Bundaberg Post Cyclone Oswald
15 February 2013
Virginia and Dennis Johns
We flew out of LAX on February 6 and arrived in Australia on February 8 (due to an overnight flight and crossing the date line). We had taken the bus from Bundaberg to Brisbane on our trip home so we thought we might like to try the train on the return trip. Researching schedules while back in the US we found that the trains weren't running to Bundaberg due to flooding of the tracks. So it was going to be the bus again. We were advised to purchase our bus tickets once we arrived as plane schedules change and there were plenty of buses each day and empty seats on every bus. From the Brisbane airport we took the Airtrain to the Central Transit Center. It wasn't a long walk from baggage claim to the airtrain but with nearly 90 pounds of boat supplies, whenever we couldn't use a baggage cart (known as a trolley in Oz), it was a challenge. Thank goodness Dennis' knees were up to the task! Once there we asked for the next bus to Bundaberg and we were told that that would be a long wait as they weren't running until March as now the roads were too flooded. But the train had just restarted its run the day before. Lucky for us! We had several hours to wait and so we started to call hotels in Bundaberg as we would be arriving too late to go to the marina. One after another they reported being booked due to emergency personnel that had come into the area to help with flood recovery. They were trying to be helpful though, saying they had an email list where they were sharing info on who had openings. But with each subsequent call...no room at the inn. We decided we might have to go to the marina and try to scale the fence to get onto the boat! It was quite a pleasant train ride, until near the end when a young couple boarded who were either high on life or some controlled substance and were laughing loudly and dancing in their seats right immediately in front of us. In addition, the conductor announced that the train had slowed from 60 kmh to 20 kmh due to a technical difficulty with wheel traction -didn't even want to ask what that meant! But there was lots of room and we could move about. We didn't get into Bundaberg until 11:00pm. Jimmy, a taxi driver, took us under his wing and said he knew of several hotels outside of town that likely had spots and he would drive us around until we got a room. The first hotel had a cancellation and one room available for the night. Lucky us! After travelling for what we estimated was about 32 hours, we slept well. Jimmy came back early the next morning to take us over to the marina.
Libertad had been moved from dry storage to the working yard so that we could live on it and do some boat projects. Given that we have to climb a 14 foot vertical ladder to get on the boat, Dennis rigged up a harness for Virginia to use so that if she lost her footing she wouldn't fall all the way to the ground, but dangle on the end of the line about three feet from the concrete. When she complained that it was awkward and the line was getting underfoot, she was reminded that she had made Dennis promise to wear similar gear each time he left the cockpit at night to adjust sails on the forward deck; her complaining ended quickly as she didn't want him to go back on that promise. The boat is not located very close to the restroom (especially when they lock the vehicle gate) and the fact that we must scale a ladder each trip is a combination that we hope we do not have to endure long -those late night and early morning runs to the restroom are quite tedious. We just hope that there will be a slip for us when we are ready to go back into the water. Every day another boat is being hauled back from being washed down the river and either put into the marina or hauled out and put in dry storage.
Our friends Brian and Juliet on SeaWings are still here. They stayed in the marina through the cyclone and had a wild ride. They saw houses, boats, and lots of debris floating downriver with the 40 knot current. The Mid-Town Marina further up the river, near downtown Bundaberg, was totally demolished in the flooding. It was located on the riverside with a rail system for hauling boats, so when the river rose 15 feet, everything there was washed away. We had considered leaving our boat there because the cost would have been significantly less, but worried because it didn't look as secure as the Port Marina. When we asked about the possibility of a flood, they tried to assure us that they adequately secured boats by tying them to trees -hmmm. In the end, when we provided specs on our boat, they said Libertad was too big for them to handle. Lucky us! When we walked down to the slips to visit SeaWings our first day back we were surprised to see that the marina had lost a few slips on the end of the last finger - and one of those spots was where we had been before we decided it would be safer to haul the boat out to dry storage. We were stunned to see a sunken sailboat in the spot where we had been housed (see photo above). Again, lucky us! While we hated to miss Thanksgiving in the US with family, we are so glad we took the time first to wait out a good weather window to get to Australia and then to research the best place to leave the boat.
SeaWings bought a car and have really gotten to know the area. They have been generously driving us around and are a wealth of local information. Our first outing was a sight-seeing tour to show the areas hardest hit by the flooding and all the damage done to the residents. Of course with similar flooding only a few years ago, no one has been able to get flood insurance and it's heart-wrenching to see the loss. But many businesses are getting back on their feet and we've been able to go out to dinner several times allowing us to catch up on our separate adventures, where we went home to the US to visit family and they had family visiting here. Juliet has now left to go back to the UK for a few months to visit family and friends. Brian is working so he stayed behind. He's a boat builder so he'll be a good consultant for some of our projects and we'll enjoy having a friend here.
Boat projects are proceeding, though slowly. Dennis has started removing the rigging, which we need to do in stages so that we continue to support the masts and have a reference for tuning the new rigging. It's another part of the boat that he will soon know intimately. The boatyard could not recommend a rigger in Bundaberg, so we have to send our old rigging to Brisbane where the rigger will measure it and swage fittings onto new wire to match and send it back. Fortunately Dennis had planned on removing and installing the rigging himself, so that has balanced the extra cost of shipping it to Brisbane. We want to get the bow pulpit and swim step that was damaged in the Marquesas repaired but there seems to be only one stainless steel welder in Bundaberg and with all the damage caused by the flood, he is booked up for weeks. With the flood waters, mosquitos and other nasty flying creatures have become a real nuisance. So securing the boat from mosquitos quickly rose to the top of the project list (and we purchased a bug zapper to assist). We also need to send our liferaft to Brisbane to be serviced (need to do that every two years). Virginia has taken measurements of the salon seating and started her search for fabric locally to do her reupholstering project. The original 1982 harvest gold upholstery is finally giving out after two years of constant liveaboard use. It's exciting shopping for new fabric but we can tell it's going to be quite a large project. The boot stripe (the waterline stripe) and the bottom needs repainting and Dennis wants to do much of that work himself for future reference. And the list goes on.
It's windy and raining today so Dennis won't be going up the mast to continue the rigging project. We'll take the bus into town to check on fabric options and work off our growing list of pieces and parts we need to purchase. We hope to get our projects done this month so that we can spend March doing some land travel in Australia and/or New Zealand. Virginia is spending time researching routes we can take in eastern Australia to see the most in the shortest amount of time.
Our plans for getting to the Med are getting a bit firmer. The Seven Seas freighter that we thought was our best bet is leaving from Phuket, Thailand May 15. Since we can't leave here until April 1, we were worried we wouldn't have enough time to get there. Turns out that they have a pickup in Singapore, which is a little closer to Australia, and it's at a little later date, May 20. There are rules in Singapore harbor that require us to hire a pilot to steer our boat in the commercial side of the port, but it may be a more doable timeframe.
New wildlife sightings on our first day back in Oz. As we were driving to dinner with Brian and Juliet, we saw the sky darken with what we at first thought was a migration of thousands of birds. There was a solid stream of them crossing over from the other side of the river. We pulled the car over to watch. There was no end in sight and upon closer inspection we saw that they were flying foxes, aka fruit bats. For about fifteen minutes we watched the estimated population of between 100,000 - 200,000 fill the sky. After an Internet search we discovered that the bats originally took up residence in Gayndah at Christmas time (a township further up the Burnett River) but have since moved down river here to Bundaberg in search of food. They are somewhat controversial as the local fruit farmers want to guard their crops but the bats are a protected species, being an important environmental element as pollinators.
Our son and his family enjoy the song of frogs each spring as rain fills the marshy preserve near their home. We don't have frogs here but rather a variety of toads that are quiet, but quite bold and do not flee upon approach. We have seen bright green ones and brown ones (or maybe they can turn colors for camouflage). They come out at dusk and in the morning you'll find several on the road that didn't make it back home.