A smooth sea never made a skilful sailor.
I’m still far from a skilful sailor but, with the exception of the last day, the 3 weeks sailing from Torres Strait Islands to Darwin was far from smooth sailing. Every day the conditions changed. Battling varying wind strengths from different directions, strong changing tides, passing squalls (rain) with gusting winds that tried to rip the sails in half. Short choppy waves that cause the bow (front) of the boat to hop and bounce along throwing water up in your face. To long rolling swell where I spent more time surfing down the waves then I did sailing (My best speed surfing was 15.9knots, still an STNT record). Long gone were the comfortable reliable conditions of the East Coast trade winds. If that was my introductory course, sailing the top end was the advanced course in comparison. Not only did the physical elements change every day, but slowly something on the boat would give up as well creating more challenges to overcome.
First it was one of the motors. On a catamaran, you have two motors, one either side to help manoeuvre it when motoring. With only one motor working it became a lot harder to control when motoring into and out of anchorage points. Plus whenever Andre would wander off on watch, get side tracked and lose it in the wind, it became an absolute mission to get it back on course. One motor wasn’t enough to allow an easy 360 instead we would have to mess around with jibing the main sail back and forth. Such a pain in the ass.
For the first week, every free afternoon was spent passing Andre spanners as he tried unsuccessfully to pull a part the motor and fix it. After several failed attempts, he finally gave up on its resurrection and the call was made to head straight for Darwin. Meaning no more going ashore. So no more exploring. Very little fishing and very few lay overs. Just sailing and more sailing and even more sailing.
Second to go was the autopilot. This effected Andre a lot more because he couldn’t leave the helm while on watch, a hard task for him to sit still for four hours straight. I, however, had always found it to be such a temperamental bastard. It never wanted to do its job. The time you spent concentrating on it, watching it and then correcting it every couple of minutes you might as well piss it off and just drive yourself. Which is what I would do majority of the time.
The few times it did win my trust, it always threw it back in my face first chance it got anyway. If the auto pilot on the STNT was a child in the playground it would be that attention seeking shit of a kid giving you that false sense of friendly loyalty. Helping you build that awesome sand castle but the moment you turn your back for a second to talk to another kid, he cracks the shits and kicks it over in pure jealousy (I think I was that kid at school?). Sometimes I’ve been caught out trying to duck off to take a quick slash. I’d only be literally 3 meters away, hanging over board mid stream stuck helplessly watching the bow of the boat slowly starting to point where you don’t want it. The jib or screecher starting to flap as the wind is no longer keeping it full. I could do nothing but smile and shake my head thinking ‘You useless needy bastard, you’ve got me again’ knowing I was only seconds away from rounding out (pointed into the wind) or jibing the main sail.
Andre, the proud father, had a lot more undeserved faith in the auto pilot. Refusing for a long time to admit there was something wrong with it and trusting it when he shouldn’t. Just like a rebellious son, the auto pilot would always abuse his unconditional trust. Hence why shit would always go wrong on his watch causing me to be woken on my break to help fix it. Hazel, bless her heart, would just make things harder always getting in the way trying to help. I’d be running back and forth from one side of the boat to the other, under the often confusing contradicting yelled orders of Andre, trying to sort the sails out. Hazel would be standing there in the narrow corridor either trying hopelessly to pull on ropes or just literally standing in the way so she can see what’s happening. Bloody Frustrating.
With Luke gone the dynamic of the boat changed dramatically. Suddenly Andre was appointed back to head chef as I had, in hindsight, smartly made it clear in the beginning I was a below average cook. My jobs remained the same but with Andre doing more it felt like more of a team effort and less like ‘Luke or Ty can you just…[insert random bullshit task]?’. Even hazel started to find the energy to do more around the boat. It was like they both snapped out of holiday mode and started doing things for themselves again. Which was a massive welcomed relief. There were other small benefits of Luke leaving, like I no longer had to hug the wall of the cabin each night. There was no more arguments over who was responsible for the growing smell of our unwashed sheets and there was no more toilet blockages. That all said, I did miss the company of the big smelly toilet blocking bastard. Especially the couple of times I did have free time to go fishing, I never caught much but it would always be more than Luke and I enjoyed reminding him of that.
When we finally arrived in Darwin, my attitude had changed a lot since sailing out of Thursday island. No longer was I ready to give it all up, I was back focused on the main plan. Keen to keep the ‘Lost Aussies’ dream alive. Prepared to go solo if need be but confident I could find Luke another boat in time if he wasn’t too loved up already…
“Hey mate, I survived, we made it to Darwin. How’s Port Hedland and the mrs? Cashed up again?? When will you come to Darwin??” Curious and full of questions, I bombarded Luke down the end of the phone.
“You there mate?”
“…yeah. I’m not in Hedland. I’m back home… in Geelong.“
A completely shattered an unusually quiet Luke proceeded to fill me in.
Turned out the gamble on love didn’t come off. Not only did she leave the man guttered but stripped him of any desire to continue to travel in the near future. Bloody women.
So it was cemented. ‘No Air to Everywhere’ was to be a solo mission…
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