Queensland - A Well Kept Secret
16 July 2019 | Our Neighbour Catching Some Rays
Nobody told us about cruising Queensland. But then, it is getting a bit out of the way. Unless you're from Queensland that is. It does have its own pilot book though, but with page after page of terrifying descriptions of bar entries that only hardened fishermen and lifeboat crew would attempt and, if like us, you come from waters where one step too far on your annual summer paddle will have you in hundreds of feet of freezing water, it's all a bit daunting.
It's got Southport bar, famous, at least to me, for the YouTube video of a catamaran being surfed, as opposed to surfing i.e. "surfing" implies one is in a degree of control, which this guy was absolutely not, being surfed across the bar, spray flying and ambulances waiting. It's also got the "Mad Mile" where boats have been pitch-poled and waters where a decent pair of waders would easily get you to the pub from your anchorage several miles offshore. And my personal favourite - overhead cables. "I'm pretty sure you'll get under. No problem mate". And so, perhaps like us, I think many foreign cruisers skip the Queensland coast and just hit the main harbours and perhaps just make a dash for the next hot stop; New Caledonia or Indonesia perhaps. I mean, Joshua Slocum only stopped three times.
But then, saved by that joy of cruising, meeting other folk who know the lay of the land, and who have for many, many seasons, been there and done it. The walking, talking Pilot Books. We first met these guys out in the Pacific and have been on their coat tails ever since; Scott and Rachel from Tasmania, Bill and Tony from Queensland and Sydney respectively who have been up and down this coast for decades, pointed us at all the great places. And there's been loads of them.
The backwaters and creeks of Fraser Island.......assuming you survive the Mad Mile. Maryborough, one of Queensland's earliest ports where many of the early settlers first clapped eyes on their new home. Maryborough was a trading town shipping timber, wool and coal back to the motherland. It is also the birthplace of Mary Poppins. She even has her silhouette on the pedestrian crossing lights.
Lady Musgrave island, a reminder of mid Pacific being just a ring of reef with a small island at one end.
Dunk Island, named by Lieutenant Cook after the Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty. (Did his mum tell him not to dunk his sandwiches at tiffin time?"). Sadly the bar and allegedly the world's best burgers were wiped out by Cyclone Yasi in 2011. "Oh! Didn't we tell you about the cyclones. And the sharks. And the crocs?". Beautiful, secluded and sheltered Pear Bay. The list can go on and on.
Cassowary and chicks in Mourilyan, strangely walking the streets and gardens in a tidy little sugar port on the Moresby River. Strange to see these giant chickens walking the streets as there's supposedly only 1200 or so of these birds left in the wild. Although I have to say, hardly surprising given the carefree way mum took her chicks across the busy road.
All along the Queensland coast there's a backdrop of mountainous coastline and it's a bit special knowing that not only are you following in the wake of Bill and Rachel but also Lieutenant Cook.
The sad news is that we’ve reached “The Tip”, the very top of Australia and, in ten minutes, we up anchor and, say goodbye to Thursday Island, Queensland and Australia, leaving behind so many good friends. The bad news……….we'll be back!
Next stop, Indonesia.
Shake Down Round Tasmania in an Outremer 51
16 July 2019
The Price of Fish These Days
12 July 2019 | Fishing Aussie Style
You'll often find me standing at the supermarket fish counter these days, agape and aghast at the price of fish. Twenty six dollars a kilo. Thirty five, even in the forties for a decent bit of white fish these days. And then oddly, the fish that seem to have flown the farthest, from Thailand, Vietnam or even Denmark seem to cost less than "locally sourced". Mind you, when you see the fishing boats chuffing back into harbour at four or five in the morning, having spent the night at sea, rolling like dogs, unloading their catch then filling up with a thousand litres of diesel, you can understand why the catch is expensive. Although my guess is the supermarkets make more margin than the rest of the supply chain put together.
Anyway, having been told by my Harley chum, Johann that what I needed to improve my fish per thousand miles ratio (currently about 0.33) was a Rapala diving lure, we lashed out in the Lure Shop in Cooktown on some fancy, bright coloured triple hooked Rapalas. Thirty bucks each so we were really hoping Johann was on the money.
And so, as we meandered our way up the Great Barrier Reef, getting blown north by the fifteen to twenty from the south east, forecast that never changes, weaving our way around the shoals, islands, reefs, ships, tugs and fishing boats, we thought, "hey, let's see if we can catch a fish". Now, firstly, that's not as easy as it sounds. First, you've got to get the new shiny lure out its box without skewering yourself on one or indeed all of needle sharp points on the hooks. (If you don't catch a fish, you are absolutely guaranteed to catch the ensign, thereafter spending a happy hour or so trying to get the hook out the flag without leaving it entirely in tatters).
Next, how do you tie the damn thing on? "You've got to use wire as your leader" said the sales guy. "Offshore, you'll want 90lb test". So, another ten bucks goes on a coil of this ninety pound wire. Which I think is quite strong. I mean, what size of fish was he expecting us to catch. The wire comes cleverly packaged such that when you take off the lid, it self explodes all over the cockpit floor where, as you try to stop the wire unraveling like an angry snake, you off course embed the hook you just unpacked in your T-shirt and then spend another happy hour extricating that.
And then there's the knot. How exactly do you tie a knot in wire? I still don't know but twenty or thirty half hitches, locked off with another five bucks worth of little metal talurit splice thingies seemed plenty strong to me.
So, there we were, in the fifteen to twenty metres of azure blue reef waters, somewhere between Cooktown and Morris Island, another sand-spit-cum-reef mid ocean, we ran out the line, sat back and waited. And waited. And waited. And gave up. And forgot about it. Fishing as normal, Time Bandit style. Nuthin'.
And then, like Jaws, I heard the clicks of the reel and bingo, a fish on the line. We hauled it in, gave it a bonk on the head and faster than you can say, "fish supper please" he was in the pan. Or half was, the other half in the freezer.
Enthused, we tried again yesterday. Twice. Two lures, apparently chomped clean through the wire by Jaws or one of his buddies. For a bit I thought my knots might have been the problem until our buddies on Cheetah rolled up for sundowners, (it's Hell out here you know) and their fishing exploits resulted in them catching half a fish, Jaws having taken the last half as they were reeling it in. At least they still had their lure. Two of ours are now presumably and maybe deservedly tormenting a couple of big nasty sharks, much like my missing filling is currently tormenting me.
That and the thought that altogether our fish cost about ninety bucks. The price of fish these days.
03 July 2019
"Please call to book your time slot for diesel".
Never seen that before. But then, we've never seen a fleet of high speed, hundred foot aluminium catamarans flying out the harbour at upwards of thirty knots, hauling nervous and slightly nauseous tourists out for their first sight of the Great Barrier Reef.
We tried to get a booking for our modest needs but one of the fleet was due in for a fill - seven thousand litres. All part of the eco-friendly tour.
Not to worry. The plan was to fill up in Port Douglas anyway. After all, we knew Port Douglas.
First stop however was Michaelmas Reef, one of the more accessible reefs twenty miles or so off Cairns. We had a cracking sail out and by the time we got there it was blowing thirty knots. The tourist boats were in ahead of us and a sizeable crowd of flesh was lying on the sand dune. Which is in fact the island. Some were frolicking at the waters edge. Some snorkelling. Some wondering what the heck that catamaran out there was doing.
Which was......flapping. We'd let the main halyard go and the sail, which, unusually hadn't dropped like a stone into its bag but instead fluttered down to half height and stopped like Norah Battie's bloomers in a blow. A quick and dare I say, athletic jump onto the saloon top, (there were girls watching after all), a haul on the luff and most of it came down leaving just an annoying scrap waving at the tourists. Then, with timing reserved only for yachtsmen and firefighters at their Christmas party, there came the sound of an alarm. Now, when you're main is flapping around and you're winkling your way through an unmarked channel in twenty five to thirty knots, it's not a great time to hear alarm bells. Port engine alarm bells. Brilliant.
I'd had enough of driving on one engine back in Townsville, mostly in circles, so decided the prudent thing to do was make a clean exit and leave the sand dune to the tanned and scantily clad youth and make haste to Port Douglas. The sacrifices we have to make. And annoyingly all the noise turned out to just be a slightly loose fan belt. Anyway, we'd been promised crocodiles in Port Douglas and we quite fancied spending some time on the river croc spotting.
What Bill hadn't mentioned were the "no-see-ums". Australia's answer to the Scottish midge and both species should re-named "gonna bite youse". We didn't see any crocs but we were bitten to pieces making another swift exit, us clad in long everything, reeking of DDT and looking like we were carrying the Black Death.
Which we might be.
21 June 2019
Now, as I've said before, this old cruising lark isn't all beer and skittles. And for some of my pals, this subject isn't one to use as the topic of another crummy blog.....but here we go.
A few months ago and, wow, nearly three thousand miles ago, back down south in sunny, yet strangely chilly Tasmania our port engine kicked off one morning with an exhaust that was looking a bit steamy. I did check the bibles on board, "The Idiots Guide to Diesel Engines" and Nigel Calder's PHD thesis, "The Boatowners Mechanical and Electrical Manual" which details in microscopic brilliance absolutely everything you need to know about the three "R"s of sailing; Repairs, Renewals and Regret. Some of it's even written in English. The Idiots Guide was more at my level and happily, in blissful ignorance, I put the white swirly smoke "that clears quickly" down to the cool Tassie mornings, filing it in that part of my brain reserved for subjects I'm ill equipped to deal with marked, "Ignorance", sub-section "Denial".
One thing we like about our new boat is that in light airs, while most others enjoy the delights and steady six knots of diesel propulsion, we can keep sailing. Consequently, Herr Volvo, isn't called upon much to move us along and only makes an appearance at parking time and then only for a few minutes. Until a few days ago.
It was early morning. Well, early for us; one of these crack of dawn starts when, after struggling out from under six layers of fleece blankets, (because you can't face looking out the duvet again because, after all, we are north of the "duvet line") you look out the window and you're the only boat left in the anchorage. Drawers on, gloves on, anchor up and we were off, chasing the fleet and the sun as, cunningly, whoever built Australia must have been a powerboater as, more often than not, each night's anchorage is number of available daylight hours plus two, further on, ensuring we repeatedly break Survival Rule No1, "No night approaches to new ports".
However, we'd been to Townsville on our Booty Call camper trip the previous year and could picture the straightforward, well marked river and the easy approach to the long dock, yet, despite flying the goodness knows how many square metres of "How the hell we gonna get this down?" we had to rouse Herren Port and Starboard Volvo and motor the last few miles into Townsville. At least, that was the plan, right up until that old favourite, "Can you smell burning?"
Anne screamed as she looked over the side and I looked back. We were laying a black smoke screen the Royal Navy would be proud of. I quickly gave Herr Port Volvo the rest of the day off and, once I plucked up the courage, opened the engine hatch, thereafter able to do a fine impression of Dick Van Dyke, the chimney sweep from Mary Poppins. (I could probably do a better Cockney accent as well). Whatever it was, it didn't look like we should be motoring with Herr Port Volvo. Fortunately , one of the beauties of a catamaran is that you carry a spare. And, to make the final approach even easier, Bill from Out of the Bag, called up and volunteered to stand by on tug boat duty in his rubber ducky in case we needed a final nudge alongside.
So, off we went up the river. Past the sugar docks. "Don't remember these". Past the Magnetic Island high speed ferries. "Hmmm. Don't remember these either". All the time, the river getting narrower. Finally, the marina came in view and we definitely didn't remember that. If you'd seen its convoluted, short, tight docks squeezed into the last wee bit of drying river you'd have remembered. And not taken a one engined tennis court shaped boat into the jaws of disaster. In the end, after a lot of squirrelling about, finding out the boat does actually have good prop walk and turning clockwise was easy, we had to turn anti-clockwise to make the dock. Just as well we had our personal tug.
The cause of all this mayhem? Almost totally blocked arteries on the Port exhaust elbow. Herr Starboard had the same symptoms and his heart attack wasn't far off so, two new exhaust elbows and two boat bucks later we were back in action and finally able to depart the marina and its restaurant / bar, whose deck we elevated to every high tide to sit with the drinkers and diners. Not great at night if you forget and walk into the saloon in yer pants before closing time.
15 June 2019 | Start of a Long, Dark, Whitsunday Night
It's not often you hear a Mayday. Exciting. Worrying. And right when we were at a crucial point on Nashville. Would Deacon hit the bottle again? Would Will make public his dark secret and kill his burgeoning career before it got started? All this stress and then, bang, right at the crux……."MAYDAY".
"Mayday, Mayday. This is….. “ well, let's be kind and just call them, "Saucy Sue".
"Saucy Sue. This is Marine Rescue. What's your problem?"
Now, Deacon was just reaching up to the cupboard. What was in it? Would he crash off the wagon? Again?As for Will. He was all a dither. Who would he let down? What would he achieve?
And Saucy Sue ........ "We've broken free of our mooring and are adrift" "And its dark".
"Where are you Saucy Sue?"
.......the cupboard creaked slowly open. Deacon was tormented. Will picked up the microphone and stared blankly into the audience...... and Saucy Sue was adrift in the dark.
What a night. What tension.
Fortunately Deacon and Will could be paused. Saucy Sue's plight, while desperately needing a Pause button of their own, sounded like they were, well, in the shit.
The nights here when this all happened a few days ago were moonless, absolutely pitch black and a nasty reef is seldom far away. As moored boats passed by Saucy Sue's windows in the dark and with the sure and certain knowledge of a reef close by, Saucy Sue were beginning to panic.
Meanwhile Marine Rescue issued a Mayday Seelonce and started going through all their prescripted questions. "And Saucy Sue. How many people on board? Are you wearing life jackets? "What is your lat/long?", all the while we're screaming at the mic, "Start your flippin' engine". "Drop your anchor".
"We've hit something!" cried Saucy Sue.
"Where are you Saucy Sue?" cried Marine Rescue.
"I don't know. It's dark.” And en, to emphasise the depth of the problem, “We're novices”.
And then I cried in the sure and certain knowledge our insurance premiums were about to take another hike.
Anyway, all ended well. Marine Rescue hauled them off the reef and, having seen Saucy Sue being driven into the Marina by one of Queensland Yacht Charters staff, I think we can safely assume the crew were safe and putting their nerves back together in one of the many luxury resorts around the Whitsundays.
And Deacon? And Will?........ Best watch the series!
Crossing the Line
13 June 2019
Back in December 2011, after finishing the ARC and way too many complimentary, welcome rums, we thought it would be a good idea to attend Chris Doyle's lecture on cruising around the Caribbean Islands. As there was the chance of more free rum, I was onboard. And so, all eager eyed, we headed off to the session ready to absorb Chris's decades of experience cruising the area. "Don't touch the pink rum stuff 'cause it gives you the hangover from hell" would have been a good start, but that topic wasn't on his agenda. And neither was rum on the menu. Weather was on the agenda. And so, like all good cruisers, at the mention of this critical topic, we pricked our ears, sat upright, pencils poised over scraps of paper stolen from the bar and listened for what words of wisdom the Caribbean guru would impart.
"Its going to blow twenty to twenty five knots, from the south east.........until June". And that was it.
Well, out here in Whitsunday Land, it seems about the same. However, we have definitely crossed a couple of lines. The first was the Tropic of Capricorn. The second, we crossed just yesterday and is what I've named, "the Duvet Line.
The cold weather is now a distant memory, the duvet is stuffed in a locker and, man, it's bilin' hot.
The politicians here also crossed a line today. They approved a giant new coal mine just west of where we are now. Gotta keep them Chinese power plants running. The environmentalists lost the nearly ten year battle, but at least fifteen hundred families of the fifteen thousand who have applied, will have a new job in the house. No doubt the Pokie machine manufacturers are looking for new locations as I type.
Next stop Townsville.
Time Bandit - A Quick Look Around
09 June 2019
it took a while, but (Huw) here you go!