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Shear Madness has been living at a Marina in Mooloolaba, about an hours drive north of Brisbane since we left her last fall. Ron has been busy doing various maintenance jobs and getting her ready for our next adventure - a sail to New Caledonia which is about 900 miles off the northeast coast of Australia. Bradley and I arrived in Mooloolaba on May 12 with plans to spend several weeks getting ready and testing various systems and equipment.
Since we plan to start doing more offshore cruising, we decided to take some classes to ensure we are more self sufficient in an emergency situation. The two courses we took were Firefighting and Survival at Sea. In the firefighting class we learned about different types of fires and how best to prevent and fight them. Very important if you are alone on a boat in the middle of nowhere! We got to spend a half day at a local fire station experimenting with different kinds of fire extinguishers. We also had a chance to set off some of our old hand held distress flares to see what they looked like. Although the classroom part and the instructor were not great, we learned a lot at the fire station.
Survival at Sea was designed to teach us how to survive in the event we have to abandon ship and board our liferaft. It covered techniques for launching and boarding the raft and what to do once you are in it. We spent a half day at a local pool where we had to swim with all our clothes on, launch a liferaft and get everybody inside it. Both classes taught us skills we are glad to have but hope we never have to use!
Next on the list was to take the boat out for a day sail to test various systems, especially our autopilot system and watermaker. We also wanted to test all our dive gear before heading off too far. So we set off for an overnight sail to Tangalooma, about 30 miles south. All went well and the auto pilot worked like a champ. After anchoring we completed another important test - cooking steaks on the grill! So far, so good. The next morning, we planned to put up our storm trysail, a special sail designed for use in very high winds when the mainsail is too large to use. We had never put it up before and thought it would be a good idea if we did it in calm weather rather than in 50 knot winds for the first time! Fortunately it was a windless day so we could raise it while at anchor. This turned out to be a good exercise. While conceptually very simple, at each step we seemed to encounter a minor glitch. Some of them were procedural (ie, moving the topping lift out of the way) and some of them were equipment related (ie, the tri-sail track didn't glide smoothly). Each problem was overcome and documented and photographed so we would have a repeatable procedure. Just over an hour after we started, we had the sail up! While all this was going on, the watermaker was working just fine, filling our tanks with fresh water.
Next was the test of our dive equipment, and especially my new toy, a Nikon Coolpix 4500 Digital Camera with underwater housing and strobe flash! Bradley and I set off to a couple nearby sunken ships while Ron tested his gear by cleaning the bottom of the boat. Although the visibility was terrible and it wasn't a very scenic dive, everything worked fine, including my camera. I have a lot to learn about how to get good underwater photos, but hope to get lots of practice in the coming months.
A few days later, winds were forecast to be 25-30 knots so we decided to go out for a more rigorous sail. We'd had some work done on the staysail (the smaller sail in front of the mast) and wanted to test that plus we wanted to test our new trysail procedures and actually sail with it. Within minutes of leaving the marina, we had the trysail up with no problems. As the winds picked up to 30+ knots, we were sailing very comfortably with the staysail and trysail (our two smallest sails) and moving along at 8-9 knots! All was fine for the next several hours until we returned to the marina with winds approaching 35 knots and a driving rain which made visibility almost nothing. We normally dock the boat stern to (meaning we back it into the slip) but the wind made that impossible so we finally were able to safely dock bow in.
Also during our stay in Mooloolaba we have had our own life raft serviced and re-packed, updated our abandon ship bags (which contain extra food, water, and supplies in case we do board the raft), updated our medical kits, and shopped for provisions to last us for the next several months. We've also caught up with some friends who are here in Mooloolaba. I've been running along the beach nearly every day and Bradley has been swimming nearly 3000 meters almost daily (which is easier on his back than running).
We've been busy but are looking forward to leaving soon for New Caledonia.