(Darwin, Australia)- Cruising sailboats take many forms- skinny, fat, heavy, light, wine-glass shaped, plumb-bowed, frac-rig, masthead rig, cutter rig. No matter what incarnation anyone believes in, over the course of time the ultimate sailing test is always the sea. What many have learned is that excellent all-around sailing performance is important, especially for cruisers who wish to ply the Seven Seas and cover as much blue-water territory they can safely and swiftly without having to rely on the “iron genny”. Recently, a new J/122 owner in Australia chronicled their adventures sailing 1,100 nm from Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea to Darwin, Australia. Here’s the story of the J/122 JOSS’s adventures:
“It all started when Ray Entwistle (J/Boats Australia dealer) rang to say: ”Are you busy next week? It’s time to put the team together again and Dave “The Rock” Buck can make it too”. The owner of the stunning J/122 Joss would like the boat moving back to Australia. We are going to take it easy however, it’s about 1100 miles from Port Moresby Papua New Guinea to Darwin and nowhere to stop. There are reasonable trade winds, I don’t want to use his spinnakers if we can help it, and need to get the boat there in pristine condition so it’s ready for racing in Oz.”
Great, I was on the team but that’s where all similarity to taking it easy stopped! My name is Craig, I am an Australian working in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea where Joss is based.
Ray and Dave flew into Port Moresby from Australia on the afternoon of Wed 29th, I picked them up from the airport, we all checked the boat over then provisioned Joss up for the trip. A meal in the Royal Papua Yacht Club Wednesday night and the introduction of a local called Simeon who was an experienced power boat skipper but had never been under sail before and was a personal friend of the owner Ian. Sim as he was quickly nick named was joining us for the trip. That would make four and no problem for the J/122’s next adventure.
Thursday morning Joss slipped out of her marina berth at RPYC and gently moved over to the fuel wharf to top up the diesel tank and fill 2 x 20 litres Gerry cans (just in case) making a total of 170 ltrs. At 7.30 am Thursday 30th the crew of J/122 Joss said their goodbyes to Ian the owner. Out of the harbour and through the uncharted Lilyoblad Passage with local expert Sim on the helm. This was a good start and we had already saved a few hours by not going around one of the large reefs that are part of the local geography in this part of the world. By 9am we cleared into deep charted water and Joss dipped her bows into the Coral Sea as we hoisted the #4 Jib, full main and where slipping along at an easy 7.5 knots in the 15 knot Sou Wester which was kicking up the 2 – 3 meter seas.
By 10 am the wind was 15 -25 and Joss was easily peaking at 8-9 knots in the stronger gusts with a reef in the main. The watch system started to settle in. Sea Temp 29.3 degrees c, air temp over 30 c and some 1070 or so miles to go.
7.30 Friday morning revealed Joss had covered 189 nm and we were in good shape to reach the incredibly tricky reef ridden strong currents which would be in our favour in the Torres Straits much later tonight. We were already negotiating the many Islands of the Torres Straits which are a myriad of at least 274 small islands which separate the far northern continental Australia’s Cape York Peninsula and the island of Papua New Guinea. Later in the morning we began to overhaul a 14 meter catamaran, he was initially under engines then as we began pass it they set some sail. It was good fun playing with the big cat all day. He would sometimes get ahead as he used his minimal draft to cut across some of the more shallow areas we were not even going to contemplate. Joss thundered along sometimes in the teens on the speedo as we tendered her needs which was mainly taking in a reef or shaking one out to maintain steady speed and comfort levels. Eating was a gourmet affair after choosing some great local meats and veggies in Port Moresby.
On the second night in the early hours came one of those calls seldom heard on a sailboat. Joss was negotiating a narrow passage called the Prince of Wales channel, with a reef to stb and Wednesday Island to Port, a freighter approaching from ahead in the opposite direction and the catamaran just ahead of us which Joss was gaining on rapidly. The jib had been furled and with 2 reefs in the main Joss was travelling at over 8 knts when Dave called down “I need some help please, how do you slow these b!**dy# J/Boats down? “ Ray cracked up laughing – I love that call, never heard it before – go the J’s.
It was 2.30 in the morning with 25-30 knots just forward of the beam, Joss still doing over 9 knots at times and reveling even with reduced sail area perfectly balanced. We began to overhaul the cat once more, much easier with a few more pairs of eyes looking out through the dark non moon night and spray. Then all of a sudden the cat peeled away to port and must have realized it was his last chance to sail down another channel towards Thursday Island anchorages. (Hope he had permission and given at least 72 hours notice – we had discussed it amongst ourselves as it was an option but dismissed it when we realized there were no jetties to moor up against and we weren’t carrying a dinghy).
The rest of the early hours went well and as daylight broke the daily log revealed Joss had covered another 181 miles even though we had been weaving between the many narrow channels and Islands. Four hours later Joss had cleared the Torres Straits. We all managed to contact our loved ones whilst in brief phone contact but now had over 600 miles to go to Darwin, course 286 deg and into the Arafura Sea already. We were pleased how the trip was going and complimenting Dave on his route planning and the home work he had done before embarking on this dash across the top of Australia. All was well, the boat making great progress, all eating very well with more steaks and fresh gourmet food left in the fridge and the relief of the tricky Straits behind – these would have been great to see in the daylight but never mind everything on the J/122 was good and a great crew who had gelled perfectly.
Suddenly Joss began to head up off course, we manually checked this and reset the autopilot we had named Hank. Hank would not re engage so we set about removing the dock box so we could climb into the stern locker to see if anything was obviously wrong. Nothing wrong could be found so with dock box replaced we re-jigged our watch system with the mindset that we would now be hand steering Joss for the next 600 miles.
The first thing was a crash course for Simeon on how to steer a 40ft performance yacht downwind in 3 meter seas and potentiality high winds.
The third day slid by and everyone began to feel the way a J/122 can handle winds in the mid to high twenties and 3 meter following seas, it was just too square at times so for safety reasons we played the angles. A hand steered 15.2knot boat speed record was soon set, then a 15.8, later that night 16.4! With 2 hour watches totally focused on the instruments wind and wave pattern and the stand by crew on deck too, the Joss crew settled down to a new rhythm. The next morning on the 24 hour plot revealed another 191 miles had slipped under the keel.
It was now a common occurrence for the Australian Customs Service to buzz the boat making radio contact and sometimes contacting us when we couldn’t even see or hear them – security in the part of the world is on high alert due to the extraordinary amount of refugees trying to enter Australia by boat.
With the wind changing strength from as low as 6 knots to 39 and changing direction as much as 40 degrees during the next few days the watches were made fun by trying to break the record but with strict rules around reefing early and staying on the agreed plotted course. We saw a tropical rainstorm heading straight for us and Ray called “that cloud looks amazing – time to doby.” I had heard this saying before and the others soon realized its meaning when I reappeared on deck with bars of soap. We were not short of water at all but it was so good and refreshing as we showered on deck in the heavy downpour of 25 degree rain.
On the fourth day we saw the wear patch on top spreader was beginning to chafe so we dropped the main and applied some extra layers from our sail repair kit. With the boat slowed down and not racing along it was suddenly amazing how much bigger the waves appeared to be as they tossed us around, every one harnessed up to apply the running repair. It was during the next hour or so while we waited for the sail patch to dry we noticed marlin following the boat and eagle eyed Sim also pointing out some sea snakes. Sail repaired we raced away once more surfing down whatever waves we could. This was great sailing, not over pressed, never out of control and making good speed, eating and sleeping well in this very comfortable platform as it sped us across the Gulf of Carpentaria.
On the 4th night the wind increased seeing gusts of 36 then 39 knots, we had 2 reefs in the main and a partially furled #4 jib. The next morning I was elated, the log revealed an 18 knot burst of boat speed, I couldn’t tell when it must have happened, I just have this memory of my best sailing ever in this amazing 40 ft yacht. The 07:30 am 24 hour log telling us we had covered 205 miles, our best yet.
We were soon across the Gulf of Carpentaria and with Cape Wessell and Croker Island slipping quickly past our port side we turned almost due south into Van Dieman Gulf. Hard on the wind which was blowing in the high twenties to mid 30s and the seas still 2-3 meters. I envisaged a lumpy ride and knew we had this new course for over 40 miles before we could bear away again on a more westerly track. I was on watch but Ray appeared early and used the time to trim the boat up, a few adjustments here and there, we were still pulling over 8 knots, no excessive heel and a smooth ride, I was surprised once more by this boats performance and sea kindly motion, Ray then demonstrated how balanced Joss was steering with only two fingers on the helm with very little deviation from course, what a well-balanced platform.
The 40 miles hard on the wind soon passed and we were reaching again. Joss heading into the Timor Sea, then another south westerly heading again as we threaded our way toward Darwin around the headlands and across Shoal Bay, but not hard on the wind this time as it appeared to veer with us.
With approximately twenty five miles to go to Darwin the seas suddenly flattened then without warning the wind switched off. It was just as if it had said “there you go Joss, you are almost home and I have other things to do.” We continued for a hour or so ghosting along at 4 knots then put the sails away for the last time and fired the up the iron mainsail. Ray started to organize a replacement auto pilot under warranty as soon as we got a signal. We were in no hurry as once again wanted to catch the strong tide entering Darwin. We sat at 5 knots or so under engine, soaked up the flat seas and thoroughly enjoyed the last of our superb food we knew would be disposed of due to strict Australian quarantine laws. We entered Darwin harbour and dropped the anchor where Customs had indicated approximately 10.45 pm Tuesday 4th June. We were close to Cullen Bay Marina AQIS dock where we were booked in early the next morning for clearance back into Australia.
My good friend Simeon had this to say about his first sailing experience: “The motion was very comfortable, the food was exceptional and the speed of this small boat was alarmingly quick. I was anticipating it to be rough, slow and hard work, my friends had warned me about sailing, however this adventure was the very opposite to that.”
The J/122 Joss covered the 1089 miles from Port Moresby Papua New Guinea to Darwin Australia in 132 hours (5.5 days), average speed 8.25 knots and used 22 litres of fuel mainly from charging the batteries. When I reflect on this most enjoyable cruise we did the equivalent of almost two Sydney to Hobart Races, with 4 crew in 5.5 days and didn’t use spinnakers.
My thanks to the rest of the crew, Dave for his great navigation and seamanship, eagle eyed Simeon who picked up sailing very quickly and became a valuable member of the crew and Ray for putting together another great team. He makes me wonder what will happen if he is ever in a hurry as he obviously knows there is more to be had out of this fine piece of machinery – but please invite me again. I also know what I want for Christmas!
Good luck to the owner Ian and the relief crew as they take over from Darwin to take JOSS to her new home, Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club in Perth. Best, Craig”