Midnight Blue was sitting on blocks in the yard of Monty's Marina, on the Caboolture River, just north of Brisbane, when we took possession of her. The launch got a bit problematic when only one motor would start. So do we proceed with the launch, anchor in the river and sort the problem out there or haul back out and sit in the yard for another tide or three? We assumed the problem would be minor, chose the former option and launched. Our introduction to manouvering the boat was with one motor in a narrow river. No damage other than elevated anxiety levels and once anchored we investigated the failure of the starter motor to do its job. With no tools.

Do not take control of a boat without tools. Managed to remove one of the bolts holding the starter motor but couldn't get the other. By deploying telephone, dinghy and promises of remuneration we got a mechanic on board who with the combined advantages of tools, youth and small stature was able to get his head low enough down the side of the motor to see that all he had to do was remove the high tension lead and then he'd be able to get the other bolt out. It just needed a clean up but by now we'd missed the tide and were stuck in the river for the night.

Do not take control of a boat without food, bedding, toothbrushes, medications and whatever requirements you may have for normal daily comfort and solace. The plan to launch on the high tide, motor across the bay to the marina and celebrate was trounced. The situation was saved from grimness by our habitual overcatering for lunch having left a few morsels and especially by the welcome gift left by Colin and Bev, the previous owners, of a bottle of French fizz.

Our triumphant two-motored arrival at the marina in Scarborough Boat Harbour was no less cause for celebrating for being a day late and we enjoyed an excellent seafood meal at Morgan's.

Christina and I had come to a stage in life where we were able to decide that the best contribution we could make to solving the problems of humanity would be by going cruising on a luxury yacht. Our approach to this decision included some cruising over a few years in our previous boat "Lahara", a monohull  Arends 33, along the north coast of Kangaroo Island and some of the islands of Spencer Gulf in SA. It also included selling our building business and some property and dealing with health issues and associated surgeries. The cruising plan had been vague; more a maybe one day if everything works out sort of plan. Then we saw Midnight Blue and the plan suddenly firmed right up. Sometimes with a bit of luck a rare opportunity presents itself, and we were both instantly resolved to grab this one with all the hands we had.

Midnight Blue is a Chamberlin 44 catamaran built in 95 and extensively refitted in 2009 by Colin and Bev. She is a very fine vessel and speaks to us in the language of seduction, saying that she will take us wherever we'd like to go in comfort and style. We are enraptured; our ears are loving and trusting.

We spent a week at Scarborough taking up residence and loading aboard our ute-full of boat stuff that we'd brought from Willunga. Then we stored our caravan at the business premises of friend James and sailed away. Just a couple of hours down to Manly Harbour where we've rented a berth for the summer while we make a few renovations and get familiar with our new home. Our berth is a beauty, just one row back from the harbour entrance so we have an entertaining  view from our back porch of all the comings and goings of many boats of many sizes, shapes and colours.  And we can see out through the entrance to the ocean so it's altogether more scenic than any other marina we've seen.  Manly is a delightful locality with all the provisioning facilities and marine trades a yacht renovator could want, so we're pleased to be based here until we're ready to head north in two or three months.

Portion of Manly boat harbour. Ours is the one over the other side.

Part of the parade passing our back porch


The renovations aren't onerous. The basics are excellent; we're just tweaking things up to be a little more comfortable - knocked out some cupboards to make room for a king size mattress, fiddling around with some other cupboards, latches, handles, rails, etc. and installed a wireless receiver for internet and phone connection. The hot water setup seems a bit dodgy. As with any boat the list of maintenance and improvement tasks is permanently extending and updating, growing at a rate proportional to one's observational powers. That's what boats are for; to keep their owner / slaves busy so as to prolong their lives.

A brief venture out into the bay last week for a day sail got complicated to the point of thinking we'd have to call for help. A squall rendered our casual lunchtime anchoring procedure a failure and in trying to reset it after dragging a bit close to a hazard mark of some sort we caught a fishing net with the port propeller which promptly jammed. Controls for that motor inoperative.

Do not drive a boat over a fishing net. Rotten little colourless buoys that you could hardly see even if it wasn't a white out squall notwithstanding; just don't drive over it. Upon re-anchoring and imagining damage of various kinds to propeller, shaft and motor controls, anxiety levels were mounting, so I decided on a nice swim to free the propeller. Rotten old fishing line when wrapped tight acquires characteristics of immense strength and tenacity. I had to call for my best knife and it was a bit of a struggle in visibility of about half a meter because of the bay being full of murky floodwaters from all the rain Brisbane's been having. Anyway after many dives the prop was free and everything was fine. I was greatly impressed by the way the controls had thrown out and protected the motor / prop / shaft and Tina declared a chocolate moment. So that was a great day - catastrophe grappled with and overcome, lessons learnt about anchoring in mud and the need for vigilance in watching for rotten fishing net buoys.

This is a good way to check out the other thousand boats in this place.

The kitchen facility is deemed amply satisfactory.


The other day we hired some tuition in theory about handling a catamaran. Our previous sailing procedures were self taught by trial and error which served us well enough but our couple of sails on this vessel  revealed a lot more power and potential to lose fingers and otherwise know grief, so we thought an investment in instruction might be prudent. Very interesting it was; we were left with the desire to unlearn a number of techniques and try others.  So yesterday, being a lovely day with pleasant winds, we prepared to go out into the bay for a day of sailing practice.  Our old friend the port starter motor had a different plan, however, and a rather different day unfolded including my learning some tricky contortion techniques in order to extract the dear starter motor, taking it to Arthur ( my new best friend who has a tig welder and a solution to every little problem I take to him, accepting only beer as remuneration ) for a diagnostic and strategic planning session followed by a drive to the industrial / marine diesel shop part of town and thence a new number of dollars to get used to the idea of being  parted from. Yes, yes I know, sailing is like standing under a cold shower ripping up etc. etc.   Arthur and his associates suggested that the condition of the starter motor indicated that it had been subjected to abusive conditions like salt water leaking onto it so it was no wonder. Sure enough a  closer look showed evidence of a leak from a water pump housing just above the starter motor so I can see some new and fascinating contortion techniques coming round the bend.

And so they did, but at the trivial cost of some huffing and puffing and a few bruises and scratches to my big fat belly it all went together and we have two motors again.  Came in handy yesterday when we went for a sail around Peel Island with Tina's sister Kate and her Geoff who are visiting for Christmas. Lovely day. Light winds and the forecast rain didn't happen and Midnight Blue gave us a taste of making effortless miles including to windward which was always fairly hard work on Lahara. One needs to pay attention to one's charts in this Moreton Bay - there are sand banks and narrow channels and rotten little fish net buoys all over, but of misadventures we had none for a change.

The citizens of Queensland are having a miserable time with flooding but we're just sitting on top of it. On top of the water is the safest place to be. Not only during floods and tsunamis but in case of major global cataclysm. After the KT meteor impact 65 million years ago which caused the demise of 70% of all species of life on the planet including the dinosaurs, 90% of land based species went extinct but only 10% of water based species. Safest place to be. All we've got to grizzle about just now are a couple of small hatch leaks when the rain is really heavy, which is frequently, and how the frequent heavy rain is inconveniencing our learn more about sailing program. Yesterday there was a break in the sodden skies and we sailed over to a bay on Moreton Island near some big sandhills. We wanted to remove from the vicinity of New Year's Eve carousing and revelling which was threatening to establish itself in the marina, and see in the new year at anchor. The 23 other boats in this bay with the same plan may have engaged in their own carousing and revelling but the gale absorbed any trace of it and after a little toast for form's sake we took to bed, to discover that catamarans can be a bit bouncy at anchor after all when the wind is not as offshore as predicted. Woke to more rain. Happy New Year.

We've shared a few drinks and chats with some Kiwi folks who are on a 50 foot cat they bought a week ago and are sailing for Kiwi land in another week. Minimal sailing experience but they are hiring a delivery skipper for the trip and planning to learn as they go. Then sail the world for a few years. Makes our ambitions look quite staid.

Phil turned up. Phil is an old friend of our friend Tony; they built boats together and then separately. Tony built a Farrier trimaran back when they were a new idea and then built it again recently when it came back to him around through a circuit of owners. Phil has built several boats and sailed the world in one of them, raising a family on the way. Now he's just trialling his newest and biggest boat which he's been building for the last 8 years; a 60 foot catamaran. Phil is also friend of Colin and Bev, the previous owners of Midnight Blue. That's  two degrees of separation, twice, to the same connection. Tony told him that we were here and when he saw us at that anchorage  at Moreton Island he came over to say g'day. How about that? Some people have to build boats and take to the sea. They don't really decide to; it's just in their juices. Like a sea sponge just wants to be a sea sponge. If you shred a sea sponge into pulverised mash and put the mash into a solution then as long as the solution isn't poisonous the cells of the sponge will rearrange themselves into living form again and resume the business of living a sea sponge life. The will to be vanquishes the forces of entropy. Not that we're in that category. We're just having a go because/while we can.

Phil's boat  "Southern Wind"

 During our New Years cruise in Moreton Bay we charged about practicing tacking, gybing, reefing, sailing as slowly as possible while still having control and other get to know your boat  stuff. A huge advance in technique came from taking our instructor's advice and trying a different method of furling the headsail. Ours is quite large, like a genoa, and gave us a struggle to pull it in. The new technique is to head downwind until the genoa collapses when blanketed by the main and then it can be pulled in quickly by hand, no winching, no struggle, no heavy sheet ropes flogging murderously and slapping the windscreen and making the crew shriek. My dear old dad (well he was a dear some of the time) used to say use your brains, not your muscles.  The main comes down like a rocket (actually exactly unlike a rocket) so I reckon with a bit of practice we can drop sails very quick. Next thing to practice is the life jacket overboard procedure.        

Flooding in Brisbane

We saw turtles and dugong but didn't eat any. Back to home improvements for a while and next cruise we'll start figuring out how to catch fish. When we got back the fender locker was half full of water. That's not right. The water is supposed to stay on the outside. Turns out there was a loose connection on the back of the deck wash tap and it was leaking into that hull, which is another example of a problem being a blessing because in the process of working that out and fixing it I learnt some more about the way this vessel is put together and why the bilge pump under the water maker had been going off periodically. I'm just lovin' it.


14 January.

Previous references to flooding were posted while it was causing mere inconvenience and misery. It has now got to causing death and destruction and homelessness, so there'll be no more flippancy on the topic. We're still sitting safely on top of it but some things have changed around here. The water looks like chocolate. Turgid and murky. The joint is now full of vessels escaped from the Brisbane river. Many didn't; holed and sunk, but quite a few got out when pontoons with big boats and all sorts of stuff attached started breaking away and smashing into things. Devastation and mayhem. A group of boats from the US, South Africa, France, Ireland and Oz who had cruised the Pacific together and were camping  in the middle of Brisbane are now our immediate neighbours. The Brisbane City Cats are the passenger ferries which ply the city reaches. Used to. Ten of them are in here now and their terminals are all wrecked so even when the flood goes down they won't be plying anywhere. Nor will anybody else for a while. The bay will be full of debris and all manner of hard, sharp and nasty hazards floating, half floating and sinking. The waterfront business premises flooded include some whose attention we were hoping for in our home improvements program, but that is going to have to sit quietly in a corner for a while. We'll just count our blessings.






  The first City Cat ever seen in Manly Harbour



Marina Officer in Charge of Organizing Flood Refugee Arrivals at full stride.                   Refugees parking right out our back porch.



Refugee with no motor being assisted in docking. Note fat bloke with fender in strategic position ready to protect neighbour's boat in case of nasty crash.


29 January

We are going to take a break from preparing to cruise and are preparing in addition to drive home to Willunga to take some stuff back. So we went to take some stuff over to our caravan on the other side of the bridge over the flooded river. And it wasn't there. Nicked. The yard was broken into over Christmas. Chain on the gate cut and dogs disappeared. Caravan gone. We went straight to the police station and went crook about it and they were polite and pretended to care while they took the details for a report for the insurance people but obviously the police have more critical matters to attend to. Seems there is quite an industry in nicking newish caravans and flogging them for accommodation in remote parts of the land.   Mongrels of stunted character. Rebarbative rubbish people. Should have their miserable and useless existences amended to start over as ants and learn something about the necessary social aspect of life.

So our lovely caravan is gone and we have to wait and see if the insurance people will cough up.  We'll take the ute home in a couple of weeks.



Our poor caravan, stolen away to a life of slavery and degradation

Renovations continue. I went up the mast this morning to change a globe and give the wind indicator a pep talk. First time for me for that task. Going up was a bit scary but once at the top there was quite an enjoyable perspective to be had. I was very appreciative of the winching efforts of our Seth Efrican neighbour Grig who did most of the actual elevating, although Tina had a go to see whether we could manage the process on our own if necessary.  Her findings were that a longer handled winch handle and a few less unnecessary kilos on the winchee would help, but that yes, we could manage it.  Now we have an excuse to cook up a dinner for Grig and his family.

I have actually lost a few kilos but the nifty little folding bicycle we bought thinks that what remains of me is still too much and has broken a spoke and buckled its wheel in protest.  We hope it will be mollified by a trip to the bike hospital who say they have a fat bloke proofing program involving a transplant with a stronger wheel.

We got a new water heater working and the cracked gooseneck repaired and some new cleats bolted on and the hatch handles freed up and some window leaks fixed (yet to be rain tested) and a beginning on the stern handrail project.  An electrician came after we grizzled at him of the shyness of our vessel about holding a charge overnight. He discovered that two of  the batteries are stuffed and suggested that the battery monitor is inadequate and the main house water pump whose behaviour has been erratic is likely to suffer further emotional fugues before suddenly dying, which is all great news. For the boat. Bad news for the bottom line, of course.  The result will be a much increased electrical capacity and more confidence generally, at the cost of further cost.  Suspicion arises that this boat is executing a cunning program of revealing a succession of issues requiring improvement and investment at a rate just short of what would freak us out completely. I'm clinging to the fond hope that the intent is benign and the aim of the program is to give us a trouble free run (I'd be happy with a catastrophe free run) when we cruise away.

Might as well just pull everything to bits to see how it works, those bits which haven't already been replaced, one end to the other and be done with it. Lucky we allowed the whole summer. The old salty type sailors say that people with modern complicated boats like this one with lots of systems and comforts and contraptions spend most of their time in ports getting all the systems and contraptions fixed up. We'll see. 


27 February

We drove home to Willunga to take our car back and park it under a nice roof. So the ragged punks of Brisbane don't have to bother with stealing it while we're off cruising.  It was a good time to make the drive. The country looked as lush green as it possibly could. La Nina might have caused a lot of flood mayhem and grief but she has sure charged up the soil moisture account for the Eastern half of the country. Not just green but bright, European green the whole way.  Fascinating that the climate catastrophists who had been telling us that there would be drought forever to punish us for using so much energy have switched, without even blushing, to telling us that there will of course be floods and mayhem to punish us for using so much energy. The main thing is that we must be punished. They have no shame, climate catastrophists, and no more idea of what is going on than the crusty derelict in a charmingly appointed roadhouse in Wilcannia who regaled us, after finishing his bacon and eggs, with a theory about the relationship between weather cycles and the metaphysical peculiarities of the outer planets. We had to change the subject to stolen caravans to get a bit of leverage on the conversation.

It was great to visit home and to catch up with friends.  I didn't tarry long because my mission to prepare this vessel for cruising is unfulfilled. Tina tarried a little bit but I'm luring her back with promises that we're nearly ready and will be able to sail out in another week (or so.)  I thought that while I was batching, until the luring worked, to allow myself a bit of solace, I'd leave the cupboard fairly bare and have a grand time working my way through Manly's restaurants. That lasted a couple days until the grandeur got too diluted by surly waiters bringing mediocre dishes too slowly, so now I'm back to rattling my own pots and pans which is much better. Jeez I hope the luring works, but.   It's pretty quiet around this end of the harbour. The Seth Efricans hev gorn beck into the river, the treacherous river.  So now we have our view back and I can resume piddling off the back of the boat with impunity. The Dutchman is back, too. I've forgotten his name, but a delightful, older, Dutch gentleman was here when we arrived, caretaking a Hood 54, the most beautiful sloop I've ever seen. Looking after it for his friend. His friend sails it here and there and he spends periods living on it wherever it might be but he says they never sail together because they value their friendship too highly to risk that.  And he goes back to Holland to look after his own boat. He left just before Christmas and now he's just returned with his wife to stay for a month. So when the luring has worked and Tina also returns, as is correct and proper, I'll contrive that we share a cup with them and talk about sailing, not sailing, and all that. 


3 March

Something has come up and the sailing program is in disarray.  Tina has trouble with hips. She had one replaced two and a half years ago and that's been ok although there are doubts about its longevity since a recall / hazard watch on that particular implant. All right. But the other one is crook now. She had scans etc recently while back home and her doctor said that it was officially buggered. That doctor was wet with water from the well of truth.  Tina had made an appointment with a surgeon here in Brisbane a while back when she thought to pencil in a replacement for later in the year if it went crook. So we went along yesterday, me in a clean(ish) white shirt so that the surgeon would see that he was dealing with a class of people with a certain heft and twang.  He saw that, ok, that worked a treat, because he said what about next Tuesday?   Tina's doctor at home had said that a hip in that condition would have an ordinary person on narcotics so all the signs are that the time is right.  By the time we got back to the boat she was nearly ready to sign up. Then a funny thing happened by way of a coincidence.  For a couple of months a motor cat fishing boat has been parked next to us, a refugee from the river flood. It hadn't ventured out of the harbour in all that time but on our return yesterday it wasn't there. Then it came back and I helped them with their lines which usually results in a bit of chat. Turns out the lady had a hip replacement a couple of years ago, done by the same surgeon we are negotiating with. She said it was all wonderful. So Tina had lots of chat that was highly relevant, and was encouraged.  Now while I prefer to hold to a philosophy whereby signs, meanings, portents and messages from higher realms are just wishful thinking and that shit just happens randomly, that was a fairly long shot, coincidence wise. Even allowing for the fact that folks with a boat parked in the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron are likely to have private health cover and to have had the service of the top hip man in the game.   Sometimes shit can just happen in ways that seem arranged to persuade the unwary observer that they aren't just random. We must be ever on guard and wary. We wouldn't want to get tricked in to stepping on to the slippery slope that leads to crystal healing, astrology and associated forms of mind rotting devilry. No way.  

The bashed and battered sailing program now looks like this. . . If all goes well then we'll go home in about 3 weeks and recuperate for another 6 weeks and then come back and sail off.  

So there won't be much in the way of sailing stories around this corner of blogland for a while.   Hospital stories maybe.


11 March

Tina has had what is called a total replacement of her right hip joint. She is beginning the very hard work of getting the use of it. Strengthening all the muscles involved is a constant and arduous process and will absorb most of our attention for the next couple of months. She woke up after surgery a lot brighter than she was after her last hip job. Different anesthetic and drug regime this time where she had a lot of local anesthetic infused during the operation which gave her a slightly gentler introduction to the world of another implant. That was the first day. Second day was a bit harder as all that had worn off and the hospital crew were working out a pain management scheme by what seemed a bit of a hit and miss process which meant that she had some sharpish times. I hope they sort that out soon.  Lots of talk before the operation about how important pain management is and the excellence of their care. Finely crafted mission statements about excellence and best practice. But the reality is that the operatee has to figure out what works and ask for it every time. Pain isn't managed for you; you have to be discerning about the effects of different drugs and assertive about the timely delivery of them or you'll be up the wall and then yes dear well we'll see if we can get you something for that. Following major surgery is not the easiest time to be discerning and assertive.  It appears that nurses are barely able to cope. So our Tina got stuck a few times in the second night unable to get up without help and effectively with no pain relief and waiting too long for help. A person in that predicament needs an ally. A foot soldier to cover the gaps. By the third day a drug regime had been worked out and written on the chart and brought at appointed times and things started to look up. After some battles.     I had a similar experience after heart surgery. The first two days were hell because I couldn't get enough attention or pain relief. What is known and available for pain relief is not applied in a systematic and effective way when it's most needed.   It's difficult to understand why because it doesn't take nurses any longer to bring you what works than to take observations of temperature, blood pressure, etc. every tiny little while because that's some legal requirement whereas pain relief seems to be optional. Wouldn't take long to work out what a person needs to get through those first few days without being tortured.

Anyway she's over the hump, we hope, and is now walking with crutches or a trolley frame thing, almost without help, and starting down the long road toward being mobile and strong again.



25 March

After five days in a hospital bed with increasing amounts of physio and exercises Tina was moved into the hospital rehabilitation ward, the house of pain, with a sorry lot of patients mostly with hip and knee replacements and mostly 20 years older. The physio and exercises got ramped up to about four hours a day;   hard work, especially for the few double knee replacement patients - they have a really tough time. Tina made good progress and tried to gee up the sorry lot to keep up with their exercises, getting them singing marching songs in her best schoolteacher style.  We couldn't bring her back to the boat and the place in  rehab was to be until she was ready to fly home. That happened after another five days, a few days earlier than expected so I abandoned boat renovations which I'd been continuing with in between visiting the house of pain  and home we flew, wheelchairs through the airports and the best of attention from everybody.

So now we're back in Willunga so that Tina can recuperate by the creek for a few weeks, while I fetch and carry and cook. She's going well, walking a bit further each day and progress is slow but promising. Tom the physio says she is doing the best he's seen after a hip replacement.

Now for a little boat story.   During the time when Tina was in the house of pain and when I wasn't there, I installed a new wind generator. I was secretly pleased that its predecessor became ill as I've always disliked that type - the ubiquitous and sexy looking but unreliable, short lived and ridiculously noisy Air Breeze. We bought an Ampair 300 from an interesting and civilized gentleman called Marty Still who has done a lot of sailing and is looking forward to doing more when he finishes building a Farrier 36 trimaran.  We drove down to his home out back of Murwillumbah in a hire car which was a nice distraction for Tina a couple of days before going into hospital.  He runs a business called Precision Wind Technology, web site   http://www.pwt.com.au/  which is the best source of information I've found  on the various generators available, including how and why an Air Breeze can be expected to generate more disappointment, tears and grief than electricity.  Installing the unit involved removing, rebuilding and reinstalling the mounting pole which occasioned breaking away a section of the epoxy skin of the second starboard stern step which will require a repair job when we get back to Manly. After that it will be READY, apart from installing a GPS antenna for a back up computer navigation system and replacing a couple of gas detectors which are crying wolf too often. Ready, that is, if the water makers work ok and nothing else goes crook.    Endlessly fascinating, fixing up boats.


Newly installed Ampair 300 waiting for a breeze to show its style



We have returned to the boat and sailed out of Manly, heading north.

Story resumes on a new page,           Cruising in Midnight Blue, winter 2011