Sharpies on the Edge

Recently one of our 23 foot Norwalk Islands Sharpies sailed from the Australian mainland just east of Melbourne across the Bass Strait and down the east coast of Tasmania to Hobart. This piece of ocean is hairiest part of the course for the annual Sydney - Hobart race and is notorious for its boat busting gales and rough seas.

Robert Ayliffe, who operates the NIS business from his home near Adelaide, made the epic voyage with a friend, and having been forced to wait out a gale for two days they found themselves short of time and decided to do the whole 360 miles in one shot. It took them three days and three nights.

For the first part of the trip - across the treacherous strait - they had about 20 knots from the south west which gave them a tight reach. Robert reports that by manipulating the mizzen trim they got the boat to steer itself most of the time and it was a very pleasant cruise. As they rounded the north east corner of Tasmania the wind did a 180 and came in from the north east, so they were nearly dead off the wind for the rest of the trip.

The nor'easter increased in velocity until it was blowing between 30 and 40 knots. In their effort to keep the right amount of sail on the 2400 pound, flat bottomed centerboarder they first took a reef in each sail, then dropped the mizzen altogether, and as the wind mounted they took a second reef in the main; and finally, with the seas growing to scary heights and breaking on top, they pulled in the third reef, which they dubbed the "Jesus reef" and found themselves shooting down waves at more than 17 knots on the GPS.

A couple of times they hove to to give themselves some respite from having to steer the boat in this weather, and to cook hot meal. They pulled up the centerboard, put the helm hard down and drifted sideways at more than 4 knots towards their destination. They left the tightly reefed mainsail up with the sheet eased right off. With its full length battens the sail did no slat around and in fact helped to keep the boat from rolling. In this mode she rode like a duck and dodged away from the wavetops as she slid off to leeward.

During the entire trip she took no solid water aboard and did not get the lee deck wet.

So the Hobart Wooden Boat Show was a raging success for the NIS boats. Robert's boat, Charlie Fisher (named for his father in law) was by far the smallest boat to make the voyage from the mainland on her own bottom. And during the show dozens of people took advantage of Robert's offer to go sailing in the little yacht.

On the way home Robert sailed the first part of the trip by himself, doing day hops north along the coast of Tasmania until he got to the top where his mate re-joined him for the open sea passage back to the mainland. As had happened on the voyage south, they ended up on a screaming run (Jesus reef tied in) into harbor and then had to do a buttonhook turn and beat up the channel to the dock in 40 knots of wind.

Charlie Fisher went back on the trailer for the land voyage to Adelaide.