How on earth did I end up on a yacht heading to Australia, you might ask. Surprisingly, it was all too easy. You see, there are people out there who have boats and love to sail but the boat is often too big for them to crew by themselves, or they just fancy some company and an extra hand. Well, just like there are websites to find a ride to share or practically anything you can wish for, there are websites for finding crew (try Crewbay or Latitude38 if you are interested in crewing or need to find crew). Basically, it’s like hitch-hiking on the ocean. We chip in for food and get a free ride in return for helping out. When I was looking for a new adventure I started browsing such websites to see if there was anything that would interest Chris (my travel companion) and I. Luckily for us, I came across an advert looking for crew for a trip from New Zealand crossing the Tasman Sea to Australia. It was perfect!! This was the direction we wanted to go and we could make the dates work. So, we emailed the captain with a bit about ourselves and our experience, which I had little of. And that was it, we were going to Australia on a yacht!!
When I first arrived at the boat I was impressed. The advert had told me she was a 15m (53ft) yacht called Bomoh. She could sleep seven people at max capacity and that was about all I knew. From first glances, we could see that she was a beautiful, well-kept yacht. She had one cabin that slept two in the bow of the boat (very front), this would be mine and Chris’s cabin. Just down from here was a bunk room sleeping two and a bathroom on the other side of the hall. The middle of the boat was the kitchen and living area and the back was the captain’s cabin plus his own bathroom. The captain, Ralph, tells us she was built in 87 and has done multiple laps around Tasmania as well as crossed the Tasman before. Now after stepping on the boat comes the first of the challenges: learning where everything is and how it works, including the toilet! If you have been on a non-commercial boat before, you will mostly likely know that the toilets aren’t quite the same as your normal toilet. The toilet requires manual flushing! There is a pump handle (kind of like what you see on a bike pump), and then a leaver that controls whether you are flushing or emptying the toilet of water. The kitchen also has interesting components like the oven that swivels so whatever you are cooking stays in the pot in rough oceans.
Sailing the Southern Ocean and its challenges
We set sail on the 14th of April 2018. We made good progress on the first day as we sailed out of Cook Straight, watching the land slowly disappear. I observed and learnt as the more experienced crew adjusted sails and got the boat sailing well. She was a little rough at first and then a lot rougher later as the winds got persistently stronger throughout the day. Unfortunately, not everyone is immune to motion sickness and these rough seas caused half of our crew to be sea-sick. For me, I am one of the lucky ones and have never had a problem with motion but felt for the others who were clearly a little uncomfortable. As the day slipped by and the evening approached, we sorted out our night watch routine: once sailing there is no stopping, someone must always be awake to watch for other boats and make sure the boat keeps sailing and heading in the right direction. Chris and I took the first watch, our shift would be 9pm until 12pm. Unfortunately, on this day as darkness descended and the horizon disappeared into the night sky it became increasingly harder for Chris to manage his seasickness and by 11.30pm he just simply needed to go to bed. For the next few days we battled westerly winds making progress extremely slow and life on board tough. The second night I faced a lightning storm by myself as Chris had been too sick to make it out of bed that day and was certainly in no condition for watch (although, help is never far; the captain is a shout away at all times). I was a little nervous about the lightning, although there was nothing we could do.
So, what is it like to live on a boat that is battling 35-knot winds and 4-meter swells? Let me try paint a picture: imagine your world is constantly tilted on a 30-degree angle. Moving from one place to another takes careful coordination. One hand must be firmly holding on at all times unless you want to become a smear on the wall. Now imagine that your world on its 30-degree tilt is moving up and down and you need to make something to eat or go to the bathroom remembering that one if not both of your hands is occupied with keeping yourself in a fixed place and anything not fixed to the bench isn’t going to stay there for long! Going to the bathroom becomes an exercise in your newly arranged reality. First you have to manage to get the door shut and then staying on the toilet can only be described as riding a cantering horse while trying relax enough to go (thanks Chris for the analogy). Trying to sleep is equally challenging, especially in the front of the boat where it pitches the most. The clunking and banging as the hull crashes into the water sending waves splash over the deck makes you feel like you are in a washing machine. A dividing board in the bed is all that was keeping Chris and I from becoming a tangled mess and being thrown from one side of the bed to the other. Padding each side of the bed is definitely recommended. With this wild weather Chris and I soon found ourselves with a new challenge to add to the mix. On the second night of sailing, water had started pouring into our cabin soaking the ends of our beds and floor. My temporary fix was to sling up some sheets of canvas to protect our bedding. However, thanks to a careful inspection of the hatch later, Chris managed to find the hole (a missing bolt the source of the problem) and patch it with some silicon. Thank goodness!!!
Luckily, nothing lasts forever and on the sixth day of sailing the westerly finally died!! Relief. We could air and dry everything out and lie in the sunshine during the day. We didn’t have to get a wet bum every time we sat outside. It was a totally different sea. It is so incredibly amazing how drastically it can change and so quickly. There were even a few days we had to motor because the winds were so light. The second last day of sailing the sea was completely different from the sea we had seen in the first few days with its glassy calmness. Now, I talked a little bit about the challenging conditions we faced at first but what I haven’t said is about some of the incredible things we saw and experienced. Like the bioluminescence in the water caused by zooplankton we saw pretty much every night (you can imagine how the myths from sailors came about when the world was less understood). It was amazing, if you looked behind the boat it was like a galaxy trailing behind in the water (the big rudder and keel stirring up the water behind) and then you looked up and saw the true galaxy overhead. We saw glowing dolphins swimming under the boat at night, with trails of bioluminescence trailing behind them. We saw a school of jumping fish. We experienced beautiful night skies and gorgeous sunsets. We felt true remoteness, seeing nothing but albatross for days.
I can’t deny, however, that I was certainly looking forward to reaching land again. There were certainly times I asked myself why the hell I did this to myself. There were days when time felt endless. It is hard to keep yourself entertained in such a small space with limited power. But I am glad I had the experience, it is pretty incredible to have sailed across the Tasman Sea.
Clearing customs and entering Australia
On the last day of sailing we all peered out trying to see who would spot land first! It came eventually. Then just as we pulled into Eden and finished tying up customs came to greet us. Entering Australia through a sea port is so very different to entering through an airport. The customs and biosecurity officer came aboard, chatting and making jokes with us while we worked through the paperwork. There were no x-rays, mass of people, sniffer dogs, lines etc. It was all very relaxed and civilised. Once the biosecurity officer had finished taking our left-over fruit we were free to enter Australia. We had made it!