#Sailing alone around Port Phillip


The Vendee Globe is the pre-eminent yacht race for singlehanded circumnavigations. Solo sailors race south from the west coast of France, they leave South Africa, Tasmania, New Zealand and Cape Horn to port and return to the west coast of France. The leaders complete the race in about 3 months. The race is held every four years and the current race is about 2/3rds complete. Meanwhile,  I have just completed my own mini-version: 3 days, not 3 months and around Port Phillip, not the world.  I sailed from St Kilda, leaving the Popes’ Eye and the Hovell Pile to port then returned to St Kilda.

Fortunately, when touring Port Phillip, it is generally possible to find a windward shore to anchor in the lee of, for overnight rest. I anchored at Portarlington and at Dromana. In summer, southerly winds prevail with a tendency to the south east and these spots are well placed to provide sheltered anchorage. In winter, the prevailing winds are northerly with a tendency to the west and secure anchorage would have to be found elsewhere. Sailing from Portarlington to Dromana meant navigating the channels at the southern end of Port Phillip. I used the West Channel then the Sorrento Channel. The time of low tide at Point Lonsdale meant that I had the tide with me travelling down the West Channel but against me by the time I was in the Sorrento channel.

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At this time of the year, Sorrento and Blairgowrie are busy with holidaying Melburnians in speed boats and jet skis. The activity (and noise) was substantial. Add in the Sorrento-Queenscliff ferry which, being constrained by its draught, gave me very little space to pass and I was well pleased to get clear and into the wider waters of Capel Sound, then on to an evening anchor under the lee of Arthur’s Seat.

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The third day from Dromana to St Kilda began with no wind and stayed that way until after noon. I had to wait, bobbing around off the Mt Martha point going nowhere. I drifted past a sleeping seal who was warming his flippers in the sun as he floated at the surface. Tiny schools of fingerling fish came swimming up to investigate the cleanliness of my hull. The sun grew stronger and still the wind waited.

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After noon, the first catspaws  of breeze appeared on the surface of the water. The breeze slowly built and we got underway. The boat speed was rising and by the time I was abeam Mordialloc, I felt confident that I would make it home that day. Eventually, I was charging towards St Kilda with more than 20 knots of wind from astern which would mean dropping sails and getting into the marina would be a handful. But, all was done, without incident.

I used the trip to experiment with self-steering using sheet-to-tiller (or wheel in my case) methods. A fixed line from the boom lead to the wheel to counteract weatherhelm and shock cord on the other side to counteract leehelm was my method. Success requires the correct tensioning of both control lines but once set, I found it stable. However, it needs adjustment when the wind strength changes and when the sail trim changes. I will continue to experiment with the method and improve my ability to fine tune the adjustments. As a quick, easy and virtually no cost system of self-steering, it is worth learning to allow the singlehander time away from the helm to do other things. It also confirms the importance of sail balance which will make the yacht sail more efficiently and is a useful sailing skill in itself.

Here we are, secured at the end of day 3:

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