Father and son Vs Bass Strait in the Beneteau Oceanis 35

Melbourne to Sydney in three days

It was a dark and stormy night – quite literally, since Andrew Dent and his son, Lachlan, were sailing their new Oceanis 35 on rotating shifts, without autopilot, through Bass Strait. There was a lot of rain, a very steep learning curve and some incredibly beautiful sights as the team made their way towards the Tasman Sea.

Bass Strait is renowned as some of the most treacherous sailing in Australia. Myths and legends abound of piracy, wrecks, and mysteries to rival the Bermuda Triangle.

In truth, strong currents between the Indian Ocean and the Tasman Sea’s Pacific Ocean merge to produce powerful storm waves that have sunk many a vessel. Wild winds and storms, combined with hidden reefs and rocks have been responsible for shipwrecks that number in the hundreds littered along the local coastlines. Some vessels, several quite large, have disappeared without a trace.

In short, it’s a place to keep your head about you and to stay focused!

The Dents

The Dents

Andrew Dent is a seasoned sailor. He is a mirror dinghy racer and competed in the world championships last year. He holds the office of Junior Class Captain and runs the Juniors Class at Balmoral in Sydney. Andrew is a keelboat cruiser and has spent significant time cruising around the San Juan Islands north of Seattle in the USA.

Andrew’s son, Lachlan Dent, is an 18-year-old who prefers poker nights on dry land. Lachlan had never sailed before. His very first sailing adventure was helping his dad navigate a new and unfamiliar boat through Bass Strait and home to Sydney.

Andrew has owned several boats in the past. His most recent acquisition is Beneteau’s Oceanis 35.

“Basically, I was looking to upgrade. My previous boat was a North Shore 27. It was great for cruising around the harbor, but I wanted something I could take further afield.

Once I made the decision for the Oceanis 35, Mike Coxon from Flagstaff Marine helped me find the right boat with the right layout for the right price.  There were none to be had in Sydney, but Mike managed to find me one in great condition in Melbourne. We rushed down to pick her up. Our maiden voyage was the first time we’d set foot on her.”

The maiden voyage - Melbourne to Sydney

The challenges

The Dents’ maiden voyage was from Melbourne to bring the boat back to Sydney. The voyage threw several challenges at them from the start.

“We were on a really short timeline, so we knew we had to sail non-stop, day and night to get back on time. We also had to get through Bass Strait and do it fairly quickly.”

To add further complication, there was no autopilot fitted – and that changed a lot of things in the Dents’ planning. Primarily, it meant putting a crew together. “We needed a crew of at least four,” says Andrew. “With no autopilot, we needed a minimum of two people on deck at all times. That meant rotating shifts.”

The crew

Andrew and Lachlan pulled together a crew consisting of themselves and Andrew’s friend and fellow dinghy racer, Gavin Cook. Because of the combined factors of Bass Strait, a new boat and a rookie sailor, they also hired a professional skipper from Sandringham Yacht Club, Brett Avery.

“It was a good crew, a great mix of people. It was Lachlan’s first sailing experience and he did really well. It was a great bonding experience to share with my son.”

Beneteau Oceanis 35 Bass StraitBass Strait

After a sunny afternoon of easy sailing out of Port Phillip Bay, the crew crossed ‘The Rip’ at slack and entered Bass Strait. They enjoyed a quiet first evening, the first and last of their journey. As they approached ‘The Prom’, they began donning foul weather gear in preparation for the next stage.

The wind was not as high as the crew had expected, but the rain made up for it. “I remember standing on deck, with buckets of rain being hurled repeatedly into my face,” recalls Andrew. “Brett had sailed Bass Strait many times. He came up to me and said ‘It’s generally either like this, or it’s, well, you really wouldn’t want to be out here, otherwise!'” Andrew looked at him. He was smiling.

The following day the crew made their way along the strait, catching glimpses of the Victorian coast through the mist on port. Then, as the night arrived, “It was one light show after the next: The Milky Way was revealed in all her glory, the water came alive with phosphorus, oil rigs lit like Christmas trees lined the course, and squid boats cast an inky blue on the horizon.” As the sun rose, drawing the curtain on the night show, they passed Cape Howe and ventured into the waters of the Tasman.

Wild winds

As the crew crossed into the Pacific Ocean, a system moved in behind them, with a south-easterly following them the whole way home.

As the men approached Batemans Bay, there was more wild weather to test their new boat. The waves reached 5-6 meters, but the boat handled really well. “We were going downhill the whole way, we got up to 13 knots going down some of the very large swells,” recalls Andrew.

“Even though we were going down some really big waves, there was not a drop of water across the transom. This boat has a particularly wide stern. The waves just pick it up and the boat tracks very well down the face of the wave.

That was another great feature of the boat, actually. The Oceanis 35 has a few optional layouts. I chose the layout with dual cabins at the stern.” It proved to be a fortuitous decision – the men couldn’t sleep forward due to the sheer size of the waves, so the layout proved a huge advantage.

The crew found it very comfortable, which was critical since they were sleeping in shifts to keep to their timeline. Off watch, each man had his own berth in the stern with very little movement compared to the rest of the boat. The weather was quite wild, so the crew on each shift needed to be rested and on their game.

From a handling perspective, Andrew describes it as, “A fun sleigh ride all the way home.” Lachlan was unavailable for comment. The wind only died off as they reached Newcastle. The Newcastle to Sydney stretch was the only quiet, sunny period in their whole trip.

Beneteau Oceanis 35 Sunset SailingCritical equipment

The navigation equipment was indispensable.

“We were sailing all night, often with zero visibility and no autopilot, in addition to wild weather, so our navigation equipment was the only thing keeping us on course.”

The oven was allegedly pretty important, too:

“It kept us full of pizzas and party pies. It was definitely a boys’ trip – lots of cola and instant meals.

We did a rushed shopping trip on our way to pick up the boat without much thought to nutrition. I suspect scurvy would have set in if we’d been left to our own devices for too much longer!”


Top tips

“Pick your weather,” recommends Andrew. “You don’t want to take it on the nose if you don’t have to. The stuff they say about Bass Strait is true. If you don’t have a lot of time, you need to pick a weather window and maximize your speed. If you want to stop and cruise along the way, it’s different, but if you are on the clock, there’s not much room for error. 

Autopilot is a great piece of gear, but if you don’t have it, make sure you have sufficient crew to man every watch. There is definitely an element of fatigue that creeps in, and you need to be refreshed and up for it – it can get pretty exciting at times! A good crew, that’s essential. It was a fantastic experience to share with my son and my friend Gavin. It’s something I’ll never forget. When we hit the wilder weather, I was very pleased we’d hired a professional skipper. Brett was worth his weight in gold.”

Choosing the right boat

It took Andrew some time to determine what exactly he was looking for.  That’s where Mike Coxon and Flagstaff Marine came in. Says Andrew, “They were extremely familiar with the boats I was interested in and very supportive through the whole process.” Andrew came to realize that despite his enthusiasm, he would probably not be living on his new boat whilst sailing her around the world. “It took me a while to get realistic about how I was actually going to use the boat.

My reality was that I would mainly use her for day sailing around Sydney Harbour and Pittwater. And I wanted the option to take occasional long trips up to Port Stephens or the Whitsundays (or Bass Strait, as it turns out!), which I couldn’t do with my previous boat.”

Knowing how he would use the boat helped drive a lot of Andrew’s selection criteria.

Why the Beneteau Oceanis 35

Andrew decided on the Oceanis 35 partly due to its extended cruising capability. It would enable him to take the longer adventures further afield that he wanted. Andrew has a swing mooring, so the size of the boat was a determining factor in his choice.

Andrew found that many boats in his search were quite dark and cramped in the transom. In contrast, the Beneteau Oceanis 35 has a light and airy layout downstairs, which Andrew could use as a home office. It is a great boat for entertaining, which was also important to Andrew. It has an entertaining cockpit, a huge back deck and a light, airy interior.

Get to know the experts

Once he’d decided on the Oceanis 35, Andrew contacted Flagstaff Marine directly. They were the local dealer as well as being renowned for being the go-to people for all things Beneteau.

Andrew started talking to Mike about his plans. “Mike was extremely knowledgeable and was very willing to share his insights, which was really helpful. It was very clear from the outset that Mike wanted more than just to sell me a boat. He was passionate about getting me into the right boat for me. I just naturally ended up working with him to find my boat. Flagstaff was a really good fit for me. I enjoyed working with them, and I will definitely consult them when it comes time for my next upgrade.”

Looking for more flagstaff owner stories?

Emir and Xin are taking their Oceanis 41.1P ‘Hugo’ on the sailing adventure of a lifetime. Read their story here.

Ivor Burgess is ‘Still Dangerous’ in his Oceanis 45. Read his Airlie antics here and please also see our other boat owner stories.