ve done differently during that storm.  We had a deep triple reef in the main and that was it.  But the seas built so big that we pushed the limits of broaching.  Broaching occurs when a boat is running downwind and surfs down the face of the waves.  The sea grabs the stern of the boat and turns it sideways to the wave.  When this happens the sea can easily turn a boat on it’s side and capsize as the wave rolls over top of it.  Far Niente surfed too fast down the face of the waves in that storm and I should’ve tried to slow the boat to prevent broaching.  I should have deployed the sea-anchor or heaved-to.  A sea-anchor is not a regular anchor.  For lack of a better description, it’s a parachute dragged through the water from the boat to slow it down.  It slows the boat speed and holds the boat to a specific angel to the seas.  Heaving-to is another storm tactic for slowing the boat.  By backing the sails against the wind and turning the helm hard over into the wind it’s a way of stopping the boat in stormy conditions.  It’s usually best done by using both a headsail and the mainsail but you can do it under the main alone.  In essence, it’s parking the boat so that there is no forward momentum.  A famous sailing couple Lynn and Larry Pardy who have been sailing around the world for decades are great believers in heaving-to.

That’s it.  Heave –To, Bill.

The coach barked out his order in my head.  That made sense.  The fact that I didn’t do anything in that storm got me thinking about this situation and I needed to act and do something now.

Instead continuing to sail on at over 7 knots and run smack into this thing why not stop and wait for it to come to you?

As soon as that thought entered my brain I saw my first patch of blue sky.

Dave was right. There it is. 

Through all my tension a sort of excitement broke through just like that patch of blue.  The wind was howling but I had a game plan.  Stop the boat.  Five minutes later I saw a bigger patch of blue.

Do it now!

I examined the seascape.  In all the stress I hadn’t noticed that the seas had built too.  Just like the wind had the night before.  I turned off the auto-pilot and went to the helm.  Solstice pitched back and forth and side to side.  I turned the helm towards the rising swell.  Solstice bucked up and shook her brow in protest like a horse being reined in.   I had only the mainsail up but I was able to pull her over enough and got the wind backed on the sail.  She dropped from 7 to 4 knots.  I turned her helm hard over towards the seaway and she slowed further.  4 knots dropped to 3, then to 2… 1.5… and then she hovered .5-.9 knots.

Everything went calm.  The seas and the wind didn’t lie down but the boat wasn’t pressing or fighting anymore.  We were like corked bottle in the sea bobbing up and down with the swells, just floating.  I couldn’t believe it.  All the stress was taken out of the rig and the boat was one with the sea.  We moved easily up and over each wave.  It was perfect.  Instead of barreling through the seascape on a collision course with the trough we’d just wait for it to come to us.  This was now more like a car running into a parked car instead of two cars hurling at each other and colliding head-on.  I still felt tense, but I felt better.

A half-hour later the small patches of blue were gone and ash gray clouds covered the entire sky.  A defining darker line of clouds revealed itself on the horizon as the trough approached.  As it neared I noticed what appeared to be a white misty fog right on top of the sea…..

I thought.


The sound of distant thunder rolled over the sea and across the boat.  It marked the leading edge of the front and was headed right for me.


That was the word Dave had used.  “Convection” was his code word for thunderstorms.  Why didn’t he just say, “You’ll get thunderstorms”?  Convection sounds so passive and harmless.


The thunder grew louder as the trough neared.  If there’s one thing I hate at sea, it’s lightning.

Maybe it will stay far off and just drift past,
I hoped.

The dark clouds and the defining white line of rain marched forward like a civil war brigade upon the sea.  I did another check of the deck and sails.  There was nothing else to do but watch.  The rain got closer.  Where the rain was the sea erupted in tiny splashes as heavy raindrops hit the ocean.  It looked like the sea was boiling and moving towards the boat.  Visibility after the leading edge of rain disappeared into a haze of gray and white.  The wind was still blowing 35 knots out of the north.  When the rain was about 100 feet away a wall of wind blowing 35 to 40 knots from the south moved over the boat and marched across the deck.  The mainsail flogged for a split second as the wind shift past over the middle of the boat.  Solstice eased and then leaned hard over on a port tack with the 40-knot wind shift. 

The wind shifted 180° and Solstice handled it beautifully.  I couldn’t have hoped for anything better.  The shift was immediate but there was no sudden slam of the boom or overwhelming stress on the rig as the boat shifted to the opposite tack.  The double reef in the main and being hove too worked perfectly.  I was excited it worked so well.  I had gotten lucky…


I bolt of lightening struck off near to starboard.


Another bolt hit off to port. 

My heart rate jumped and I started to pray.

“Please God, Please God, don’t let us get hit by lightening,” I asked out loud. “Jeep! Jeep!  If you can do anything, please stop the lightening, stop the lightening” I called on any higher power that could help.

CRRAACCKKK BOOM!  Another bolt hit and I was frightened.

Catastrophic thoughts ran through my brain.  The chances of getting hit by lightning are considerably higher when you are a pole sticking up in the middle of the ocean.  In fact, a few months ago friends of mine got hit when they were about 600 miles off the northern coast of Australia.  They lost all their electronics onboard.  Fortunately they were traveling with another boat and were able to sail with them and were guided safely to port.  A few years earlier, I read an article in the L.A. Times about a boat that was lost sailing from Catalina to San Diego.  It just vanished.  The belief was it was probably hit by lightning and sank.  Boats get hit by lightning all the time.  It’s not as rare or unheard of as it is on land.  I’ve heard many catastrophic stories about lightning bolts hitting masts, traveling through the boat and blowing holes through the hull the size of tires.  Boats sink rapidly after that.  I’ve seen pictures too of hulls with thousands of tiny holes through the fiberglass caused by a lightening strike.  The boat still sinks, just slower. The sudden reality of the potential of things turning catastrophic in a heartbeat shot through me. 


Another bolt hit nearby.  My heart skipped with the violent crack of thunder and light.  The reality of being over 400 miles from the nearest shore was another sobering thought that was overwhelming and ominous.  I also knew that Solstice had been hit by lightning in the past.  That thought was formidable and intense. 

Doug Murray, the previous owner of the boat had sailed Solstice in the Caribbean for 6 years.  While at anchor during a thunderstorm the boat took a direct hit at the top of the mast.  Doug was smart though; he had fastened a large gauge wire from the starboard backstay and ran it overboard.  It was a permanent setup he had while he traveled the Caribbean.  Because of that when the lightning hit it had an easy path to follow to ground and to the sea.  The bolt ran down the stay to the wire and went overboard.  He lost his directional wind vane at the top of the mast but that was it.  There was no other damage to the boat anywhere.  In fact, until he saw smoke rising from the top of his mast he thought the boat next to him got hit.

When Doug originally told me this story I took it to heart.  I had a piece of chain made that I would affix to the stay and toss overboard anytime I heard thunder.  I used it on occasion while in L.A. and also during some thunderstorms since I left but never had I been in a true lightning storm like I was experiencing.  Also the chain was too heavy and didn’t make a great connection.  Jake and I had a discussion about the chain not to long ago and both agreed that perhaps the “chain setup” wouldn’t be as effective as a big wire.  I tucked that thought in the back of my mind before leaving New Caledonia and had made note that I had big 2-gauge wire I could use for such an event.  But I had never hooked it up. 


Another bolt hit nearby and I knew I had to act.  It was the only proactive thing I could do.  I ran below, pulled away the cushions from where the wire lived and pulled it from its cubbyhole.  I grabbed some hose clamps, razor blades and a screwdriver.  I cut about 3 inches of insulation from each end of the wire.  I thought if I could spread the braids out around and hose clamp them tight to the stay and toss the free end overboard, perhaps it could save things if I got struck.

As I cut away the insulation I noticed my hands were shaking.  I had been in bigger wind and seas but nothing like these nearby lightening strikes.  I was scared.


I just hoped I could get it assembled before it was too late.

I went to the aft deck with all my tools.  The rain was torrential.  I was soaked to the bone in a matter of seconds.  The wind whipped the tops of the seas and the spray blew across the surface of the sea like snow slipping over a drift.  My heart was pounding and I worked feverishly to get the wire attached.  After almost losing the screwdriver overboard a couple of times I finally had the bare wire wrapped around the stay and tightened well with the hose clamp.  Solstice bobbed up and over the sea.  I felt a sense of relief as I tossed the free end overboard.  It fell towards the sea and then abruptly stopped.  It dangled about 6 inches above the surface.  It was too short. 


If I got hit right then it wouldn’t have done any good.  I felt like I was in a dark comedy.  If I were writing the script I’d have had the lightning hit right as the wire came up too short.  Then I’d be sitting on the aft deck charred to a crisp like Daffy Duck.  In all the stress of the moment I let out a little laugh at the thought of that happening.  I’m glad King Neptune was writing the script and not me. 

I hurried back below and grabbed an extra long piece of wire.  Again I hurried and cut the insulation from either end.  The process went faster this time but I continued to talk to King Neptune as I worked. 

“PLEASE!  PLEASE!  PLEASE!  DON’T HIT US, DON’T HIT US!” I pleaded with all my will.


I ran back out into the storm and went back to work frantically.  The driving rain hit my face hard and stung my eyes.  I struggled to keep them open as I unclamped the short wire and swapped it for the long one.  Finally secured, I tossed it overboard.


It was plenty long.  I retreated to cover under the dodger and pulled off my wet T-shirt and toweled off with it. 
There was nothing else I could do but watch.  Stress and anxiety had a vice-like grip on me.  Lightning continued to strike all around.  I stood there in the companionway.  I could hear the shortness of my breath.  The rapid pace of my heartbeat vibrated strong in my chest. I noticed I was still shaking.  I realized then how frightened I was.  In all my years of sailing on the sea I was never more frightened than I was in that helpless moment standing there waiting to get hit by lightning.  And praying that we wouldn’t be.

The wind swept over the sea at 40 knots.  Huge swells moved up, down, around and under Solstice.  She rolled up and over every peak and valley.  The hoved-too tactic worked great and the boat was relatively calm and controlled.


Another bolt hit nearby and my heart ran a little faster.

“JEEP!  ARE YOU OUT THERE?  JOYCE ARE YOU THERE?”  I called again to my dear friends that had past away not too long ago.

“If you guys are out there, and you’re watching over me, please make the lightning go away.  Please Jeep.  Make it go away.  Don’t let me get hit.” 


I decided maybe it was best to go straight to the top.

“Okay, God.  Keep me and Solstice safe.  Please let this storm pass without hitting us. Please God.  Please!”  I projected all my will to keep ussafe

At some point the fear subsided and I was engrossed with the sea.  The sea rose up in 3 to 4 meter pyramids all around and then fell back down.  When the top of each wave peaked it was blown apart when it collided with the wind.  Scatterings of water swept over top the surface of the sea and scurried to the horizon.  Waves rose and crumbled, rose and crumbled all around me.  No fear remained.  It was too exhausting to continue to be scared.  Instead, I was absorbed in the now.  Nothing else mattered or existed except what was happening.  It was my reality.

The next thunderclap was further away.  The thought that the worst had past brought some relief.  I could feel the vice-like grip on me loosen.


And even more distant thunderclap rumbled above.  It had definitely moved further away.  I let out a huge breath of air.

“Thank you God!  Thank you, Jeep!  Thank you Joyce!” I hollered skyward.

The thunder and lightning continued to move further away but the wind blew steady and stronger, just like Dave said it would.  The seas built higher too.  I sat there floating, making no headway; in fact, we were drifting about .3 to .5 knots an hour in the wrong direction.  I couldn’t pull out the jib to sail and the seas were too big to motor into.  I thought I should wait 24 hours for things to settle down.  I went below and tried to get some sleep.  Again I lay there for a long time with my eyes wide open.  I watched the sky swing back and forth through the companionway and listened to the howl of the wind in the rigging.  At some point I closed my and eyes and fell asleep.  I woke to the sound of the wind still howling outside.  I looked at my watch…. 6 HOURS HAD PAST!

I hurried up top to check on things.  Solstice was bobbing up and down over the seas comfortably.  As soon as I saw everything was okay I relaxed.  I noticed a difference in myself.  My mind was clearer and calm and I felt more energized.  I didn’t mean to sleep as long as I had but it made a huge difference.

I checked my position and was disappointed to discover that we had drifted about 5 miles.  We were moving a lot faster than .5 knots.  I was frustrated.  I didn’t want to be out here a second longer than I needed to be.  Every hour not making way was an hour longer at sea.  If I waited 24 hours it would be an entire day lost.  I wondered how much longer I would be out here.  Another day also meant the potential for another front to move in before I got to Sydney.  I saw my banana calendar swinging on the aft arch.  3 bananas were left.  I had hoped to be there in three days from now.  But with the weather like this who knew….


The bananas took off like they were shot out of a cannon.  They soared away from the boat and were carried by the wind for about 20 yards before they slammed into the side of a wave. 

“Oh Great!  Take my banana calendar,” I yelled to the sea.  “What does that mean?  Does that mean I’m not going to make it in three days?  Does that mean I’m not going to make it at all?  What the hell?  Dammit, there go my bananas,” I mumbled.

The more serious side of myself took over.

Okay, Bill.  Adapt and overcome.

I could continue to stay hove-too or I could try and motor.  I definitely couldn’t use the jib as it was torn.

Let’s try and make some headway towards the coast.  Let’s not float further away.

I fired up the engine and pointed Solstice as close to course as I could go.  The engine pushed us up the face of the waves slowly.  The boat climbed up and as the wave past up and under she’d…

Her hull shuttered as she fell down the backside and hit the trough hard.  I fell further off the wind trying to smooth out the right.  Up we’d climb and…


She hit hard again.  I turned further to starboard and…


A wave crashed into the forward bow.  She climbed up the next wave and this time she slid down the other side better but…


Another wave hit her.  I needed some forward sail out.  The jib was torn but the staysail was an option.  In order to raise it I’d have to go forward.  I’d have to get the sail out of its sail bag, run the sheets and then hoist the sail at the mast.  The seaway was steep, the wind was hard and the boat pitched from port to starboard a lot.

Forget it, Bill.  You’re not going forward in these conditions.  Especially out here alone.

The sensible Bill spoke up loud and clear.

That’s a no brainer.

If there were something that needed immediate attention and if left undone jeopardized the safety of the boat then I’d go forward in these conditions and address it.  But this was different.  Frustration from not making way was the motivating factor here, not safety.  I’d be better and safer not making way and losing a day then going out there and getting tossed overboard.  I stuck with the only option I had to try and chose to continue motoring.  Eventually I found a heading that balanced between getting hit too hard by waves and pounding the hull into the troughs.  It wasn’t comfortable but when I looked at the chartplotter we were doing 5 knots.  And we were not too far off course.  The sun was setting and I figured I could deal with the occasional pounding through the night and assess things in the morning.

The first half of the night seemed to last forever as the hull hit hard on occasion and the entire inside of the boat shuttered.  Just when I thought it would be best to stop we’d move along for a long time relatively smoothly.  Then as I’d try again to catch some sleep…


We’d hit hard again.  As the night went on the slamming occurred less and less frequently.  By 3am the wind and seas had settled and we were no longer fighting the seaway.  Instead we motored up and over the big rollers.  I was even able to correct down to the course.

The next morning I got on the radio and checked in with Dave and Patricia.  I gave them a detailed account of my encounter with the front.

“Hah, hah, haaaa.  Well we now know what to expect. Hah, hah, haaa.  Don’t forget to write all down in your log book,” Patricia said joyfully.

“Be sure you keep us up to date on your progress.  Especially with no forward sail,” Dave added.

“Will do, Dave.  Thanks again for your insights.  I think because we could pinpoint the front’s arrival that made a huge difference.  Thanks again, over” I said.

The wind had settled down to 15 knots and the seas were back to 1 to 2 meter swells.  It was beautiful.  I’m always amazed at how quickly the sea can change in 24 hours.  It was so nice to be moving along calmly.  An hour later I checked in with Jake and told him about the past 24 hours.

“Is the weather calm enough that you can drop the jib and sew it?” Jake is always proactive in his decision-making.  It’s what makes him a great sailor.

“I’m not sure.  I still have to roll it out to see how bad it is, Over.” I explained.

“Well you’ve got a ways still to go and you’re gonna need that sail, Over.”

“Well I was thinking I’d get the staysail up after breakfast and go with that.”

“I guess that could work.  There’s not a lot of sail area there though,” Jake explained.

With the promise to check in the next morning I hung up with Jake.  I didn’t like what he was suggesting I’d do but he got me thinking.  I dreaded the idea of dropping the jib out here.  I’ve never raised it by myself, as somebody has always been forward to help guide it up into the track on the roller furling while I hoisted it at the mast.  But I knew what Jake suggest was right.  I had to try to fix it.  I was still a long way from shore.  I needed that sail.

The weather continued to hold at a calm 10 to 15 knots.  The seas were only 1-3 meters too.  I felt like the weather Gods were giving me this opportunity for a reason.  I rolled the sail out to take a look at it.  The stitching had come apart on the lower panel near the clew and forward. 

If I got it down I could fix it
, I thought.

It takes a while sometimes for me to get my mind wrapped around a project but once I do I keep going until it’s done.  I rolled the sail back up to prepare.  When I did the seam ripped a bit more.  I’m no great sewer but I felt that I could at least get it pieced together enough to get me to shore.
I made sure I had a great breakfast before I got started.  I made an egg scramble with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, ham, and goat cheese.  Buttered wheat toast and strong coffee with powdered milk and sugar.  New Zealand’s Anchor Powdered Milk is as good as the real thing.

Finally I settled in and got busy.  I rolled the sail all the way out again, the rip was now a good 5 feet long.  The wind was light but I still felt stopping the boat would be best to get the sail down.  I was also afraid that the sail or a sheet might go overboard and foul the prop.  Once I had the boat stopped and hoved-too.  I grabbed the sheet from the foredeck and pulled the foot of the sail over the deck the best I could.  I went to the mast and uncleated the halyard.  The sail came down fast and I controlled it the best I could.  Some of it went overboard but I got most of it on the deck and with the boat stopped getting the rest of it onboard wasn’t hard.  Once I had everything on deck and secure I got Solstice moving again.  I put on some great music, turned the radio up loud and got to work.  I did my best to redo each stitch that had pulled out.  My lower back started to ache about halfway through the project, as I had to hold myself on the deckhouse while the boat rocked.  Every now and again, I’d take a couple of 15-minute breaks to stretch out.  The weather cooperated throughout the entire task and I only got doused 3 times by waves while I worked.  From the moment I lowered the sail until I got it up and flying again it took me 7 hours.  It was an ugly repair but it got done.  Again I stopped the boat to raise the sail.  I was able to go back and forth from the mast to the forestay and slowly guide the sail into the track and hoist it at the mast.  Finally it was up and flying.  I felt proud of myself for fixing it.  It was an ugly repair but it got done.  I just hoped that it would hold the rest of the way.

That evening the Southern Cross rose up from the southern horizon.  I had grown used to seeing it but never had I seen it quite like I did that night.  I don’t know if it was the latitude I was at, the time of year or some strange atmospheric condition.  It was huge.  Each star twinkled brilliantly and it illuminated the lower southern sky it all its glory.  The beauty was intoxicating.  For the first time it made sense to me why that constellation is depicted on the New Zealand and Australian flags.  It was breathtaking.  And with it came the realization that Sydney was near.  I got excited that the end of this passage was coming soon.

For the next two days the wind blew a steady 15 to 20 knots out of the northwest.  I took the second reef out of the mainsail and Solstice raced along at 7.5 to 8.5 knots, sometimes faster.  I was making up for the time lost while hoved-to.  As I neared the coast ships appeared.  There was only a couple at first but soon my AIS receiver showed over 50 ships and boats were moving within 50 miles of me.  Most of them were coming in and out of Sydney Harbor and were moving along the coast.  I was in the homestretch but I still had a long way to go and was on high alert. 

Night fell and just when I felt comfortable about navigating around the traffic the wind picked up.  20 knots became 25, then 30 and before I knew it was blowing 35 again.  I couldn’t believe it.  This wasn’t forecast, what was going on?  I just wanted to get there; I was done with the weather drama and I was exhausted.  I rolled the forward sail almost all the way up.  I kept just enough out to keep us balanced.  At least my repair job was holding together.  The wind was behind me off the port quarter.  We were on a deep run and the wind was much further aft than I was comfortable with as I tried to stay on course to Sydney.  An accidental jibe in these conditions would be bad.  Solstice was overpowered and I needed a second reef in the main.  But it was dark and the seas were building again.  I didn’t want to go forward and reef unless it was absolutely necessary.  How could I keep the boat safe without reefing?  I went below and looked at the chart. 

The wind was blowing from the north-northwest down the coast.  I was sailing south-southwest between Sugarloaf Point and Point Stephens.  I noticed on the chart that coastline started to curve westward along this area.  Perhaps there was a wind shear effect off these points that caused an increase in wind speed the same way there was with Point Conception back home.

If that’s true, I could sail a little further south and head for the coast where I might find shelter from the wind,
I thought.

I had three choices. 1) I could hold my course and continue to sail in an overpowered situation 2) I could go out on deck in the dark and put a double reef in the main or 3) I could run for the coast and hope to find shelter.

I opted to run for the coast.  I veered off course and headed west.  I didn’t know if this was the best choice but it seemed to be the most proactive while being the safest.  That is, if I found shelter; if I didn’t it could turn out to be the worst choice as I was rapidly losing sea room.  I also was headed for the busiest shipping lanes I’ve ever seen.  The jib was reefed in tight and we sailed fast.  Solstice quartered the building seas well.  As I approached the shore the amount of ships moving about on the AIS was staggering.  They were everywhere.  To be fair, I only saw about 8 at one time with my eyes but there were over 50 moving about on the AIS on my chartplotter.  Most of them were miles away but many of them were moving in my direction.  A couple of hours later I was less than 15 miles from the coastline.  I had dodged a couple of ships making sure to stay well away from any.  Visibility was not good and only an occasional light or beacon was visible through the darkness and weather.  The sea and wind started to lie down and dropped from 35 to 20 knots.  It was only midnight and I was nearing the coast.  Before too long I was going to have to tack back out to sea.  At least with the lighter winds I could easily tack back out to sea.  A steep swell was still running and I knew that a jibe still wasn’t the best in these conditions.  I also felt a true sailing tack might rip back open my repair on the jib.  At this point it was about getting in safe with no more boat damage.  I fired up the engine and rolled up the headsail.  I then used the engine to bring the bow through the wind and sea over to a port tack.  Once I was safely on the other tack, I killed the engine and rolled out the jib part way and sailed back out to sea.  I still had a good 40 plus miles to Sydney.  Again I dodged ships as I crossed the shipping lanes.  Afterwards I went below and checked my position.  The angle of the wind kept me from going straight to Sydney.  I didn’t like the idea of tacking back and forth across the shipping lanes all night so instead I opted to sail well off shore so that by the time I tacked back again I’d be able to sail on course straight to the harbor.  I had to go 18 miles offshore before I had the right angle.  At least I was able to relax and get some rest.  By sunrise the wind had settled back down to 10-15 knots and I was sailing on course to Sydney.

I was so excited.  If the wind held I’d be able to sail all the way in.  The sky was clear and the promise of a sunny day lay ahead.  By 8 o’clock I could see the flat low-lying coastline of Australia.

“LAND HO!” I yelled.

I went to find my flags and realized that I didn’t have an Australian courtesy flag aboard.

“No worries, Mate.  You’ll get one when I get thar,” I said, trying my Aussie accent.  My Aussie accent sounds a lot like my Kiwi accent, which sounds a lot like my English accent.

I was so excited to sail into Sydney Harbour.  I’ve dreamed of this day for years and today it was happening.  This was one of the world’s great harbors and I was almost there.  An hour later the wind shut off.


I had all this wind the last 5 days and now nothing.  Just when I was ready for a beautiful sail into the harbor the wind dies.  I milked it for as long as I could.  After barely sailing at 2 knots for 45 minutes I gave up.  I needed to get there.  I fired up the engine and motored towards The Heads, those are the large cliff outcrops that make up the entrance to Sydney Harbour.  As I approached The Heads the wind started to fill in.  So I rolled out the jib again and sailed.  At least I could sail part of the way in.

I don’t know much about Sydney.  Most all I’ve ever seen is shots of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.  I didn’t know what to expect.  As the harbor revealed itself it was magnificent.  Beautiful homes lined much of the harbor’s edge.  Ferries crisscrossed in every direction and boat traffic was heavy.  But it’s a real city.  Unlike Auckland, which is very small as cities go, Sydney is big and wonderful and has an energy that makes it one of the world’s great cities.  You could sense it just sailing in.  It’s a very different vibe than Auckland.

I sailed down the waterway passing beautiful homes and sailboats tucked in gorgeous coves.  We rounded a bluff near downtown and slowly the Opera House revealed itself in all it’s glory like a curtain being raised for a show.  The Sydney Harbour Bridge soon followed.  As Solstice made her transition from the rolling seas of the deep ocean to the smooth waters of modern life my spirit was filled with triumph.  I had done it.  I had completed my longest solo crossing to date.  I was proud of myself and I was proud of Solstice.  I was so excited and thrilled about the accomplishment.  Then I saw a small sailboat half sunk on the rocks.  The victim of a terrible event.  That little voice inside spoke up again and put my ego in check.

But for the grace of God, there go I

I had heard my Grandmother recite that phrase many times whenever she saw a homeless person or somebody less fortunate than her.  She immigrated to the States from Ireland in 1921.  As a young single woman she left everything she knew and came to a land that she had only heard stories about and where she knew nobody.  I think of her often and the spirit she must have had to carry her on such an adventure.  Some of her is in me and I draw from her courage all the time.  I also draw from her wisdom.  Because the truth is but for the grace of God, King Neptune and the powers that be, things could have turned out very different.  Solstice and I could have easily ended up like that boat on the rocks.  I was and still am humbled and grateful for the sea. 

That evening, moored safely in a marina with a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I sat on the foredeck of Solstice with a glass of wine at sunset and thanked the powers that be for granting Sosltice and me safe passage across the Coral and Tasman Seas.

Much Aloha,






Solstice Log