15 January 2018

On our way, with a bit of a delay

Friend Peter and Laurie in the cockpit as we sail
 towards Garden Island shortly after departure.
On January 9th we departed for Tasmania! It was a lovely morning. A slight easterly breeze made for perfect sailing conditions down the Cockburn sound, through Challenger Passage and across the Five Fathom Bank. By late morning, the wind had predictably shifted to the south, of-course the direction we were headed. We tacked out towards the west and the wind continued to build, as it does every afternoon. 

By late afternoon it was blowing in the mid-20 knot range, and the seas were rather confused, probably by wind against current. Now 30 miles offshore, we decided to tack back towards Australia to continue our slog south. The seas by now were a couple meters tall, confused and coming at us from a couple different directions. As darkness fell the wind continued to slowly build and the sea-state grew more uncomfortable with it. Katmai's motion was never scary, but very unpleasant, especially for Eric who is prone to a bit of seasickness early in a journey. A lot of water spray was now flying across the boat as we plowed through the waves and swell. Fortunately, it was pleasantly warm out! Progress was slow however as we were bashing through something that felt more like a washing machine than an ocean.

At about 11pm, I woke Eric as we needed to prepare to tack back to the west and it was time for his watch. We were about 5 miles off the shallows near the shoreline north of Geographe Bay. In these conditions we wanted “all hands on deck”. After we tacked back towards the open ocean, we decided to run the generator, as the autopilot seemed to be working extra hard and using a fair bit of power. 

And then the totally unexpected happened!

In the darkness of the moonless night and Katmai feeling more like a bucking bronco than a proper yacht, Eric momentarily turned off the wrong battery switch. Instantly, everything onboard went dark! All lights, navigation instruments, GPS, radio, all dead. As the generator's power surged through the momentarily isolated electrical system, the popping of electrical fuses sounded like a popcorn machine at a movie theater!

With the autopilot now offline as well, Peter who was up in the cockpit and near the helm, jumped to the wheel to control of the boat as she was about to round up in to the wind. As Peter gained control of the helm he was being pelted by buckets of water and spray in the nearly 40 knots of wind. He has a high situational awareness, and maintained his orientation wonderfully despite the wind, waves and a pitch black moonless night. Because he was paying close attention to our position, he knew our previous compass heading and the distant shoreside lighthouse relative to our location. Because of this, we were not in any danger. 

We decided the best thing to do was to tack back in to the bay to gain more protection from the wind and sea conditions. This course also was somewhat towards the town of Bunbury, a harbor we knew well and is protected from the current weather. The harbor was 25 miles distant and cast a dim halo on the night sky horizon, it became our compass beacon. Peter aimed for it.

During the journey, we were marking our position on a paper chart every few hours. This was invaluable as it gave us a good feel for our current location and we could continue to plot our estimated progress.

In sail training courses, they teach you the skill of “dead reckoning”, the process of estimating your current location based on using a previous location, course and speed. Of course, you never think you will need to use the skill, let alone in a gale at sea on a moonless night!

And, you never expect to have all instruments and lights on a yacht to go out at once. It was such a shock!

Meantime below decks, the challenge was on to replace fuses on key equipment (GPS, Navigation Lights, and depth) while being basically on a roller coaster ride in a moonless night in gale. Fortunately, the radar came alive very quickly, this was great news as we were able to ‘see’ the shoreline and confirm our position. With replacement of another fuse, the depth sounder came alive as well! The navigation lights also worked. The radar and a working depth sounder were all we needed to make a safe nighttime approach to Bunbury.  The GPS fix eluded us until the next day. 

Eric relieved a drenched Peter at 12:30am at the helm and we dropped the sails and motored to Bunbury. This was the safest way to proceed due to near shore reefs. As it normally does, the wind eased as dawn approached and we made a safe anchorage at about 5:30 am in the early morning light. No one had really slept for 24hrs, so we slept like rocks until mid-morning and then started assessing and restoring instruments. In the end, the NKE autopilot computer was damaged by the electric jolt, despite being fused per manufacturers’ recommendation. It will need to be replaced. The good news is, other than autopilot computer, all electronics are back online after replacing numerous fuses. Most instruments needed to be reinitialized and reconfigured to properly ‘talk’ to each other.

The plywood that the autopilot ram was mounted on
 cracked due to fatigue.  Time for a redesign!
In a way, we were fortunate we went to port, during further inspection of the autopilot system, we discovered that the heavy marine-plywood and fiberglass platform which supported the autopilot ram had fractured. There were more than 5000 ocean miles on the ram mounting, and we are very glad we found this before heading off in to the great Southern Ocean.

The Busselton Jetty.  A mile long historical wooden structure.
We anchored near the buildings to wait
for the tide to rise so we could get in to the marina.

On Friday January 12, with our electronics back in working order, we set sail for Busselton and the very nice Port Geographe Marina. As we needed to wait for high tide to enter the marina, we anchored temporarily to the west of Busselton Jetty for a nice lunch break. 

Interestingly, the jetty is the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere at more than a mile long. Used for loading lumber for more than a century, it is now a tourist attraction.

Katmai in the Port Geographe Marina
Here in the marina it will be much easier to get parts and do repairs rather than at anchor. We will likely be here in the marina for a few weeks to wait for a new autopilot computer, which will need to come from France.

Eric and Peter are already busy redesigning a new supper stout autopilot ram support. This time we are using 3.5-inch thick marine-ply with 5/16-inch thick aluminum angle bar supports ….. a much-improved design! We also will also have time to enjoy some hiking and birdwatching while we wait.

Peter will head back home for a few weeks and Eric and I will coastal-cruise Katmai bit further towards Tasmania. Peter will rejoin us, likely in Albany, for the crossing of the Great Australia Bight to Tasmania.
Sunrise in the Marina.


  1. OK, I'm not agreeing that's fatigue. I could be wrong, but that kind of failure makes me think it's binding some where.

    1. Hard to visualize just from that one picture, but pretty obvious when you see how it was put together.