I don’t know how many times I’ve travelled the coast between Sydney and the Gold Coast. It’s a well worn path through fertile ground for surfers seeking everything from escapism to perfect waves. Ducking off the Pacific Highway to check a point break, down a dirt track and over a dune for perfect beach breaks or over a headland for offshore back beaches; it’s all part of the routine when traveling this stretch of coast.
One thing I’ve never done is look back on the coast from the far side, out to sea. Last week, I had that opportunity when I joined the crew of Hurrica V sailing from Pittwater to Southport. Sometimes the coast was a distant mirage way out on the horizon, at other times you could make out the cars and people scouting the ocean from familiar headlands.
The Hurrica V is no ordinary yacht. Built in 1924, she’s seen various incarnations; everything from a prized family pleasure cruiser to a death machine, her masts replaced with multiple machine guns mounted for service during the Second World War. As she is now, the Hurrica V is one of the finest examples of her type anywhere in the world. Immaculately and painstakingly rebuilt and restored by Australia’a premier shipwrights Norman R Wright & Sons. Teak decks meet vanished mahogany on a hull of Browns Pine and Spotted Gum while every conceivable modern amenity is carefully hidden so as to preserved her heritage.
I’d never sailed outside before and I didn’t know a halyard from a headsail. Apart from the odd jaunt around the Mentawai Islands of Sumatra, my time on yachts was limited and I was a bit nervous joining the crew with such minimal experience. It’s a long trip to be that guy getting in the way and not contributing and I knew if things got serious, we’d need every hand on deck to keep our 90 year old vessel moving in the right direction. Owner and Skipper, Steve Gunns, was quick to point out the power and danger of the yacht’s complex array of ropes, stays and winches so naturally I kept my movements to skippers orders.
After the huge seas and gale force winds of last weekend, conditions had settled and a light southerly airflow settled in behind the Hurrica V for the duration of our journey of 400 nautical miles to Southport. Infact, apart from a brief interruption when we sailed into a mini storm cell of rain and gusty nor-easters, we had wind and swell running with us, gently nudging us northward. It took just two and a half days and three nights of continuous sailing to reach Southport.
With a huge high pressure system sitting over the East Coast of Australia, the sky took on a still, humid, tropical air about it, not unlike the sky I’d experienced during boat trips in Sumatra. The day shifts were spent watching the storm clouds build while picking landmarks along the coast and watching for whales. The nights were about spotting the different frequencies of lighthouses and markers and steering wide of ships and fishing boats under a Milky Way so bright you’d need to be in the desert to experience a similar thing on land.
The night shifts gave me a new appreciation for lighthouses. From the shore, their pulsing light is not much more than an amusing fascination. From the sea though, they’re a reassuring highway of strong blinking beams. I can only imagine how much sailors 100 years ago would have savoured their presence.
They say adventure begins when something goes wrong, so with such a favourable passage to Southport this trip may not have passed as an adventure, but it was certainly an experience. Cheers to the Skipper and the crew for having my along for the ride. Happy sailing to Hamilton Island.