Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Spectacular Sydney

We were overcome with a ranging set of emotions as we slowly made our way through the Sydney Heads at dawn on 22 December. The city was just stretching its legs and arms to wake to a spectacular day and I will boldly say that it was somewhat more spectacular for us, as we rubbed our tired eyes and warmed our hands in the chilly summer morning air. We were coming home.

Approach to the Sydney Heads

I think my most dominant feeling was one was relief - at making it all the way without any bad incidents that we could not manage. The next was a sense of joy at coming home to Sydney (and she did put on her best dress for us, glowing in the golden sun of the new morning). It was just us and the first ferries of the day, it was like the boats had been cleared as we sailed down a flat and calm Sydney Harbour making way for the glittering CBD and the icons of the Opera House and the Bridge. We could not wipe the grins off our faces.

Good morning Sydney. So happy to be home!
(you can just make out the New Years Eve Fireworks rigging on the bridge above our heads that
will light up at midnight, revealing a burning emblem to wrap up 2014 or give promise to 2015)

We were having a fabulous sail, except for the dwindling wind speed and wake from the ferries as we neared Circular Quay which we bounced around on. But nothing could dampen our spirits today as we were finally completing our journey which we started 20 months ago, whilst doing something that not many people do, we went east to bring the boat back from South East Asia.

A statistical rundown of the whole journey:

The 2013 numbers have us travelling west, while 2014 was solely an eastern
pursuit to bring the boat home to Australia's eastern coast.
Did we really sail the equivalent of 1/3 the way around the world?

That we managed to make our timeline for returning home by Christmas was also a wonderful feeling, particularly after our many long nights at sea as we crossed the Pacific this year. It became hard to believe that only 9 months ago we were plotting our course while targeting a Sydney arrival before the end of the year, so to achieve it was something else entirely! Apart from catchups and many sighs of relief from family members, Christmas meant Christmas hats made out of the wrapping of 'Who Gives a Crap' toilet paper, the clean water and toilets charity. 

So without any 'next port' to think about, we might just sit and relax for a little while and get used to the big city and ponder what is next for the crew of Elizabeth Jane II.


Saturday, 20 December 2014

Anticipation of Arrival

The stunted trips down the NSW coast have been uncomfortable, inhospitable and down-right unenjoyable. To have sailed 13,000nm and the final legs to Sydney from Queensland be some of the most uninspiring had left us feeling somewhat deflated. It is not the homecoming one would paint for themselves!

The jump from the Gold Coast to Coffs Harbour was filled with thunderstorms, strong winds and then, no winds. We were penned in at Coffs for 5 days while a low passed east, lashing the shore with 45kt winds and 5m seas consistently for 3 days. The 10m breakwall was regularly breached with enormous pounding waves and the torrents of rain left one commenting on the 'good weather for ducks'. The only excited community members were the surfers who had no regard for their personal safety, just catching the best wave. Interestingly, due to the high winds the boat had enough heel on it in the marina that Hugh could stand up inside the cabin (he is usually about 20cm too tall to do that!).

Dramatic cloud formations forewarn of the incoming storm at Coffs Harbour

Finally the weather looked good for a leg to Port Stephens, until we were underway and some strong winds were predicted to arrive on the nose and stop us in our path 25nm short of our destination. We cut our journey by 50nm and decided on Forster-Tuncurry as our safe haven for two days while the system passed through. With 35kt winds pushing us south, we sailed the hair raising entry over the Forster bar, riding the 2m waves in. Waves crashed over the breakwall and flung salt spray 10m into the air, it sure was exciting! Next came the challenge of anchoring in a super shallow and tight channel, hemmed in by a rockwall on one side and a sandbar on the other with 3kts of current directing our steering. While Tuncurry is a quaint little town with some delicious fresh fish from the co-op, it sure was a rubbish anchorage and we were keen to leave after suffering two nights of wind on tide and too many close encounters with the shallow bar as we did the 'La Paz waltz' with the boat swinging between the wind and the tidal pull.

We had the window, finally a day-hop to Port Stephens. The wind was evasive to start with, though came along for the ride about 15nm into the journey. The wind was predicted to rise throughout the day, so we were keen for an arrival in the afternoon at Nelson Bay. Not that it really mattered in terms of visibility, the convection layer was so low we could not see more than half a mile in front of the boat, it was like sailing through a cloud. Just as the wind tipped at 30kts, we rounded the corner to enter the harbour and it was all pleasant again. Enclosed waters are bliss! Picking up an RMS mooring at Chinamans Beach (good to see our rego dollars at work!) we relaxed ahead of the predicted 35kt winds for the next morning.

Two days of R & R and the weather looked like it would give us another chance at heading south. A closer review of the weather predictions has rarely been made, it is only 110nm until we will grace the Sydney shores with our presence! We were not sure where we would end up with the boat and if we would in fact make the final 20nm hop from the safe waters of Pittwater to Sydney Harbour. But all that aside, we have the right wind (not on the nose!) and an acceptable strength (not 40 knots!) so it looks like we will make the final hop to Sydney before Christmas, as we had hoped 9 months ago when nutting out this route home. You could almost measure our excitement and the anticipation for completing our journey!

Check out these excited sailors as they left Sydney in April 2013,
little did they know what was ahead of them!

13,000nm and we are coming home!


Saturday, 13 December 2014

Sailing Thailand and Malaysia in Review - Video #2

We are sure that you have all been waiting with baited breath for our next video instalment here it is, enjoy!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Why So Dramatic?

New South Wales and southern Queensland had been experiencing dramatic electrical storms for about a week and a half. It was enough to keep us penned in at the Gold Coast waiting for them to blow around outside before we made a move. It was nice to sit and chill after our busy and tiring time working on the boat on the hard, so we enjoyed the forced break, catching up with friends and relaxing a bit (as much as one can in an anchorage where jet-skiers zoom around and people wear these weird jet-boots and ‘fly’ around tethered to a jet-ski by a pipe of pressurised by water). 

The forecast finally looked good, well good enough to get us the short 170nm, 28-hour hop to Coffs Harbour. The prediction showed we should expect a nice 10-15kt northerly to send us on our way. The wind was a bit evasive to start with, but before long we were sailing nicely and we even jumped aboard the East Australian Current conveyor-belt and grabbed an extra 2kts of speed for free, we were rocketing south at between 6-8 kts. We were happily looking at making a dawn entry to Coffs Harbour, well ahead of schedule.

As we were passing Ballina the skies changed. The eastern view was a sheer dark blue, while the western sky had developed a nasty green tinge and some foreboding thunderhead clouds. It stayed to our west for sometime however the clouds were closing in and it started to feel suffocating, the storm was definitely coming our way. We quickly furled in the jib and reefed the main sail, we didn’t know how much of a windy punch the storm front would bring with it.

View of the eastern sky

Lightning flashes lit up the cloud formations from behind and the wind started to pick up, from 15kts to 25kts and the seas were not far behind, whipping up to 2m in what felt like an instant. We could track the movement of the storm on radar and it looked like we were in between two storm cells which were slowly moving north east. We were going to get the full show, and considering that constituted a lot of lightning, we were aprehensive.

Then it was time to hold on, we decided to hove to as the wind direction spun around the dial and reached 35kts, bringing waves that were breaking over the bow. The thunder boomed above us and had us throwing our hands over our ears as a reflex reaction to the intense volume. A brilliant purple and pink lightning bolt stung the water and the water was audibly singed from the impact of the heat. We simultaneously removed our hands from anything metal on the boat in case of a lightning strike. Thunder boomed all around and we counted and watched as the lightning struck time and time again. Then the rain fell, as if it had never rained before the heavens opened and delivered torrents and torrents with such force that everything was soaked in an instant. The rain and the storm stayed with us as the eye of the storm passed over delivering 40kts of wind. Slowly the cell started to move off, in time for the following cell to come. This one was a meeker version of its bigger brother and the wind started to drop.

As the storms passed over it was as if the the wind had been sucked out of the airspace and we were left bobbing around in 3m seas that had been whipped up by the wind. Off to the aft of our boat we could see a slight glimmer high in the sky…a rainbow trying to peek through. As the lightning flickered off in the distance we were left in awe of the sound and fury that strutted and fretted it's hour upon our patch of sea (and EJ suffered no lightning strikes, phew). 

A rainbow signalling the end of the storms


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Review - Boat Control

We settled on the Boatworks for our haulout considering location and the vast range of businesses located on site dedicated to working on your boat and giving specialist advice.     
Boat Control was our first pick for trades because they had a range of specialists available in their team, including fibreglassers, antifouling teams, gelcoat and painting specialists, all on site with ready access to our boat. Their website was easy to use and I filled in a web form to make contact.     
I spoke with Simone from Boat Control on the phone to discuss the scope of work we wanted. Because we had some minor scrapes to the keel when we nudged a reef one day, we were uncertain how long we would need to be out of the water for the cosmetic repair to be undertaken. Correspondence via email was quickly responded to, and Simone understood that we wanted to get the work on our boat underway as soon as we were on the hard and have the multiple projects underway concurrently.     
We hauled the boat and while the boat was still in the slings, the shipwright and painter were already looking at the boat to talk to us about efficient scheduling of projects to maximise our time out of the water. It was very reassuring to speak to the shipwrights to understand what work was required to patch up the keel, which were less serious than we had feared.      
From there we finalised the scope with Boat Control and the different jobs were completed in an exceptional timeframe by a team of committed, friendly and bloody hard working guys (note that it was 37°C every day in blistering sunshine). We were on site everyday doing various jobs on the interior such as cleaning, painting and varnishing, so we saw the work by the tradies as it progressed. Darryl, the foreman at Boat Control managed the various tasks to ensure that they were completed in the right sequencing and to rally the skilled workers every day, juggling the myriad of other projects they were working on around the yard.    
If I sound like I am going on too much, it's because I couldn't be happier. Boat Control provided a blue ribbon service, excellent communication and customer care for an extremely competitive price. Next time we are looking to get work done on our boat, we won't think twice about going to the Gold Coast and using Boat Control to look after our much loved boat.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Southbound Through The Narrows

It does not sound like much, but while closely reading a tide chart this section of navigable waterway is dry at low tide - that equates to about 12 hours a day when you can walk along the riverbed and kick dust (or more likely - mud). Sound weird? You should try sailing it! This journey took us through The Narrows, a short pass of about 12nm joining the waterways of southern Rockhampton to the busy port town of Gladstone, leaving Curtis Island to shelter the waterway from the ocean to the east.

The amount of preparation to make this passage without ending up leaning to one side was quite intense, it filled me with a sense of trepidation for the multiple scenarios of failure. It was less a fear for our safety, and more one for our pride. Being beached and leaning heavily to one side for the best part of 12 hours while the locals come past and have a good laugh as we wait for the tide to rise again to push us off our temporary mudbank home made me cringe. In terms of threat to our safety, we could just practically step off the boat and wade over to the river bank 10m away to watch the boat lean increase as the tide dropped, we would hardly need to launch flares or the life raft to mark our failure. 

Embarrassing imaginative thoughts aside, Hugh meticulously assessed three different sources for tidal data to make sure that the data was consistent. We were at a waning gibbous moon which meant that the tides would be less dramatic every day as we approached the no moon phase, so we would be at a disadvantage to unbeach ourselves (should such a thing occur) because the high tides the day after would not be as high. We calculated overfalls - the delay for water to get upstream and vice versa as it travels the rivers' distance. We learnt that halfway through The Narrows the flooding tides will meet, as it comes from the south and from the north to reach the middle section before ebbing from the centre to the north and the south, rather than flooding one way and ebbing the other. That meant that we would catch a rising tide travelling south to the centre, then flow with an ebbing tide out the southern side of the waterway. It all sounded good. 

So we started the passage, tinged with hints of peril, intending to reach the shallowest part of the passage just as the tide reached its high point. Apart from the low hum of our engine, we could hear the myriad of waterbirds, insects and the occasional jumping fish as we putted down the river. Low lying wetlands extended past the mangroves which licked the waters edge. It was not until we approached the centre part of the pass that we saw signs of modern life, with the concrete driveway indicating that at low tide, 4WDs access the riverbank and it became a thoroughfare. Just a few miles further downstream we passed the famous Monte Cristo cattle crossing, which until October 2014 was a working cattle crossing when the tide is low, enabling the passing of cattle across to the mainland for sale etc.

Cattle crossing which at low tide provides access for cattle across the river,
but at this tide point is almost 4m under water

It was a very spooky moment as we passed navigation markers which were lower than the boat it gave the feeling of being in a flooded street, with everything looking a bit low. And low it was, as the depth meter showed that there was 60cm of water under the keel. This was going to be tight. Hugh slowly weaved us through the tight section of the waterway, trying to stick to the deepest part of the channel and managing the increasing speed we were gaining as the tide gained pace. The serenity of the waterway was something to behold, nothing but nature getting about their business all around the boat. 

We emerged from The Narrows and entered Port Curtis, the mind-bogglingly busy, noisy, dusty and shiny port,  where there are three liquid natural gas processing plants, and the innumerable ship loading conveyor belts moving coal, iron ore and silica onto ships for international transport. The visual impact of the development on the landscape was obvious even from the water, with huge tracts of land cleared and gigantic machinery moving enormous quantities of mining products around the sites. It was a stark and not too pleasant way to emerge from a most splendid and quiet waterway, I would say next time we should do the journey in the northern direction to avoid such offence to the senses. 

Conveyor belt for loading ships

The bigger questions of what this port expansion means for Australia is a hot topic environmentally, but will soon become a bigger issue for the cost of production of anything in Australia as the market cost for natural gas increases for the consumer with the new export market just opening. Expanding economies in Asia demand secure gas and Australia put up its hand. What does it mean? Well the export market will be strong and the cost of the exported product will be cheaper than what is retained for domestic sale. Economists predict a 300% rise in the cost of natural gas in the Australian market. This in turn will significantly increase the cost of production of anything in Australia that uses gas as the energy source. Interestingly it was the LNG plants that also pushed out the Monte Cristo cattle station. The new Australia is impacting the old Australia in blindingly obvious ways. 


Monday, 24 November 2014

Crossing the Water Super-Highway to a New Land

A flash back from our arrival in Johor Bahru - Malaysia, the second country as we sailed west through Asia, just over a year ago.

So many milestone events had occurred in the last week, we had crossed the equator for the first time in a sailing boat, visited our last Indonesian city and were now sailing away from Indonesia for the short 30nm crossing of the Singapore Strait to arrive in Malaysia, the second country on our adventure.

The Singapore Strait is a tricky piece of waterway, our maps identified lanes for direction of travel, eight lanes in all and a turning area just at the entry to the Johor Strait - our target. It was like a water freeway all chopped up with waves and intensely filled with enormous cargo boats and we had to make our way across it without getting in the way of these boats that travelled at such speed, they really meant business. The Singapore authorities said that we were only to cross using motor, though we sailed for some of the way until the typical midday windlessness set in. Dodging cargo boats that were steaming south at about 15kts, we were crossing to the west and trying to make the jump across lanes without getting run over by any ships, 'look left', 'look right' and all that trying to figure out how fast a moving boat was travelling.

The first thing we noticed was the smell, a not so subtle fragrance of diesel fumes that hung in the air and left a fine layer of black soot on any horizontal surface. The next was the sky; a grey haze filled the atmosphere, a combination of heat haze and pollution caught in the inversion layer. The lack of any discernible colour or differentiation from east to west or north to south was a big difference, we were definitely in the doldrums now - the place adjacent the equator, notorious for little wind and hot hot heat. And it was hot. We were melting as we slowly chugged our way west. The next noticeable thing was the plastics littering the surface of the water.

We marvelled at the sheer number and size of ships and the business that revolved around it. Imagining the days when the waterway was filled with sailing boats waiting for weather systems to change or to pick up supplies kept us entertained on the slow hot crossing.

Shipping infrastructure in the Johor Strait
As we made our way up the Johor Strait the immense size of the cranes and other docking systems that supported the shipping was mind-boggling. We were skirting the edges of the Singapore island and far removed from the internal busyness of the goings on in the city. Next was what would become a common sight, huge barges and accompanying conveyor belts, sending thousands of tonnes of sand shooting into the water for land reclamation. 

Land reclamation that happened day and night to get the sand dumped and
manicured into shape, hopefully before the daily rain downpour

Our anticipation was mounting for our arrival to Malaysia, just across the 2nm wide waterway (the Johor Strait) from Singapore. We landed in Danga Bay marina and promptly made our way via the convenient local bus service into Johor Bahru town for the first of many local Indian food gorge-fests. Lights glimmered at us from tv sets booming Bollywood movies into the street from the Indian quarter and we were drawn in like moths to a flame. The food was very exciting, a big change from the standard rice or noodle dishes of Indonesia. Dozens of curries were on show in huge vats, no information on what was in the mix and I just pointed and tried to make some assessment of what would be a good dinner. I would try to ask the attendants if it was panas (hot) or not and find out if it would blow my head off. Unfortunately my understanding of what was 'hot' was not theirs. Time would show that my judgement on what looked hot or not was not always on song and on more than one occasion I would have smoke escape from my ears as I was overwhelmed with the amazingly hot dish. There seemed no limit to the level of mouth burning chilli that the locals desired.

The big change from Indonesia was stark, Johor Bahru (JB) was just a short bus ride from Singapore and it seemed that the city was looking up to its modern neighbour and had embraced the cosmopolitan feel and modern features of a land that they were at war with for so many centuries. Large, modern unit blocks filled the streetscape and new luxury condominium developments were sprouting up where there was water last week via the land reclamation work. Progress was happening and nothing was going to stand in the way of JB reaching for the same status that Singapore held. The proposed Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) line that would come through JB soon was bound to increase the value of Malaysian land for Singapore commuters that could not find housing there. 

The arrival to a new country was most satisfying and lit the flame of excitement and intrigue just as we had felt a few months previously on our approach Indonesia. 


Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Day the Dingy Went for A Solo Adventure

We were busily enjoying a 'pot luck' dinner aboard the catamaran SV School's Out while penned in by weather at Island Head Creek. After a fun night and much re-telling of our overseas cruising adventures, it was time to go home as we were preparing to leave the following morning for the 60nm southward journey to Great Keppell Island. We walked onto the starboard hull as Ros the host started pulling our dingy's painter to find that there was no resistance to our red line...there was no dingy attached to it. Disaster. 

Where the dingy would be...unfortunately just a chaffed
through line now swung

The dingy is, like many other items essential to cruising. How else do you get from your boat to shore? Swimming is rarely an option, especially if you want to be sociable at the other end or when the waterway is patrolled by crocs and jellyfish.

Avid readers would recall the loss of 'The Krissy I' complete with outboard in week 2 of our cruising adventure, a terrible loss due to a wayward knot when the dingy was tied to the boat. After that we bought 'The Krissy II', a PVC soft bottom inflatable from a bloke in Yamba, which turned out to be quite inappropriate in the tropics and the weekly application of 5200 glue couldn't hold that thing together after 5 months of use. Some cruising friends of ours and their kids affectionately referred to our dingy as 'the pool'. After that we were fortunate to be gifted a hypalon dingy from some cruiser friends who were retiring it from their use. This dingy came pre-named as 'Maxx' and turned out to have aged more than its previous owners knew and unlikely to last much longer. So that left us in Phuket, month 7 of our adventure and we were presented with a brand new fibreglass hard-bottom and hypalon pontoon dingy that was just the right size and just the right weight for our boat. We snapped it up and together with a new 15hp outboard, we were finally in the business of getting from A to B in comfort (ie, somewhat dry) and speed. We even filled it up with diving gear and dived off it with success. We had become somewhat attached to 'The Krissy III' as she had lasted with us for almost a full calender year and was in superb condition considering the tough life afforded to plastics and glues in the relentless tropical heat.

So as the feeling of dread rolled over me about the potential loss of our beloved runabout, we turned to our company for help. Thankfully we were amongst a group of able fishermen who loved taking their fully kitted out tenders (ie. tinnies with 20hp+ engines compete with seats and full safety gear) along with their cruising yachts whenever they went on trips. Our new mate Trev jumped to the rescue and went to get his incredibly bright 12v cable-powered spotlight and after a short tactical discussion about tides, currents and wind direction, Hugh was leading the charge off hunting for the dingy. We were anchored in an elaborate river system and were fortunate to have been at dinner the whole time the tide was rising, which meant that the dingy was hopefully inside the waterway and not taking a rough ride out in the ocean just beyond the heads. There were many little inlets along this so-called 'creek'  (an 8nm long meandering waterway) so it could have been a long night of checking each one. While the moon was high, clouds shrouded the creek, which was at this point 2nm from one side to the other. While we could see the rock formations hemming in the waterway on the other side, their was not enough light to see a pale grey dingy floating off on a solo adventure. This was where the 12v ridiculously bright spotlight came in and lit up the rockwall like there was a diva about to come out for a performance.

And there she was, as luck would have it, 'The Krissy III' was floating off the nearest point, right where Hugh thought it would be given the way the elements would have affected it. A speedy rescue and Hugh was off hooning her around reminding her how much we loved her. 

A new painter line attached, and we were not going to let her out of our sight again...between us we again made the pact that if we see something and think about doing it, we should just go right ahead and do it. In this case, do not wait for the line to chafe through before replacing it otherwise you could be left high and dry and stranded on your boat!


Friday, 7 November 2014

A Welcoming Home

We sailed through the Grafton Passage of the Great Barrier Reef at dawn and while a sea bird preened itself on our pulpit, we started to realise the emotions of returning home to Australia. While we were not ‘home’ yet, we still had 2000nm yet to sail down the east Australian coast to Sydney, being back in Australia was like returning to a comfortable old shoe.  We knew how to get things done, had the currency sorted and we could again watch the ABC.

It seemed like a lifetime ago since we were last here, but it was only 18 months. We had seen the best and worst of humanity, met the most warm and welcoming people who would give you everything they have when they have very little at all; and seen the development of nations who were champing at the bit to be more prominent on the world stage (some struggling and bounding awkwardly like a growing puppy whose legs are too long and unwieldy for efficient locomotion). We had experienced a lot and worried that Australia had become increasingly conservative with the ISIL dramas and increased terrorist alarmism. Political rhetoric barely touched Cairns, the big city that feels like a country town, filled with 4WDs and long HF antennas. It was thankfully going to be a slow reintegration back into society for us.

We made our way into the Cairns Marlin Marina and awaited the arrival of Customs and Quarantine to do our check-in. We were not quite sure what they would be looking for and I had pre-emptively given away a lot of our food in the Solomons (like rice, flour, herbs, spices, tea, coffee, milk powder etc), but it was hard to know how much to keep because I still needed to make sure that we had enough food for the 8-day sail home, which could have become elongated if conditions were adverse. But in the end we had very little food that I thought would be confiscated. Customs asked lots of question about where we had been, if we had contracted any illnesses and whether we were carrying any guns. They asked questions about having any animals on board and they listed things like dogs, cats, birds and then asked if we had a snake. I could not help but laugh, it sounded like a nightmare sequel to ‘snakes on a plane’, if we had a snake on the boat after the passage we had just done, that snake would be rabid and ready to rip the head off whoever came near it. Really?  A snake on a boat? No sir, we do not have a snake on the boat. They also told us that customs and quarantine would be joining forces in a new super department called ‘Border Force’ and they would get new uniforms one shade darker in a navy colour…only a short step from black. The new name sounded like some kind of a cheesy reality TV show. After customs we had quarantine, a bloke called Peter came aboard and we went through the items that looked sus from his perspective, he took the garlic and inspected the other food on board, no dramas. Then he spent the next 40 minutes pouring over the timber on the boat, he was looking for evidence of termites and other wood borne infestations. He was also inquisitive about whether we had had any swarms of bees attack the boat, apparently a relevant risk in the Solomons, thankfully no. We had also picked up some timber carvings in the Solomons, but they were all fine being made of kerosene, palm and ebony hardwood timbers. The Australian government charged us the royal fee of $380 for our quarantine inspection (Customs and Immigration was free).  All told it was comparable to what we paid in Palau and the Solomons for the various bureaucratic box ticking and paper stamping. Once we got the tick we were free agents. 

What to do first? Well, we walked on the footpath (the one dedicated to feet *gasp*), went to the pub and had a steak and a draught beer. What a treat! We were on stable ground, with a big, beautiful open sky, enjoying someone else’s cooking and a cold beer! The idea was floated that we should go to the Telstra shop and deal with lapsed mobile phone arrangements. After 8 days of disjointed sleeping, dealing with Telstra was put in the ‘too hard’ basket, we just used the WiFi internet at the pub to call my sister via skype to tell her we were in Cairns, her home town and looking for her! But she was at work … of course, people go to work on weekdays.  So we stayed for a few more refreshing ales.

We marvelled at the park that lined the Esplanade. Cairns really is the victim of unfortunate geography, planted next to a mosquito and croc infested swamp and drying mud flats, the waterfront does not offer much in the way of a nice beachfront. So the Council invested in the ‘lagoon’, an unfenced public pool with sandy edges for their own little faux beach, surrounded by immaculate lawn areas and BBQs. It is the social heart of the city centre and an actual meeting point for locals and visitors alike and is absolutely packed on weekends. We ended up taking my niece and nephew there a couple of times and they had lots of fun standing on Hugh’s shoulders and doing a ‘rocket ship’ which landed them in the water from where they emerged coughing and spluttering after drinking 2 liters of water, gasping ‘again, again’.

We were penned in by the strong 30kt trade wind sou’easter so we stayed put, filling up on cheese, wine, beer, meat, bread and all manner of food that we had missed so dearly while being away. I also went to the Rusty’s market and bought fresh fruit and veggies that had me overwhelmed with their quality and abundant variety. Not only could you get oranges, but you could pick which species too! The two weeks had us buying boat bits, finding a wood guy who could cut and shape some replacement pieces of teak to mend our companionway door so veraciously nibbled through by Russell the Rat 8 months ago. We also took the opportunity to advertise in some backpacker places for anyone seeking a ride to the Whitsundays, it turned out that Grace, a German/Australian who was here on a holiday would love to come and became our friendly companion for a week.

With many hugs we waved off my sister and her family and weighed anchor, taking the short window of the northerly breeze to get some southward miles under our belt. A delicious Spanish Mackerel caught off the back of the boat was a nice reminder that we were back in Queensland waters and the glorious sun filled days gave way to a star studded canopy as the night set in on the 300nm trip. Three days later we anchored off Whitehaven beach at dawn and watched the sand grow white and the aqua coloured water twinkle as the sun rose. It was nice to enjoy the beach before the daytrippers arrived on large powerboats from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island, sent down ramps in their hundreds to touch the sand for 2 hours before being herded back on board. We took a dingy trip late in the afternoon to the northern part of the beach where we revisited Hill Inlet and Tongue Bay to admire the breathtaking beauty of the waterway as the tide changes and drifting sand expose an array of colours in the water ranging from aqua to light blue through to dark blue all adjacent white silica sand. This was something we relished as the last time we were here 18 months ago, it was blowing like stink and completely unbearable. At least we got to enjoy it this time.

Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet with the lovely Grace, our guest deck scrubber
A short hop to Hamilton Island the next day and we were waving goodbye to our new friend Grace as she continued her Queensland trip and we grabbed the continuing favourable wind and made for the Percy Islands, some 100nm south. When we tried to come here last year the sea was so whipped up that we could not launch the dingy and we sat penned in being seasick on anchor at South Percy Island as 40kt winds whipped around.  This time the weather was just right, we jumped off the boat and swam for shore to check out the A-frame that had been erected in the 1970s and had become a visiting spot for cruisers over the years to leave a piece of memorabilia to mark their journey. We found the board posted by our friends aboard Hokulea and left a message in a bottle that would be set free and float to an unsuspecting recipient in the event of sea level rise due to global warming.

One more day trip had us tucked in at the head of Island Head Creek, a protected little spot not too far north of Rockhampton. The wind was predicted to shift back to the southeast and pack a 35kt punch, so we opted for a rest as that system blew through. We thought that we had reached a most spectacular spot, indeed it seemed so at first with an amazing sunset enjoyed with a glass of wine and some cheese to snack on. It was only the next morning when we awoke covered in hundreds of sand fly (midgie) bites that we regretted our anchoring location. Continual dabbing of tea tree oil or vinegar was no good. 

Sunset in a comfortable anchorage, what a treat!
Hugh went off to drop his crab trap, adorned with the fish head from the Span Mack we had caught a week ago as bait. Hugh was definitely looking forward to some good crabbing feasts! We were invited over to ‘smoko’ on Saltwater Dreaming which is a blokely invite for morning tea. I made a chocolate cake and we were accepted into this group of Island Head Creek regulars who came here to go crabbing and fishing for a week at a time. We couldn’t spot our crab trap and the blokes reckoned that the crabs around here are so big they probably walked off with it. That lead to a vision of a couple of crabs walking through the mud with a trap on their back as they yelled instructions to the other crabs so that they didn’t drop it before getting to open it up and feast on the fish head. It turned out that it probably got washed away in the tide which varied by more than 4m between tides, no crabs for us. The bites were still bothering us, on the first night post-bite I was so itchy I did not sleep until after 3am, there was no relief in sight until a neighbouring cruiser recommended rubbing vicks vapour rub on the bites. Bingo, finally I could sleep. Welcome home? Yeah thanks flies, real sweet of you.

The red hives are 10 of the 100 midgie bites that drove me mad for 3 days


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Interview with the Captain - Pacific Ocean Crossing Part III

"It’s slow. I love the slowness of the travel. I love the anticipation of arrival as you slowly draw closer to your destination."

The 9 day passage from the Solomon Islands to the Queensland Coast was a mix of dead calm, squally storms, choppy seas and then, finally the trades came and we were on the milk run home. It was time for a different way to relay the story of our passage. So here is an insight into Captain Hugh's mind, the man that keeps the engine humming, the main sail reefed and everything down below under control when the seas are up and turning my gills green.

Captain Hugh

K: So Captain Hugh, tomorrow we are due to cross our sailing path, completing the South East Asia and West Pacific loop, where we were some 16 months ago. What are your thoughts on being a captain then and now, how have you changed?

H: My first response is, has it really been 16 months? It feels like a lifetime since we last left Cairns last time. There has been some amazing up and downs hasn’t there?

K: Indeed there has.

H: It is interesting to come back to the same point with a completely different perspective on the lifestyle that we were embarking on then. I feel much more relaxed and at home in our sailing and I really only get to enjoy it more as time goes on. At the same time, I am very happy to be coming back to the familiar.

K: So after everything we have experienced, where would you like to return to on a sailing boat?

H: I think that we did not give the Pacific enough of a red-hot go. I guess part of that was that we knew we may be able come back there one day. The Solomon Islands was just a really interesting cultural experience compared to some of the places we went in Asia. I think it is just the beginning of a very large expanse of water with very interesting cultures and interesting terrain to cover.

K: You feel like it has opened your eyes to endless possibilities?

H: Without putting too many words in my mouth, I would say that that is certainly the case.

K: And where would you never like to return to in a sailing boat?

H: Ah, well, the Arafura Sea for one, the Malacca Strait for two, and I would say the doldrums in general.

K: How did that wear on you as a Captain?

H: Well, the doldrums, otherwise known as the ITCZ or the Intertropical Convergence Zone, are basically one big shitstorm.

K: A sailing quagmire.

H: [laughs] A sailing quagmire of light winds and thunderstorms and variable pulling in and taking out of sail and putting them back in again in rapid succession. And it is just not really necessary.

K: Sailing can be more fun than that.

H: It can. Like this weather now.

K: It is really quite beautiful.

As Hugh gazes out across the port deck to look toward the horizon unobstructed to see crystal clear water where the sky meets it at the horizon. It is hard to see the difference between the two because the of the richness in each of the blues blend to become one.

K: So what is the highlight for you for travelling by a boat? As compared to other means?

H: It’s slow. I love the slowness of the travel. I love the anticipation of arrival as you slowly draw closer to your destination. I love the feeling of connection to the past. And the natural nature of your locomotion.

K: Connected with nature?

H: Indeed.

K: So what have you learned from taking a trip like this?

H: I have learnt that life is wonderful, you have to grab it by both hands to see what is out there. That your fear about the future and uncertainty should be thrown aside if you are ever to experience what is out here.

K: We are about to make the once hazardous crossing through the Australian Great Barrier Reef. What are your thoughts about the sailors and explorers of yesteryear?

Hugh takes a breath and a glint shines in his eyes and he takes himself to another time, one where engines did not exist and when sailing relied entirely on the weather and boats would sometimes bob around in the doldrums for weeks on end waiting for a puff of wind to drive them through. Certainly the navigators were using all their senses like smell, changes in wind patterns and ocean colours to identify when they were drawing closer to land as there were no maps to speak of.

H: I am very glad that you asked that question, the explorers were, in a word, sublime. We are about to pass through the reef in a place called the Grafton Passage, and it is only 100nm south of the famous Endeavour Reef where Captain Cook ran the boat aground while trying to navigate this set of reefs. Looking at the map today it is hard to imagine any of the sailors made it up this coast. And it just goes to show the exceptional ability of the sailors of these times to be able to navigate such a large section of reef and the willingness to continue on even though it seems as though they were going down a dead end that would never release them. It was a very dangerous journey that Captain Cook made up the east coast and an amazing feat of the leadership of his men to keep them motivated through that passage. I cannot imagine how I would keep 200 feisty, strong, and sometimes reticent men under control, when you yourself did not really know what was around the corner or how long it would be before bringing them home.

K: Trying experience no doubt.

H: Yeah. I only have one reticent lady aboard to keep under control. And that’s enough for me.

K: Control?

H: Well control is the wrong word.

K: Hmm.

K: Well, we are about to come home to Australia and have travelled some 7000nm, in what will end up being a 20 month expedition, starting and ending in our home town of Sydney. What do you think of the trip that was dreamt up over a bottle of wine and a book about someone else’s world cruising voyage over 2 years ago.

H: I think it is the best idea you ever had.

K: Surely it was not my idea, you supplanted it.

H: I had nothing to do with it, I was dragged along.

K: Against your will and better judgement.

K: So I guess you are saying that it was worth it.

H: It was certainly worth it.

K: Giving most of your worldly possessions up and your grip on reality in Sydney?

H: Who needs any of that?

K: The final question is, we have learned that it is pretty unusual for people our age to embark on a trip like this. Any comments for any budding young cruisers out there?

H: Do it! Just do it. It may seem really scary. I know that careers and all these things that people are attached to in the so called ‘real world’ are a heavy burden to throw off sometimes and it can feel like you may be disadvantaging yourself, but honestly even though I do not have a job just yet, I have no qualms about finding work again and if anything it has brought me back far more motivated than I could have been by staying in Sydney. Yeah, just do it.