Index of slides.
Farewell to Gladstone
Since the marina was completely protected, we rigged up the dingy for sailing a couple of times. Tristan got the hang of it pretty quickly and soon was short-tacking between the fingers like a seasoned water rat.
At the start of the hike I had delivered an ominous lecture about how this was prime snake country and how everyone had to be very careful around rocks and fallen logs and other places where snakes might be. As we neared the summit, I shouldered the various responsibilities of father, skipper and great white hunter and took the point position, creeping skittishly through the bush. And thus it came to pass that just below the summit I walked right past our very first wild snake tucked safely into a little pocket in the rocks. Fortunately, Nicoline saw it.
Now Australia is home to something like 8 of the world's 10 deadliest snakes. You'd think that they'd be brightly coloured, yellow or even safety orange, or have rattles or bells or at least a distinctive triangular head. But no, flash things like that are for American snakes which barely rank above Ozzie mosquitos in deadliness. All of the examples of [deadly Australian snakes] that I've seen (in zoos) ranged from a nondescript brownish grey to a nondescript greyish brown. Nicoline's was of the brownish grey variety so we called it deadly and gave it a wide berth (well every one but me).
To Great KeppelStill no SE trade winds in sight but the course to Keppel was such that anything other than NW winds would be bearable. Weather forcasts were exceedingly vague, but they all agreed that winds wouldn't be stronger than 15 knots and that the sea-breeze/land-breeze effect would predominate. Basic translation "your guess is as good as ours." Rocky (Rockhampton) Weather said as much during the VHF weather discussion.
Theoretically, one could sail from Gladstone to Keppel in 10 hours or so but the convergence of tide and wind necessary for this to actually happen probably occurs once a century. To get out of Gladstone harbour you have to sail 10 miles SE preferably with an ebb tide, then turn and sail N until you have Cape Capricorn on the beam, then sail NW to Great Keppel Island. We were looking for a wednesday or thursday departure and the tide didn't start ebbing on those days until 1 or 2 o'clock in the pm.
We talked things over with the kids and decided to go for another overnight. That would allow us to make the best of the NE sea breeze and we'd arrive at Keppel early the next morning with no time pressure to find an anchorage. Just north of the tropic of Capricorn, Great Keppel Island is officially in the tropics. We'd have coral to contend with when anchoring and that is best seen when the sun is high in the sky. If conditions were really lousy for going NW, we'd anchor near the mouth of Gladstone Harbour and see what the morning brought. But this time, whatever happened, we'd sail instead of motoring.
Finally, a good decision. We had a screaming beam reach down Gladstone Harbour - hours of light wind tacking on the way in unwinding in 40 minutes. Then hardened up (sailed more upwind), shaved the southern tip of Facing Island, and worked our way into the open sea against a NNE sea breeze of 10 - 15 knots. With the first reef in we were pointing between 45 and 50 degrees and still making between 8 and 9 knots. And the motion was so much nicer than motoring straight upwind.
The sun set as we wove our way through all the freighters anchored outside Gladstone Harbour. We tacked a few miles later in order to avoid one of the offlying reefs. Couldn't quite lay Cape Capricorn - so called because it is only a mile or so from the Tropic of Capricorn - and thus had to tack again a couple of hours later and then back again when we could lay Keppel directly.
Making fajitas for dinner was probably a mistake: messy to prepare, messy to eat and not that easy to keep down. Karin was a little queasy and declined to eat (new weight loss program?), but everyone else did OK. Like almost everything else on a boat at sea, cooking takes a lot longer than you'd think. Throwing up is probably the notable exception to this rule. Anyway, everything you use needs to be put away immediately after use or it will slip off the counter. Knife work demands extra care. Once you have a pan on the stove you need to keep a hand free to rescue it in case it decides to take flight. That is in addition to one hand for yourself and one hand for the ship. Fortunately, culinary standards can be adjusted to fit the circumstances. Beef jerky (from a South African shop near Coomera) dried fruit and Pringles can make a fantastic dinner.
As things worked out, I came back on watch at 2am. Over the next couple of hours the wind gradually eased until I was seeing sixes and eights instead of twelves and and fourteens on the log (speedometer). Good for Karin because the lower speed made it easier to sleep. I had an easy watch under a half moon and the now more familiar southern constellations. I didn't see Karin again until just after plotting our position at 5am. I really wanted to stick around for sunrise - best part of the day - but Karin was bright eyed - relatively - and I was fading fast so I gave her the helm and crashed.
She, perhaps not as awake as we though, woke me 45 minutes later trying to make sense of the various islands, vis-a-vis what was on the chart. The sun was just up, and two pairs of eyes soon made sense of our position.
Not long after, I had coffee brewed and the rest of the crew showed up and started foraging for brekkie. The wind dropped yet more and we ghosted along at 2 knots. This is the best part of night sailing. If we'd tried to get to Keppel in one day, we'd be racing darkness to find an anchorage. As it was, we had 5 miles to sail sometime in the next 10 hours.
KeppelA few hours later and a few miles closer to Keppel, I noticed a power boat heading straight toward us. A certain dashing flair suggested that it might be Geoff at the helm and sure enough it was. He had been taking some guests on a tour of the island, recognized our sails, and zoomed over to say g'day.
Geoff & Dianna, who we met last year, run the Great Keppel Island Holiday Village. We spent a week there last year and it was the memory of that idyllic time that kept us moving north in spite of the wind. The village consists of about 20 different tents/cabins around a shared common area: hammocks for dozing, wildlife books, island guides, etc. It very quickly feels like home.
Not long after being welcomed by Geoff, we fired up the motors (need to run them anyway to replenish the batteries) and set course for Long Beach on the southern side of the island. The cruising guide to this area, Alan Lucas' Cruising the Coral Coast, doesn't spend much time on anchorages for northerly winds but there were about 20 boats anchored off Long Beach so we figured that that must be the best spot and made it 21.
After finishing his tour, Geoff came by for a quick visit and arranged to pick us up that evening for a pizza dinner. At the appointed hour a jeep rumbled onto the beach and we rowed in to meet it. Had a great dinner celebrating the retirement of the old manager and inaugurating Colin and Sarah as the new managers. Colin was actually working at the village when we were there in April. In the intervening time he met Sarah, moved to England, and then came to his senses and dragged her back to Keppel instead.
After dinner, Geoff drove us back, stopping several times to brush aside giant spider webs which had been spun completely across the road. If you don't stop to brush the webs aside you wind up with a really pissed off giant spider crawling around with the passengers in the back of the jeep.
The next morning, the wind dropped off and the current set us back on top of the anchor so I snapped the attached picture. The water here is so clear that it is easy to get confused about the depth. Several times I've been swimming towards the beach, figured that the bottom must be only 3 or 4 feet and tried to stand up in 8 feet of water. Now, I don't stop swimming until my knuckles hit the sand.
We were hoping to use the recommended trade wind anchorage, Svedsen's beach, and thus be able to visit with island residents Carl and Lindy Svedsen who we'd met in April, but the trade winds never put in an appearance so we shuttled between the Long Beach and Fisherman's Beach anchorages depending on whether the wind was blowing NW or NE.
ScurfingSaturday, while we were still anchored off Long Beach, Geoff came by in Tinnie and took us "scurfing" - water skiing on a surf board. From a surfer's perspective, being towed is a bit odd, but pleasant enough once you get the hang of it. Geoff displayed his usual mastery of Tinnie and made a variety of wakes for us to shred. Unless we take a side trip to the outer barrier reef or get a really good sou'easter for a few days, this is probably as close to surfing as I'll get until we leave Australia. From here north the Barrier Reef comes closer and closer to the coast, blocking nearly all swell.
After a few hours of scurfing we all had one arm longer than the other from hanging on. As a regular sport, I think scurfing would give one a physique like a fiddler crab. Anyway, it was time for tea.
SnorklingWhile the water was a few degrees cooler than last year in April, the coral was spectacular. Lots of bright colours, electric blue, green, pink. No manta rays this time, though a large one had been sighted off one of the points on the north side of the island. Oddly enough, the giant clams, which all had vibrant purple mantles when we visited in April now had brownish green mantles. The clams actually have a symbiotic relationship with the algae (?) which grow on the mantle but I've no idea why they change color.
We've purchased a disposable underwater camera so, if I can rig up some way to scan the pictures we should have some underwater pictures for the web site.
Day SailingIn spite of Geoff's imprecations not to infect his new managers with the sailing bug, we took Colin and Sarah out for an afternoon sail 'round the island and up as far as North Keppel Island about 5 miles away.
Near North Keppel, Colin spotted a couple of whales, a cow and a calf. When we turned back they put on a spectacular display: jumping almost completely out of the water, spouting their spouts and thrashing their tails in a most satisfactory whale-like manner.
Yesterday (saturday) we climbed up Double Head, the distinctive volcanic plug which marks the south shore of Rosslyn Bay.
LifeIf nothing else, this trip has been great for the kids. Day by day I can see them shaking off the tentacles of fear and suspicion that I found so oppressive in California. I've always been aware of the difference between how I grew up and how our kids are growing up, but it was really driven home to me in Coomera where the kids were reluctant to go explore the boatyard and environs. Karin and I talked about their timidity and decided that it was something that they would grow out of as we moved along. Life is different for all of us and it takes a while before new habits feel normal. Back in Mooloolaba, Tristan agonized for half an hour about taking a bus to the skate park by himself. He finally decided to go after conning Nicoline into comng with him by promising to be nice to her for a whole week, a promise that he actually kept if one is willing to overlook the occasional stealthy jab. In Gladstone he wanted to take the dingy out by himself and off Fisherman's beach on Great Keppel, we actually threw kids off the boat for a couple of hours. They explored the anchorage, then motored over to the beach and played in the sand. I couldn't resist pointing out to them how they must have been the envy of every child on the beach. Masters of their own little craft, able to come and go at will.
Generally, around Keppel they were more often in the water than out of it: swimming, snorkling, flopping up and down the transom stairs like little seals.
Captain's ReportThe Captain is pleased to report that there have been no fatalities to date and also no scurvy. The Ship's Boy thought he was developing scurvey but after a week of increasingly pointed questions from him about the exact course of the disease it turned out that he was merely loosing a milk tooth.
In other news, the Ship's Plumber has disassembled the port-side head for the second time but has finally figured out what is wrong with it. The Captain has been appraised that the pump handle has come loose from the pump proper, no doubt due to excessively vigorous pumping. If no spare parts are required it may be repaired after a third disassembly, otherwise a fourth will be required. The Captain wishes to take this moment to remind manufacturers of marine heads, most particularly Raritan, that marine heads frequently come to contain things which users of marine heads desire fervently to be rid of. And, that said desire can lead to a pumping action more vigorous than strictly necessary or even reasonable.
Morale continues excellent. No floggings.
The PlanThe plan is to head north to the Percy Isles in one overnight hop sometime in the next few days. Ordinarily, we'd be able to make a couple of intermediate stops at Port Clinton or Island Head Creek but those harbours are in the Australian Army's Shoalwater Bay training area and are currently closed because the Australian Army is playing war games with some visiting US forces and they (neither the Australians nor the US) do not desire our help.
Assuming we reach the Percies unscathed by mock hostilities (better than unmocked by scathing hostilities), we will then make a couple of short hops to Mackay where we plan to take advantage of the 6-meter tide to beach ES and repair some cosmetic damage to one of the daggerboard cases. Also grease the props, which I forgot to do when we were on the hard in Coomera.