Monthly Archives: April 2010

Escape to The Carribean

Sail Tuning on Practice Day

This week has been a busy one and fortunately guest blogger Bucko has been continuing his adventures on the high seas and beaming them back to Secret Water, for those of us stuck on land and dreaming of the white stuff. Whilst I can understand it entirely,  I’m not sure that I have total sympathy with his predicament of an overdose of power sail trimming and the need to get back to basics…as they say a bad day on the water is better than a good day in the office! Anyway, in this latest guest blog, Bucko brings us an enviable snapshot of the Antigua Classics Race Week 2010. Over to you Bucko…

Well there are some perks to this job! being in the right place at the right time has not only left just me exhausted and sore but has rekindled my love of all things simple in the world of sailing. After joining the crew on a classic Caribbean Carriacou for Antigua Classic Race Week I have had to relearn the art of hauling in a sail and hoisting a spar.

Our Captain and owner Alexis built Genesis with a local boat builder the traditional way on the beach with a minimum of modern tools and no epoxy or electronic gizmos. Alexis works as a professional photographer here in Antigua and is the driving force when it comes to keeping these traditional fishing craft alive. With 10 entrants in our class ranging from 34ft to about 50ft we left the dock on a clear afternoon for our first practice sail and within 20 minuets we were punching into a fine Caribbean breeze and a healthy seaway to wet our decks and bodies. It’s amazing how little you need to get the best out of a boat! A couple of bits of spare string, some borrowed blocks and the top section of a destroyed spinnaker (that we made into our secret weapon).

crew member “Shredda” free climbs the rig to repair spinnaker halyard

Alexia our captain inspects the rig

 The fleet was divided into two distinct groups; firstly locals who use their craft all year round for commercial fishing and then the owners who bought, or have had boats built by locals, and race and cruise them for enjoyment. So you are left with newish boats with new sails and old fishing boats with sails fuller than a fat girl’s sock. The strange thing is that when you sail one every day for work and have no engine or electronics you get pretty damn good at knowing your vessel!

Race one started in about 17 knots of wind and by half way around the 20ish mile course we had the later starting big division thundering at us with plumes of spray coming off the bows of Ranger, Velsheda and the other huge division one classics. This timed in with a 28 knot rain squall hitting the fleet, Genesis had every piece of washing hoisted, spinnaker, staysail (half the genoa left up),the home made “water catcher”(a sail hoisted under the boom of about windsurfer size) and our huge gaff rigged mainsail, with its boom hanging some 5ft over our stern! We were off like a shot dog!

the water sail in action; knicknamed “the underwhomper”

8kts…9kts…10kts…. You have this strong feeling in your stomach that this boat should not be going this fast and why did I volunteer to trim the winchless mainsail? After surviving the first race we then had a carbon copy for day two! This included rain squall and a worse seaway. Race day three was a reach out, reach back and same again, so it was a day for the waterline boats and we saw the larger heavy schooners get through us. It has all come down to day four with even points for us and our rival Summer Cloud for first place overall .Lucky for us there was some good heavy upwind work and managed to keep the enemy at bay… but we still finished with equal points and all held our breath until the prize giving to hear if we’d won on count-back or whether the race committee were going to do it on elapsed time averages…and the results were;

  • First in division
  • First in class
  • Second in concourse de-elegance


The simple things in life....crew member Kristiansen enjoys the rain squall


Racing Results

Alexis Andrews Photography

Vanessa Hall Photography

Photo Action: Marine Photography by Tim Wright

Sandy Bay: A Little Slice of Doggie Heaven

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Licence to Thrill or License To Spill? Getting Qualified on the Water

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

If you are thinking of getting a tinny, (or indeed something bigger!) one of the first things you should be doing is getting your boat license.  Boating accidents have been in the press a lot over the last few years as our waterways get ever busier, so being properly qualified and trained is a must for keeping you and your family safe on the water.

As Chris has his license, so far he’s done all the driving (apart from a few put puts under 10 knots) but I can’t put up with this for much longer. I want to be able to take the boat out on my own when he’s not around….perhaps with a few girlfriends, child free, for a relaxing champagne picnic on a remote beach…

Anyway, since I’m currently setting about fulfilling all the requirements to get my license, I thought I’d share them with you on the blog. All the information is available on your state maritime authority website, however, I thought it might be useful for me to provide a quick list of the basics to give you the gist of the requirements.  I’ll be reporting back on my progress of becoming a fully licensed tinny skipper, in the meantime, what are your thoughts on the requirements? Do you think is it too easy to get a licence or are the requirements already stringent enough?  The list below is based on NSW Maritime licensing requirements:

  • Getting your license won’t protect you from irresponsible boaters, but it will make you a safer and better informed skipper, less likely to put yourself and others in danger
  • The speed at which you want to go determines the license. You don’t need a license to operate a boat at under 10 knots and for this reason most boat hire companies have motors which can’t exceed this (there is some controversy regarding whether people should be able to take boats out at all without licenses).There are 4 types of license in general:
  •  General Licence: for people 16 and over who want to drive a vessel at over knots (excluding PWC’s; otherwise known as jet skis)
  • General Young Adult Licence:  A restricted licence for those aged from 12 to under 16 years
  • PWC Licence: Jet ski licence
  • Young Adult PWC license: Jet ski licence for those aged 12 to under 16 years
  • There are a few simple steps you need to complete to get your licence:
  1. Complete the compulsory General Licence Boating Safety Course and for PWC applicants the PWC Licence Boating Safety Course;
  2. Provide evidence of practical boating experience; and
  3. Successfully undertake the general licence knowledge test and for PWC applicants the PWC licence knowledge test.

Licence to Thrill?

 There are several ways you can achieve all of the above and these are detailed on the authority website. However, in short, you need to complete a safety course either online, by purchasing a DVD or by completing the course via a recognised training provider (RTP). You can then take the knowledge test. Practical experience must be gained either via an RTP or by registering your practical experience, gained under the supervision of a qualified skipper, in a Maritime Authority issued log book . When all three components are complete you can apply for your licence.  Log books and handbooks can be downloaded from the website or picked up free from a maritime authority office.

Useful Links

NSW Maritime

A NSW Based RTP (others are also listed on the maritime site)

You're The Skipper

Gordons Bay; A Little Gem in The Eastern Suburbs

Tinny Magic

You know that strange thing that happens when you’ve never heard of something and then after you learn about it for the first time, for days afterwards it keeps popping up everywhere?  This happened to me this week in a very nice way with the discovery of Gordon Bay near Clovelly in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. When leaving the SLSC car park after a trip to Clovelly beach last week I spied what the Cornish would describe as a cove, with a line of small boats, rafted up along the top of the beach.  When Tess and I returned today to check it out we realised the walk was a little further than we anticipated from the car park, but absolutely worth it when we got there, not to mention the views on the way. Furthermore it fitted in nicely with our participation in the Great Outdoor Challenge. The walk itself goes all the way along to Coogee and if you were in a rush you might just overlook Gordons Bay on your way past. This didn’t happen to me as I was sucked in by the sight of over a dozen tinnies, all racked up together, glinting in the sun.

Two of my favourite things

We had the beach more or less to ourselves for a couple of hours,  save for a few surfers heading across the rocks to reach the bombora,  and a black dog out for a swim with a large stick.

This Black Dog's Not Depressed

If you’re looking for a quiet weekday spot to take the kids for a paddle and a fossick around the rockpools, or somewhere quiet to read a book, away from the buzz of Bondi , then this is just the spot. Don’t forget to take a picnic. We wished we’d brought our thermos along to wash down a scrumptious slice of Clovelly Bakery Bread and Butter Pudding (we burned it off of course walking up and down the steps to get there).  If you’re after something a bit more active, Gordon’s Bay is the home of a scuba diving club who have established an underwater nature trail in the bay, which on a clear day can be enjoyed with a snorkel.  Anyway, in this instance, pictures say it better than words so here’s a snapshot of the delight’s of Gordon’s Bay. Get yourself down there.

Getting There

Clovelly is about a twenty minute drive from Sydney CBD

Google Map

Red Jacks Point: Pelican Amphitheatre

Red Jacks Point

Did you know that April is Children and Nature Awareness Month? Yesterday we signed up for the Great Outdoor Challenge, an event created by 5 Orange Potatoes as part of the US based Children and Nature Network’s efforts to inspire kids to get outdoors.  We’ve done a few trips in the tinny in recent weeks but fur, feathers and foliage have been a little thin on the ground. So with the Great Outdoor Challenge  in mind and a real incentive to get some photos, we headed down to Red Jacks Point on Port Hacking, where thankfully our luck improved.

After a doing a refreshing 20 knots from Deer Park where the no wash zone ends, we pulled up at Redman’s Point in very shallow water, only really suitable for a tinny or flat bottomed boat that is easy to launch from the sand. We switched off the engine and let the tinny drift across the sea grass beds whilst we finished off the CWA fruit cake from the Easter Show, washed down with a cup of tea from the thermos.  Bliss.

We were shortly joined by half a dozen pelicans who were probably attracted by the fish that could also be seen jumping out of and near the surface of the water. Every now and then a cormorant popped its head up and I wondered if they were fishing cooperatively, something that is unique to the little black cormorant species. The pelicans swam around the tinny in a wide circle (probably eyeing Rhubarb with some caution) creating a kind of reverse amphitheatre with the performance on the outside and the audience floating in the middle. I filmed a short piece of footage of two of them paddling past which I can’t seem to load on the blog so will try and post on the facebook page. I love the way their tail ends bob up and down just slightly as they glide along. I’m always amazed at their ability to take off from the water, being such a large and heavy looking bird.

Pelican Performer

Tessa can recognise and identify pelicans but whilst this was being shot was more interested in ferreting out some cheese from the coolbag, as you can hear in the background of the footage. I have learned that an assortment of healthy snacks can do wonders for extending the range of short attention spans on boat trips.

Stingray...De de doo doo doo doo

I was also lucky enough to see a brown stingray cruising through the sea grass beds but unfortunately wasn’t quick enough to catch it on camera; sometimes you just have to focus on looking and observing and enjoy the moment. Although the sea grass beds look quite barren on first glance, I can assure you they host a whole ecosystem of plants and animals just waiting to be investigated with a snorkel (note to self to leave one permanently in the boat).

Lilli Pilli Sand Flat

Hitching a Ride

By now the tide had dropped a fair bit so we all hopped out and dragged the tinny across the shallows back to the main channel, (a good workout for the thighs) and headed over to a sand flat at Lilli Pilli where we all had a swim and Tessa was fascinated by the worm trails in the sand. These little signs of life on the surface of the beach reminded me of the outlines depicted in some of the aboriginal rock carvings that I’ve seen around Sydney.

Secret Tunnellers

Relaxing Reg

To top off a superb autumn morning on the water we spotted the resident sea eagles circling over Grays Point. They were flying high on a thermal so the photo below is purely evidential! I’ll have to get a better zoom!

Grays Point Resident Sea Eagles

Heading for Home

Nautical Flag Knowledge: Are you Dragging Your Anchor?

Nautical Flags

A must for everyone who puts to sea in boats is some kind of guide to nautical flags. Most people who are regularly on the water, whether it be to race or cruise, know some of the most commonly used flags such as the Alpha signal for  “I have a diver down; keep well clear at slow speed”.  In yacht racing the code has its own specific set of applications, for example the Y flag on the committee boat indicates that lifejackets must be worn, the Sierra flag for a shortened course etc.

But when challenged I don’t think there are many of us who could identify every single flag and its various applications without making a mistake. The exception (you’d hope) ought to be those operating on the water commercially. Having a handbook on board is all well and good but not if you’ve run over the diver in your tinny or over shot the shortened course mark in your yacht by the time you get the book out, in which case you could find yourself in a lot of trouble.

The Nato Phonetic Alphabet (not to be confused with the International Phonetic Alphabet ) corresponds with the names of the International Code Flags and  is the international radiotelephony code for transmitting messages over radio. Again, having to translate as you go from a handbook, when you are exchanging information over radio in an emergency situation at sea/on the water, is far from ideal.

As a side, I have found that knowing this alphabet has come in very handy when discussing the antics of naughty (small) children in their presence or mentioning topics that are taboo such as; “its time for “Bravo, Echo, Delta”, or “so and so is being a thorough pain in the Alpha, Romeo, Sierra, Echo”. This type of regular use is also a good way of learning the code during day to day so it comes to mind when you really need it.

Recently, however, I found a much more practical tool for learning everything in the international code. The Nautical Flags Application on Iphone lists them all with clear pictures and descriptions, includes the racing flags meanings, coastal warnings,  as well as flash cards and a quiz which you can test yourself with on a spare minute on the train.

Nautical Flag App Functions

Test Yourself


It also has a really cool “spell it with flags” tool where you can type in a message such as “Happy Birthday” and it will display the flag sequence, useful if you want to use your nautical bunting to say something meaningful in a “best dressed boat” competition! It also includes the Morse Code and the coastal warnings flags.

There are a number of Iphone apps that offer this type of function but the one I’m describing is called “Nautical Flags”, costs $1.19 and was created by Pub 9 Nautical

If you don’t have an iphone, here’s a really useful link instead. You can also purchase stickers at any good chandlery (boat shop) that display the code and its meaning that you can place in a sensible location in your cockpit or nav station etc.

Can you decode this without checking your handbook?

First person to correctly decode the sequence in the picture above gets a picnic trip in the tinny.

Proof That The Easter Bunny Actually Lives in The Shire

Swallow Rock to Audley

The Port Hacking morning air had a decided chill about it when we launched the tinny this morning, heralding the welcome approach of autumn. With the cooler weather we can look forward to less hustle and bustle on the boat ramps, easier parking and less traffic on the waterways, with only the dedicated boaters out for a fish or a morning cuppa on the river. After a busy Easter weekend at home and a visit to the Easter Show, a trip in the tinny, albeit a short one, was well over due.

We made the short motor up the river from Swallow Rock to Audley to meet some friends for morning tea. The trip would arguably have been easier by driving an extra ten minutes by car, but why drive when you can arrive in style by boat?

Audley Picnic Spot

The trip is a very pretty one, perfect for a short jaunt, which we did several times back in the summer months. During one of these trips we stopped for lunch just short of Audley on a boat ramp beside a little beach. Have you ever wondered where the Easter Bunny spends the summer months? Before we saw it,  Rhubarb alerted us to the presence of a small furry rodent which looked suspiciously like an escaped domesticated tortoisehell rabbit. He didn’t seem at all bothered by our arrival, scoffed the sandwich crusts we offered him and carried on sunning himself on a pile of leaves just next to the edge of the sand. We snapped some photos just to prove we hadn’t been imagining it and left the picnic spot wondering how he came to inhabit the private little beach.

The Easter Bunny?

Meanwhile, back to today’s expedition. When we arrived at the picnic ground, just a little way along from the previously mentioned picnic spot, we decided to try our luck at foraging for some Easter eggs. Just as I thought, the Easter Bunny himself had already visited and deposited clusters of foil wrapped chocolate eggs in mossy hollows and rotting logs. 

Mossy Hollow

Just Out of Reach

Remains of the Simnel Cake

Kookaburra Watching Proceedings

Do You Think We've Found Them All?

 Clearly the upper reaches of the Port Hacking is the preferred location of the Easter Bunny  during the summer months, before meeting his obligations as Autumn approaches the Southern Hemisphere, and then hopping off to warmer climes (Whitsundays perhaps?) to spend the winter.

Day Trippers From Bundeena

Getting There

Audley is located in the Sutherland Shire of NSW, a 50 minute drive from Sydney CBD. Boats can be launched from Swallow Rock Boat Ramp at Grays Point. There is no Marina at Audley and smaller boats can anchor or land on the small beaches at low tide.

Google Map for Audley


The Audley Weir picnic spot is ideal for a family picnic. There are gas/electric BBQ facilities, flush toilets, picnic tables, drinking water, a public phone, and a kiosk selling coffee, tea, cold drinks, light meals, burgers etc. There is also a lovely National Parks Gift Shop and Visitors Information Centre that provides a wealth of information and resources on exploring the Royal National Park. The centre is open every day from 8.30 until 4.30 except for Christmas day.

Audley Visitor Centre

Tel: 02 9542 0648

There is a also a hire company at the weir where paddle boats, kyacks, canoes and bicycles can be hired for the day

Audley Boat Shed

Tel: 02 9544 1400

Useful Links

NSW Parks and Wildlife (Audley)

Boat and Bike Hire at Audley

Ferry Cruise Information

Recipe for Simnel Cake


Picnicers at Audley

Super Yacht Skipper…A Day in The Life…

From The Fore Deck

If, like me, you are constantly tugged at by the call of the running tide, some kind of sabbatical or sea change is probably never far from your mind. My next guest blogger, Peter Buckley or “Bucko” as he’s known to his friends actually turned the dream into reality a few years back and headed to the super yachting mecca that is the south of France to try his luck on the dock. Reading this post is a must if you are thinking of escaping on the high seas or know someone who is. But parents beware….if you suggest this to slow moving gen Y offspring as an eviction strategy…it might be some time before you see them again…

Over to you Bucko….

About two years ago I made a plan to escape Sydney, work, traffic and the tax man! Sounded easy… fly to Antibes, France the super yacht crewing capital of the Mediterranean, and put your CV around and wah-lah…job, bulk cash, amazing yacht and a lifestyle we all dream about.

Pre departure I went and did my STCW95 course (AUD $1500) at Newport up on the northern beaches of Sydney (this is a must for those thinking of escaping) it’s similar to the course you need before you can pull a schooner in a bar except a bit more on fire fighting and first aid. After a week putting out fires with bloody big hoses and applying band aids I was qualified!

On arriving in Antibes I realised there were a lot of people with this same cunning plan… and they were younger and better looking than old sea dog Bucko…

What followed was endless queuing at crew agencies and copious amounts of “dock walking”. They even have a magazine called “dock walk” so when you’re not dock walking you can read about dock walking! If you have no luck getting a job you do “day working” which is doing all the cleaning and varnishing the already employed crew are too lazy/hung over to do! This gives you enough money to eat baguettes but not enough to get drunk or have any sort of fun (unless you find paying 55euro’s for a hotel room that is so tiny when you stick the key in the door you break the window fun).

AnchoredNo Wind

 By chance I was day working on a 170ft gin palace, giving the teak deck chairs an unneeded coat of deck oil…when an old friend walked on to the vessel along side… and asked why I was day working and why my baguette only had butter on it? After some chit chat he offered me the chance to meet his boss and try out for a job as a captain on a 62ft Oyster sailing yacht…. Within six months the boss decided this sailing lark was quite a hoot and we trotted off to the Genoa boat show to spend the life savings of everyone you have ever met, on a 100ft carbon fibre Southern Wind Yacht to advance his learning to sail programme.

Myself with girlfriend in tow headed off to Cape Town for six months to oversee the build of this monster and bring it swiftly and safely to the owner who would be waiting at a nice restaurant near Capri to see his new summer toy for the first time.

At Sea

The yacht has just had her 1st birthday, has covered over 15,000nm and is now in Antigua waiting for further instructions. For those with the inkling to follow this sea change I will take you into a normal day with guests onboard…

  • 6am wake up
  • 6am-2am work like your hair is on fire.
  • Do this for approx 10 days then have 347 rums and collapse…repeat 6 times per season or until you go bonkers.

 We are a floating hotel with restaurant and chef, a water sports park attached, all requests are met with enthusiasm and the word NO is banned. If you like the sea, magic locations and hard work and when the boss is not around enjoying the spoils of someone else’s hard earned …then get your bum to France it all starts with YOU!

Useful links:

Useful hints:

  • Have your CV well sorted and register with all the agencies you can before leaving home
  •  No visible tattoos or weird piercings
  •  Have as many tickets/courses as you can e.g. dive ticket, yacht master, power boat level 1 etc…
  •  Get your B1-B2 American visa sorted (as many vessels go across the Atlantic) you will need it and it takes time
  •  Get an ENG1 medical done they will often ask for one
  •  Smile till it hurts

View From The Crow's Nest

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