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Day 34 – Coral Sea

As I sit here and watch the waves roll by, cup of tea in hand (my coffee ran out weeks ago) the seas building and pressure increasing, I’m transported back to those first few days of this trip and my “baptism by fire”. So much has happened since then. To start with I’m much more confident with Ahyoka and what she can and can’t handle. I’ve learned to listen attentively to all her subtle messages, both audible and tactile and most of the time can adjust course and/or sails to take the pressure off where it’s needed. This in turn reduces the anxiety levels dramatically and rather than worrying so much about the “what ifs”, I’m much more focussed on the task at hand and thinking through all that’s in my control and what needs to be done to keep both Ahyoka and I safe.

I’m also a lot more tired. What I’d give for some of the energy that chap had a month ago… I feel like a husk compared to him. When I’m tired, for some reason, I close my left eye which my mates never fail to give me a hard time over. I find myself with one eye closed more often than not right now.

However, rather than the 4000Nm of open ocean my prior self had in front of him, I have only a couple of hundred miles until I get home. I’m almost in range of motoring (yes, I have enough fuel, circa 120L). If there’s a rig failure or I had to abandon ship, I’m in rescue range from the Australian government if. In short, it doesn’t really matter what the conditions are in the coming days, I’m confident I’m going to make it home in some way shape or form. This doesn’t fill me with any elation or joy though, just simply the energy and the will to continue with my mantra of:

Just. Keep. Going.

The hatch and companionway doors are now permanently shut and when I go outside, I always wear my PFD and clip on. A far sight from the doldrums, only a few days ago where I was lucky to even wear clothes outside.

The cockpit, a bastion of rest and relaxation only 36 hours ago, is now wet, wild and inhospitable and I don’t’ linger there any longer than I have to. I simply do what’s required and head back downstairs. By mid-morning TWS was 20knts with gusts of 25knts. By 2am when a front came through it was sustained 25knts and gusts of 35+knts. My tactic of hunting south has well and truly paid off as my wind and wave angles are manageable for these conditions I have very little sail up. Even still I move along at over 7knts, now bang on my bearing for Cairns of 240 degrees.

With the course and sails set, there’s really very little for me to do other than keep an eye out for any changes in the weather. With my daily inspection and chores complete I focus on the basics. I have a shower and clean myself up as it may be the last time I get a chance to do this before Cairns. I make myself eat and try and get some rest (which is easier said than done inside this humid Mexican jumping bean).

Around midnight, as forecast, the pressure picks up considerably and peaks between 2am and 4am. As I lay in my bunk, hearing the rain beat down, the wind howl through the rigging and waves break over the bow and cover the entire boat, I feel alone. Not lonely and not scared (well, maybe a little). Just very, very alone. Alone in a way you don’t feel on land (unless perhaps you’re in Antarctica). If something goes wrong, help is days away at best. There’s no one I can call to come and help out. No ambulance. No Police. No first responders of any kind. All those institutions we we rarely give a thought to, but which are crucial to us living comfortable and safe lives.

It’s just me.

It’s a funny feeling. Definitely one I don’t want to get used to. You can feel it in the pit of your stomach, and it takes all the mental fortitude I can muster to manage it and hold it at bay. 

The secret to our success as a species is co-operation. We co-operate with people we don’t know in a multitude of manners every day in a way that no other species has done. It’s in our DNA to behave this way so it’s an unnatural feeling to be so alone so I’ll be very grateful to reintegrate with society in a few day’s time.

As I lay there in the darkness, I watch the bundle of sail ties hanging on one side of the companionway and my PFD on the other, swinging from side to side as regularly as a metronome with each passing wave. Their unnatural angles highlighting the extent to which we’re being pitched and tossed.

All that’s left in these situations is to breath.

Big. Deep. Soothing Breaths.

Postscript:

@Eileen O’Farrell.

I love that quote from Mark Twain. Thank you for sharing. I’ve found words take on so much meaning and power in a world where you don’t speak to anyone. It’ll be interesting re-reading these poems in a week’s time and see what I take from them then.

Well picked up on the timing of the blog posts. Lachie is currently camping and away from the internet, so he has a colleague in Europe helping out.

Q Flag and Aussie Ensign are all ready to go. Rather than a bugle though, I’m thinking of blasting Men at Work (I come from a land down under) while I hoist them, perhaps with a bit of Peter Allen (I still call Australia Home) to close. Cheesy? Yes. But oh so good.

Thankfully no contraband on board. I threw out my remaining (rotting) lemons yesterday. The good folks at Border Force, the Harbour Master, Police and Quarantine have been so great to deal with that I’m looking forward to seeing them. They’ll be the first humans I’ll have seen or spoken to in person in over 5 weeks. I do hope they’re smiling though…

And yes, engine is all good. I used it to navigate out of Jomard Passage a few days ago.

@Henrik Naujoks

Thanks Henrik!!

@Campbell Mackie

I do think you’re right about the post trip depression and it’s something I’ve thought a bit about lately. I’ve got time in Cairns on my own while I get the boat fixed before I fly to Tassie to see my parents and I plan to use this time for lots of reflection, writings and recuperating.

As for getting to Jomard in daylight at slack tide, it was pure dumb luck. Even then the tide was running at 4knts with a confused sea state and I needed to keep my wits about me. Coming through there at night with more pressure and tide would have been quite a different experience.

May I ask what a Rona environment is?

@Roberto M Casso

Would love to catch up brother. Let’s tee something up late next week once I’ve reintegrated with the world.

@Castagnet

I look forward to hearing that secret along with sharing the moment sometime soon my friend.

@Michelle Montgomerie

That’s very kind of you to say Michelle. I guess I’ll see you at Mum and Dads in a few weeks then.

@Tom McWilliam

Many thanks Tom!

I was very close to putting the Trysail up when I entered the Coral Sea, but I decided against it given I wanted to sail high for the first 24 hours (TWA 70deg) and get as good an angle as possible for when the winds picked up (as you’d know there’s a big difference between TWA of 100+ compared to <90). Given TWS is now over 25knts(TWA of 120deg) I think I just need to pray the gooseneck holds and then accept my fate if it doesn’t.

9 Responses

  1. Hi Rory,

    Thanks for the feedback on Jombard. Glad that you passed through in daylight. I was anxious about the current and the consequential sea state with a potential overlay of plenty of other vessels.

    Dumb luck maybe, but someone once explained to me that luck is defined by the intersection of preparation and opportunity. Go with that I say.

    The Rona is Aussie slang for Corona, aka Covid19.

    Enjoy the ride home. A boisterous breeze is a great way to finish an admirable achievement.

    Old Goat

  2. So what does a proud Australian with Scottish blood flowing through his veins do at the end of such an epic voyage?
    Apart from a cold beer and coming to terms with dry land after so many weeks on the rolling sea I have turned my mind to what your first words might be as you step ashore.
    As a proud Scot with nothing but Scottish blood flowing through my veins, might I make a suggestion for your consideration?
    As you may know the motto of Clan Hunter is Cursum Perficio (I have finished the course). If I was you I would shout that aloud with great pride … and perhaps a little relief. It would be most appropriate.
    I will miss sharing your adventure and wish you well for whatever the future holds.
    Hold your head high Rory lad … and as always Watch the Wind.
    Uncle Nick

  3. Ahah Rory,
    It seems your having the pleasure of a typical West Coast Scottish Summer Sail. 🤣

    Full Wet Weather gear, Lashing rain, Hatches battoned down, the North Atlantic Swell, and accompanying the F4-5 winds, and those Gusts that send the yacht off at a jaunty angle!

    But you have the daily tiredness and longer term exhaustion to contend with, making it all the more challenging. So I feel for you, having this Bookend to your voyage. You can and will do it.

    I can visualise you Sailing in, cool as a cucumber, handbreak turn, Scarify the Main, Furl the Jenny to a handkerchief, and gently glide onto the Dock, while stepping off with a midship line. … Or too Cheezzzy? 🤣

    I have a great few pictures of a Marlin Spike swinging on the Bulkhead, perfectly capturing the Angle of the yacht, around 45 deg. But it is a wee bit tricky to move around, especially if wet – One hand and foot always for the Boat, and Clip On even in the Cockpit 😇

    I hope the Dolphins reappear soon to guide you home and give you a little company and contact before land. They won’t be far away, and although you are alone, and have done this solo, (making it such a remarkable achievement), we are all with you in Spirit, at all times of the day and night, due to your global network.🐋🦈🐬

    Ozzy BBQ all planned for Friday afternoon, with the Golfing Girls, and Champers on Ice. 😎⛵️🍗🍔🥂🍾

    We have even organised the Sun to shine 💥

    We eagerly await news of your arrival, but you have a wee final bit of Sailing to do before then. Keep going, stay focussed, stay safe. And most of all, Enjoy… Surfs Up! ⛵️

    Very Bonnie Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🌍

  4. Mate enjoy the final moments of an amazing adventure. You’re writing has been an enjoyment to read and I truly wish I could give you a big high five as you step into land – Brettski’s, you got that?! 😉
    A phenomenal achievement and so happy that you’re making it back in one piece with such great new sailing stories to share! I look forward to catching up with you once you’re rested.
    Lucas said ‘that’s great’ when we looked at your tracker today and he saw how close you are to home. He’s too young to grasp what you’ve achieved but as the years go by it will be a very fond memory for us all.
    We love ya Rors and can’t wait to see you soon!
    Xo

  5. Nearly here Rory! Just keep going….

    I cannot believe you have survived without coffee for a few weeks! You needed to apply your fuel reserve principles to your coffee supplies 😂

    Looking forward to the post on your safe arrival x

  6. Rory,
    Thank you for sharing this great adventure. Please, please do post some arrival pics that surely will be taken. You have given many who have traveled this journey with you some very personal time and for me, internal reflection. You are almost home and I miss reading your journals already.
    Be safe and be well.

  7. Hello Rory
    We have thoroughly enjoyed your blog .It is the first thing we read every morning and even when the going has been rough we are left feeling uplifted. The news for the day slides decidedly After your blog.
    Your posts have been inspirational. Apart from the sheer enormity of being through all kinds of seas the interlacing of your personal journey and literature has been a pleasure and we feel like we want you on the 8 people we would want at our dinner party list. We look forward to toasting your safe arrival and sharing that with those who have loved you and been alongside you in the past 5 weeks
    Much love to you and thank you for allowing us to share with you

    1. and thanks to Lucia and Peter for including me on this special Journey you have made Rory!! My home base is CAPE TOWN and who knows you might end up there one day and i could host you and your family!!

  8. wow what a journey and thanks for the interesting posts and your writing and account of ‘whats going down for you” is amazing and very interesting, writing a book is your next thing, i reckon!! terra firma is nigh!!
    I shall be with my friends Lucia and Peter on Friday and we will check in together to see how you are fairing!
    regards
    Mercia

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Rory Hunter
Sailor

Bio

Entrepreneur. Chief Executive Officer, Song Saa Collective. Pioneers of sustainable development in South-East Asia. The collective includes Song Saa Resorts and Song Saa Private Island in Cambodia’s Koh Rong Archipelago. 2006, co-established the Koh Ouen Marine Reserve, Cambodia’s first-ever marine protected area. The reserve has since expanded to 400 square kilometres and has gained the support of Monaco’s Prince Albert II. 2013, founded the Song Saa Foundation, an independent NGO dedicated to preserving Koh Rong’s underwater sanctuaries, providing alternative means of livelihood for its residents and bringing much-needed healthcare and education to the region. Speaker at international conferences, including the G20 Summit in Brisbane in 2014. World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. Member of the prestigious Young Presidents Organisation. Former advertising executive and worked for multinational firms including Saatchi and Saatchi. Graduate, Harvard Business School; studied sustainability and resilience, Stanford University: Global Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School; BEcon, Sydney University. Completed the Coast to Coast in 2015, one of the world’s toughest endurance races, set in New Zealand, in 17 hours; offshore sailor, downhill skier, long-distance runner and proud dad of two boys.