Our first overnight sail on Pelagic was in 2004 - the 1,100 mile, 11-day passage from Vancouver Island to our home port of Kodiak. With our rookie's feel for the perfectly wrong time to depart, we left just as 25 knot head winds were kicking up. Along with our friend Dan Ruthrauff, who was helping us with the delivery, I braced myself in the heeling, spray-lashed cockpit as night fell. Alisa, confronting a rolling, pitching galley for the first time, served a dinner of top ramen - not cooked, but with luke-warm water just added to the noodles in the bowl.
The jump that we just made from Camden Haven to Pittwater, in the northern suburbs of Sydney, will likely be, next to the the crossing to Tasmania, our second-to-last overnight sail on Pelagic.
It was a fitting outing for our nearly-last overnight trip, offering a certain majectic symmetry to the Pelagic years, this epic ocean-going chapter in our lives.
Which is to say that as much as you might learn about going to sea, some things don't necessarily improve.
We spent five days in Camden Haven, waiting for favorable sailing weather to return. When the forecast finally called for moderate northerly winds, we plotted our next hop to the south. We had three basic options - hop to an intermediate anchorage 35 miles away, hop to Port Stephens 80 miles away, or go all the way to Pittwater, a bay in the northern suburbs of Sydney, 140 miles away.
The stop 35 miles away was awkward because crossing the Camden Haven bar at the proper tide would mean arriving at the new anchorage at the wrong time for crossing that bar. And, because the best tide for leaving Camden Haven wouldn't arrive until 0830, making it the 80 miles to Port Stephens in daylight seemed pretty improbable.
So I suggested that we do the overnight to Pittwater. When some of the other yachties at Camden Haven said they'd just leave early in the morning, while the tide was still ebbing over the bar, so that they could make Port Stephens in daylight, I wasn't tempted to change our plan.
"We haven't had any favorable current yet coming down the coast," I said to Alisa. "So making it 80 miles in 14 hours of daylight would be a huge push. I'm sick of that part of coastal sailing, where moving along at five and a half knots isn't good enough because you're trying to make it to a bar before the tide turns, or to a new anchorage while it's still daylight. Let's just leave here at the right tide, put up the sails, be happy with whatever speed we're making, and get to Pittwater some time the next day."
It all sounded so reasonable. But it all went so horribly wrong.
When we got sailing the next day, we made an effortless 8 knots over the bottom. We had found the current. It was hard not to think of how easily we could have made Port Stephens, and thereby enjoyed a quiet night asleep at anchor.
Then, at nightfall, the "local thunderstorms" of the weather forecast revealed themselves as a black wall bearing down on us from the west, backlit by evil-looking flashes of lightning. I wasn't quite keeping up with all the sailhandling that would turn the gusty, shifting winds into a course that would keep us safely out of the way of the three ships that were all within five miles of us. We heard one of the boats that had left Camden Haven early checking in with the Volunteer Marine Rescue, reporting that they had safely arrived in Port Stephens. The motion had been rough for hours. And then Alisa ran up to the cockpit and vomited voluminously into the sea.
"Don't lean over so far, for Chrissake," I snapped. "Kneel down and hold on tight."
(This is the very first time that Alisa has ever puked off of Pelagic. Up to this point, it's been all me. She felt sick all night. I got two hours of sleep. And we had ships to deal with and shifting winds all the night long.)
It was hard not to think of how easily we could have made Port Stephens, and thereby enjoyed a quiet night asleep at anchor.