27 April 2008

Pam rudely awoken by a fishing competition

I was sound asleep in my bunk when I suddenly woke to Little Dragon rocking violently and a roar of engines alarmingly close. It was 5 am and pitch dark. I got up to inspect what the hell was going on. A fishing boat with a 140 hp engine had pulled up alongside me. The rocking subsided and I was just going back to bed when another fishing boat roared in pulled up not far away. Little Dragon rocked even more violently and I feared that the anchor might not hold. I popped my head out again and this time asked what the hell was going on. "Fishing competition" I'm told, it seemed to be an all male affair. Not wanting to deal with my anchor in a nightdress I got dressed. More and more boats arrived, each at full throttle. They came from Yamba, Iluka, Grafton, Maclean - from up and down the Big River. I had the misfortune to be moored right on the starting line. Just before 6 am around 20 boats cast off and drifted silently backwards into the misty dawn. 6 am the hooter went. All 20 boats opened their throttles and charged off in search of their favourite fishing spots - 17 upriver and 3 downriver. Two minutes later they are gone. Calm returned and I made a cup of tea to settle my nerves and watch a glorious sunrise. My anchor held.

9 am and another new crew arrived, Noela Yates and Gertrude Kurtz. As on the day before it was a dead calm so we set up on the club's front deck to brew a cuppa. Quite suddenly, just as we were beginning to wonder if we were going to get any sailing, a breeze came up. In fact within half an hour or so there was quite a stiff breeze.

The first photo is of Noela taken just before we head off for our regular ocean swim at Byron Bay. The second photo is of Gertrude taken a couple of years ago of her rowing across a lake in Austria.

This was the first time that I had sailed Little Dragon in more that a gentle breeze and it started off as exhilarating. It turned out that Noela had sailed before and was a capable crew. Gertrude did not have much prior experience but was thoroughly enjoying herself. I cannot sail Little Dragon single handed so it is very much in my best interests to make sure that my crew enjoy themselves so that they want to come again. It seems to be working so far. One of my strategies is to make sure that we all take turns sailing the boat. We sailed most of the way to Iluka but the wind was getting stronger and stronger. I began to get anxious. So far we could handle Little Dragon but what if the wind continued to get up? I had never put a reef in - it was one of the things on my long "to do" list. I decided it was time to turn and head for home.

We put in for lunch at the sailing club and met up with two members both with Hartley 16s. They challenged us to an informal race to some green can on the way to Iluka (I figured that they would be ahead and they would show me the way). Noela and I had put in a reef over lunch but they said it was unnecessary and suggested we shake it out. I got the feeling that they felt that reefing was akin to "real men don't eat quiche". As a child I was taught that it showed good seamanship to reef early (I suppose I should find an alternative to "seamanship"). Rather reluctantly I shook out the reef and off we all headed towards Iluka. They took the lead immediately and for a while it was fun following but the wind blew up further and we had some minor equipment problems. We abandoned the informal race and returned to the more protected waters upriver from the sailing club.

It was time to winch Little Dragon out of the water onto her trailer, but before I could do that I had to get the trailer backed down the narrow ramp. I made a complete hash of it watched by a crowd of fishing enthusiasts. One of them, a truck driver, offered to do it for me but I was determined to do it myself. Finally with the help of a woman giving clear advice on "left hand down" etc I did it. We got her out of the water and packed up.

Then Noela noticed that the spring loaded arms that help guide Little Dragon onto the trailer were digging into the bottom of the boat. Time to consult the sailing club members' brains trust. They were having a post sail beer but readily agreed to head over to have a look. Next move is a whack from a hefty hammer but that doesn't work. Much discussion ensues and the consensus is "that you have got a problem!" I agree.

PS The trailer workshop in Billynudgel has shown done an excellent modification and the spring loaded arms are no longer denting Little Dragon's bottom.

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