My name is Russ Swan and I’m 62 years old, and this is a story of an attempt to solo circumnavigate Australia. Some might say I’m a little old to be attempting this. However those who are familiar with my previous blogs will know that I have a fair bit of experience and I believe I’m quite capable of achieving it.
So far I have sailed on different voyages from Fremantle WA to Mackay QLD across the top end. My previous boat Lowana IV took me several times to the Kimberley Coast of WA, the eastern regions of Indonesia and across the top end of the NT, not to mention numerous times in day sails and overnighters in the Darwin area – mostly with crew aboard but sometimes not.
I’ve always had something of an adventurous spirit and am a believer in the adage – Use It Or Lose It. I think sailing is an excellent activity for keeping active and mentally alert. Even the emotions get exercise – from exhilaration through to fear, but mostly it’s just good to be out on the water and meeting the various challenges that get thrown your way.
In 2005 I was diagnosed with severe depression and acute anxiety, conditions which resulted in my selling Lowana IV in order to concentrate on getting better. It’s now been 7 years since then and am really feeling the time has come to resume sailing, so I’ve have started casting my eyes over various boat selling agencies. In early 2012 I settled on and purchased the Mirrool which was berthed at a marina in Cairns Qld.
Early June 2012
Took possession of Mirrool where she was berthed at the Cairns Marlin marina located right next to the Cairns CBD. She’s a 30ft Clansman sloop powered by sails and a 20hp Yanmar engine. It’s quite solid with 24mm of solid glass on the hull and 2 bulkheads.
|At dockside in Cairns Qld||Interior looking aft from companionway|
|Forward berth||The galley at right, the head at left (out of photo)
and forward berth at top left.
|The dinette||Stern pushpit|
The inventory is everything I could wish for with heaps of available power, including 5 x batteries, 3 x solar panels, a wind turbine generator, 2 x engine alternators (one above engine rating). For steering there’s a tiller, a Fleming wind-vane and 2 x autopilots. There’s even an electric anchoring winch. She’s a bit short on sails with just the mainsail and genoa, but at least the genoa is on a furler. All sheets/ropes lead back to the cockpit for safe night handling.
Last but by no means least is one of the things that I really wanted, a RIB – rigid inflatable boat.
On The Hard
An issue that I was aware of when buying Mirrool was that the depth sounder doesn’t work and I’m going to have to install a new one. That means taking Mirrool up the river to a marine yard, getting it lifted out of the water to do the job.
I would have had to do this anyway to get the boat insured, the hull has to be checked by a proper authority and a survey certificate issued. The existing survey report won’t do apparently. But it will also provide me an opportunity to physically check the hull myself for peace of mind over the next 12 months or so. I’m probably not going to get a chance to check it again for at least that long and there’s some hard sailing ahead.
Unfortunately the appropriate thru-hull transducer was not available locally and it’s delivery got delayed. In the meantime I went through all the interior lockers cleaning and checking everything, so that I’ll know where an item is if I need it quickly. Got a marine surveyor to check the boat and issue the certificate needed for the insurance. He tells me it’s the best condition he’s seen in Clansman and gives me an excellent survey report. Also checked the hull. Removed some paint blisters, checked and replaced the anodes, and applied more antifoul to the hull. It’s been a busy week.
|“Mirrool” on the hard stand in the marine yard||Netting up ready for the antifoul paint to be applied|
|All finished, slung up and ready for the water||On the move|
On the Water Again
It’s been another busy day. Finally got the depth sounder transducer after Garmin had only sent the cable but not the transducer. Fitted it yesterday and Mirrool went back into the water today after lunch. Started motor and the water cooling pump immediately jammed. Burnt the pulley belt right through. Not knowing the motor properly yet, it was really a no-brainer to get a mechanic down there. Cost me $200 but got a repaired pump with new bearings, impeller and pulley belt fitted in a couple of hours. One less thing to worry about.
Am now safely back at the Cairns Marlin Marina. Spending the next couple of days stocking up on vacuumed meat if I can get it, fresh fruit and vegetables, plus a couple of other minor jobs. Intend heading out next Saturday 23rd for nearby Fitzroy Island. Will spend another day or so at anchor there just checking things out e.g. the charging and anchor systems.
Friday 22 June 2012
Serviced the motor yesterday. Had the devil of a time getting the old oil filter off. Changed the fuel filter. Took forever to bleed the air out of the system. Had to pump away for ages on the piddley little thumb sized priming lever. Degreased the engine and engine bay. Did some last minute shopping. Climbed down into engine compartment behind the engine using a large hatch in the cockpit. Not much room in there. Cleaned out in there too.
Saturday 23 June 2012
Today’s the day setting out to go around Australia. Am as prepared as I guess will ever be. Just have to top up the water tank and jerrys. Overcast looking day.
1100: Cast off lines to catch the ebb tide.
1135: Making ready for sail – remove covers, set lazy jacks, secured hatches. Motoring on autopilot while getting familiar with the various lines (ropes).
1140: Change course easterly towards Cape Grafton. Speed 4 kts. Wind on the nose 15 kts and picking up I think.
1230: Set headsail. Motor off. Wind 15-20 kts, choppy water. Boat pulling 4 to 4.5 kts into the wind. This is great! Far better than my previous boat Lowana could ever do, and not even a mainsail set. Actually making better time now than under motor. Heel angle 10-15 deg. Make a brew.
1300: Closing Cape Grafton. Put in a tack to starboard. Tightening headsail to new direction and the ring holding the sheets (ropes) to the headsail rips away, leaving the sail flapping in the wind. Looks like the straps that held the sheet-ring to the sail had perished a bit in the sun, and it was overlooked. At least can return to Cairns and get the sail mended rather than having to do an emergency repair. Turn motor back on and turn around.
1500: Tied up back in the Cairns Marlin Marina.
The sail has been repaired and is now back in place on the forestay after another trip up to the mast top to retrieve a hauling line. Was intending to head out tomorrow but it seems the insurance office hasn’t received my survey report and it was the only copy I had. Lost in the mail and not returned to sender. Have to wait now until next Monday to get the guy down to write up another one. Hopefully he won’t charge me for it.
Under Way Again
Thursday 12 July 2012
0830: After a month of delays due to antifouling, some hull maintenance, fitting instruments, gear faults, insurance and especially the weather, finally get a weather window. Forecast is for a fine day with winds 15-20 kts. Expect it will be bumpy out there but I need to make a start on this trip.
0900: Final checks completed. Cast off lines. Say farewell to fellow marina inhabitants. Motor out of marina into shipping channel.
1030: Still in shipping channel. Have been raising and setting mainsail full and with 1st and 2nd reefs in it. Want to be sure how everything works when I have to do it for real in hard weather. Had problems with the lazy jacks snagging the sail as it was being raised. Lesson learned. Stow the lazy jacks out of the way when raising sails for the first time.
Tide turning against me slowing boat speed by about .5 kt. Calm water with little wind at present. Sunny. First real sun I’ve seen in the last fortnight.
1100: Full sails with no reefs set. Motor off. Heading for Cape Grafton.
1130: Wind picks up as I near False Cape. Set 1st reef in mainsail. Boat still leaning a bit too much in the gusts so put in the 2nd reef.
1140: Tack starboard towards False Cape. Wind approx 20 kts, very choppy seas. Getting 3-4 kts.
1210: Tack port to easterly again. Get a good line towards Cape Grafton at 4-5 kts. Water is calmer inshore.
1430: Have been tacking towards the cape and now tacking around it. Winds are much stronger here. Waves are rougher especially in the vicinity of the cape. Destination Fitzroy Island is in sight but dead to windward. Nibble on some dry crackers. Make a brew. Autopilot handles the conditions well. Sometimes hitting between 6-7 knots in the stronger gusts.
1500: Very bumpy. Constant tacking E and SSW. Pleased to see that tightening the mainsail brings her head up into the wind a bit more. My old boat Lowana IV would never do that.
1600: Consider anchoring for the night in Turtle Bay to the SE of Cape Grafton. Doesn’t look too comfortable in there with swells coming around the corner. A slight wind shift gives me a better line towards Fitzroy Island. Decide to continue.
1640: Still tacking. Wind easing a little. Have cleared Turtle Bay. Fitzroy Island at 2.5 miles is almost completely covered in low cloud. The mist hangs like fog out to sea.
1730: Closing to the anchorage. Motor on. Sails down. Prepare the anchor. Motor around checking the area for underwater obstructions and clear of other anchored boats.
1800: Anchored at Fitzroy Island. Overcast here. Still a bit blowy and water pretty lumpy from swells which is going to be annoying during the night. Secure the sails and boat for the night. Make sure everything is handy should I need them in a hurry – torch, knife, shackle key, spotlight. Note down GPS position and depth. Anchorage: 16°55.741′ S, 145°59.263′ E.
Start to prepare dinner. Notice the old familiar tremors in my forearms and hands that started during the day had worsened. The symptoms were back even though I’d not had anything to worry about. This is not good. I had really thought I was over this.
1900: Go topside to make checks on position of other boats and make sure the anchor hasn’t dragged. Getting a grinding noise through the anchor chain which is common when the chain is rubbing over rocks.
Treated the broken blisters on both hands I’d got as a result of not wearing gloves and a lot of rope handling. A trick I’d learned as a young fettler had been to piddle on broken blisters to dry them out. Stung like crazy. Glad I don’t suck my thumb anymore.
Set anchor alarm. Read an ebook for a while, every paragraph twice because I couldn’t concentrate. Lights out. Restless night.
Friday 13 July 2012
Weather not looking too good. Still overcast and quite blowy still. Check my onshore marks and the GPS. Boat hasn’t moved from her spot. This is supposed to be a calmer day. Will just have to see what happens. Low clouds everywhere.
In addition to the tremors my heart is now racing a bit. Do some breathing exercises as I have been taught to calm it down. Sit down to think about this.
If I keep going I know through experience and past counselling that the symptoms are going to get worse, and there’s nothing I will be able to do about it. There is no way I want to go back to those black days.
I also didn’t enjoy the day as much as I once did. Bursting through blustery water at 6 and 7 kts, with spray flying and water gurgling along the hull and rippling quickly away astern, was once my idea of a good time. The best I could feel yesterday was a small sense of satisfaction that the boat has performed so well I suppose. The old sense of fun is just … gone, along with most other things I enjoyed about sailing and adventure.
As much as my heart wants it, my head tells me my sailing days are probably over. At least for now. I agonise over this for some time. Finally decide it would be best to return to Cairns and sell the boat. It is indeed a Black Friday for me.
0830: Contact Cairns Marlin Marina via VHF radio. Thankfully my previous berth is still available to me. Turn the motor on and go forward to raise the anchor. The anchor winch which worked so well back at the marina can now barely turn, let alone raise the anchor. And I have 40 metres of heavy chain and anchor down there. As well, the wind is blowing the boat back hard so that the chain is quite taut.
0910: Got the anchor up. Managed it by running back and forth to the engine controls, motoring forward and pulling in a little bit of slack chain by hand. Lots of huffing and puffing. Also painful with both blistered hands beginning to bleed over the chain and foredeck.
Motor out of anchorage. Pause once clear to secure the anchor and get sails ready. Continue to motor for a while to get some charge back into batteries.
0930: Just coming up to Turtle Bay. Wind from astern but bugger all of it. Sometimes you get too much of it. At other times you get none. Put up headsail but not enough to keep it filled. Roller furled it back up again. Continue motoring. Speed 4 – 4.5 kts. Not too bad even if we’re rocking and rolling a bit as we go along.
1030: Reach waypoint. Round and clear Cape Grafton. Crossing Mission Bay.
1115: Sun comes out for about 15 minutes. Nice while it lasted.
1130: Clear False Cape.
1200: Enter main shipping channel into Cairns. Final run to marina. Pass a large ship going the other way stirring up lots of mud. Must be dredging the channel.
1300: Enter marina and secure Mirrool at her designated berth. Spend the next hour or so fiddling around running 240v power, making adjustments to berthing lines. Fellow yachties want to know what happened of course. Told it straight and as simply as I could. Thankfully nowadays people seem to be more understanding about depression and anxiety issues. Invited to attend a marina BBQ later.
Sit down with a heavy heart for a while with a fresh cup of coffee. Tidy up boat. Take a shower.
1700: Wander over to the BBQ just a couple of boats down. I guess there were maybe a dozen or more people there. Some more people come and go during the evening. It was pleasant and somewhat soothing.
Saturday 14 July 2012
Spent the day feeling pretty lousy. Put an ad for the sale of Mirrool into the Boatpoint online website and arranged for a local boat broker to visit early next week.
This is the second time I’ve set out to circumnavigate Australia and failed. The first time due to broken piston rings and an undiagnosed mental condition and the second time because I recognised it recurring. But I simply had to have another go at it, or forever be left wondering. I think I’ve now found the answer and it looks like it is going to be a tick on the Bucket List that will not be crossed off.
Since Black Friday and Saturday I have begun to think more philosophically about this experience. Of course I must. The good news is that although I still have the tremors, they’re not that noticeable now and seem to be getting weaker. I intend selling the boat but will stay with it until it is sold, however long that takes.
In the meantime, my confidence is returning enough to want to take the boat out to some of the islands on the Great Barrier Reef when the weather improves. Maybe even another trip to Fitzroy Island. Might also jump on the train and visit friends and relatives further south.
I will not close this blog off just yet, and propose from time to time updating what’s happening with Mirrool and me. Maybe the adventure is over, or maybe not … who knows?
During late July I placed the sale of Mirrool into the hands Mr Leigh Doust of Cairns International Boat Sales, and caught a flight back home to Darwin for a short visit. Attended to some personal matters.
One morning while reading the paper I noticed an advertisements for Positive Sub-Conscious Mind Therapy sessions. Since I wasn’t having much improvement with my anxiety or depression, I figured I had nothing to lose except money. I attended 3 x sessions and was warned it may take anywhere up to 6 months before I noticed any improvement. My brain had to re-learn how to process things apparently. I was also told to watch for anything different. Within a week I noticed one of my recurrent dreams was markedly different, which was encouraging.
Drove back to Cairns. Having a vehicle made a huge difference when I resumed living on the boat. Nothing was heard from the boat agent so I decided to attempt another run out to Fitzroy Island.
Wednesday 15 August 2012
0940: Drizzly day but clearing at times. Only slight winds as Mirrool leaves the marina under power. Engine hrs 20856.
Have a good run to Cape Grafton under sail. Not necessary to tack at all. See two humpback whales crossing Mirrool’s path directly in front at about 30 metres. Have to turn the boat to avoid them. Beautiful. Autopilot fails. Have to hand steer for the rest of the way.
Afternoon: Drizzle starts. Wind and waves pick up making it hard to get a good course to Fitzroy Island. Having to start tacking. Getting cold and wet. Raining heavily over Fitzroy Island. Am deciding whether to turn back to Cairns but the weather clears over the island, so continue on.
1500: See two more humpback whales in the distance back towards Cape Grafton, flapping the water with their big flukes. Quite gusty while closing to the anchorage.
1600: Anchored up. Run time is the best yet at 6 hours 20 minutes. Put the kettle on. Notice hardly any tremors. They’re still there but nothing like the last time. Start feeling a little bit confident that maybe those therapy sessions might work.
Thursday 16 August 2012
1000: Quiet night overnight. Start raising the anchor. Bright, sunny day. The winch works perfectly this time.
1030: Turn motor off. Using headsail only in a light breeze getting 4 knots. This takes me all the way back to the shipping channel into Cairns Harbour, before I turn the motor back on.
1415: Tied up in the marina. Did the trip in just over 4 hours. Best time yet.
Wednesday 6/7 September 2012
Completed another trip to Fitzroy Island and return. No incidents. Once again did not experience any obvious tremors in my hands, teeth or forearms. No anxiety symptoms – shortness of breath, heart beating hard, racing pulse, cold sweats. Am really beginning to think there must be something in these PST therapy sessions.
7-24 September 2012
Had a visit from a potential buyer. Price agreed upon pending finance. John Lucy, an old mate from the Army came and stayed for a week. Drove down to Bundaberg to visit my sister. Good break.
Week Monday to Friday 24/28 September 2012
John has joined me again. This time for a trip down to Innisfail and return.
Monday 0915: Depart the marina. Engine hrs 2115.8. Hot day. No breeze. Calm sea. Forecast is for 5-10 kts SE-NE winds in the morning and 10-15 kts NE this afternoon. Motoring. By around lunchtime we have Fitzroy Island in sight. Decide to head further south to High Island. Winds has come up a bit so change to sail.
1530: Under sail and 6.5 miles from waypoint off High Island. Making good time. Winds 5-10 kts SE.
1745: Anchored High Island. Quiet night at anchor.
0830: Raised anchor and got underway. Good sailing throughout the day.
1600: Reached waypoint off Innisfail. Set anchor to wait for tide to rise enough to clear the bar over the entrance to the Johnson River.
1800: Anchored up directly out the front of the foreshore at Innisfail.
Leisurely day resting on board, reading, or going ashore to stretch the legs, have a coffee and/or something to eat.
A flotilla of around 2 dozen boats headed out on a popular annual fishing competition. Some are rigged up for serious marlin fishing while others obviously not so serious. Some just looking for a good day out. Follow the flotilla out to sea. Takes almost 2 hours to get out of the river and over the bar due to strong headwinds.
0930hrs. Finally able to set a course northerly and set sail. Hardly touched the sails for the rest of the day. Excellent sailing averaging over 5 knots.
1600: Anchored up a Fitzroy Island again. Great day’s sail.
|Innisfail in the distance behind.
Heading for Fitzroy Island
|John on watch|
|Russ with little friend resting on the
dodger rail centre photo
|The wharf at Fitzroy Island resort|
Saturday 29 September 2012
Another good day’s sailing back to the Cairns marina even though a little drizzly. Tied up at the marina mid afternoon.
|Under sail looking back to Fitzroy Island||Heading towards Cairns from Fitzroy Island.|
Still no word from that potential buyer. Seems to be having problems getting finance. Moved the boat to another marina – The Bluewater Marina at Yorkey’s Knob which is about 8 miles north of Cairns. Much quieter here and definitely much cheaper rates. Wish I’d known about this place earlier. As I sit here in the middle of October, I am going to give it one more week then start plans to sail the boat down to Bundaberg to get out of the wet season belt.
Oct 2012 to Jan 2013
Didn’t actually get to sail Mirrool down to Bundaberg as I’d planned. Instead I realised the Bluewater Marina at Yorkey’s Knob was probably as good a place as any to leave the boat during the cyclone season.
Packed up the car with most of the gear that would be taken off Mirrool once she was sold, and drove back home to Darwin. Delma and I flew to New York to spend Christmas with our daughter Lydia and then returned home for New Year’s to spend time with our other daughter Karen, her husband Dave and grandson Evan.
Not long after this my boat sales agent Leigh Doust called telling me he another potential buyer who has inspected the boat and appeared to be serious.
Thurs 31 Jan 2013
Leigh tells me a deposit for the sale has been made and sends me a contract of sale to be signed. Sale is conditional pending completion of successful sea trials.
Sun 3 Feb 2013
Flew into Cairns. Leigh met me at the airport and took me out to Mirrool, giving me more details about the buyer and situation regarding the sale on the drive out there, about a 15 minute trip.
Tues 5 Feb 2013
Early morning: Take Mirrool with Troy the potential buyer aboard out into Cairns Harbour. He asks all the proper questions and it soon becomes apparent he knows his way around boats as he pokes around all over Mirrool. Once out in the harbour proper we set the sails and head towards Fitzroy Island. Fairly calm day but still manage to get around 4 kts under sail.
About halfway there Troy dons a set of flippers and goggles and dives over the side to inspect the hull. Seems satisfied with what he sees. Must have been a fairly close look because he notices a bump in the hull on the forward starboard side that to all intents might appear to be osmosis. It’s not. It’s where a previous depth sounder transducer had once been installed.
All through this my anxiety levels have shot up to an extent that I’m literally shaking. Can’t figure out whether it’s because of the potential sale or because of the sailing of the boat. I think it’s the former, but it reinforces in me that for me, selling the boat right now is the best thing to do.
Leigh joins us back in the marina. Troy is a nice young man who wants to liveaboard the boat and be able to get out to visit the Great Barrier Reef, or make further trips along the coast. He asks more pointed questions which I do my best to honestly answer. Am not going to bullshit him but I do think Mirrool is in very good condition. So I’m surprised when he tells me he’s uncovered rot in the deck under the anchor winch and in the stern deck as well.
Tues 19 Feb 2013
There’s been a little bit of to and fro-ing negotiating the final price but for a consideration in a drop in price, Troy agrees he will undertake the necessary repairs and will buy Mirrool, and the sale is finalised. Additionally, since the marina fees are paid to the end of the month, he can stay there for the next couple of weeks to settle in. I am also allowed a week to remove myself and personal gear from the boat.
Thus ended my experience with Mirrool. It’s been an expensive lesson but I’m glad I made the attempt to buy another boat and realise my dream of sailing around Australia. It didn’t pan out but at least it proved to me that currently at least, I’m not in a fit mental state to do it. However at the time I had been feeling quite good – for some time, and thought the worst of it was behind me.
Since being first diagnosed with PTSD, severe depression and acute anxiety in 2005 I have had four “ab-reactions” which pretty much dropped me right back into a black place. Each one came out of the blue with no real forewarning. In hindsight it’s another good reason not to have persisted in my dream to circumnavigate Australia. The temptation to just step off the back of the boat may have been too much – or not.
In May 2012 the Department of Veterans Affairs officially recognised that I am suffering from PTSD, Depression and Anxiety disorders. I am retired and rely on my pensions, so I’m grateful that this financially allows me to seek psychological help on a regular basis.
Footnote: But it doesn’t mean I have given up sailing completely. I actually felt quite good when sailing with my mate John to Innisfail and back. No real anxiety, no tremors, even when hit with strong wind gusts.
And I didn’t really experience any real problems while sailing on another boat, the Jenzminc from Turkey to Oman in 2009 – not even while being literally shot at by Yemini soldiers in the Red Sea at the Hanish group of islands near the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, or during strong head seas sailing along “pirate alley” towards Salalah in Oman.
So sometime in the future and with proper consultations with my psychologist I think I may seek another position as a crewie on another yacht somewhere – and head out for another adventure.