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Sailing small boats on North Arm Cove

Hydra catamaran-16ftjaninerSun, 15/04/2012 - 12:11pm
Hydra Catamaran
Catamaran sailing over the mud flats on the way into the Cove

We have a couple of old boats which we occasionally get out for a sail. Our 16 foot catamaran is 31 years old, and our 14 foot Spiral (similar to a laser) is nearly as ancient. We also have an old wind surfer that we have never quite mastered. North Arm Cove is a wonderful waterway for small sailing boats, but we have seen people get themselves into trouble and we have been involved in a few rescues.

The first problem at North Arm Cove is getting out past the oyster racks. In shallow water, you cannot get your rudder and centre board down and if the tide is low, you can be on top of the oyster racks before you are fully in control. It is especially difficult if the wind is from the east. In rocky areas, it may be too far and difficult to lift a boat to the water at low tide.

Once past the oyster racks, the main thing to watch is not to get too close to them until you are returning home. We once rescued a man on a catamaran who ended up on the oyster racks. He gave himself such a fright that he had his boat out on the highway with a for sale sign on it the next day.

The other thing to watch is the water depth. If you tip the boat, the mast can become stuck in the mud and it makes it very difficult to right the boat. My husband had this unpleasant experience one time when the tide was out and I could not get the tinny into the water to go to his aid. He finally drifted close to a post on the other side and used one of his spare ropes to tie the boat and manoeuvre it into a position where he could get the mast unstuck. The catamaran was upside down for about 90 minutes. Not a single power boat came into the Cove whist he struggled in the water.

We have done some silly things. One time I went out and could not understand why the spiral was so unresponsive. I eventually got it into shallow water- luckily I had my wet suit boots on and I dragged it home. It turned out that we had forgotten the bung plug and the hull was slowly filling with water.

Sometimes you don’t know that you are doing something very silly until you are safely home. We once had a wonderful afternoon out on the catamaran sailing between North Arm Cove and Lemon Tree Passage. It was a weekday and we were the only boat out there all afternoon and the sailing conditions were perfect. However, when we got back and were pulling down the sails, we realised that one of the stays was frayed and nearly broken. If the boat had lost its mast out in the middle of the Port, there were no other boats and we had no way of calling for help. We now make sure we check all the important fittings regularly, and we replace them every few years.

We have never been fond of wind surfing- we bought one very cheaply from a neighbour just to give it a go . The main issue for us is that we both have bad backs and the process of lifting the sail out of the water is not easy. Once you become competent, this is not such a big issue, but we have not persisted when we have had alternatives. The other issue for beginners is that they are very easy to sail in one direction- turning around and coming back is much harder. Our wind surfer is mainly used just as a floating board to paddle around in the water.

We have some advice for people sailing in these waters. The most obvious is to let someone know where you intend to sail and when you expect to be back. The other obvious thing is to be certain that you can handle the wind conditions- we’ve rescued a few sailors who have either over estimated their abilities or under estimated the strength of the wind. A wind change can come howling up the Cove from the south with very little warning and even the summer northeasterly comes up very quickly just before lunchtime.

We try to plan to have the tinny floating in case we need a rescue boat. We always carry a paddle on the catamaran and and we only use the spiral in light wind conditions. We wear our life jackets and we also wear our wet suit boots in case we end up on a rocky shoreline. When the kids were little, we would play man overboard when we would deliberately drop them off into the water and come back to get them.

Sailing in the Cove is generally quite safe, but just remember that things can always go wrong and there is not always someone out there to rescue you.

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