Cruising in Midnight Blue
We sailed away.
After 6 months of figuring out, fixing, replacing and getting the hang, not to mention Tina getting a (second) new hip installed, we sailed away.
Goodbye to Brisbane's dark satanic mills, hospital torture dungeons and roving bands of delinquent caravan stealers, we're sailing away.
Running up to Mooloolaba before a cool southerly felt a lot like driving north from Adelaide in the winter time for a camping trip in the desert. Showers behind and a clearing sky to the north and just moving north toward the sun always gives a wonderful feeling of release and expansion of horizons and possibilities. Now instead of the clean bright desert we're heading for the sparkling Great Barrier Reef. Hooray for North.
Mooloolaba was very pleasant. We practiced waiting for a few days. The Wide Bay Bar, southern entrance to the Great Sandy Straits inside of Fraser Island, is a bit of a test, a rite of passage on the cruise north. From time to time incautious sailors who don't wait for their ducks to line up in a row get their boats flipped on the Wide Bay Bar and then they cruise no more. The names of the ducks are; last hour of a rising tide, preferably in the morning so you can see the lead lights of the first leg to the west, no more than 1.5 m of swell, and the less wind the better. And that's after a 55 mile sail up from Mooloolaba. There is an anchorage outside the bar at Double Island Point but it's not particularly comfortable so there is a tendency to sail up overnight and for a leg like that a sailor prefers more wind than is ideal for the crossing, so there's a bit of juggling and planning involved as those ducks don't line up very many times in a month. We waited. The ducks lined up all in a row. We left Mooloolaba at 3 am, motor-sailed for a few hours on a southwesterly which picked up after dawn and pushed us up to Double Island Point with a couple of hours to spare before the designated Most Auspicious Time and then calmed down for the crossing which involved no breaking waves and no flipping. So we will cruise some more. Except that as we cruised into the bottom of the straits, admiring Fraser Island, having seen two ferries criss-crossing but being a bit busy admiring things including our own cleverness in having made the famous Wide Bay Bar crossing and being finally away and really cruising, I failed to keep an eye on what the ferries were doing and suddenly one was bearing down us from 4 o'clock at a great rate, sounding his horn and making flipping seem like a pleasurable outcome compared with being squashed and pulverised. Calamity was averted, helmsman was abashed and another door fitted and painted in the house of cruising where there are many corridors leading to the pit of selling the boat and going home.
Now the biggest issue we face, all boat systems seeming to be working nicely for the minute, is that we have to figure out how to catch fish so that we can eat their flesh. We hope that our experience in SA where we seemed to eat fish flesh all the time while sailing, even though our fishing expertise is very basic, will be of some assistance. Maybe with some adjustments to lures, rigs and procedures we will get to dabble with the culinary possibilities of Queensland fish. That is our shy hope.
We sailed and motored up through the Great Sandy Straits over a few days, moving with the tides which move in and out from each end, meeting in the middle where there is no tidal flow, just water level going up and down, so the go is to pass over the mid point at high tide or else arrive on a rising tide, camp there and travel on when it is falling. At the northern end of the straits where they open out into Hervey Bay we stopped at Moon Point on Fraser Island which looked good and held some promise of satisfying our yearning to get somewhere a bit special and grand and worthy of our long haul preparing to cruise the open and wild coast. But the wind didn't swing around to the southeast as forecast, did it? No, it stayed southwest and built up a fair chop. And the inlet we'd cleverly pulled into to get out of the tidal flow up and down the strait had its own more forceful tidal flow in and out which held us side on to the chop, bouncey, bounce, first one way and then the other. So that wasn't very successful and next morning we repaired around the point to a lovely sheltered beach where we took our first stroll on a wild beach for the trip, tainted only by the discovery of other footprints which we decided we'd have to accept graciously because we hadn't gone far enough to expect to escape them yet.
Then into the Fisherman's Wharf, Urangan Harbour (Hervey Bay), apparently named for a singular rather than plural fisherman, and no wonder considering the price they charged for a night, to collect some mail and groceries. Onward to Bundaberg, or Burnett Heads. First stop at the Burnett Heads Marina just into the river. Tiny little harbour with all visible facilities and all boats therein appearing to exhibit signs of an advanced state of decrepitude. The forces of entropy had been hard at work in the Burnett Heads Boat Harbour. Cheap, though, and very friendly. Walked around to the highly recommended Burnett Heads Boat Club for a feed and found that the chef had scarpered and the kitchen was closed. Expressions of interest in leasing the business were invited and meanwhile we were offered a meat pie. Very friendly. Gentlemen at the bar offered advice and suggestions about negotiating the entrance to the lagoon at Lady Musgrave Island, which we were considering, while we ate our meat pie.
The forces of entropy were well subdued at the Bundaberg Port Marina a mile further up the river. Spic and span and much more appropriate for a vessel of the style and sophistication of Midnight Blue. When we'd tied up we saw that we were back to back with the same boat. We thought that only three of these had been built but here was a fourth. We'd actually met the owner and his mate while in Mooloolaba. That's where they live. They'd seen Midnight Blue and came to swap stories, theirs being that Slipinaway was up the coast with a damaged propeller shaft after a mix up with a crab pot rope and they were about to bring her back south for repairs. And here we were parked right next. Fancy. Not quite the same topside and fitout but same hulls. Second best boat we've seen.
Midnight Blue and Slipinaway, sister Chamberlin 44 Nebulas
Lady Musgrave Island, Great Barrier Reef.
This is rather nice. Now we're somewhere special and grand. We sailed out on a spinnaker, straight downwind, 50 miles north of Bundaberg. Then in through a channel to the lagoon within the fringing reef. Anchored in the protected calm of the lagoon with about a dozen other boats. Calm when the tide is low and the wind is resting, anyway. Plenty of room. It's a few miles across. Coral cay. Pile of sand built up at an end of a coral reef. Forest of Pisonia trees mainly, with some casuarina and pandanus, lots of black noddy terns nesting and rail birds of some sort running around so there can't be any pussycats. Walk around it in half an hour. The whole place, reef, every grain of sand and bit of rock and shell is accumulated skeletal remains of creatures and plants. Takes quite a while to build a coral cay.
Pisonia trees full of black noddy terns
Beautiful clear water. Anchored in 9 metres and you can see the bottom clear as anything. Swimming around the coral gardens in clouds of little technicolour fishes with the odd turtle cruising by, we started to feel quite pleased with the situation. Back on the boat the weather is promising to stay calm and warm for a week, which is a bit unusual so we're feeling a bit more pleased and then a fisherman turned up. Biggest problem in his day was he had caught more red throated emperor fish than he could deal with because he hadn't brought enough ice so could we please take one? Well allright then and he wouldn't accept any beer so we just had to deal with it. Red throated emperor fish is right up there on the top shelf of dinner plate fish, so I set about scaling and filleting straight away, severely pestered by a giant petrel bird who glided in on about a metre wingspan and was not at all appeased by receiving a couple of morsels but only became more demanding and excited, grabbing and tugging at the fish while I was trying to work on it. Had to be beaten off. Bad bird. Don't feed the wildlife, say the signs in the national parks, as well as telling you what to think about everything, it makes the animals - birds, dingoes, kangaroos, dependent and aggressive. So you mustn't, but when when a big brown albatross featured superduck comes to your boat, having taken on the franchise to bug the boaties at Lady Musgrave, what can you do? Anyway the fish was very fine eating. And there was a new moon on top of the dazzling sunset. Welcome to the Great Barrier Reef.
Lest we were getting too smug, the Forces Of Entropy, our FOE, gave us a smack in the ear by arranging for our brand new battery charger to blow up. Bang, fsst, smell of burnt electricals, no more charging. But neighbours Keith and Patti who have been doing this trip every year for the last eleven say that this spell of calm weather isn't just unusual, it's unheard of, especially at this time of year when it's usually full on southeasterlies which push a fair chop over the reef at high tide and it's quite bouncy in here. Once in a lifetime they say, so we're not letting a mere exploded battery charger make us run for the nearest marine electrician. Not for a few more days anyway. We can run a motor a bit to top up the batteries like everybody else does.
Climbing the lighthouse tower is strictly forbidden, 'tho the view is quite nice. You can just see the reef around the lagoon. Pacific Ocean outside.
Down in the deep dark Pisonia woods, full of noddies.
The national parks signs which tell you how insignificant you are and what to think about everything say that the mean old pisonia trees, not content with the droppings of all the noddies, shearwaters and other nesting birds for fertiliser, produce sticky fruit clusters for the purpose of ensnaring birds so that they perish and their juices and nutrients are given up for the trees to gobble. And it might be cruel but one mustn't interfere with nature's sacred work. Maybe so, because apparently birds do perish in the sticky fruit clusters, and the trees do look lustrous, but maybe the imaginations of the Green Nazi signwriters get a bit feverish, too.
neighbours at sea
Tina off for the daily walk.
Three months since hip replacement and we're off in the dinghy to the nearest beach or pisonia forest for a walk, every day a bit further, as well as snorkelling and climbing a ladder back into the dinghy. Hooray for new hips.
After one morning walk we were back in the dinghy to return to the boat and the motor wouldn't engage the propeller to drive. FOE again. So we were rowing back across the lagoon, slowly, and getting slower, past a nicely appointed motor cruiser, when the cruiser bloke hailed us and suggested that we come on over so he could investigate our evident lack of motorized propulsion. Well of course I resisted because I was looking forward to having my own glorious battle with the FOE when I got back to my tools. But I didn't resist for long and within minutes the cruiser bloke, John, who has been amongst many other things an outboard mechanic, had diagnosed and fixed the problem. The gearbox selector connecting rod had come apart, which John said could only have happened if the crew who serviced the motor a few weeks ago had failed to tighten it properly after disconnecting it to replace the impeller. You'll have to tolerate these fascinating details if you're going to stick with this cruising tale as the cruiser's attention is necessarily and repeatedly drawn into fine focus on stuff like this. So the outboard servicing crew at Wynnum Marine are going to be informed by telephone that they are a menace to the cruising lifestyle and that I shall be doing my best to warn the population against engaging them. The episode's further result was that we ended up having a very enjoyable dinner with John and Leeanne aboard their handsome cruiser. Against the FOE works another force, giving rise to Felicitous Examples Of Serendipity, FEOS. Accepting that FOE had arranged for the Wynnum Marine miscreants to fail to tighten the connecting rod, a FEOS then occurred whereby the rod parted at the one time on the one day when it would result in our rowing pathetically past John and Leeanne's cruiser whereupon he was unable to refrain from rescuing and repairing us and we were all subsequently unable to avoid having a fine dinner together. The forces were nicely balanced, that day.
Rosslyn Bay, still June.
The next morning, with only slightly woolly heads, we were considering our exit strategy from Lady Musgrave lagoon as some boisterous winds were forecast for a few days hence. It was perfectly calm for most of the morning and then suddenly a nice breeze came up so we jumped down, turned around and sailed away. We made a satisfying 8 or 9 knots towards Pancake Creek for an hour and then the fickle and faithless breeze died out so it was motoring over glassy seas but that was quite pleasant too. Later we were very pleased that we'd moved that day because others who waited got belted by winds and lumpy seas that night and the next day while we had an easy run up the coast and into Gladstone. Gladstone harbour is a place of much shipping. About 18 coal carriers were waiting queued outside the harbour for their turn to come in and load up. Sailors have to observe the traffic rules and keep out of the way of all the big ships or risk getting told off by the Port Authority and more crushingly by their wives.
We had business in Gladstone. We were hoping that a new warranty replacement battery charger would be waiting for us. It turned up the next day, thanks to the splendid efforts of Chris Bool of Green Marine in Manly, the marine electrician who'd sorted our electrical system. Praise the good ones and bag the bad ones. So we swapped it over and had plenty of electricity again. We also looked up Siggy Hohne, an old associate of Tina's Dad. They'd been in partnership and amongst other things had built a tuna boat which operated out of Port Lincoln in the 60's and 70's. Siggy and Glenys entertained us for a couple of days, showed us around and told us some tales. I liked the ones about various big fish they'd caught. Like a tuna as big as him, and a 19 pound whiting, and big sharks. And motoring around to Sydney with only paper charts and odd sightings of capes and lighthouses to navigate by. No chartplotters, no GPS, no telephone, only occasional radio contact. A lot braver than me.
After practicing waiting for a couple more days hoping for a sailing wind we took off for Cape Capricorn on the eponymous tropic. Hey, we sailed into a tropical sea! Practiced spinnaker handling some more and then, accepting that the lying and traitorous wind had died again, practiced motoring some more. Now motoring is fine. It gets us along at 6 or 7 knots. It's far preferable to getting hammered by a head wind which so far our skill at waiting has preserved us from. But a nice honest, trustworthy wind will get us along at 9 or 10 knots which is more fun and gets us there by lunch time.
Around the corner from Cape Capricorn is an estuary with an anchorage called Yellow Patch, at the foot of a big orange sandhill. A bar entry to the estuary and we're getting into bigger tide ranges now, about 4 metres. With GPS way points gratefully received from the local Volunteer Marine Rescue radio operators, and sufficient tide, we made our way over the bar and anchored at the sandhill.
Our shadow on the Yellow Patch sandhill at sunset. Moon is ris.
Anchored facing ebb tide flow.
The tide goes down and the water she goes away. Boat in same place as last shot, just turned around kinda hoping for a flood tide. She's still floating. It's just dastardly cunning photography.
We can report some progress on the acquisition of fish flesh. We have caught whiting (Queensland style - a pale imitation of proper whiting ), flathead and bream. We have spent some time in the company of experts and been shown how to catch yabbies for bait with a yabby pump. Feeble imitations of real yabbies but they make the best bait. A yabby pumper operates a contraption which is a piece of tube with a plunger in it with which he sucks up a tube full of wet sandy mud and squirts it out and if the spot has been chosen well he'll be able to capture half a dozen wriggling shrimpy yabby creatures. A good hatfull in a bucket and then we're ready for fishing. That's estuary fishing. Keeps you busy. Then there is reef fishing which is different, with bigger rigs and lures and net and gaff all bristling out of the dinghy and more violence. Well there's plenty of violence with any kind of fishing but as the fish get bigger it gets more dramatic. We've caught no reef fish yet other than various mysterious unidentified specimens. Our reef fish day will come. Then there is crabbing. We've caught some sand crabs, yum, and some mud crabs but so far only female (protected) or juvenile male - more like delinquent adolescent with all the aggro and attitude (also protected). So we have yet to sample a feed of muddies. Think our net/pot needs upgrading. Our mud crab day will come.
This bloke is about as big as a thumbnail and gets around in a gang of a few hundred marching about looking for something to overcome.
Different styles of crab industry.
Arriving at Great Keppel Island we anchored at the main beach with quite a mob of cruising boats. Next morning a bit of chop was coming around the point so we moved around to another more protected bay. As we dropped anchor some folks came by in their dinghy. They were on their way to the beach for a bacon and red wine breakfast and invited us to join them. Now while I have the greatest admiration for people who can do that I just don't have the strength any more. But we took in our morning smoko apples and joined them for some chat. Many folks in a great variety of vessels are making their way north at this time. It's a popular path. There was even a river type houseboat came into Yellow Patch. That's many miles of open sea from either way. They must be very careful about choosing their weather windows. The whole flotilla / armada is experiencing conniptions in varying degree just lately because the army have announced that their whole Shoalwater Bay training area will be closed for the whole month of July for shootemup practice. Islands, floating targets and I don't know what else are shot, bombed and strafed in the interest of our welfare and protection. This includes the anchorages of Port Clinton and Island Head Creek, without access to which the journey from Yeppoon to the Dukes or Percy Islands becomes an overnighter and a long run out to sea so there's a bit of a rush on to get through the area before the end of the month. A shame because this area is very attractive and it would be nice to tarry a few weeks. While I support the need to have well equipped and skilled defence forces ( I'm for protecting our way of life rather than giving it away to the ravening hordes of unfortunates, although I do think that the superior qualities of Western culture are more threatened by internal corrosion, the self loathing of the morally vain and ignorance of how historically recent and hard won our elevation from barbarism and our freedoms and opportunities are, than by external invasion ), I think it's a bit rough on the poor cruising community battling their way up between all these clearwater postcard islands to be deprived of several key stops. Surely they have enough islands to shoot up without those spots. Otherwise it's all manageable day hops and now suddenly we have to get a bit serious.
Great Keppel Island
Our FOE has been making more mischief. The new by warranty charger, perfectly happy with Gladstone electricity, decided while we were at Yellow Patch that it didn't like the home made electricity from our generator, spat a hissy dummy and shut down. So we're still running our 12 volt house system on electricity derived from solar, wind and alternator-on-diesel-motor generation, which is all very well, but we want to be able to top up with petrol generator-through-charger electricity as well, because that's the plan here and we would like to get it all working properly, just for a little while. It's a question of honour and a test of our skills of perseverance. So in Keppel Bay Marina, near Yeppoon, another helpful electrician called David Toolen established that the generator was producing electricity with a voltage of 240, which is good, but with a frequency of 180 hertz which is off the scale bizarre (should be 50) so it's no wonder the charger spat the hiss. So now we have to see whether the generator people can supply a replacement component to help the generator comply with acceptable standards. Trying to imagine going through this process away from the communications, supply and transport facilities we enjoy in Oz is a major disincentive from thinking about travelling away across any oceans, at this stage. We love Oz.
Update on the fascinating electrical situation. The electrician amongst you can stop rolling his eyes at the idea of 180 hertz because we have discovered that that is not possible - it must have been a false reading of the third harmonic of 60 hertz which is what we have but in an unstable and spiky (technical term) configuration. After some run around we got to speak to a technician who was familiar with our type of generator. It is so relieving to find someone who knows what you are talking about with a technical problem because finally, and suddenly, the problem has a solution. Yep, a shock like a surge from a charger blowing up will throw them out of whack and you have to recalibrate the trim, the droop (no kidding), the volts and the stability which are all interdependent and then set it up specifically for what you want to run off it. No worries, I can sort that out when you get to Mackay. Excellent phone call, that one.
Now, funnily enough, we are in Mackay.
Just did what we had planned to be a month's worth of sailing in 4 days. The army closure meant we needed to leave Island Head Creek by the end of June. And then with only a week's warning they changed the rules and brought that closure forward another 3 days and at the same time a weather forecast was issued which predicted a week or more of strong wind warnings. The rules for recuperation and strengthening and mobilising Tina's 3 month old hip replacement stipulated only calm weather sailing for 6 months. So a couple of weeks of not very comfortable anchorages in strong winds and lumpy seas seemed unwise. And we could have waited around Rosslyn bay and the Keppels but we have arranged to sail out of Mackay with Lynne and Don in the middle of July. So we did a bolt to get through to Mackay before the winds got fierce. Didn't quite beat them - the last two days entailed some bucking and bouncing. 25 to 30 knots downwind. Fairly quick. The boat handled it beautifully but we'd prefer to avoid sailing in more than 20. Might see about some tree therapy. There is probably some nice rainforest hereabouts.
We stopped at Pearl Bay, Percy Islands and Curlew Island which were all beautiful and we'll have to spend more time through that stretch sometime when conditions are calmer and the army doesn't mind. The wind is nuts. I'm reading Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn in honour of having sailed over it. Think I'm over Henry Miller. All rampant libido and no respect for anything. Seemed smart in my ignorant youth when the fashionable demeanor held the view that the system was stuffed so let's stuff the system, but now it seems rather indulgent and maybe he needs a good smack.
The generator man came and got us back to 50 hertz which is well and good but the charger still doesn't like it and the generator man established that it does in fact need a new regulator. That's 3 weeks out of the excited states. ok. Tried putting a surge box, which is supposed to even out fluctuating voltage, between generator and charger and that fried immediately with smoke and everything so ok. OK, just wait. The thing about my going on and on about this electrical issue, dear reader, is that I want you to share the pain with us and to be as relieved as we will be when the thing is finally resolved, even if your relief is for a different reason than ours.
So we may as well press on northward, but the southeasterly wanted to have a big blow so we double tied the boat in Mackay marina and invited the southeasterly to blow as much as it liked and repaired to the forest in Eungella, pronounced Yungela, for a few days. Proper rainforest with no eucalypts. Been isolated from other rainforest for many an age so there are subspecies of plants and critters. Like platypus which are plentiful in all the creeks and are a bit smaller than elsewhere. It was very nice to walk through the dripping rainforest but we were discouraged from tarrying anywhere by numerous, as in somewhere between dozens and scores, of leeches leaping onto our shoes and advancing skinwards with great fervour. So we didn't tarry much in that wet part of the forest at the top of the mountain, but had some lovely walks in another part of the park, Finch Hatton gorge, down the mountain where there weren't so many of the leaping suckers.
Down in the deep dark leechy rainforest
with ferny glades and babbling brooks
and brooks which are beyond babbling and into ranting and gibbering and raving and roaring
and hairy boulders and furry trees
and platypieces and azure kingfishers
and feathertail gliders and gangs arguing about who's going to crack the next joke
Looking down the Pioneer Valley from Eungella
Back to the marina and the southeasterly had blown its head off and was going to sit down and have a rest so it could grow another one so we sailed up to Brampton Island while it was easing. The weather has become delightful so we'll just stay here and enjoy it for a few days. The forest here isn't rainforest but lush and tropical just the same and full of butterflies.
A calm morning on Brampton Island and the crows are carking gaily. The currawongs are trying to suggest that perhaps a little more delicacy would be nice but carking prevails. A cloud is hanging on the mountain top - that's what all these Whitsunday islands are; half drowned mountains - and stopping the sun from drying off the heavy dew. It's hell up here cruising the islands. There is a defunct resort here on Brampton. Current resident population one caretaker who's grumpy about yachties stepping any further than the beach. But there are fine walking trails around the island and we don't care about his resort. Its architecture looks sound but a bit dated so it's all going to be demolished and rebuilt in more fashionable style. All terribly eco no doubt. The tourist dollar demands smarter facilities than these. The place warrants it. Not the waste of trashing a perfectly serviceable village but the investment will probably pay off if it's done well enough because the place is stunning. The idea of demolishing and removing the whole joint is boggling. The advance party of hairdressers, astrologers and environmental consultants is expected any day.
Gleaning report. Oysters. Good pot of oyster meat in a noodle and vegie stir fry went off very nicely. Only thing is that after an oystering expedition one must bathe and dress one's wounds as oysters don't succumb willingly.
If, perchance, you think that the crack the other day about green nazis was a bit rough, then here's a tale about green nazis.
Indirectly from some chat with the caretaker on Brampton it seems that the owner who is planning to redevelop the place has been infected with Endemic Only disease and plans to remove and mulch all the coconut palms. The island was first developed as a coconut plantation nearly a hundred years ago and the resort is nestled in this plantation. Now a coconut palm is a wonderful thing. Among its fine qualities is its insistence on producing coconuts in large numbers. The value of coconuts is self evident and doesn't need further defending. There is however a faction in the National Parks management hierarchy who regard any form of life that is not endemic to its location as intolerable and requiring eradication. This has gone beyond the need to control obvious pest species like invasive weeds and feral animals to a mania that demonizes anything not blessed with the status of original inhabitant of an imagined sacred state of nature in perfect harmony before the disastrous arrival of Europeans and all their wickedness.
This pious Endemic Only faction has been busy removing coconuts from National Parks controlled islands in Queensland, cleaning out the foreign rubbish, never mind that coconuts have propagated throughout the Pacific by the simple expedient of floating from beach to beach. Bill Mollison (coiner and populariser of the term "permaculture") used to say about the native good / exotic bad question that anything you can plant is a native of the planet for cripes sake, so let's evaluate species on the grounds of whether they're useful / manageable / productive; not, or at least as well as, how original they are.
So this silliness is sufficient to earn the faction under examination the apellation " green nazis".
These are our findings.
Sailed downwind from Brampton Is. to Thomas Is. The only thing about catamaran sailing that is not perfect is that because the catamaran rig's backstays come back behind the mast there is quite a limitation on how far you can let the boom out sideways for downwind sailing without the sail leaning hard on the stays and making alarming sawing noises as it rubs up and down. So you either accept that you'll buy a new sail when this one cuts itself in half on the stay or sail on headsail only. Spinnaker is the best solution but we're a bit shy of using ours when the wind gets above 20 knots. Today we sailed on genoa and staysail (both headsails or jibs) on opposite sides and it was great. Not very fast but very comfortable. Until furling time. We couldn't use our trick of blanketing the genoa with the main because the main wasn't there, so we had a theory about furling the genoa behind the staysail. Seemed like it was going to work as it started to furl but we couldn't see how it was wrapping because it was behind the staysail and it flogged a bit and the sheets got caught up in it and then there was a horrible tangle where the sail was half furled with the sheets and clew caught in the wrap and a pocket of sail hanging out flogging and basically stuck. Couldn't move the furler either way and the space above the deck was all occupied, especially around head height, by a blur of wind and sheet ropes thrashing at warp speed. Dear oh dear. Motor around in circles trying to get the wind to unwind the mess? Cut the sheets? Managed to undo the sheets and unwind enough to get the clew free and furl it all up again. Amazingly no damage or injury. Anchored in a delightful little bay and had a nice cup of tea and a strategic planning session about how to do that a bit tidier next time. So along with the glorious island sunsets etc. there are moments of panic and mayhem verging calamitous. Learning, learning.
Airlie Beach. Mecca. Cruise the Whitsundays. Well up on the short list of best cruising grounds anywhere. Justifiably so. Dramatically mountainous looking islands, heavily forested, all national parks apart from resort leases. You can't walk beyond the beaches for the heaviness of the forest unless there are tracks, which there are on some but not all islands, established by the resorts or National Parks. Lots of anchorages for all winds with fairly short distances between them. Clear skies and water with spectacular coral and fish. Numerous sea eagles and Brahminy Kites. Daily glimpses of turtles or dugong a bobbing or whales a leaping. The dolphins don't leap here, though. They don't come and play like they do in SA. Supercilious, stuck up dolphins. Whitehaven must be one of the most photographed beaches in the world, and with good reason.
The upshot is that there are lots of people here to enjoy it all. Not as many cruisers apparently compared to past years. The GFC probably knocked a few out of the game, although quite a few full time live aboard cruisers say that it's cheaper maintaining and living on a boat than in a house. Lots of travellers are no doubt off to other parts of the world riding the high Oz dollar. Anyway there still seem to be lots of visitors to the area chartering bare boats and taking day trips and 2 and 3 day trips on quite a variety of vessels. At Whitehaven beach people were arriving either like us on cruising boats, or on boats they'd chartered in the area for a week or so, or packed by the dozen onto big high speed dinghy contraptions with names like "Wild Fury" and "Extreme Adventure" and "Mad Rage", or packed by the score onto big retired racing yachts like Siska and Ragamuffin, and bigger ketches and clippers, or your champagne lunch variety by seaplane and helicopter. Fair bit of serious promenading up and down Whitehaven Beach.
Apart from the cruisers and the champagne lunchers, most of the visitors are young backpackers, and most of them sound German. The boats taking passengers for 2 and 3 day loops around the islands are to be encountered in other bays and anchorages around the loop, snorkelling and scuba diving, disporting on the beaches and partying to varying degrees. Kids on gap years having fun in fabulous tropical island paradise. Very good. Only maybe we might sneak over to some of the bays and inlets along the mainland less visited and quietly work on the challenge of catching fish. The one boat which was objectionable one evening was a big heavy ketch with what sounded like a football team with associated groupies and attendants in full desperate wasted rage party mode, generator and spotlights all night, amplified doof doof with shouting DJ egging them on to skulling contests, uproar and chants of vo-mit, vo-mit, vo-mit filling the steep walled bay. Beware the "Atlantic Clipper" if you're thinking of taking a relaxing cruise around the Whitsundays. We have obtained her itinerary so that we can keep out of her way.
Our exploratory loop of the islands was made with the company of friends Don and Lynne from Willunga who are sailors of long experience including sailing this area many years ago in a trailer sailer. Some of Don's pics above. They reckon there were more cruising boats 30 years ago than are here now. It was good to have their company. We learned a bit from them about trimming sails which we've never paid very respectful attention to. Don found a broken bolt in the bottom of the chain locker. On inspection two of the three bolts securing the anchor chain winch had broken off which gave me the opportunity of experiencing a high state of bliss for a couple of days the following week dismantling, repairing and remantling the winch. At the conclusion of our loop we spent an evening in Airlie Beach and it was pleasant enough. The community facilities - boardwalks along the foreshore and excellent swimming pool complex are very well done but the businesses in the main street seem a bit seedy. The backpacker market has grown greatly. Party or perish. Lot of vacant business premises and residential units. Might be just a temporary downturn in the tourist economy from the high dollar and worries about flood damage. Julia's moral vanity tax and other depredations her gang of idiots are sabotaging our economy with will probably mean downturns all round. With the regulators advancing on all fronts to stifle productivity and school curricula clearly setting out to teach our kids to be ashamed of their heritage I fear it will end badly. Hooray for mining.
Generator / charger update.
Upon arriving at Airlie the news was yay, halleluia, the regulator has arrived. Except that it was the wrong one. On receipt of this qualification of the good news I wondered if a dash of peevishness might be stirring in the deep spring of my waters. While I normally eschew the gratuitous use of strong language I had some chat with the generator man about whether or not some might be warranted on this occasion, and which varieties and configurations of colourful expletives might be most appropriate. I then had a similar chat with the gentleman in Brisbane who'd obtained and sent the item. Such is the power of the tactical tantrum, if employed sparingly, that within half an hour it was established that the thing we really needed was available in Brisbane, after all, and could be here in a few more days and we could borrow the generator man's portable generator while we went off for our week with our friends. On returning to Airlie, our friends went off to take their chances with airline connections and the generator man came and fixed the generator. 52 hertz reducing to 50 under load, steady 239 volts, phew, you say, but not so fast. The charger had got so fed up with all the filthy electricity it had been offered and declined, declined, declined, that it had made up its mind that it wasn't going to have anything to do with any electricity from that generator ever again, cleaned up or not. You can't argue with a smart charger, so now charger no. 4 is on its way up from Brisbane and maybe tomorrow, . . . maybe, maybe . . .
Charger no. 4 is a very fine charger. Smart as any. But it agrees with the others that the electricity from our generator is is just too dirty for a sophisticated electronic device to want to have anything to do with it. Complete boycott. No start.
Dirty is a technical term referring to the spiky shape of an oscilloscope picture of the frequency variation which should be a smooth sine curve. Our poor old (actually almost new) generator makes lots of spiky power which is fine for heaters and direct loads but not for electronic contraptions. So now we are getting a new generator installed next week. I don't know what foolishness I was thinking in imagining that we could replace part(s) of the electrical system without a complete upgrade of everything. Much like when you buy a new printer your computer probably won't like it and you'll be up for new computer and everything. Got a really good 7.3 kva Kohler petrol generator for sale if anybody wants to make lots of dirty electricity.
We have now a few days spare after dropping off Tina's mum, Felicity, and her hubby Jack, who had been with us for a week and a bit, and before we need to be in Shute Harbour to get this new generator. We did another loop around the islands and visited some new spots as well as going back to Whitehaven. It will take quite a few visits to Whitehaven to get tired if it. People do, though. Cruisers who ply up and down this coast for years on end often seem eventually to head off into the Pacific or other exotic parts in search of ever more romance and adventure. Starting comparatively late into liveaboard cruising I reckon these shores will amuse us adequately for as long as we can / want to keep it up. Jack and Felicity were good fishers. Taught us a bit about patience and perseverance. Jack was forever changing rigs and trying different baits and the result was fish! Couple of feeds of what the book calls saurys, a bit like lizardfish, known locally as grinners, and a bit of this and that, and a big sweetlip which got us all quite excited and fed us for a couple of days.
Two tours with visitors has led to the formulation of a new rule. The Rule of Visitors is that visitors shall be disembarked upon the shore not more than seven days after embarking. While we love and will continue to love our visitors dearly - otherwise they wouldn't be embarking in the first place - the mechanics of domesticity in a small apartment impose limits. It's not for lack of love, and its not for ideological differences like with the party who's stance on the vexed issue of climate change alarmism is to scoff, from a position of ignorance, at the idea that the orthodoxy should be questioned. It's more to do with the effort required to prevent smoke from coming out of one's ears on finding sharp knives left in the sink, or my dear cranky mum's pearl shell handled salad servers in the implement drawer instead of in the cutlery drawer with the bone handled knives. Critical issues like that. Domestic politics, first explored in shared student households in one's 20's and then developed through family life, are only a partial preparation for sharing accommodation aboard a boat.
The last loop ended with a blown seam on our staysail and a dead port side hot water pump so after repairing / replacing those items we are now back in Cid Harbour close in to an oyster strewn beach and where we might try to catch a sweetlip, maybe a friend of the one Jack caught here. Airlie was jumping when we left as their annual race week has just started. Band and booze tent in the marina and pandemonium at the launching ramp, in the chandleries and down on the wharves with rigging and set up all going on at furious pace. The bay was full of sails plying in all directions and periodically a cluster of boats of a class would all head off together as their division of the race started and they'd charge off over the horizon. It was an entertaining spectacle for us as we cruised out and over the passage to our peaceful bay.
My oystering technique has improved. Less blood, more oysters. The Rule of Oysters, however, shall henceforth state that after seven or eight dozen one should pause and ask the question whether perhaps that might be enough for the moment. It might be just a personal weakness - a more civilized person might be content to sample and be happy without reverting to a hunter gatherer mode when coming across an abundance and consuming as much as possible to tide over the uncertain period till the next bounty. I remember the first time I encountered abalone, staying with my friend Robbie at the lighthouse keeper's cottage at Althorpe Island and sampling abalone from the bay. After several kilos had been bashed and fried and the walls of Robbie's kitchen were besplattered with abalone juice and he and my then wife were muttering darkly about piggish behaviour I slowly accepted that I had finally captured the essence of abalone and was sated. If I'd been able to recognize that point a bit earlier then it might not have been such a long time later before I had the courage to front up to another abalone. The Rule of Oysters might only be necessary for weak souls who need help with their struggle to learn the value of moderation.
We got donutted by a maxi.
Airlie Race Week finished and rolled straight over into Hamilton Island Race Week, a much grander and more glittering affair. We were just trying to keep out of their way and were sailing up to Butterfly Bay to find some snorkelling for Jane, another refugee from Adelaide's winter. Sailing north downwind in 25 to 30 knots, quite comfortable in the lee of the islands on a double reefed mainsail at about 8 knots. And this huge black sail on a boat called Loyal charged up behind us doubling in size every time we looked until it shot past our port side making at least 20 knots, dropped its spinnaker as it went by, turned across our path, tacked back straight towards us and sped past our stern on a screaming reach out to the west, having made a 270degree loop around us out of an objective of making a simple left turn. Presumably the manoeuvre was just for our entertainment, in which it was successful, or maybe they don't like gybing and preferred to make a wide tack of it and our position in the centre of the exercise was incidental. Anyway we can say that we were at the centre of strategic manoeuvres in Hamilton Island Race Week, 2011.
After another loop of the islands we dropped Jane off at Hamilton at the end of their race week. The marina was full of it. Racing Yachts and racing crews and racing business. Very important. We were permitted to touch at the fuel berth provided we just dropped our Jane and left immediately. That was ok. We'll go back there sometime when it's a bit quieter and have a look around.
Then back over to Airlie so the generator man could make a minor adjustment to the new generator so it would work properly. Yes folks, the generator saga is finally concluded. We have a slightly smaller, quieter, cooler generator running on diesel instead of petrol. Safer and theoretically more reliable and now our cabin has ceased to stink of petrol fumes and everything is working as it should for the first time since we've been aboard. That's apart from the few things which don't work. Well not so much don't work, although I'd have to admit that the anchor chain counter just plain isn't working just now, as need cleaning, adjusting, maintaining and encouraging. Apart from your normal boat list of tasks that need attending to, we're now able to turn the clock on, nine months after moving aboard, to see how long we can cruise on a diet of regular maintenance, having made more major improvements than we'd expected to. How long can we last until we must go to port for need of another hired boat fixer?
The only curiosity during the process of getting the new generator aboard happened when the time came to move from a mooring to tie up to a barge on which a little crane waited to lift out the old and in the new. Start motors and off we go except that the starboard motor wouldn't engage so as I dropped the mooring line we slewed around and drifted over its pickup line which got stuck on the port rudder. The rope in rudder bit was easy, requiring only a quick swim, but the FOE had made a raid and the electronic controls for the starboard motor weren't working and the little crane was waiting with the new generator. Stress? No worries. FEOS to the rescue. We happened just then to have two marine engineers on board to help with the move and the installation and they traced the problem to a dodgy earth connection in about an hour. I reckon I might have sorted it in about a day. All ended well.
Unfortunately for youse it's very unlikely that the stories about the mechanical minutiae of problems and breakdowns are going to end. About generator business hopefully they will end, the Gods willing, if there is any justice in this random world, which of course there isn't. But other little mechanical issues will inevitably continue to exercise us and will be reported in gruesome detail. For instance yesterday I was running a new power cable to the bedroom and blew a fuse . . . but no, I'll save that one for a bit. Until I've put everything back together anyway.
The seascape / landscape of the Whitsundays is one that time remembered. Development, clearing and other human impact might have largely forgotten it but time has remembered to bless it with great beauty. All the land masses visible to a sailor are of entertaining dimensions and forms and thickly covered with multilayered forest shouting out every hue and shade of green a sailor's eye can see. Some of the islands have tourist resorts on them, notably Hamilton which seems quite developed. Then apart from the Shute Harbour / Airlie Beach / Cannonvale strip there is hardly a visible sign that this part of the coast is populated at all. Green mountains in all directions and all with hardly a blemish. A superficial impression, to be sure, but a pleasant one for a sailor to indulge in cultivating.
Credit will have to go to the National Parks for controlling development and keeping it all very pretty for sailors. I have cultivated a personal irreverence toward that organization because of their patronizing little signs everywhere telling you not just what you are looking at but also what to think about it and because of the tendency of green mafia opinions to flourish within it as exampled by the holy war on coconut palms. I have a mental picture of the Man from National Parks as a little man straight from the Office of Correct Opinions, standing up short, smaller than life, windmilling his arms and insisting that no! you may not take your dog for a walk on that beach nor light a fire on it. But they have made nice paths and boardwalks and controlled access and development so that the pressure of tourist visitation doesn't wreck the place.
The backpacker industry seems vigorous. It has an unfortunate influence on the tone of Airlie Beach with a lot of venues and facilities catering to the heavy drinking and raging inclinations of the backpacker clientele. A bit seedy is the result. So apart from those catering to the tourists the preferred residential and local community development and population seems to be around the corner in Cannonvale.
Anyway having stocked up and hoping to have, for a change, no pressure on our program other than the variations of weather conditions for the next month or so we're heading north towards Bowen and out of the charter boat zone.
Gloucester Island, just out of the Whitsundays.
The Bowen area is drier than the Whitsundays. Dry tropics. The hills are more sparsely covered, more scrubby. There are even bare patches suggesting various human activities; building, quarrying, agriculture, stock grazing. Kind of reassuring. The almost complete lack of evident human impact in the Whitsundays gets to feel a bit weird after a while. We wanted to visit the town to see some people we met in Mackay. There is a small marina in Bowen harbour which didn't have a berth for us but our visitee gave us the number of a bloke with one of the town's seafood businesses and he let us in on a pontoon at back of his wharfside plant between fishing boats and his facility with compressors running an ice plant which was a fairly industrial setting but also kind of reassuring to be amongst the hubbub of human endeavour in an economy not completely devoted to serving tourism. The seafood bloke says that his turnover of produce is way down on average since the last couple of cyclones have knocked down fish stocks. The coral gets bashed up and the fish bugger off. They'll come back. One of the ways in which we are over regulated is in management of fish stocks. In this case over regulation is better than the alternative.
For an excellent report on the degree of over management of fish harvesting and also on the abuse of science by the political movement known as environmentalism, see this link; http://www.quadrant.org.au/magazine/issue/2011/7-8/fishy-science-on-the-great-barrier-reef
It was nice to shop and to visit and enjoy some very generous hospitality including being shown around the town. A fine town. Lot of food grown in the area. Bowen tomatoes, rockmelons, mangoes, etc. The backpacker industry has had only minimal influence on this town because it is busy producing stuff. Even though a bloke might be swanning around in a luxury yacht, basically part of the tourist economy, he might still associate himself philosophically with the economy that generates material product. The old Scottish Protestant work ethic humming away in the background, I suppose. A person could imagine living happily in a town like Bowen. Except for the cyclones.
Fish action. Our fishing efforts had been becoming a bit desultory for lack of any more than occasional and minor success, and then we parked in Earlando Bay. Looked interesting from the start. Nice beach and a run down, closed down resort at the head of the bay with a handsome mountain behind. Hills all fully forested like the rest of the Whitsunday area but with lots of Boab trees amongst the mix. Mangroves around the bay and lining a deep creek winding back behind. Big old mangroves with a solid canopy about eight metres up and open underneath; dark and bare except for mangrove trunks and roots. No photos, sorry, but it was quite striking; haven't seen a big old mangrove forest before. And it just seemed rather fishy. Like they were leaping all about. There wouldn't be boats anchoring there very often because it's open to the east and you'd only stop there with a westerly wind as we had at the time, and with the resort closed maybe nobody is bothering the fish much. So we set our crab pots and trolled a lure in the creek and bang! A very fine Turrum or Gold spotted Trevally forfeit his flesh to the greater glory of our culinary excitement. And then there were two big mean buck (male) mud crabs in the nets. The rule here is that you can take only male crabs. Good rule (there are some).
Another rule we've heard repeatedly from locals is that if a big mud crab gets hold of your finger or toe then you'll soon be on your way to the nearest hospital. So this being the first time we've caught muddies that we haven't had to release for being too small or wrong sex, we took all the precautions we could think of. After an hour in the freezer the crabbies were less argumentative about the dire fate they could see approaching. They just didn't care any more. Trussing, murder and cooking followed, undertaken with glee. Proper crabbers don't need the freezer - the theory is that you hold them with your foot while you tie them but I'm not trying that before I've seen somebody do it because they seem darn quick and strong and slippery and mighty fierce and I'm not conducting any experiments with mud crabs and my fingers and toes.
We can report that the flesh of the mud crab is superior in the scale of crab. Well worth the effort. Maybe not quite up to the glory of the southern rock lobster but the best, so far, of crabs.
28 September, Airlie Beach.
There were two ambitions we had about things to do in the Whitsunday area if conditions were suitable. One was to go out to the Great Barrier Reef and the other was to go into Hill Inlet, a shallow estuary behind Whitehaven Beach which is reputed to be good for fishing and crabbing. For the outer reef you want light winds with low tide in the middle of the day so you can see the coral. That looked like happening last week so we were making our way up to the top of Hook Island to be ready for an early morning run out to the reef when it seemed like we had a mishap.
We have what is called feathering propellers. When we get sailing and turn off the motors the prop blades line up straight so they stop turning and reduce drag. If you get a gust of wind as you are turning off and feathering there is quite a back pressure on the blades if you don't do it quick enough which make a nasty vibration which happened to the extent of an alarming thumpy clunk which freaked out not only us but also the electronic motor controls, port side this time, and when we restarted that motor we had no drive. And there was an unusual periodic clunk as we sailed which gave support to dark imaginings of a damaged propeller.
So with these imaginings of at least two mechanical problems we sailed back over to Airlie to be ready for another spate of marine engineering. Further imaginings of getting replacement propeller(s) from Brisbane or who knows where, of getting the boat hauled out or maybe beaching it for a prop swap, and who knows what sort of emotional fugue the electronic controls might have to be healed and counselled out of? The trip to the reef was disappearing. Anchored off Airlie, a swim revealed that the prop was OK. The periodic clunk while sailing must have been from an incomplete feathering after the big thumpy clunk which threw out the controls. Which came good after resetting by turning everything off and then on again.
Got all that? The end result was that the dark imaginings were not necessary, everything was operational and we were back on the program. So after a quick shopping the next morning we sailed up to the top of Hook Island, joyful about being delivered from our dark imaginings, and in the company of Don and Lynne from Willunga. Since they'd left us at the end of July they'd flown home, packed up their newly purchased and fitted out Farrier 36(I think) trimaran, driven it up to Bundaberg and sailed up to the Whitsundays. After a week in the area they just had time for the dash out to the reef before heading south again to appointments with their employers.
On the way out to the reef there were great streaks of coral spawn streaming for miles across the ocean which suggested that the reef still has a bit of life in it. Whale action, too. Humpbacks in family groups spouting, leaping, splashing and whaling around, disconcertingly close as we tied up to moorings at Bait Reef. Several metre long giant trevally took up station under our boat for the 24 hours we stayed, encouraged by a few scraps. No catchy fish zone. A group of dolphins came by, only they looked too big for dolphins - about three times the size. After a display of leaping clear out of the sea Tina recognized them as pilot whales.
Whales cruising past Lynne and Don at Bait Reef
Then we got in the water and it got really interesting. Visibility of 30 to 40 metres. At the edge of Bait Reef are what are called the stepping stones - a series of columns of coral rising about 30 metres and 20 to 30 metres across. You feel like you're flying around these mountainous formations of coral, escorted by an extravagance of fish. One could list all the types and go on about the size of the coral trout and various emperors but let's just say the fish action is tremendous. Can't decide whether it's more fun swimming along in a cloud of school fish that adopt you for a while or seeing fine specimens of specially handsome ones cruising along. Not a decision that needs to be made.
We can report that from what we've seen of the Great Barrier Reef it is in fine shape. No bleaching. There is a fair bit of smashed up coral from cyclones, but over all the bones of broken areas there is lots of new growth. There are a few crown of thorns starfish but no more than there probably ought to be. Fish galore, certainly in the no fish zones. Maybe stories about the reef ailing are concocted by catastrophe merchants for political purposes. There's no funding for research that concludes that everything is fine.
At the reef there is nothing to see above the surface besides two or three lumps of coral at low tide. And moorings and other boats. Parking out in the middle of the ocean is fine in light winds but the next morning they picked up a bit and the chop started to build so we sailed back to the islands. Thought we'd try getting into Hill Inlet. We'd had a look the previous week in our dinghy while anchored around the corner in Tongue Bay. We'd marked GPS points for a track in over the sand bars where there was enough depth at high tide. It's best to go in there just before a high tide in the middle of the day so you can see clearly. We were going in on a late afternoon tide but thought that with our track to follow it would be ok. Well somehow there wasn't as much water as there was supposed to be in a couple of spots and we just scraped through.
Hill Inlet at about half tide
Then anchoring in a drying area isn't straightforward because you either sit in a spot that will dry out leaving you sitting on the sand, in which case you have to make sure it's flat enough, or in a deeper hole you have to make sure you'll stay in the right spot. So we got in a position in a deeper hole with a second anchor out from the stern. The light was fading. It seemed ok as long as that stern anchor held against a fair tidal flow and kept us off the rocks on the edge of the hole. The wind was forecast to increase. Sand flies began to arrive. We realized that the next high tide was a bit lower than the one we were on and we'd be stuck for at least 24 hours with a variety of possible discomforts. We felt a bit spooked and suddenly the plan changed and anchors were raised and we fled out of there. Motored around into Tongue Bay in the dark, hoping that the vomit boat wouldn't be there as that is one of their regular anchorages. Even if the vomit boat had turned up we felt more inclined to tolerate a ragers' party than to be guests of honour at a sand fly party. So to anchor in a drying estuary you do indeed want to go in on a high tide in the middle of the day so you've got a few hours to muck around getting anchors and everything positioned just nice. A sailor sleeps better with several metres of water underneath and a good 50 or 100 metres of swinging room all around.
"Whitsunday Magic", tourist boat, ran out of magic and sat down in a sulk on the floor of Shute Harbour.
Then we cruised at leisure, visiting a few places we hadn't seen, like South Molle and Daydream Islands. There was a great walk on South Molle, up a hill called Spion Kop, which gave splendid views around the place.
The walking tracks on South Molle are maintained by our mates from National Parks, and a great job they do of it. I grizzle about their signs sometimes because you often get to a spot with a nice view or an interesting plant or rock or something and there might be a sign there so you look at it thinking you might learn something and often you do but there will usually be something about the way it's done that grates. Information (if you're lucky) is usually couched in drivel. Sometimes it's just drivel unmitigated by any information at all. Check this one;
Now this might be all right for an adolescent trying to get in touch with their inner green romantic essence, but this has been conceived, workshopped, created, lugged half way up the walk up to Spion Kop and installed, to Oc. Health and Safety standards, by the no doubt considerable expenditure of public money. And it's not information. It's not art. It's drivel.
There we are with a squealy boat approaching. Squealy boats are full of day trippers and they hoon around sideways to make everyone squeal.
Another busy day at Whitehaven Beach. There are 2 seaplanes and 2 helicopters further up on the left hand side.
Tina all set for a frolic in the Xanthorrhoeas
We made a last loop of the Whitsundays about the first week in October with Tina's brother James and family - Andrea and teenagers Lachlan and Grace. We were very brave. I'd been a bit anxious about how it would be having six bodies aboard but it was fine. The weather was lovely and we got out to Bait Reef again and swam lots and had fun with fishes. And had some nice spinnaker sailing. And James and Andrea paddled about in the kayak. And Midnight Blue proved herself quite capable of providing adequately for happy domestic functioning with this largest group aboard during our tenure. The weather patterns had changed and the prevailing south east winds had begun to be interrupted by northerlies, a few days at a time, and this meant that some different anchorages were accessible. We visited some new bays and walked on some new beaches.
Blue Fusiliers Nemos
Half a Six Band Angel Fish Whole Temperamental Turtle. These blokes might let you swim along with them and even touch them. Or not. And might suddenly get spooked and belt off at a surprising rate of speed, all offended. They don't smile much at any time.
On arriving at Bait Reef we were greeted by the trio of Giant Trevally, same as last time, as well as a Humphead Maori Wrasse about 1.2m long. Grace called him Murray and fed him bread and apple cores and he was quite amenable to being stroked - all silky velvety.
Grace testing whether her mate Murray could distinguish between a piece of bread and her leg.
Yes, yes, you mustn't feed the wildlife because it changes their behaviour and they get all spoiled and raised cholesterol and that but when a big face like this comes all cute and gentle what is a kid going to do?
Parts of a Tina fish
We finished James and family's loop at Hamilton Island and there are issues there with people feeding birds. Outside the fish and chip shop is a row of tables and benches along a balustrade above the marina shore, signs all along the rail about keeping the wildlife wild and why it's bad to feed the birds because it makes them bad. And of course a whole society of bad birds was being fed chips. The sulphur crested cockatoos sitting right on the rail are favoured because they are white and smart and cute and people ( up until the time the cute cockies get right on their table and nick more than chips) throw their chips to them in preference to the currawongs and crows which are black and less cute even if they are in fact also quite smart. They certainly get cranky about the favouritism and raise hell. That's nothing to the fuss the seagulls make about preferential throwing of chips to the black ducks down on the water. Crazy mixed up ducks seem to be able to survive on seawater if they get enough chips. Maybe a high cholesterol diet needs high salt to keep the juices flowing until the inevitable coronary catastrophe.
Dinghy, having suffered motor breakdown, being returned to the mother ship by manual labour.
We'd lasted a couple of weeks since getting all systems working but as we came into Hamilton Island we were looking for an outboard motor mechanic. Bloke called Brett came pronto and confirmed James' diagnosis of blocked carburettor jets. Cleaning them in the case of this particular motor is a workshop job. So I rowed it over to boat ramp. And in to workshop it went. Dum de dum. So ok, what about a bigger and better fuel filter to reduce the likelihood of future blockage? No problem - just take another day to get the filter over. Okay, what about replacing the control cables which are so stiff they seem about to break? No problem - just be another day after that to get the cables up from Brisbane. Sounds horribly like another week of aggravation and waiting for stuff but we really need to have some confidence in the reliability of that dinghy to be able to go fishing around in the next bay or to go into town shopping while anchored out in the bay, instead of going into the marina, so go ahead please, Brett.
In the end it only took about three days but not without aggravation as the morning the new cables arrived on the ferry they disappeared for about three hours. Bloke from Sunsail took them, mistakenly, with his own stuff from the ferry delivery, down to the Sunsail camp. Upon realizing that he had taken someone else's package did he take it back? Did he ring Brett who's number was printed in huge figures across the package? Nope. Left it on the wharf and went out sailing. Young fellow from Fantasea, the ferry people, worked it out eventually after a certain amount of pressure had been loaded onto the question of where the jolly thing had got to. We hate Sunsail.
One old Jewish bloke says to another, on learning that he has no children, "so what do you do for aggravation?" First bloke says he's bought a boat.
So then we commenced to travel south, there being northerlies to travel on and there being a hint in the air of the approach of cyclone and stinger season.
Three months in the Whitsundays was a pretty good look. Beautiful though it is, it was a relief in some ways to leave. The social element of cruising dries up pretty much in the Whitsundays because there are just so many boats everywhere, and half of them bareboats which of course cruisers don't normally associate with. Having got down to Brampton Island, out of bareboat range, suddenly cruisers start visiting each other and socializing again. And logging on with the Volunteer Marine Radio operators when they travel, whereas that service only exists in the Whitsundays on weekends, and to a limited extent, because there are just too many boat movements for anybody to be bothered trying to keep track of.
We are now in Mackay sheltering from a storm, same as we did on the way up. It's been blowing 35 knots from the southeast, where we want to go, for 4 days and looks like continuing for another week. The golden rule of cruising is don't sail into the wind. Wait. We are very glad to be in here rather than hiding behind some island. In here there are other cruisers to carouse with and we can beetle off into the hinterland in a little hired beetle car in search of forest vistas and cake parlours.
Sugar cane and beef seem to be the main agricultural endeavours around Mackay. This was a good time for a bit of sightseeing because the sugar cane is newly planted and only half a metre high so you can see the landscape better than when driving between three metre high walls of the stuff. Forest vistas; tick the box. Cake parlours; we remain unfulfilled. One lunch in a country pub was fairly nasty and another of a sandwich in a caravan park kiosk was all right. The caravan park was at Cape Hillsborough National Park which was very scenic and the beach there was busy with a convention or regatta or gymkhana or whatever they call it of Blokarts. A blo(w)kart is a three wheeled seat with a sail.
I had heard of of these contraptions but didn't know there was a society or brotherhood of blokart nuts. They scoot up and down the beach at fearsome rates of speed. And we happened across their annual race meet at Cape Hillsborough. Lucky.
Around the corner at Seaforth we had an icecream down on the foreshore by the town swimming enclosure. It's not all paradise all the time in the tropics. This is the only place one can swim, when the tide is up, in the stinger season. Kind of bleak.
Bad bird, wants icecream.
After a bit over a week the winds had moderated enough for us to venture out and although they were still coming from where we wanted to go we were able to motor sail reasonably comfortably out to Curlew and then Middle Percy Islands.
Our course went through a ship park where about 30 of these coal carriers were anchored in an area of ten miles by ten miles, waiting to load coal at Hay Point, near Mackay, to assist in the raising of the standard of living of the population of China, which is the only way that their population growth will be stabilized, which is the only way that their environmental problems can be solved. Hooray for coal fired power stations, the solution to the world's environmental problems. On our way north through this area 3 months ago there were anxieties about the malevolence of these big ships and the likelihood of being squashed by one. Like a march fly. So now we are armed with an AIS receiver which interprets radio signals from ships and shows us their path and speed if they are moving. One did swing toward us and attempt to squash us but our AIS betrayed his evil plan and we dodged him. Nimbly. The thing provides a degree of reassurance, especially for sailing at night or in poor visibility.
At West Bay on Middle Percy we made a pilgrimage to the sacred shrine ( to cruising yachties ) of what is known as the Percy Hilton.
West Bay is a very fine bay with a wide white beach and a largeish A-frame structure built by a previous lessee of the homestead on the island and re-roofed by the current lessees. The structure houses some seven thousand signs created and attached and hung by visiting yachties recording their boat and crew names, dates and sometimes a bit of art or philosophy. At the rear is an honesty box for purchase of island produce - honey, vegetables, goat meat (by order) - as well as a fire pit and tables and benches where social intercourse with food, drink, song and so forth often occurs, depending on the numbers and humour of visiting cruisers.
We were there on a busy day. A catamaran had smashed a rudder on rocks and there was a flurry of variously skilled boat fixing expertise pushing and shoving for a chance to help get the smashed rudder unjammed so the smasher could get mobile. More importantly for the Percy Hilton this was the day that Karin and Darcy Redman installed a solar panel, battery, timer switch and light to illuminate the zone of conviviality where all the social intercourse happens. They had observed that since the passing of the day of spirit lanterns which yachties used to bring ashore of an evening, and the supercession of lanterns by torches, there had been some loss of conviviality. So they had resolved to make a project of donating and installing the light system during this year's cruise. Word went about during the day that Ernst, resident of the island, was preparing his trademark goat stew that evening in celebration of the new installation, all welcome. Stew, installation and celebration were all successful and the evening was very convivial indeed.
The Percy Hilton is an institution which has been the subject of serious academic study. A crew from Queensland University, Archeology I presume, set up camp a couple of years ago to count and catalogue the signs. Took them two weeks and they came up with a count of around 7000. Most of them have lettering carved by some means into pieces of driftwood. I had a fine piece of driftwood I'd cut to a length from which I was going to make a bar to fix in our battery locker to restrain the batteries from falling through the ceiling should we tip upside down. Tipping upside down will have to wait a while because the bar has become a part of yachtie cultural heritage. The little green nazis of National Parks hate the Percy Hilton of course and would like to tear it down, pull out all the coconut palms and remove all traces. They can't bear the idea of yachties as decadent individualist representatives of the western imperialist military industrial society being accorded any cultural significance. It's no joke. They have made serious moves towards cleansing the place but have for the moment been held at bay. The price of freedom from having the lights turned out and being forcibly returned to a pre industrial state of noble savage innocence is eternal vigilance.
Our mark in yachtie history. Lettering burnt and scratched.
Nearly all the cruisers move on each day, the migration south being in full flow, but we stayed three days at West Bay because the beach is so pretty and we were keen to see more of Darcy and Karin to try to absorb a bit of the wealth of knowledge they have about this coast and all sorts of boaty stuff, while also making banter with stories about green nazis and rampant idiot bureaucracies. The society of cruising boaties is an interesting place to be. On our third evening at Percy there were 18 boats at anchor. It's quite a migration.
Port Clinton 31 October
We've made some miles south, through the Duke islands which look a bit more like home, grazed by cattle and deer, and Hexham Island.
I have been accused of smelling like a fish. The truth is that there may be grounds. Fishing is a complicated and energetic process. First there is the issue of bait. Actually first there is the issue of getting to a place where there are more fish than people. That's why boats were invented. Then it seems that fish are less interested in frozen shop bought bait than in fresh live bait. Can't blame them. So catching fresh bait is an adventure all in itself. A cast net is one way, but it's not as easy as it looks. The deft flick sending a perfect circle over a school of little fish is the vision. The reality is hours of staggering about in sticky mud up to the calves, and all over everything, and a net assuming a wobbly oblong shape, on a good cast, and coming down over one or two little toady fish which not even the seagulls will deign to notice if you leave them on the sand. Mud.
Nevertheless, with perseverance a small squad of little flippy fish can be conscripted and hauled off to fulfill their role in our service, to give their all in our quest for conquest and dinner. Passing by the mother ship to collect buckets, bins, tackle and Officer in Charge of Tackle, with hats, drinks, apples, insect spray and whatnot, we head off to find an auspicious spot to fish. If the correct location is selected and the tide is right and the wind is right and the clouds are the right shape, then fish can indeed be caught. We caught a cod fish and a small shark. The landing of the shark occasioned a bit of shrieking and hurried re-situating of toes to the outside of the dinghy while the beast was subdued. That whole process took care of half a day, but the satisfaction of returning home triumphant, in possession of dinner, explains why fishing is such a popular pastime. Supplying equipment to recreational fishers is such big business because fishing is the only form of hunting and gathering which is still possible for large numbers of the population.
Then there were the darts. We tried casting from the beach with yabbies as bait in the estuary at Yellow Patch where we had caught some whiting on our previous visit on the way north. Remember yabbies? Little wiggly things you extract from the mud with a yabby pump. Which is another adventure all in itself. No whiting but a few darts, small trevally type of fish.
Then there were the crabs. The technique has improved, with the freezer no longer required. Murder, decapitation, steaming and refrigeration, in that order, has become the preferred method for tabling crabs, and if that involves a bit of crab juice down a bloke's shirt, or on the ceiling or whatever, and the other processes of dealing with the other fish likewise involve a bit of squirt here and there, well where's the harm?
Down past Gladstone to Pancake Creek and we have been hearing on the radio about strife that various sailors have gotten into. While at Percy the catamaran busted his rudder and a couple of days later another cat which had been there sank on his way south. Lone sailor rescued. After we passed Island Head Creek we heard of another motor boat sinking in that vicinity. Several rescues and tow ins for vessels with busted rigging, split fuel tanks, motor breakdowns and so forth. Another yacht smashed and sunk on the rocks here at Pancake Creek a week before we got here. So it goes. And there, but for the grace of the Gods, or whatever, go we. The grace of the Gods, or whatever, did leave us long enough for our crab nets to disappear. Never mind smashing and sinking; the loss of our crab nets is the greatest and most calamitous disaster ever to befall any sailors ever in the history of human sailing. They weren't there where I left them. I left them in a channel out back of Yellow Patch and the tide just took them away. Locals said, what did I expect if I didn't tie them onto a tree. Dopey southerner. I didn't think they would just get rolled away, but they do. You have to tie them onto a tree. OK. They were really good ones, made by a bloke in Yeppoon, caught crabs very well, fitted in the locker just nice, would have lasted forever, can't be replaced except by going back to Yeppoon, or by getting some crappy Chinese made ones. We'll just have to muddle on, broken hearted, and try to find some half decent crab nets to go on with.
On to a little seaside village called Seventeen Seventy, so named because it was in that year the site of James Cook's first landfall on Queensland, which is delightful. We anchored just off a caravan park / camp ground where some seaside recreating is going on. Bustle of beach picnics and kids running around and dinghy and paddle boating. A common incentive for people to take off in sailing boats is the desire to escape from other people, motor car traffic, the rat race, regulated life, etc. Many cruising boats have names like "Escape", "Antidote", "Freedom", "Spirit of Freedom", "Free Spirit". Sail off into the sunset and get away from it all and be free. After a surprisingly short time at wild and remote places we find that our urge to abscond is satisfied to the extent that small doses of humanity and small scale settlements are actually quite appealing. Provided that they are quaint and picturesque and quiet. And don't remind us too bluntly of the industrialised world with all its stress and complexity which provided us with the means to effect our temporary and token, but nevertheless therapeutic, escape.
The coast between Mackay and Rosslyn Bay is comparatively wild and remote, with big 5 and 6 metre tides over huge shoaly estuarine areas. A broken down dinghy or unsecured crab net is going to get lost very quickly and be inclined to stay that way. You have to go with tidal flows when you move or you'll be inclined to go backwards. You have to anchor carefully. Communications are inclined to be doubtful. It can be a bit buggy. Little aggravations provided by the elements to balance the absence of people and the aggravations that they produce. The Law of Standard Aggravations holds that the daily dose of aggravation shall be manifest from either one source or another. I'm sure that after our next visit to a city we'll be eager to get back to the remotest wilds we can find. Within the limit of a few days' travel, that is. We're not so averse to humanity that we want to get right off the bus. I've just been reading about Antarctic exploration. That's far too difficult.
Seventeeen Seventy. Not too wild, not too urban, just right for family beaching.
Seventeen Seventy 12 November
A Spanish Mackerel was incautious and undiscriminating and didn't think twice about making a snack of Russell's lure. And he has forfeit his fine, firm, sweet, white flesh. Not without a battle. Blood and gore everywhere from breakfast time to kingdom come. All over the back steps, up the sides, splashing the barby, the danbuoy, the main sail sheet and in the bathroom window. Scrub wash scrub scrub wash. Now the kitchen smells like a Spanish Mackerel that's been fried, poached, fricasseed and curried. Our first pelagic predatory fish! That makes our average rate of catch one every 1800 miles. We may be able to improve on that. This is really living.
Whale skull at Platypus Bay, Fraser Island. About 5 metres long. About 20 metres away from the rest of his carcass. Considered souveniring a vertebrae, but only briefly. Rest in peace, whale.
For something different, we motored 20 miles up the Mary River to visit Maryborough, chugging up between the trees and mud flats and cane farms, with a couple of free knots from the tide, enjoying birdsongs and landy earthy smells. The Mary River Marina has a single pontoon at the riverside with room for about 10 boats as well as swing moorings in the river. We tried a swing mooring and fortunately there was a bit of a whirling wind making the boats dance about in circles, pulling their mooring lines in different directions which made it evident that the moorings were too close together, for us and a couple of adjacent boats anyway. Fortunately because if it had been calm everybody would have hung nicely with the tide and the possibility of bumping would have been less evident until the winds and tides worked their mischief at some other time. Don't want any bumping, so we prevailed upon the management to shuffle the boats on the pontoon along a bit to make room for us there. Which they were happy to do and it was very pleasant for a few days.
Mary River Marina fulfils our current requirements of quaint, picturesque and quiet and allows access to an interesting town. Maryborough was established as a port to ship the wool clip from the hinterland down to Brisbane. Its development was boosted by being the port of access for the Gympie gold rush in the 1860's and 70's. It developed a shipbuilding facility and built numerous navy vessels for the RAN. It was also a major port for importing human cargo, with a lot of immigration arrivals. Many of the buildings associated with these activities - government customs house and bond store, immigration hostels, hotels, halls, post office, court house, etc. have been well preserved or restored by a community that cares about its history and character. The town is still productive, building trains and growing sugar. Seems healthy. The punks are tattooed and gilded and into hot rods more so than tattooed and pierced and into nihilism. Value judgement preferring petrol heads to nihilists? Absolutely. The town parks are full of grand old trees and it all feels friendly and good.
The great grey green greasy Mary River.
After three days the Law of Three Days Itchy Pants begins to operate, whereby after three days in a place we get itchy pants and wish to move on. This tendency is advancing as the season changes - it's becoming pretty warm and getting further south seems desirable. The flow of cruisers seems to be thinning out, as though most of them have gone through. So we'll spend a few more days sliding down the Great Sandy Straits inside Fraser Island and get in position to contemplate the crossing of the Wide Bay Bar.
I was reading some climate business, about the habit of the IPCC directorate of rewriting their summaries, and excising or doctoring a lot of the science, to ensure that the scientific reports appear to support their political line, and stuff like that, and I was moved to write a short piece on the subject, mainly to sort out my own argument about it. I thought I'd put that up on a separate page so that anybody interested could have a look but others following the silly travelogue wouldn't have to endure my polemic on the matter. So I'll do that, but have to just mention that an interesting thing turned up a couple of days ago in a leaked IPCC preliminary report on extreme climate risk management. It contains a statement to the effect that there will be no detectable influence of mankind's influence on the Earth's weather systems for the foreseeable future. This is extraordinary as it completely demolishes the whole IPCC panjandrum. It will be interesting to see whether the media notice this and ask the climate change catastrophe industry any tricky questions for a change, and extremely interesting to see whether this passage is quietly removed from the IPCC report when it is officially released.
For Ian's masterful polemic on why the IPCC is a shonk, with reading list and related observations, see; The IPCC is a shonk
Elbow Point, Fraser Island 21 November
The Wide Bay Bar ducks lined up in a row early one morning and we crossed it without incident and headed to sea. The swell was under 1.5 m as it should be for that adventure and it was only slightly lumpy over the bar at high tide, but we heard on the radio somebody went over a couple of hours later and the waves were standing up 3 metres. We like our ducks in a row. The forecast had been accurate for a change and we had a nice 15 to 20 knot northerly right behind us, so we ran with our spinnaker down to Mooloolaba. Well, nearly all the way; when the wind got up over 20 knots we put the spinnaker away for fear of wrecking it as we've had to patch it up a bit, and ran the last few miles just on genoa. Downwind sailing is so nice.
Mooloolaba is not quaint or quiet but it's picturesque in its busy way. We stayed a week, driving up into the hills a couple of times for forest walks and the big crafty stalls of many colours market at Eumundi.
One walk was in a reserve called the Mary Cairncross Park, near Maleny, which was fabulously full of forest and forest critters and which seemed to have a noticeable absence of the controlling hand of the Ministry of Truth and National Parks. It seemed to be run, very well, by some sort of private / local government structure. The most refreshing effect of this difference was that the signage through the park was simple, straightforward and informative. The green nazis haven't taken everything over just yet.
The misty Glasshouse Mountains looking south from Maleny.
The very same misty mountains a few days later, looking north from the bottom of Bribie Island.
The novelty of seeing a dim distant headland 20 or 30 miles along the coast and sailing past 2 or 3 of them in a day hasn't worn off. It's still quite exciting. Travelling through enough degrees of latitude in a few weeks for the weather to be appreciably different gives a pleasing illusion of having achieved something slightly significant, the more so because the weather's child, the wind, has been the means.
And so back to Manly and the end of this year's cruise. We'll spend a week in the marina cleaning up and making a few small repairs and then leave Midnight Blue ( sigh ) and go home to Adelaide. For about a month. I'll come back in January and make for Sydney with a blokey crew and hope to persuade Tina to join me down there.
So this ragged ramble will now pause a while, and may resume sometime in January.
RQYS, Manly, Qld. 5 December
Next chapter at Summer 2012