Peter and I met at university over 35 years ago. We were both studying Mining Engineering at the Western Australian School of Mines in Kalgoorlie. Peter was on his second time around finishing his degree, after a stint in the army, and decided to sit behind the only girl in the class; pretty lazy on his part now I think about it. We married just before I graduated and began our life of moving around Australia with the mining industry, while raising two boys.
I am a desert person and Peter has always been a beach person. I was somewhat perturbed when 10 years ago, ‘Passagemaker’ and various other boating magazines started appearing throughout the house. Peter put forward the idea of travelling around the world in a boat; our boat, not a cruise liner! I fear he had come across the video of the first Nordhavn Atlantic Rally and was inspired.
Over the years we have owned:
A 3m flat bottom punt for fishing the Daintree River while we were working at a mine in Queensland (1990). This little boat travelled with us to Cue (in the middle of the desert in WA) and did service underground during a flood at the mine (1994)!
We moved to an aluminium runabout (Quintrex Dart) for putting out crayfish (lobster) pots in Geraldton WA (2000) and later to a lovely Barcrusher for chasing tuna off Portland in Victoria (2006).
By the time we moved back to WA (in 2011) I was wanting a boat with a toilet and that didn’t require me reversing trailers on boat ramps. So we moved up to a cabin cruiser (Riviera 36).
Peter kept researching and hinting about the dream. But we own boats because we like to fish and I didn’t think any of our previous history made for around-the-world, open-water training. So, I told Peter to find me a boat that couldn’t sink; and he did (within the realms of reason, as anyone can sink a boat) – they are called a Nordhavn.
We came up with a financial plan and time line, and started watching the Nordhavn broker sites and reading the Nordhavn Dreamer site. Then at the beginning of 2014 while Peter was jammed behind the port engine of our cruiser, and our youngest son had disappeared over the top of the engine and was complaining that he had lost sensation in his legs, I decided that it was time to make the move.
‘Opal Lady’ had been on the market for some time and had just moved into our price range, so we flew across Australia to have a look at her. As soon as we walked on board we just felt she was right for us.
‘Opal Lady’ is a 43’ (13.6m long) Nordhavn. She is hull 37of this model and was commissioned in 2009 by the Davidsons (an Australian couple) specifically to circumnavigate Australia (which they did – www.opallady.com). She has some additions specific for Australian conditions and has redundancies built into many of her systems. Nordhavns are passagemaker boats that are designed for cruising open oceans.
We kept ‘Opal Lady’ at Mindarie Marina, about 40kms north of Perth and we spent every possible weekend on her; pottering around all the nooks and crannies, and ins and outs, and manuals and switches; finding out how she works and how we could keep her working.
To get used to the systems and operation of ‘Opal lady’ we made regular runs to Rottnest. Rotto is an island off the coast of Western Australia around 20 nautical miles from Mindarie (home of the really cute, but rather dumb Quokka that is terribly popular with tourists at the moment). We learnt a lot, very quickly, with only ‘real’ work getting in the way of learning faster. Our first extended stay anchoring at Rottnest, included one night of 30 knot winds with gusts up to 40 knots (that is a lot of wind). Although it was a bit nerve wracking that night, we took turns taking watch for the worst of it (and helping out another boat that was pulling anchor and going past us – helping out meant fending them off with a big ball fender and waking them up with torch light through the window).
Along the WA coast we can get some very big swells (coming in from all that Indian Ocean we are open to) which in shallow waters, can very quickly turn into large waves that have been known to catch boaters by surprise (rogue or king waves). Early on in our ‘Opal Lady’ experiences, while coming in on the leads to the marina in 11 metres of water, we were overtaken by a set of three waves coming from directly behind us. The last of these was higher than the pilothouse and very steep. Peter was out the back at the time tidying up his fishing gear and saw it coming and raced to the pilothouse to let me know we might have a problem. I thought as much, as the boat started skewing to the side and even as we kicked in with full throttle it was difficult to turn her and keep a straightish line. Having said that, considering the size of the swell, which was beginning to break, ‘Opal Lady’ handled it very well and we felt very comfortable with this show of her seaworthiness.
We also had our first breakdown in that first year. An alternator belt partially disintegrated half way over to Rotto. This belt had just been replaced by a professional mechanic doing a major service (to get our time with the new boat off to a good start!). Turns out the belt was one of the spares on board which had probably been sitting there for some years (and had obviously aged). It gave us a chance to run the wing engine (a smaller engine and prop for emergencies), practice our ‘remaining calm skills’, troubleshoot the solution and get back to the marina safely.
Now we have the boat for our dream and she has the perfect name for international travel. We are still both happy working (I retrained as a teacher after having the boys), but eventually we plan to retire to the boat and take ‘Opal Lady’ over the top of Australia to the east coast (unless you have a lot of time, there are very limited destination options on the west coast). If we both survive the trip over the top of Australia and are still talking to each other, we intend to cruise to New Zealand and then across the Pacific, and then…