Our yachtmaster trainees reach Sydney for an emotional wrap up to the Australian phase of their course

Coffs Harbour to Port Stephens

My passage may have been long in miles, but Howard’s stole the show with length of time taken. A passing front meant southerly winds and 31 hours of beating. This was also the passage that Richard chose to cover the GPS and let navigators Fay and Rob use more traditional methods. They had a tricky time taking fixes with the hand bearing compass and plotting our position using dead reckoning. In order to have visual references we stayed close to the coastline and thankfully only had a couple of reefs and islands to negotiate.

The swell was at times in excess of three metres and it was quite physical work being on watch so we all took full advantage of off watch periods to sleep. Did a great headsail peel in the middle of the night as the wind picked up and we were forced to reduce our sails. Fay and I had second guessed the call, confirmed by Richard, which was a good confidence booster.

The boys surpassed themselves at dinner by cooking a fantastic beef stroganoff with dumplings at a taxing 45 degree heel. This was the perfect fuel for us all as the southerly brought Antarctic winds and freezing conditions. It was undoubtedly the coldest we had felt in months and made life in the cockpit particually unpleasant. I had five layers on plus two hats and was still cold! Rob’s gloves were swapped around the cockpit and became the helming treat.

Richard took a very back seat on this passage – in fact it was rare for him to leave his bunk on the port side of the saloon, getting up only to eat! However, this was to our credit as it showed that he was comfortable with us running the boat and making all the decisions.

Port Stephens to Broken Bay, Pittwater

The final long passage of the course, 80 miles to Pittwater, 20 miles north of Sydney, fell to Nick to skipper. After yesterday’s freezing conditions we all resorted to donning our foulies again – a fair cry from our shorts and tee’s ensemble of the Whitsundays. Howard came down with a nasty cold and took to his bunk for the day, so instructor Richard stepped in as crew. Nick lost no time enjoying the opportunity to make him work in his watches. We all found it very amusing!

With the southerly breeze persisting it was another day of beating. Fortunately by now we’re all pretty good at close hauled helming and reading the wind, heading up and falling off when required. A couple of times it dropped off completely forcing us to motor, then within a matter of hours it was back up to 15 knots. Later we had fantastic low level fly past by four Australian F18’s that sent us into raptures of excitement and inspired the boys to recite every Topgun quote they could think of.

Soon the lights of Sydney appeared in the distance. We all enjoyed the relatively short day and after picking up a mooring buoy in Broken Bay we relaxed for the night with a round of hot chocolates and a carrot cake.

Pittwater to Port Jackson, Sydney

We had all been looking forward to the final day’s sailing since instructors Richard and Chris had arranged for the two Flying Fish 40.7’s to race the last 20 miles down the coast to Sydney. The start was fantastic, with plenty of heckling and jostling, but unfortunately the fantastic wind we’d had for the last week died almost completely and within an hour we were forced to call it a draw as the boat speed dropped below a knot.

What a feeling to sail into our final destination of Port Jackson and be greeted by the incredible sight of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, but it also meant an end to our sailing adventure. We took the chance to tour around the harbour, one of the best ways to view the city, and took endless photos of each other to mark the occasion before anchoring for lunch in a stunning little bay below Taronga Zoo with amazing views of the city. There were many mixed emotions that afternoon as we took Let Loose to her Australian home in Middle Harbour and tied up in the marina. Phase two of our course was almost over.

The following day, with slightly sore heads, we spent five hours scrubbing, spongeing, wiping and mopping to get Let Loose looking like new. Richard took each of us aside and gave us a comprehensive debrief after completing a skills checklist and rating and commenting on our competence.

After a well deserved weekend off we had a further three days sailing in the Sydney harbour area, practising close quarters manoeuvres, in particular MOB techniques, sailing onto mooring buoys and docking in marina berths.