Slides from this report.
"Les didn't need Mr Wobbly to tell him Kathy was starting to sizzle and it was time to stick a fork in her to see if she was done."The sound you hear is 12-year old eyes growing very, very big. While we were talking about books, Colin recommended an Australian author, Robert G. Barret, and a series of books he had written about a shady character name of Les Norton. Ever on the lookout for an authentic Ozzie experience, I filed the reference away until we were visiting a used book store which just happened to have a few of the Les Norton series... "in the back there in between the Schoepenhauer and the Harley Davidson manuals." Gotta love used book stores.
Well, the books didn't do much for me but the out of control swirl of violence, sex and culinary metaphor made Tristan an instant fan. Oh yes, and the poop jokes. He now has 5 and he rereads them in turn giggling helplessly at the really gross/pervy parts that we have forbade him to read out loud to us.
A Bad NightIn spite of a nearly inexhaustible supply of cheap prawns from the local fisherman's coop, we were growing tired of Keppel Bay Marina. As usual the winds were blowing resolutely out of the north and the anchorages that would allow us to hop up the coast in small increments were closed due to War Games. We tried to get into Corio Bay, the last anchorage south of the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area, but were turned back by a 25 knot sea breeze working against a falling tide. Instead of going back to the Marina we went back to Keppel for the night.
In the morning there was still no south wind actual or forecast. We decided to head 20 miles or so off the coast and hopefully out of range of the sea breeze. Recall if you will, that the sea breeze is generated because land warms much more rapidly than the ocean. The warm land warms the atmosphere which rises causing replacement air to be sucked in from over the cooler sea. Initially, our judgement looked to be great as we had relatively gentle north-easterly winds between 5 and 10 knots. The theory was to work our way north while staying well offshore and then aim for the Percy Islands as soon as the tack would clear Cape Manifold. Since sailing ES upwind in a 5 - 10 knot breeze is quite comfortable, the plan wasn't totally crazy. Sure, we'd be out overnight, but it should be a relatively easy trip.
Friends had told us about the old spray-alchohol-on-the-gills trick so as soon as we got this fish within range Nicoline let him have it. Instead of dying passively as the alchohol-on-the-gills school would have it, the fish went berserk, splattering fish blood and cheap tequila all over the transom. Since it was becoming clear that we would have to wait for cirrhosis of the liver to set in, I just gaffed it and dragged it into the cockpit.
After consulting a couple of fish books, we decided that we had landed a bonito (tuna mackerel), evidently a hard drinking sort of fish. After the delerium tremens had worn off, I gutted the fish and Karin took over the filleting while I put a pot of rice on the stove. Half an hour later we had very fresh sashimi.
The Trucking Auto PilotAround 3:30, I decided to take a nap so that I'd be fresh for the first night watch after dinner. Shortly before 5 I was woken up with the news that Otto had failed twice and the wind was coming up. We reefed, made dinner and then I took over from Karin. Otto, or actually the compass Otto uses (even when in wind-vane mode), became increasingly erratic as the evening wore on and I eventually gave up even trying to use it.
Around nine, both the kids said their good nights and went to bed. Karin and I were both insanely jealous. Oh, to be a kid: fun all day, and then to bed without worries.
With no autopilot, someone had to be at the helm constantly which meant that someone else had to stay awake to take care of navigation. That left no one getting any sleep. Initially, we figured out that we would be clear of all dangers if we followed the current course or one pretty much like it for a few hours so that the navigator could get some sleep. Later in the night, dangers became less cooperative - we had to pass through clusters of islands, and, did I mention that it was a moonless night? The off watch got less and less sleep as the night wore on.
On a positive note, I discovered that Endless Summer will heave to quite nicely under full jib and first reef. I discovered this because I was trying to pinch off (steer very close to the wind) in order to make progress to the windward while keeping boat speed low. As the night was too dark to see telltales, it was very difficult to keep the boat from tacking and it was while trying to reverse an inadvertent tack that I realized we were actually hove to. But for the fact that we were then threading our way through the aforementioned cluster of islands, I would have just left the boat that way and taken a nap.
Later on in the night, Karin figured out that the boat motion was actually better when we bore off and sailed faster. So at 4am we were rocketing through gloom at nine knots, bashing into waves with the spray bucketing back along the deck. Great fun.
Any Port in a StormDawn found us still 25 (upwind) nautical miles from the Percies and the 7am weather forcast was for yet more wind (20 to 25 knots) not less. Karin was too nauseous to move off the settee and I hadn't had any sleep since my afternoon nap the day before. Fortunately, we were only about 20 nautical miles north of Island Head Creek and it was the first day that that harbour was open. One of the normal intermediate anchorages between Keppel and Mackay, it had been closed for war games for the past couple of weeks. It took only a few minutes of agonizing to realize that, even if we did make it to the Percies in the next few hours we'd be stuck in a crummy NE anchorage with a southerly change in the forcast the next day. Not the ideal situation for resting up. Island Head Creek, on the other hand, offered all weather shelter. Karin was all for the easiest trip to the closest port and so it was decided. We turned south and drove downwind towards Island Head Creek. Now instead of bashing through the oncoming waves we were surfing down them making a steady 9 knots. Tristan was a huge help. Very gallant of him considering that it was his birthday. A couple of hours later we were dropping sails in front of Island Head Creek.
Unlike the Keppels, the water was quite cloudy. Not much choice but to trust the pilot and watch the depth sounder like a hawk. Creek is a bit of a misnomer: "bay" would be better. The "Island Head" part comes because the northern side of the bay is formed by a sandbar which stretches between an island and the mainland. We motored into the first arm of of the bay expecting to find it empty and were a bit stunned to see seven or eight boats already anchored. The usual cruising direction this time of year is south for the summer. As the usual wind is southerly (cough) cruisers must have been piling up in Mackay and the Percies gnashing their teeth in frustration while northerly breezes went to waste as they waited for Island Head Creek to open up so they could get to Keppel without an overnight. So now we have to circle around the anchorage looking for space while trying to avoid shoals that we can't see. The kids call the depth as I circle around:
"4 meters, 4 meters, 4 meters, 1 meter, zero point eight!"
And everything stops. Aground! Fortunately, we have the boards half lowered so that is what touched bottom. We back off and I give up all ideas about anchoring in the shallow end of the anchorage as cats are supposed to do. Instead we go back to the entrance and anchor in 5 meters of water between the behemoth powerboat and the 50-foot cruiser.
After 36 hours of constant action and reaction, it is indescribably pleasant just to sit inertly and let things happen. To watch water droplets condense on a cold beer and feel the sleepy traction of alchohol without needing to resist.
Karin and I did have "the talk," the "I'm not sure I can do this" talk. We're both a little shocked at how accustomed we've become to knowing how things work, having everything under control, how little we have become used to learning, and how exhausting it is to be learning new stuff all the time. For the last couple of months we've been drinking from the fire hose and we're both ready for a few days in which we don't learn anything for a change.
A Night VisitorWe made an early dinner and turned in just as soon as the sun set. It actually started to rain just as Karin and I were dropping off so we got up to close hatches. While in Nicoline's cabin, Karin noticed this funny looking rope across her hatch. "Hmm... we don't have anything that thick" she was thinking when the rope made one of those languid reptilian motions. A snake.
"Scotty, there's a snake on the boat!"
Right. This is one of those situations in which everyone always looks at The Captain as though he should know what to do. Clearly he must have some internal list of approved procedures and he just scans the index like so:
And oh, there it is. Faced with a yawning gulf in my personal index
of approved procedures - believe it or not
"We'll just close up everything which we have to do anyway because it is raining and perhaps it will go away."
Karin, always deeply suspicious of the masculine "perhaps it will go away," looked unconvinced but as her personal index was blank in this area as well, she acquiesced.
After a humid night of uneasy dreams we awake to find ourselves human again. No snake in evidence. Karin brings up a a new index entry involving snakes (possibly poisonous) taking shelter in sails, but I discard it as wildly implausible. We have sunshine and light breezes from the ESE. Not a moment to lose.
We start raising the main in the main channel, and out plops two meters of very irritated python. He's just had an uneasy night in a cruddy tree surrounded by (possibly hostile) humans and now this. Dropped on the deck with a plop. The indignity. I shoo him overboard with the boat hook but he seems to have taken a fancy to yachting in spite of his ill treatment. As there's lots of stuff on a boat for a determined snake to hang on to, it takes quite a while. No sooner do I distangle one end than the other has wrapped around something else. He even comes close to pulling off the old "crawl up the stick and deal with the impudent human" manoeuver. At last he gave up and swam back toward his seething jungle home, his yachting dreams in shambles.
The PerciesWe sailed north for a couple of hours, but the wind dropped below three knots and the Percies were still a long way off so after a couple of hours of light air practice we gave up and motor sailed up to South Percy.
The Percies are the southern end of a chain of islands that culminates in the Whitsundays proper a hundred miles to the north. For us it is the first rung on the ladder leading north. From here on, most of the islands are within 20 miles of each other so there's no need to sail overnight to get to the next place.
In spite of relatively dire warnings about the marginal nature of anchorages at the Percies, we found Rocky Shelf Bay on South Percy delightful. Of course, cats have a much lower standard for anchorages than do monohulls, and winds were light to boot. Anyway, it was our first deserted (and desert) island experience.
We spent the afternoon watching the kids erode the beach and hiking around the island. The island had been a goat ranch at one point in time and was relatively clear of trees and so easy to hike around on.
As there was evidence of the occasional beach bonfire, we gathered some wood but after dinner everyone was too tired to row back to shore. The cruising life seems to get one up with the sun if only to turn off the anchor light and check for snakes.
DigbyThe next day brought an actual sou' easter. Let me repeat that: "A SOU' EASTER." Sounds strange. Rather than let it go to waste, we upped anchor with unseemly haste and headed ENE for Digby Island. We loped along under full main and jib until I was convinced that the wind really was blowing a stable eight to ten knots. Spinnaker time! We have a perfect jybe to Digby Island and the remaining 19 miles went by quite rapidly. We make a steady 10 - 12 knots with surfs up to 16. Perhaps because our speed matched the wave train better than with just main and jib the ride was amazingly smooth. After helping to set up the spinnaker - pulling up the snuffer line is the plum job - the kids did homework.
I worked on anticipating the fluctuations of apparent wind and by the end of my trick at the helm was able to keep the boat "in the groove" for long bursts above 12 knots. As soon as the apparent wind comes into the forty degree range the boat just takes off like a rocket. Driving was so much fun that we were actually a bit past Digby Island before we got the sails furled.
The anchorage at Digby is sort of a lagoon formed by three islands with Digby being the only one that is easily accessible. Theoretically it has a small beach, but we found nothing but cobbles. Wind and swell made a landing seem ill advised so we hung out on the boat. Chicken Tandoori for dinner.
The next day, the winds blew sou'east again and so we had another spinnaker run in to Mackay. We could get used to this sort of sailing.
MackayFirst order of business in Mackay was to beach the boat to fix a couple of cracks in the daggerboard cases. This left the kids free to amuse themselves in Eimo Creek which they did to such a degree that they were not allowed back on the boat until they had been hosed down.
We knew the creek was safe from crocodiles because lots of the local kids played there and the parents said that they rarely lose more than three or four a year.
After the boat work we had plenty of time to explore the creek while waiting for the tide to come back in. The tidal range that day was about 5 metres and the maximum tide for that region is more than seven metres. At low tide the pilings in the marina are higher than many of the masts and the ramp down the pontoon makes an awe inspiring scooter run.
Mackay, like every other place on the Queensland coast, is booming. Luxury homes sprouting up and down the beach and the pile drivers hard at work on the foundations for a big hotel next to the marina. I always have mixed feelings about the obvious growth here. Some of what attracts me to Queensland is how much it feels like the California of my youth: when nearly all of the roads were only two lanes, laid out by chasing a cow with a Barber Green paver. There are only a few million people in all of Queensland (about the size of California) and the main north-south highway is still two lanes almost everywhere. I have an uneasy feeling that people here will be just as short sighted as Californians. In thirty years will you need to make camping reservations 5 months in advance? Perhaps we are a virus.
The Australian Coast GuardUnlike the US, Australia does not have a professional coast guard, or if it does, they are remarkably discrete. Perhaps stationed in Alice Springs to they can respond in any direction... "Still no action sir, shall I fetch you another beer?" Instead, there are a series of Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR) stations along the coast. They provide rescue services, weather broadcasts, and moral support when crossing bars: "I dunno, no one's been through there today." If you want, you can log on with them and they will keep track of your position until you log off.
Among their many good attributes is a fantastic sense of humor as evidenced by the following exchange:
"VMR East Mackay, VMR East Mackay, this is Passing Wind. Over."
"Passing Wind, this is VMR East Mackay. Can you hold please? Over."
Captain's ReportThe captain is pleased to report that contact with the natives has been generally amicable. Of course, one only meets outgoing, gregarious natives because the hostile misanthropic ones all stay home drinking beer and watching daytime TV oblivious to the fact that TV, daytime or otherwise, will never thaw the frozen seas within, let alone break the ice on them. In dealing with Australians one must be prepared to overlook occasional barbarisms such as their habbit of putting bacon into caeser salads. Also, all of them insist on driving on the left hand side of the road and become needlessly agitated during the Captain's demonstration of the proper way of driving. The Captain hopes that by repeated demonstration of the proper procedure they may come to see the error in their ways.
Their notion of government is deplorable as it seems to involve some sort of messy verbal wrangling procedure know as parliament. No peppy songs or well dressed "people." In the Captain's opinion relying on anything other than celebrities for guidance seems both reckless and bound to engender unsightly newspaper coverage.
Australians have a unique system of measurement which collapses disparate notions of time and space into a single dimensionless unit known as "stubbies." So, for example, one says that Mackay is 5 stubbies from Bundaberg. Interestingly enough, beer comes in small bottles which are also known as "stubbies" because of their squat appearance. Perhaps due to this flexible form of measure, the natives are exceptionally mobile. They excuse themselves to "say goodbye to a couple of mates" with such frequency that the Captain suspects that nearly half of the population must be departing on a journey at any one moment in time.
As a final note, during Bush's recent visit to Canberra the city was very nearly shut down due to security precautions. Quipped one Aussie: "Probably an improvement."
Morale continues excellent. No floggings.