Last Saturday night, a week ago, I was crewing on a pretty 40-foot wooden ketch, which was trying to get into port. Two swell systems were happening, cutting across each other, doubling the height of waves, rolling the vessel to the gunnels. It was dark, and the compass couldn’t be read, and the autopilot couldn’t be engaged because the batteries were low. The three crew were informed by the skipper that the Autohelm used too much electricity – so the boat had to be hand steered. Compounding this, the yacht’s steering suffered some problems: the wheel was extremely stiff, and the boat would not respond quickly to the helm, so the helmsman tended to become exhausted.
Up ahead in the dark are the Sir John Young Banks, shoals, where the seas sometimes break heavily, so we elect to go to seaward of them and the marine chart tells of two beacons, each with a light flashing every 5 seconds, marking the outside edge of the banks.
The scene is now set for a tense journey of eight hours, one crew seasick, with me down below laying courses, calling them out to one on deck who relays them to the skipper on the wheel.
With the compass all but useless we steered by the stars until they were covered by cloud – and eventually by the lighthouse on Point Perpendicular, whither we were bound.
That pinpoint of light is the point of my story.
We did make it into Jervis Bay; it was 2 am when we at last anchored, had a cuppa, and slept.
I woke a new person.