Carving Out Three Years

Sunday 13th May 2018

Middle Percy Island, confusingly north of not just South but also Northeast Percy Islands, has a long history as a safe anchorage for cruisers heading north up the Australian East Coast. An A frame hut, complete with BBQ facilities and tables and chairs, sits at the back of the beach in West Bay and stands testament to the friendly welcome extended by the Island to visiting yachts. Absolutely every available space on the walls, ceiling and rafters is home to momentos left by previous sailors.

Every inch of Percy Island Yacht Club is covered in mementos from passing yachts.

Having had a good look around we returned to Raya, Rick itching to add a board to the collection, me unfortunately itching from the dozen or so sandfly bites I had accumulated. Delighting in having an excuse to work with wood instead of engines and plumbing for a while, he quickly produced a fitting record of Raya’s visit. It was especially poignant as we hung it in the A frame on Thursday 10th May, exactly three years since we let go the lines and left the dock in Southampton.

Marking our stay in West Bay

Another interesting feature of West Bay is its secluded lagoon. Only accessible by shallow draft boats at high tide, it sits hidden amongst the rocky shoreline a completely protected haven for those boats that can get in and then take the ground at low tide. We took the dingy in and found not only a catamaran happily sitting on the sand but also a working boat precariously tired to a dock. Part of the Barrier Reef National Park, the Island is managed by it’s only inhabitants, the occupants of the homestead sitting up amongst the wooded hills. The boat is their connection with the rest of the world and the lagoon offers perfect protection from all extremes of weather.

Homestead transport hidden within the protection of the West Bay Lagoon.

The Homestead is attempting to be as self sufficient as possible, raising goats and chickens, growing their own fruit and vegetables, producing honey and generating their own power. If they have any excess produce they are happy to sell it to yachties. We started off on the track that lead across the island towards the house but about halfway, not really needing any supplies, we got lured down a more intriguing, smaller path. The ground around us was covered in ferns and scrubby hebes and the canopy above our heads full of squawking crows, through the trees could be glimpsed inviting blue sea. Our intrepid adventure however, was easily stopped by a large web stretching across the path, it’s brightly coloured creator very much at home and only millimetres from Ricks head.

Giant Golden Orb spider

Early Friday morning, we headed to Mackay. The large tidal range here, at over 6m during spring tide, doesn’t just enable boats to enter secluded lagoons, it also means there are strong currents helping or hindering each passage and anchoring requires some mathematical juggling. In the marina even the provisioning needs to be timed with the tide, full trolleys and steep ramps don’t go together well. Still after three years each new place surprises us with its own unique challenges.

Pontoon ramp at low tide

Soldier Crab Creek

Tuesday 8th May 2018

Light blue soldier crab

After a couple of days of high winds and torrential rain, this morning we could see blue skies between the clouds and the barometer had fallen slightly. A firm ridge of high pressure has passed over the Queensland coast and we have sort shelter in Island Head Creek.

We enjoyed our couple of days off Second Beach on pretty Great Keppel Island, a popular spot, there were quite a few boats dotted around, however when we chose to go ashore the beach stretched out pristine and empty. With only a small surge coming in we decided to try out the new dingy anchoring system Rick had been working on in his head to stop the dingy continually being caught in the surf. Attaching a long second line to the head of the anchor Rick balanced it on the bow, he pushing the dingy as far off shore as he could and particularly beyond the breaking waves, and then tugged the line pulling the anchor into the water. The long line was then secured around a rock high up on the beach ready for us to retrieve the dingy on our return, hopefully without getting wet.

With half an eye firmly on the dingy we headed for the rocks at the end of the beach. It was nice to stretch our legs, the nearby islands complimenting the view. As we walked along the tide line we marvelled at how amazingly clean the beaches are in this part of Queensland. And the dingy stayed exactly where we had left it bobbing quietly and dry beyond the surf.

Rock climbing Second Beach, Keppel Island

Notorious for the swell that creeps into the bay in anything but calm conditions we knew that this was not going to be a good place to be for the weather coming in on Sunday. So early Saturday morning found us heading 60nm north to Island Head Creek. We had visions of returning to murky water and muddy banks, we couldn’t have been more wrong. It was a stunning spot, blue water, sand banks and high, craggy, green hills surrounded us.

The quiet was absolute, despite the numerous different types of birds we could spot through the binoculars. Great egrets and other waders searched for food in the shallows, large flocks of terns and gangs of pelicans rested on the sand flats, an osprey harried a group of gulls for their catch and a couple of oyster catchers, easily identified by their bright red beaks, pecked at the sand. We could see absolutely no sign of human activity, no huts, no other boats, no radio masts, no phone signal or internet, and as the sunset, no artificial lights not even the loom of a nearby town. Gradually the stars appeared, first in the still orange of the western sky Venus emerged, then in the east Jupiter began to shine brightly. As the darkness further encased us a remarkable dome of stars filled the blackness above, so close you could almost reach up and touch them.

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t going to allow us to appreciate the beauty of this splendid isolation for long. Sunday morning brought strong winds and heavy showers, a complete rainbow formed so close I couldn’t actually photograph the whole thing.

A complete rainbow arched across the creek

Gradually the winds built and the silence was replaced by the howl of gust through the rigging and the slap of waves on the hull. As Sunday moved into Monday sustained torrential rain joined in the mix and continued throughout the day. A few other boats came in to take refuge, the rain obscuring them and the high hills around us.

Although we were in a safe spot, the anchor holding tight, bad weather is always tiring. We decided to stay here another day to regroup, allow the ocean swell outside to reduce and give ourselves the opportunity to go ashore.

Sand banks Island Head Creek

Island Head Creek is in a military training zone, walking on the beach is apparently tolerated but going any further inland is forbidden, we headed for the expansive sand banks adjacent to us. It was a strange place, think, small desert dropped into a river delta. The birds, alerted by our engine, disappeared as we approached and at first sight the sand banks appeared deserted. Then I spotted a tiny crab, his shell a vivid lilac blue. As I beckon Rick over, I realised the entire bank was alive, there were a million of them scurrying beneath our feet.

Armies of light blue soldier crabs marching up the beach

This really had been a perfect anchorage, protecting us from the weather, charming us with its scenery and delighting us with its inhabitants. Unfortunately with no phone signal here or I suspect at our next destination, Middle Percy Island, this blog will have to await publication a few more days.

Rosslyn Bay

Thursday 3rd May 2018

We have spent the last week at the friendly Keppel Bay Marina in the appropriately named Rosslyn Bay Harbour. I did suggest that the name similarity deserved a discount but none was forthcoming. A discount would have been welcome, as we approach the popular cruising area of the Whitsundays, marina fees are creeping up and in this part of the world staying anywhere other than a marina is often not an option.

The island anchorages are sometimes protected from the wind but it is very difficult to find anywhere that escapes the Pacific swell. This swell also plagues the mainland beaches. Add in the difficulties of crossing bars to enter the few creeks and rivers, the struggle of finding somewhere to get ashore that has access to services and the problems we have with everywhere being rather shallow for our 2.4m draft and marinas have become our safe havens.

Life in a marina is not all bad, especially one as nice as Keppel Bay. At 3am last Friday morning, as we motored away from Lady Musgrave, we crossed latitude 23.50 S, the Tropic of Capricorn. Arriving in the marina a few hours later we rejected the traditional ‘got here beer’ for a slap up ‘got here breakfast’ at the cafe and it really did feel like we’d arrived in the tropics. The birds all appeared to have gained a new set of colourful feathers and exotic voices and bright tropical flowers lined the waterfront path. Even the air felt and smelt differently.

Looking out from Double Head across the marina to a Rosslyn Bay

To add to its charms the marina also has a nearby beach, a few local walking trails and a courtesy car for short provisioning trips to Yeppoon and a visit to the farmers market. This far away from the big cities and hordes of tourists, gone were the containers of olives and feta marinated a dozen different ways, there were no stalls of artisan bread and displays of rather dubious local art were conspicuous by their absence. Yeppoon’s Saturday market, the local town’s farmers market, had just local farmers selling cheap and seasonal fruit and veg.

Yeppoon in fact had all the facilities we needed including a very helpful post office where Wednesday we very reluctantly posted of our passports, to go in with our visa applications to the Indonesian Consul.

Looming over the marina and the nearby beach, is Double Head. Through the bush and ferns are two steep, but luckily short, paths to follow. One took me up to a look out with in one direction a great view out to sea and the surrounding islands, in the other across a crevasse, an exposed 60 million year old geological phenomena. Fan Rock was created by magma escaping through weak spots in the earths surface, the molten lava slowly cooled from the outside inwards, causing the rock to crack into hexagonal tubes that fan out from its centre producing a structure that looks almost manmade.

Fan Rock

As we have travelled north my walks have become increasingly deserted and on occasion I have begun to feel slightly vulnerable. Vulnerable to what I’m unsure, wandering muggers, deadly spiders, rambling rapists, venomous snakes,? What I was not expecting, as I rejoined the steps down from the look out, was to be accosted by a band of Jehovah Witnesses smiling and eagerly thrusting out their pamphlets towards me. Who exactly they thought they would find to convert on this lonely hill was a mystery but they were always going to draw a blank with me.

Deserted Kemp Beach

With a few days of calm weather in prospect, today we have moved out to Keppel Island. There is a bit of swell rocking Raya to and fro, lines of squally rain track across us and there is only minimal phone signal. However in between downpours the water is blue, on the pretty islands around us, numerous beaches beckon and the forecast is for plenty of sun tomorrow.

Turquoise Lady Musgrave Lagoon

Friday 27th April 2018

Raya anchored in Lady Musgrave Lagoon

The turquoise that is produced by shallow, clear water, over white sand, under a tropical sun, is bewitchingly beautiful and after spending the summer in the coastal waters, rivers and creeks of Eastern Australia, Tuesday entering the lagoon off Lady Musgrave Island on the southern tip of the Barrier Reef, felt like coming home.

It had been a good trip over, the brown water of the Burnett river magically changing to blue as we headed out to sea. There was, the now normal, beam swell setting us rocking but it was calm enough for us to feel that we could, between us, land a fish if we caught one, so we put out a line to troll behind us. We weren’t however expecting our catch to be quite this big, it did take quite a while to land this giant!

Fishcakes for supper for the next three weeks.

Just after midday Lady Musgrave Island appeared as a dark slither on the horizon, then we spotted the white of breaking waves on the outer reef and as we neared, the wonderful turquoise of the inner lagoon.

The pass through the reef was narrow but clearly marked. Its been a while since we have navigated through areas of coral so we entered slowly and carefully motored around anything we spotted on the seabed until we found a large enough space of clear sand to anchor. There were a surprising number of other boats anchored but the lagoon is over a mile long and there was plenty of room for everyone.

Lady Musgrave Reef on Google Earth, a jewel in the dark ocean

Early the next day we took the dingy ashore to have a look around the island before it got too warm and the tourist boats arrived. We were glad we had put on our sand skippers, the beach was strewn with fragments of coral. As we strolled along the water edge we spotted oyster catchers, egrets and some small green turtles. Pretty Australian firs and screw pines marked the edge of the beach and protected the Pisonia trees that grow in the interior of the island. The Pisonia tree has very broad leaves that are a favourite nesting location for Black Noddies. When we rounded the corner onto the western side of the island the extent of their numbers here was revealed. Suddenly what must have been a thousand birds burst from the trees filling the sky, creating a noisy natural spectacle above our heads.

Thousands of Black Noddies take to the air.

We returned to the boat and cooled off in the calm sea. With the only ripples coming from our own movements we floated gently and let the warm turquoise sea envelope us. Looking back Raya floated resplendent, reflecting in the glassy surface.

Then as the sun became higher in the sky we went over to the southeastern reef to snorkel on a couple of bommies. The visibility, was surprisingly, a little murky but we were just happy to be back amongst the colourful fish and varied corals.

Even the tiny Damsel Fish added to the days turquoise colour scheme.

As we dined on steak from the bbq, with a salad of ripe Australian tomatoes and a glass of full bodied Australian red wine, we agreed it had been a very special day.

Unfortunately the weather again dictated that we leave before we were really ready. As we left the next day through the pass, the water was crystal clear and we realised we should have been snorkelling this side of the reef, but too late, we had a night passage to contend with. Keppel Bay Marina in the aptly named Rosslyn Harbour, about 110nm NW and back on the mainland, will be our shelter from the strong winds forecast for the next few days.

Dramatic Skies

Monday 23rd April 2018

We lie anchored a couple of miles up the Burnett river watchful of the depth gauge. It’s high tide and reading 2.3m under the keel. If this were a spring tide we would be on the bottom at low water but today we have a neap tide and in theory we shouldn’t drop below a metre. We are inexperienced at playing the tidal range rather than using the absolute chart datum, we wait with baited breath as the river gently ebbs.

We are here because tomorrow we are off to Lady Musgrave Island and her surrounding reef and hopefully back to clear turquoise water. Needing to enter the atoll in good light we require an early start. All the motor sailing we have done lately means we were low on diesel. Not wanting to fuel up at five in the morning we left the marina for the fuel dock at lunchtime and now sit ready to go.

Last week continued with a flurry of maintenance jobs and more cleaning, if we say it ourselves Raya is feeling very spick and span. For the time being at least, Rick’s ‘to do list’ is nearly fully ticked off.

Besides all the hard work, one thing that will stay in our memories of Bundaberg is its incredible skies. The combination of flat surroundings and changeable weather has led to dramatic vistas day and night. Wednesday around midnight, woken by the light coming through the hatch above him, Rick was treated to a spectacular display as distant lightening illuminating far off clouds . The next day as I walked out along the coastal path, with rain threatening, I think almost every type and colour of cloud was present in the huge sky above me.

Dramatic Bundaberg skies

And streaked with the last of the morning haze and dotted with building fine weather clouds, across an intense blue, again Friday the sky was amazing. We had hired a car for the day and driven a short way down the coast to Elliot’s Heads. After the dark reddish beaches around Port Bundaberg it was refreshing to suddenly find some white sand. At the estuary of Elliot’s river extensive sand banks are exposed at low tide, stretching right across the wide river mouth. Clear, warm streams of sea water run in the tangle of gullies that form between them. It made for a perfect hour or so of walking and paddling.

Paddling at Elliots Heads

Invigorated from our beach walk, we shunned the normal tourist stops at the Rum Distillery and the Hinkler Aviation museum and instead opted for a stroll through the Botanical Gardens. In delightful contrast to the coast, a shady boardwalk wound us through stately palms and across large ponds full of water birds. It seems that even in the smaller towns Australia does an extremely good job with these gardens.

Back onboard a flock of noisy kookaburras arrive to perch up in the rigging and the tide continues to recede, we play a game of Mexican train as the setting sun turns the sky a burnt orange. Still we have half an eye on the dropping depth, but less worried as our decent slows. As the tide turns we still have the theoretical 1m below the keel, we take to our bed, we have an early start in the morning.

Pottering in Port Bundaberg

Wednesday 18th April 2018

The moment we walked up the steep marina ramp we knew we were somewhere different. The sweet perfume of grass confronts us, a smell previously so familiar but rare to us now. In front of us are neat fields of uncut grass, the seed heads shimmer and wave in the breezy sunshine. And it was not just the scent of our surroundings that felt foreign, it dawns on us that here for the first time in a long time, the land is completely flat. Even the normal hills and mountains, that are forever on the horizon, have gone.

The occupants of the marina are different also, instead of being almost exclusively full of local boats there are plenty of cruisers here, including one Irish and three UK yachts. It is back to sundowners and ‘where to next’ conversations.

Having arrived in Bundaberg a week or two earlier than planned, we have no pressure to achieve anything in particular. So when we discover that the chandeliers can organise to get our rusty anchor delivered to the hot dip galvanising unit, we jump at the opportunity.

That looks a bit better.

Rick settles in, with relish, to potter around the boat, fixing all the little things he has been meaning to get around to for ages and in some cases since we left Southampton. He boxes in the new freezer compressor, services the Davits, washes the sails, properly wires the nav lights, cleans and sorts the dingy………

I tackle the ever present paperwork, work on the navigation for the next part of our trip and clean. How is it there is always so much cleaning to do?

The marina runs a courtesy bus the 15km into town each day, so Monday we hop on and head for downtown Bundaberg. The road in reminds us of a tidy Fiji, fields and fields of sugar cane line each side of the road. This is the sugar capital of Australia and famous for its large distillery producing Bundaberg Rum. In recent years crops have diversified, what at first glance we assume is a vineyard turns out to be rows of tomatoes vines, we spot a field of melons but not the macadamia trees that are also in abundance here.

Bundaberg City was mostly just an urban sprawl, with most buildings being of indifferent late twentieth century architecture, we search in vain to find any character. We wander uninspired for a while before abandoning our quest and heading for the supermarket. The branch of Coles here is large and as always full to bursting with fresh food. We stock up and take a taxi back to the boat.

I have continued to ‘power’ walk each day when I can. I’ve been enjoying the exercise as well as the side effect of getting to explore the local area. Leading from the marina there is a riverside path that run’s out towards the sea. Unlike the pathways I have been using all the way up the coast from Sydney, here I am alone in my lycra and trainers, just meeting the odd dog walker or angler.

On the surface it’s rather a featureless walk with the wide brown Burnett river one side and the dead flat meadow like fields the other. However, of course, the more you look the more you see, the sky is huge and ever changing, the river has small bays of dark sand and at low tide there are mudflats full of birds.

Dark beach at the mouth of the Burnett River

Around our pontoon are the normal groups of cormorants and flocks of gulls, on the mud flats I spot a tall elegant white heron, which google tells me was probably a Great Egret and perched on the marker above him what I think is a type of Kite.

Amongst all of these are the huge, ever present pelicans. We took the dingy for a run up the river and while on a crocodile hunt amongst the mangroves on the far bank, (probably still a little south for crocodiles but thought it was never too early to get some practice in) overhead a flock of pelicans, Jurassic like with their oversized beaks, gave us a magnificent demonstration of formation flying.

A flock of Pelicans always remind us of pterodactyls.

Barred From Mooloolaba

Thursday 12th April 2018

We wake this morning after 12hrs of solid sleep, a little further north than expected. The decks are covered in salt, damp clothes fill the laundry basket and two shattered plates languish in the bin. Our attempts to enter over the bar of our planned destination of Mooloolaba thwarted, we sailed through the night and all the next day in uncomfortable and tiring conditions to reach the Marina at Port Bundaberg.

Still at last, lovely sunrise over Bundaberg marina

Tuesday had started with us happily wending our way through the sand banks that litter Moreton Bay, the sun was shinning and the sea was calm. We were taking advantage of a small window of good weather to move 35 miles north to Mooloolaba. We had been looking forward to a few days in Mooloolaba and not just because it has such a brilliant name, other cruisers reports had all been good, the town was close by and it had a great beach just a stroll from the marina. Also it was to be our gateway to explore the Sunshine Coast and the Noosa Everglades.

The entrance to the river and it’s marinas has another of the notorious East Coast bars and is currently being dredged to try and combat the effects of shifting sand across the river entrance. We spoke with the marina, who assured us it would be fine and we downloaded the map that charted the new depths that had recently been posted in the Notices to Marinas published by the Queensland authorities, we timed our entrance towards the end of the rising tide. However we hadn’t reckoned with the swell. As we approached what the charts had as the beginning of the shallows, with an apparent high tide depth of 4m, the swell picked us up and then dropped us with a thump onto the bottom, we ventured a bit further this time we stayed on the sand long enough for another wave to hit us and cause Raya to give a loud, rig rattling, shudder. We reversed quickly and spoke to the dredge master working in the channel, a lot of sucked teeth, he seemed very unsure about our 2.4m draft, depths were obviously not as reported. Probably with a bit of local knowledge or at least some lat/long calibration which strangely was not on the downloaded new Mooloolaba bar chart, we might have tried again. But after a bit of deliberation and watching other boats with much less draft than us struggle, we decided to push on.

Unfortunately pushing on meant an over 200nm sail further north to Bundaberg.

It felt like a long trek north around Fraser Island

I quickly put together a new passage plan, there was another entrance about 6hrs on but we would arrive after dark and it was quickly rejected. The weather forecast was for winds to strengthen and with it the seas to get rougher, not a delightful prospect. And this is the problem with sailing in this part of the world, with weather windows so tight and safe havens so far apart, often needing critical timings and conditions for entry, Plan B’s are always going to be difficult.

The first few hours were fine as we sailed away from Mooloolaba. We smiled in response to a surprise comment on sailraya.com, received from someone who spotted us sailing past. However as the winds steadily increased in strength it turned into a laborious 24hrs, in troubled, often beam seas. Sleeping, eating and everything in between became hard work and the cockpit began to be splashed enough to make everything damp and salty. At least it was warm and not raining we kept telling ourselves. With the odd gust up to 40kts, Rick gradually reefed and further reefed the sails until, still sailing fast, we only had up a small amount of main sail and a reefed stay sail. To add to the fun I was kept entertained during my 11-2 night watch by a dozen or so fishing boats, some with AIS, some without. At one stage one came so quickly towards us I was concerned he hadn’t seen us . Luckily we have good deck lights that light up the sails and make us very obvious. I flicked them on and he turned away.

With such messy seas we had to sail right the way around the 25nm long sand spit at the end of Fraser Island, so for a frustrating few hours we were actually sailing away from our destination. We arrived at the marina just minutes before they left for the day, two very tired and happy sailors. Our traditional ‘got here beer’ was enough to knock us out and by 7.30 we could stay awake no longer.

On the upside we are now far north enough to be in the region termed the Southern Barrier Reef which is rather exciting and after spending yet more money on our continually ailing freezer, that would normally give out after such a bouncy sail, I am pleased to report it is still working, hooray!

Freezer cold – hooray

Nearly Ready for the Tropics

Friday 6th April 2018

For a few hours on Tuesday afternoon, it felt almost like we were back in the Pacific Islands. The sun was shinning, the sea was calm and turquoise, two large turtles swam around the boat, it was deliciously quiet. We realised that we were well and truly ready to be back tropical island hopping. However we have at least another month to wait before the cyclone season clears, as was well demonstrated by Cyclone Iris, that last week reformed and continues to hang around the Central Queensland coast.

Last weeks forecast for the Whitsunday Islands five hundred miles to our north

Easter weekend in the Broadway continued to be manic, despite the showery weather everyone was determined to make the best of the holiday. We did brave the choppy waters to go ashore and stretch our legs but plans to cross the narrow wooded South Stradbroke Island were thwarted firstly by the lack of a clear pathway and tales of snakes buried in the sand but mostly by the sight of our anchored dingy being swamped by the wake of every large motor boat that stormed past.

The beach at South Stradbroke Island with the Gold Coast high rises in the distance.

The East Coast of Australia is constantly at the mercy of the Pacific Ocean swell. This makes for the great surfing conditions it is famous for but also makes entering rivers and ports difficult. Entry and exit across the shallow bars that form at these openings has to be timed carefully, especially in the rough conditions that are around at present. So it was that 3.30 am Tuesday morning found us, with the dangerous surf warning cancelled and slack low tide upon us, heading for the Gold Coast seaway and open ocean. Conditions were still rather lumpy and with up to 3kts of current against us we were yet again having to motor sail to keep speeds high enough for us to enter Moreton Bay at high tide. At least the forecast showers held off.

We rounded the top of Moreton Island and headed for the Inner Freeman Channel. At first the sea calmed, the shallower waters turned to hues of turquoise and the tall dunes of this sand island, shone white in the sunshine. However the nerves were jangling, we knew we had a shallow area to cross and although every chart I could lay my hands on said at high tide we would have no less than 2m under our keel, the sight of white, churning choppy waters ahead was frightening. Luckily a small local fishing boat was in front of us and led the way through the narrow channel of deeper water and with a huge sigh of relief we were in Moreton Bay.

We dropped the hook off of South Tangalooma and despite a few other yachts, after the industry of Boatworks and the bustle of the Broadway, it was incredibly peaceful. The sea wasn’t crystal clear but after the inner waterways and muddy creeks it looked lovely. Sitting in the cockpit, behind me I heard a familiar sound, the hufffff of a turtle surfacing for air. We had two large loggerhead turtles feeding around the boat. It was as if they had come to say welcome back.

Moreton Bay is nearly 75miles long and twenty miles wide and separated from the ocean by North Stradbroke and Moreton Island to South and East and by numerous sand banks to the north. It is a shallow area of water and is not only home to turtles but dugongs, dolphins and visiting whales.

Unfortunately it was just a one day break in the weather so the next morning we had to head back into a marina, promising ourselves that as the weather improves, hopefully next week, we would return. A cracking sail took across the bay to the Manly Boat Harbour. On the Western coast of Moreton Bay just south of Brisbane, a convenient place to visit the city.

Sitting on the muddy, meandering Brisbane river, the city is a vibrant combination of a glass clad high rise business district and fun green spaces. The South Bank Parklands with its big wheel, Pagoda and jungle walk and the fantastic man made city beach was buzzing with visitors, many here for the Commonwealth Games being held close by on the Gold Coast. We jumped on the City Hopper Ferry and zigzagged down the river before walking through the crowded central district into the quieter Botanical gardens.

Brisbane ferries and Highrises.

While we wait for the finer weather, it’s back to the marina for the last few bits of boat maintenance. Nearly ready for the next stage of our journey, tropical Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef.

Rain, Repairs and Reunions

Friday 30th March 2018

I’m sitting below in the stuffy atmosphere created by high humidity and closed hatches. Excyclone Iris is just NE of us and is bringing squally winds and heavy showers. Up and down the coast of Queensland the ocean beaches are closed due to extreme high tides and dangerous surf conditions.

We are anchored off South Stadbroke Island back in the protected inner waterway of Broadwater just north of Southport. It’s Easter weekend so again the area is crowded with craft big and small. It doesn’t really feel like we are anchored as not only are we being continually buffeted by the wake of passing speedboats, we are also not facing into the wind. A two knot tide is flowing past us and we are laying with the current rather than with the wind, this in turn means the rain is coming straight into the cockpit and if not closed down through the hatch.

Mad motor boat drivers coming from all directionsi

Last weekends confinent on the hardstand in Boatworks, turned out to be better than expected. The frenetic whirling sanders, polishers and drills and the continuous loud engines of the lifts, that set such a stressful pace to life, all fell quiet. The noxious fumes from the antifouling and painting of dozens of boats dissipated and with no contractors busy around Raya, it was easier to relax. On top of this we had a car. Boatworks not only have good toilets, showers and laundry facilities they also have curtesy cars and we managed to get a set of keys for the weekend.

We used this rare opportunity to hit the nearest shopping centre. While Rick investigated the DIY Warehouse and tool shops, I went into the supermarket and filled a trolly with as much heavy stuff as I could fit in. We restocked all our dried goods and cans, cases of wine and beer and bags full of cleaning agents. Rick bought the biggest adjustable spanner in the universe. Never again would he have to struggle so hard against recalcitrant seacocks or any other ginormous nut for that matter, how have we got this far without one?

Ricks new spanner

Having a car also made it easy to join some friends for a bit of a reunion. Phil and Lynn who we linked up with on the Gold Coast last November, had a couple of other mutual friends, Kieth and Dianne, from our time living in Bahrain thirty years ago, visiting from Spain. We all met up at Sactuary Cove, a typical glitzy Gold Coast Resort, golf courses, gated communities, a marina and dozens of restaurants. We couldn’t work out why all the car parking spaces were so small, until it dawned on us that the people living in the resort mostly get around by golf cart. Real cars, such as our Boatworks Ute, were banished to the car park on its outer edge. Finally seated it was great to catch up with each other’s news, the food lost in the exuberant chatter.

Dinner with old friends

Tuesday morning, finally, Raya was lifted back into the water. The relief from the overheating fridges and freezer, that are water cooled, was almost audible and the comfort of having our sinks and showers back, a delight. A downpour however evidenced a blocked cockpit drain, we poked and rattled and finally blew it out with a hosepipe. One of the rags used by the antifoul team to prevent dripping from the drains during painting is the prime suspect. Luckily the problem was found sat at the dock not while waves were breaking over the boat as we battled a storm at sea.

The tide dictated that we leave early on Thursday morning despite the showers. We motored down the Coomera River observing the huge waterfront houses, so large and ornate were some that they were best described by a phrase coined by an American friend as Starter Castles. In the whole hour we saw nobody actually living in them, sun loungers were stacked and blinds were drawn. The rain turned into a deluge and by the time we had anchored we resembled a pair of drowned rats.

Motoring down the Coomera River in the torrential rain.

As Good Friday comes to an end, the weather has improved a little, the tide has turned and the stream of motor boats has stopped for the night. No doubt tomorrow they will be back but for now all is tranquil.

High and Dry

Friday 23rd February 2018

We are feeling rather frustrated. After we and the antifoul crew have worked our socks off, dodging showers and running from pillar to post, to ensure Raya is ready to return to the water at 3pm today, we have just been told that they have messed up and our berth in the marina is not available. So here we are stuck high and dry, 15ft in the air until Tuesday.

Ready to be lifted back onto the water

I think it’s fair to say it’s not been one of our most restful weeks. Things started well with a drama free overnight passage up from Coffs Harbour. There was little wind, the large swell, lingering from last weeks storm, undulated gently across a calm sea. Stars shone brightly in the dark moonless sky and as we are gradually creeping back north, the night watches have become pleasantly warm.

The easterly swell did make the Gold Coast Seaway entrance a little lively however and things were not helped by having to share the constricted space with a fleet of racing sailing dinghies, several returning small fishing boats and a group of mad jet skiers. We headed expectantly into the calm of the inner channel – the Broadway, only to find it full of more jet skiers and dozens of fast motor boats. It was Saturday and everyone and their dog was out enjoying the sunshine. The anchorage, just north of Southport Marina where we five months ago had checked in to Australia, is charmingly known as Bums Bay. It was also very busy, especially the blue buoyed area directly in front of us, that turned out to be a jet ski practice course!

We were tired from our trip, we put on the anchor alarm, turned on the cabin fans to block the noise outside and went to sleep. We only had to cope with all the activity until Monday morning when on the high tide we would make our way up the Coomera river to Boatworks, Raya was to be hauled out for her yearly once over.

Sunday morning dawned fine and bright and soon the crowds began to reappear. We had anchored next to our friends from Paw Paw and decided to go ashore together to escape the noise and increasingly choppy waters for a few hours. It’s nice in our transient life to revisit places occasionally, having a bit of local knowledge from our previous stop in the area. We returned to the waterfront Thai restaurant for lunch and walked back along the expansive Main Beach.

Walking on Main Beach with Elaine and Roy from Paw Paw

At seven the next morning while doing his normal pre-trip engine check, Rick noticed a leaking coolant pipe. While lifting the anchor I discovered the anchor down switch wasn’t working and with a very tight schedule on the tidal river we had the potential of the perfect storm – an overheating engine, no ability to anchor and quickly swallowing waters. Our normal cautious selves nearly abandoned the trip but we really wanted to make our hard won appointment with Boatworks. With the judicious use of tape to slow the leak, I steered us through the shallows of the river while Rick worked to sort out emergency use of the windless so if necessary we could drop the anchor. Two hours later with a sigh of relief we tied up to the dock and prepared Raya to be lifted.

We were last antifouled, just over a year ago and were hoping the hull might be in decent condition but it was definitely in need of redoing.

Dirty hull!

Our time on the hard was tight, particularly with plenty of rain in the forecast, it was full speed ahead. As Rick fixed the leaking coolant pipe, checked the seacocks, replacing one, greased the prop and investigated the windlass. Complete Antifoul services, cleaned and repainted the bottom, cut and polished the top sides and replaced the cutlass bearings. I organised for the life raft to be serviced, battled to keep the water cooled fridges from over heating, started filling the numerous forms required for entry into Indonesia and ordered new lenses for my damaged varifocal sunglasses – who knew that eyelashes could be so abrasive.

Watching the life raft being checked

So here we are clean, shiny and ready to go back into the water but with no berth to go into it looks like it’s going to be a further few days of washing up in a bucket, lovely.