I begin writing as South East Cape Tasmania looms on the horizon, the sun lights up the morning sky with a fiery red. To the north the ever so beautiful cloud covered mountainous wilderness of Tasmania makes me cherish this moment.
Scorpio II passed between Mewtsone Rock and Maatsuyker Island at around 3am on the 8th of September 2015, the first land I have sighted since Cape Leeuwin on the 29th of August sailing at between 8 and 11kts towards Hobart.
Two years ago I first saw Scorpio II at anchor while Emilie and I were cruising the D’Entrecasteaux channel in our 14ft tinny, equipped with tents, sleeping bags, dive set and bush stove. It was love at first sight. One month later when I was searching for yachts in the Caribbean I Scorpio came up on the search engine. After some research I found she had a good pedigree. Scorpio II is a Phil Curran 46 hull number 5 built from the same mould as Challenger, the yacht Jon Sanders sailed three times around the world. I found Scorpio had thousands of world cruising miles under her keel and was perfect for world cruising. Six months later the contract was settled and we took ownership of Scorpio II.
When varnish takes two days to dry you know that its time to head north to more tropical climates. Scorpio II departed Hobart in August 2014 after a brief refit of the boat and complete check of all our systems. My Sister Gina decided to join me for the sail up to Eden and we sailed Scorpio through Denison canal and contended with the usual fluky winds sailing up the East coast of Tasmania, providing a good shakedown after the refit. Stormy weather encountered 30nm west of St Helens when the anemometer maxed out at 70kts proved that everything bar the autopilot was in good order.
We diverted our passage plan towards Little Elephant Bay for shelter, a quick rest and to fix some hydraulic issues on the autopilot. Later in the evening, with all the issues solved, some nice dinner and a bit of rest the winds started to veer towards the south and we were ready to set sail across Bass Strait. With a over a dozen bass strait crossings in the past, and a few months working in the Bass Strait oil and gas fields, I was very pleased to have the wind aft of the beam. With three reefs in the mainsail and a storm jib we were not taking any chances with the gusty southerly winds. Despite the reduced sail (being new to cruising such short sails make me nervous) we were still surfing at 14kts.
The following afternoon the wind had abated and we were sailing up the Victorian coast in full flight towards Eden escorted by pods of dolphins, and celebrating with a glass of wine, cheese and biscuits (the joys of cruising). We tied up at fisherman’s wharf before sunset, and awaited the arrival of my father who was driving up from Kyneton Victoria with Scorpio’s new solar panel brackets. The next day was spent working on the boat and getting more diesel, and by the following afternoon I slipped lines to sail Scorpio solo up to the Gold Coast.
The departure from Eden on the South Coast of NSW was a pleasant one, with a beautiful motor up the coast into light head winds. Shortly after sunset the wind backed to the NW, and I was able to hoist the main and unfurl the genoa and staysail. I was enjoying Scorpio’s company, and the sailing was so fantastic that I didn’t feel at all tired so stayed on the helm for most of the evening. I managed to get 40 minutes sleep just after midnight, but was woken to Scorpio veering off course. The wind had backed further to the west as predicted, and increased and the full mainsail and big geona were too much for the autopilot to maintain course. I furled the genoa to two reefs (the delights of furling sails.. a new concept for me!) and put two reefs in the mainsail. Scorpio settled down and I was able to get another 40 minutes sleep.
I set my alarm to maximise my sleep to 40 minutes for three reasons. The first is the obvious one of keeping a lookout. Scorpio II has AIS transmit and receive to provide warnings of large ships approaching, fishing boats most private vessels often do not have AIS, so you need to check the horizon for boats at least every forty minutes. The second reason is incase Scorpio decides to veer off course. While I sail up the coast over 10nm from land, I would hate to over sleep and run aground. The third reason is my sleep cycle. Any more than 40 minutes sleep and the body go’s into its REM cycle, this is very hard to wake up from, and when you do wake up you feel terrible and weak as the body is still asleep. I was rudely awoken from my third rest of the evening to find Scorpio off course. I checked the autopilot and it had returned to standby. Scorpio can usually sail herself when well trimmed to apparent angles of 90 degrees, but that morning she was not co-operating. Unable to find a balanced course that Scorpio was happy on for more than 5 minutes, it was hard to leave the helm to find the source of the problem so I made a very strong cups of coffee, and settled down on my beanbag to helm Scorpio II through the rest of the night.
At sunrise the gusty wind settled and I was able to get Scorpio II steady on course to enable me to find the problem. I went into the calibration settings of the pilot, and found a few settings had been reset. I managed to alter the settings, and calibrate pilot so it is not working as hard.
The following day, Scorpio II was surfing down the waves along the NSW coast, with the wind at her back two reefs in the mainsail and a poled out jib, she rides the waves in typical IOR style and relishes in the sunlight. The occasional squall of 30kts passes over us under a big bank of clouds, and Scorpio accelerates from 7 to 8.5 kts and swings and sways to the rhythm of the waves. The dolphins can see we are having fun, and have been with us almost all the way up the coast since we left Eden and constantly remind us of their sleekness and speed, and zoom down the waves past us, surfing like Kelly Slater 1 inch under the water, then do a sharp cut back at the bottom of the wave, turn around on a dime, and jump out of the water to say “did you guys see that- you humans think your having fun, but we are awesome!” We are now on the northern NSW coast, having sailed past Lake Macquarie, Newcastle and Port Stephens. It is still quite cold with the southerly wind, but the sun is out in glimpses amongst the big rolling clouds the pass over us bringing gusty winds.
Late afternoon in early August Scorpio II passed Gold Coast seaway, and motored up to Gold Coast Yacht Club. The arrival was slightly less anticipated than when we arrived in the Clipper 11/12 race, but I was surprised to still have a small and friendly welcoming committee to help with the lines and offer me a well-deserved beer and hot meal.
Emilie arrived around midnight after flying out from her previous job delivering a 140ft Wally Yacht from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean and we were excited to finally be on our own yacht together to live the dream and cruise Australia. The following afternoon we let go the mooring lines, and quietly slipped out of the seaway, altering course to the north towards Lady Musgrave Island.
Cruising up the East Coast of Australia is a lot of fun, and despite the headwinds that we encountered, it was relatively easy going. The East Coast is scattered with islands and good anchorages and with a bit of planning you can enjoy a different island every night.
We arrived in Airlie beach a couple of weeks later and met my father and sister for some cruising around the Whitsunday islands amongst migrating whales and Hamilton Island Race Week yachts. While the rest of the yachts were racing, Scorpio II and crew were enjoying secluded tropical island anchorages, some great snorkeling and perfect wind for kite surfing.
A week of cruising the Whitsunday’s was defiantly not enough time, but we needed to continue moving up the coast if we wanted to get to Darwin before Cyclone Season. Dad and Gina were enjoying the sailing so much that they decided to join us for the sail up to Cairns before Gina headed to Townsville for a Kite boarding regatta. So after a quick stop in Airlie beach for some supplies, spare parts and a top up of Diesel we set sail for Bowen.
The wind was now from the south, and with a crew of four onboard, we enjoyed a fantastic spinnaker run up the coast. The perfect wind was too much for my sister Gina to bare, and before we knew it Gina had rigging up her new Ozone kite which we managed to launch from the boat. The race was now on between a 1983 designed Scorpio II and a 2014 state of the art Ozone Kite and race board. It was no surprise that Gina made it to the Bowen harbor limits before Scorpio, and while she sat in the water clearing her lines and awaiting pickup we debated the presence of Salt Water Crocodiles and how far south they are likely to inhabit.
We arrived at the ever so friendly Bowen Yacht Club and tied up next to a small fleet of racing yachts that were heading north to the Magnetic Island Race week before heading to the Grand View Hotel for a countermeal.
A few days and a few tropical islands later we sailed into Cairns on a beautiful southerly breeze to find the usual stream of charter yachts, dive boats and island ferries streaming their way out of port. Super yacht “Big Fish” was slipping into her dock as we entered the marina, it felt great to be in board shorts and a shaggy t-shirt rather than the super yacht beige pants and pressed polo shirt.
We ate breakfast and re filled with about 500l of fresh water and then went to refuel for the last time until we reached Darwin. I was pleasantly surprised to find we had only used 35L of Diesel since departing Airlie beach.
After clearing the aft deck and lazerette of Gina’s Kite boarding gear and squeezing it all into a hire car Emilie and I bid farewell to Gina and Dad as they headed for Townsville for the regatta. It was nice to have the boat to ourselves again, and after a big shop we set sail for Cape York with all the supplies we needed to make Darwin.
The run up the coast from Cairns was majestic as expected, with the trades building to 20kts by mid morning. We were making a cracking pace past Cape Tribulation, and Cooktown.
The days sail was marked with history as we sailed in the wake of some extraordinary exploreres. While charting the Australian coastline Captain Cook found the Great Barrier Reef by accident when his soundings went from 17 fathoms to 0 and he hit Endeavour reef. With an amazing feat of seamanship the crew of the Endeavour limped to the mainland and made cook town their home for the refit.
While the carpenters were busy, cook sent a longboat out to chart the reef and search for an exit to the Pacific Ocean. Cook and a small crew took a second longboat and sailed to Lizard Island where he climbed to the peak of the island to search for an exit from the reef.
Scorpio II sailed in the path of the Endeavour (minus the reef incident) and in the afternoon if 27th August we anchored in a windy Watsons bay and climbed the peak for sunset. Due to lack of light I ran ahead of Emilie, bringing back memories of our crew run up Mt Streslicki on Flinders Is during a post Sydney to Hobart Delivery on Wild Rose in 2004.
Departing Cooks Look at Lizard Island at 4am the breeze was perfect for enjoyable down wind sailing along the coast. By mid morning Scorpio II was regularly sitting on 10kts and surfing down waves at 12kts. With the wind and current behind us we were making some great miles. By lunch time we were approaching some tighter navigational passages, and Scorpio was trying to tell us she was a bit over dressed for the occasion and to take down some sail. I put in two reefs and reduced from the big genoa to a staysail. Scorpio was still comfortably sitting on 8.5kts, but seemed a lot happier and danced along the coast with small dolphins.
We were sailing from one historic landmark to another, made famous by two different explorers for separate reasons. Lizard island made famous by Cooks desperate attempt to exit the reef, while Bligh’s passage, and Restoration island were made famous by the Mutiny of the Bounty and Captain Bligh’s monuments voyage and attempts to enter the reef and reach civilization.
On entering the reef Bligh came to rest on an island he named Restoration Island where he and his crew rested, collected fish and provisions and fixed their long boat. The crew of Scorpio also deserved a rest, and we planned to anchor off Restoration, but with only three boats in the bay, one being a shipwreck, and the other being washed up on the beach, in 30kts of wind we decided to find a safer, more sheltered anchorage for the night in Portland Roads with plans to visit the island the following day.
As the anchor took up in the mud off the mangroves, Scorpio’s log read a days run of 195nm – that’s what I call cruising! The SE trades here are the strongest and longest lasting in the world, and the next morning they trades were still around 30kts, making for a very uncomfortable passage back upwind to restoration island. After half an hour motoring and making less than 1nm, and noting the reputation of the anchorage, I was convinced to abandon my plans to climb Restoration Island and we decided to go with the wind and head to the passage between Hick Is and the mainland.
Hicks Island group was beautiful, but navigating through the islands is not for the faint hearted. Probably one of the most stunning tropical islands we have seen on the reefs with excellent diving and kiting. The passage involves weaving our way past numerous reefs and bommies and was absolutely stunning.
Towards evening we sailed into escape river to get some rest and do some faultfinding on the autopilot. The next morning we had a fantastic down wind run to Albany Passage where there used to be a town and a large pearling industry. Today only a couple of huts remain, but the beauty of Albany passage remains.
We took the opportunity of the flat sea and light winds amongst the islands to change do our second headsail change since leaving Hobart (Loving this cruising lifestyle and lack of wet sail changes) and making preparations for Torres Strait and beyond.
A good forecast and timing the tides through Torres Strait is essential and is the difference between perfect sailing conditions and a bumpy uncomfortable ride. Scorpio II had perfect conditions for the passage, and with following wind and tide we made good miles past some of the most beautiful and remote islands in Australia. Given our progress and the perfect conditions we decided not to stop which I now regret as after speaking to other cruisers the islands offer some fantastic exploring. Our passage took us north of Possession Island and into Endeavour Strait then north of Red Banks and into the Arafura Sea towards Wessel Islands
The Wessels prove to be some great cruising grounds with lots to explore in the wild rugged wilderness. We sailed towards Cape Wessel, and then cruised along the southern shores of the Wessel Islands. Our highlight of the wessels was an anchorage to in an unnamed bay on Raragala Island. As we approached the sheltered anchorage Emile was on the bow looking for bommies and preparing to let go the anchor. Emilie pointed out an apparent “uncharted rock” close to our planned anchorage and once the anchor was let go, Emilie pointed out that we were getting closer to the rock… or rather the rock was getting closer to us. Once we were all fast, Emile pointed out the rock and then realized that we had just spotted our first Crocodile. The 3m crocodile seemed intrigued with Scorpio and for the next hour continued to linger around the boat.
I decided to go exploring in this rugged landscape and put the tender in the water. After about half an hour of persuasion I convinced Emilie to join me for a spin around this amazingly beautiful natural harbor. Once clear of the crocodile Emilie began to relax, until a 3m tiger shark swam under the boat, followed soon after by a large manta ray. I was in ore of the environment and its inhabitants, but after half an hour of exploring we decided that when the animals are bigger than the tender, it’s a good idea to return to a larger boat, so we returned to Scorpio and observed the abundant wildlife from a more stable platform while enjoying a bbq and glass of wine while the red sun dipped below the horizon.
The next morning was an early start, as we needed to time the tides for our passage through the hole in the wall. With cliffs on either side of the channel, and up to 12kts of tide, make it important to get your navigation correct. We entered the hole in the wall channel on slack water, and by the time we were half way through the tide was already over 4kts and we were only making ½ a knot over ground with the engine at 80%. After passing through some overfalls marking the strongest of the current, Scorpio began to pick up speed again and we were once again in safe water. I launched the tender and while Emile motored through the remaining channel and went exploring, having a fun time riding the rapids in the tender. We anchored close to the northern entrance and enjoyed a peaceful lunch surrounded by white sandy beaches.
After exploring the northern cost of the Wessel Islands we cruised along the Northern Territory coast towards Port Essington, which was one of the original sites for European Settlement in Northern Australia. The settlement Fort Victoria was disbandoned in 1849 and a few ruins remain. From Port Essington we cruised along the coast then sailed through the Vernon Islands and onto Darwin which would become home for the for the next six months.
Emilie and I worked in Darwin thought he wet season, making some fantastic friends amongst the Dinah Beach and Darwin Sailing Club communities. Scorpio II enjoyed the Dinah Beach Wet Season Races and with our rowdy and very entertaining crew. To top off our fantastic time in Darwin we managed to win Division 1 racing in the Dinah Beach Series. Whilst we were living aboard throughout the wet season, we carried out another refit including re painting the decks, re sealing all fittings, removal of the hydraulic steering and replacing it with a more traditional line steering, a new cockpit floor, and the removal of the engine room in place of an engine box to give us more storage. Amongst refits and racing we enjoyed cruising Bynoe Harbour with friends on long weekends. At end of the wet season, we made the decision to leave Darwin and head for the Kimberley.
The Kimberley offer some of the most amazing and isolated cruising in the world but is not for the faint hearted. I had worked through the region early in my seagoing career, and had always wanted to return in my own yacht so I could have time to explore and enjoy the scenery.
Much of the Kimberley is uncharted and the land unmapped so a good aluminum dinghy with a depth sounder is essential. Dinghy choice is also essential for cruising in this remote area. Inflatable boats get eaten by crocodiles, and some tides ranging to 10m, it is important to find a dinghy that is light enough to lift onboard and carry over rocks, yet large enough to keep the occupants at a safe distance from the crocodiles, sharks and other large man eating animals. We bought a 12ft Aluminum dinghy in Darwin at a bargain price of $125 and I fitted it out with a bimini, carpet seats, rod holders, a hand held depth sounder, and a large amount of safety equipment. The disadvantage with our new tender was we could not stow it on deck, so had to tow it, but the advantages of such a solid boat were well worth it.
A well-planned cruise through the Kimberley should not exceed 30nm a day, and timing of tides is essential. As many harbors and river mouths are uncharted and have moving sandbars, a prudent navigator will make his or her own survey in the tender ahead of the yacht. Fremantle Sailing Club provide an excellent guide book for cruisers and take a lot of the guess work out of the cruise and is highly recommended.
Cruising the Kimberley is like going back in time hundreds of years. Rock formations continue to amaze their observer, and if you look hard enough you can find some amazing Aboriginal artwork but the explorer must be careful only to explore approved areas and have respect for traditional sacred sites and burial grounds.
Our highlights were King George River which we enjoyed all to ourselves and offers waterfalls deep enough to give your yacht a shower, Mitchell River filled with crocodiles and some of the most amazing waterfalls and swimming holes we have ever seen, Crocodile creek where you can fill your water tanks from the waterfalls, and the hundreds of other secluded anchorages that offer endless beauty and wildlife.
Other cruisers meet in the Kimberley are the most amazing people, all with interesting stories about their adventures, crocodiles, aboriginal art, favorite anchorages and where they have run aground, or near misses from hidden bommies.
After a couple of month exploring the Kimberley as far as Crocodile creek we sailed to Broome for more supplies and to pick up my father before returning to explore the more western region on the Kimberley which was just as breathtaking and an amazing experience. During the sail south we experienced the beautiful presence of hundreds of humpback whales and their calves, and to our surprise even spotted a pod of Orca’s.
After another 10 days of cruising with Dad, we returned to Broome to re supply for the trip down the west coast. Emilie was finding that being pregnant and sailing to windward were not a good combination and so we decided she would fly to Malta to enjoy time with her family before our first child was born. Dad flew back to Victoria and we arranged to conduct daily radio skeds as I sailed Scorpio II the remaining 3000nm of the circumnavigation around Australia back to Hobart solo.
On the sail south I was joined by the hundreds of Humpback Whales which were also swimming south. Scorpio and I visited Montebello Islands and enjoyed its crystal clear waters, and a few close shaves with migrating Humpback Whales. One whale breached less than 50m ahead of Scorpio, which was both ore inspiring and terrifying at the same time. After the Montebello Islands I sailed onto shark bay and the famous Monkey Mia where we swam with the dolphins and anchored in a sheltered harbour anabling me to do a quick rig check prior to encountering the stronger southerly winds. From Monkey Mia I sailed Scorpio down the east coast of Dirk Hartog Island, then through a narrow channel and back out into the Indian Ocean.
My original passage plan was to sail towards the Abrolhos islands to enjoy some diving, surfing and explore the site of the infamous Batavia disaster, however, anchorage in the Abrolhos was not reliable enough with the forecasted winds so I diverted my course to Geraldton to weather the storm alongside. Two days later, after the storm had passed I had a good weather window to sail to Fremantle where I was welcomed with open arms by the Fremantle Sailing Club in the port where Scorpio II was built.
Leaving Fremantle I was up against the most challenging and eventful part of the circumnavigation. The passage plan calculated it would take 12 to 14 days to sail 1800nm from Fremantle to Hobart through the famous Southern Ocean.
There is no cure for solo sailing better than the Southern Ocean. I remember the isolated beauty and tranquillity of the Southern Ocean from when I was sailing around the world in 2011/12, but the human brain tends to block out the memory of being constantly cold and wet by the relentless weather systems that make the Southern Ocean famous.
I departed Fremantle with good weather information and routing on my Expedition Navigation Software onboard, and managed to get my last GRIIB download late on the 29th of August, about 10nm south of Cape Leeuwin. A high pressure system was moving towards the Great Australian Bight, and was forecasted to remain stationary in the Bight which would keep the Low pressure systems to the south and give me steady winds all the way to Hobart as I sailed underneath the High.
As we rounded Cape Leeuwin, and began to sail SE, a large amount of shipping traffic kept me on deck for most of the day and night, and the egg timer was set for 40minutes rest between ships. I also have Radar alarm and AIS alarms to warn me of approaching vessels, as you can never be sure that the ships crew have seen you.
Scorpio and I experienced two major weather systems during our passage, and both were a good reminder why not everybody would enjoy the Southern Ocean. The first of the fronts came as expected on the 30th of August. It was quite a large system and I was very well prepared for it. I had planned my routing so as to sail around the worst of the weather, limiting the routing software to a maximum of 30kts, expecting this would result in max winds of 40kts in real life. I was not expecting the 50+ kts that belted me on the tail end of the front for about two days, but at least I was well prepared for it.
What I had not prepared for was my Autopilot Hydraulic Ram failing at about 2am the next morning. It appeared that due to the high forces on the RAM a weak seal somehow developed a leak. Thankfully when Scorpio is trimmed well, she can sail herself more or less to 80 degrees of true wind angle, enabling me to take the Ram off and pull it apart to re-seat the seal. Thankfully with a bit of bush engineering I managed to rebuild the RAM and re-install it and everything seemed to be working well again. I was very tired after all this excitement that took me most of the day to work out. The wind was still from the north, and I set the boat up to sail herself while I put my head down for a bit of rest. I awoke in time for the next front to come through, changing the wind direction to the south. I gibed the boat, re-trimmed, put in a 3rd reef, ate a nice hot meal then put my head down for another couple of hours. The next thing I knew the wind was howling, so I jumped up on deck to take down the mainsail. Sadly I was a few minutes too late, and as I was preparing to drop the main, the top of the sail ripped from the leach to the luff.
I got the mainsail down and secured, and re trimmed the staysail. Scorpio got back into a nice motion with a steady course despite the already high seas (and building). By sunrise the next morning the waves were as big as buildings, coated with foaming crests, and there was spindrift all around. This is a good sign that the wind was a little stronger than the forecasted 30kts! While Scorpio ploughed thought he huge seas quite comfortably it was very wet. I had sealed all the hatches and checked for leaks before leaving Fremantle, but the weight of the Southern Ocean waves resulted in water coming in through places that I would never have expected. I guess with the sheer pressure of the water it manages to get in through the smallest holes, like the membrane filter of a water maker!
When the seas became calm enough, I opened the small centre hatch above the saloon, and took the luff of the main off the mast track, removed the battens and passed the sail through the hatch. While Scorpio bounced around in the rough seas, I sewed away, reinforcing the leach of the sail with a sail tie. By 1300, after 6 hours of sewing the main was back up and flying with three reefs and holding strong.
The weather began to abate, and the next day was perfect sailing conditions, the kind of conditions that you remember from the Southern Ocean. Blue sky, crisp temperature, and large rolling seas with beautiful steady winds, surrounded by Albatross, and even a seal or two. Picture Perfect. I spent the day trying to dry out the boat. All the cushions and my mattress went on deck, sheets, pillows towels, and wet weather gear were hanging off every part of the boat imaginable. I also took apart the SSB HF radio that had got wet even in its sealed box, and also checked, oiled and greased all my HF aerial connections. I managed to get the HF dried, cleaned of any salt and working again with great relief by the end of the day.
The SSB HF radio plays an important roll in a voyage such as this. With no telephone or Internet, the SSB is a sailor’s only contact with the outside world. My Dad John Hewson VK3HW listens on daily skeds reporting my position and the weather, and he tells me what the weather is like in Kyneton Victoria and what he has been up to for the day. Dad’s radio station on his farm in Kyneton Victoria has a massive linear amplifier and directional antenna that enables communication which would otherwise be unachievable. On completion of the voyage I visited Dad and he showed me the antenna he uses and the power it generates, I would not be surprised if fluorescent lighting tubes were glowing throughout Victoria were glowing when Dad flashes up his equipment. I also use the SSB to obtain weather fax on my computer that gives me weather maps, and forecasts for anywhere in the world. A fantastic service, that is easy to use and free!
The next day on the 4th of September the next big system loomed. Looking up the sky showed signs of an approaching front, with cats paws and lambs tails, warning a sailor to shorten sail! I made preparations for the next big storm, taping and sickaflexing identified water leak spots, and also tightening all the screws on the hatches. Surely now the boat cant leak??? Once the preparations were done, I cooked a nice meal, and enjoyed the evening of pleasant sailing
The barometer started falling rapidly the next day, warning that the front was imminent. I took the mainsail down and lashed it to the boom, and put a trysail up in its place. Scorpio II was ready to be hit by anything, and sure enough it came. This system was greater than the first, and the winds were as expected over 50 kts. The waves were huge, making me feel like I was on a 6ft surfboard, not a 46 ft yacht. As the centre of the low was quite close, and quite intense, the waves were a lot steeper, and the face of the wave curing up was quite visible underneath its foamy crest, the back of the waves this with spindrift.
During the night we had a couple of huge waves. The first snapped one of my solar panels clear in half, the second almost took off the dodger (bimany), ripping the rivits of that affix the dodger out of the fibreglass deck. These huge waves once again overloaded the autopilot ram whilst I was on deck dealing with the chaos. The time was 2300, and it was too rough to find a comfortable course for Scorpio to sail herself other than being on a course due north or due south, so I remained on deck until sunrise, steering Scorpio through the swell, bitterly wet and bitterly cold. Occasionally I would set her on a course for long enough to duck below and make another cup of coffee, and try to warm up over the two burner stove, but it was so cold there seemed to be no heat in the air anywhere but inside the gas flame.
The next morning conditions calmed enough for me to set Scorpio on a course to sail herself, and I went aft to the lazerette to inspect the Autopilot. I climbed into the laz and was re-bleeding the autopilot when the laz hatch slammed shut above my head, and the latches did what they are designed to do and latched. My first thought was oh damn, I’m now stuck in the laz and wont be able to get out, but with a bit of furious banging, like a bear trapped in a cage, I managed to break free! Note to self.. if I go into the lazerette, I should tie the hatch open!
I re bled the autopilot and it seemed to be working again, (at least that’s what I thought), had a nice hot breakfast, and went to bet in my now wet again, but not as wet as last time bunk. I awoke a few hours later with the autopilot alarming, and not holding course. Again I went aft to check the hydraulics, (this time tying the hatch open) and found that all the oil had leaked out of the system. Given that I only had about 100ml of hydraulic fluid left, and the system takes a lot more than this I sat down and had a good think. Did I have more fluid somewhere on board? What else can I use? Can I hand steer for the rest of the way?
After a bit of thinking, I decided to give the cooking Olive oil a try, with thankfully Emilie had bought in a bulk 4l container in Darwin and there was still about 2L left. It was the same density and viscosity as the hydraulic fluid, so I figured it could work. I re bled the system with the Olive oil and hay presto, it is working better than ever.
The remainder of the sail to Hobart was in perfect conditions, down wind running with Scorpio surfing down waves at up to 14.5kts under a perfectly running autopilot.
At the time of the evening sked I was 120nm from Maatsuyker Island and a passing ship relayed my AIS signal to the base station in Tassie, Scorpio II was officially back on the map, and unknown to me, many calls were made between Tas Maritime Radio, family and friends confirming my position. With full sail up, and the big Genoa poled out to windward the now environmentally friendly olive oil autopilot was enjoying the conditions, steering Scorpio straight and surfing down waves at up to 12kts. I had few good rests thought the night, setting my alarm every hour to check the boat and its position. At 2am we had already covered 100nm since the sked, and I remained on deck to sail past Maatsuyker Island.
As I sailed into VHF range, Tas Maritime Radio Hobart called me up on Channel 16, informing me that a few mates would like to meet me at Southport for the sail up the river. Unfortunately, Scorpio had made such good speed over the past 12 hours, that I was way ahead of schedule, and the boys could not meet me until that evening. So, we carried on up the channel, giving Scorpio a well deserved clean and sort out as we went. Cushions, mattresses, bedding and wet weather gear were all back on deck drying, and in between navigating Scorpio up the channel, and negotiating the typical Tasmanian gusty conditions, I cleaned the interior and exterior of the boat so she was fit for arrival home.
By 1630 I was passing under the Tasman Bridge with a clean, reasonably dry boat and everything packed away. Scorpio II ended her epic circumnavigation of Australia tying up to Gilston Bay Boat Club Jetty, with a small welcoming party, and Scorpio’s tired skipper enjoyed a Cascade Larger with a few mates.
Scorpio II crew
Richard Hewson and Emilie Martinet both come from strong sailing families. Richard is a Master Mariner and Professional Sailor and delivery skipper with over 200,000nm of racing and cruising experience around the world. Emilie grew up in Malta and is the granddaughter of Paul Ripard who was a founding member of the Middle Sea Race committee. Emilie has worked on classics and superyachts for the past 12 years and seven Trans Atlantic crossings to add to her impressive sailing CV. Richard and Emilie have returned to Southern Tasmania to start a family.