Trip Report 5
30 January 2008 | Pittwater, Sydney
Sahula: Passage Report No.5
There are many challenges in cruising. While cruisers aspire to live somewhat outside the real world, in reality, it's an illusion. While the wind is free, the "iron maiden" requires fuel and so does the crew. So while cruisers claim to live off an "oily rag" they have expenses. They reluctantly live to a budget anchored to shore costs. Discussions often broach this topic.
These discussions are with a variety of cruisers. One of delights of the cruising life is the people met.
Today Sahula had three sets of visitors. Fred and Lesley of "Cheesecutter" have circumnavigated the globe and owned and built seven yachts. Bruce, a medic, works on ships doing Atlantic seismic surveys. His lovely wooden yacht "Deseado" could do credit to the lounge room.
A delight today was to again meet Eve and Ray, old friends from Mackay days, aboard their beautiful Swan 44 foot yacht. These "senior citizens" are tomorrow, intending to head off to New Zealand or, if foul winds, to Tasmania. They've already sailed over 135,000 nautical miles of the world's oceans; most while in their 60's.
Sahula's "To Do List" is postponed to tomorrow. Meeting interesting people, learning, being inspired is much more important.
Today, Sahula's electronic "bank" had added "UGrib". A free computer program that gives web weather forecasts seven days ahead anywhere in the world. This is four days past the Weather Bureau's projection. A marvellous tool to plan a cruise.
Now, Sahula's crew will consult a different god as a "prayer" for those fair winds. Saturday is "gribed" as the departure day.
Thank heaven, Friday of course, would have been tempting fate; been there done that!
Sahula has two days to arrive in Pittwater. On Monday, the Bureau forecast another "vigorous" 30 knot southerly. Interestingly, the "grib" forecasts light winds for the same area. The weather charts seem to favour the "grib."
However, the prudent sailor plans for the worst.
So Saturday came with good intentions. The Weather Forecaster, however, was not cooperative. Saturday dawned with a vigorous south westerly and dark rain squalls. Westerlies, however, are a land breeze. They ameliorate once the day warms. Maybe the much loved northerly was to come later in the day.
So Sahula went to sea on what may be the last leg to Sydney.
True to form, the Northerly came in after a frustrating morning of headwinds requiring the "iron maiden" to keep the course. Motoring in any form is a poor substitute for sailing.
Rarely, however, is being at sea, all bad. In the silence of sailing, two magnificent schools of dolphins were playing in the bow wave and seabirds swept the valleys of the long, blue green, south east swell.
It was slow going until the strengthening northerly in the late afternoon. A ruby red sunset over the coastal ranges completed the day.
Now to see through the long night.
Solo night sailing is not for the faint hearted. Especially if numerous "iron mammoths" decide upon a similar course.
A good start is a hearty high protein meal and keeping active. Frequent satellite positions on the chart and a good lookout at least every 10 minutes. It's worse if the wind dies and the "iron maiden" is called upon. So far tonight the northerly is just enough to make five knots. It's a lovely evening sail.
But it soon changed, in the late hours the wind "died" so the "iron maiden" dutifully drove Sahula south. She checked in with each passing Volunteer Coastguard.
It was a long night made longer by the failure of the electronic self steering. There was tonight to be no restful power naps, just a long tiring vigil at the wheel.
The ports and headlands checked by: Port Macquarie, Camden Haven, Tuncurry, Sugarloaf Point, and the Broughton Islands.
Finally, Sahula was passing through the towering entrance peaks of Port Stephens. A welcome respite for a tired crew. The strong afternoon northerly, welcome otherwise, was no excuse for a calm anchorage and a long, oblivious, sleep.
The "final leg" would have to wait another day.
Wonderfully, northerlies were forecast for the rest of the week. A day of rest was declared, so with the sun setting, Sahula headed to Fame Cove in the inner Port.
Fame Cove holds many memories. It was the first anchorage after the first ocean voyage from Sydney in "Katie," skipper's first yacht.
It soon was obvious that its fame had spread; arrival found a bay crowded with "plastic fantastics" and smoky, loud, deck Bar-b-Q's. It was Australia Day public holiday, after all. How easy the cruiser forgoes the shore calendar.
After a night anchorage at the bay's mouth, Sahula moved to within "cicada" range. The fleet had returned to suburbia.
It's a delight of such anchorages to be so close to the shore that the sounds of the bush, the cicadas and the birds, become as much part of the marine environment as the morning school of dancing dolphins.
It was midday in paradise, when I thought I heard voices calling "Sahula." It was Fred and Lesley, Coffs Harbour friends, aboard "Cheesecutter."
The delight of finding fellow cruisers in unexpected anchorages is one of the true gems of cruising. Stories are told, voyages dissected and future ones discussed amid the unique camaraderie born between fellow cruisers.
First amber light dawned, Sahula's was away, her mast seemingly touching the fog cloud threatening to engulf her through Port Stephens. It cleared and soon the day dawned cloudless on a sparkling sea.
Nothing is settled at sea. An "iron mammoth" steaming to Newcastle threatened Sahula's course. Then it disappeared, completely; was it there, an illusion, a morning mental aberration. The trusty radar settled such foggy doubts. It soon loomed too large, too close, only a kilometre distant.
No wind came, the "iron maiden" again being pressed into service, driving Sahula to its date with Sydney.
Then, as if answering the need, the forecast northerly swept in. Sahula for the first time winged out the Yankee headsail with the full mainsail. In 15 to18 knots, she sensed the bit. It was a sleigh ride to Sydney.
Tonight, Sahula's in Towler's Bay, Pittwater. She's again in a "cicada" anchorage, seranaded by kookaburras.
She's made it.
Memories, flood in of the trip it meant and was to be. Over two months she's wended her way from Townsville. The trip has included the full gamut of cruising's challenges, adventures and experiences. Most importantly it has been fun despite the breakdowns and later crew concerns.
Now for a month at ease, on Pittwater and Sydney Harbour. Good friends and some repairs. Then, in March, Sahula will again wend its way north. She'll eventually depart from Darwin for the Indonesia to Thailand yacht rally, the first ocean crossing to Sri Lanka and onto Europe.
Ah dreams and reality, can we ever find the perfect blend.
Trip Report 4
21 January 2008 | Raby Bay, Brisbane
Sahula's Passage Report No. 4
It's quite, peaceful as it can be in a marina here on Moreton Bay. I've "spring" cleaned the boat and enjoyed the email contact of friends, read "The Australian" to check how Rudd is doing. It remains a mad world, justifying my new life.
The wet weather ensures I cannot do any deck work. BOM's (Bureau of Meteorology) report doesn't herald a change. It's time to settle back, enjoy learning patience.
Life in a marina is oddly, lifeless. The risk dynamic of sea life is lost to the static status of the boat, its secure moorings and the convenience of shore facilities.
I'm quite different, more "at home," when at anchor. It's more at one with the environment.
So I'm reading. My "retired" status allows me to read, read and read. When working I mostly read author's of fast moving fiction. They related to that life I lead. Now my subjects are more obtuse, history, lives, tales by international authors. It's marvellous, intellectually stimulating; a symptom of abundant time.
I actually don't think like I've abundant time. I wake at daybreak. I consciously want to fill the day. It's a little unsettling. This boat life is not one for those that crave a routine.
Today, I've had two visits from good friends. So the day has passed quietly but quickly.
Good friends offered me a berth at Raby Bay alongside their spare wharf, so Sahula has moved there. She's nestled amongst the nouveau riches of Mac homes and white plastic fantastics, looking very business like. No red yachts here, the marine monotone is gleaming glary steely white. It all looks magnificent but it isn't me. My contribution was to arise early this morning and polish the hull to a shining waratah red - in between rain showers.
I itch to leave for Sydney. Please weather god, release me, send in a northerly, any northerly, even an easterly would do, no, even a light south easterly if you must.
My prayer was answered, a northerly has come in. Patience, not yet, the electrician is coming tomorrow and the crew, Chris is having medicals so will leave on Friday.
Friday; old salts of yore would never leave port on such a day, it courted bad luck.
Friday arrived, a new solar panel was in place, the ship was ready, and it blows a nice northerly. Sahula motored off through Moreton Bay's myriad of channels to Southport.
We arrived about 1800, signed out with the coast guard and headed to Point Danger. Sahula was at last heading towards NSW.
It depends how you understand "luck", but it seemed to slowly ebb from Sahula.
Within an hour, the crew wanted to turn back: the easterly was wrong, the skipper was incompetent, seasickness afflicted the body. We pressed on with the crew agreeing to continue to Coffs Harbour. However, it soon became clear the crew could not continue; the "seasickness" turned to something including increasing agitation, hot flushes and double vision.
We arrived back in Southport late evening. Chris disembarked to the waiting family and back to Brisbane. It had been a frustrating experience. I wish him well.
The "old salts" had a new recruit.
It was now too late to recruit a crew. So feeling fine, if not a trifle tired, I opted to go solo. I'd head off in the early morning. It was, after all, "lucky" Saturday.
So assisted by the "iron mainsail", Sahula retraced her "footsteps" to Point Danger and headed south.
Two large "iron mammoths" tried to eliminate Sahula. She changed course.
The northerly filled the MPS (spinnaker type sail) whisking Sahula past all the coastal ports. It was idyllic, dolphins played in the bow wave, seabirds glided effortlessly between the swell and waves. The East Australian Current had Sahula clocking seven knots plus.
It wasn't all a "breeze", taking the MPS down proved a challenge in rising wind. Sahula clearly needs a more manageable system of running before the wind, in light breezes. It would be better to have headsails (yankee and staysail) set out on poles, wing on wing.
The evening soon came with a half moon, a much lighter northerly and a horizon of possible rain squalls. It was time to reef the mainsail and again ask the "iron mainsail" to provide the knots needed to take us securely through the night to Coffs Harbour.
Sahula had to be there before a forecast "vigorous" southerly change.
A sailor's nightmare is to be "deleted" at night by an "iron mammoth." Peace of mind requires a continual watch. Sahula was in a busy shipping lane. The strategy requires constant "power naps" of no more than ten minutes; the time it takes a mammoth to travel from horizon to embrace.
Next morning, remarkably, I felt fine. I considered soldiering on to Port Stephens. However, the Solitary Islands (I felt a kinship) heralded the nearby port and then there was the "southerly."
Sahula was soon alongside a Coffs Harbour marina berth. I'd made it. A nice lunch and a long sleep, a hot shower and shave, some "moisturiser" (prescribed by daughter, Emily to keep aging Dad intact!!??); ingredients for a renewed man.
Today the 30 knot southerly is singing in the rigging.
It seemed to start as an uneventful relaxing day. Well it was but for one little flutter.
I could hear water fully dripping which often sounds like water lapping on the hull. This was clearly more close. The heart stopped (almost), I moved into rescue mode. I found the bilge full and filling. Sahula was sinking - again.
First check is the sea cock. It was closed, what next? Engine hoses were fine - remembering the last time.
Then I found the "drip less" propeller shaft seal was no longer. At least the problem was found, it was grit in the seal. I moved the seal and the problem was no more. So simple; life aboard is never allowed to be dull.
The heart returned to normal. A quick "Skype" to Peter, a fellow sailor using a similar item, reassured me that I'd corrected the problem.
I made myself a chai and enjoyed a nice Iced Vo Vo or two, willing the northerly and a sail to Sydney. The sail is unlikely before Saturday. Relax, enjoy Coffs, the marina and friends made here also south-bound. This is cruising.
Trip Report 3
10 January 2008 | Manly, Brisbane
Sahula: Passage Report No. 3
It's the way of cruising that time should not drive action. However, I find that sitting here tied up to the Tin Can Bay Marina wharf is an exercise in frustration. It seems I'm not yet in true cruising mode.
Nevertheless, I can't justify slipping the lines, the nameless "cyclone" (995 pressure) came this way, was reported to have whipped up 100km winds and big seas that hardly touched this marina oasis. The berth was clearly the best hideaway.
However, it isn't quite right. There are fellow cruisers, purists if you like, out there in the bay, straining at the chain, amongst the whipped white water. They seem Ok. Here in the marina, the recorded winds have rarely exceeded 25 knots. The only large boat dragging seems to have been a huge windage, three deck mega luxury motor cruiser.
It seems to me that weather forecasters could be labelled "terrorists," they mean well but it does seem that their forecasts are a little extreme. They have the effect of striking well meant terror into already worried minds. "Huge waves, extreme tides...Clear the Fraser Island campers...by tonight" say the reports. The reports are always premised on a "maybe 40% more...."
Yet, oddly, they refuse to name it. So I've taken the liberty; it's called "Meg".
I've done this so my friends in North Queensland can better identify with the temptuous lady. After all, it's now tracking north-east. Its going to its home fields, where, dare I say it, it should have gone in the first place. No self respecting cyclone should terrorise so far south.
And, of course, I want to "slip the lines" - tomorrow, so I wish it to take on a kindly nature and fair winds.
But that was not to be, or not immediately.
We remained a week to New Years day, tied to B31. It rained, it blew, and on New Years Eve they partied regardless. We did too, Ken cooked a gourmet meal for sharing with friends, Stuart and Lily (sv "Vehella"), Fritz and we, "Sahula" crew. We celebrated not only New Year but also my last day of employment but also my first day as a "retiree" cum "self supporting pensioner."
It was a fine party that ensured a somewhat forlorn crew, slipped the lines on News Years Day and headed out to confront the elements. There was a certain madness in the exercise suppressed by some manic need to feel again "Sahula" underway. A week was long enough in a marina.
Be assured however that no other yachts were seen underway that day. In a 25 knot plus southerly, under staysail alone, and reassured by the "iron mainsail's" constant chug, "Sahula" raced down the Tin Can Channel beset by driving rain.
It was not for the faint hearted; at times blinded from the navigation marks, eyes fixed on the depth sounder, we intermittently glimpsed the greens and reds and were soon off Inskip Point.
We'd had enough. We'd satiated the adventurous spirit. We turned into Pelican Bay, and were thankfully guided by a Fraser Island car ferry to the anchorage off Bullocky Point. Peace reined again, warm and dry, capped by an Iced VoVo and a cup of tea.
Our intention was to wait out the weather, explore the Straits and eventually sail south. But again, yes again, the weather forecasters spoiled the party.
While Meg was heading north, she'd spawned another low (or more relevantly called a "depression") which was forecast to head in our direction.
It began to seem "Sahula" was destined to never cross the Wide Bay Bar. Worse still, it seemed, prudence would soon have us back in the Tin Can Bay marina.
However, being a "cruiser" is to never loose heart. "All will be well" is the catch phrase.
"Meg's" little sister came to nothing but again rain squalls.
After a few days, word went out that the Tin Can Bay fishing fleet would be leaving. This was major news. It's well known that fishers have a weather sense which is incontrovertible. However, the question remains, would a prudent cruiser follow the weather hardened fleet? More to the point would such a sailor follow the fishers over the Wide Bay Bar, aptly recognised as Australia's worst?
On Friday, "Sahula" was moved to Inskip Point in readiness. She was joined by a small fleet of fellow frustrated yachties. The Coastguard counselled Sunday.
However, when Ismo, on a Gold Coast yacht, announced he was going over at 1800 hours, Saturday evening, we prepared to sail. All that could move was belted down, we donned lifejackets and lifelines. The Bar is well known for the rogue "curler" that unloads tonnes of itself, sweeping all before it.
The fleet rang with the nervous anticipation tinged with the adventurous spirit that marked yachts people.
We motored along like an ancient armada of ships of the line, sailing into battle.
The bar seemed calm enough. Ismo was across but within range, as if vindicated, we could see the odd curler breaking were once was Ismo's track.
Thank heaven, they broke in other places and soon we were all across.
Sails were raised in anticipation of the much anticipated sail to Brisbane. It was not to be, the wind died, the seas calmed, all under a beautiful sunset. It was time to stoke the "iron mainsail" and off we chugged all night to Brisbane.
In the morning, we had a marvellous sail across Moreton Bay to anchor in the River in late afternoon. It was a relief to be here.
Next day we "toured" the Brisbane River. Times change, the river's industrial past is now supplanted by riverside apartments, large homes and nearer the city centre by a massive wall of city office blocks. All along the river, the cities "lemmings" could be seen exercising, running and bicycling on the foreshore board "walk". Fast city "cats" seemingly determined to collide, fed the city its workers. It seemed a remote, modern Brueghel-ian scene.
We moored between the piles off the Botanical Gardens. It was again time to party. Today was my birthday of not inconsiderable age. I enjoyed a lovely meal with my daughter Emily and next day a lovely lunch at the Queensland Art Gallery with Sahula's crew, myself, Ken and Kelly and Emily.
Two days was enough of city life. The lemmings convinced me their lifestyle was not mine. The rushing river current making going ashore an exercise in risk management, spurred departure.
Sahula is now in the East Coast Marina at Manly. She leaves on Saturday for a friends berth in Raby Bay to await the reluctant northerlies. Ken, crew since Townsville and his lovely wife, Kelly disembarked today. It has been marvellous to have them aboard.
Chris has signed up as crew to Sydney. He'll embark when we leave for Southport in readiness for the sail to Sydney.
It would be nice to begin next week but who, given past experience, can really predict the weather gods?
Supplementary Passage Report to No. 3.
A human at sea has little in common with the landed kin. The kinship is more with the wildlife - the birds, the fish, the whales and dolphins.
So when Gracie fluttered aboard off Caloundra it caused some amazement. This was a small "earth" bird, dove like, a ground runner, all beautifully brown feathers. It couldn't have been more different to its seabird cousins.
Gracie landed on the side deck and promptly hopped into the cockpit. There she (?) sat, reciprocating the stares or looks of amazement, of her new company.
She was exhausted, she was off course, swept to sea by some errant wind, grateful to find some good steel or anything, in whatever shape, to rest on.
So there she sat while Sahula sailed on and the crew carried on as usual. She didn't say anything, just sat there, seemingly in shock. Eventually she "flew" up into the doghouse out of the way of cockpit activity. She refused offers of water or food.
She settled in for the night but was gone in the morning. A memory to savour. All that remained were two small brown feathers. These now adorn Sahula's "Greek eye" necklace made for the ship by daughter Nichola while sailing in the Aegean Sea.
Trip Report 2
28 December 2007 | Tin Can Bay
Sahula's Passage Report No: 2
It takes time to understand the cruising mind. We arrived at Tin Can Bay (derived from the Aboriginal name "Tinchin," - surely more appropriate than its European adaption!)) slid into the marina for the day and stayed a night. Not purist cruiser behaviour but.....
Very nice (too nice) marina and a reasonable fare. We fought off marina "rot" but not before embracing the hot showers one more time.
When the tide rose at midday we slipped the lines and left for the beauty of an anchorage in the Sandy Straits. It was not far to go, just off the village channel the main channel provided the "spot." The sunset ritual of drinks with olives and a dip farewelled the sun, set behind red gold laced clouds.
Next day dawned just as beautiful.
It was maintenance day. The crew of a steel boat is never far from the "rust" paint tin and failed lights needed repair. It was pleasant productive day interspersed with cups of tea and a chat. The ABC provided its unique intellectual inputs. It is hard to take, this cruising life. Evening found Ken in the galley again preforming his "Jamie Oliver" magic. Spoiled attains a new meaning in boat food lore.
Tomorrow is more of the same. It's a struggle!!!??
We listened to the weather forecast of a SE'ly change. Rain heralded its arrival of squalls. Fortunately, not before the paint patches were dealt with under sunshine. Ken also made the "baggy wrinkles" for the ends of the mast cross-trees. They'd go on later. I also polished the guard rails stainless pipe. Sahula was ready for southern guests. Appearances are everything!!!????
However, it was not be, at least not so soon.
Again the decision to go south was delayed and finally dispensed with, travel south would be by bus. On Xmas Eve day the "course" was bitumen to Brisbane and a welcome by daughter Emily.
Xmas Eve and Xmas Day was a lovely time with Emily and my aunt and uncle, Dot and Neil. Emily was her radiant self and her "new" shared house was lovely.
Life is often a comparative thing. On Boxing Day, Emily was working (selling bikinis in a shop called "Sunburn"!!) so I ventured into the city crowds tantalised by the 50% off. Apparently, I needed a reminder to be back aboard sailing the worlds oceans. I stayed all of thirty minutes before fleeing to the Queensland Art Gallery.
I found utopia.
The Gallery featured a marvellous retrospective of the Australian (and Queenslander) watercolourist and farmer, Kenneth Macqueen (1897-1960). I've long being inspired by his work. I slowly moved from painting to painting revelling in the colour and form of works on his Darling Downs farm and during holidays by the sea.
I hadn't painted on this trip so far, it takes time to absorb the new, organise the processes, settle and start. I was now inspired, it was a marvellous to leave the Gallery feeling again the excitement of creative anticipation.
I could now return replete to the boat and sail south to Brisbane.
It was not to be.
I arrived aboard to the news that heading this way was a low, predicted to become cyclonic, just north of Fraser Island. The irony; didn't I just escape such threats? Is that not why I'm here, deep in southern Queensland, in lovely Tin Can Bay?
The phone rang; a yacht was in trouble off Double Island Point, just south of here. "We just thought.....Had I heard about the cyclone?" I would do the same. It's nice to feel good friendship and relate that all is well.
The Marina manager has just anointed it Category 2, "double the lines, please." As if we need an incentive. The barometer is stationary above 1000 (the pressure level below which officialdom name the "cyclone" and give it a category).
Well, change tack; enjoy the challenge of global warming. Not difficult when in a marina. The only "challenge" is when to leave it. Not for budget sailors, these marinas.
These times give space. There is plenty to fill the slot. I still needed to study the intricate workings of numerous electronic gadgets and computer software.
However, for now the challenge was to become proficient in being ham or amateur radio operator "VK4HBV (Victor, Kilo 4 Hotel, Bravo, Victor)" The words "amateur" or "ham" never had more meaning.
I'd worked to gain this status so I could contact other operators and receive emails anywhere in the world. It was both for safety and a pleasant hobby. I'd enjoyed the study in a completely new field of interest.
However, now was "D" (or "H") day, I had the licence; congratulatory emails signalled that they looked forward to hearing from me.
And it was a rainy, time free day.
There are three of us aboard. Kelly, Ken's wife is aboard after flying in from Cardwell. They'll be aboard till Brisbane. I've still no crew to Sydney as yet.
I'm keen to be in Sydney for the 26th January, Australia Day on the harbour. Oops, Cruisers Code says never set timelines.
Who needs departure times? Tonight the "cyclonic" sunset sky peppered with cumulus, seemed to go against the lowering barometer.
So we had other yachties aboard, engaged in that ritual of friendship unique to cruising, where friends are just doing the same and talk is levelled in a myriad of topics about "messing in boats." Blissfully ignorant of the madder world.
Tomorrow, who knows, the boat is tied down; we'll have a good meal, sleep and be ready for anything.
Trip Report 1
20 December 2007 | Tin Can Bay
Sv Sahula: Trip Report - Townsville to Brisbane December 2007
It began as a dream, became the impossible adventure, then began on a Wednesday in December, 2007.
The possible became reality when family promised independence and a house and a job provided financial support. I needed a boat and the independence means to find distance horizons without being unduly unfettered by an income or lack of it. So the house was sold, a boat bought and the invested superannuation the means. It was not everyone's concept of the ideal. For most cutting the strings of house, car and friends is too much to forgo for the vagaries of the aging adventurous wanderer.
No amount of money can supplant the importance of the boat. It is the sailor's world, a warm haven inside and a safe, well honed sailing machine. "Sahula" was all this and more. When I first saw her she was a dowdy green boat amongst the white plastic super yachts of Southport's yacht club marina. It was love at first sight. A loved, dutch designed but neglected 12 metre steel yacht.
The excitement of ownership being that first critical step, soon was replaced by the hard work of rebuilding and honing onboard systems. Four years later the boat was ready, not complete, but ready.
A lovely farewell with a party with university colleagues (including two fruits cakes - skipper's favourite) and good friends goodbyes, set the scene to go. The adventure had began.
Ken, the crew (a friend from Cardwell) came aboard, fuel was taken on and Sahula danced to a light northerly heading south. It augered well, almost ideal conditions allowed a direct course to Cape Cleveland and the run to the Whitsunday Islands.
The big bluey, an MPS soon proved its worth. It strained to the Northerly from the Cape and overnight to the Whitsundays. The MPS, a "multi- purpose sail",is a cross between a spinnaker and genoa and when hoisted and retrieved in a "sock" is easily used in light conditions. I use it often to gain an extra knot and enjoy the spectacle of having a big blue and white sail driving forward the yacht.
The reverie stopped at Hamilton Island when the wind died and the "iron maiden" a 70 hp four cyclinder diesel noisily pushed Sahula to Brampton Island. A night at anchor after an all night sail was welcome.
The next sector was the most challenging of the trip, rounding Cape Townsend on the way to Yeppon and Keppel Island. The northerly turned easterly so a long sail towards the Broadsounds past Mackay saw Sahula dwarfed amongst some 30 huge "colliers" awaiting cargo at Abbot Point Coal Loading facility. We tacked and with fresh winds sailed the night, illuminated by the anchor lights of the fleet till we neared the Percy Islands. It was an eerie experience, passing the walls of steel, sails lit up on a moonless night.
After a good nights sailing the morning wind died and once again the "iron maiden" pushed Sahula across oily seas to Percy Island. We anchored off South Percy Islands "yachties" shed and swam ashore in clear blue water. This shed contains the memorabilia of hundreds of passing yachts. We left our memory on paper pushed into a bottle.
We planned on staying the night but the afternoon northerly picked up so the MPS again took us south to Cape Townsend and down the Capricornian coast to Yeppoon and Keppel Island, or at least it was supposed to do so. Instead the morning doldrums found Sahula ghosting along at the beginning of a long day after a long night, to Keppel Island. We were tempted to stop at the beautiful anchorages of Pearl Bay and Port Clinton which very slowly came abeam.
The consistent wind pattern however saw a freshening wind eventually fill the trusty MPS to Keppel in the late afternoon.
Few islands are more beautiful than Keppel. Its bays are sandy beaches with azure clear blue water. We stayed two nights. We swam, fished and relaxed, the first real break on a trip of overnight sailing apart from a stopover at Brampton.
Overnight sailing is tiring. Our body clocks were not used to sleeping in a moving yacht at intermittent periods. We found three hour watches best suited as two hours seemed the maximum sleep we'd get in one period with preparation each side. Each day after we felt worn out.
The next movement was an enjoyable MPS sail from Keppel to the beginning of the Narrows channel through to Gladstone.
The Narrows is between Curtis Island and the coast. It's only accessible at near high tide as it completely dries out.
At this point we'd enjoyed only minor issues in Sahula's electrical and motor systems. However, this was about to change. As we motored with headsail pulling down towards the night anchorage, when a dull "woo-mp" noise followed by steam and a filling bilge heralded our first major engine challenge. Fortunately we had the headsail up so we continued on while at the same time closing down the engine and all sea water cocks. The water stopped rising and was quickly hand and electrically pumped out.
A quick check revealed the water pump outlet pipe had come off and the hose out of the salt water manifold exhaust heat exchanger had melted at the point of connection to the engine exhaust water cooling box.
Reality connected to myth with the oft repeated, "cruising is about doing maintenance in beautiful places."
Now began the essential repair job that is usually unmentioned but challenges all yachts crew. We needed to know why it had happened to ensure an adequate repair. It seemed to be caused by both pressure and heat. It soon became clear the hose used to take water from the heat exchanger to the cooling box was inadequate for the job. It had deteriorated over time, eventually blocking the exhaust waters and blowing the hose. A disaster waiting to happen.
A quick ramble through the spares box thankfully revealed sufficient parts to concoct a makeshift hose. Its installation involved much blood, sweat and frustration. It was done and was sufficient in the morning to allow, with much relief, motoring through the Narrows to Gladstone.
We checked in with Gladstone Harbour Control and were in the Marina by midday. Gladstone Marina is a friendly, noisy but well run place. Gladstone town is a friendly and assessable. So with a good meal at the Yacht Club, it's an enjoyable stayover. We soon had the necessary repair done. A good sleep and the next day we moved across to anchor in the islands off Gladstone harbour. Why pay marina fees when there are beautiful anchorages?
A night there and we moved to Facing Island further out through a well marked channel. The weather report claimed ENE'lies so after anchoring till the afternoon we began the sail south to Harvey Bay and the Sandy Straits.
As is often the case the weather report proved doubtful. The vaunted NE'lies became more Easterlies so we made a long leg to sea to get sea room and tacked to run along the coast. We were off Bustard Head at midnight unable to clear the outlying reefs and rocks. So again another long tack to sea and we turned to clear for Harvey Bay and another long night at sea.
A magnificent dawn light found progress very slow but by afternoon, Sahula was romping along to a magnificent sunset, arriving at midnight at the fairway buoy into Sandy Straits at midnight. The crew were exhausted, so finding the lights and navigating to the anchorage required adrenalin to draw on the last of the reserves. We anchored of the Kingfisher Fraser Island Resort at 0400 hours. We could afford only a brief sleep to ensure enough rising tide to navigate the channel and arrive off Inskip Point by late afternoon in preparation for crossing the Wide Bay Bar on the next rising tide. Sailing however is forever subject to the master of wind.
At five o'clock the marine rescue office in Bundeberg forecast a south easterly change. It was now Sunday so we must move speedily through the Wide Bay bar (Queensland's worst) on Monday or early Tuesday if we not to await another northerly.
We contacted Marine Rescue Inskip Point to assess the latest conditions on the bar. They reported it was safe to cross, however weather reports urged caution. The forecast SE change was reported to be at Mooloolaba and ominous rain clouds soon heralded its arrival. There would be no crossing tonight so a welcome good nights sleep would allow reassessment in the morning.
We awoke to strong SE'lies and scudding rain squalls. Trawlers reported the bar was fine but the weather report was increasingly strong SE'lies and rain squalls so we opted to reassess tomorrow morning. The prospect of a beating into a strong SE'ly blasted by rain squalls, over a night and a day to Brisbane was distinctly unappealing, I was retired for heavens sake. What was the rush, the pressure, the shortage of time?
So we mooted the option of staying in the Sandy Straits over Xmas. A marina berth was available at Tin Can Bay Marina and so was a bus to Brisbane for Xmas.
I was looking forward to Xmas with daughter Emily and aunt and uncle Dot and Neil MacDonald and visiting friends in Brisbane. One could hardly complain that the best laid plans had vacated and been replaced by a week in the Sandy Straits. It would however be somewhat hard to swallow that the next northerly change came and went while in Brisbane over Xmas. Such is life.
But its all about wind and whim and after two nights at Inskip Point watching the pelicans and other bird life the weather forecast was for northerlies. So no more must we watch the 4wd tourist frenzy of popping out of the bushes to bolt to the waiting ferry and fifteen minutes later pop off the ferry and rush off along the beach to Fraser Islands embrace or horror.
We left for a Tin Can Bay marina berth to top up supplies, fix an electrical problem and most importantly, have a shower and do the washing. Tomorrow we leave on the final leg to Brisbane. The forecast is northerlies strengthening to fifteen to twenty knots, ideal weather to speedily head south to Xmas with family.
Tonight we're having a meal at the local yacht club with Fritz, a yachtie friend from Townsville. Marvellous to see him.
It's been a marvellous trip so far. There has been good sailing on a boat that revels in doing so. Ken has been good company, an excellent crew, affable, humoured and skilled in sailing. He's also a great cook, a superb bonus. Sahula (apart from the engine and electrical challenges) has been marvellous to be aboard.