Farewell to the Tropics

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Index of slides from this report.

Weevils. We've had weevils in the flour, weevils in the pasta, and most recently, weevils in the rice. "Just some extra protein" I say as we dish up the tuna curry, but Karin and Nicoline can't deal with it. "More chutney?"

There is a theory that one can prevent weevils by storing a dried hot pepper with flour, pasta, etc. but, having just found weevils happily nesting in the curry powder, I am not a believer.

Perhaps it is time to leave the tropics.

Macaroni with Egg and Bacon

  • a dozen eggs
  • 500gm macaroni
  • 500gm bacon
This is classic Dutch comfort food. I was appalled, until the first bite, a fan ever since. Combining, as it does, culinary vices from half a dozen cultures, there is not a dietician in the world that will have anything good to to say about this recipe. Listen to them, have another decaf soy latte and winge about how nothing ever happens to you or listen to me. People that eat, fat, salt, carbohydrates and unusually large numbers of eggs lead exciting lives. BANG!

As a cruising recipe this is ideal because eggs can keep for weeks, bacon virtually forever (nitrites, remember?), and macaroni will last until the weevils get tired of eating curry powder.

Prepare the macaroni: salt, boiling water, al dente, etc. etc. Cook it a little less than usual because it will be fried afterwards.

Slice the bacon into strips and fry until almost crispy. Add the drained macaroni to the bacon, mix and then fry, turning infrequently so that macaroni and bacon crisp together into delicious fritters of fat carbohydrate, animal protein, and any weevils unfortunate enough to have wandered in to the mix.

After sufficient frying, add the beaten eggs and stir until done. Pick off any superficial weevils and serve the remaining food with a nice glass of red wine. Or, serve the wine first and don't bother with the weevil picking.

With the end of the northerly weather only 24 hours away, we decided that it would be best to skip Great Keppel and sail overnight to Bundaberg. From there, we could take our time in the Great Sandy Straights while waiting for the next weather system.

While the sea-breeze had been blowing quite strongly the previous afternoon, the morning was calm and we motored nearly all the way to Cape Capricorn before finding enough breeze to sail in. From Cape Capricorn (just north of the Tropic of Capricorn) we sailed straight for Bustard Head, passing dozens of anchored ore carriers waiting on cargo from Gladstone. Very hard to pick out the black-ball flags (carried during the day when a ship is at anchor) so we kept nervously checking them for signs of movement.

Just as on the trip up the coast, we were threading our way between Middle and Outer rocks off Bustard head while the sun was setting. But this time we were making a leisurely pace southward under sail instead of motoring north into a 20-knot breeze. Sometimes we get envious of motor cruisers. Just point the boat where you want to go. It seems so luxurious. Just when we've got ourselves convinced that we've made a terrible mistake with this whole sailing business, we raise the sails, cut the motors, and it is just so nice.

We arrived in Bundaberg Port the next morning after an easy night. In fact, the wind had dropped off to almost nothing on Karin's watch so I woke to the slatting of the main as the cross swell rocked us back and forth. After coffee, the noise and lack of progress became unbearable so we motored the remaining 15 miles into Bundaberg where we ate a big brekkie at "The Baltimore" (great crab cakes) and spent the rest of the day in a digestive stupor.

Noosa Again

What? Well, the 3 weeks of northerly winds that we had enjoyed came to an abrupt end the next day. A southerly change moved up the coast as a high pressure system moved off the coast of New South Wales, and that night as we listened to the wind howling in the rigging we decided to rent a car and drive down to Noosa to visit Geoff and Dianna Mercer for a few days. We also caught up with Dwight and Megan who we had met in the Whitsundays on the way up the coast.

One morning, while window shopping for Noosa real estate, we met a realtor who turned out to be a Dutch immigrant from Oldenzaal of all places - very close to Karin's family. It is so nice to hear the eastern accent instead of the usual western one that passes for the public persona of "Dutch." It was only by the narrowest of margins that we escaped without buying anything.

Three days in Noosa was sufficient for the Sou'easter to blow itself out. We spent three hours driving the distance that we were going to spend the next five days sailing. Back in Bundaberg, we stocked up for a few days, turned in the rental car, filled the diesel tanks and set off for Urangan 45 miles away at the southern end of Hervey Bay. We were a day ahead of the northerly winds, so it was upwind all day. After a frustrating morning of playing wind shifts exactly wrong, we finally started making progress southward. When sailing a boat upwind, the ideal thing is always to sail the longest tack first, and to tack whenever the wind changes in favor of the opposite tack. So say you want to get south (180°) and the wind is from the south so the best you can do is 135°. If you get a wind shift and suddenly find yourself sailing 125°, the thing to do is switch to the other tack which will be 10° better because the current tack has gotten 10° worse. Simple. Now, factor in considerations like an expected afternoon wind shift due to the sea breeze, the possibility of smoother water in the lee of land at the end of an otherwise unpromising tack, and the sailor's near infinite capacity for self delusion (or just modulo-360 arithmetic error) and it is far from simple. Am I being defensive here? I think not.

Anyway, the further south we got, the better conditions became but it didn't save us from a night time entry into Urangan. It was well lighted so no dramas. Except that it was a moonless night and right at the mouth of the harbour (quite narrow) I noticed the entrance lights moving sideways at a truly alarming rate. Current??! A big burst of throttle shot us safely into the harbour where we managed to find our assigned berth without crashing into anyone.

The next morning, the marina office confirmed that the currents outside the harbour could be quite strong. We explored the harbour a bit, but didn't find much to hold our interest so we decided to move right on to the Kingfisher resort on Frasier Island which we had missed on the way up.

The Sandy Straights

We motored 15 miles or so over to Kingfisher in calm conditions punctuated with the occasional rain shower. The resort is indeed spectacular and they even have a special area for "day guests," as we are called. We enjoyed the swimming pool to such a degree that I felt obligated to purchase a glass of really vile red wine.

The day after, we motored 30 miles through the Sandy Straights to Pelican Bay were we anchored for the night. After several attempts we finally got the dingy to within 300 metres of shore and slogged through ankle-deep crab infested mud to visit Inskip point where the barges take 4wd traffic across Tin Can Bay to Frasier Island.

The following day we had to wait until 9am before the tide was high enough to cross Wide Bay Bar. Fortunately we had a nice northerly breeze that let us fly the kite all the way down the coast to Mooloolaba. The only berth to be had was at Lawrie's Marina which was at the end of a mile or so of twisty urban canals. Lawrie's has a nice funky ambiance and it is very close to shopping.

I'd ordered a larger anchor in Cairns and lo and behold there it was in the back of the local Whitworth's, 25kg of highly refined obstinacy. Anchors are not designed to be moved and this one was no exception. Getting it from the back room to the counter decided me against the burly sailor man swaggering home to the boat with a new anchor slung over one shoulder approach. I was just asking the clerk to phone the two of us a cab, when a nice lady wearing "the uniform" offered me a ride. "The uniform" in this case, flip-flops, shorts with epoxy and anti-foul stains and a ratty tee-shirt. My anchor fit nicely in the boot of her car and seemed quite at home with the nautical detritis already therein. She and here family were just getting back from an extended cruise and they were sprucing up their boat (also a cat) for sale.

With the new anchor installed, we made a whirlwind tour of Mooloolaba. Took the kids to the skate park, went swimming at the beach and ate at one of the Turkish stands that we remembered from the last time.

Next morning we shoved off for Moreton Bay. No wind at all so it was an easy three-hour motor in to Tangalooma on the eastern side of Moreton Bay. We spent our second night under sail here and were absolutely miserable but the kids loved playing in the sand blow (dune) so we decided to stop for lunch before heading across the bay to Manly. It was hot and getting hotter so a swim was just the ticket. We had a nice spinaker run across the bay, marred only by some confusion about the three more-or-less identical islands behind one of which lurks the entrance to the Manly boat harbour.

We arrived at the East Coast Marina in Manly to find that we had the choice between the third farthest berth from the facilities (with no power), the second farthest berth (with broken cleats) or the very farthest berth (with cleats and power). On the positive side, we did manage to find the correct marina this time. The harbour has 5 or 6 different marinas so this is a non-trivial accomplishment.

Using one of the large scale charts and a pair of dividers, the kids were able to establish that it was some 500 metres from our boat to the bathrooms ashore. This distance produces a morning ritual known as the East Coast Trot (or Gallop if the protagonist has lingered too long over coffee).

Shore Leave in Brisbane

Ballad of the Urban Ibis

[An odd character with a suspicious wobble in his walk. He speaks in a gravelly voice like Jack Nicholson on a bad morning.]

Hey, hey, buddy. I'm a little down on my luck here. Could you spare us a buck? I need to get my pinion feathers cleaned. Y'know, I used to be a migratory bird, used to migrate, ... oh yeah. Migrated all over the place ... Maroochydore, ... went to Hollywood. Y'ever been to Hollywood? I met this crane there and she had legs that went all the way up to there. White feathers. The real deal.

So how about a little help? I'm gonna check myself in to the Audobon ranch. Really. Get my act together. I'm ashamed, I really am. Say, are you gonna hang on to that ice cream wrapper? ...

One of the nice features of Manly is the train connection to Brisbane. For A$14 the whole family can make a round trip on an air conditioned train. Air conditioning was important because we had managed to sail from the tropics into a record breaking heat wave in south Queensland. Inland, it was hot as 40°; on the water we saw mid-thirties every day.

Queensland is booming. But unlike California which seemed to get nothing but a bunch of gated "enclaves" out of the boom, Queensland is tackling civic infrastructure projects at a mind boggling pace. Everywhere we go, parks and shorelines are being spruced up. With the beautiful new South Bank area along the river, Brisbane is no exception. After taking care of our visa business, and checking out a bookstore, we walked across the river to the South Bank and went for a swim before catching the train back home.

While at Manly we arranged to haul Endless Summer in Coomera - "Where Dreams go to Die" - for daggerboard case repairs.

Maddened by the heat, we left Manly to visit the "Alcatraz of Australia," St. Helena Island in Moreton Bay. I suppose that if Alcatraz were much bigger, and flat, and had a herd of cows the moniker would be accurate. We could only inspect the ruins from a distance because the required guide was only available for scheduled guided tours. Emblematic of the yachtie conundrum: you spend all this effort so that you can get to places whenever you want only to discover that they're only set up for people who take the ferry over.

We did have a nice swim and the kids worked on their abandon-ship techniques.

After swimming and lunch, we headed downwind for Peel Island which had a nice anchorage for the brisk northerlies we were experiencing. We pulled in at 5 o'clock and had just gotten the anchor down when the wind shifted 180°. The chop built rapidly and one by one boats started to leave what was now a lee shore. With the wind still rising and darkness coming on, we decided to move across to Dunwich, the site of our first night at anchor. The anchorage at Dunwich was a little bouncy but we still slept better than that first night. Huge thunderstorms put on a spectacular after-dinner display.

What do you mean, ambm = (ab)m?

A normal suburban family doesn't really live together. They eat one or two meals together and sleep in the same house and occasionally fight or go on vacations. One of the harder bits of the cruising lifestyle is just being together. For it is one thing to teach someone math and quite another to live with them afterwards. For the past couple of months, Tristan and Nicoline have been working out of the Singapore Math textbooks. While I can't say enough good about the books, I now understand why this sort of curriculum is rarely used in schools. Challenging math work demands a lot of teacher time. It is hard to keep kids challenged and inspired at the same time. It is like sailing close to the wind: push the apparent wind angle past a certain point and the the boat speed drops - kids flop in dispair. But let the apparent wind angle increase a bit too much and you're going nowhere fast - kids roll their eyes with boredom. Tying a bit of yarn to their heads doesn't seem to help at all.

Anyway, Tristan blames me for rules of exponents. It is crystal clear in his mind that exponents, like napkins, are something useless that I have invented for the express purpose of torturing him. Moreover, the fact that it appears to be legal to wantonly combine separate formalisms such as exponents and, say, the addition of fractions, makes mathematics doubly irritating. Nothing may be learned with impunity as there is grave danger that today's subject will figure surreptitiously in tomorrow's lesson. And, I, papa, will have to say: "Now wait a minute here what about that minus sign that you 'got rid of' as you put it?"

Fortunately for me and the kids, Karin does the bulk of the teaching. I help with math and threaten to withold beer unless they do their homework. Immemorial tradition of the sea.

Burleigh Heads in a Storm

Rather than stay in Coomera and inhale everyone else's toxic bottom sanding dust, we moved into a vacation rental in Burleigh Heads and OD'd on TV: Extreme Makeover, American Idol, Simpsons and the Oscars. A couple of days of that and we barely had the strength of will to pry ourselves out of the couch.

And, we had a dishwasher, a machine that just washed the dishes when commanded instead of complaining bitterly about having to clean things that it didn't make dirty.

At least our good luck held true. We'd been on the hard stand no longer than a few days when a storm blew in off the Coral Sea. The media were all over it, making a cyclone out of a depression. We did get a fair bit of wind (gusts to 45 knots) and some rain but it wasn't really serious. None the less. we were glad to be sitting around the TV watching pictures of other people interacting negatively with atmospheric phenomena.

What the storm did bring is foam, thick off-white gelatinous foam heaped up in metre-high piles on the beach. The beach was "closed" but that didn't stop the local kids from playing in the foam under the bemused gaze of the life guards. The foam had odd sneaky wave dynamics which frequently surprised onlookers who thought themselves safely out of reach. It was like a white Christmas.

I did manage to scavenge a few surf sessions. The point break is so crowded that the beach north of it frequently yields better wave counts. Fortunately for fat old longboarders, much of the Australian population seems to suffer from a quixotic urge to surf crumbly point breaks on shortboards (hop, hop, micro-air) so the pickings are easy until until the crowd gets too thick to weave through. That happens at, oh, 7:30am or so.

Culturally, Burleigh Heads is an odd combination of Gold Coast swank and Byron Bay counter culture. On Sunday nights there's an impromptu drum circle (with rythmically impromptu drumming) and, for some reason, hundreds of people show up and juggle flaming torches. Only problem is that most of them are either too stoned to juggle or never could juggle in the first place so spectators need to be prepared to dodge the occasional flaming projectile. In America, this sort of thing just wouldn't go on, but the Ozzies seem to take it in stride.

And Now...

And now we're sitting at anchor in the duck pond just north of Southport. The boat is buffed, scrubbed and repaired to within an inch of its life (or ours) and in the wreckage of several giant to-do lists littering the chart table are only a few items that we need to take care of before heading south to Sydney.

From here south, the coast is much more like northern California: few all-weather ports, and not even many barred harbours (ie. harbours having a relatively shallow entrance which cannot be traversed in bad weather, exactly when one is usually keen to get into a harbour). Our plan is to make the 15-mile hop down to the Tweed river and then a longer one, 90 miles, to Yamba on the Clarence River.

Yachtie Details

Boats

Katie Kat
In Manly we met up with Joe and Kathy from Katie Kat. Their web site was much of the inspiration for this one and I eagerly followed their adventures while waiting for Endless Summer to be completed.

Bedouin
Bedouin (Chris and Mandy) had a berth near ours when we spent that first month in Coomera oh so many months ago. They planned a shakedown trip to New Caledonia and then to go north around Australia and back to the States via the Indian Ocean.

We were working on the boat one morning when who should come sailing into the marina but Bedouin. They had been to New Cal. and then down to Sydney and they were as eager to hear about our experience on the North coast as we were to hear about their's in Sydney. We met up for a "sundowner" which lasted until 8:30 and swapped all sorts of useful information. At least, I hope ours was useful.

Daggerboard Case Repairs

The primary purpose of our haul-out in Coomera was to repair the daggerboard cases. The thin section of skin where the outboard side of the case joins the hull had cracked. As we had pushed the boat hard with no further damage, it was clear that the cases were strong enough and that the cracking was just a cosmetic issue.

The repairs came in two parts:

  1. Add two patches of glass to the inside of the case, a few inches up from the bottom to keep the boards from bearing on the edge.
  2. Remove the outer hull skin and foam from around the case exit and replace with solid unidirectional glass.

Probably overkill but I don't want to have to deal with this problem again.

A New Dingy

Sailing with the LeSueurs convinced us that we needed to get a new dingy. Because I was worried about the strength of the davit attachment points, we usually carried our dingy without the outboard, the latter being stowed separately. This meant that it took us half an hour to get the dingy in the water and ready to use. The LeSueurs carried an inflatable dingy and motor fully rigged and were able to lower it seconds after anchoring. It doesn't sound like much but it makes it a lot easier to get off the boat and explore. Also, an inflatable is much less tippy and carries a lot more than our old dingy.

So we've decided to join the inflatable dingy orthodoxy. We're proud owners of a new Swift aluminium and hypalon (fancy rubber) inflatable. No more dingy envy. We'll only take the outboard off when venturing offshore. It sounds silly, but I'm convinced that making it easy to get off the boat and go exploring is important.

Gavin used pictures showing our kids in the general melee surrounding his boat from the sailing trip with us for his latest "Multihull World."

Australian Visas

We entered the country on a 3-month ETA (Electronic Travel Authority). Our original plan was to apply for a one-year long stay visa in Port Moresby, but we scrapped that because the Port Moresby High Commission seemed more than a little tentative about exactly how to process the application. The long stay visa would take several weeks to process while the ETA could be issued on the spot.

Our ETAs ran out in March so we made an appointment at the Immigration office in Brisbane. We applied for a 6-month extension to the ETA and received it on the spot. The only catch was the fee, A$ 195 per person. Expensive, but still cheaper than taking a flight to New Zealand to get another 3-month ETA.

The Immigration and Customs offices are just a few blocks apart on Adelaide St. so one could take care of visas and cruising permit in one day. We didn't because I though that we'd have to wait a few days for the visa extensions and hadn't brought the cruising permit with me.

Self Tailers Considered Harmful?

All of Endless Summer's winches are Anderson self-tailers. Furthermore, we use the self tailer (not a cam cleat as some recommend) to secure sheets while under sail. Here's why:

I find it useful to categorize the level of attention by expressing the wind speed relative to the static capsize force, the windspeed which would tip the boat over on the hard with all sails sheeted hard amidships, because it seems like the simplest measurement that is reasonably predictive of the danger of capsize at a given windspeed. In real life, of course, things are much more complex.

  1. Distracted Cruising
    This category is the minimum of attention that can be paid to sailing and still be "seamanlike." Common examples are sailing at night while taking cat naps or sailing while doing something else (cooking, writing) at the same time.

    Sheets will be held mechanically, the autopilot will be driving the boat, and sails will be set very conservatively: say 20% - 25% of static capsize force or less if the weather is changeable.

  2. Cruising
    Normal daytime (or nighttime with a continuous watch) cruising. Someone is continuously busy with sailing the boat but their attention may wander for a few minutes, for example, while plotting a fix.

    Sheets will be held mechanically, the autopilot will be driving the boat, and sails will be set at around 25% - 35% of static capsize force.

  3. Active Sailing
    Sailing with at least 1 completely attentive crew. Sheets may be mechanically held but crew is ready to ease them within seconds (or otherwise respond, pinch, bear away) if the need arises.

    Sails will be set up to 50% of static capsize force.

  4. Racing
    Sailing for the utmost performance with crew manning every sheet all the time.

    The autopilot is not in use and sail may be carried up to and even beyond the limit of static stability. Capsize is prevented only by the reaction of the crew.

In Endless Summer's case, the static capsize force is 36 knots. As a general rule, we put the first reef in the main the first time we see a true windspeed greater than 15.

As cruisers we spend most of our time in the first two categories with brief forays into the third when someone feels like driving.

Now, the first thing I have to say about being in the situation of needing to release a sheet to prevent capsize, is that it is downstream of several serious errors of judgement which all reduce down to: "Why did you let yourself get surprised by conditions?" Too cheap to get the guide book that would have warned of bullets? Lack of knowledge about your boat (static capsize force, etc)? Lack of attention to (changing) weather? You just shouldn't be in this situation.

OK you've screwed up and you're in this situation, now what?

As far as I know, there are two satisfactory mechanical sheet holding devices:

  1. a self tailer
  2. a cam cleat

Rope clutches are not satisfactory because they require the entire sheet to run through them which it is highly unlikely to do without jamming.

Both of these devices require the user to overcome friction to release the captive sheet. Furthermore, in the circumstances under which a quick release is necessary (big gust), the forces involved are liable to be quite high. How high is determined by the number of wraps on the winch.

In the case of the cam cleat, the cleat can cam so tightly that it is difficult or impossible to to release. As friction (proportional to the force on the sheet) is the key ingredient to release, for any given force that the releasing crew applies to the tail of the sheet, there exists a force on the sheet which will prevent the release of the sheet. At a certain point either the cam cleat or the sheet will fail, but up to that point, the cleat may jam. Also, anything that changes the friction between sheet and cam (salt crystals, water, dirt) could cause the cam to be more or less prone to jamming.

The self tailer is a bit different in that the force of friction that it can apply is determined by the springs which hold the two disks (jaws) of the tailer together. In the case of the self tailer with insufficient wraps, the sheet will start to drag backwards through the tailer. You can easily experiment with your own winches to see what will happen. The Andersons have a symetrical stripper (the little piece of metal that actually forces the line out of the jaws of the self tailer) and it works just fine in reverse. A ratty sheet could conceivably get some fibers of the case hooked under the stripper but that is easy to forestall.

OK, so we always put at least 3 wraps on the winch, what's the difference then?

As far as I can see, the cam cleat may be marginally quicker to release because you have to pull less rope, but I think that most of that marginal advantage goes out the window when you factor in the need for some slack in order to flip the turns off the winch.

In both cases you have to give a sharp tug on the tail of the sheet in order to release it. In the self tailer case, you have to pull more line out (half a meter or so) but that falls within the range of motion of a single tug. Having freed the sheet you then have to flip it off the winch which of course does not have the handle still in it.

As usual in sailing, if you've paid attention to detail (flake sheet, three wraps on winch, winch handle stowed) it pays off in a pinch. Of course, if you were really paying attention to detail you wouldn't be in this situation in the first place.